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Tuesday, 8 March 1966

I also mention the Government's decision to defer, until the next Parliament, the referendum on the two proposals to amend the Constitution which were passed by both Houses of Parliament towards the end of last year. We would have preferred to let the question of deferment stand until such time as we could have benefit of parliamentary discussion and decision concerning it. But this course was not open to us because, as matters stood, the Chief Electoral Officer would have been required under the provisions of the Act to post the arguments for and against the proposals to some 6,000,000 voters before the end of February. Therefore, in practical terms, it was necessary for us to make and announce the decision before we met the Parliament. In pursuance of this decision, we will recommend to the Governor-General in Council that he should not issue the writ provided for in section 5 of the Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Act. We remain strongly in support of both proposals. But we are a new Government and, inevitably, much occupied not only with the very many important and pressing matters arising at home and abroad, but with other matters which beset a new Government. A referendum campaign would be an extra and lengthy commitment. In these circumstances, and because there is no urgency about either of the proposals becoming law this year, we believe that it would be better to defer the holding of the referendum.

However, we intend, early in the life of the next Parliament, to introduce the necessary legislation to enable a referendum to be held on the proposal to break the nexus between the two Houses of Parliament. We will also then give a general indication of our intentions in relation to the distribution proposals which would be made should the referendum prove successful.

We intend, at the same time, to present also the proposal relating to Aborigines. This proposal has been supported by all political parties, and there was indeed no negative case prepared for circulation to the electors. Any delay in passing the referendum in relation to the counting of Aborigines will have no adverse practical result because, in fact, the Commonwealth Statistician does count the Aboriginal natives in the community and makes the figure public. The provision in the Constitution does not amount to an impediment against this counting. Nor does it prevent Aborigines voting; many of them do. We, nevertheless, believe that the provision should be taken out of the Constitution. It is outmoded and misleading, and gives unwarranted cause for criticism both inside and outside Australia by people unaware of the actual situation.

As I said when announcing our decision to recommend a deferment, we are sensitive to the fact that the Parliament has supported in both Houses the referendum legislation which the Menzies Government presented. We believe, however, that members in both Houses will recognise the reasons which have influenced us, and will approve our decision to defer the proposals for the time being. The deferment is being made with a view to strengthening, rather than weakening, the prospect of success for the two proposals.

I turn now to aspects of foreign affairs and defence with which we have been dealing over recent weeks. In our first month of office, we had visits from Mr. Denis

Healey, the British Minister of Defence, Mr. Hubert Humphrey, Vice-President of the United States, and His Excellency Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, Prime Minister of Thailand. Each of these discussions was of importance for Australia. Each of them required considerable preparation and close consultation with our civilian and military advisers.

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