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Tuesday, 28 August 1906

Mr JOHNSON (Lang) .- The first thing that strikes me in connexion with this Bill is that it bears a remarkable resemblance to other measures which have been introduced by the Government, in that it professes to do something which its provisions are designed to defeat. It is ostensibly brought forward for the purpose of establishing the principle of majority rule. But when we come to examine its provisions we can easily see that it will fail to accomplish that object. The result of passing it will not be to secure majority rule, but in certain contingencies to effectively insure minority rule. To that extent it is a denial of that broad democratic principle in which so many honorable members believe - the principle of majority representation. The honorable member for Maranoa made an assertion which was tantamount to an accusation that the Opposition is opposed to this Bill because it provides for the giving of effect to that principle. In the immediately succeeding sentence he proceeded to show that it does not provide for anything of the kind.

Mr Page - In my opinion, it does not.

Mr JOHNSON - It is said that its object is to accomplish majority representation, but it will have the opposite effect. That must be the view of any one who has analyzed the Bill. It bears on its face evidence of being simply a Victorian measure. As usual with all the Bills introduced by the present Government-

Mr Groom - That statement is not correct in regard to this or any measure that the Government have introduced.

Mr JOHNSON - I repeat that, like all other Bills introduced by the Government, it is purely a Victorian measure. It is to give Victoria an advantage that will not be enjoyed by the other States.'

Mr Tudor - What ground has the honorable member for such a statement?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not think that it is a Victorian Bill. The honorable member should say that it is an Age Bill.

Mr JOHNSON - I was about to say that it is a Victorian Bill, engineered and prompted by the Age. If the Government were really anxious to so amend our electoral laws as to give effect to the democratic principle of majority rule, why did they not indicate in the Governor-General's speech their intention to do so? If the omission from that speech of any reference to such an intention was accidental, why did they not avail themselves of the opportunity to bring in these proposals when the amending Electoral Bill was under consideration? At that time, however, no thing was said by them as to the necessity for altering our voting system in this direction. We have recently seen in the Age articles-

Mr Wilks - Articles written by Professor Nanson, whose scheme it condemned a few years ago:

Mr JOHNSON - I believe that the articles to which I refer were prompted, if not written, by Professor Nanson, and that the germ of the present idea is traceable to the Age office. The Age is responsible for much of the mischievous legislation that has been introduced by the Government. It seems to me that it is not the Government which frames the Bills submitted to us, but that, they have their birth in a certain newspaper office in Collinsstreet. A most enthusiastic effort is invariably made by the Government to give effect to legislation suggested from that quarter. These proposals, instigated from the Age office, and of an intensely mischievous character, are an insult to the House. Few of the measures introduced by the Government are as mild as is the one now before us ; but I contend that even this Bill will be mischievous in its effect. As showing that it is merely an Age measure, prompted by the belief that it will give Victoria an advantage which she would not enjoy under the pre. sent system, I would point out that Victoria is at present the great shocking example of minority representation. The returns show that at the last general election seventeen seats were uncontested, and that of the remaining fifty-eight constituencies forty-five returned representatives by majority votes. Only thirteen out of the fifty-eight returned representatives on minority votes. Of these thirteen, nine were in Victoria, two in Queensland, none in New South Wales, two in Tasmania, none in South Australia or Western Australia. It will thus be seen that Victoria embraces the largest number of constituencies that have returned representatives on minority votes. The polling in these constituencies was as follows : -


These figures show that the number of electorates which returned representatives on minority votes form only a small proportion of the whole; the overwhelming majority pf the constituencies returned representatives by majority votes. In these circumstances, the question of urgency has no weight, and may be at once dismissed. We are entitled to inquire what is the reason for the sudden anxiety displayed by the Government to give effect to a principle which was certainly just as urgent six years ago as it is to-day. This Bill has been brought forward on the eve of a general election, when there is no time to give the constituencies reasonable notice of the contemplated change, and certainly insufficient time to educate the electors as to the operation of the new system. There is no justification for the charge that the Opposition are seeking to prevent the Government from bringing about legislation by majority rule. The Prime Minister and his colleagues know that there is not the slightest foundation for such an accusation. I U0 not know that I should be in orderin describing such an attack as a very cowardly one, but honorable men cer- tainly cannot consider it to be justifiable even from the stand-point of political tactics. .On referring to the speech recently delivered by the Prime Minister at Maryborough, I find that he is reported to have said -

The leader of the Opposition desires majority rule.

That statement is perfectly correct. The leader of the Opposition, in common with every member on this side of the House, certainly desires majority rule. I do not claim that as a virtue exclusively possessed by the Opposition; I am willing to concede that there are honorable members on all sides who are as anxious as we are to secure it. The Prime Minister went on to say -

From Cape York all over Australia that gentleman has bewailed the fact that although the electors could go to the poll, the man elected might not represent the majority of the people. He has demanded a scheme that would remedy this, and at one time even commended the scheme which we submit now.

