South Australian Constitutional
Peter Lewis' Compact
for good government
We, the people
system of Initiative, Referendum and Recall
PETER LEWIS SAYS THREE CONVENTIONS ARE NEEDED
The Constitutional and Parliamentary
Reform Conference set up by the University of Adelaide (17-18th August
2002) had raised more issues than could be dealt with by a single
convention - as originally mooted - says Peter Lewis, Independent
Member and Speaker of the Lower House in South Australia's Parliament.
(Adelaide Advertiser 19th August 2002) The Conference certainly
lined up some of the legal and constitutional 'big guns', but the
man-in-the-street doesn't seem to be having too much of an input.
It is good to know Peter Lewis is emphasizing the fact "The first
priority of the convention should be to look at citizen-initiated
referenda". He thinks the second priority is the question of the
size and the role of Parliament. It would seem the Labor Government
tried to take greater control over the convention but Peter stuck
to his guns and refused to take a back seat.
The Labor Government has set aside $570,000 for a single convention
to be held in March or April 2003, but Peter Lewis is calling for at
least three conventions backed by a $2 million budget. Pleased to see
Professor Geoffrey de Q. Walker (author of "Initiative &
Referendum: The People's Law") of the Queensland University was
one of the speakers. He argued strongly for 'direct democracy' (CIR)
for the people, "This system would give back to the people the real
power to decide the laws under which they live, free from the interference
of lobby groups and party machines." He insisted voters were better
educated and informed than in the past and were "no longer willing
to assume that politicians know best."
Professor Gerard Carney of Bond University said reforms to parliamentary
free speech were needed to discourage politicians from using immunity
from prosecution to unfairly defame individuals. "There are no effective
safeguards to prevent this occurring when a member is determined, with
impunity, to destroy another's reputation at all cost," said Professor
Carney. He called for a parliamentary ethics committee to be established
to investigate complaints and advise appropriate sanctions for the "more
Hard pressed to find 'men of honour'! There was a time when a man of
honour would not have abused such a privilege! These days we are hard
pressed to find such 'men of honour'! Liberal opposition justice spokesman,
Robert Lawson, thought bi-partisan agreement on convention topics was
critical to the success of the event. National Party MP Karlene Maywald
thought it necessary to first identify what was wrong with the Parliament
before considering reforms.
Peter Lewis' Compact for good government
The following agreement has been negotiated
between and ratified by Peter Lewis, M.P. and the Labor Government.
The aim of this Compact is to provide for stable, open and accountable
government, which works productively for the people of South Australia.
I am determined to maintain my Independent
I will not become a formal part of any government.
However I agree that to provide stability I will vote with the
1. Appropriation and supply bills
2. All motions of No Confidence unless there
is evidence of fraud, mismanagement, misuse of public finance,
misappropriation, illegal activities or breach or non-performance
of any of the other terms and provisions of this Compact. I will
not support any government, and will remove my support from a government
which: Demonstrates mismanagement or misuse of public finances.
Is shown to be corrupt, or which supports any practices which are
corrupt or which violates accepted standards of public probity.
Abuses the spirit of democratic parliamentary practice and procedure.
The Government undertakes that should it lose
the confidence of the House of Assembly the Premier will not advise
the Governor that an election should be held if an alternative
government can be formed which has the support of the House of
I am willing to support a Government, which
publicly undertakes to:
(1) Promote open and accountable government
(2) Improve the democratic operation of Parliament
(3) Establish clear plans, strategies and targets to address the
urgent needs of rural South Australia
(4) Co-operate meaningfully with Independent Members.
(5) Improve codes of conduct for Ministers and all other Members
1. Promoting open and accountable government This can be demonstrated
by The Government undertaking to, within the next sittings of Parliament:
1.1 Accept that future appointments to the
position of Auditor-General will be ratified by committee of the
Legislative Council specifically constituted for that purpose.
1.2 Rebuild Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation
to give full and proper access to government documents by:
(a) Reducing the restrictions on access to documents on the grounds
of "cabinet confidentiality"
(b) Removing restrictions based on "commercial confidentiality" (to
the extent of the New Zealand Act)
(c) Removing obstructions such as excessive cost claims and appeals
against document release
(d) Reducing the delay between a request for and the provision of
(e) Adhere to the spirit of FOI legislation and its underlying principles.
