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Thursday, 29 July 1920

Mr BURCHELL (Fremantle) .- If this motion were agreed to, and its terms were' eventually -embraced in the Constitution, ' it would prove altogether too -binding. In the future there may arise such a set of circumstances as would enforce an election, quite irrespective of the desire of the Government of the day, or of the Opposition, or of any other party in this Chamber. If the Constitution. -were to be amended to provide for the holding of elections between the middle of November and the middle of the following March, it would prove too cramping upon the community and this Parliament. I draw the attention of the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) to the existing situation. Some years ago the Constitution was amended, following upon a referendum, with respect to the election of senators. The alteration was made specifically to meet the convenience of country electors.

Mr Tudor - And the then sitting senators were deliberately given six months' additional tenure in order to achieve that, object.

Mr BURCHELL - That is so. The Constitution was altered, following upon a referendum in which the people approved of the question as placed before them. This House is practically controlled, in the matter of the periods of its election, by the life of the Senate. Within the past few months we have witnessed the election of a number of senators, who, however, were npt able to occupy their seats in the Senate for quite a long period after the day of their election. I agree with the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), who expressed the view that an amendment of the Electoral Act governing this matter should be sufficient. I do not oppose the desire that this House shall keep in step, generally, with the Senate- in the matter of election "dates. 'In fact, that would !be the proper course to follow.

Mr Jowett - It was necessary to alter the Constitution to meet the convenience of the public in relation to Senate elections. Why can not a similar procedure be followed in. respect to the election of members of this House?

Mr BURCHELL - To make the matter effective it would be necessary to seek, to amend the Constitution between the present moment and the next ordinary general election; and that would involve the taking of a special referendum, which costs between £80,000 and £100,000.

Mr Jowett - That would not be necessary. This Parliament can continue until February, 1923, and, thus, there would be no necessity, for the next general election to be held before March in that year.

Mr BURCHELL - The three-year period for which honorable members are elected operates from the day on which Parliament is first called together. This Parliament was called together on 26th February last, and, in the course of ordinary events, it will not expire until the end of February, 1923. The next ordinary general election cannot possibly be held before the middle of April, 1923 ; so the honorable member's objective will have been obtained

Mr Jowett - But I desire this reform to be permanent, and not to fit in merely with the next general election.

Mr BURCHELL - I call the attention of the honorable member to section 13 of the Constitution Act -

As soon as may be after the Senate first meets, and after each first meeting of the Senate following a dissolution thereof, the Senate shall divide the senators chosen for each State into two classes, as nearly equal in number as practicable; and the places of the senators of the first class shall become vacant at the expiration of three years, and the places of those of the second class at the expiration of six years, from the beginning of their term of service; and afterwards the places of senators shall become vacant at the expiration of six years from the beginning of their term of service.

The election to fill vacant places shall be made within one year before the places are to become vacant.

For the purposes of this section, the term of service of a senator shall be taken to begin on the first day of July following the day o'f his election.

The Constitution originally read that the term should begin on the 1st day of January following the date of a senator's election. Naturally, it is desirable that the elections for the House of Representatives should coincide with those in connexion with the Senate. I invite honorable members to assume that, from 1923 onwards, each ordinary general election for both Houses of the Federal Legislature will be conducted on the same day. The Constitution now provides for that, so that there is no need to further amend it.

Mr Jowett - There was an election in the middle of last harvest. I want to make that impossible for the future.

Mr BURCHELL - It is a laudable desire, but there may be dissolutions at any time.

Mr.Fenton. - Does the honorable member for Grampians wish to spend £100,000 in forcing this question?

Mr Jowett - No; but to have it put before the people at the next ordinary election.

Mr BURCHELL - I have pointed out that the expenditure involved in a referendum amounts to between £80,000 and £100,000.

Mr Jowett - I do not suggest the taking of a special referendum, but that it should coincide with the next general election.

Mr BURCHELL - Honorable members who have studied the Constitution, particularly in its references to the elec-' tion of members of this Parliament, must be satisfied that the Constitution, as it stands, is sufficiently clear and broad. Political exigencies should be taken into account. An extraordinary difficulty might arise if the Constitution were amended as the honorable member desires. It is quite conceivable that a crisis might arise at the end of November; but, if this proposal were agreed to, it would not be lawful to appeal to the people until the middle of the following March. In those circumstances it would be most unwise for the House to agree to the motion. Although I am in sympathy with the desire of the honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) that election days shall be outside the period mentioned in his motion, I think it would be futile to specify election dates in such a cast-iron document as the Constitution.

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