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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 3638

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (Prime Minister) - The title of the Bill is 'A Bill for an Act to facilitate alterations to the Constitution' etc. The right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon) seeks to alter those words to A Bill for an Act to reduce the number of States required to approve proposed laws to alter the Constitution' etc. The long title to a Constitution alteration Bill is significant in that it appears twice on the ballot paper at a referendum. The consequence of adopting the amendment which the right honourable gentleman has moved clearly would be to complicate the ballot paper.

Mr McMahon - It would be honest and fair.

Mr WHITLAM - It would confuse the electors.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr Scholes - Order! I asked for silence when the right honourable member for Lowe was speaking. I now ask for silence when the Prime Minister is speaking.

Mr WHITLAM - I appreciate your protection, Mr Chairman, because I listened to the right honourable member for Lowe with rapt attention. I confess that I came down in a later shower than he did. Nevertheless I do not think he would really expect many honourable members to be so naive, innocent and guileless as to believe that this third or fourth attempt to alter the long title of the current Constitution alteration Bill would have any significance other than to complicate the ballot paper, and any purpose other than to confuse the electors. The right honourable gentleman said that the present title is deceptive and that it offends the conscience. I think he used the word 'conscience'. I suppose to use a more earthy term he would say it was slanted. The words he used were themselves somewhat slanted because they seek 'to reduce the number of States required to approve proposed laws to alter the Constitution'. He does not point out that the number of States required to approve proposed laws to alter the Constitution at present is four, that is, 4 States out of six - a two-thirds majority - 2 States voting in favour for every one voting against a referendum.

If the right honourable gentleman wants a truly accurate, factual, dispassionate description why does he not use some words such as 'a Bill for an Act to require not less than one-half of the States to approve proposed laws to alter the Constitution'? Those words would be completely accurate, completely factual and completely dispassionate. People who do not realise the present impediment to an alteration of the Constitution might regard it as a very considerable impediment. Nevertheless it states the facts accurately as presented by this Bill. I suppose that one could say 'to require not less than one-half of the States instead of the present two-thirds of the States to approve proposed laws to alter the Constitution'. That would be another accurate, factual and dispassionate statement. In any case the right honourable member's objective would be achieved, I suppose, of complicating the ballot paper but I do not think he would be confusing the electors so much. The term in the Bill is 'to facilitate alterations to the Constitution'. It is a simple, concise, accurate statement of the purpose of the Bill. I remind honourable gentlemen that the purpose of the Bill in this respect is to carry out recommendations made 15 years ago by three out of the four Liberal members, both Country Party members and all the Australian Labor Party members of the Constitutional Review

Committee. This is a long-standing proposal. It is one which was examined at length at the highest level. Frankly, I agree with the view on this matter of Sir Alexander Downer, the son of one of the founding fathers of the Constitution, Mr Justice Joske and the late Sir Neil O'Sullivan, a former Attorney-General of Australia. I was of the same view then. I have been of that view in all the intervening years. I believe that the Australian people are now entitled to express their view on this long-standing, well-founded, factual proposal.

Motion (by Mr Daly) put:

That the question be now put.

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