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Thursday, 20 May 1920

Mr WISE (Gippsland) (PostmasterGeneral) . - The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) has contended that we ha/e no right to make any alteration in the parliamentary allowance without first submitting the question to the people. But' if we look at the Constitution we at_ once see that there -are certain provisions that can be altered only by referendum, and care has been taken that these references shall not be mixed up in a farcical way with a thousand other questions at a general election; they must be settled by direct vote on the particular point at issue. We have no power, for instance, to extend the term of Parliament; but, on the other hand, there are many sections in the Constitution which give Parliament power to make alterations as it thinks fit; and the matter before us now is one of them. There is a provision in the Constitution that, "until Parliament otherwise provides," there shall be only seven Ministers of State, and Parliament has altered that number without reference to the people. Does the honorable member for Fawkner say that in the case of every provision which is to stand " until Parliament otherwise provides" we cannot legislate until we have submitted it( to the people? If that be the case, the whole thing is an absurdity, and it would have been better to leave out those words from the Constitution.

Mr Maxwell - The raising of our salaries is in a different category altogether.

Mr WISE - When there is a referendum, people have a chance of expressing an independent opinion; but it is rubbish to say that we shall get the opinion of the people on such a question as this by submitting it at a general election. At such a time the question would be absolutely lost sight of. On the last occasion, in 1907, when the first alteration was made in the parliamentary allowance, the same argument was used, but at the next general election, in 1910, not a solitary word was said about the matter. The great issue then was between the Fusion party and the Labour party, and the people throughout Australia were divided into two straight-out camps, which they supported on purely party lines. No question was of any consideration! then except . the question of which party was to rule. People seem to forget the fact that the first alteration as regards the allowances was at a comparatively early stage of the Commonwealth's history. The Constitution provides that the salary shall be reckoned from the day when a member takes his seat; but Parliament, without consulting the electors, dr without being called to account, made the salary reckon from the day on which, the member is elected. This means a difference of two or three months to every honorable member in the way of salary. That was a precedent laid down for Parliament altering the allowance, without consulting the constituencies. We have power to do what is now proposed, but we have to account to our constituents afterwards for what we have done in this respect as on all other questions, and, if they think fit, they can punish us. One of the reasons why this matter was left to Parliament, and not fixed in the Constitution, was that the Federal Convention had no idea as to the length of time the Parliament would sit, or as to the amount of work it would have to do. In the 1891 Federal Convention the allowance was fixed at £500, but at the 1898 Convention the Committee which presented the Constitution Bill inserted £400. Mr. Gordon, of South Australia, moved that the allowance be £500, pointing out that the Parliament would have a great deal of work to do. The contention of other members of the Convention, however, was that Parliament would not have much work to do, and Mr. Higgins, now Justice Higgins, expressed the opinion that after a year or two Parliament would sit only two months in the year. He was prepared to reduce the allowance to £300, but regarded £400 as a compromise. If he considered £300 enough for a session of two months each year, what would he think enough under present circumstances. That gentleman was certainly one who had his eyes opened very quickly, because I think that the first session lasted for about eighteen months. These facts explain why it was left to Parliament to deal with the matter, and Parliament has the responsibility, and must accept the consequences if the constituencies are displeased.

Honorable Members. - Divide ! Divide !

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