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Wednesday, 14 November 1973
Page: 3338

Mr JACOBI (Hawker) - I rise to support the Bill. Having heard the remarks of the 3 speakers from the Opposition side in this debate, and having attended the Australian Constitutional Convention in Sydney, I am convinced that all that honourable members opposite can present to the House is a whole series of cliches. I would have hoped that we would have heard some logical argument in this debate. Regrettably, we have not.

The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), in introducing the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill, supported that legislation on 3 or 4 grounds. The major ground, apart from the fact that what was proposed was Labor Party policy and had been uttered at that Constitutional Convention so that plenty of notice was given of our intention, was that the legislation seeks to carry out a unanimous recommendation made in 1959 by the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review. That report recommended that the terms of senators should be changed from 6 years, as they now are, to 2 terms of the House of Representatives so that the elections for both Houses could take place simultaneously. I suggest that the reason for this recommendation is that a government elected by the will of the people on its policies could effectively and efficiently carry out those policies. At the moment, the Government, because of the composition of the Senate, is not in a position to do so.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) and the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) expressed the fears and dangers that could result from the adoption of the policy of the Australian Labor Party, which seeks a unicameral system of government. They suggested that it would be dangerous to create this system under our Constitution because such a system would have an adverse effect on the smaller States. I point out to the House that throughout the world there are unicameral systems of government and bicameral systems of government which rely on conjoint elections for both Houses; there are others that do not. Does anybody seriously suggest that any of those systems are less effective or less efficient than the Australian federal system?

Let us look at those countries which have parliamentary systems which function on the basis of conjoint elections for their Parliaments. In the Republic of Ireland there is a House of Representatives and a Senate, and they come out at the same time. Does anybody seriously suggest that they are less effective or less efficient because of that factor, or that the lower House dominates the upper House or vice versa? In Belgium there is a House of Representatives and a Senate, and they have conjoint elections every 3 years. Is the Belgian Parliament less effective or less efficient because of that factor? Italy has a Chamber of Deputies and a Senate, and has conjoint elections every 3 years. Is that country's parliament less efficient or less effective? Does anybody in this chamber wish to suggest that? I am sure that the ambassadors of the 3 countries I have mentioned would be very pleased to hear such a suggestion about the parliaments of their countries. In Portugal the position is much the same. Mexico has a House of Representatives and a Senate.

Mr Giles - Your argument is pretty thin if you have to cite Portugal.

Mr JACOBI - Perhaps I would subscribe to that view. But I would certainly say that the Republic of Ireland, Belgium and Italy are reasonably efficiently governed. Let me list the countries with 2 Houses but not having conjoint elections. They are Austria, the Federal Republic of Germany, India, South Africa, Malaya, Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, Hungary, Cambodia, the United States, Kenya, Iran, Norway, Sweden, France and Northern Ireland. The Federal Republic of Germany has 2 Houses. They are not called out conjointly. But is the Government of that country any less efficient or effective because of that factor? Next I mention Canada. I assume that the only reason the 2 Houses in Canada do not come out conjointly is that the Senate is elected for life, the House of Commons every 5 years. Japan is in the same situation.

Dr Forbes - Which side are you on?

Mr JACOBI - I am trying to make a case in answer to those people in this House who say that this nation will be doomed if we have simultaneous elections. They suggest that it is neither logical nor sensible; that it is utterly irresponsible. I suggest that the 1959 Constitutional Review Committee recommended what is in fact logical, that is, that the Australian Constitution should be altered to achieve the end which this Bill seeks. I noted that no honourable member opposite took the time to do a little research into what in fact was the attitude of our founding fathers. I have searched through perhaps the most important book on early federation, and that is the book written by Quick and Garran. Whilst I can find plenty of references to the structure of the Senate, the book throws very little light on the question of conjoint elections for both Houses. The official report of the National Australian Convention debates in 1897 contains specific reference to the fact that they ought to be held jointly. It is to be found in the speech by the

Victorian Premier, Sir George Turner. His remarks were made in relation to a clause of the Commonwealth of Australia Bill, which suggested that elections for the House of Representatives should be on a four yearly basis and not a three yearly basis. The clause stated:

Every House of Representatives shall continue for four years from the day appointed for the first meeting of the House, and no longer, but may be sooner dissolved by the Governor-General.

Sir GeorgeTurner had this to say:

The Commonwealth Bill, as it was In the year 1891, limited the duration of the House of Representatives to three years, but the Constitutional Committee, for some reason, have decided to extend that term to four years. Now, I confess that I cannot approve of that alteration, unless some good reason can be assigned for it. To begin with, we have the Senate retiring at three years and six years, and it would be wise, so far as we are able, to keep the elections as near together as may be. If we have a Parliament retiring at the end of three years, unless there happens to be a dissolution at some particular time-

The only way we can bring about simultaneous elections at the moment is to have a double dissolution. We have obviously forgotten that fact. Sir George Turner went on: which is not very likely to happen in connection with the Federal Parliament - we may allow an election for senators and for representatives at certain times to take place together, and by that means save a considerable amount of expense.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

Mr JACOBI - Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner I was referring to the attitude of our founding fathers to the question of the synchronisation of elections for both Houses. I believe that the references that they made indicated quite clearly that in the backs of their minds they thought it both logical and sensible to do so. Earlier I referred to the methods adopted in countries which have bicameral systems of Parliament where both Houses are elected conjointly. From listening to the prophets of doom on the other side it is quite clear that bicameral systems, if both Houses are elected conjointly, work effectively. As I recall it, amongst all his illogicalities, the one logical reason the Deputy Leader of the Country Party (Mr Sinclair) advanced for the retention of the current balance of timing between both Houses was the sheer additional power that the Senate possesses beyond that of upper Houses in other countries where bicameral systems exist. May I suggest to the honourable gentleman that that is precisely the reason, the essence and the kernel of the need for the constitutional amendment.

I am pleased to see that the honourable member for Moreton has returned to the chamber because I recall that one of his utterances was that, if this alteration were given approval by the people, it would mean that the Senate would in fact be a political victim of the Government. May I suggest that the current position is exactly the reverse. We are the victims of the upper House. I am inclined to the view that it was precisely for that reason in 1951 the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, was likewise persuaded. He went for a double dissolution. I have promised to cut down my time in this debate because I think that somebody in the Opposition wants to speak for at least 10 minutes.

Another important factor needs to be taken into consideration. My figures are a little different from those of the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) but the fact is that it is the economic question that ought to be considered when we talk of synchronising the elections for both Houses. Let us have a look at the costs involved. A conjoint election would cost between 55 per cent and 57 per cent of the total cost of separate Senate and House of Representatives elections. In 1970 the Senate general election cost $1,735,122. In 1972 the House of Representatives general election cost $1,980,132. The total cost of those 2 elections was $3,715,254. Therefore, an estimate for conjoint elections would be about 55 per cent to 57 per cent of $3m. In my view it is utterly ludicrous for the Opposition logically, constructively or persuasively to attempt to oppose the alterations sought. I believe that the Bill will receive the overwhelming support of the people. I believe that it will attract support for the reasons set out by the Prime Minister in his second reading speech. I support the Bill.

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