Dissenting Report by Senator John Madigan
While the committee's report raises a number of reasonable concerns it
fails to address the basic principle of the right of citizens to have a direct
voice in decision making.
This dissenting report agrees with some statements made by the committee
but disagrees with its final recommendation.
The committee makes reference to the fact that bills for CIR have been
raised in a number of Australian parliaments but that none have passed. It
states that among the reasons for their failure was a lack of political will.
In this I agree, but it is this very lack of political will that drives the
call for a CIR to be introduced. The desire by many Australians to have a voice
in the decisions being made by parliament is strengthened by the fact that the
'political will that dominates parliament prefers the population to have as
little voice in parliamentary matters as possible. It is in fact the intention
of political parties to maintain as much control of the decision making as
possible that drives the recurring call for CIR.
As stated by the committee the Bill received 'qualified support' from a
number of citizens, organisations and academics and specifically addresses what
is probably the most important difference between this Bill and the failed
bills of the past. This Bill differs in that it does not take the final
decision for a referendum out of the hands of the Parliament. Instead it
suggests a partnership between the people and their parliament. While many
would expect a call for a CIR to be a desire to bypass the parliament and force
the holding of a referendum based solely on the calling of an accepted percentage
of the population this Bill clearly states that once the signatures of an
accepted percentage of the population have been received the minister must put
a bill before parliament. It is then up to the parliament to decide whether to
accept the bill or not.
An aspect of the Bill that received a lot of attention, rightly so, was
the percentage of electors required to sign a call for a referendum. The Bill
gives a nominal but substantial figure of 1% of the current voting population.
On current AEC figures this would require about 146,000 signatures to be
collected; certainly not an easy task. It is my opinion that anything that drew
the support of at least 1% of the Australian population could be seen as an
issue of considerable national interest.
While the figure of 1% is naturally open for amendment any percentage
decided upon should not be so high as to prohibit a group of concerned citizens
from being able to obtain the required number of signatures within the set 12
month period. Percentages ranging from 1% to 5% have been touted for CIR in the
past. One suggestion in a previous inquiry mentioned a 10% figure (approximately
1,460,000 signatures) which frankly would be impossible to collect in a 12
month period without an army at your disposal.
Another aspect that drew concern was the suggestion that any CIR that
met with the criteria to have a bill put before parliament and which was
subsequently passed by parliament would be held on a set date every 4 years.
This was specifically put into the Bill to exclude, where possible, the
politicising of any CIR for electoral purposes. Generally the comments in the
submissions do not support this idea but rather than remove it from the Bill I
would prefer to see the addition of a discretionary power by which the Minister
could choose to hold it at the next Federal election, should that be earlier
than the pre-established date. It should also be remembered that CIRs would not
necessarily be held every 4 years and would only incur this cost once a bill
for a CIR was passed by parliament.
The argument that specific 'interest groups, whether civic, union,
religious' etc... could use the CIR to 'pressure governments and politicians' is
spurious. At present, parliamentarians and politicians are bombarded by
interest groups; lobbyists etc... who claim support from exorbitant percentages
of the population and often quote rubbery figures from polling done in a less
than impartial setting. A CIR would in fact reduce that pressure by
guaranteeing that there was a substantial percentage of the population who
supported the proposal rather than an estimated and often imaginary percentage
suggested by a lobbyist. A document that has been physically signed by one or
two per cent of the population carries substantially more weight and merit than
a suggested figure of 5 or 10%.
The suggestions of technical shortcomings with the Bill refer to areas
such as intrusion into the exclusive domain of the executive such as the
defence forces, the process by which the proposal would be drafted and whether
electronic signatures would be accepted.
As with other legislation, any bill put by the minister would be
scrutinised by parliamentary committee in the same way as this present Bill has
The report states it 'remains unclear whether any member or senator
other than a minister may introduce a proposal'. However the Bill clearly
states 'the Minister' which excludes not ministerial parliamentarians from
introducing a proposal.
I agree that the Bill does appear to have left open the definition of
'signature'. The intention of the Bill was that written signatures, not
electronic signatures would be collected and as such the Bill could be amended
to clarify this matter.
While the AEC points out that there is no requirement for an elector to
demonstrate any popular support before registering a proposal the intention of
this Bill is to give an elector the opportunity to demonstrate substantial
support by setting a period of 12 months within which to supply a document of
support to the AEC that contains the signatures of 1% of the population within
I note that the committee accepts that this Bill is modest in its
proposal and would not threaten 'Australia's robust Constitutional system'. The
committee understands that rather than introducing a bill that would assault
our parliamentary system this Bill simply provides for 'popular initiation of
debate in Parliament that may or may not lead to a referendum'. In this I agree
with the committee.
This Bill, rather than remove the powers of the Parliament to hold a
referendum, is aimed at involving the electors more closely with their elected
representatives in the parliamentary process and in the structure of their
constitution. Increasing the involvement of the electors in the democratic
process should be the aim of any truly representative parliament.
That this Bill be passed, subject to amendments correcting
aspects relating to the collection of signatures and a discretionary power for
the Minister to hold a CIR to coincide with a Federal election.
Senator John Madigan
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