1.3 Ensure that budget documents are properly
comparable from one year to the next, by including parallel information
in both formats where a format change is deemed desirable.
1.4 Initiate such changes to the law as may
be necessary to enable the Auditor-General, the Ombudsman and the
Employee Ombudsman to initiate enquiries which they deem to be
in the public interest and which are separate from any direction
from Parliament and Government , where such enquiries are otherwise
authorised by their enabling Acts at present and undertake to table
reports made by such officers immediately upon their receipt.
2. Improving the democratic operation of Parliament
The Government undertaking to, within six months of the commencement
of the 50th Parliament;
2.1 Facilitate Constitutional and Parliamentary
reform by establishing a South Australian Constitutional Convention
to conduct a review of the Constitution and Parliament and to report
to Parliament by 30th June 2003 on the issues set out in the Annexure
Citizens Initiated Referenda
Reducing the number of Parliamentarians
Constituting the Legislative Council as a House of Review
Ensuring the independence of certain public offices
2.2 Amend Standing Orders to require that
secret ballots be undertaken for the election of all Officers of
the Parliament which are currently elected from those Members of
Parliament such that each Member shall be called forward by name
separately by the Clerk (in the case of Government Members) or
the Clerk Assistant (in the case of Opposition Members) or by either
of them in the case of Members from the cross-bench to be given
their ballot paper and to mark their ballot paper at the Table
of the House using a method which satisfies the Clerk and Clerk
Assistant respectively that no other Member has seen the way the
ballot paper was marked by that Member before it is cast in the
2.3 Establish a separate Appropriation Bill
prepared by the Joint Parliamentary Services Committee and presented
to the House of Assembly by the Speaker and be given assent as
an Act of Parliament before the introduction of the Budget Appropriations
2.4 To have a minimum number of sitting days
of 69 per year
2.5 Revise Standing Orders of parliament to
(a) a requirement that Ministers actually answer questions during
question time, or if practically unable to do so then within six
(6) sitting days of the question being asked.
(b) non-government members to have the opportunity to ask a minimum
of 10 questions per Question Time and that Question Time be extended
to allow for this.
3. Establishing clear plans, strategies and
targets to address the urgent needs of Rural South Australia This
can be demonstrated by the Government making commitments, throughout
the life of this Parliament continue to:
3.1 Improve the relationship and consultative
mechanisms between State government and local Councils and communities.
3.2 Improved rural and regional employment
3.3 Improve rural infrastructure such as roads,
rail, water, power and gas
3.4 Improve and extend Rural health, education,
police, emergency, environment and human services.
I REQUIRE THAT THE GOVERNING PARTY WILL DO
ALL SUCH THINGS AND PERMIT ALL SUCH THINGS TO BE DONE TO ENSURE
THAT THE REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS AIMS AND PRINCIPLES SET OUT HEREIN
COME TO FRUITION.
In conclusion, I will maintain my right to
vote on all legislation according to the needs of my Electorate
and my conscience.
ANNEXURE TO COMPACT ELEMENTS OF THE REFORM
OF THE INSTITUTION OF PARLIAMENT
To pass an Act of Parliament and make such
other arrangements as deemed necessary by the Speaker to meet such
costs and facilitating such processes as may be involved in any
aspects of the work related to the establishment of a Constitutional
Convention which shall:
1. Advise on a responsible form of Citizen
Initiated Referenda and on the mechanism by which such a proposal
can be implemented. Consider the legislative and Constitutional
changes and mechanisms necessary to:
2.1 locate all Ministers in the Lower House
move all Parliamentary Committees (with the exception of the Joint
Parliamentary Services Committee) from the House of Assembly to
the Legislative Council. reduce the number of Members of Parliament
in both Houses to 35 in the House of Assembly and 17 in the Legislative
Council or such other number as the Convention determines is desirable.
remove all members of political parties from the Legislative Council
as of the general election of March 2010 by requiring that no candidate
seeking election to the Legislative Council as from the next election
may be a member of a political party registered with either Electoral
Commission for the purpose of the provisions of the Electoral Act
of either State or Federal Parliament.
