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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 3622


Photo of Whitlam, Gough

Whitlam, Gough

Period of Service: 05/12/1972 to 11/11/1975

More information about Whitlam, Gough on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 16/02/1975

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 3622

MR, EG. W11r -LAM, m. P.,
I want to speak tonight about some distrubing
developments in Australia's parliamentary system which
I am bound to say post as werious a threat to its
strenght and stability as we have ever encouintered in
our history. It's time to stop the rot. And that can really
be done only by the Australian people
Let me begin by stating a very general principle
about the working of our democracy. Our syster, depends very
heavily on custom, tradition, the unwritten rul~ es of the*
game. True, we have a written Constitution bul: the
Constitution itself is silent on many of the most important
and fundamental aspects of the working of our democracy.
The Constitution says nothing about rule by popular majority.
It says nothing about political parties. It says nothing about
freec'om of speech. Yet these are basic to how we govern
ourselves. The basis of our system the rule of law is
commion consent and comimonsense. In the ultimate, these are
the only guarantees against the fule of force.
When violence is done to an improtant convention,
a well-established custom, then violence is done to
demtocracy itself.
Last April, we had the unprecedented attempt by the
Opposition in the Senate to refuse Supply to the elected
Government that is, to deny the Government the money
it needs to carry out its duties. At the election which
followed, you were able to pass judgement on this -action.
You re-elected my Government for a further 3 years and
repudiated the action of the Opposition in the Senate.
That should have been the end of the matter. Yet almost
from the time the numbers we-: t up, the opposition has made no
secret of its intention to repeat the exercise if it can,
whenever it can. It confronts Australia with the prospect of
6-monthly national elections an impossible basis for
sound effective government.
This is a generalised threat to set aside the verdict
you recorded only last May. Now, only last week, we have a
clear specific threat to set aside a clear specific decision
made by the people of New South Wales.
In May. the people of the largest State voted in favour
of the Government team of the Senate candidates by a majority
of 50% as against 41.7% of the votes for the Opposition
candidates. / 2

The Senator who headed the successful Senate team, Senator
L. K. Murphy I--as now been a-Fpoln., ted a Justice of the
High Court, the sixth Australi. an Attorney-General to be made
a judge by the Australian Government.-Mr. Justice
Hliggins, Mr. Justice Isaacs, Chief Justice Latham, Chief Judge
SpicE-r-and Chief Justice Barwick. incidentally, so far
this century 12 English Attorney-General have been appointed
Lords Chancellor, Lords Chief Justice or a Lord Justice of
Appeal.$ This is the 26th casual bacancy in the Senate
since proportional representation was introduced in 1949.
hitherto the States have filled every vacancy with a.
Senator who belongs to the smae political party as his
predecessor. In 10 of the 25 cases the new Senator for the
State was a political opponent of the government of the State.
The first casual vac * ancy was caused by the death of a
Labor senator for Western Australia in 1951. Th,. Liberal
Premi er of Western Australia, after consulting the Liberal
Prime Minister, Mr. Menzies and the other Premiers, sponsored a
Labor man to replace him. This practice has sence been scrupulously
followed in every State by every Premier, Liberal, Labor and
Country Party. In 1959 the Constitutional Review Committee, composed of
8 M. H. R. s and 4 Senators, 6 of them Labor, 4 Liberal and
2 Country Party, recorded that they were all strongly of the
view that, if the Senator for a State whose place has become vacant
was a member of a political party, the Parliament of the
State or the Governor of the State should be rqquired, in
filling the vacancy, to choose a person who was a member of
the same political party as the vacating senator.
Last rThursday the Senate unanimously carried this
resol ution: The Senate cornmends to the Parliaments of all
the States the practice which has prevailed since 1949 whereby
the States, when casual vacancies have occured, have
chosen a Senator front the same political party as the
senator who died or resigned.
This a good and very proper ruJle good in principle
and soun~ d in practice. Yet now the Premier of Ne wSouth
Wales proposed to scrap it. But it's not just a
convention, a custom he's throwing on the scrap-heap; it's the
wishes of the people of New South Wales, recorded only 9
months ago. The New South Wales proposal would make the senate
as a whole even less representative of the opinion of the
electors recorded in May. Instead of a Senate elected with
Twenty-nine Labor senators, twenty-nine Liberal and
Country Party senators and two Independent senatcrs there would
be only twenty-eight Labor senators. / 3

I believe AutwIralians of all political persuasions
should be deeply concerned about these events and should
express their concern. Certainly the voters of New South
Wales who are about to be defrauded of their proper representation
have very right to be aggrieved. But it's not
only the majority who voted Labor who should feel
incensed. I've always believed Liberal supporters have a
deep commitmcnt to the prOper workings oE the Parliamentary
system. Certainly any other commitment should be
unthinkable for the party founded and led by Sir Robert
Menzies. It is to all those thus committed that I make my appeal
to express in whatever way you can to your mem srs of
Parliament to ensure that our parliamentary system shall be
given a chance to work.
I've mentioned to you many times over the past
year the unprecedented stresses that democracies and
parliaments everywhere are now experiencing. The real
difficulties are great enough without deliberate sabotage.
I leave you with this very earnest question: If men in
positions of power feel free to break the rules with
impunity, how long will those who feel disadvantaged or
deprived or denied of power play. to the rules?

Transcript 3622