And not surprisingly when you look back through the history of constitutional examination you find some nuggets and I found a nugget back in 1959, it was a joint parliamentary committee on constitutional reform and it has impeccable bipartisan credentials. One member of it was the then Member for Werriwa, Edward Gough Whitlam, and the other was Sir Alec, or later to become Sir Alec Downer, that well known South Australian Liberal, the father of our present Foreign Minister, a former Minister in the Menzies Government and former Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. And what that committee essentially recommended was that the Constitution should be altered by referendum to provide that if legislation were rejected on a number of occasions by the Senate in the way described in section 57 now there could be a joint sitting of the two houses called without the necessity to hold a double disillusion. And that if the legislation were passed that joint sitting then it would become law. I think that could offer some years into the future a way of providing a more modern and contemporary and workable method of resolving differences between the two Houses. And it is the Government's intention to prepare and issue for public debate a discussion paper on such a proposal, we have not made a decision as yet to commit ourselves to the holding of a referendum, at this stage we have made decision to commit ourselves to the issuing of a discussion paper and the initiation through it of public debate. We have to find a way which is moderate and non-threatening and which respects the desire of the Australian people often to differentiate their vote between the House of Representatives and the Senate to resolve the deadlocks that we are facing. The proposition that every time a bill that is important to a government that in our case has been elected on three consecutive occasions, the proposition that the only way you, for years into the future, are going to solve that dilemma is by going to the expense of having often a premature double disillusion of Parliament, is I think increasingly unacceptable in the modern Australia in which we now operate. I know that constitutional referendums are notoriously difficult to get passed, we tried to break the nexus between the size of the House of Representatives in the Senate back in 1967, and that was overwhelmingly defeated, even though it had the support of both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party, and we all know the history of more recent constitutional referendums.
But that doesn't absolve me or the Government of the responsibility of trying to find a way around this challenge. Conditions could exist for a double disillusion of the Parliament, in fact technically they exist now, although let me repeat my view that the current parliament ought, absence special circumstances, run its full term. No Prime Minister responsibly forswears his right to call an election if the circumstances are required, but I have the strongest possible view that the Australian people rightly visit electoral judgement on prime ministers and premiers who go expeditiously on an earlier occasion than they might to the polls without a proper reason based on public policy. But double disillusions in the present circumstances would not produce as good an outcome in the Senate for us as would a half Senate held at the normal time towards the end of next year. And they are all the circumstances that I have to take into account. So I take this opportunity my friends of saying to you very frankly that we do need to look at whether the time has come to alter the deadlock provisions of the constitution. And if after that process of three months consultation we thought there was a reasonable prospect of community support the likelihood is that the Government would seek to run the referendum in conjunction with the next general election, whenever that occurs. Now let me repeat this is not a radical proposal. It is a moderate, practical, sensible, long ago thought of idea to resolve what in some circumstances is a legislative nut without the necessity of the constitutional hammer of an expensive and of course inappropriate double disillusion.
This is a radical proposal which would enable the executive to pass any laws it wished. It will be defeated at referendum.
Just to feed my pretensions to run a blog of record, Section 57 of the Constitution reads:
Disagreement between the Houses.
57. If the House of Representatives passes any proposed law, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, and if after an interval of three months the House of Representatives, in the same or the next session, again passes the proposed law with or without any amendments which have been made, suggested, or agreed to by the Senate, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, the Governor-General may dissolve the Senate and the House of Representatives simultaneously. But such dissolution shall not take place within six months before the date of the expiry of the House of Representatives by effluxion of time.
If after such dissolution the House of Representatives again passes the proposed law, with or without any amendments which have been made, suggested, or agreed to by the Senate, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, the Governor-General may convene a joint sitting of the members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives.
The members present at the joint sitting may deliberate and shall vote together upon the proposed law as last proposed by the House of Representatives, and upon amendments, if any, which have been made therein by one House and not agreed to by the other, and any such amendments which are affirmed by an absolute majority of the total number of the members of the Senate and House of Representatives shall be taken to have been carried, and if the proposed law, with the amendments, if any, so carried is affirmed by an absolute majority of the total number of the members of the Senate and House of Representatives, it shall be taken to have been duly passed by both Houses of the Parliament, and shall be presented to the Governor-General for the Queen's assent.