3. Consider the desirability of and make recommendations
on: changing the electoral system of the Legislative Council such
that five members shall be elected at large at each general election
and retire at the end of each term; and twelve members (in each
of six regional seats) to be comprised for convenience in the first
instance of two House of Representative seats for two terms (8
years) one such Member from each Electorate being elected at each
general election. a requirement that the President of the Council
and the Presiding Members of each of the Parliamentary Committees
shall be elected by the Legislative Council in session from those
five members elected at large
3.3 providing that the Auditor General, the
Ombudsman, the Employee Ombudsman, and the Police Commissioner
should report to the Parliament as officers acting in the public
interest, not under political control of a Minister, to the President
of the Legislative Council and that the appointment of all these
officers of the Parliament shall be reviewed and ratified by a
committee elected by the Legislative Council for the purpose of
doing so, instance by instance, in order to secure independence
from political interference. establishing a convocation of Members
of Parliament and Mayors of all Local Government bodies for the
purpose of recommending to the Premier a person who should be appointed
We, the people should decide
"We the people........" are the words at
the beginning of the most famous, independently-drafted constitution
in the recent history of democracy.
It was not "the experts", but "the
people" -- and I find it both insulting and, ultimately, dangerous
that some politicians and self proclaimed expert commentators are
suggesting ordinary South Australians are too stupid, or too ill
informed, to be consulted about the future of their own Parliament.
I am stunned that my suggestion to involve hundreds
of South Australian voters in the constitutional reform process has
provoked such gut-level fear among a very limited number of people
with such an obvious vested interest in keeping what they perceive
to be "power" within the control of their own, cosy "club"
We should adopt a mindset where we have a greenfields
site on which to build, a blank slate on which to write, and open
minds with which to work.
I believe we should trust our fellow South Australians
to help determine our destiny. The people CAN and SHOULD decide for
What I am suggesting is a four-step process
which taps the talents and ideas of ordinary people - as well as
the views of constitutional and political science experts.
STEP 1: A series of community meetings in the
country and the city to explain the process and begin gathering reform
suggestions put forward by the people themselves.
STEP 2: A gathering of constitutional and political
science experts to hammer out how to incorporate those suggestions
into a number of workable options.
STEP 3: It is the third step which seems to
provoke opposition from some quarters - that 300 ordinary, interested
South Australians should be chosen at random to sit down, consider
and analyse the options before.
STEP 4: Making recommendations to go before
Parliament in new legislation.
My personal view is that the all important third
step is best achieved via a method known as deliberative polling,
which is simply an intensive process that gets ordinary citizens
actively involved in analysing balanced information.
It means those involved get ALL the facts, can
question COMPETING experts and are given the time for meaningful
discussions with their peers - instead of having to rely on eight-second
sound "bites" from radio or television news bulletins,
30-second party poiltical advertisements or from tabloid newspaper
Some people have criticised this suggestion
as "loopy" and have bemoaned the fact that no-one knows
what the outcome will be.
Their reaction is straight out of a "Yes,
Minister" script - dont hold an enquiry unless you already know
I do not know what the people will finally propose
as changes which should go to the Parliament as new legislation.
That does not frighten me. I cannot regard it as a bad thing that
ordinary South Australians should have some real say in the future
of their own Parliament, their government which derives its authority
from the Parliament, and their own State.
My idea is to set in motion a process for debate
among the community. If that debate is robust, lively and forthright,
so much the better. For me, this is a process which must be led by
"the people" - and not which should be hijacked by professional
politicians and other vested interests.
I suggest the politicians and anyone else who
is knocking the idea should have a bit of patience and a bit more
respect for the honesty, interest and intelligence of ordinary South
Speaker of The House Of Assembly and Member for Hammond
South Australia 25/06/2002
Introducing the system of
Initiative, Referendum and Recall
Governments are like fire: good servants but destructive masters. A
Democratic Society is one in which the will of the people prevails.
Growing frustration with Australian party politics is the result
of a feeling that the will of the electors is not being reflected
in the Parliaments of the nation. This has resulted in an unhealthy
and dangerous cynicism concerning parliamentary institutions.At
one time Australians led the world in political reforms. Australians
can, to echo the words of a famous British Prime Minister, save
themselves by their own exertions and the rest of the world by
their example. They are challenged to regenerate the institutions
their forefathers bequeathed to them, or to perish as a free nation.The
Swiss constitutional system of the Initiative Referendum and Recall,
widely discussed in the early years of the Australian Federation,
provides an inspiring example of what can, and must be done.
