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Tuesday, 28 August 1906

Mr WILKS (Dalley) .- I move-

That all the words after "That" be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words : - "It is not expedient to proceed further with this Bill during the present session, for the following reasons : -

1.   A general election is imminent, and there is consequently not sufficient time for the proper consideration of the measure, or for making the necessary electoral arrangements if the Bill became law.

2.   The proposals contained in the Bill are crude and incomplete.

3.   No provision is made for increasing the total number of votes polled, or for effective voting.

4.   The question has not been considered by the constituencies.

In submitting the amendment I would point out that at the two general elections which have been held for the Commonwealth, I was returned, not only by absolute majorities, but by enormous majorities.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member will not be so returned at the approaching election.

Mr WILKS - I am not a prophet, and I do not indulge in political forecasts as frequently as does the Minister of Trade and Customs. He usually blunders in his prophecies. I need scarcely point out that when he filled the office of Minister of Home Affairs, inthe Barton Administration, he was opposed to this very Bill.

Sir William Lyne - I do not think that is so.

Mr WILKS - I was pointing out that at the two Federal elections which have taken place, although I was engaged in three-cornered fights, I defeated both the protectionist candidate and the official Labour candidate by one of the largest majorities obtained in the Commonwealth. It cannot, therefore, be urged that my action on the present occasion is prompted by personal considerations, I could quite understand the action of the Government in fighting for majority rule ifthey forced a majority of the electors to vote. If they submitted a scheme of compulsory voting I could quite appreciate their actionin bringing forward this measure. Personally, I believe that in thevery near future the citizens of Australia will be compelled to respect the Electoral Act just as they are obliged to respect any other Statute. The Minister of Home Affairs "does not propose that the Bill under consideration shall apply to the elections for the Senate. He is content to prescribe one form of ballotpaper for the election of representatives to this House, and another form for the election of members to the Senate. I am not one of those who believe that the electors would be likely to be " fogged ' ' at the poll by the adoption of a system of preferential voting, but I do say that the use of two different systems will unquestionably cause confusion, and perhaps arouse their suspicion. The Minister of Home Affairs, in moving the second reading of the measure, stated that the present system of voting had failed, so far as majority representation is concerned, only in thirteen constituencies throughout the Commonwealth - that two of these electorates were to be found in Tasmania, two in Queensland, and nine in Victoria. The existing system has not resulted in the return of any representative to this House upon aminority vote, either from New South Wales, South Australia, or Western Australia. Consequently this Bill has been drafted in the interests of Victoria alone.

Mr Groom - In the interests of Australia.

Mr WILKS - It is all very well for the Minister to say that. I hold that by the introduction of the optional system of preferential voting the Ministry are considering only the interests of Victoria. At the last general election, I find that of the persons who were entitled to vote, only 47 per cent. exercised the franchise in New South Wales, only 51 per cent. in Victoria, only 54 per cent, in Queensland, only 32 per cent. in South Australia, only 28 per cent. in Western Australia, and only 45 per cent. in, Tasmania. That is a pitiful picture to put before the country. Any political party is materially benefited by organization, and we all recognise that the best organized political force in Australia is the Labour Party. I am firmly of opinion that in the very near future measures will have to be taken to compel the electors to act up to their citizen responsibilities. At the general election, which was held in 1901, there were only four constituencies, in New South Wales which returned representatives to this Parliament uponminority votes. In Victoria, however, there were nine such constituencies - the same mystical nine that were referred to by the Minister of Home Affairs. In those days we heard nothing from the Age newspaper or from the leader of the present Government upon the defects of the existing system. If it be wrong to-day, it was wrong then. In Queensland and South Australia a system of single electorates has prevailed, and you, Mr. Speaker, were among those who secured an absolute majority. A similar condition existed in Tasmania, but in the return before me no particulars are supplied with respect to the position in Western Australia. I wish to emphasize the fact that this Bill does not provide for compulsory voting, and that the exercise of the contingent vote will be purely optional. If the Government consider that the contingent vote would lead to majority rule, surely they should have proposed that it should be compulsory. The weak spot in this Bill is that, if it were passed, a well-organized force, such as the Labour Party, would advise its supporters not to exercise their right to cast a contingent vote.

Mr McColl - The system ought to be compulsory.

Mr WILKS - But under this Bill it will not be compulsory. A well-organized, well-disciplined force, like the Labour Party, would simply direct its supporters to exercise only their primary votes. In this way, the Bill would lead to what the Age, which strongly supports it, has described as clique or fancy voting. The honorable member for Kennedy has told us that the contingent voting system is not availed of in Queensland. In December, 1902. the Barton Government introduced an Electoral Bill providing for a system of proportional or contingent voting,- which was to be compulsory, and Senator Dawson, a representative of Queensland, when discussing that Bill, said that the Queensland contingent voting system had been an absolute failure. On the 17 th June, 1902, the honorable member for Bland, in dealing with the same measure, said the contingent vote would prove confusing to the electors. The honorable member for Hume, who was then Minister of Home Affairs, urged, on his own initiative, that the proposal in regard to the contingent or proportional vote should be negatived. He said that he had made a calculation, and as he found that the proposed system was most confusing, he recommended the Committee to reject it.

