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Monday, 11 December 1905

Mr ROBINSON (Wannon) - I believe in the proposal of the Bill, and shall support it. The present practice is to appoint a skilful Commissioner to prepare plans for the division of electorates. The Commissioner may devote a great deal of attention to the work, and his plans may be fair and equitable. They may be regarded by both Houses of Parliament as worthy of adoption, and resolutions may be passed accepting them. If it were proposed that the plans thus prepared should stand unless they were disapproved of by a vote of either House, there would be a great deal to be said in support of the contention of the Minister and of the last speaker. But when we are asked to substitute for the scheme proposed by the Senate - which aims at removing all partisan feeling - a scheme which would make any proposed plan of distribution a party question entirely, I think we are asked to take a retrograde step. It is all very well for us to put ourselves on a high pedestal, and say that we are a very patriotic lot who do nothing, but what is in the best interests of the country. But every member of this, or any other Parliament, thinks that the interests of the country are best conserved by his party being in power, and being retained in power.

Mr Chanter - Surely the honorable member does not suggest that Parliament would deliberately do an injustice?

Mr ROBINSON - I do not say that an honorable member would deliberately do what he thought was an injustice, but I say that in political matters a member of Parliament may easily persuade himself, or his party may persuade him, that what .* he votes for is a most proper thing to do, whereas, in fact, weighed in the scale of ethics, it may be a most improper act. If it were not for that, party government could not be carried on for an hour. If every honorable member voted as his principles directed him to vote, the present Government would not continue in office for five minutes. I am prepared to vote for the Senate's proposal, although I think it is a shade too drastic. It removes the redistribution of seats from parliamentary control altogether. If I cannot secure that, my views will be met bv inserting a clause to the "effect that any redistribu-' tion. by one Commissioner or three, shall, unless either House disapproves of it - or, as the matter concerns this House, unless the House of Representatives disapproves of it - come into effect. That would require a substantive act before the scheme could be disapproved of. At present a negative act - that is, the failure to do anything - is sufficient to knock on the head the most promising and carefully prepared scheme. I think that is a state of things which requires amendment. I hope that in a matter of this kind, in which honorable members are so deeply interested personally, we shall take a course which will leave us less open to exercise influence.

Mr Chanter - Would the honorable member leave to the present Executive the framing of a Customs law?

Mr ROBINSON - I do not think the cases are analogous, for the reason that in the case of a parliamentary division of seats, the interests of honorable members are affected. Every honorable member knows, unless he is in the position of the honorable member for Gippsland, whose constituency is up against the border of New South Wales,that a piece can be taken off or added on to his electorate so as to make things uncomfortable for him. When an honorable member represents what I may call a middle constituency, like that of the honorable and learned member for Corinella, or that of the honorable member for Laanecoorie, things may be made extremely awkward by a fresh delimitation of boundaries. The matter makes very little difference to me personally,, because I happen to represent a constituency close up to a border; although both schemes which have been put forward chipped off one of the nicest little places that any honorable member could wish to have in his electorate. But that does not prevent me from supporting a proposal which will have the effect of removing the question of the redistribution of seats outside of party considerations. If we cannot secure the proposal of the Senate, I would suggest, for the Minister's consideration, such an amendment of sections 21 and 22 of the principal Act as would make any scheme of redistribution become operative unless a resolution was passed by either House of Parliament disapproving of it. That is to say, I would make an express act of disapproval necessary before the scheme was rejected. If that suggestion were adopted, probably a good deal of debate upon this question, and the pos sibility of a difference of opinion with another place, might be avoided.

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