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Wednesday, 14 November 1973
Page: 3327

Mr KILLEN (Moreton) - It is my hope and expectation that the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) must stand in contemplation of disappointment, for I am sure that when this proposal is understood by the people it will be rejected. The honourable gentleman this afternoon has sought to encourage the House to accept one simple proposition, which is that this Bill is a simple measure merely calling for the simultaneous .election of both Houses of the Parliament. 'Why', said the honourable gentleman, with his magnificent sense of exuberance, 'are you opposed to it? Why not let the people decide? Why not let them adjudicate on the merits of this issue?' I do not contest that in the least; nor did the founders of our Constitution contest it. Under section 128 of the Constitution, if either House of the Parliament passes a Bill for a referendum and the other House refuses to pass it, the Governor-General, upon the expiration of 3 months, may - the operative word is 'may' - submit it to the electors. The fact that that provision is in the Constitution argues 2 things, I submit. Firstly, it argues that both Houses of the Parliament are under the plainest duty to turn, with a measure of honest scrutiny, to a proposal for a referendum that comes before them. Otherwise why put it in the Constitution? If the Minister cares to read the Convention debates dealing with this matter - that is an exercise that would enlighten him and make our life much more tolerable - he will find that what I am putting is quite true.

The second proposition I put to the honourable gentleman is that there can be no suggestion of holding back a measure from the adjudication of the electorate, provided it has passed one House of the Parliament. According to the honourable gentleman's argument as he has trotted it out this afternoon, all we have to do is to put up our hands and say that we are all for letting the people decide, without attempting to exert ourselves in the least, either physically or intellectually, to find out what it is all about. 'Trust the people', says the Minister. Let me repeat it so that the words will sink into his sponge-like existence: Trust the people'. I invite the honourable gentleman to trust the people. He belongs to a party that subscribes to the abolition of the Senate.

Why does not he submit that proposal to the people? Here is a glorious opportunity to do so: we have a Bill already drafted before us. Will the honourable gentleman accept an amendment to provide for the deletion of all those provisions in the Constitution relating to the Senate?

Mr Hurford - Will you move it?

Mr KILLEN - The honourable member for Adelaide happens to believe in the uni-camera] system. I do not That is one of the distinguishing features between the two of us. It is one of the reasons why this afternoon I ask the Minister, who, with boisterous exuberance, has invited us to trust the people, why he does not take the opportunity when it is presented to him. The honourable member for Adelaide has an assessment of his own level of intelligence that is in inverse proportion to what his level of intelligence is. Today the Minister for Services and Property is saying to the Opposition: 'Why don't you trust the people?' I say to the Minister: "Why don't you trust the people and ask them to give their views on whether the Senate should be retained?' Listening further to the argument put forward by the Minister, one would think that for the last 30 or 40 years this country had been in a state of tumult, with a multiplicity of elections.

I did not hear the speech of the Prime Minister - no discourtesy meant on my part - but I have read it with close attention and I am bound to say to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Services and Property that I have a very considerable degree of sympathy with the arguments advanced by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam).

What were the arguments? He said that elections were too frequent. I do not contest that proposition in the least. I think that it is a simple, uncluttered statement of fact. Further, he said that elections are too costly. Again, I do not contest that. The Minister for Services and Property this afternoon has put into Hansard for us all to read the approximate cost of holding elections in present times. The Prime Minister further said that frequent elections make the working of Parliament difficult. Further - this is a gloss on the other argument he put - it is to the detriment of the public purse to have frequent elections. Not one of those propositions would I find myself in any measure of disagreement with whatsoever. But what does the Government propose to do in an attempt to cure all that is involved here? It seeks to amend the Constitution.

The Minister could solve this problem in a matter of a few months. He has said that we might be facing a double dissolution sooner than we think. I think that he is the one who should tremble because he will have to find out that the trams of Sydney are still a little on the hard side. If he has to go back to cabs he will find that they are probably a little uncomfortable for his liking. Why does the honourable gentleman not say here: 'In the next few months we can take the House of Representatives to the people with the Senate.' Why not? In 1963 Sir Robert Menzies asked the then Governor-General to dissolve the House of Representatives and we went to the people. There was no inhibition there. What is wrong with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Services and Property - that well known supporter of the gubernatorial establishment - going out to the Governor-General and saying: We want you to dissolve the House of Representatives'?