Sir William Lyne - I think that that Bill embodied a proposal on the lines of the Hare system of proportional voting.

Mr WILKS - It provided for proportional voting, but in that case the contingent vote would have been compulsory, whilst under this Bill it is to be optional.

Mr Page - Would the honorable member support the Bill if the contingent vote were made compulsory?

Mr WILKS - In conjunction only with other measures.

Mr Groom - What other measures?

Mr WILKS - Compulsory voting. The Minister of Home Affairs must be aware that many schemes have been propounded to secure effective voting power. When the Electoral Bill providing for the proportional or contingent vote was before the Senate in 1902, the Age, which to-day is the most powerful press advocate of this measure, and is publishing articles by Professor Nanson in support of it, held his scheme up to opprobrium. To-day it is employing Professor Nanson to write articles in support of a system which only a few years ago it violently opposed. I propose now to quote from an article published in that journal in February, 1902. On that occasion it referred in complimentary terms to the action taken by Senator Symon, who opposed the contingent voting system and the proportional system generally. Senator Symon pointed out the weakness of the Government proposal, and the Age applauded his action.. It also referred to the opinion expressed by John Bright in the following terms: -

John Bright denounced the Hare system as one that " shows mistrust of the people," and as a fad which seeks to make Parliament " a political photograph " of the nation in order that fads, fancies, and follies may have their representation in the House of Parliament.

Bright may have been exaggerating a little when he said that proportional representation is designed to call into being Parliaments of political lunatics, but it cannot be denied that in making electorates " constituencies of opinion," instead of persons, the system encourages the formation of Legislatures fit only to debate and argue abstract theories and not to make laws on subjects which are ripe in the popular intelligence.

I believe that statement focuses the present position. Parliament is not only a deliberative, but a legislative and governing, body. We come here not only to debate fads, theories, schemes, or principles, but to carry legislation and to control the public affairs of the Commonwealth. I can well understand any far-seeing man asserting that, if this work is to be properly carried out, we must have majority representation. The Right Honorable Richard Seddon was always an advocate of compulsory voting, and I believe that it was on his initiative that the New Zealand Legislature passed a law under which the names of electors who fail to record their votes at an election are struck off the roll. Their failure to exercise their right is construed as showing that they are either dead or have lef t the district. Their names are struck off the rolls 'Unless the returning officer is presented with a medical' certificate showing that they were unable to vote.

Mr Page - And their names are almost immediately afterwards restored to the rolls.

Mr WILKS - Neither the police nor any other officials take steps to immediately place them on the rolls, unless they make personal application. The citizens themselves must take action. I have often thought that if, instead of requiring the police to prepare voters' lists, we made it compulsory for the electors to register their names within a certain period, we should secure more complete rolls, and avoid much expenditure. The honorable member for Yarra may shake has head, but I feel; confident that that system would prove most effective.

Mr Tudor - When it prevailed in Victoria the number of males on the rolls was 33 per cent, below the present number.

Mr WILKS - Were the electors required to register?

Mr Tudor - Their names were transferred from the ratepayers' roll to the general roll.

Mr WILKS - If the electors knew that they would be subject to certain penalties for neglect of their right as citizens to vote, they would be careful to register their names, and the country would be saved great expense. At the same time, I feel confident that the polling at a general election would be much heavier than it is. 1 know that ideal representation is secured by the proportional system.

Mr Groom - In the passage the honorable member quoted, did not Bright condemn proportional representation?

