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Wednesday, 7 December 1983
Page: 3378

Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(11.55) —I might briefly reply to the questions that were specifically addressed to me. Senator Lewis asked whether the Government has had any advice as to the legality of expending any moneys other than in the formal Yes-No pamphlet for which the Commonwealth Electoral Act provides. The answer is yes, there was oral advice sought and obtained from the Solicitor-General, Sir Maurice Byers, the substance of which was retailed to me in a departmental minute back in August. That advice was yes, the expenditure could legally be made.

As to the second question from Senator Lewis about the Advance to the Minister for Finance, I am well aware of the constraints that apply in relation to that as to 'urgent and unforeseen' circumstances and the rest of the variable terminology that has been applied over the years. The situation simply is that I am in no doubt that this is legally and technically within the proper scope of the Advance not least because it has been in doubt up until 17 November as to whether or not these Bills would be passed. It was only on that day that they were passed finally in the House of Representatives. There has been doubt about what the content of the referendums would be until well into this Budget session . There has been doubt as to the timing of the referendum itself being on 25 February as distinct from some later period until comparatively recently, all of which substantially postdated the period for the preparation of the Budget in question. This is a perfectly proper and, indeed, routine use of the Advance. I believe that Senator Lewis should accept that explanation.

As to Senator Macklin's point about who is going to the precipice first in terms of what the Constitution provides, the reality is, if Senator Macklin is listening, that in effect it is something of a Mexican stand-off. Section 128, as it is now framed, does, of course, require the territorians to have a vote. However, they cannot in practice have a vote unless the machinery for doing so is provided by legislation. If this machinery legislation is not passed there will, accordingly, be a situation that, firstly, the territorians will not be able to vote and, secondly, the validity of the referendum itself would be put at risk. So if the Australian Democrats insist on pursuing their objections to this, not only will they be denying territorians a vote but also they will be creating a situation where the whole validity of the entire constitutional referendum itself and the value--

Senator Lewis —That is absolute blackmail.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am putting a serious point.

Senator Lewis —Of course it is.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am not debating the merits of it. I am answering a technical question. The merits of their basic endeavour of getting these proposals before the Australian people will also be put at risk. That is the reality of it.

Senator Lewis —Absolute blackmail; there is no other word for it.

Senator GARETH EVANS —We can debate that next week if the situation arises. Finally, Senator Walters asked me about bringing the House of Representatives back. It is very likely that the House of Representatives will be coming back for one day anyway next week. That depends on the fate of quite a bit of other legislation that has to be dealt with in this place in the next two days. Should it become necessary for the House of Representatives to be brought back as a result of further developments in the Senate next week, of course it will be. What we do obviously want to do, and I will be very grateful for the co- operation of honourable senators if they could help in this respect, is to get this Bill passed within the next 20 to 25 minutes.