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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 7367

SPEECH BY THE PRIME MINISTER PREMIER DOWDING'S 'DECISION MAKERS LUNCHEON' PERTH - 5 AUGUST 1988

Photo of Hawke, Robert

Hawke, Robert

Period of Service: 11/03/1983 to 20/12/1991

More information about Hawke, Robert on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 05/08/1988

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 7367

PRIME MINISTER
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY EMBARGOED UNTIL DELIVERY
SPEECH BY THE PRIME MINISTER
PREMIER DOWDING'S ' DECISION MAKERS LUNCHEON'
PERTH 5 AUGUST 1988
Peter Dowding,
Ladies and gentlemen.
In less than a month on 3 September the Australian
people will be asked to make four changes to the
Constitution.
The four proposals are:
to provide for four year maximum terms for bath Houses
of the Commonwealth Parliament;
to establish fair and democratic Parliamentary elections
throughout Australia;
to recognise local government as an integral part of the
system of government in this country; and
to extend rights already in the Constitution so that
they effectively cover all Australians.
These proposals cover four separate areas of our
Constitution, but they share one key and overwhelming
element: they are about benefiting people, rather than
empowering governments.
Constitutional reformers have not had a good track record in
this country.
In the 87 years of Federation, only 8 changes have been
approved out of 38 proposals.
This has taught this Government two very important lessons
in proposing these referendums.
One relates to perceptions of change; the other relates to
the process of change.
The fact that we inherited the Constitution from our
colonial predecessors as the very basis of our Federal
system created the perception that the Constitution is
therefore immutable.
860

2.
But that perception is misplaced. Australia is an
infinitely more sophisticated and complex community in the
1980s than it was in the 1890s.
Increasingly, Australians are recognising that a document
drawn up in the last century as a compromise between
separate colonies cannot provide the best guidance for a
fully integrated nation making its way in the world economy
of today.
Thomas Jefferson put it well when he said:
" Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious
reverence, and deem them like the Ark of the Covenant,
too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of
the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose
what they did to be beyond amendment We might as
well require a man to wear the coat that fitted him as a
boy, as civilised society to remain ever under the
regime of their ancestors."
These referendum ' s will help ensure that our political
structures can wear a coat that fits them.
Who could have*-predicted 90 years ago that the pace of
decision-making needed to keep up with the international
marketplace would become so hampered by the constant threat
of an early election?
who could have predicted the present demand for fair and
democratic elections and the extent to which electoral
systems in some States are now rorted when the very
concept of universal suffrage was still a novelty in the
late 19th century?
Who could have envisaged Local Government having the
responsibility and importance it now does, when 90 years ago
its role was confined simply to the provision of roads and
property services?
And who could be satisfied today that such basic rights as
the freedom to practise a religion, to be given a trial by
jury and to receive fair compensation for property acquired
by any Government do not extend to the States or
Territories? These referendums propose simple and broadly acceptable
reforms which will ensure the Constitution more closely
reflects the principles by which we govern ourselves.
Given all this, I am confident that Australians are now
willing to consider and support change to a document which
up till now has proven remarkably impervious to change.
I referred earlier to a second lesson from the failure of
previous referendums -a lesson about the process of change. 86.1

