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Wednesday, 23 March 1927

Senator J B HAYES (Tasmania) . - I have been listening carefully to the debate, with the object of making up my mind how to vote on this clause. As it stands the clause is a little dangerous, and might very well be amended. I am afraid the Honorary Minister (Senator McLachlan) did not clarify the issue. He said that a poll of the producers would be taken to determine whether the act should be proclaimed. A good deal hinges on the interpretation of the word " producer." I do not know whether the Acts Interpretation Act provides that the singular includes the plural, and whether, therefore, " producer " means the owner of any pearling vessel. If the definition stated that " producer " meant " the owner of any pearling vessel or vessels," it would then mean one producer one vote ; but, as it stands, " producer " might be interpreted to mean that an owner of four or five vessels would have four or five votes. If the Minister can give us an assurance that the regulations will provide for the principle of one voter one vote, the position will be safeguarded. I understand that there are over 400 vessels engaged in the industry. We do not know how many men own them, but we have been told that there are very few single owners.

It would be interesting to know the maximum number of boats owned by any single producer or company. Surely it should not be bard to get that information. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said that some men own 25 or 30 vessels. Are they to have 25 or 30 votes? I am in favour of plural voting in connexion with municipal rating. I approve of the principle that the man who owns a large amount of property should, within certain limits, have a greater say as to how the rates should be spent than another man who owns a smaller amount of property; but usually there is a provision fixing the maximum number of votes at three and, in some cases, five. Some such principle might be applied to this bill. It is dangerous to give the owner of a large number of luggers too much voting power, because his voting strength might be so used as to crush the small producers. The Government would be well advised to agree to an amendment of the provision, fixing the maximum number of votes per producer at five or seven. The Minister has told us that this measure has emanated from the men engaged in the industry, and that they are unanimously in favour of it. I can conceive, however, that it might have been put to them in such a way that the big producers had most to say in its initiation. If Senator Needham were to propose that the maximum number of votes should be five, or the Minister could suggest a more appropriate number, that would be sufficient, and it would be more in keeping with present-day legislation.

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