The following questions and answers are offered to those who wish to
understand the principles of the system and how it can be applied in
Is the Swiss system, which enables electors to demand a referendum
on unpopular legislation, a break with the Australian concept of
constitutional government, inherited from the British?
A: No, the traditional British
system, sometimes called the Westminster system, was designed to limit
the powers of governments and to have the Member of Parliament primarily
a representative of his electors. But a number of eminent authorities
have pointed out what many people feel: the Westminster system has
What are the main causes of this breakdown?
A: The excessive centralisation
of all power, which has led inevitably to an enormous growth in irresponsible
bureaucracy beyond the control of parliaments, and a rigid party system
which has reduced the Member of Parliament to little more than a rubber
stamp and. destroyed the original concept of parliament, as a free
assembly in which the respresentatives of the people debated, passed
or rejected legislation as they saw, fit.
Would, then, the introduction of the Swiss constitutional system abolish
A:. No. Switzerland has a number of political parties. But the Member
of Parliament is more responsible to his electors and not regimented.
The party system as known in Australia today is a relatively modern
development. Originally in Great Britain most of the Members of the
House of Commons were Independents. Even after the party system developed,
a sprinkling of Independents was regarded as essential for a healthy
What is the essence of the Swiss system?
A: That the electors can, if they
feel strongly enough, either veto unwanted legislation by a referendum,
put forward their own proposed legislation, this to be put to a referendum,
or recall a Member of Parliament not regarded as satisfactory.
But what is the mechanism for doing these things?
A: The people have the constitutional
right to petition and if the proscribed number of people properly present
a petition, it must be acted upon.
Are the Swiss legislators obliged to abide by whatever the decision
of the electors may be?
A: That is correct.
Is this not a novel idea for Australia?
A: No. Their forebears agreed on
a Federal Constitution which provided that before any change could
be made to that Constitution, there had to be a referendum of the Australian
people and, because the Federation was an agreement between separate
self-governing States, a referendum was not deemed to be successful
unless a majority of electors in a majority of States supported the
But what about the Swiss principle of the electors being able to veto
legislation, has this ever been used in Australia?
all Australian State Local Government Acts included a provision which
enabled ratepayers to petition for a referendum concerning any proposed
loans. But this democratic right has been progressively withdrawn from
all Local Government Acts, yet another manifestation of the retreat
from genuine democracy.
Did the Swiss system enjoy much support when it was originally discussed
A: The original Labor
Party advocated the principle of the Initiative, Referendum and Recall
from its beginnings late last century. A number of non-Labor politicians
supported it, along with the then influential Australian Natives Association
and a number of papers of which the most prominent was the Melbourne Age.
Was any attempt made to legislate for the system?
A: In 1915 the Labor government
in Queensland introduced the Popular Initiative and Referendum Bill, but, after
it had been introduced four times, and the Upper House indicated it
would not support the referendum principle if initiated by the legislature,
not directly by the people, the question was eventually dropped in
1919, primarily because the incoming Labor Premier, Edward Theodore,
unlike his predecessor T.J. Ryan, said the people were too fickle
and irresponsible to have a say by referendum.In 1914 the famous W.M.
(Billy) Hughes sought leave in the Federal Parliament to initiate an
Initiative Referendum Bill. Although this was not proceeded with, the
Hughes Labor government did put the conscription question to the people
in two referendums.
Were no further attempts made to introduce the Swiss system by the
Federal Labor Party?
A: Led by Dr. W.A. Maloney, a small
group of Labor Members in the House of Representatives carried on a
campaign in favour of the Swiss system up until the outbreak of the
Second World War.
Why did the Labor Party lose interest in the concept?
