Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 4 December 1973
Page: 2420

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral and Minister for Customs and Excise) - in reply- I thank Senator Wright who has just indicated that, irrespective of what might be put by any member of the Government including myself, a decision has already been taken by the Opposition Parties to oppose the Bill.

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) Tha t is subject to what the Minister says.

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral and Minister for Customs and Excise) I thank Senator Wright for indicating that it is possible that even that collection of honourable senators might possibly be affected by what I might say. Senator Wright has suggested that in some way it is wrong that section 128 should be used to affect the constitutions of the States. Well, is it? On principle it is proposed that the people of Australia should be asked to alter their own basic instrument of government. That instrument deals with the Constitution of the whole of Ausualia. That is what it is. The Constitution of Australia deals with the Australian Parliament, the Governor-General, the Federal judiciary and also with the situation of the States. Subject to the Constitution and until altered in a certain way the powers of the States continue. The Constitution is not something dealing only with what we might call the affairs of the Australian Government or the Australian Parliament. It deals with the whole of the Constitution of Australia. Certainly it deals shortly with those State affairs as section 106 and the following sections provide. But it is the framework for the whole of Australia. It is recognised that section 128 could be used to alter the constitutions of the States. The learned authors Quick and Garran in the 'Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth' at page 990 stated:

Amendments of the Constitution would not necessarily be confined to the machinery, organisation, and operation of the Federal Government; they might include changes of functions as well as changes of structure. New powers and functions could be added, or exisung powers and functions could be withdrawn.

Nor is the scope of the amending power restricted to the structure and functions of the Federal Government; it extends to the structure and functions of the Governments of the States. Indeed, nearly every extension of powers and functions granted to the Federal Government would involve a consequential contraction of powers and functions in the Governments of the States; and if a constitutional amendment could so alter the powers and functions of the Governments of the States, why should it not be capable of dealing, if necessary, with the Constitutions and political organisation of the States? We say 'if necessary' for the necessity may never arise; but the dormant power is there, and may be used in an extraordinary emergency, if the States neglect or refuse to adjust their constitutional arrangements to harmonise with Federal developments and requirements.

Senator Wright - And convert them from bicameral to unicameral?

Senator MURPHY That is right, and do what ever the Australian people think ought to be done in relation to the constitutions of the States.

Senator Byrne - The honourable senator does not think that we have to go back to the Constitution Act itself for such a fundamental change?

Senator MURPHY It is quite clear. We say that even under section 106, which was referred to, the preservation of the constitutions of the States is subject to the Constitution which includes section 128. Here it is proposed to do something which the Opposition characterises as a dreadful thing. I think it was Senator Lillico who asked why. He said that in some way this was a plot to put Labor governments permanently into power. He said: 'These people here in government are actually proposing to give equal representation to the people.' He said: 'They are not only proposing in relation to the House of Representatives to make the districts equal in regard to people but they are actually turning to the States and, in relation to the Houses of the State Parliaments, they are insisting, if the people will agree with them, that there should be equal representation of the people.' He said: 'In that event we will have a dreadful result because we will have Labor governments all the time.' I do not think that he is quite right in his prediction. I think that sometimes the people may be mistaken in their views and perhaps elect, for a short time, governments of other calibres. But they are entitled to do that. Surely we are overdue for this representation. It is an emergency. In other democracies they have seen the necessity for equality of representation. When we were school children we were taught that there should be equal representation of the people.

Senator Little - Why does the Minister not advocate proportional representation?

Senator MURPHY Senator Little interjects and asks why I do not advocate proportional representation. There is nothing in this proposal which stops the States from adopting proportional representation. This proposal is quite consistent with proportional representation.

Senator Little - Hear, hear!

Senator MURPHY Does Senator Little accept that?

Senator Little - I would accept that if I thought the major political parties were fair dinkum, but you are not.

