The word referendum comes from Latin meaning something referred (to the citizens for a decision). Australians have always viewed referenda as constituting the most direct means for expressing the will of voters on a particular matter.
A change to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia can only be made if the majority of electors, and the majority of States (four of six) vote in favour of the referendum. An example of this took place on 1 October 1999 when a referendum was held to alter the Constitution of Australia and to establish the Commonwealth as a republic with a President replacing the Queen and Governor. The referendum did not receive a majority vote (45.13 per cent voted in favour), resulting in its failure.
In Western Australia, over the past thirty years, three referenda (March 1975, April 1984 and April 1992) have been held to determine the people’s will on daylight saving. At each of these referenda, Western Australians, by sizeable margins, rejected it.
Yet in spite of this, a private member’s bill on daylight saving was introduced by Liberal MLA Matt Birney and facilitated by the government with the support of many members of the government and the opposition. After passing through Legislative Assembly on 31 October 2006 and then through the Legislative Council on 21 November 2006, the Daylight Saving Bill (No. 2) 2006 became law. It took effect on 3 December 2006 for a trial period lasting three years, after which yet another referendum on daylight saving will take place!
Whether or not daylight saving ever becomes a popular success is beside the point. The point is that Western Australians are now dealing with a state government, aided by many in the opposition, that is determined to get its own way.
On 26 February 2005 the state government helda referendum on retail trading hours. Under the heading “Extended Sunday shopping”, the following question was asked, “Do you believe that the Western Australian community would benefit if trading hours in the Perth Metropolitan Area were extended to allow general retail shops to trade for 6 hours on Sunday?” 37.46 per cent of voters responded “Yes”, while 59.56 per cent responded “No.” As with three previous daylight saving referenda, the people of Western Australia resoundingly rejected increased trading hours on Sundays. But again the government ignored the will of the people by introducing Sunday trading for retail liquor outlets that came into effect on 17 December 2006. What is galling about this is that Sunday trading for retail liquor outlets was one of the primary concerns expressed by those opposing expanded trading hours. The Christian Democratic Party, for example, campaigned hard against it.
Western Australians should be deeply concerned about the changes to liquor legislation, which will surely lead to greater harm caused by alcohol abuse in our communities. The changes allow for restaurants to sell liquor without food, and the sale of liquor at suburban liquor outlets on Sundays from 10 am to 10 pm (previously this was prohibited).
Again, whether or not Sunday liquor sales become popular in the future isbeside the point. The point is that the Government has a cavalier approach when it comes to ignoring the will of the people who elected it to power. The government seems to believe that its own will supercedes that of its electors.
While daylight saving is unlikely to have a harmful social impact, allowing greater access to liquor on weekends will. It will add to unacceptable social behaviourby drunken and abusive youths attacking police, damaging property, harming others, and ultimately harming themselves. It will contribute to violence against women and children. It will contribute to alcoholism. It will contribute to injury and death on our roads. Following on the heels of liberalised laws relating to growing, possessing and smoking marijuana, thelast thing Western Australians needed was what the government has just forced upon us.
And since the government has ignored our will in relation to Sunday trading for retail liqor outlets, won’t it also expand trading hours for other businesses too? Treasurer Eric Ripper has been arguing that there is a great deal of pressure for expanded weekend trading hours in the metropolitan area, although he appears to have been silenced for a time by members of his own party.
Further expanding trading hours would cause even greater harm. It would add to weekends becoming more like weekdays, more people working through weekends, less family time, less time for leisure and recreation, and less time for church and worship. This should concern all Christians, who hold the Lord’s Day as being a time, not for materialism and shopping, but for worship and rest.