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Tuesday, 4 December 1973
Page: 2427

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral and Minister for Customs and Excise) - in reply- Once again the Opposition Parties have indicated that they are prepared to. vote to prevent the people considering the question whether the people's own Constitution should be amended in a particular way, that way being to enable the Commonwealth to borrow money for and to grant financial assistance to local government bodies. The policy speech, which was presented by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) immediately before the election of 2 December 1972, expressed a determination to make local government a genuine partner in the Federal system. The newly elected Government has pressed for and secured direct representation for local government on the Constitutional Covention which met for the first time in the middle of this year and which intends to consider various constitutional matters. The Grants Commission Bill, which has been passed by this Parliament on the initiative of the Government, empowers the Commission to inquire into and report on applications for grants from approved local government bodies. At the Constitutional Convention, the Prime Minister secured the agreement of the leaders of five of the State delegations that the Australian and State governments should come together to consider amending the financial agreement that is referred to in the Constitution.

On 1 1 October, the heads of Government met in Canberra to consider the Australian Government's proposals that there be a voice and vote for elected local government representatives on the Loan Council, and that the Australian Government should be empowered to borrow on behalf of local governments. The Prime Minister indicated that if this could not be agreed to he would seek the necessary constitutional amendment of section 105a. Those events are the lead up to this Bill. As it has not been possible to achieve the assistance to local government that has been sought by consultation with the States, the Australian Government has proposed and the House of Representatives has agreed that the question should be put to the people to decide simply whether this Australian Parliament should be empowered to enable laws to be made for the borrowing of money by the Commonwealth for local government bodies, and whether the Parliament ought to be empowered to grant financial assistance to any local government body on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.

It is extraordinary, with all that is said by senators opposite about local government, that now, when local government wants something and when the Australian Government thinks it should be able to borrow on behalf of local government and to grant financial assistance to local government, the Opposition Parties should indicate that they are prepared to prevent the people of Australia having a vote to say whether the Parliament should be empowered to do what I have outlined. If honourable senators opposite face up to the matter, the brutal truth is that they are opposing the wishes of the Australian Government and the House of Representatives to let the Australian people exercise their right under the Constitution to vote on whether the constitution should be changed in this way.

Honourable senators may rationalise and satisfy their own consciences or judgments as to what they are doing. The most they will be able to do is to postpone this measure for some months because, fortunately, the kind of obstruction in which they are now indulging was foreseen, and it is possible for the House of Representatives to pass the Bill again and, if it is rejected again in the Senate, to put the matter to the people, despite the obstruction by the Senate. Then, if the people want this proposal, it will become law, the Constitution being altered. If the people do not want it, very well: That will be the voice of the people. However, the Senate is taking the stand here that it will not allow the people even to vote on the matter. This obstruction reveals the anti-democratic attitude of the Opposition Parties, which will not even allow the people to have their say. It is hard enough to alter the Constitution, even when the proposals get to the people, because of the mass of misinformation put before them, but Opposition senators are not even willing to let the people have a say on the matter. What has happened when these proposals have been brought in? They have stalled one matter, rejected another, and have now indicated that they will again refuse to let the people have their say.

Question put:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

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