The Government has a thundering good reason for a dissolution. We want to bring together the elections of both Houses of the Parliament to cut out the need to have elections at odd times. It would be possible to avoid the frequency of elections and the additional cost that the Prime Minister spoke about - the detriment to the public purse. The Government would be able to ensure a smoother working of the Parliament. What is wrong with my honourable friend the Minister for Services and Property? Why this shyness? Why this taciturnity? It is unlike him. I suggest that the honourable gentleman must be under some severe form of pressure. We have not heard from him on these points. He has a passionate attachment for doing things in simple fashion. Here is a remarkably simple way of solving the problem. The Government would be able to avoid holding a referendum. The Minister should think of the cost that could be saved. The honourable gentleman would be able to say to his colleagues and to the rest of the country: 'A great brainstorm hit me.' That would be a remarkable event. However, we could all look at the consequences with amusement. He could say: T have been able to find a way of saving money. I suggest that instead of holding a referendum to provide for both Houses to be elected together, we simply go out to the Governor-General and invite him to allow us to have the elections of the House of Representatives with the Senate elections.'

My honourable friend is not as unreasonable as he tries to make out. There are occasions when there are displays of reason by the honourable gentleman. I indicate to him now that when he comes to have dinner with me tomorrow night, on his performance to-day, he will need to bring a food taster with him. What is wrong with adopting the proposal I suggest? There is not one of the elements of argument put by the Prime Minister that could not be met in the simple fashion that I have put forward. But what would be the overall effect if this Bill for a referendum were to be passed and the matter were put to the people and carried? It would make the Senate, in a very real sense, the potential victim of the political distemper of this chamber. Having regard to some of the displays of distemper that I have seen opposite, that would put the country in very substantial jeopardy.

Let me illustrate the point. I put it by way of hypothesis, not by way of insult, intended or otherwise. Assume that the Prime Minister finds himself beseiged by the supporters of the Federal President of die Australian Council of Trade Unions and there is a significant shearing away of support for him in his government. In the course of the next 2 or 3 months this may be the likelihood. It may not be as unreal as one would imagine. It would mean under this proposal that if this House had to be dissolved the Senate would have to be dissolved. So the caprice of political behaviour in this chamber would be the determining factor for the Senate. For very sound reasons the provisions relating to a double dissolution were put in the Australian Constitution. Section 57 was put there only after the most elaborate and exhaustive debate. This was part of the compact of Federation to ensure that if there were disagreements between the 2 Houses there would be a set way of providing for those disagreements to be resolved.

Speaking for myself, I have no objection whatsoever to the Senate's rejecting as many Bills as it wishes, save one notable exception - a supply or appropriation Bill. I make that exception for technical reasons. The will of the people could be frustrated if the situation were otherwise. But in this instance, for example, a Bill relating to the provisions of conciliation and arbitration or a Bill relating to the Electoral Act or any other Bill could be rejected by the Senate. Then the mechanisms of the Constitution could be brought into play. If we try to do it otherwise it must significantly disadvantage some of the provisions of the Constitution. That is the main reason, that I oppose this Bill in this House and would oppose the Government's proposals in the country if a referendum were held. This Bill, if it and the subsequent referendum proposals were carried, would largely suffocate the provisions of section 57 of the Constitution - not merely trench upon it but suffocate it. It would mean that every time there was a political disturbance in this House which forced the Leader of the Government of the day to hand in his commission or, rather more pointedly, to go to the Governor-General and say 'I ask you to dissolve the House of Representatives' the effect of that would simply be that half of the Senate would have to stand for election again for no reason at all other than a political disturbance which had taken place in this chamber.

In the Constitution, the provisions relating to dissolution of the Senate are quite clear, It refers to the dissolution of the Senate; not of part of the Senate. The whole of the history of the provisions relating to the dissolution of the Senate hinge on the fact that if Bills are rejected twice by the Senate and it appears that the will of the majority of the people - the popular will - is in any way being frustrated, the Constitution enables those provisions to start to move and it enables the country to be kept in a measure of stability. Surely it is one of the aims of government to have stability; not some dull, mould-like stability, but stability in government to ensure that the whole parliamentary process is enabled to work safely. What is being proposed by the Labor Government today is a significant attempt to undermine the Constitution not for the sake of convenience - if mere convenience were the argument here we could meet it rapidly in 3 or 4 months' time - but to undermine the Constitution in a way which, frankly, I do not think the Government quite comprehends. If convenience were at stake I am sure that the Minister would respond to the suggestion I made to him.

I notice him smile with the utmost affection as I say that. But as he reflects on the suggestion he may ascribe to that view.

Let me put it this way to the Minister. If the referendum were to be carried, say in May next year, it would not be until the next elections were held for the House of Repre sentatives that the Government would be able to pull out half the Senate. So, half the Senate today would be brought out in another 18 months or 2 years following upon the Senate election in May. I ask the Minister to look closely at that proposal. If he does, he will see the incredibly stupid position into which he has launched the Government.

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