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Thursday, 15 December 1983
Page: 3887

Senator TOWNLEY —My question is directed to Senator Button in his capacity as Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister representing the Prime Minister. Will the Minister agree that there is absolutely no requirement whatsoever for the Government even to contemplate holding a general election for the House of Representatives until early 1986? The Government will most probably avoid the referenda because it knows it will not be able to trick the public with its proposals. However, that still does not alter the fact set out in the first part of my question. Will the Minister also agree that if Mr Hawke does not clear the air about this matter now, once and for all, it could destabilise and unsettle the very fragile recovery that is taking place in this country, which would be to the detriment of all Australians? If an election is held in November next year, it will be a premature and cynical election that could easily lead to Mr Hawke becoming a discredited former Prime Minister. Finally, if an election is held in November, it will importantly allow the Government to increase the number of members of the House of Representatives 15 months earlier than otherwise and that, with all the other bits and pieces, would cost about $ 10m a year.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Will the honourable senator ask his question?

Senator TOWNLEY —That is something that no voter would want. It removes the only excuse the Prime Minister could have to hold a cynical election.

Senator BUTTON —I suppose I should begin by congratulating Senator Townley on his speech. I should also like to congratulate him on the fact that this is the first time in eight years that I have seen him overcome and concerned by a rash of principles, because in the entire period of the previous Government, even years, he expressed no such concern. In fact, I strongly resent the suggestion that this Government would trick the public or indulge in a cynical exercise about this matter. In fact, it was only two days ago in an article in the Australian that the honourable senator's leader in the Senate accused this Government of what he called 'disarming candour'. The suggestion that we should also be guilty of cynicism, coming so close upon the heels of the Leader of the Opposition's suggestion that we were guilty of candour, surprises and disappoints me.

I agree on behalf of the Prime Minister that as at this date, 15 December 1983, there is clearly no requirement for us to fix an election in November or December 1984, but I am sure I cannot bind the Prime Minister in any answer I give to every date beyond 15 November 1983 and prevent him, as well as everybody else, contemplating that issue. I am sure, however, that if I convey to the Prime Minister Senator Townley's passionate concern about the destabilising of the recovery and so on he will take it into account in any deliberations which he makes about the question of an early or late election.

Senator TOWNLEY —I ask a supplementary question and I will be very brief. The Minister did not answer the last part of my question. Does he not agree that an early election would enable the House of Representatives to be enlarged at a great cost to this country?

Senator BUTTON —I agree that an early election would, in certain circumstances, enable the House of Representatives to be enlarged. Whether it is at a great cost to this country is very much a matter of subjective judgment. I do not see any particular point in offering my judgment any more than I would see any particular point in Senator Townley articulating his.