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Tuesday, 4 December 1973
Page: 2430

Senator BYRNE (Queensland) -I direct my remarks primarily to that part of the Constitution Alteration (Mode of Altering the Constitution) Bill which deals with the determination of the majorities necessary to ensure the passage of a referendum. I feel that the proposal is based on a total misconception of the very purpose of the Constitution and the nature of the federation of the States. The preamble to the Constitution states:

Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania . . . have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth. . .

In other words, the Commonwealth of Australia is not a union of all people; it is a federation of designated colonies emerging as designated and original States. The proposal to alter the provision concerning the alteration of the Constitution to 3 States from the present constitutional requirement of four appears to me to be a denial of the concept of the banding together of a series of colonies and States into a federation.

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral and Minister for Customs and Excise) I s the honourable senator objecting to the Territories having a vote?

Senator BYRNE (Queensland) No , I am not. I am objecting to the 3 : 3 ratio as against the 4 : 2 ration. The original contemplation— I know that the point is made by the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) in his second reading speech—wa s that there would be a proliferation of States and that the ratio of 4: 2 would be unreal in the anticipated developing circumstances. Significantly, the development in Australia has been to the contrary.

The number of component States has been static but there has been an undue increase in the population of 2 of the States. That makes all the more necessary and all the more salutary the preservation of the 4 : 2 ratio. Therefore, I think that to disturb it at this stage, when the population of two ofthe States necessarily wtil enlarge more and more, would give a total imbalance in the future in the operation of variations to the Australian Constitution. If ever there was a time when I think the original provision should be adhered to, it is now. Whatever was the original anticipation, as the processes of history have operated the prudence of the provision has been demonstrated in the development of two of the States. So the preservation of the 4 : 2 ratio becomes more salutary than ever before.

I can find no justification for this aspect of the legislation in the proposition presented by the Attorney-General that the Constitution has been difficult to alter. If the Constitution has been difficult to alter, that has been because the will of the people has been against alteration within the terms and framework of the formula applying to an amendment to the Constitution. Otherwise, one is merely substituting the opinion and view of the Government as presented at referenda for the opinion and view of the people who rejected them or supported only a very small or fragmentary number of them. In those circumstances the Australian Democratic Labor Party opposes in particular, that part of the Bill which provides for the disturbance of the present mode of determining the majorities necessary to ensure the passage of a referendum.

The proposition which has been presented by Senator Withers and which he proposes to make the subject of an amendment has a great deal to commend it. There are 2 disparate propositions. I do not think that they should be associated in one referendum. Recently we had before us Bills for referenda on prices and incomes. In that case the Democratic Labor Party put forward a contrary position because in its contemplation prices and incomes are inseparably linked. It was for that purpose that we said that only one question should go to the people. For the very same reason and on the processes of the very same logic, we think it would be completely inappropriate for these 2 questions to go as one question for a common yes or no. Therefore, we will support the amendment which has been foreshadowed by Senator Withers and which is designed to retain only the reference to a vote in the Territories concerning amendments to the Constitution. We will support the severance of that from the Bill when the matter comes forward. We oppose the proposition in the other part of the Constitution Alteration (Mode of Altering the Constitution) Bill.

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