3.
It is the way in which these proposals have been drawn up Sn
which also gives me confidence they will succeed at the Fd
ballot box. Eaci
In the past, referendum proposals all too often seemed to
emerge from on high, as flats of Government, without prior The
consultation with those who were being called upon to vote inslt
on them. proc
It was a process almost guaranteed to arouse the suspicions Foui
of the political opponents of the Government of the day, as, cost
well as of those cynics who automatically interpret any
change as a plot to enhance the power of Canberra. Thai busi
The result was that many well intentioned'and worthwhile betti
proposals failed. They were seen as having been formulated
by politicians for politicians. The-
By contrast, our proposals have been developed by the people o
for the people. But
in 1985 we established the Constitutional Commission a tmootrf
bipartisan community-based group to study what could be -b
done to achieve essential constitutional reform. the
caus
The work of this Commission, chaired by the former elec
Solicitor-General, Sir Maurice Byers, has been absolutely
first class in the number of public hearings it held and The
the number of submissions it received, and in the quality offi
its committee work and above all the quality of its reports. If r
By giving constitutional reform back to the people, we have of
ensured that the issues being put on 3 September reflect prod
their priorities, their concerns not Labor's agenda, not
Canberra's agenda at the expense of the States, not the' No
agenda of politicians of any stripe. tha
If these four proposals succeed, the real winners will be equ a
the people of Australia. if t~
n eve
The first question asks voters if they approve of four year todla
maximum terms for both Houses of Parliament. most
aittt eimsp tae dc, l astshiact tfhaec t paoif n ecporneocmeidce s chtahne geg, a inw. h ereG ovietr nimse nts vaontd
seeking change need time to implement those decisions which,
though they may cause political pain in the short-term, are No g
essential and will deliver long-term benefits to the whole cont
community. Aust unde
Four year terms provide that tine. They will ensure shou
governments can get on with the job of running the country. recc
over the last few years, four-year terms have been adopted Yet
by every State Parliament except Queensland. whe r
That has happened because Governments frequently failed to Panl
run their full term under the three year system.
862

4-4.
Since the Second World War, Australians have had to vote in
Federal elections, on average, every two years.
Each election now costs the taxpayer some $ 50 million.
The cost is to be measured also in terms of the economic
instability and dislocation sparked by the ever-present
prospect of an election.
Four year maximum terms would mean fewer elections, less
cost, and less uncertainty.
That is why four year terms are strongly supported by
business groups. They would mean more stable government and
better decision-making.
These changes will not alter the power or the independence
of the Senate in any way.
But four year terms for the Senate will make that Chamber
more accountable. The Senate's powers to force a Government
to the polls will remain untouched for better or for worse
but it will itself have to account to the electorate at
the same time. And. that will eliminate one of the chief
causes of early elections namely, bringing the timing of
elections for the two Chambers back into line.
The second proposal, for fairer elections, complements the
first proposal, for fewer elections.
If representative Parliaments are to retain the confidence
of their electors in other words, if democracy is to work
properly the electoral rules must be fair.
No voter can be allowed substantially more or less power
than another. A democratic government must be based on
equal representation of its citizens.
If this sounds elementary text book material, it
nevertheless does not reflect the situation in Australia
today.
most specifically, it does not reflect the situation for
voters electing State Parliaments in Queensland, Tasmania
and here in western Australia.
No government more than mine has recognised the unique
contribution to the nation's prosperity made by country
Australia. But we do not need to have a gerrymander to
understand and recognise that contribution indeed it
should be considered an insult that the contribution is
recognised in such a way.
Yet where is the justice in the Queensland electoral system,
where 25,000 country voters elect three members of the State
Parliament while 25,000 metropolitan voters elect only one? 863

The r
the pray alon
The infamy of the Queensland gerrymander is well known. Loa
But the electoral systuenmf oirnt uWnesatteer~ n~ ~ A~ u~ s~ to~ rsLal ia hhna: sm the caiftbnitgoe
Queensland's despite the improvements of last year's alovnag
Electoral Reform Act. stat
Each country elector in this state has, on average, almost The
twice as much say as a metropolitan elector in deciding who dese
will govern Western Australia and therefore ultimately. in
deciding how it will be governed. And each country elector This
has almost three times as much say in electing the
Legislative Council -which has the power to deny the
legislative program of the Government.
The proposed amendments to ensure fair and democraticelections
are simple.
They will ensure that the number of voters in each
electorate is within 10 per cent of the average number of
voters in all electorates in each State, and they will All trial
They will not impose Commonwealth laws on the States. whici
Indeed, they do not give more power to any Government-
Federal, State or Territory. The i
and
what they do is to guarantee the rights of the people by
ensuring that their voices are heard equally on election Ladil
day. It w(
At the same time, they fill one of the most glaring gaps in high
the Constitution: its failure., to guarantee the right to Cons'
vote. guidi
A vote for this question will ensure that all But
Australians have the constitutionally-guaranteed right to to w
vote, subject to existing legal disqualifications such as its
mental incapacity or imprisonment. leas
it is no disrespect to the statesmen who framed our On wi
Constitution to assert that in 1988, it is surely time to de te
enshrine the right to vote in the document that is the basis no ai
of our democratic government. Id
without it, our democratic heritage is sullied, and our leadi
democratic reputation is tarnished. polio from
If the third referendum succeeds, it will insert a new
section into the Constitution which will at last provide I mu,
constitutional recognition of the third tier of government, not i
local government. The(
The merits of this case do not need much elaboration by me prop(
because they are fully and frequently outlined by local
government organisations themselves.
864

