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Thursday, 15 November 1973
Page: 3378

Mr TURNER (Bradfield) - In the 10 minutes available to me I want to say a few words about the style and structure of the present Government. First of all, it has been said time and time again by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) that he has a mandate to do this or that. I want to make the point that when in the course of an election campaign a political leader makes what he is pleased to call a policy speech and a number of other speeches and issues supplementary statements and so on there may be 199 different matters that he has mentioned. To claim that he has a mandate for every one of these is of course on the face of it obviously absurd. If we had a ballot paper in which people were asked: Are you in favour of this, that or the other?' and we went down the list of 199 matters, we probably would find that there were few indeed of those matters mentioned by a political leader which would have the endorsement of the majority of the people.

I illustrate this - merely illustrate it - by referring to the promise with regard to a national anthem. The honourable member for

Warringah (Mr MacKellar) has a notice on the notice paper which precludes me from going into that matter in any detail, and I do not intend to. But I merely give this illustration. The Prime Minister has no mandate for implementing this promise in the way that he proposes, even if we accepted that the majority of the people wanted it. I believe that only by means of a referendum is it possible for the people to feel that they are really participating. For some survey to be taken amongst elected people is not to the point. Clearly the people must feel that they are participating and this Parliament should participate.

There has been an arrogant refusal by the Prime Minister to include, for example, the national anthem that we have had for so long, God Save the Queen. I am not arguing in favour of it or against it. I am merely saying that the people have been denied a choice and I take that as an example of the abuse of the idea of a mandate. It is an arrogant refusal to give people a choice that they plainly want, whether you, Mr Speaker, or I or anybody else believes in the choice that they may make. What the Prime Minister forgets is that we cannot thrust a national anthem down the throats of the people. If they will not have it, they will boycott it. They will not stand for it. They will not honour it. Unless the Prime Minister brings this to the Parliament - indeed, it has been brought to the Parliament through the initiative of an honourable member on this side of the House - and it is debated here, unless there is some bi-partisan approach on this matter, and unless the people as a whole participate, it does not matter what mandate the Prime Minister claims; he can give no effect to it.

Still dealing with the style of the Government, I move on to the question of the Constitution - not to debate the Bills at present before the House or which may be put before the House but simply to say that an attempt is being made to tear up the Federal Constitution. In the earlier stages of this Government or, I suppose technically, its predecessor in the days of the diumvirate, we had scores of things done for months and months without them coming to the Parliament. The Government ransacked every provision in the Acts of the Parliament which had been passed to find means of doing things for which there has been no debate or warrant and not even the vestige of a claim for a mandate. This went on for months and months. Since then we have had a situation where an attempt has made to tear up the Consitution by stealth. For example, we had the legislation relating to the Department of Urban and Regional Development which was designed to set up regions in Australia to which money might be given for purposes approved by the Minister for Urban and Regional Development.

If we starve the States as a deliberate process and policy and feed local government as a deliberate policy we reach a stage where one part of the Federal Constitution, the States, are destroyed and another part, local government, is built up in their place so that we replace our federal form of government with the kind of government which exists in the United Kingdom where they have one central government at Westminster and county councils, borough councils and so forth administering details in the regions. This has been done by stealth. One would think that if the Australian people wished to change their form of Constitution from a federal to a unitary system, the right way to do this would be for a government to come out and state plainly what it wished to do, give the arguments in favour of what it wished to do and finally, by referendum, put it to the people instead of seeking to do it by stealth. I have time to give only that one illustration but others will spring to the minds of honourable members.

We have seen a steady degeneration of the Parliament. We have seen question time used simply as a vehicle for propaganda on the part of Ministers of this Government. In response to questions - often Dorothy Dix questions, as we describe them - we have Ministers pouring out propaganda which has little relationship to the question that has been asked. The Standing Orders are perfectly plain on this matter, but they have been ignored. This is a complete abuse of the process of this Parliament. Actually, the importance of Parliament is that the Executive - the Government, the Ministers - is answerable to it. When we reach a situation where Ministers make it impossible for questions to be asked or, if they are asked, they do not answer them, no longer is the Executive responsible to the Parliament and so we destroy Parliament, treating it simply as a rubber stamp to give effect to the decisions of the Executive. It will be that and nothing more because only this can give legitimacy to decisions of the Government; only this will be enforced by the courts; only this will have effect in the community. This of course has always been the function of Parliament. Debate and discussion is the essence of Parliament itself, and this has been steadily eroded and is in the process of being destroyed. The people do not know that they no longer have a Parliament in the true sense of the word. There is a thing here with the name of Parliament. There is a place here called Parliament House. But that does not make a parliament. The Parliament has been steadily eroded. There has been a deliberate move by the Government, and particularly by the Prime Minister, to turn the media into a substitute for Parliament. These are people who are not elected, these are people whose criteria are different from ours. We are in touch with our constituents and we know their aspirations. In the media, all one gets is people seeking to entertain with trivia or whatever it may be. So Parliament is ceasing to be in effect the tribune of the people. Because of the fact that the plebians were not represented in the Roman Senate, the Romans invented the idea of tribunes - special officers to protect the interests of the people, with special powers of veto of certain legislation and so on. It was the Roman invention. But the British invented the parliamentary system to look after the interests of the mass of the people. Now we are destroying this and handing over this function to the media, which have no responsibility in the matter at all. All I can say is: God help the people if they have to depend on the media- as the tribunes of the people.

Now a word about the structure of the present Government. Ministers are elected by the Caucus. But can they be dismissed? A Prime Minister cannot dismiss his Ministers. It does not matter what a Minister does, how incompetent he is or how much he may defy the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister cannot dismiss him. Furthermore the Government can be overruled by Caucus. The result is uncertainty and irresponsibility in government. As I have illustrated in this House, we have seen oppressiveness, arrogance and a dictatorial attitude, and insults have been thrown across the chamber and have reduced the Parliament to a shambles. The reason for its being reduced to a shambles is that these insults are thrown, and they naturally provoke a response. As I mentioned earlier at question time, when a Minister can make a propaganda speech and the Opposition has no right to reply to it, then of course there will be a reaction that results in turmoil and the kind of thing that we have seen not only in the last few days-

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