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Wednesday, 3 May 1939
Page: 65

Mr FRANCIS (Moreton) .- I had hoped to hear some concrete proposal by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) for the reform of the system of voting for the election of the Senate, but all I heard was an attack by him on his fellow members, and a suggestion that the proposed inquiry would result in unnecessary expenditure. My experience of committees appointed by this Parliament has not led me to form that opinion of my fellow members. I commend the Government for the present proposal, and my only criticism is that it has been delayed too long since the last election. I have heard nobody express satisfaction with the way in which the Senate elections are now conducted. After every election the press teems with criticisms of the present system, which is condemned by leader writers, newspaper correspondents, and public bodies alike. The present method does not give to the community confidence in this Parliament, and without such confidence this Parliament cannot function as it should. Reference to the debates at the conventions held prior to the establishment of federation shows that the present method of electing senators is merely provisional. Section 1 of the Constitution provides -

The Senate shall be composed of senators for each State, directly chosen by the people of the State, voting, until the Parliament otherwise provides, as one electorate.

That method has been varied only slightly. In the first instance, the vote for senators was recorded by a cross placed in a square opposite the name of each candidate and the candidate first past the post was declared elected. After 1918 the method was changed. The candidates were grouped according to the political parties they were supporting, and there was a compulsory exchange of preferences, but this system has not given results satisfactory to any section of the people.

The honorable member for Werriwa was unable to show that any body of public opinion favours the present system. In the original draft of the Constitution, it was proposed that senators should be directly chosen .by the people of the State voting as one electorate. Many notable Australians took part in the lengthy debates which occurred at the convention at the time, and finally a compromise was reached, because the States, or Colonies as they were then known, objected to the original proposal. They were in favour of proportional representation, and the subdivision of the States into single Senate electorates ; but that was not accepted by the Convention, and it was decided as a compromise that, until the Parliament otherwise provided, each State should vote as one electorate. For nearly 40 years this tentative method has been tested, and, by examining the records, we find that with 51 per cent, of the electors voting for the candidates of a particular party the whole of the eighteen senators to be elected at any one time may be returned .by that party, whilst 49 per cent, of the electors may possibly not return a single senator. Nobody in Australia can justify the continuation of such a system. The appointment of a select committee, representative of all parties in this House and in the Senate, would bo the ideal way in which to have this matter investigated. Such a committee would report its findings to the Parliament, but its recommendations would not be binding. The Parliament should have the considered opinion of such a committee of its fellow-members, after they had taken evidence and made the fullest inquiries.

Mr Martens - From whom would the evidence be taken?

Mr FRANCIS - That matter would rest with the committee itself. I should have no hesitation in malting up my own mind as to what should be done, but I suggest that the recommendations of such a committee would be helpful in our discussion of the problem.

Mr Blain - Does the honorable member favour electorates for the Senate or the State voting as one electorate?

Mr FRANCIS - The whole matter should be examined by the proposed committee. If I were to express a considered opinion on the matter, the honorable member would ask me why, having made up my mind, I was suggesting an inquiry by a committee. It seems to me that the present proposal does not go sufficiently far. In my opinion, the Senate should have wider powers and functions than it now has. It is not playing the part in the public life of Australia which it could and should play. After almost 40 years' experience of Commonwealth activities, this National Parliament should now give consideration to the reform of the Constitution, so that, after an appeal to the people, additional powers may be secured.

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