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Tuesday, 28 August 1906

Mr LONSDALE (New England) . I am opposed to the Bill. I cannot conceive why, if Ministers think that its provisions should be embodied in our electoral law, they did not make an attempt to embody them when an amending Bill was before us last session. Whatever the motive, it seems to me that the measure has been introduced as an afterthought. The Prime Minister, the other day, said, very unfairly, that the leader of the Opposition, now that he has been given an opportunity to provide for majority rule, runs away from it. That statement was not correct, to say the least of it. The right honorable gentleman has been travelling all over Australia, not to advocate the preferential system of voting now proposed, but to urge the electors to go to the polls of their own free will, and vote for the candidates whom they think will best represent them. Moreover, the Bil] will not do what it professes to do. It by no means insures majority voting, and, if passed as it stands, most of the voting will be similar to that) which takes place now. If the measure becomes law as it stands, I shall ask those who will vote for me to place the figure, 1 against my name, and not to use their remaining preferential votes, and no doubt other candidates will give the same instruction. Therefore, the Prime Minister was altogether unfair in the reference which he made to the attitude of the leader of< the Opposition. Even if the exercise of the preferential vote were made compulsory, the Bill would not insure majority representation. What would take place would be that the preferential votes would be cast, not in the real order of preference, but for the men whom the electors thought had the least chance of success, and we should not encourage that kind of voting. Under the compulsory contingent voting system, the friends of candidates .will try to get the electors to place the number 1 opposite the name of the man whom they support, and to allot their remaining preference to the weakest men, and the result may be, in some cases, the return, not of the man whom the majority think best fitted to represent them, but of the weakest man, whom probably a majority of the electors would not like to see elected. That sort of thing has occurred already. When voters are not allowed to plump, they sometimes vote first for the candidate whom they particularly wish to elect, and give their other votes to candidates whom they think have the least chance of success. While the Prime Minister, when speaking at Maryborough, denounced the Opposition for having wasted time, the charge is one which might justly be brought against the Government. I was willing to destroy the Bounties Bill because I do not believe in the bounty system, and therefore cannot rightly be accused of wasting time in the action which I took to secure my object; but the Government are deliberately wasting time in introducing a Bill which cannot effect its avowed purpose. Of course, the Government may try to get the Opposition to amend the measure so as to make it serviceable. The honorable member for Dalley says that he will vote for the preferential system if it is made compulsory. I, however, am opposed to the Bill, lock, stock, and barrel. There is a good deal to be said for proportionate voting, but it is useless to think of radically altering our electoral system at this stage in the life of the Parliament. Proportionate voting is, in my opinion, theoretically sound. I do not know why the Tasmanian system failed; but if the proportionate system can be carried into effect, it should have our support, as being likely to give every elector his proper share in determining the legislation of the country. The Minister of Home Affairs must know that the Bill will not achieve the object which he professes to have in view, namely, majority rule. It will be an absolute failure. We have heard some reference made to the fact that in Victoria the fewest number of voters returned the largest number of candidates to the Senate at the last election. If that be so, the evil which it is sought to cure exists in a still greater degree in connexion! with the Senate elections than with those of the House of Representatives. If preferential voting is to be permitted in connexion with the election of members to this Chamber, the same system should be followed in connexion with the Senate elections. If it is right in one case, it is right in the other. Ministers say that they wish to bring about majority rule, but they do not propose to apply to both Houses the system of voting which is expected to achieve that end. I realize that it would be difficult to educate the ejectors to the point of enabling them to understand the preferential voting system by the time that the general elections come on. If preferential voting were made compulsory, a large number of informal votes would be recorded. If it is not intended to make it compulsory for the electors to express their preference, the present system should not be interfered with. I shall vote for the amendment, and, if that is defeated. I shall oppose the second reading of the Bill.

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