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Wednesday, 3 May 1939

Mr LAZZARINI (Werriwa) .- This motion, which was submitted by the former Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen), might well be regarded as a proposal to appoint a committee to devise ways and means to defeat the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box. Whenever governments comprised of honorable members opposite in this or any other parliament of Australia have received a thrashing at the hands of the electors, they have always sought a way to thwart the popular will. There has been much talk this afternoon about the alleged undemocratic constitution of the Senate. The fact is that the procedure for electing the Senate provides for majority rule in exactly the same way as does the procedure for the House of Representatives. In this chamber, the majority, however slender, rules. If one candidate secures 22,500 votes at an election and another candidate gets 22,499 votes, the former is elected. There is no provision for representation of a minority. 1 recall the figures for the genera] election at the time" when the voters of Werriwa were so misguided as to reject me. Although on that occasion my total votes were 5,000 in excess of twice the number polled by the late Prime Minister in the division of Wilmot, he came back to this Parliament as Prime Minister, and I was defeated. Was that the expression of democratic rule? Hitherto I have not heard any honorable members protesting against that negation of democracy. Similar experiences have been recorded in other divisions of the various States. If Government supporters are honest in their attitude to this motion, and if they wish to establish democratic rule in its truest form - they should urge the "appointment of a committee to inquire into the whole of the Commonwealth electoral machinery. Such a proposal might have the support of the Labour party. It would, no doubt, require an amendment of constitution; but those who are continually bleating and talking about the defeat of democratic principles should be frank and be prepared to examine the electoral machinery for the House of Representatives as well as for the Senate. "We heard no talk of proportional representation for the Senate during all those years when the parties represented by honorable members opposite were being returned to that chamber with substantial majorities. Some one said, many years ago, that the Senate was a place where " the hobnails of labour " would never tread. The results of the last election proved that prophecy false. Now that the United Australia .party and the Country party are fighting as independent bodies, each, I suppose, feels that it is entitled to proportional representation. Possibly the Country party believes that it can win one or two more Senate seats.

I do not know whether the introduction of this scheme was part of an agreement arrived at before the coalition government was displaced by the present Ministry, or whether it is being brought forward now in' order to retain the support of members of the Country party. The figures cited this afternoon by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) with regard to Senate elections could just' as easily be used as an argument against the present system of voting for the House of Representatives. If Government supporters genuinely believe that our electoral system should be placed on a democratic basis, they should be prepared to consider an alteration of the whole of the machinery. The Minister who introduced the bill claimed that there was a substantial body of opinion in favour of dividing each State into three separate electorates.

Mr BLAIN (NORTHERN TERRITORY) - Quite right too.

Mr LAZZARINI - I should like to know where that substantial body of public opinion is. In the whole of my political experience, extending now over more than 20 years, I have never heard any one suggest that the States should be divided into three. It may have been mentioned during the Federal Convention, but many other proposals were also considered at that time. The original intention was that the Senate should be a States House ; that it should safeguard the States from unfair legislation which might be passed by the House of Representatives. If the States were divided into three it is conceivable that one section would return a Labour candidate, another a Country party representative, and the third one to represent the United Australia party. It would, however, be possible for Labour to get a majority of 20,000, 30,000, 40,000, or even 50,000, over its opponents in one section, and for the anti-Labour forces to get a majority of only 2,000, 3,000, or 4,000 in another. If these votes were taken in the aggregate, as they are now, Labour would probably obtain two seats in the Senate, whereas if they were separated, as has been suggested, Labour would secure only one seat. There is no widespread public opinion in favour of dividing the States into three, but there is definitely a growing opinion in favour of the abolition of the Senate, the uselessness of which has been demonstrated.

If the proposed committee were given authority to inquire into the state of public opinion regarding the Senate generally, some advantage might be gained from its appointment. The Labour party believes that the proper way to approach this question is to examine the whole system of majority rule as it exists in this Parliament. Despite the special pleading of the honorable member for Gippsland, no one can dispute the fact that under the present system there is absolute majority rule so far as the Senate vote is concerned. The honorable gentleman also spoke of the transfer value of votes. At present every elector in every State has three effective votes at ' a Senate election; his third vote is as effective as his first. The honorable member for Gippsland suggested that although three candidates might be offering, an elector should have only one effective vote, and in support of his argument he used a most confusing illustration of a man - probably a Scotsman - buying a new hat. I could find no analogy between his story and the method of voting for the Senate. Perhaps I am as slow in the uptake as the proverbial Scotchman.

Mr Thorby - -The honorable member ought to know.

Mr LAZZARINI - If the honorable member had his way there would be no electors; he would "shoot them, bash their brains out against a wall, or throw them downstairs."

Clause 3 of the motion reads -

(3)   That the committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records, to sit during any adjournment of the Parliament, and to move from place to place and have leave to report from time to time its proceedings and the evidence taken.

If this committee were set up no doubt it would conduct it3 inquiries all over Australia, and, like many other committees and commissions, it would pile up the cost to the taxpayer by collecting voluminous evidence, which would ultimately find its way into the archives and never be read by any one. In its travels it would probably put up at a wayside hotel and ask questions of a s wagin an in the bar. It would, no doubt, also visit some of our tourist resorts, and to ensure that the Government obtained some value for its money, it would examine witnesses for an hour or so, and then spend the rest of the time seeing the sights. That has been going on for a long time. The archives of this Parliament are full of records of the proceedings of committees and commissions which have piled up heavy costs against the nation without achieving practical results.

When one takes a trip in a motor car one prefers an experienced driver, and, if it be necessary to amend the law with regard to Senate elections, this Parliament should have the courage to do it, because it has had long experience of the operation of that law. However, governments formed by the parties opposite have not had the courage to initiate legislation with regard to this matter. During my experience in- this chamber they have always shelved their responsibilities and " sheltered behind commissions, committees and boards before giving effect to any proposals likely to disturb the public mind, or to cause violent political reaction. The people are tired of parliamentary government as carried out by the parties opposite. When I ask for the expenditure of public funds to provide increased postal facilities in my electorate, I am informed that all the money available is required for defence purposes. That being the position, there is no justification for the expenditure of thousands of pounds on an investigation such as that now proposed. The matter should be left in abeyance for the time being. In my opinion, there would be no justification for the appointment of such a committee at any time, because the elected, representatives of the people should deal with this Matter and take the responsibility for their action.

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