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Wednesday, 7 December 1983
Page: 3374

Senator LEWIS(11.25) —I have already expressed to the Senate my very strong opposition to any expenditure of public funds on either case. The Committee is aware of my views on that matter. There are a couple of specific questions which I wish to raise with the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) and again, as it was with Senator Walters, it is somewhat difficult. People realise that a lot of things are being done in great haste at the present moment . Nevertheless, there are some specific questions which I wish to direct to the Attorney, now that I have his attention, as to the legality of the proposed expenditure. I ask the Attorney: Has he sought the advice of his Department about the legality of the expenditure? What advice, if any, was received? Is the Attorney aware of attempts made in 1977 to spend public funds on the referendum campaign? The advice given at that stage, I understand, was that it would not be legal to make that expenditure. I understand also that the situation was similar in 1967. I do not know what the advice was in 1974, but I ask the Attorney: Is he aware of that situation? Will he confirm or deny these allegations and, in particular, answer the question on the advice he has received to the present moment?

I also wish to raise with the Attorney the question of the use of the Advance to the Minister for Finance. The Attorney, when he was an Opposition senator, was on the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations with me when it brought down a series of recommendations about expenditures out of the Advance to the Minister for Finance. In response to those recommendations, the then Minister for Finance, Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle, made a statement in the Senate on 26 May 1981. Recommendation 1 stated:

Expenditure from the Advance in addition to items already appropriated for, or new items, be permitted only in 'urgent and unforeseen' circumstances.

Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle said:

The Government accepts that the issue of funds from the Advance be on the basis that the contemplated expenditure is deemed to be 'urgent and unforeseen' at the time of preparing the relevant Appropriation Bills and cannot reasonably await the passage of an Appropriation Bill.

His Excellency, the Governor-General, on the occasion of the opening of this Parliament, announced what the Government's policies would be in relation to parliamentary, legal and constitutional reform and said:

A wide range of proposals and legislation designed to enhance the quality of government in Australia and to strengthen the foundations of parliamenary democracy will be submitted for your consideration.

The Governor-General devoted four of the following paragraphs to discussion about proposed constitutional reform. I acknowledge that, at that stage, the Government was talking about a fixed-term parliament and was proposing that funds be expended on fixed-term parliament reform which the Government has not proceeded with. Nevertheless, it is clear that as long ago as 21 April this year , the Government contemplated substantial constitutional alterations. In those circumstances it is my belief that, at the time of the preparation of the Appropriation Bills, the Government must have known that it intended bringing down some constitutional changes along the lines, at least some of them anyway, proposed for this constitutional referendum.

Senator Jessop —So it is not urgent and unforeseen.

Senator LEWIS —As my colleague Senator Jessop said, so it is not urgent and unforeseen. Therefore I put to the Attorney-General-after all, he is the first law officer of the Commonwealth and so we have difficulty in asking anyone else to advise us-whether it is a fact that, under the proposed expenditure from the Advance to the Minister for Finance, this expenditure cannot be made because the expenditure was not urgent and unforeseen at the time of preparing the relevant Appropriation Bill. I hope I get a proper answer to those questions.