Senator MURPHY The proposal was designed not to exclude such a system as proportional representation. The representation of single electorates is consistent with democracy. For the election of the House of Representatives one could conceivably have a State vote as one electorate. That would be consistent with democracy. The thread which runs through these proposals is that, however it be, there ought to be equal representation of the people. What is so dreadful about that? What is so dreadful about it is that in practice, in this community over the last few decades, we have not had equal representation of the people. The present Opposition parties have benefited from that and they do not want the situation corrected. That is where the political division comes into it. It is as simple as that. If there were equal representation of the people, Labor governments would not have been out of power, federally, for 23 years. If there were equal representation of the people there would have been differences in the States. I suspect that certainly in Queensland there would be a difference in the Parliament which may well have meant a difference in the Government. In Queensland there was a Labor government for about 33 years, except for a break of 3 years. I do not think that that would have occurred under what is now proposed. There would have been a greater change over the years. What we are seeking is for the people to have equality of representation in the House of Representatives in respect of each of the States. The Senate is the States House and under the proportional system we get exact equality of representation in each of the Senate elections.

Senator Byrne - Would you be prepared to introduce proportional representation for the House of Representatives?

Senator MURPHY It is not for me to answer that question now. I say to the honourable senator, as I have said publicly before, that a great deal of consideration has been given to that question in the Australian Labor Party. I speak subject to correction but my impression is that some provisions relating to first past the post voting have been deleted from our platform. I know that a good deal of discussion has been given to this subject inside the Australian Labor Party; I say no more than that. The basic question here is whether the people should be entitled to vote and to have a system of equal representation of the people in the House of Representatives and in each of the Houses of Parliament ofthe States. If honourable senators opposite oppose that they oppose democracy. It does not matter how much they clutter it up by saying what is done in the Federal Executive of the Australian Labor Party, a trade union or anywhere else. Equal representation of the people is the ultimate form of democracy. Senator Wright gets up and talks about democracy but is prepared to prevent the people from having even a chance to vote for their equal representation.

Senator Wright - Under a Federal Constitution do you say that by referendum you can convert a State Parliament into a State municipal council?

Senator MURPHY Th e answer to that question is this: It is for the people to decide what kind of system they want. Whether that question or some other question arises, if there is a decision of the people in accordance with section 128 that is democracy. They wUl choose the kind of system they want. It is for the people to decide whether they want municipal councUs, regional councUs, State governments, intermediate kinds of government, a unitary system or a federal system. Surely Senator Wright is not going to say that it ought to be beyond the capacity of the people, by any stretch whatever, to amend their Constitution and to have the system of government that they want. Apart from equal representation of the people there is another important point to be considered. In at least one upper House of ParUament there is no direct representation of the people. That is why this BUI is framed directly at the—

Senator Little - In another there is no upper House.

Senator MURPHY I am speaking of New South Wales. Honourable senators may not be as famtiiar as they might be with what happens in New South Wales. The people in that State have no direct say in the election of members of the upper House of the State Parliament. Members of the upper House in New South Wales are elected by an electorate consisting of 60 members of the upper House, including those who are retiring and who have an enormous voice in their own re-election, and the 90-odd members of the Legislative Assembly, the lower House. They meet together before the expiration of the term ofthe one-quarter of the members of the Upper House who retire every 3 years. The term of members of the Upper House is 12 years. They meet and elect another 15.

Senator Byrne - Has that House a correspondingly limited power because it is not a House of direct election?

Senator MURPHY No.

Senator Byrne - In New South Wales does it have absolute power of rejection as we have here?

Senator MURPHY Yes, there are no Umits. There is no Act containing the limitations applicable to the House of Lords in Great Britain. The New South Wales upper House has a general power of rejection and uses it. I am pleased to see the look of surprise upon Senator Byrne's face because it is remarkable that such a body should be so elected in 1973. The question whether such a body should exist is one thing; the manner in which its members should be elected is another. I remind Senator Wright that one of the arguments put forward in New South Wales by members of his own Party as a reason for not abolishing the Legislative CouncU was that the system of electing its members would be reformed. My recollection is that it was said that there would be election by the people. That is what we are saying here. That has not been done.

We beUeve that the Constitution of the Commonwealth should ensure that there is equality of representation and direct representation of the people in the Houses of Parliament of the States as well as in the House of Representatives. Those who vote against this BUI do so simply for their own self-interest in order to perpetuate a system under which governments can be elected in Australia in accordance with a procedure which is unrepresentative and therefore undemocratic.

Question put:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Suggest corrections