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Wednesday, 14 November 1973
Page: 3335

Mr SINCLAIR (New England) - Neither in the manner of its presentation nor in the substance of its argument has the Government demonstrated any valid case for the support of this piece of legislation, for its passage through the Parliament nor, I would submit, its ultimate support by the people of Australia when it is considered by them as a question, amongst others, by way of referenda. As far as the passage of this legislation through this Parliament is concerned, I regard it as completely deplorable that the Government has so ignored the significance of constitutional change that it is prepared to introduce the guillotine in order to hasten the passage of each one of these constitutional referendum Bills. Indeed, as was pointed out earlier today, there is a very real and significant change which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) has intimated he will seek to move at the Committee stage. In respect of that motion there will be a total of 15 minutes within which it will be necessary for him to present the substance of the change, the arguments on it and then for a vote to be taken. That. is totally inadequate.

If the people of Australia needed a valid case to reject the referendum, apart from the validity of the question itself, they would need go no further than to refer to the impetuous way in which this Government seeks to hasten matters of substance through the Parliament. If the Government genuinely believed this legislation put a necessary change it would have no fear about hearing arguments. It apparently believes it is not a sufficiently valid case and it is therefore prepared to introduce the guillotine to rush this measure through, thereby denying any real and significant chance to debate the matter either during the second reading stage or at the Committee stage.

The second aspect with which I find myself in complete disagreement with the Government is the character of the change which this Bill proposes. I believe very strongly that the bicameral system of government which is. in operation in Australia has some differences compared with other bicameral systems but our system provides a protection against excesses of authority by the government of the day. Certainly on occasions, be it a government of our political persuasion or a government of Labor persuasion, an upper House is in a position - to quote the words used a few moments ago by the honourable member for Diamond Valley (Mr McKenzie) who quoted Sir Robert Menzies when he was Prime Minister - to frustrate the will of the government. But the Government already has the option available to it as to which course of action it may take. If the Government believes that it is being frustrated in the exercise of responsibilities of government, it can call for a double dissolution. It can submit itself as a government and the members of the Senate to the electorate. In that way it is able to seek to get another mandate from the people. If it believes that it is being frustrated obviously that is what would happen. But if the Senate or the upper House is representing the views of the people there would be a change In government. In 1961 Sir Robert Menzies said that he believed the Senate was frustrating the will of the people. He went to the people and as a result was given another mandate by them. It is utter nonsense to say that under the terms of our bicameral system there should not be a capacity for the upper House to exercise a measure of supervision over legislation that is hastily put through this Parliament. Again, the very frequency of the introduction of the guillotine, the frequency of the application of the gag and the denial of adequate time for debate in this chamber are all excellent reasons why there is a necessity for a Senate and the preservation of its powers.

The third reason why I am very strongly opposed to this Bill is that it is not necessary. In his second reading speech on this Bill the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) said:

But I do fundamentally question the present 'out of phase' state of our electoral process, requiring us to conduct in each 3-year period one House of Representatives election and one separate Senate election.

A few lines further on in that speech he said:

The elections were put out of phase in 1963. They have not been brought back.

He himself acknowledges that they could have been brought back. Today as Prime Minister he is in a position to bring them back. He does not have to have a referendum to do so. The power is already there for him as Prime Minister to bring them back into phase. As part and parcel of the exercise of the bicameral system, under our Constitution the Government represents the party with the majority in the lower House and the party with the majority in the lower House at any House of Representatives election need not have a majority in the upper House. For that reason under our Constitution the upper House is able to accept, reject or modify legislation that is submitted to it from this House. The House of Representatives has always had in its power the capacity to go to the people and to synchronise elections if it so desires or if it does not so desire, to call elections out of phase for the House of Representatives alone or to call for a double dissolution subject to the approval of the Governor-General. So there is a flexibility within the Constitution which enables the Government to go to the people and seek another mandate through its majority in the House of Representatives, to go to the people by way of a double dissolution or to go to the people by way of an election for the House of Representatives at the time of the normal 3- yearly election for half the members of the Senate.

In those circumstances, even the Prime Minister acknowledges that there is no substance whatsoever in the suggestion that there is not the power in this Parliament for this Government to bring the elections of the Senate and the House of Representatives back into uniformity again. So it is utter nonsense for the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) to say that this is something to foster and to further the democratic exercise of the will of the people. The democratic will of the people can be exercised as the Constitution is now framed and those who are in government at any time can exercise any of those 3 options which are available to them. They can synchronise elections or they can pull them out of phase if they so desire.

Those were the matters which our constitutional fathers looked at quite seriously because our Upper House is different from other upper houses. For example, under the British parliamentary system the House of Lords lacks the power that the Senate, the Upper House in this Parliament, enjoys; that is, the power to deny the passage of legislation and the power to force the Government to an election. Our Senate has been given additional powers. It has been given additional powers because for all that it is denied by those on the other side of this House I still see the Senate as a States House. Were this not so, and if the Labor Party did not believe it so, presumably in one of the other Bills that we are to consider at a later stage in the course of the next 2 days there would be provision for equality of representation for members of the Senate. But the Government is not doing so. It is prepared to accept the fact that there should be equality of representation for the senators from each of the original States. In other words, it does accept that the Senate is still a States House and that the powers that are there for the Senate should be preserved for it. That is another of the fundamental reasons why I object to this piece of legislation and its acceptance by the people of Australia.

