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Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Page: 3419

Senator JOYCE (QueenslandLeader of The Nationals in the Senate) (15:51): In one of the more difficult times for dealing with such a contentious issue as a constitutional referendum, when people are rightly questioning and wanting to make sure that they get a fair hearing and have the capacity to ensure that the views that they earnestly hold are able to be ventilated in a way that is not inhibited to an extent by problems of the other side, it is very important that fair funding is given to both sides of the debate. It was a disappointing but great surprise to me when I found out on Monday that the two sides to this issue had vastly different access to resources to mount their cases.

It might be that the circumstances of next week mean that there is no referendum. If Mr Rudd challenges Ms Gillard, as we believe he is going to, and becomes the new Prime Minister and we go off to an early election we will not get to the prescribed period. You then have to ask the question: what is going to happen to the $75 million or so that was put aside for this referendum? Or will that be another fiasco of this current government? But on the presumption that this manic approach to this referendum is pursued then there has to be a fair capacity for both sides to engage with the Australian people on their well-held views as to why there should or should not be support for this referendum.

It is also worth noting that at a time when the contentious views for and against this referendum can live happily side by side in the same chamber and at a time when the Taliban is negotiating with the United States, we still cannot get a proper negotiation between Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd as to who will be the Prime Minister of Australia. Why that is pertinent to this is that it is extremely relevant to this referendum and how it goes. If we head to an election early then there is no need for any money because we will not have the proper passage as prescribed by section 126 of the Constitution.

In making sure that we have a vessel to hold the funds for the yes and the no cases, we need proper and transparent mechanisms to ensure that organisations on both sides have the capacity to be audited so that when the funds turn up we feel they are going to the appropriate purpose. That would stand to reason. We also acknowledge that in the constitutional referendum debate there were two well-established camps—the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy and the Australian Republican Movement. They both had well-respected organisations where money could be delivered and spent. But, most importantly, they each received equal funding. So I think it is incumbent somewhat upon the government that on the delivery of an organisation that passes the audit test for the no case—and that is a hair's-breadth away; it could happen tomorrow or tonight or it might already have happened, I am not sure—there should be parity of funding between the two. Otherwise you will build up a natural form of suspicion amongst the Australian people as to exactly where this funding is going.

For me, the overwhelming frustration is that the local government representatives who have been continuously, one after the other, coming into my office are really talking to the wrong person—because I am on side. They have to start lobbying the people who are not on side. Convincing me of a requirement I agree with is probably a waste of time. But I am happy to see them anyway. I think it is extremely pertinent that one of them said, 'This issue only raised itself up in the last couple of days.' I said, 'No, this issue has been on the boil for about a year.' In fact, one of my good staff members, Samantha, informed me that it has been going for longer than that. That just goes to show that the transparency and ventilation of the debate is not wide. If those in the centre of the debate do not know about it, then what hope do we have for those on the periphery of the debate? What hope do we have for those in Johnson Street, Smith Street or Betty Street knowing about the debate? We know what happens if they do not. If there is a sense of suspicion or they do not have a complete comprehension of the issues, they will do what most people do—when in doubt, vote out.

If we want to succeed with this—and obviously I am pushing the barrow that I want it to succeed—then we have to have four things. We have to have a diligent process, which is not in place. We have to have time, which we do not have. We have to have key stakeholders on side, which are not there. And we have to have a sense of fairness. If there is not a sense of fairness in the delivery of the proposition then people will think—and most of the time they would be right—that there is something tricky going on and they will move away from it. For the yes case to prevail, I plead that the no case be equally funded because it helps both cases.

I have said that I want a referendum to win on its merits, not on its finances. The merits of the case will be well thought out with well-instructed camps from both sides. You will have two different views within this chamber. You will have state governments that are overwhelmingly against it and you will have local governments that are overwhelmingly for it. In that environment, the nation will go to a referendum on the same day as an election that will be sucking the oxygen out of any possible ventilation of this issue.

This also goes back to the fact that supporting a case on either side is going to require a campaign like anything else. Just as there are 150 seats that will determine the outcome at a general election, there are 150 seats that have to be lobbied and that have to participate in the appropriate politics throughout the nation for the referendum. For that process and coordination to take place, it is going to require substantial funds. It will require substantial funds just to get one mail-out to one electorate. If you are looking at 110,000 to 120,000 voters in an electorate, it is going to cost you around $110,000 or $120,000. When you think of the cost of an envelope, a stamp and the other bits and pieces that go with it and the content, you would be doing very well to get out of it for less than a dollar a letter. That means that, with the $500,000 there at the moment, you would probably get about four electorates done, and there are 150 electorates. This is where the costs rack up. Any person who has ever been engaged in a marginal campaign will understand that concept perfectly well, will understand the actual cost of running a campaign.

The people whose views are evolving now on both sides of the debate seem to be people who are immensely decent and driven by views that are ardent but well thought out, including former Senator Nick Minchin and others for the no case and other people for the yes case. It would seem peculiar that I would stand up and say this, but I think it is a vitally important issue. The Australian people will naturally be suspicious if they think the fix is on. They have an inherent desire to always support the underdog. Especially of late, they have held that the verdicts—(Time expired)