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Thursday, 16 November 1911

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) - This clause opens up a question which, from a certain point of view, is a small one, but which, from another point of view, is a very large one. The Honorary Minister himself has said that the conscientious objections of any section of the community must be subordinated to the convenience of the majority. That, in substance, is his defence of the clause-.

Does the Minister repudiate my interpretation of his remarks ? He said that Saturday has been chosen as polling day because it is convenient, notwithstanding that there are people who have strong conscientious objections to doing certain things on that day.

Senator Findley - I said that their objections had been met more than half-way.

Senator ST LEDGER - Sunday to us Christians is not venerated more than is their Sabbath by the people for whom we are making this appeal. We all know that the Christian respect for the Sunday has conferred great blessings upon civilization. By insisting upon Sunday observance, we have done great good to the world. There is a section of the community - whether large or small does not matter - to whom Saturday is equally sacred. How can we ask those persons who regard their Sabbath so reverentially to respect our Sunday unless we, as Christians, also respect their observances? This is the first time that any modern Government in a Christian community, when it has been respectfully petitioned by the persons concerned, has said, " No, we do not respect your conscientious objections."

Senator de Largie - The honorable senator is misrepresenting. We say nothing of the kind.

Senator Millen - The Bill says so.

Senator de Largie - The Bill does not say so, either.

Senator ST LEDGER - Then I do not understand plain language. Fortunately, we have held up the Bill in the Senate for some time, and have given an opportunity to certain sections of the community to petition Parliament to eliminate the clause to which" "they have such strong religious objections. I can understand their point of view, because there are certain convictions which appeal strongly to me as a Roman Catholic. No matter what law be passed, or what penalties be imposed, there are certain obligations with respect to education which I feel bound to carry out. No law would alter my determination. It is dangerous to pass legislation which is heedless of the religious convictions of a section of the people.

Senator McGregor - A very small section.

Senator ST LEDGER - I do not care about that. The Government have no right to flout or insult the religious convictions of a single member of the community.

Senator McGregor - We have given them a city of refuge.

Senator ST LEDGER - Of course, the Minister does not care a straw as long as he has his solid majority behind him. But where would his ancestors have been if his doctrine had been carried out? If I remember rightly, the clan MacGregor fought stoutly for their religious convictions. Have we a degenerate scion of that stock here now?

Senator de Largie - Cow-stealing was the principal occupation of the MacGregors on Sundays in the olden times.

Senator ST LEDGER - Of course, my honorable friend is better acquainted with the history of larceny than with anything concerning the uplifting of humanity. I feel strongly on this matter.

Senator de Largie - No; the honorable senator merely speaks loudly about it.

Senator ST LEDGER - It may not matter very much personally to any honorable member of this Parliament; but inasmuch as it affects the consciences of a portion of the community, who have respectfully presented their objections to us, we have a right, nay, it is our bounden duty, to pay heed to their request. But the Government merely consider the balance of convenience from their own point of view.

Senator de Largie - Substitute Sunday.

Senator ST LEDGER - Would the honorable senator vote for that?

Senator McGregor - It would be as proper to vote on Sunday as to play bridge or croquet or golf.

Senator ST LEDGER - Very well, then; will the Minister make that proposition? No; it is all hypocrisy. The Government dare not suggest that Sunday should be polling day. If they did, there would be an outcry throughout the Commonwealth, and properly so. Why should we disregard the outcry of the section of the community that regards voting on Saturday as Sabbath desecration? The position is unanswerable from the Christian point of view. I see honorable senators opposite smiling.

Senator Findley - There is so much make-believe that one cannot help smiling.

Senator ST LEDGER - I am reminded of sailors on a sinking ship whistling to keep their courage up. Ministers could have got over this difficulty by retaining the postal vote. But they will not listen to that proposition. I can quite understand the strength with which Senator Lynch has expressed his views. Each of us regards this matter from the same point of view.

We have had similar experiences. We desire to respect the conscientious objections of others.

Senator Needham - The honorable senator must get a conscience before he can have consicentious objections to anything.

Senator ST LEDGER - It is possibly because I have a conscience that I am sensitive about these matters, and am pressing the argument upon the Government. I say that the respectful petition of those who have approached the Senate in proper form ought to be regarded. Unless some insuperable difficulty or some national issue is involved, which transcends the objection raised by these people, their views should be respected. The Government have received one lesson during the consideration of this Bill already, and they may receive others. I join with Senator Lynch in asking that respect should be paid to the views of these people. I notice Senators Pearce and de Largie smiling at each other ; but, if my memory serves me aright, I think that Senator Pearce has often spoken of the duties of Christians from a pulpit on some pleasant, or unpleasant, Sunday afternoon.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator could not guess what I was smiling at in twenty.

Senator ST LEDGER - I do not wish to guess it. The honorable senator has not needed much inducement to discourse upon a Sunday afternoon on the duties of Christians in the community ; and when the duty of Christians in this matter is jeered at, we are justified in saying that there is a great deal of Pharisaism about the virtues, Christian or political, of some honorable senators on the other side. I have been led into this line of argument by the sneers of the Minister of Defence and Senator de Largie. I have said that I join with supporters of the Government like Senator


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