6.
There are more than 850 local councils around Australia. In
the last financial year they spent more than $ 6.5 billion on
providing the grass roots services that local government
alone can provide.
Local government exists and it should and will endure as
a valid, democratTEcaicountable and respected tier of
administration in Australia. This referendum will provide a
long overdue and thoroughly legitimate recognition of its
status in the Constitution.
The fourth and final referendum is as simple and as
deserving of support as the preceding three.
This question asks voters to ensure the rights of:
trial by jury for people facing * serious criminal
charges; fair compensation for property taken by any government;
and freedom of religion.
All three of these ' rights already exist in the Constitution
but they apply only to the Commonwealth, and in the cases of
trial by jury and -freedom of religion there are loopholes
which could allow those rights to be avoided.
The amendments will apply these rights to all governments
and will close those loopholes nothing more.
Ladies and gentlemen,
it would have been fine to be able to end this speech on the
high note outlining the prospect of a refurbished
Constitution providing more relevant and more effective
guidance to government and justice in Australia.
But the opposition, for its own unique reasons, has decided
to withhold its support from these proposals a reversal of
its support which it expressed at the last election for at
least two of the issues.
On what-can only be ch-ar-acterised as a platform of
determined illogicality, the opposition now urges " no, no,
no and no" to the four proposals.
I do not now want to speculate about the failure of
leadership in-the Liberal Party which allowed its standing
policy to be overthrown in the party room under pressure
from the National Party.
I must however highlight, and in the starkest of terms, the
motives behind that reversal.
The Opposition now makes the extraordinary claim that these
proposals are a grab for power by Canberra. 865

7.
But the truth is that opposition to the proposals means
retaining the8 privileg-es--n -oers of politicians and
entrenhing the inefficiencies of the present system.
opposition to the four year term proposal means support for
disrupting the nation with elections far more frequently
than even our Constitutional founders would have expected or
ever intended.
opposition to the one vote-one value proposal means allowing
politicians to retain the power to manipulate electoral
boundaries. opposition to the local government proposal means turning a e
blind eye to the existence of the third tier of governmentI
and refusing the benefits of closer cooperation among Local,
State and Federal Governments.
opposition to the rights and freedoms proposal meansB
allowing State politicians to retain the capacity to deny r
people a number of essential rights. c
g
Ladies and gentlemen,
The real question before us is this.: Who will decide and
control the process of change? M CI
We believe the answer must be " the people".
These referendums have been carefully chosen to give the
people of Australia the best possible opportunity to come
back into the mainstream of the Constitution-making and
Constitution-changing processes of this nation.
It is those who oppose these referendums who should explain
their refusal to tolerate this trend.
Because there is a broader'issue at stake in this campaignthe
issue of Australia's capacity to adapt flexibly and as a
nation to changing world conditions and to equip itself to
meet the challenges of the twenty first century.
In the 1980s, Australia needed a more efficient and
effective economy.
In the 1980s, Australia needed a more efficient and
effective industrial relations system and a more efficient
and effective taxation system.
in the 1980s, Australia needed more efficient, effective
education and training systems and health and welfare
services. Providing these better services and creating these more
efficient systems has been the overarching task of the
Government which I have the honor to lead.
866

8.
But it has never been a case of change, just for the sake of
change.
What has always been at stake is the protection of living
standards, the creation of jobs, and the building of a
society based on fairness and justice.
I am proud to stand here and state that my Government has
made and is continuing to make significant progress towards
each of these goals.
And I am also proud to stand here and argue the case of
constitutional reform.
Because . just as Australia has needed to achieve vital
reforms in other areas of our community life, so
constitutional reform is an essential ingredient of our
growth into the next century.
In the 1980s and 1990s as we prepare for the 21st century
Australia needs a more effective Constitution, a more
modern Constitution, a fairer Constitution, a people's
Constitution. 867 -I

Transcript 7367