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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 1248

REFERENDUM

Photo of Holt, Harold

Holt, Harold

Period of Service: 26/01/1966 to 19/12/1967

More information about Holt, Harold on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 15/02/1966

Release Type: Media Release

Transcript ID: 1248

FOR PRESS: P. M. No. 14/ 1966
REFERENDUM~
Statement by the Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Holt
The Prime Minister, Mr. Holt, said today that
Cabinet had further considered the course to be followed in
relation to the holding of a referendum on the two proposals to
amend the Constitution which were passed by both Houses of
Parliament towards the end of last year.
The major purpose of the first of these proposals
was to remove the requirement in the Constitution that any
increase in the number of Members of the House of Representatives
would automatically produce an increase in the number of Senators
to the extent of half the increase in the number of Members of
the House of Representatives. The second proposal was to
remove the provision which prevents aboriginal natives from
being counted when the population is reckoned. Before these
proposals could become law, they would have to be approved by
a referendum of the people. The referendum was to be held on a
date to be determined by the Government not less than two months,
nor more than six months, after the Bills containing the proposals
were passed by both Houses of Parliament that is, before the
2nd June, 1966. Mr. Holt said Cabinet had decided to inform the
Parliament-that the Government would recommend to the Governorin-
Council that he does not issue a writ for the holding of a
referendum this year in relation to either of these proposals.
The decision of Cabinet will be conveyed to the Chief Electoral
Officer of the Commonwealth, who in the absence of this notification,
would proceed as required to the posting to some six
million voters of the arguments for and against the proposals.
In explanation of the Government's decision, Mr.
Holt said this. " We have given a great deal of thought to the
course to be followed in relation to these proposals. We remain
strongly in support of both of them. But ours is a new Government
which will, in the normal course of events, be conducting a
general election later this year. We have taken office at a time
when the Australian Government finds itself heavily occupied with
a great many important and pressing matters arising both at home
and abroad. We see ahead of us a crowded and unusually active
political year. We feel that, in addition to performing an
increasing volume of administrative tasks, we should, as a new
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Government, make a thorough review of current policies. In the
swiftly-moving world of today, some changes may well appear to us
to have become desirable. We wish to be able to concentrate on
all these matters without the interruption and distraction that an
active referendum campaign of several weeks would create.
" We believe an intensive referendum campaign of this
dimension would be necessary if the Australian public is to be
made fully aware of the need for the first proposal in relation to
the Parliament, and to counter uninformed opinion and misleading
propaganda already evident, which have adversely affected public
support for this proposal.
" There is no urgency about the proposal becoming law
this year, because no action is intended arising from it in the
course of the remainder of the life of this Parliament. On the
other hand, we believe that the proposal will be better understood,
and more widely supported, if it is presented after the general
elections in the context of a programme of specified increase in
the number of Members of the House of Representatives without there
having to be an increase of Senators. This increase would be
linked with redistribution proposals to be presented in the life
of the same Parliament for the purpose of remedying the present
unsatisfactory and inequitable distribution of population in
existing electorates. Some metropolitan electorates, for example,
currently include less than 40,000 voters: others are stretched
well beyond the 100,000 mark.
" The Government, when informing the Parliament on its
resumption early in March, of its intention to defer the holding
of the referendum proposals, will also indicate that it intends,
early in the life of the next Parliament, to introduce the
necessary legislation to enable a referendum to be held on the
proposal to break the nexus, and it will, at the same time, give
a general indication of its intentions in relation to redistribution
proposals should the referendum prove successful.
" The Government will further indicate that the proposal
relating to aborigines would be presented at the same time as
the " nexus" proposal. This proposal about aborigines has been
supported by all political parties, and, indeed, no-one has come
forward to present a " Negative" case in opposition to it. Any
delay in passing the referendum in relation to the counting of
9jborigines will have no adverse practical result because, in fact,
the Commonwealth Statistician does count the aboriginal natives
in the community and makes the figure public. The provision in the
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Constitution does not amount to an impediment against this
counting, nor does it prevent aborigines voting. Many of them
do. We believe the provision should be taken out of the
Constitutiin because it is outmoded and misleading, and gives
cause for criticism both inside and outside Australia by
people unaware of the actual situation.
" IRather than incur the additional expense of
holding two separate referenda to cover the proposals, the
Government intends to hold them together as soon as practicable
in the life of the incoming Parliament after the next election.
" Throughout its discussions, the Cabinet has been
sensitive to the fact that the Parliament has supported in
both Houses the referendum legislation which the Menzies
Government presented to it. We believe, however, that the
Parliament will recognise the reasons which have influenced
us, and will approve our decision to defer the proposals for
the time being. Wie are convinced that what we are now putting
forward is not only the sensible course in current circumstances,
but will strengthen, rather than weaken, the prospect of success
for both proposals."
CANBERRA, February, 1966.

Transcript 1248