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Thursday, 6 May 1920

Mr BAMFORD (HERBERT, QUEENSLAND) - Was the provincial Parliament within its powers in legislating on 'the matter? ,

Mr BURCHELL - I understood that the question was' not one of legislative ability. The amendments were framed in such a way as practically to prevent the provincial Parliament from achieving its ends. The impression was also left on my mind that the provincial Parliaments of South. Africa often find themselves subject to limitations similar to those which are placed on this Parliament by our Constitution.

Mr Jowett - The honorable member, must be aware that similar difficulties have arisen under the Canadian Constitution.

Mr BURCHELL - I do nob say that the Canadian Constitution is the last word in Constitutions. My statement was, in effect, that its principles are more adaptable to our circumstances than are those of the South African Constitution.

When ' dealing with constitutional reform, one is tempted to refer to the Imperial relationship, and to consider whether there should be closer co-operation with the Mother Country; but I shall not speak on that subject this afternoon. Many valuable works have been written upon the relations of the Mother Country with the Dominions, dealing with the subject from the stand-point of British interests, and from th« stand-point of Dominion interests. The question bristles with difficulties, and cannot be disposed of in a few sentences.

I wish fro say a word or two in support of the amendment. I am convinced that the alteration proposed in clause 1, asking that legislative provision be made for the summoning of a Convention, is sufficient indication to the Government of our desire to hurry forward the consideration of constitutional reform. Further, if we limited the scope of the Convention's review to section' 51 of our Constitution, we should be making a mistake. That section enumerates the powers that have been transferred to the Commonwealth, and upon it our legislative work is based. Bub an alteration of it might require an alteration of other parts of the Constitution, which could, not be considered by the Convention unless the motion were altered as proposed by the honorable member for Ballarat. As a representative of one of the less populous States, I am a supporter of equal State representation, and I am glad that the mover of the motion (Mr. Austin Chapman), who comes from the most populous State, has provided for its retention. If we limit the number to five or ten representatives, or to fifteen or twenty, in a motion of this kind, we shall be acting unwisely. We cannot at this stage have any idea how the forces outside Parliament - in the State Parlia ments and in the general community - should be represented, nor can we say what should be the number of representatives.

Mr Fenton - If you are in favour of a Convention, surely you can take your cue from the Convention that framed the Constitution.

Mr BURCHELL - At this stage I do not desire to pledge myself to any definite number, because, subsequently, sound reasons may be advanced for an increase or a decrease. But, after all, I am only dealing with a detail.

In my opinion, we ought not to affirm the principle of proportional representation. There are honorable members who feel very keenly in regard to proportional representation, for and against. The question has been debated at different periods here within my own knowledge, and many determined efforts have been made to introduce the principle in various ways. For us, at this particular moment, to accept the principle as applied to the election of a Convention, without any really satisfactory statement as to how and to what sections of the community it is proposed to extend it, would be very ill advised. I do not wish honorable members to misunderstand me. It may be necessary to grant to various sections of the community representation, but if my memory serves me rightly - although it is weeks since the motion was submitted - the mover did not give us any very clearcut ideas as to which sections of the community were to be granted proportional representation. After all, the main purpose of the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Austin Chapman) is to secure an expression of opinion from this House in regard to the calling of a Convention. He desires a Convention called as quickly as possible, and we should leave details for the consideration of Parliament when we have before us the proposals of the Government. Honorable members will then have an opportunity to make their presence felt, and to remove any clauses they may deem objectionable. 1 have no fault to find with the proposal for a Convention, but when honorable members weigh the matter carefully, I think they will 'agree that, if we affirm the principle of a Convention, and leave the details for consideration when there is a Bill before us, we shall amply meet all requirements.

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