I am quite concerned that there should be no breakdown of the powers and functions of the Senate. I am concerned that there should be no derogation of the power that a senator exercises as a result of his election for a term of 6 years, and that is where it comes in in this Bill. If the honourable member for Diamond Valley had cared I would have been only too prepared to have allowed him to have incorporated in Hansard not only those significant passages from the 1958 report of the Constitutional Review Committee but also the reservations that were expressed by Senator Wright. Those reservations are very material to the passage of this Bill. They set out in detail an analysis made by that learned gentleman of the way in which a senator's rights and responsibilities are exercised, in part, through his election for a term of 6 years. A 6-year term gives a senator a measure of independence which a relationship between his term of office and a House of Representatives election would deny him.

I believe that a case can be set out for the retention of that independence, related alone to the fact that when elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives are out of phase people register a more meaningful vote for their senators. I believe that when a Senate election takes place at the time of a House of Representatives election the very nature of this chamber, the nature of the election of government, the nature of policies that originate in this chamber and the machinations of power that those who abuse it in the Labor Party seek, are likely to distort the democratic process, and particularly the democratic process that applies to the election of senators. For that reason, I see it as being quite undemocratic and against the maintenance of a bicameral system that this piece of legislation should be either passed by this House or accepted by the Australian electorate.

Honourable members opposite support a unicameral system ; a system which denies the maintenance of the Senate. The Leader of the Opposition referred to that passage of the Prime Minister's second reading speech in introducing the Bill in which he stated:

Each of these Bills will have the effect of putting into operation proposals contained in the platform of the Australian Labor Party.

Therein lies the rub. There is the essence nf the destruction of the Senate. This is the beginning of the removal of the Senate as a House of this Parliament. It is part of the beginning of the erosion of the power of those who are members of the Senate. It is a piece of legislation which was introduced, according to the Prime Minister - it was he, not I, who used the words - for the purpose of 'putting into operation proposals contained in the platform of the Australian Labor Party'.

One of the proposals contained in the platform of the Australian Labor Party is the abolition of the Senate. This legislation is a step which must be accepted as a measure towards that end objective. I think it is quite interesting to note that 8 of the 12 members of the Labor Party who are listed to speak on the 3 Bills - I know that the list of proposed speakers is not binding on the Chair - are all in their first Parliament. Presumably, they hold a little closer to the Australian Labor Party's platform than do some of those honourable members who have developed vested interests in their retention of office in this place. Perhaps it is for that reason that they see this as a piece of legislation which certainly is leading towards the application of a unicameral system of legislation. There can be no doubt in the minds of the Australian people that the Labor Party, in its machinations of power, seeks, through this legislation as a first step, to try to destroy some of the power which is now exercised by the Senate.

Instead of achieving its policy objective in a valid way - instead of turning to section 53 of the Constitution and looking at the exercise of power as it is applied to the Senate in the Constitution - it is seeking to do so in a backhand way. It is using sections 12 and 13 of the Constitution. These sections, of course, apparently innocuously, relate only to the tenure of office of senators. Therefore, the Opposition intends to seek to change the short title of the Bill - a short title which is completely misrepresentative of the substance of the Bill itself. The Labor Party cannot have it both ways. Either it wants to change the Constitution through a referendum according to the form of words which is included in the Bill which we are discussing, or it does not. If it does not and if it wants to achieve its aims as expressed in the short title, I submit that the short title should reflect the contents of the Bill.

I believe that one might well have questioned, at the time of the introduction of the Bill, on a point of order, whether the short title reflected the substance of the Bill and whether it is not even completely inappropriate for this Bill to be considered in its present form. But the Opposition, in order to ensure that honourable members have an opportunity to consider that aspect in the brief period of 15 minutes that has been allotted for deliberation, voting and passage of the Bill through the Committee stage, intends to move that the short title be changed so that the substance of the Bill might be reflected more in the words that are used therein.

On all those grounds there is a fundamental objection to the passage of this Bill. I think that the question whether elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate should be held together has nothing whatsoever to do with the measure. As an individual, I believe that on many occasions there would be advantages in the field of cost. But the very fact that the honourable member for Diamond Valley and the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) have founded the principal substance of their argument on cost reflects the insubstantial nature of their argument. If they believe that to be so, they are now in a position whereby they can call the House of Representatives and the Senate elections into phase again. By so doing, they will minimise costs. Yet, there are so many actions, from the purchase of a certain painting to the taking of various Ministers' entourages abroad, in which one sees the consideration of cost as minimal in Labor Party thinking. One can therefore be suspicious and see that the matter of cost is no more important in this area - the area of the frequency of elections - than it is in other areas. Rather, it is an excuse in order to manipulate this Parliament and the people of Australia towards the destruction of a two-House system of government containing within the upper House a protection of the rights and privileges of individual Australians.

What utter nonsense it is for honourable members opposite to talk of introducing a charter of rights or responsibilities when they, by the introduction of Bills of this character, are seeking to destroy those rights and the liberties of individuals. I reject this Bill in toto. I believe that the Australian people are unlikely to be hoodwinked by the sorts of arguments that have been presented to this House. I believe that this Bill lacks substance and therefore should be rejected in its entirety.

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