10 November 2003

Harry Evans on Senate Reform

The discussion paper refers in its last passage to faithfully reflecting the �will of the people�. In fact, it seeks ways of giving effect to the will of the prime minister. As has already been noted, while the discussion paper contemplates giving effect to the will of the current prime minister, if the proposed changes were made to the Constitution, these powers would be conferred on every future prime minister, and never surrendered.

If the aim really is to find a better method of resolving disagreements between the Senate and the government than the current double dissolution mechanism, there is a readily available alternative. This alternative would really reflect the �will of the people�. As was suggested during the framing of the Constitution, disputed legislation could be put to a referendum. The government could be given a choice of holding a separate referendum on disputed legislation within the parliamentary term, or holding such a referendum in conjunction with the next general election. The first option could be chosen for legislation which the government considers to be urgent. The government�s fate would not be tied to that of its disputed legislation, and the electors could retain a preferred government while not being forced to accept its legislation.

The only arguments against this alternative boil down to an unarticulated view that the people are too stupid to know what is good for them.

If a piece of government legislation is as essential to the well-being of the country as governments often claim, there should be no difficulty in persuading the voters directly to accept it.

I would be pleased to elaborate on any of these matters should the consultative group so require. I presume that comments provided to the group will be made public.

Yours sincerely

(Harry Evans)

Clerk of the Senate

This Evans response to the Howard proposal for a de facto unicameral parliament advocates roughly what happens in NSW when a bill is deadlocked between the legislative assembly and the legislative council. It's democratic, it's consistent with our traditions and has some chance of getting passed by the people. Whether the elite in parliament assembled will agree to it is another matter.

I'll hotlink this if and when it is made public, along with other submissions, by the prime minister. John Quiggin has a link to the full Word document on his site.

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