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Thursday, 8 December 1983
Page: 3478

Senator LEWIS(10.43) —First let me respond to Senator Missen's comments about certain senators not doing what their party has decided to do in this matter. For Senator Missen, of all people in this place, to be making such an allegation is utterly incomprehensible. Of all the senators on this side of the chamber who have constantly crossed the floor--

Senator Missen —That is untrue--

Senator LEWIS —He has done so when we were in government, against the wishes of the government of the day, and when we have been in opposition, against the wishes of the parties in opposition. For Senator Missen to be making this allegation is absolutely beyond me.

Senator Missen —You know that that is untrue.

Senator LEWIS —He is now alleging it to be untrue but we can show him, from the Journals of the Senate, that time after time he has voted against everyone else in his own Party.

Senator Walters —Even to gag us.

Senator LEWIS —Indeed, as Senator Walters has said, even to gag us on occasions. He has joined the Democrats and the Labor Party in order to gag his own colleagues. For Senator Missen to be making such allegations in a debate of this nature is absolutely beyond me. Let me go on to say that it is quite clear that around Australia Liberal Party and National Party organisations have decided that they are going to work against these proposals. It is not clear, as Senator Missen would know, where the Liberal Party in any State of the Commonwealth stands in this matter. It is about time he kept his mouth quiet instead of making such allegations against me and the rest of his colleagues, because we will certainly blow them up.

Having got myself worked up about that, let me turn back to the proposals. The truth is that there are attempts here really to conceal or obscure from the people of Australia the true purpose of this proposal. The Attorney-General, Senator Gareth Evans, last night conceded that there was need for some sort of hiding from the people of the true meaning of these constitutional questions by saying 'Well, the psychology has to be right. We have to phrase the question in a particular way'. What does he mean by all that? It is clear what he means by that. He means that we dare not tell the people that what will happen is that members of the House of Representatives will get a four-year term as a result of this measure and senators will be elected for an eight-year term as a result of this measure because the people will not be happy about that. They will not like seeing that because they are unhappy about politicians. They have a latent insipient dislike of politicians. The plan then is to confuse the people by talking about extending the term of parliament. I suggest to the Senate that that frankly is just an act of dissimulation. By talking about the term of parliament, it is hoped that in some way or other the people will not realise that that will mean extending the terms of service of politicians.

The important point about the proposal to alter the Constitution to extend the duration of the House of Representatives and the terms of the senators is that the question posed by the Government is quite clearly designed to deceive. It is clear by the number of proposed government amendments that there is great concern. The question posed by the Government proposes to extend the maximum life of parliaments from three to four years. I suggest that there is no doubt that that is designed to obscure from the people the inevitable result that members of the House or Representatives will have a maximum term of four years or, as Senator Harradine says, it could be a term of four years plus 120 days and that the fixed terms of senators would go from six to eight years. That is what the Bill says. Senator Missen said that what I am saying is inaccurate but that is what the Bill says. The Bill also has another qualifying section that, in the event of another thing happening with the referendum proposal, a different result would occur in relation to senators so that instead of having an eight year term they would hold office for a period equal to two terms of the House of Representatives. But the fact of the matter is that the Bill provides for terms of senators to go from six to eight years. Unless the Government wishes to extend the question to become a book I suggest to the Government that the proposition I have put fairly places before the people the facts which they ought to be aware of in order to make a decision on this question.

I turn to the next proposal. If my proposed amendment fails for one reason or another, certainly I would support Senator Harradine's proposal. At least that places a greater degree of explanation before the people. Senator Harradine apparently is concerned about the possibility of the term being four years plus 120 days. I suggest to him that that is insignificant and that a term of four years adequately covers a possibility of four years plus 120 days. However, if he experiences some difficulty with that and if my amendment is lost I would certainly fall back on and would accept his proposal to extend the maximum life of the House of Representatives from three to four years and to extend the maximum terms of service of senators from six to eight years. I can see merit in Senator Harradine's proposal, especially in the way he has phrased the question with regard to senators. I point out that if Senator Harradine's proposal also fails to achieve acceptance in the Senate I would fall back on Senator Missen's proposals because I acknowledge that Senator Missen's proposal is certainly a lot better than the Government's proposal.

Senator Walters —It does not mention the years that they may serve.

Senator LEWIS —Senator Walters is right. She said that it does not mention the years that they may serve but at least Senator Missen's proposal does talk about the terms of service of senators whereas the Government's proposal does not make any reference to the terms of service of senators at all. In fact it talks about some other, I suggest, dissimulation by talking about the term of the life of the parliament as though it is some marvellous thing that the people of Australia could grasp with both hands. At the same time the people would not understand that they would be giving to those politicians whom they dislike so much a term of service of four years or eight years and fixing up the Parliament in some way. I suggest to the Senate that the way in which the amendments are proposed-they are referred to as forms 1, 2 and 3-is the order in which, to my mind, they carry merit.