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Tuesday, 4 December 1973
Page: 2429

Senator WITHERS (Western AustraliaLeader of the Opposition) - I shall be brief with this Bill. It exhibits all the traits of dishonesty and fraud which were evident in the other referenda Bills. Take the long title, for instance. It reads:

To facilitate alterations to the Constitution and to allow Electors in Territories, as well as Electors in the States, to vote at Referendums on Proposed Laws to alter the Constitution.

The title makes no mention of what is intended in paragraph (c) of the second clause of the Bill, that is, to reduce the number of States required to indicate their approval for a proposed change in the Constitution. At present section 128 of the Constitution requires a majority of the States to vote for a proposal. At present that is 4 States. The Government's proposal is that the number of States required to be in favour of a proposal be reduced to three. But there is no mention of this in the long title. However, I will not quibble about that because when we come to the committee stage I intend to move for the deletion of clause 2 (c) and I intend also to move if that amendment is carried to amend the long title to the Bill so that it bears some relationship to the purpose of the Bill.

The Constitution which was drawn up at the end of the last century was a compact between all the States. It was not imposed upon them from above or without. It was a decision taken for the benefit of all. Undoubtedly a very strong reason for their agreement was that for any proposed changes to the Constitution, a majority of States would be required to signify their approval. If a majority of States had been ignored and were not given a controlling place in the federal structure, there would have been no Federation and no Commonwealth Parliament and therefore no Commonwealth Government. It is not for the Commonwealth alone to make decisions affecting the federal structure. The States must have and are entitled to have a major role in any proposed changes to the Constitution. The States have a separate interest to be protected with respect to constitutional change, and it is up to the Senate, composed of senators elected on a State-wide franchise, to ensure that the State interest is protected.

Clause 2 (b) of this Bill, is supported by the Opposition. This clause proposes that the following words in section 128 of the Constitution shall be omitted:

But until the qualification of electors of members of the House of Representatives becomes uniform throughout the Commonwealth, only one-half the electors voting for and against the proposed law shall be counted in any State in which adult suffrage prevails.

These words have long since been overcome by events and should therefore be omitted. Clause 2 (a) of this Bill proposes to alter section 128 of the Constitution to allow qualified electors in the Territories to vote. The Liberal Party endorses this proposal wholeheartedly.

As I have indicated, it is our intention to move to amend the long title of this Bill so that it clearly states the major intention of the Bill- that is to allow electors in the territories to vote at a referendum. The Opposition hopes that the Government will accept our amendments so that the proposal for giving electors in the territories the right to vote at referenda may be put to the Australian people with the support of the Australian Parliament. Such a proposal should not be buried in with other matters on which there is not agreement as the present Government proposes.

In conclusion I ask the same question that I asked when I dealt with the last Bill. If the proposition of the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) is that the Senate ought not to reject any Bills that have originated in another place so that the matter may be placed before the people, will he also give an undertaking that if any Bill is passed by this chamber that Bill will also be submitted to the people? The Leader of the Government cannot have it both ways. I remind Government senators that under the Constitution it is not the Government which submits propositions to the electors, it is the Parliament or one House of Parliament after the other has rejected the legislation and then the Governor-General submits it. It is no use talking about mandates. The Leader of the Government has put up the proposition that because one House passes a Bill for an Act to hold a referendum we in this place ought not oppose it but we ought, in the interest of democracy, to allow the people to exercise their judgment on it. If that is his proposition in regard to the legislation now before us will he also accede to my proposition that if the Senate passes a Bill for an Act to submit to the people a referendum to alter the Constitution, the House of Representatives also should let that Bill go to the people?

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