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Tuesday, 24 September 1974
Page: 1364

Senator GIETZELT (New South Wales) - I want to say a few words because I am disturbed at the remarks that were made by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Withers) on the very simple proposition that the Government has put before the Senate. The Government has presented the same formula for the appointment of Senate representation to the Constitutional Convention as it presented earlier this year. That is, it seeks to appoint 3 representatives of the Government and 3 representatives of those who constitute the membership of the other side of the Senate. On the previous occasion when similar appointments were made the group that held the balance of power in this place was the Australian Democratic Labor Party. Senator Gair of the Democratic Labor Party was a delegate to the last Constitutional Convention that was held in Sydney. That Party is no longer the balance of power group in the Senate; the balance of power is now held by 2 senators who occupy independent positions. Therefore, I think it is fair to say that the Government is acting properly in suggesting that the representative to take the place of Senator Gair should be a representative of the independent senators in this chamber. There is no question that in the area of independence Senator Hall has exercised his position quite judiciously, whereas Senator Townley has consistently supported the view of the main Opposition Party in this chamber.

I take issue with Senator Withers about the emphasis that he placed on the question of numbers at the Constitutional Convention. It is quite clear that he wants to transform the Constitutional Convention into another senatorial chamber, because no votes are taken at the Convention. We know that Senator Withers is quite mesmerised with numbers. All he thinks about is marshalling numbers to bring about an amendment or a defeat of Government legislation. That is not the way in which the Constitutional Convention operates. It seeks a consensus. It seeks common ground with the States. It seeks areas in which the States and the Commonwealth agree on the presentation of a constitutional amendment to the Australian people. In that respect whom one represents in this place or the House of Representatives is quite irrelevant at the Constitutional Convention. I would imagine that if the proposal put forward by the Government in this place is agreed to, which would mean that the Opposition would be represented by 2 senators plus Senator Hall, Senator Hall would be more likely; having regard to his background and general experience in parliamentary life, to represent the views of the States in a conflict of opinion with the Commonwealth than members of the Opposition would be. He is certainly quite capable of representing the views of the States because, after all, he has held the highest office in a State, the premiership of South Australia.

There is no reason for the matter to be determined on that basis because the Constitutional Convention seeks to find things upon which we can agree, not the things upon which we disagree. It is quite clear that Senator Withers has not had experience on the Constitutional Convention. The endeavour of the Commonwealth delegation is to find matters on which it can reach agreement with the States. On many occasions during the last Constitutional Convention meetings agreement was reached with all the States, with the exception of Queensland. The Premier of Queensland was in that case the maverick. He disagreed even with his conservative counterparts in New South Wales and Victoria. I urge the Senate to adopt the proposition that the Government has put forward because I think it is realistic. It has regard to the position in the Senate and to the fact that at the Constitutional Convention argument will take place about the philosophies of the relationships between the Commonwealth and the States. The Constitutional Convention does not endeavour to determine these matters on the basis of who one is or whom one represents or on the numerical strength of the political persuasions of the delegates to the Constitutinal Convention.

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