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Thursday, 24 June 1926

Senator BARNES (Victoria) .- My remarks will be brief, and will be in opposition to the granting of increased powers to the present Government, because it has not been honest in its statement of what it desires to do. While it may be reasonably claimed that the Commonwealth authorities should have all the powers necessary to protect the community, the Government should he pre pared also to embody in the Constitution the right of the people to adult franchise, so that there never need be any fear on their part of being robbed of that privilege.

Senator Mchugh - Is not that right now embodied in the Constitution?

Senator BARNES - No; adult suffrage is merely provided for in the Electoral Act. If a government like the present Ministry felt inclined to organize a military force of 5,000 troops, to be used if it thought necessary in dealing with industrial troubles, it could do so, and then amend the Electoral Act by providing that only certain citizens should be allowed to exercise the franchise.

Senator McHugh - The people of Australia generally do not know that.

Senator BARNES - Quite so, but they should know it. What is the sinister motive of the Government in seeking these additional powers? I feel sure that the people will not tolerate such a menace to their liberty. If the Government were sincere it would agree to recognition in the Constitution of the right of every adult in the community to a vote. Then there would be no danger of the people being robbed of that right. Ifthe Government is to be given the powers now asked for, surely the. people should be protected in such a way that no small military oligarchy could deprive them of the right to the franchise.

Senator Ogden - The honorable senator should not talk like that.

Senator BARNES - These things should be spoken about. Why should the honorable senator fear to give to every man and woman in the country the right to vote in these matters? Why should we not provide in the Constitution itself for adult suffrage? In other parts of the world we see small military organizations overriding the will of the people. Wedo not want that state of affairs in Australia.

Senator Ogden - Sometimes I am inclined to think that democracy has proved to be a failure.

Senator BARNES - I can understand the honorable senator thinking that ; but, for my part, I am prepared to trust the people. I may be, at times, in conflict with the majority of my countrymen; but, knowing their great desire to do what is just, I am prepared . to trust them. I would never be a party, either in this Parliament or elsewhere, to putting into the hands of the present Government the power which it seeks in this bill, unless, at the same time, the people are given, in the Constitution itself, the right to correct any mistake it might make. Under this measure, the people of Australia are asked, as it were, to cut their own throats. A government with a large majority could, so amend the Electoral Act as to prevent any section of the community from having a voice in determining the country's future.

Senator Pearce - This Government does not do that sort of thing.

Senator BARNES - But it might; and I am not prepared to trust the present Government with these additional powers. Nor do I think that the people of Australia will trust it.

Senator Pearce - They have trusted it.

Senator BARNES - They have not trusted it with the powers which it now seeks ; and they would be extremely foolish to do so. Why cannot the Government agree to what I suggest? What is the objection ? I can see no reason why any honest man should object to the Constitution being altered in the direction which I suggest. Unless, the people, who, after all, are the real masters, are given the power which they should have, I am not prepared to trust the Government with the powers that it seeks.

Senator Guthrie - Voting is compulsory, and adult suffrage is the law of the country.

Senator BARNES - That is the position now; but after getting these additional powers a government could pass an electoral act which would deprive of the right to vote every one who was not, say, bald.

Senator Drake-Brockman - The Constitution provides that every adult shall have a vote.

Senator BARNES - It provides that this Parliament can pass any electoral law that it desires.

Senator Drake-Brockman - No.

Senator BARNES - I am of the opinion that, under the Constitution, this Parliament can frame any electoral law that a majority of its members wish to pass. I challenge any honorable senator to refute that statement.

Senator Foll - How is that affected by this bill ?

Senator BARNES - If we passed this measure, and the people accepted it, all that would be necessary would be for the Government to entrench itself behind the military authorities.

Senator Ogden - Does the honorable senator think that any government would do so?

Senator BARNES - I do not know; but I know enough of this Government not to trust it very far. If the Government is honest, it will agree to my request. There would then be no fear in the minds of the people as to the power which the Government would wield. Why not provide in the Constitution tha t the people shall at no time be deprived of their right to havea voice in the future of their country? Any government that is not prepared to . How the people that right is not worthy to be entrusted with the government of the country for even ten minutes. It would be without honesty or sincerity. I hope that each elector, when handed a ballot-paper in connexion with the referendum proposals, will remember that if he gives an affirmative vote he will be assisting to put into the hand of any unscrupulous government - I apply that term to the present Government - a power that no government should have over the people in any white man's country. I hope that the Senate will not consent to the passing of this Bill.

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