A: The character of the original
Labor Party had changed and war-time conditions had encouraged the
totalitarian philosophy, that governments were omnipotent. The
Swiss system actually remained as part of the Australian Labor Party
platform until 1963, when it was removed on the motion of former South
Australian Premier Don Dunstan. The changed philosophy of the Labor
Party has been expressed by Sentor Gareth Evans, who says that the
electors are not equipped to make responsible decisions on matters
of taxation and government spending. But if electors are not equipped
to have a say concerning the level of taxation they are prepared to
accept, the clock has been turned back hundreds of years to a time
when there was little check on the amount of taxation a King could
How did the system of Initiative Referendum and Recall originate in
idea itself, of direct legislative control, is a very old
one, going back to the early Greek democracies in the City
States where eventually the practice of all the electors
coming together was replaced with the concept of the electors
selecting people to represent them.The idea is deeply rooted
in Swiss history and was first adopted at the Local or Canton
level (Cantons having more powers than Australian Municipal
governments but less than State governments) from 1830 onwards.
The 1848 Constitution required a compulsory referendum for
any proposed total revision of the Constitution. This was
removed in 1874 giving a specific number of electors or eight
Cantons the right to demand a referendum on any act of parliament.
Have the results of the Initiative Referendum and Recall system been
generally beneficial in Switzerland?
A: The Swiss people are very proud
of the system and there have been no suggestions that a system which
provides for an effective say by the people should be abolished.
Has Switzerland the same problems so seriously affecting other countries?
is far from perfect, but with electors having the power to check their
governments (Local and Federal) it is not surprising that taxation
is relatively low, one result being that Switzerland has had one of
the lowest inflation rates in the world. It is generally agreed that
Switzerland is one of the most stable countries in the world with far
fewer social problems than other countries.When the famous Russian
exile, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, left the Soviet Union and first resided
in Switzerland, he said that the Swiss Constitutional system was a
model for the whole world. He was most impressed with a society in
which there was a minimum of friction and a high morale as a result
of the people being able to have some say in their own affairs.
What is a specific example of how the Swiss system works?
had never joined the United Nations. But in recent years there has
been increasing pressure on the Swiss government to join. Under the
Swiss Constitution it is mandatory for the Federal government, following
a 1977 change to the Swiss Constitution to submit any proposed international
agreement of indefinite duration to a referendum of the people. The
Swiss electors decisively rejected the proposal to join the United
Nations, approximately 70 percent of the electors voting against it.
They had a real say about the future of their country.At present Australians
have no mechanism by which they can prevent Federal Governments violating
the spirit and intentions of the Constitution by exploiting the External
Powers of the Constitution to make international agreements of far-reaching
implications. A disturbing example is the placing of increasing areas
of Australia under the World Heritage Commission, controlled by the
United Nations Educational and Cultural Organisation.If the principles
of the Swiss system applied, Australians could halt this surrender
of Australias independence.
It has been alleged that the Initiative Referendum and Recall system
could lead to demagoguery and mob rule. Is there any possibility
of this happening?
A: This is merely one of the allegations
made by those who distrust the people having a say. There have been
a number of demagogues in countries dominated by party politics, but
none in Switzerland. People only turn to demagogues, as Germans turned
to Hitler, when they are fearful and desperate. Hitler had relatively
little impact on the German-speaking Swiss.
Where the system has been introduced, in Switzerland and later in Italy,
Austria and twenty-four American States, has there been any attempts
to abolish the system?
A: Where the system has been tried,
either part or in whole, there is nothing but enthusiasm and efforts
to extend the system. Support is growing rapidly in the U.S.A., while
there has been a renewed interest in Canada, where several of the Provinces
once had features of the system, and where it is still used for local
Would the party system be abolished with the introduction of the Initiative
Referendum and Recall system?
A: Not necessarily. But the dictatorship
of the party machine would be weakened. There are a number of parties
in Switzerland but there is greater co-operation between them than
is the case in Australia. With the Swiss system operating the Member
of Parliament who genuinely wishes to represent the wishes of his electors,
feels more independent.
But would not deciding major questions by referendum be rather a waste
of time and money as the Australian people nearly always vote NO
at referendums? Would they not say No to all propopsals?
A: The Australian people have only
voted NO at an overwhelming majorty of referendums because they
instinctively oppose all proposals which they fear will centralise
power. People generally have more commonsense than elitists credit
Opponents of the Swiss system have fostered the fear that radical minorities
would be given an opportunity to disrupt society by forcing referendums.
Is there any possibility of this?
