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Thursday, 20 May 1965


Senator O'BYRNE (Tasmania) .- I wish to come to the defence of Mr. George Howatt, a very able American scholar who has been in Tasmania for a number of years on a Fulbright scholarship and who has made some valuable contributions in the field of political and parliamentary research. He has applied himself to a problem in Tasmania relative to the Hare-Clark system of voting at elections and evidently has evolved a formula whereby the uncertainty that prevailed in the past in regard to equal voting has been for the time being eliminated. I give him all credit for the work that he has done.

With regard to Mr. Howatt's report on the avoidance of deadlocks in the Senate I do not take the matter as seriously as Senator Wright has taken it. I believe that Mr. Howatt did a lot of good work in connection with it. For the first time we saw an exposition of the actual relationships between the Senate and the House of Representatives and of the problem of deadlocks. Mr. Howatt did a lot of spade work that had not previously been done. It is my view in these matters that even though a scientist achieves world fame for bringing to finality a line of research, behind the breakthrough there is a tremendous amount of work that is never recognised. The research often runs up the wrong channels, but on the way new material may be found and may contribute to the reservoir of knowledge which eventually leads to the result that it is sought to achieve.

I look on George Howatt as one of the few men in this country with a natural gift for probing problems such as that which we are discussing. To me, it is worthwhile to get him to apply his undoubted talents and competence to the solution of these problems. I do not agree at all with his final conclusions on the solution of double dissolutions. I agree in part with Senator Wright's suggestion regarding the bringing in of an extraneous vote that upsets the traditional balance. On the other hand, there is a tremendous amount of material in Mr. Howatt's report that will be of great value to people interested in this line of research in the future.

I join those honorable senators who feel aggrieved that, at the ministerial and executive level, the Senate should have been deprived of the opportunity to have a committee of its own to investigate this matter. Such a committee would have access to the work being done at the various universities, and the legal people throughout Australia who have given some thought to this matter in their spare time would be able to contribute their views. The collation of the knowledge gained from that wider field perhaps could put George Howatt on the right track and enable him to refine, as it were, the Senate select committee's report. That may or may not be so. In any event, I want to come to the defence of George Howatt because he is a dedicated man who has contributed in his own way to the fund of knowledge concerning a problem that has perplexed all of us.

As I mentioned earlier, the whole process of building up the democratic parliamentary system has been a matter of trial and error. Standing Orders were devised for the Senate, but over the years they have been subjected to amendment. If one looks at the basic document that is in the possession of the Clerk, one will find numerous additions here and there which indicate that the original idea has been found to be wanting in some particular. Perhaps the alterations that have been made have been valuable in providing for the better government of this Commonwealth.

I believe that Senator Wright was quite entitled to raise, and indeed has done a service in raising, this matter and in suggesting that the Senate has more or less been bypassed by the Minister. But I think that George Howatt should be encouraged to continue his research. Whether the money comes from the Fulbright Foundation, from the Churchill memorial fund, from the taxpayers of Australia, or as a bequest, whoever keeps this man busy on this research is not wasting the money. The procedure that has been adopted by the Minister has been criticised, and I think it is due for criticism. On the other hand, the man who is involved has my support, not because, as I said earlier, I agree with his conclusions in regard to resolving deadlocks in the Senate. He has my support because of the amount of effort he has put into his work and his integrity and purpose. Even though he does not always hit the jackpot, he is contributing his time and intellectual capacity in a way in which not a great number of other people in this country are, and he is accumulating a storehouse of knowledge about this rather nebulous thing that we describe as democratic parliamentary procedure. For that reason, we are doing well to provide funds to keep him occupied in this work. I believe that the money is not being wasted but that the method of its allocation is being justifiably challenged.







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