I rise today to speak to the Constitution (Appropriation and Supply) Amendment Bill currently before the council. I acknowledge the detailed contribution of my colleague the Hon. Mr Lucas, as he outlined the history of the powers of this place in regard to money bills and clauses. In referring to Combe's volume on responsible government in South Australia, the Hon. Mr Lucas identified that there was originally no limit on the powers of this council to amend or reject money bills and clauses. In acknowledgement of its constitutional position as the upper house and the house to which the government is not responsible, the council resolved to merely suggest any amendments to a money clause or bill for the other place to then adopt or reject. In effect, this retained the power to consider money clauses and bills, whilst also acknowledging the constitutional supremacy of the other place in regard to money matters.
It has been by the grace of the membership of this place in times past that the Compact of 1857 was strictly adhered to until it became a substantive part of the Constitution Act by way of amendment in 1913. The codification of this long-held convention, whilst unnecessary, has nonetheless ensured that it has survived to this day. It is worth noting, also, the Hon. Mr Lucas's references to the negligible number of government bills negatived or laid aside by this place since 1993, at an average of one bill per year. These statistics alone undermine the government's argument for the need for this bill. The premise that this council may misuse the powers it has to reject or amend money bills or clauses—and I emphasise the subjunctivity here—is simply not reason enough to do away with 150 years of parliamentary precedent and, indeed, an amendment to the constitution of the state.
It is plainly obvious that the powers of this place are a frustration to the Attorney-General and also to the Treasurer. The Labor Party as a whole is ideologically bent towards abolition of this place, and as the Hon. Mr Lucas mentioned previously, this goes a long way to explaining their wanton desire to curtail the powers in question. In the introductory second reading contribution, the Minister for Police, as the Attorney's representative, opines that the current provisions of the Constitution Act, which relate to powers of this place in regard to money bills, 'have not operated as originally intended'.
The government has arrived at this opinion because of the council's ability to amend the Appropriation Bill as it sees fit, as opposed to only those specific clauses which relate to money appropriated for a previously authorised purpose. However, as the Hon. Mr Lucas touched on, criticism should be directed at the way the Appropriation Bill and budget process is structured, rather than at this place and its age-old constitutional power.
To clarify, if the government was more transparent in the budget papers as to the specifics of its expenditure and the appropriation of money for specific purposes, it would be much easier to identify which expenditure had been previously authorised and which had not. It is as if the government is projecting a problem of its own creation onto this council, something it does often. The proposed amendment the government offers to its budget obscurity is to completely strip this place of its powers in regard to the Appropriation and Supply Bills. This has no basis in logic for the reasons I have just spelt out, but also because there has been no previous example of this council misusing its power. There was, of course, the defeat of the infamous car park tax in 2014; however, honourable members, and indeed ministers, would be aware that this was effected by a suggested amendment in the other place to the Budget Measures Bill, not the Appropriation Bill.
As the Hon. Mr Lucas pointed out, this constitutional amendment bill, if assented to, would not prevent such an occurrence in the future. This, in my opinion, makes this bill all the more redundant. If this bill were to become law, an absurd situation would arise whereby an appropriation or supply bill would come before this place, yet any suggested amendment, or rejection of the said bills, would be taken as if the council had actually passed it in this place. What an affront to parliamentary practice and a complete legal fiction.
Crudely, I will remind honourable members holding office under the Crown that the Legislative Council existed even before there was a House of Assembly. Bicameralism and the Westminster system go hand in hand. This parliament, as any like it in the Westminster tradition, is a sum of its parts, and any attempt to remove or weaken one of the parts weakens the whole. All honourable members should be mindful of this, as should those in the other place, ministers of the Crown and all constitutional scholars.
This brings me to the final point with regard to the related Referendum (Appropriation and Supply) Bill 2015. This package of bills, including those dealing with deadlocks, which I may speak to at a later hour, involve complex constitutional matters that appear to confuse even some academics, let alone the average South Australian voter. It seems utterly ridiculous and entirely unnecessary to put these gross changes to the South Australian electorate at a referendum, not to mention irresponsible.
I can see that this is necessary in law as the Constitution Act requires changes to the powers of this place to be approved at a referendum. However, my opinion is that this section exists to prevent the abolition of this place by a zealously ideological government. I do not think it was intended for this section to be used to alter the constitutional power, which this place has held for time immemorial, with which the vast majority of South Australians would not be familiar. Unsurprisingly, I do not support any further reading of this bill, and I implore all honourable members to emphatically reject it.