I have no recollection of having either read or heard of a statement by the leader of the Opposition that he desires such a system ; I have not read of his making such a statement during his Queensland or any other tour'; but I have heard him declare that he desires that the people shall record their votes. He has bewailed the fact that there is so much apathy among the public, and has pointed out that those who blame Parliament for its legislation are themselves responsible for the present state of affairs, because they have not taken the trouble to go to the poll to secure the return of candidates representing the views of the majority. He has always eulogised the organization of the Labour Party, so far as it has resulted in having the names of electors placed on the rolls and in bringing the electors to the polls, and he has pointed out to those who complain of such legislation, as is naturally to be expected in the circumstances, that if they did their duty, and recorded their votes, different results might be looked for. Those are the lines on which the leader of the Opposition has conducted his meetings, and yet the Prime Minister, with a full knowledge of the facts, deliberately conveyed to the public an incorrect idea as to his attitude. f am surprised that the honorable and learned gentleman resorted to .such tactics. To continue the quotation -

There is no mon who wants to run further and faster from this scheme than the same leader of the Opposition. A characteristic performance, but one which must be driven home to the people of the country.

That statement goes beyond the bounds of decency in political warfare, because it is an absolute misrepresentation of facts of which no one is more fully aware than is the honorable and learned gentleman. The report continues -

We have put the Opposition to the test with the touchstone of a practical offer. I am prepared to say that I would be in favour of making it compulsory for every elector to indicate his preference on the voting paper, and I am prepared to extend the same system to the Senate. But, recognising the period of our session, we brought it forward in a more mild form, and leave it to the Senate to come in. Now, men that talked against minority rule till they should have been a different colour in the face, are opposed to this. And why? Because Parliament is near its close. Because there was other business to be done. Any reason but the real one - that they like minority representation, because they hope they can score more out of it than we can. That shows what you have to expect when you trust other declarations from the same men.

The Prime Minister knew that there was no justification in fact for such statements, and it is to be deplored that one in his high station should deliberately try to mislead and hoodwink the electors. In my opinion, the Bill will not do what its authors profess it is intended to do. Professor Nanson, in this morning's Age, says, of the contingent voting system -

For every contest will be between three parties, and in very few cases will any party run two candidates. Thus the result of the first count will show the strength of each party, say, free-traders 500, Labour 400, protectionists 300. So soon as these figures are announced the merest tyro can foresee the result of the election. When the protectionist candidate at the foot of the poll is rejected, all the protectionist votes will go' to the Labour candidate, who will thereby secure election. But if the preferential vote is not used, if the safety valve is not applied to the body politic, the free-trader will be elected by a minority vote.

Then he warns the Labour Party that -

This simple example ought to open the eyes of the Labour Party to what they have to gain by the preferential vote. Can they any longer fail to see why it is that the preferential vote is so obnoxious to the free-traders?

This sudden interest in the welfare of the Labour Party is hardly calculated to deceive the members of that party, especially if the article from which I have just quoted is compared with other articles which have appeared in the Age on the same subject. Now, if it is assumed that the Labour candidate polls the lowest number of votes, and the votes cast for him have to be' redistributed, they should then, according to this, be allotted to the protectionist candidate. But it is as likely that the majority of those voting for the Labour candidate, irrespective of fiscal considerations, will be free-traders as that they will be protectionists, and to give their votes to a protectionist, would, therefore, be to do what they were actually opposed to. In my opinion, the illustrations are altogether worthless. But I now come to the most fatal defect in the Bill. The Government professes to be anxious to establish majority rule. Yet the Bill makes it optional oh the part of the voter whether he will exercise the preferential vote or not. If there is to be_ any value in the system it can only arise from its compulsory use, and from uniformity in its application. If it is to be optional, a candidate would be a born ass who did not advise his supporters to plump for him, and absolutely to disregard any preference for every other candidate. On the face of it, therefore, the Bill is a fraud and a sham. In my opinion, it was never intended to be anything else. When the preferential system was tried in Queensland it did not bring about the result that its promoters desired. Something like it was also in operation in Tasmania, but as it has been abandonedthere it is reasonable to suppose that it was found to be ineffective. The honorable member for Maranoa has shown that in Queensland labour candidates advised their supporters not to adopt the preferential system.

Mr Fisher - It was of no practical advantage there.

Mr JOHNSON - I have no hesitation in saying that if the- Bill passes, it will merely lead to confusion. It embodies proposals which will involve two or three systems of voting at one. election on the one day. In the case of voting by post, I see that provision is made whereby those who vote have to write the names of the candidates for whom they desire to vote in the order pf their preference. I wish to know what is going to happen in the case of an illiterate voter, who is not able to write thename of the candidates on the paper?

Mr Groom - An illiterate voter cannot vote by post at present.

Mr JOHNSON - If the illiterate voter is allowed to vote at the ballot-box by making his mark, there is no equitable reason why he should be deprived of his right to exercise the vote by post if he chooses. The Bill throughout is one which will not commend itself to the good sense of honorable members. In any case, however admirable it might be, the time at our disposal is insufficient to let the public know what changes it would make in the present voting system. If it were passed it would bring about the greatest confusion, and so far from securing effective voting, would lead to quite the opposite result. For the reasons which I have given, and for others which I could adduce, except that I desire to terminate my remarks, owing to the lateness . of the hour, I shall vote against the second reading, and support the amendment of the honorable member for Dalley.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Tudor), adjourned.

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