A: The Swiss system requires that
a relatively large percentage of total electors, at least 4 percent,
must present a proper petition, either to have a referendum on proposed
legislation, or to veto proposed or existing government legislation.
Anyone with any experience of obtaining signatures to petitions knows
that if 4 percent of the electorate can be organised to sign a petition,
there is substantial community support. But the real test comes when
an issue must be voted on by the total electorate.Many of the radical
minority groups would find it impossible to get the necessary support
for a referendum, or if they did, would be hopelessly outvoted
at a general referendum. The Swiss system would effectively expose
that many radical groups have no real community support, thus preventing
them, often with the aid of the media, from blackmailing politicians.
What about the financial cost of conducting referendums?
A: This has proved no problem in
Switzerland where provision is made for any referendum polls to be
held, if required, every three months. Financial costs are higher in
Switzerland because the brochures and ballot papers must be published
in three major languages German, French and Italian. If Australians
are not willing to pay a few dollars a year to finance referendums,
then they are not interested in controlling their own affairs. This
suggestion is an insult to the people. It has been demonstrated that
where people can use the Initiative, Referendum and Recall system,
the financial benefits far outweigh the costs of conducting referendums,
some of which could be conducted at the same time as elections.
Would the introduction of the Swiss principle undermine in any way
the traditional British-based system of government, with Lower
Houses, Upper Houses and the Crown?
A: It would in fact regenerate
a system which has been corrupted from its original form and purpose.
The ancient right to petition the Crown is already in the Federal Constitution
but has been denigrated by the party politicians, who insist that it
is now a convention that the Crowns representative must automatically
give the Royal assent to every piece of legislation. Provision could
be made for all petitions demanding referendums on challenged legislation
to be presented to the Crown, whose representatives would then
direct that a government have a referendum conducted. No Royal Assent
should be given to any legislation under challenge, and only if a referendum
demonstrated that it had the support of the electors. In this way the
role of the Crown would be strengthened.
If the Initiative Referendum were introduced, would not this result
in direct legislation and the decline of parliamentary democracy?
proposed by electors is not a substitute for parliamentary legislation,
but a most valuable adjunct to it. In Switzerland, the home of the
Initiative Referendum system, most of the legislation enacted originates
with parliament. Under the Swiss system, the politicians are much more
conscious of the power of their electors even, if necessary, to petition
for their recall from Parliament and therefore seek to anticipate that
which electors may require.
What type of issue is it envisaged could be taken up by electors if
they had the Initiative Referendum system?
immediately springs to mind (the Returned Servicemens League
has suggested a referendum on this); excessive and retrospective taxation,
high interest rates, the misuse of the External powers of the Constitution,
foreign aid; foreign investments, the fluoridation of public water
supplies, government funding of minority groups and their activities,
and compulsory voting are all issues of great concern.
Would not the introduction of the Swiss system involve the electors
in an increase in political activities?
A: That is correct. But these would
be activities in which the electors would be keenly interested. There
would be an uplift in public morale and a much healthier community
spirit, with a breakdown in many of the present divisions in society,
as people realised that they could have a real and effective say in
their own affairs. Freedom is something which requires constant cultivation. The
price of liberty is eternal vigilance . The community would
be able to concentrate upon issues instead of the diversions of political
personality battles.The only alternative to the adoption of the principles
of the Initiative Referendum and Recall, is a continued sinking in
the boglands of rigid party politics with the end result the complete
Can the Initiative Referendum principle be adopted at all levels of
government, Federal, State and Municipal?
A: As already mentioned, a limited
form of the principle has until recently existed at the Municipal level.
It could be restored and expanded. It may prove that the adoption of
the principle might best be at the Municipal and State level. But this
does not mean that the Federal level should be ignored; far from it.
How can the Swiss principle be implemented?
A: In the same way that the Australian
people created their own Federal Constitution. The concept first grew
in the minds of farsighted men. It had to be fostered by a grassroots
movement. Only when the public demand becomes strong enough will the
principle be adopted by the politicians. If present politicians will
not pledge to work to introduce the principle, or permit the electors
to decide by referendum whether or not they want to have the principle
implemented, they will have to be replaced by others who will. There
are no short-cuts to success; hard work is required by dedicated people
along with the use of the type of innovations developed by the pioneers
of the Australian nation.