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Thursday, 29 July 1920

Mr FENTON (Maribyrnong) .- I had some experience of election campaigning in the country during the month of December last including the Grampians and a considerable portion of the Mallee; and I am quite in sympathy with the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) when he speaks of being quite unable to get his meetings together before 10 o'clock at night. Harvesting operations are in full swing in the month of December, and I know that most of the meetings I had the pleasure of addressing did not, as a rule, commence until between 9 and 10 o'clock.

However punctual one might be in arriving at the meeting place at 8 o'clock, with a view to leaving plenty of time for questions and so forth, I found that owing to the conditions it was very often after midnight before I could get to bed. In the city electorates, on the other hand, the months of November, December, and January are very much appreciated as a time for elections, for the simple reason that most of the speaking has to be done in the open air in the evenings, and for this purpose the summer is much pleasanter than the winter. The Queensland electors have often very strongly pleaded that elections should not be held in that State when it is subject to the monsoonal rains.

Mr Higgs - We have heavy rains in February and March, and sometimes in April.

Mr FENTON - I know that a very strong point has been made of this fact in Queensland. However, I do not see that we should take such a drastic step as to bring about an amendment in the Constitution; in my opinion, an amendment of the Electoral Act would prove sufficiently binding on any Ministry of the day. We might amend that Act so as to provide that as far as practicable elections should be held at a time of year most suitable to the great bulk of the electors. It would be impossible to have a castiron rule as to the time of year. Sometimes the temper of Parliament is such that a crisis occurs, as has happened in the past, particularly on that occasion when the Prime Minister of the day announced to a startled House that he had recommended, and had been granted, a double dissolution. "Under such circumstances as that it would not do to have a section of the Constitution that would prevent the people giving an early expression to their opinions.

Mr Nicholls - You do not anticipate anything of the kind now ?

Mr FENTON - We live in times when we may anticipate anything, whether in the electoral, the parliamentary, the social, the industrial, or the financial sphere. I do not feel inclined to vote for the motion in its present form, because I do not think it is fair to the Parliament to go so far.

Mr Considine - What would be the value of the motion if carried ?

Mr FENTON - Of course, the Government could ignore it; and I think that our Constitution and the Electoral Act should be equal to all occasions. What could be done to carry out a proposal of this kind if a political crisis occurred between the middle of November and the middle of March 1

Mr Jowett - What do we do now? We cannot have an election under a month, and at the worst the period in the motion is only four months.

Mr FENTON - The electors could not wait that long; and this presents one of. the difficulties of the motion. We could amend the Electoral Act now, but to amend the Constitution we must wait until there is another general election. I recommend the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) to consult with his friends with a view to drafting a motion that will meet with the unanimous approval of the House. This is a motion I should vote against with reluctance, because I desire the electors to have every opportunity to express their opinion; but in its present form I cannot support it.

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