Mr WILKS - Whenever I refer to proportional representation the Minister mentions the names of Clark, Droop, or Gregory. He forgets to tell the House that the schemes of those men were all based on the contingent voting system, and that it was said that contingent voting would lead to great difficulty and confusion. I am not here to demonstrate a problem in higher mathematics - I am not here to explain either the Hare-Spence, Gregory, or Nanson system. If I were I should require a blackboard and a piece of chalk. It would be easier for me to present the Treasurer with a treatise on the differential calculus than it would be for me to give him a clear exposition of these several schemes. We cannot deal with electors as we can with a formula in mathematics. Every candidate has a personal as well as a political influence. My first reason for moving this amendment is that a general election is imminent, and that there is consequently not sufficient time for the consideration of the measure, or to make the necessary electoral arrangements if it becomes law. I do not say that the people would be unable to understand this system if it were used at the next general election. I should not cast such a reflection on electors who went to the poll. If I did I could not hold that the electors were competent to deal with the many complex problems of legislation. I do say. however, that since they have been accustomed in most of the States for years to cast only a primary vote, the system proposed under this Bill would be somewhat novel to them. The electors are to be presented with two different ballot-papers, one for the election of senators, framed according to a system which they understand, and the other for the election of members of the House of Representatives, which must be marked with the figures 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on according to the order of preference. This will create confusion, and, moreover, will give an advantage to organized voters. In Queensland, we are told, the preferential system is rarely used, even the Minister of Home Affairs having admitted that it has affected only five elections in fourteen years. The Labour members who represent that State say that the people do not use the preferential system, and Senator Dawson has spoken of it as confusing. In Tasmania, a more definite system of proportional voting, embodying the contingent principle, and making it compulsory, was tried, but, after a trial extending over two State elections and one Federal election, they went back to a simpler arrangement.

Mr Storrer - They gave up a good system. " Mr. WILKS.- The Tasmanian public did not protest against its abolition.

Mr Storrer - Yes, it did.

Mr WILKS - We have heard no protest against the action of this Parliament in abolishing the system in connexion with Commonwealth elections. I should not have so much objection' to the preferential system if it were made compulsory. The Minister, however, has admitted that there is not sufficient time this session for the proper consideration of the measure.

Mr Groom - No.

Mr WILKS - When the honorable gentleman was moving the second reading, the honorable member for North Sydney asked him why he did not propose to apply the principle to the election of senators, and his reply was that he would be glad to do so if the Senate could find time to consider and agree to such an arrangement. But surely the concurrence of the S'enate will be asked in reference to the proposal now before us, and that will take time. I read the Minister's speech very closely, and it seemed to me that it contained the tacit admission that we have not time to deal properly with the measure this session. Another reason why we should not pass the second reading is that there is not sufficient time within which' to make the arrangements necessary to bring its 'provisions into operation. Some honorable members are feigning a burning desire to go before their constituents, and are asking every day when is the election to be. I have been in Parliament for many years, but I have never known honorable members to be really desirous of going before their constituents. It seems to me that those who had the narrowest majorities at the last election are apparently the most eager to submit themselves for re-election.

Mr Page - Let us not talk about it.

Mr WILKS - That is exactly how I feel. In reply to these inquiries, the Minister of Home Affairs has said that the elections cannot take place before the 21st November, because his officers cannot have everything in readiness at an earlier date. The returning officers are amateurs, who are most anxious not to violate our complicated electoral law bv any oversight or any misunderstanding of its provisions, and if they aire asked to make themselves acquainted with an entirely new system, and to carry out the preparations and to give the instructions necessary for bringing it into operation, the elections will have to be put off until a later time. My next objection to the Bill is that its provisions are crude and incomplete. ' They must be incomplete so long as they remain optional. If contingent voting would prevent minority rule, and bring about majority rule, it must be made compulsory. Is this measure to be dealt with by the Government as they have dealt with all their other measures? They have not yet submitted a Bill which they have not had to seriously amend; in many cases to such an extent as to entirely alter its complexion. After the members of the Opposition have pointed out blemishes in and objections to a measure, we have had the Attorney-General or some other Minister, as in the case of the Australian Industries Preservation Bill, bringing down sheaves of amendments, completely altering its structure. Is that course to be taken in regard to this Bill? Although the Government appear now to be so much in favour] of majority rule, and assert that their proposals are made in order to secure it, they brought forward no measure of this kind in 1902, when they were in power. Dotes the Minister intend now to make the contingent system compulsory? If he does not, leaving it optional, the measure will be incomplete, while, if he does, the Opposition will have the right to any credit that may exist in connexion with it, although its provisions will still be as crude as any which could well be presented to a legislative body. All the able political thinkers who have dealt with this subject favour the compulsory and not the optional adoption of the system. Another objection I have to the Bill is, that it makes no provision for increasing the number of votes polled, or for securing effective voting. Any Government honestly wishing to secure majority rule should make provision for increasing the total number of votes polled.

Mr Hutchison - I intend to move an amendment to that end.

Mr WILKS - I am glad to hear it.

Mr Page - The honorable member's amendments are too drastic.

Mr Groom - He should reserve them until the Committee stage is reached.

