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Thursday, 8 July 1915

Debate resumed.

Senator BAKHAP(Tasmania) T6.27]. - Before I deal with the merits or demerits of the referenda proposals, I desire to say something which is not suggested by the fact that they are to be submitted in a time of national stress. I complain of their submission at all, because, to my mind, this action drags the principle of the referendum in the mire. That principle has my support, and I believe that its occasional employment can be most salutary; but it may well be said of it, as has often been said of other things, that it should be regarded as the extreme medicine of the Constitution, and should not be made the daily bread of the people. When we reflect on the fact that the' Commonwealth embodies a very large portion of the earth's superficies, that it extends from Macquarie Island in the south - almost near the Antarctic circle - to territories in tropical waters, it will be understood, and I think generally conceded, that the principle pf the referendum should not be lightly employed to agitate the population of such vast, widely-separated territories. In 1911 - only four short years ago - similar proposals were submitted to the people, and submitted in what I will concede was a proper way; that is, at a time when the minds of the electors were not distracted by personal appeals or considerations in connexion with the election of their representatives in the National Parliament. The people were asked to vote on the proposals in a time of peace, and free from the turmoil of a general election, - that was a proper procedure to adopt - and the electors, by a vast majority in the aggregate, turned them down. In 1913, only two years subsequently, the proposals were re-submitted, and the minds of the electors were once more agitated. I maintain that in that year they were not submitted with as much propriety as in 1911, for they were submitted in connexion with the confused and involved issues of the general election, and designedly in order to secure a larger vote from the people in favour of the proposals, because it was believed that human nature, being what it is, people voting for possibly a majority of the representatives belonging to the Labour party would almost as a natural consequence be more inclined to give a larger affirmative vote in favour of the proposals.

Senator Russell - If that be so, what courage must we have had to take them on our backs!

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