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Thursday, 13 May 1993
Page: 597

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN (5.42 p.m.) —I support the motion that has been moved by Senator Hill and Senator Boswell which is at present before the Senate. In doing so, I condemn the Premier of Queensland on his call for the abolition of the Senate and State upper houses. Actually, it is a wonder to me, after what he has said here today, that Senator Robert Ray does not join Senator Button and Senator Walsh and resign from the Senate. But he seems to want to be here as one of the senators, just the same.

  Mr Goss complained that there were too many politicians in Australia and suggested that the Senate was a talkfest and not really a States house at all. Certainly the Government is doing its best to make sure that there is no talkfest in the Senate because, since I have been in the Senate, speeches during second reading debates have been cut in length from one hour to 30 minutes. Yesterday, the Senate passed legislation to reduce the time to 20 minutes for those speeches. I wonder whether one day, when I am no longer in the Senate, I will read that the time limit for speeches has been cut from 20 minutes to 10 minutes. But what will that matter if the proposal of the Premier of Queensland to get rid of the Senate is put into effect?

  I agree that the Senate is an essential part of the balance of powers, built into the Constitution to protect against unbridled power wielded by the majority view expressed in the House of Representatives. On TV yesterday, I said that I believe the most important part of the Senate's work is as a house of review. Much time is spent in the Senate trying to improve legislation passed by the House of Representatives under the guillotine where, because of the Government's numbers, the Opposition has no chance of making amendments that it thinks are necessary. Unfortunately, a lot of the review work in this place is not put into legislation because the Australian Democrats have the habit, more often than not, of siding with the Government so that Opposition amendments do not get passed.

  As Senator Boswell said, Mr Goss has let the cat out of the bag. I believe his proposal is part of a plan by the socialist Labor Party to abolish the Senate, even though Senator Ray has said here this afternoon that that is not its policy. Indeed, I believe that its eventual plan is also to abolish the States and centralise all power in Canberra. It wants to open up the whole Constitution to attack and change. The Labor Government appointed Mr Bill Hayden, one of its previous Treasurers, as Governor-General. He can easily be asked to step down and fit in with the abolition of the present Constitution and system of government. Indeed, if he has retired by then, I am sure that the next appointee will be more than willing to accede to the Government's request to do likewise.

  Mr Keating, the Prime Minister, has called the Senate unrepresentative. Indeed, he called it unrepresentative swill. I guess as a part owner of a piggery he knows all about swill. The word `swill' is bad enough, but we are not unrepresentative, for senators are elected just as the members of the House of Representatives are. The Labor Party has found out to its dismay that some of its present senators did not get elected at the last election.

  What concerns me about the present debate to change the Westminster system of government is: how will it improve our way of life? I have not yet been able to ascertain what improvement there will be for Australians to have the Governor-General replaced by a president. Certainly it will not provide jobs for the one million unemployed, help to reduce our overseas balance of payments of $168 billion or reduce our current account deficit. I was interested to read a letter in today's Courier Mail that said there are no advantages in becoming a republic but there are disadvantages. The primary disadvantage is the tremendous cost to a country that is on the brink of bankruptcy. Who has brought us to that point? This Labor Government.

  I recall that when Mr Whitlam was Prime Minister he announced that he wanted to do away with the States and turn Australia into a republic. My husband was Premier of Queensland at the time. I cannot say that I appreciated Senator Ray's rude remarks about him because when one looks at what Queensland was at the time that Joh was premier and what it is now with Goss as premier, one sees no progress and no development. This very important for us to know.

Senator Bolkus —No corruption—there ain't no corruption.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —As far as I am concerned, there is still plenty of corruption in Queensland and they keep on investigating and investigating. I believe that a lot of the talk about corruption in the time of Joh's leadership was all media inspired. I was talking about when Mr Whitlam announced that he wanted to do away with the States and turn Australia into a republic. My husband was Premier of Queensland at the time and he organised all the Premiers of every State to go to London to see Sir Alec Douglas-Home—the conservative Minister in the British Parliament responsible for the Commonwealth—to protest and let him know that a republic was not wanted in Australia. That put an end to Mr Whitlam's move at the time. When Joh next met Mr Whitlam at a Premiers Conference—

Senator Faulkner —You are in real trouble now, Flo.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —Senator Faulkner ought to listen to this. The next time Joh met Mr Whitlam at a Premiers Conference, the then Prime Minister said to him, `Joh, you might have won that round, but let me tell you that I am going to be the first president of the republic of Australia. What is more, you can start calling me Mr President right now because that is exactly what I am going to be'.

Senator Bolkus —Who said that?

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —Mr Gough Whitlam said that to Joh. Whether the Labor Government's plans for a republic include Mr Whitlam, Mr Bill Hayden, Mr Hawke or indeed Mr Keating as the first president I do not know. I do not want any of them, for I do not agree—

Senator Bolkus —It will be Malcolm Fraser.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —I did not think Senator Bolkus would include Mr Malcolm Fraser as a president. I do not agree with the Labor Party's socialist policies and its plans for Australia's future.

  Although the Leader of the Government in the Senate told me in answer to a question on Monday that everyone wanted a republic, I do not believe him. How can we know what Australians want unless we have a referendum to find out? The media are the ones who keep on saying that Australians want a republic. As I move around, I have not found a great ground swell of Australians wanting change. It is very important that, as a first step, we ensure that the Senate and other upper houses are maintained to restrain executive power.

  Mr Goss also said that the Senate never stood up for States rights. I maintain that, as a Queensland senator, I have stood up for States rights. Senator Walters, in her time, has also stood up for States rights. I voted against our government—that was Malcolm Fraser's Government—when it brought in a Bill to tax essential commodities. As one could imagine, the government of the day was not very happy with me, but Queenslanders were. I was standing up for the people I represent.

  Senator Boswell, Senator O'Chee and I stood up for the sugar growers in Queensland. They did not want the tariffs on sugar reduced and certainly did not want a lot of cheap sugar grown overseas imported into Australia to damage our sugar industry. We were standing up for Queensland and, I believe, States rights.

  The same applies to our stand in the Senate for our woolgrowers and wheat producers. I maintain that on many occasions I have stood up for the rights of the people of Queensland whom I have had the honour to represent in this Senate for 12 1/4 years. It gives me pleasure to support the motion put down in the Senate by my leader, Senator Boswell, and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Hill.