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Wednesday, 7 December 1983
Page: 3375

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(11.39) —Again, without recant and resawing the sawdust, it is a fact that it is quite improper for the Government to fund one side of an argument. It tends, of course, to distort the presentation of the argument and to distort the full force of the arguments on both sides. It will have the effect, of course, of extinguishing and submerging the No case. Already the Government, as it well knows, has a very significant advantage over the small group of dedicated, responsible and highly intelligent members of the No case who will be putting that argument. The Government has the advantage, as has already been pointed out, of VIP aircraft-

Senator Townley —Overnight allowances for their Ministers when they are travelling.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —That is right, high overnight allowances for their Ministers as they travel from State to State in pursuit of Yes votes. Of course the Government recognises that the Prime Minister is able to attract a great deal more media attention than the modest proponents of the No case, so already it is starting with a significant advantage. It would not require $1.25m to put its point of view if it had any confidence in the capacity and ability of the average citizen to understand both sides of the argument.

The Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) says that invariably the Yes case starts behind the eight ball. The facts of the matter are that on the occasions when a sensible proposition which has been in the best interests of all States has been put to the voters, the majority of people in the majority of States has cast votes in favour of the proposal. On the occasions when proposals have been put which could impair and impinge upon the rights of people in the less populous States, the questions have been resolved in the negative. It is a reflection not of the lack of understanding of the people in Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland that so many proposals have been defeated but more of the fact that they have a very clear understanding of what has been put. It is very much as a result of the type of questions, which invariably seek to centralise power to Canberra and extinguish or dilute the power and capacity of either the Senate, the States House, or the States themselves, that those proposals have been rejected.

Clearly the Government has a great fear, particularly in respect of the simultaneous elections proposal, that it will for the third time be defeated. That proposal has been defeated twice before and on the last occasion it had the support of both the Government and the Opposition. It was only a small band of senators from Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania that was able to persuade the majority of people in those States that it was not in their best interests to cast a vote in favour of the proposal. Of course the Government fears a repetition of that and so it is hoping on this occasion to snow the community with $1.25m of advertising, plus all the time it knows it will attract on television and radio, and so distort the argument to the point where the No case will not be heard. That will give the clear impression that there is no No case, only a Yes case.

I must say that of all the arguments I have heard put forward in this chamber by the Attorney-General during the time I have been a senator, the one he has put forward in justification of funding one side and not the other has been by far the worst. Even his presentation showed that he tremored with the logic of his own argument. He took up the point made by Senator Macklin in respect of ethnic understanding of the propositions and said that that would not be followed up because of the time frame. I wonder whether he can tell me whether part of the $1.25m is to be spent on 0-28 ethnic television. In fact, there will be some education of those people for the Yes case, but not the No case.

The Government knows that it is breaking all the standard principles and rules and the very fundamental concept which is contained in the Referendum ( Constitution Alteration) Act that there shall be put to the voters of Australia a maximum of 2,000 words of argument for and against each case. That is the extent and the limit of the contribution the Parliament and the Government can make with public funds in respect of presenting arguments. It is clearly intended in the Act that there should be equal space and an equal maximum number of words so as to ensure that the community is getting both points of view. I find it staggering for a Government which has just imposed upon the taxpayers public funding for election campaigns on the argument that there needs to be a clear understanding of the policies, the arguments and the position of all political parties-not only the major parties but also the minor parties-to now put it to us that only one side of the argument ought to be presented at taxpayers' expense.

That seems to fly in the face of the Government's arguments and seems to be contradictory to the fundamental principles enunciated in support of its logic. I think even Sentator Ray, for all his wily twisting and turning in presenting us with his arguments on the electoral Bill, would have tongue in cheek trying to support this sort of argument. Clearly if the Government, as it pretends, were interested in ensuring that the public is aware of all the arguments, it would ensure that funds be made available for both sides. If the Attorney has the same difficulty drafting amendments of that nature as he has had with other amendments recently, the Opposition will be very happy to accommodate him with an amendmnt which will provide equal expenditure for the Yes case and the No case.

I thought I understood the Attorney-General to be saying that if the majority of senators in this chamber choose to persist with this amendment the Bill will be left to lie on the table and voters of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory will be denied, as a result of the Government's action, a vote in the forthcoming referendum. That, to me, is bald, frank and unequivocal blackmail. It is intended to put pressure on the Australian Democrats, particularly, and the Opposition to a lesser extent to cause them to compromise their integrity and their principles for political expediency. Frankly, I am one of those who take the view that in the final analysis that sin will be visited upon the Goverment and nobody else. It will be properly located where it deserves to be because the people in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory will understand, very quickly, that they are being denied a vote not by the Opposition and the Democrats but by the Government, and they are also being denied an opportunity to have put to them in a reasonably articulate way the aguments on both sides of the coin. I hope that the Democrats have the courage to stick to their principles and not have a weather eye on the politics of this proposal, and are prepared to stay with the amendment they have already proposed.

The consequences of these referendum proposals are such that they will have enormous influence on the less populous States. The simultaneous elections proposal probably will mean more elections and not fewer; it will mean that the independence of the Senate and of senators will be diminished to a great extent and that the smaller States' representation will lose its capacity to have a proper, equal voice. In respect of High Court of Australia advisory opinions, we know that Senator Evans has an ambition to probe the Consitution as far as he possibly can in respect of external affairs powers to see what further power he is able to draw towards Canberra. As Senator Evans looks frustrated that I am starting a discourse on the virtues of the arguments on both sides, I will leave it at that and continue to say that in respect of this amendment I hope that Senator Evans will be a man of principle, not expediency, and will accept it. If he will not, I hope he will accommodate us by at least giving the No case the same money that he is spending on the Yes case.