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Friday, 29 November 1935

Senator BROWN (Queensland) . - I rise to support my leader (Senator Collings), whose criticisms of the Government were well founded. Much public criticism has been levelled at the haste with which the Government is endeavouring to force legislation through both Houses of this Parliament. Undoubtedly, the Senate has come in for much criticism, and it is only right and fair that honorable senators should do their best to uphold the prestige of the chamber in the eyes of the people. Especially is this necessary in these days, when dictatorships are being established, and when, in the various countries of the world, parliamentary institutions are being degraded in the opinion of the public, and destroyed. Even now, a movement is in progress in France - the home of a liberty-loving people - for the abolition of the parliamentary system. The Commonwealth Government has been subject to criticism, not only from the Labour party, but from its own supporters. I propose to read an extract from the Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, by

Quick and Garran, to support my contention that we should abstain from taking any action likely to degrade the Senate in the eyes of the people -

The Senate is one of the most conspicuous, and unquestionably the most important, of all the federal features of the Constitution, using the word federal in the sense of linking together and uniting a number of co-equal political communities, under a common system of government. The Senate is not merely a branch of a bi-cameral Parliament; it is not merely a second chamber of revision and review representing the sober second thought of the nation, such as the House of Lords is supposed to bc; it is that, but something more than that. It is the chamber in which the States, considered as separate entities, and corporate parts of the Commonwealth, are represented. They are so represented for the purpose of enabling them to maintain and protect their constitutional rights against attempted invasions, and to give them every facility for the advocacy of their peculiar and special interests, as well as for the ventilation and consideration of their grievances.

Hence the Senate is intended to fill an important role in the legislature of this country. The Labour party considers that it is grossly improper and derogatory to the Senate for the Government to proceed in the way it has done recently in endeavouring hurriedly to force legislation through Parliament. When the Senate does not meet for many months, people who are not aware of the duties performed by honorable senators in the recess, come to the conclusion that, after all, the parliamentary institution has become impotent, and some form of dictatorship exists in Australia. Undoubtedly, good grounds exist for this opinion. The Labour party believes in the abolition of the Senate, but we recognize also that, while the- Commonwealth is governed under the present constitution, we must uphold the Senate. This chamber should perform its duties to the full, and in no way should its functions be restricted. I realize that the Labour party has criticized the Senate in the past; we shall continue to criticize it until the present abuses are discontinued.

Senator Brennan - Does the honorable senator desire to abolish the Senate ?

Senator BROWN - The platform of the Labour party includes the abolition of this chamber; but, while the present federal system is retained, the party is keenly desirous of preserving the com plete rights of the Senate intact, and does not wish them to be usurped by the Government or private individuals.

Senator Foll - Would the honorable senator like to 3ee this chamber abolished immediately ?

Senator BROWN - No. The Labour party has fostered the idea of a unitary form of government. We believe in unification, and when the people are prepared to introduce this system the Senatewill be abolished. But while the federal system continues with large and smaller States in existence, the Senate must enjoy its full rights, and no member of the Government should endeavour to weaken the chamber in the eyes of the people.

Senator Dein - The honorable senator believes that under the present system the Senate should exist.

Senator BROWN - I have already explained my attitude. Under the present federal system it is important that the Senate should function. But the Labour party, in advocating the abolition of the Senate, maintains that a unified form of government should be introduced. At present the Senate has become like the vermiform appendix in the. human body which, doctors state, is not of much use The Senate is not exercising its rights and powers as it should. Senators arc becoming too indifferent. I have contended that this chamber should spend more time in discussing the major problems of Australia and the world, in order to reach sensible and reasonable conclusions in regard to them. But, unfortunately, there always seems to be a desire on the part of the Government to seek the haven of recess as soon as possible. Why is this haste necessary ? Why should the Senate be a party to the mechanization of legislation in order .that legislators may get away from Canberra as rapidly as possible? I regret that the Senate is fast becoming a rubber stamp to register approval of the actions of the House of Representatives.

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