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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 3634

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (Prime Minister) - The Government does not believe that there is a case for deleting or deferring this provision. The Constitution at the moment states that referendums to amend it must be approved by a majority of all the electors voting, and also by a majority of the electors voting in a majority of the States. The Bill proposes to put to the people the proposition that amendments to the Constitution will be carried if they are approved by a majority of all the electors voting, and also by a majority of the electors voting in not less than one-half of the States. The Government believes that there is no case for deferring this proposition. It is economical and sensible to hold referendums at the same time as elections for either or both Houses of the Parliament. An election for at least one-half of the Senate must be held before the end of next June. It would, accordingly, be sensible and economic to have a referendum on this proposal, as well as referendums on other proposals, at the time of that Senate election.

This proposal is before the Constitutional Convention. I do not understand that anybody at the Constitutional Convention - certainly not the representatives from the 2 Territories - had proposed that the people in the 2 Territories should be denied a vote in referendums any longer than was necessary. None of them at the Constitutional Convention demurred at the proposition that a referendum to give the people in the Territories a vote in subsequent referendums should be held at the earliest possible moment. The proposal to hold a referendum on this subject has commended itself not only to the present Government but also to the Gorton Government. It was at least considered by the McMahon Government.

It was not rejected by the McMahon Government; it was deferred by the Gorton Government. This proposal has not been rejected by our 2 predecessors, and it has been adopted by my Government The right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon) said in rather a high flown passage that high opinions of best constitutional view is that the position should remain as it is.

Mr McMahon - I did not put it that way. You are misquoting me. I stated the conditions under which changes should take place. For those reasons I said that we want to delete this paragraph. That is right, I accept what you say, but I do not accept the reasoning behind it.

Mr WHITLAM - Let me then quote some eminent associates of the right honourable member for Lowe and, in the constitutional context, I am proud to say, associates of mine. In 1958 and 1959 his fellow Ministers and my colleagues on the Constitutional Review Committee recommended this change. His associates and my colleagues to whom I refer were the Honourable Sir Neil O'sullivan, once AttorneyGeneral; the Honourable Sir Alexander Downer a former Minister and later Australian High Commissioner in Britain, and the son of one of the founding fathers of the Constitution; and the Honourable Mr Justice Joske. The 2 members of the Country Party on that Committee supported the proposal. They were the Honourable David Drummond, a former member of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales as well, of course, as a former member of this House, and Mr Len Hamilton. My colleagues in the Labor Party, all supported this proposal. It is a proposal which commended itself to the whole spectrum of political opinion in both Federal Houses of Parliament in 1958 and 1959.

Mr Mackellar - Was it unanimous?

Mr WHITLAM - My recollection is that one Liberal member dissented. It was Senator the Honourable R. G. Wright. But the other 3 Liberals, the 2 Country Party men and the 6 Labor Party men all supported it. In its 1958 report the Committee pointed out:

It is, in the Committee's opinion, more in accord with democratic principle and the developments since Federation that it should be sufficient to obtain separate majorities in at least one-half of the number of States.

It repeated that view in its 1959 report - its final report. Instead of requiring a majority of States, which at present means 4 out of 6 States and thus a two-thirds majority of the States, what the Government is proposing is that a majority of voters in not less than half the States will be necessary for the carriage of an amendment to the Constitution, as well, of course, as an overall majority of voters in the whole of the continent. The present provision means - I quote the report of the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review: for every State in which there is an adverse vote there must be a favourable vote in two States. . . A constitutional change has to be supported not only by a majority of States but by two-thirds of the States.

Clearly the proposed change will facilitate alterations to the Constitution. The 2 referendums which would have been carried if the Constitution had read as this Bill now proposes were the referendums in 1946 on the organised marketing of primary products and on the terms and conditions of industrial employment. The right honourable member for Lowe has been a Minister in charge of both those subject matters. His first portfolio was that of Primary Industry. He was later Minister for Labour and National Service. There is no question that the right honourable member would have found it easier to legislate and to administer for the peace, order and good government of this country if he had the 2 subject matters which a majority of the electors in the States and a majority of the electors in 3 of the States wished to put in the Constitution in 1946. Those words did not go into the Constitution, not because there was not a majority of electors in the States in favour of them being inserted in the Constitution but because there was not a majority of electors in a majority of the States. There was a majority in 3 States but not in the necessary 4 States. This is a proposal that would have made it very much easier for our predecessors to govern in two crucial areas. I would not believe that the right honourable gentleman would demur to the proposition that he would have been even more successful as Minister for Primary Industry and as Minister for Labour and National Service if the Constitution had been altered as a majority of the electors in the States and a majority of the electors in not less than half of the States voted for in 1946.

The Government does not accept the amendment which seeks to delete paragraph (c) of clause 2. We believe that this early opportunity should be taken of asking the people to decide what they think on a proposition which was recommended by so representative a body of Federal parliamentarians from both sides of both Houses 15 years ago. It is high time that the electors were given the opportunity to express their view on a matter which has been supported for so many years.

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