Preparations are being made in Canberra for a plebiscite. It is unlikely this will coincide with the next elections, but the scene is being set to remove or neutralise a significant way of informing the Australian people of the arguments mounted in the Yes/no booklet used in referendums.
This is the subject of a formal inquiry by the Legislative Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Federal House of Representatives which was reported here on 18 September.
I suspect that it is intended that plebiscites be subject to the same legislation, and that there be a substantial amount of “neutral” information made available instead of or in addition to the Yes/No booklet.
I attended a Roundtable convened to discuss this at Parliament House Sydney on Wednesday 14 October.
In addition ACM has filed a substantial submission on this. This may be seen on this site . In addition, ACM put in a supplementary submission concerning the wishes of people concerning the Yes/No booklet. This may be seen here. This indicated that 78% of people wanted to information in booklet form directly addressed to them at home.
ACM makes five points:
· Retain the democratic right of every Australian to see and read the Yes and No cases;
· Provide public funding for the Yes and No cases ( at least while public funding is available for elections);
· Direct that the counting of referendum results be in accordance with clear words of and manifest intention in section 128 of the Constitution;
· Provide a framework for the calling of further constitutional conventions on questions of great moment, but not on matters already determined by the people, such as a preamble or removal of the Australian Crown)
· Provide that in seeking any vote by the electorate on the Constitution, the Commonwealth be required to proceed only in accordance with the way the Constitution provides. This is to ensure that the details of any change are known before the vote, and not after. (This would disallow the use of a plebiscite when a referendum could have been used under the Constitution.)