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Tuesday, 6 December 1983
Page: 3324

Senator TOWNLEY(8.48) —Mr Acting Deputy President-

Senator Gareth Evans —Come on! Is there no discipline in your ranks?

Senator TOWNLEY —I am sorry; I was just going to apologise for speaking very briefly on something that I think is much more important than evidently the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) does. He would rather get on to some other Bills and let the Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Amendment Bill, which could affect the whole future of this country, slide. I do not agree with that. Some of us-particularly those from the smaller States-feel quite strongly about the danger involved in these referendum proposals. I recognise that some arrangement has been made with the Opposition about this matter and, because of that, I will speak briefly. The point is that I believe the Attorney-General has embarked the Government on the first stage, or the second or third considering the number of losses it has recently had, of its course towards disaster. I believe that, as in the time of Whitlam, asking people in this country to decide on referenda will make those people decide to vote against the incumbent Government. I very sincerely hope that is the case this time.

I want to follow up what Senator Harradine said. I agree with everything that he said, and I suppose I should because he and I are the co-conveners of the No case in Tasmania. Money is to be spent on referenda that I believe will give Canberra total control over what happens in the States. While I was away recently the Parliament passed a Bill which would increase the number of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Before I went I spoke against that increase. Now the Government wants more control over what happens. It wants a longer term for members of parliament and things like that. It wants four years for members of the House of Representatives and eight years for members of the Senate. I believe that fact alone will lead to the loss of the referendum relating to the increase to four years for members of the House of Representatives. As I said previously, if some arrangements had been made to have a sensible length of term for honourable senators-do not say one year-I believe the Government may have got somewhere.

Senator Gareth Evans —Would you support four years for both?

Senator TOWNLEY —As I said a moment ago, if some sensible arrangement could be made I think the people of the country would support it. It is not what I am going to support; it is what the people of the country are going to support. I do not believe it is constitutional to spend money promoting one side of a constitutional argument. I believe if the Government does not agree to spend no money whatsoever on the Yes case or equal amounts on the Yes and No case, the High Court of Australia will come down with a decision that will say: 'No money or equal money will be spent'. That might hold up the holding of the Government' s referenda.

Senator Jessop —Perhaps we could challenge it. The No case could challenge it.

Senator TOWNLEY —That is what I am indicating. It will not necessarily be the No case. It may be an individual challenger. It is up to any individual in this country.

I was one who voted against legislation for all the referenda that came before this place because none of them are necessary. Let it be quite clear that none of the referendums that are being put before the people of this country are going to make life harder for politicians. None of them are necessary at all. If any money is spent and if the High Court decides that the same amount must be spent on each side, I ask the Attorney-General: 'How is that money going to be divided and allocated to each of the five referenda? Is it going to be divided and allocated to each of the five referenda? Is it going to be done on the basis of the number of people who are going to vote?'

Senator Missen —Why not according to the numbers in the Parliament who voted?

Senator TOWNLEY —No, Senator Missen. I know you have some funny ideas. In fact, if ever I am in agreement with you I know something is wrong. I really worry about that. I regard you very highly personally but some of your--

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Elstob) —Order! Senator Townley, I ask you to direct your remarks to the Bill.

Senator TOWNLEY —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I was only responding to an interjection, and I apologise for that. As somebody said, fairness is going out the window. We know that the Attorney feels very deeply about these referenda, as he did about South West Tasmania. He sent aircraft flying over South West Tasmania, using taxpayers' money. He spent money on those flights. That was one-sided, and now he is trying to do the same thing with regard to the referenda. I do not believe he should use taxpayers' money in an unfair way on promoting one side of this issue. I ask him to tell us just what his reasoning is for being able to justify this use of taxpayers' money.