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Tuesday, 4 December 1973
Page: 2404

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (Leader of the Australian Country Party in the Senate) - Only a fortnight ago, when this house was debating the Senate (Representation of Territories) Bill, I drew attention to the fact that the provisions of that Bill represented the thin edge of the wedge in the destruction of the independence of the Senate, and perhaps of the Senate itself. Now we have before us a measure that I believe would drive the wedge deeper. We are told that the main provisions of the Bill are for a new section in the Constitution giving senators a term equal to 2 terms in the House of Representatives, and for simultaneous elections of both Houses. The Prime Minister said in his second reading speech, when this Bill was introduced in another place, that there was no derogation in the proposal from the authority or responsibility of either House, but there were great benefits. The benefits, he said, were in public convenience and worthwhile savings of expenditure, and, most of all, the benefit to Parliament of having the reflection in both Houses simultaneously of the people's will, so that the Government and the Parliament might get on with the job.

I believe that we can discount the first two benefits claimed by the Prime Minister. This

Government has not shown itself in 12 months of office to be one concerned with the convenience of people. Does the Prime Minister seriously ask the people of Australia to believe that cost saving is one reason why his Government wants to hold Senate and House of Representatives elections at the same time? That is utter rubbish. We know that Labor has a warped sense of proportion and priority where expense is concerned, but a Government which contributes heavily and unashamedly to the rate of inflation through the totality of its own expenditure is most unlikely seriously to consider austerity in the form of reduced election costs. This is merely a red herring, a feeble attempt to disguise the real purpose.

So it is the Prime Minister's third reason, so called, that we need to deal with in this debate. By his own admission, what the Prime Minister wants by the medium of this legislation is a majority in both Houses so that legislation brought forward by his Government-the good legislation, the bad legislation, and the indifferent legislation- can be given a free passage. Neither he nor his Ministers or backbenchers can tolerate the thorough review to which Labor legislation has been subjected this year in this chamber. The great strength and the great value of the Senate is its independence, and the Constitution, as it now stands, gives it that independence. Take that away and the Senate would become a useless rubber-stamp of the Executive Government's decisions.

Senator Mulvihill Even if the Government has a mandate

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (Leader of the Australian Country Party in the Senate) And I have heard members of the Labor Party say that time and time again

Senator Mulvihill - What about the mandate? What about the voice of the people?

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) I would like to try that mandate on now, just as Senator MeManus would, to see whether it still exists after 12 months. I believe that this is the Labor Government's backdoor plan, an attempt to render the Senate useless by having it reflect similar electoral opinion to that of the House of Representatives. And, when that is achieved, the logical next step, in tine with Labor policy, is to argue the Senate's uselessness. Then the way is open to go to the people and ask them to abolish the Senate.

Should there be any remaining doubt about Labor's wish to abolish the Senate, let me quote a statement made by the Minister for Minerals and Energy, Mr Connor, in the House of Representatives on 28 November. By interjection, the Minister was asked:

Do you not realise that the Senate is duly elected also and that it is pan of the constitutional structure?

The Minister's reply was as follows:

It is miles behind the times. The Senate is merely playing a partisan role. We are happy for it to do so, to put the noose right around its neck and we will hang it in due course, and it deserves it.

Is the Labor Party trying to get rid of the Senate? I submit there is no doubt that is the Government's long-term intention. If the Government wanted to rid itself of the frustration it claims it surfers at the hands of the present Senate, why does it not ask the people to resolve the issue by the quick and honest available means— a double dissolution of which Senator MeManus spoke? It does the Government no credit that it chooses not to go to a double dissolution but prefers instead to attempt to achieve its aim by the stealth ofthe disguise in this Bill.

It does not always happen that Opposition parties in the Senate hold a majority after an independent Senate election. But when it does happen, that is the price of democracy and, as the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Snedden, said in debate on this Bill in the other place, democracy is worth it. Remove the possibility of the Senate expressing a different electoral view from the Government of the day and one pillar of democracy crumbles. The non-Labor Opposition in the Senate this year fortunately has been able to reveal to the people how quickly democracy and freedom would disappear under a socialist Government.

This Bill should be rejected and I want to make it clear to the Government that the Country Party will ensure that the people fully understand the proposal. Having said that, and having listened to Senate Withers, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, I am quite prepared for this Bill to be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs for inquiry and report.

Senator Gietzelt - That is just a subterfuge, and you know it.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) Senator, if you do not want that then I will join with Senator MeManus and vote against the Bill. But I am prepared to give the Government the opportunity of putting it's case fairly and of getting experts to go before the Committee to give a view—perhap s a contrary view. I believe that the proposal which will give people a chance to understand those views is much better than action which would reject this Bill outright. So I , and my Country Party colleagues behind me, will support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.

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