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Tuesday, 4 December 1973
Page: 2398

Senator WITHERS (Western AustraliaLeader of the Opposition) - Mr President,the matter before the Senate at the moment is a Bill for an Act to alter the Constitution so as to ensure that the Senate elections are held at the same time as the House of Representatives elections. That is a very noble aspiration. But the initial question one should pose is: Why is this necessary? Why is it necessary to alter the Constitution permanently to bring this about? I believe that this Bill, like so many other actions of this

Government, is nothing but an exercise in deception in which the Government is deliberately attempting to deceive the people of Australia. When this Bill was called on for debate in the other place it was said that the title of the Bill was a fraud. In fact, it was said there also that the title did not reflect in any way the intent of the Bill. Once upon a time, of course, the long title of a Bill to amend the Constitution set out what the referendum proposal was to be. But that is not the case in this Bill; neither is it the case in the 3 Bills that are to follow.

I commenced by asking: Why is this Bill necessary? I believe it is not necessary. There is no need for a constitutional referendum to ensure that simultaneous elections are held. They may be held by 2 means. Firstly, we can have simultaneous elections at any time that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) likes to go and see the Governor-General because in section 57 of the Constitution there is provision for a double dissolution if there is a disagreement between the 2 Houses. If my memory serves me correctly, there has been the opportunity for the Government to request the Governor-General to grant a double dissolution ever since August or September. A double dissolution would bring about simultaneous elections of the whole of this chamber and of the House of Representatives. But, Mr President, it is not even necessary to hold a double dissolution to bring the elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives back to the same date. The Government could, if it wished to do so and if it had the courage to do so, take out the House of Representatives at the next Senate election- that is, when those honourable senators who are due to retire at 30 June 1974 have to face their electors. There is no constitutional or legal reason why the Government should not take out the House of Representatives at that time. I should point out that it is not the Senate which is out of step with the House of Representatives but rather the House of Representatives which is out of step with the Senate.

Senator Poke Tha t was caused by Sir Robert Menzies.

Senator WITHERS (Western AustraliaLeader of the Opposition) I know that. I was about to say that in 1963, as the Senate will recall, Sir Robert Menzies called an election for November or December that year although the House of Representatives need not have gone to the polls until about that date in 1964. The Senate did not cause the House of Representatives to go to the polls one year early in 1963. Therefore, it is not the fault of the Senate that there is this present imbalance between the 2 chambers.

The Government can hardly be blamed if it thinks that we regard this Bill with some suspicion. I always have very much in the forefront of my mind the fact that it is part of the platform of the Australian Labor Party to abolish this chamber. I am more convinced, as I see the Government's referendum proposals unfold, that this Bill is but the first step towards carrying out that plank of that platform. As I see it, the whole purpose of this Bill is to lower the status and to weaken the independence of this chamber. I think we ought to remind ourselves occasionally that section 53 of the Constitutionstates:

Except as provided in this section, the Senate shall have equal power with the House of Representatives in respect of all proposed laws.

I believe that those words ought to be pinned to the front of every member of the Government Party, and especially the Prime Minister and every member of his Cabinet, because the Senate is not meant to be and was never meant to be the junior House of the Parliament. It was never intended to be dependent upon the will of the House of Representatives and, as far as this Party is concerned, it never will be. Without the Senate there would never have been a Commonwealth. We all know that the States never would have agreed to the establishment of the Commonwealth without making provision for a body which would take note of and protect the States and give the people of the less populous States enduring constitutional rights. That is the purpose of the Senate. It was to be the purpose of the Senate in the 1890s and it is still the purpose of the Senate in the 1970s.

It was rather hard to listen to the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) when he introduced this Bill. Senator Murphy has, for long, projected himself as the champion of the Senate, but I believe that he was in cahoots with the Prime Minister in an attempt to put into operation a proposal contained in the platform of the Australian Labor Party—namely , the abolition of the Senate. The intent is hidden behind this Bill before us, but it is a mark of the Government's true intentions in the same way as the Electoral Bill, which we defeated in August, was but a mark of its true intentions. In that Bill, as honourable senators may recall, the Government claimed to seek one vote one value; but in another Bill, which we will be discussing here soon, the Government, through a referendum, will seek to incorporate in our Constitution not an electoral system which represents one vote one value but one which talks of having equal numbers of people in electorates instead of equal numbers of electors in electorates. The slogan 'one vote one value' has been a phony slogan ever since the commencement of this Parliament in February. By this stage we ought to be used to the way in which this Government works. It attempts to deceive the public and it is attempting a referendum fraud upon the electors. We members of the Opposition Party in this chamber will have no part in that deception and fraud and we will expose measures, such as this, which are simply a front designed to achieve the Labor Party's platform.

The partiamentary process is enhanced by the Senate. We know that this is the House of the Parliament which gives real meaning to the word 'Parliament'. In this chamber amendments have been moved to legislation which, because of the highly political character of the House of Representatives, would not have been possible in that chamber. The Senate has provided a forum for partiamentary action. We know that this is something which the present Government would like to destroy. The present Government wants to downgrade the Parliament, especially the Senate, because the Senate today is giving real meaning to the parliamentary process. Parliament to the Labor Party is meaningless. Its orders and actions are dictated by its Federal Executive or its Caucus, and what occurs in the parliamentary forum is irrelevant to the present Government. Members of the Government Party are unable to vote on any matter according to their consciences or according to the wish of their electors. They do not even have a conscience unless Caucus decides that they do.