Mr WILKS - This young member of the Ministry which claims to long for responsible government, is unwilling to take responsibility for the principles of the

Bill, and to fight for them on the motion for the second reading, although all constitutional authorities say that the principles of a measure should be stood by at this stage. The real desire of the Ministry is to secure an advantage for their party in connexion with the Victorian elections. They ask us not to strike a hard blow at this stage ; tout are they really studying the interests of the electors'? I should be willing to assist in bringing; about the polling- of a larger number of votes, and in securing effective voting, because it is the duty of every public man to do so, but the Government are taking no steps in that direction. Their proposals will not get rid of minority representation, because organizations will direct their members not to use the contingent vote. That will at once provide for plumping, a system which was deliberately rejected when the electoral laws were under consideration before. I cannot believe that even those who have fathered this measure desire that it shall remain in force after the next general election. It is intended to be used upon that occasion alone. It is all very well for the Minister of Home Affairs to tell me that I am suspicious, but, under the circumstances, I cannot be otherwise. Three years ago the Age expressed itself very strongly against the adoption of a much superior system of voting, and now they are enlisting the assistance of Professor Nanson in, advocating the present faulty scheme. The scheme submitted to us is an abortion- I am sure that the Labour Party do not want to introduce compulsory voting. Thev would not adopt any system which would compel the Deakinites or the Reidites to go to the poll and bring about their discomfiture, whilst I could not support an optional system of preferential voting which would place undue power in the hands of the organized forces of labour. I feel perfectly sure that the measure is not expected to operate in New .South Wales, but that the Ministry have their eyes upon nine seats in Victoria, two in Tasmania, and two in Queensland, which will be affected by the adoption of the preferential voting system. This cannot be called a Commonwealth measure, because it would be only partial in its operation. On a former occasion the Minister of Trade and Customs advised the House to throw out a similar proposal, because he could not understand it. The Argus, which, like al] the other principal papers of Aus tralia, is verv. creditably conducted - I do not speak of it from a party point of view, but as a literary production - recently took the trouble to give illustrations of the manner in which the proposed new system would work out. It published several sets of figures, which, in the main, were correct ; but in the second or third illustration a mistake of 100 votes was made. When the system is so complex that the Argus becomes fogged, how can we expect the average returning officer or deputy returning officer to understand it? It would not be fair to call upon our electoral officers to introduce a new system of voting upon such very short notice. If they were called upon to undertake such an unreasonably heavy task, grievous, blunders would be inevitable, and the public would be bewildered. At the first Federal election the electors were invited to vote by striking out the names of the candidates for whom they did not desire to vote. At the next election they were told that they must put a cross against the name of the candidate they preferred, and now they are told that they are to put a figure against the name of each candidate to indicate the order of their preference. There are thousands of persons who, with a view to protect their own privileges, and with other objects in view, will fail to indicate the order of their preference, and the conditions under which the polling is carried on will be rendered more irritating than ever. The more trouble that is involved so far as the electors are concerned, the smaller our polls will become, whereas it should be our endeavour to make our arrangements for recording votes as simple as possible. We should also aim at announcing the results of the elections without undue delay. I do not, therefore, believe in the adoption of complicated systems of voting. The Minister of Home Affairs tells us that the proposed new system cannot be applied to the Senate, but I contend that there is more) reason why it should be applied to the Senate elections than to those for the return of members to this House. In New South Wales, there will be at least fifteen candidates for three vacancies iri the Senate, and electors should, in that case, if in any, have an opportunity to express their preference. Under the present system, they have either to cast a block vote for those who are nominated by the party to which they belong, or have to select one or two men whom they like, and others whom they do not like.

Mr Page - They should not be called upon to vote for men whom they do not like.

Mr WILKS - I am sure that the honorable member would not care to go hack to the three-cornered -constituency plan that existed in England many years ago.

Mr Page - I believe in plumping.

Mr WILKS - I do not, because I consider it to be the most undemocratic system of voting.

Mr Page - Why should an elector be compelled to vote for a man whom he does not like or want as a representative?

Mr WILKS - A man should vote for principles and not upon personal grounds. The honorable member for Maranoa is not known all over Queensland. People know his name, however, and they vote for him as a representative of the party to which he belongs. It is the same in New South Wales. I do not pretend that Senator Neild, who had 189,000 votes recorded in his favour, at the last Federal election, obtained that very large record on the strength of his own personality and his own merits. He- was on the party ticket, and it was the power of the party that secured him such large support. I have no doubt that similar results will be brought about in Victoria if the newspapers arrange to support any particular group of candidates, or the Protectionist Association take a similar step. There is much more reason why we should adopt the preferential voting system in connexion with the Senate elections, because in that case it would have a distinct tendency towards the destruction of minority rule. If the electors are to express their preference, it should be made compulsory for them to do so. I believe that the Government have introduced this measure for the protection of their own political lives, and I blame them for thinking that we are such fools as not to see through their manoeuvre. Thev are struggling for their political existence.

Mr Thomas - Why shouldn't thev?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is it right to tamper with the electoral machinery in order to serve political ends?

Mr Thomas - I have never known a political party-

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