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Thursday, 6 May 1920

Mr JOWETT (Grampians) .- I regret that I must oppose the amendment,, because whatever its merits, it possesses a fatal defect, in that it prevents the consideration of constitutional reform by a Convention representing the people - a Convention to be elected on the principle of proportional representation.

Mr Tudor - That would mean a presselected Convention.

Mr JOWETT - I scout the idea that it would be a press-elected Convention. ,

Mr Mathews - The Age would wish to select the Victorian representatives.

Mr JOWETT - The honorable member knows more about that than I do. The object of the amendment seems two-fold, namely, to prevent the calling together of a Convention, and also to provide for a referendum, the terms of which, as in the past, would be fixed by Parliament after a long and bitter party struggle, in which the majority had gained its own way. I think that we are all agreed as to the need for reforming both the Commonwealth and the State Constitutions, and this debate may be regarded in some way as a sequel v,o the most interesting discussion which we had earlier in the afternoon, when, by the honorable members for Adelaide (Mr. Blundell) and Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) and others, attention was drawn to most glaring cases of folly, waste, and inefficiency, due to the clash of Commonwealth and State control in regard to the erection of war service homes. What was said during that discussion made a deep impression upon the House. Every thinking man and woman in Australia is aware that one of the greatest evils from which this community suffers is the conflict of Commonwealth and State authority. The people are being oppressed by the excessive expenditure which results from the wastefulness caused by the overlapping of these two sets of authorities. What we have to consider is how best to put an end to this, and here I am reminded of Wordsworth's immortal lines -

The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending we lay waste our powers.

We might well say that Governments are too much with us; late and soon, ' Getting and spending [they] lay waste our powers.

The revenues of thisgreat and prosperous country are being eaten up by Government expenditure and interferences, and the energies of our people are in consequence " cribb'd, cabin'd, confin'd." We must put an end to this conflict of officials, and must ask ourselves what is the best practical means 'of doing so. It is not to be done by the vain repetition of the methods of the past. As the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) has shown, the referenda of 1911 and 1913 utterly failed to secure the results that were wished for. I shall not dwell on the merits of the proposals they contained ; but what was the cause of their failure ?

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The States Rights party was too strong.

Mr JOWETT - I am an absolutely impartial critic of those referenda, because I never read a word of the proposals that they contained, and never met any one else who had done so.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Did you vote on them ?

Mr JOWETT - I do not think so, but if I did, I probably voted like everybody else - on party lines. No other course was open to the electors, because the terms of the referenda were finalized by party managers in party Houses. If this is to be done again, the efforts of this most honorable House and the other Chamber, which is so often in our thoughts, but must always be nameless, are doomed to failure. Proposals for the alteration of the Constitution are not likely to receive the endorsement of the people unless made by a Convention possessing its confidence.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - You oppose the amendment because it comes from the Labour party?

Mr JOWETT - No, but because of its defects.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - You admit that it has good qualities.

Mr JOWETT - I always endeavour to see the merits of any proposal that emanates from honorable members opposite. I notice that the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) has excluded from his amendment all reference to the Convention as representative of the people of Australia.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - This Parliament is a " Convention."

Mr JOWETT -On that point I am compelled to differ from the honorable member, and I fear that there are still some germs of the party spirit in this Chamber on the present occasion. I do not think that wc can expect the people to have as much confidence in this Parliament, as a body to consider the amendment of the Constitution, as they would have in a Convention specially elected for that purpose. We are as a man ploughing the sands of the seashore if we expect such a work to be successfully performed alone by honorable members 'of this Parliament.

The next question is how this Convention should be elected. I listened- with the deepest interest to the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Kerby), the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Burchell), the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney), and the honor- able member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini), and none seemed in favour of the principle of proportional representation. The honorable member for Ballarat referred to a letter which was published over my name in the daily papers some time ago. In that letter I drew attention to the fact that, owing to the present ineffectual method of election,, it appeared that while some 13,568 voted in his favour, 13,567 voted against him.

Mr SPEAKER (Hon W Elliot Johnson - I remind the honorable member that at the present moment he is not speaking to the amendment, but really to the main question, on which he has already spoken. I take the opportunity to remind honorable members that if they speak on an amendment after having spoken to the motion, they must confine themselves strictly to the amendment. The honorable member for Werriwa had not spoken to the main question, and, therefore, was entitled to speak both on that and the amendment.

Mr JOWETT - I regret having exceeded the bounds of decorum. When I wrote that letter I had not made the acquaintance of the honorable member for Ballarat, but, since having done so, I am amazed to find that his majority should have been so small. During the whole of the discussion this afternoon on proportional representation, I do not think any honorable member has really addressed himself to the principle and practice of that system.

Mr Maxwell - How will it apply to an election for the Convention?

Mr JOWETT - I am grateful for the interjection, and as briefly as possible I shall explain.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member cannot do that, but must confine himself to the terms of the amendment.

Mr JOWETT - I shall endeavour to do so, merely saying that if honorable members would restrict their questions and interjections to the amendment, it would make my task much easier. There are two amendments running in my mind at the present moment.

Mr SPEAKER - There is only one amendment before the Chair.

Mr JOWETT - Then I ask that honorable members generally should also remember the fact. At this late hour of the afternoon, I ask leave to continue my remarks on a future occasion.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 6.25 to 8 p.m.

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