Honourable senators on the Government side should stand and say whether they believe in the Senate. If they do they will be the first to oppose this insidious measure which is aimed at downgrading it and which is the first step on the way to its abolition. Honourable senators in the Labor Party who do not believe in the Senate should not be here, receiving payment for services in a chamber which they do not support. They ought to be ashamed of themselves, especially when one reason put forward by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Government in the Senate for a referendum on this subject is the cost saving in not having to hold separate Senate elections. One ought to recall that the cost of a separate Senate election is approximately the same as purchasing 'Blue Poles', that by now well known piece of art by either one or more sober or otherwise artists. Therefore, it is easy to see how highly democratic procedures are valued by this Government when it complains of the cost of an election. Yet the cost of election is infinitesimal when compared with this Government's spending. I would have thought that a government which claims to be democratic would have welcomed elections, because democracy cannot be measured in monetary terms.

A lot is being said today about the honesty of the Government in seeking referendums, and a matter of honesty can be seen in the second reading speech in the other place ofthe Prime Minister on this Bill when he said:

. . it takes up the unanimous recommendations, dating back as far as 19S8, ofthe Joint Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Review.

Needless to say, when the Bill was introduced into this place the Leader of the Government in the Senate deleted the reference to 'unanimous' for, as he and others, especially the Prime Minister, who sat on that Committee would be aware, Senator Wright who sat on that Committee put in a dissenting report. I believe that that example was but another example of the underhand tactics not of Australia's Cassius Clay but rather of Australia's General Amin, as one learned academic has referred to the Prime Minister. I am quite certain that Senator Wright will be able to speak for himself and give the reasons which he advanced in the report of the Joint Par-liamentary Committee. The Senate is not an echo, nor was it intended to be. Senators are elected for a 6-year term. When one considers the megalomania of the present Government one can see the wisdom of those who drew up the Constitution. It is the Senate, and the Senate alone, which stands between the complete arbitrary power which is being sought by this Government and the individual rights and liberties ofthe Australian people. Any attempt to destroy the Senate's independence as a chamber of this Parliament must be opposed for the good ofthe Australian people.

This Bill is far too important to be decided upon by the Senate as a result of a debate in the last few weeks of a busy parliamentary year. The Bill affects the future of this chamber. It ought to be examined in depth by senators, both as to its constitutional imputations and as to its effect upon the working of this chamber. Referenda Bills have been coming in and out of the place as the Prime Minister has thoughts about them. In spite of the fact that there was a Constitutional Convention, which was set up in co-operation with the State governments and in co-operation with all parties in this Parliament, to investigate in depth and in detail the previous 70 years working of the Constitution, to see whether the Constitution ought to be amended, to see what powers ought to be transferred either up or down between the Commonwealth and the States and to see what ought to be the new structure to take Australia into the next century and in spite of the work that is being done, the Prime Minister and his Government, whenever the spirit moves them, rush another Bill into this Parliament.

This Bill is not all about whether the 2 Houses ought to come together for election on polling day; it is much deeper than that. I believe that the Senate would not be doing justice to itself if it voted at this stage either for or against the Bill. The Bill has very long term imptications for the Senate and for the Constitution as such because it does not deal with something which will be temporary, it deals with something which will be written into the Constitution, which will be permanent and which will remain if carried by a majority of electors in a majority of the States until another referendum is held. I do not believe that the people of Australia ought to be asked to vote upon a matter of this substance without their having a proper opportunity to realise the implications contained in this referendum proposal. It is for those reasons that in relation to the motion that the Bill be now read a second time I move:

Leave out all words after 'That', insert 'this Bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs for inquiry and report to the Senate as soon as possible, but not later than the first sitting day after 1 February 1974.'

Senator Poyser (VICTORIA) - How cheeky can you be?

Senator WITHERS (Western AustraliaLeader of the Opposition) I fail to see how it is cheeky for the Senate, by the vote of a majority of senators, to send a Bill to a committee which was set up as a result of a motion by the Government when in Opposition—se t up as a result of a motion by the honourable senator who projected himself as Mr Senate—an d which should do what I am proposing that it ought to do. One would have thought that one of the ideas of the standing committees of the Senate would be that they would deal with such proposals, that they would provide a forum at which people could put varying views and at which the media might have an opportunity to see the arguments for and against proposals. This Bill is not a piece of legislation of minor importance. It is a Bui for an Act to amend the Constitution. For some reason or other the Government appears to have the idea that these Bills are not of great public importance. They are the most important Bills which could be introduced into this Parliament. Any Bill which seeks to amend the Constitution will alter and will affect the lives of Australians for generations to come. It is for that reason and for the others which I have given that I have moved the amendment. I commend the amendment to the Senate.

The PRESIDENT Order! Is the amendment seconded?

Senator Laucke - I second the amendment.

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