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Tuesday, 28 August 1906


Mr GLYNN (Angas) .- The chief force of the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Dalley appears to lie in paragraph 1 of his proposal. Personally, I am never much impressed by a series of amendments upon the motion for the second reading of a Bill, because they introduce so many matters which may lead to discussion, and thus induce honorable members to be led away from the consideration of the main question. There is, however, some force in paragraph 1 of the amendment, because it is an extraordinary circumstance that, although we passed an Electoral Act in 1905, when the question of the amendment of our electoral law was raised on a somewhat elaborate scale, not a word was then said regarding the imperfect working of the present system. That was less than a year ago. At that time, we passed a fairly comprehensive Electoral Act, the scope of which was almost as great as the principal Act itself, but not a single word was uttered concerning the necessity for an amendment of the law in the direction which is now indicated, and no hint was given that the single electorate system was working so badly that it was deemed necessary to apply a corrective to its acknowledged evils. So fair as one can say so without a breach of the respect due to our statutory laws, I certainly think that that system is unsatisfactory. Under our Constitution, we are required to undertake a periodical rearrangement of our electoral districts.- To provide for the shifting of population, we are required to have a shuffling of the constituencies, which, according to one of the reports presented to the United States S'enate, " reduces electorates to a mere fortuitous concourse of atoms." We cannot overcome that difficulty, because it is one of the results of that section of our Constitution which provides for a periodic re-apportionment of political representation as population changes. But the other evil, that attaching to the single electorate members, can be overcome. It is as 01 corrective of that evil that this Bill has been introduced. That it would work all right, I have no doubt whatever. In Germany, and also in Sweden, the same system was introduced, and, notwithstanding the vaticinations that it would break down, it has worked excellently. It has also been tried in Tasmania, where, so far as my reading goes, it was very popular. Why it has not been continued I cannot explain ; only recently I have heard representatives of Tasmania speak well of it. I read the results of two elections which were held in that State under the contingent-voting system, and I know that they were favorable to it. There were very few informal votes cast - in fact, I do rot think that the percentage of such votes was greater than that cast under our existing system.


Mr Storrer - It was less.


Mr GLYNN - I think that ih; honorable member is correct. Moreover, the result of the elections was quickly known. In Belgium the elector is allowed to make use of a pre-arranged system of preference ; the system works excellently there, and it has produced a fair approximation to a proper proportion between the number of representatives returned to Parliament and the state of parties in the country - a far greater approximation to that ideal than had ever been obtained in Belgium, and which we all desire to achieve. Though the scrutiny of the votes runs into tremendous numbers, the work has been done expeditiously. In France, the Chamber of Deputies has asked that the system of proportional representation which was in vogue in Belgium shall be adopted.


Mr Wilks - That is not the system which is contained in the Bill under consideration.


Mr GLYNN - I understand that. If the 'honorable member will be patient, I shall have a few words to say against the Bill presently. The theory that the system of preferential voting would break down in practice has not been supported by experience. What the Government propose is merely a corrective to the acknowledged evils of the single member system. The true cure, however, is to be found in the abolition of that system, and the adoption of a system of proportional representation. My objection to this Bill is that at the end of the session, and when we are within two months of a general election, we ought not to introduce a new method of voting without even proceeding upon radical lines - -without doing more than patching up a bad system. Undoubtedly the adoption of the system outlined in this Bill would lead to confusion in the Electoral Department. It would also to some extent confuse the electors, who are no more the embodiment of human wisdom than are members of Parliament. The single member system is a bad one, because to a large extent the result of an election is left to chance, inasmuch as it is dependent upon the apportionment of parties throughout the electoral districts, and upon the cohesion of parties within those districts. It is possible for parties to be so distributed throughout the State that there may be a very small majority of a particular party in a majority or all of the districts. We mav thus achieve one of the most vicious endsat which we could aim, namely, pure majority representation. So far as honorable members aim at that result, they are aiming at the very opposite of a democracy. Democratic government does not consist in the representation only of a majority, but in the representation of parties in accordance with their strength. It does seek, however, to give effect to majority rule after the voice of all fairly large parties has been heard. It is a prostitution of the ideal of democratic government to say that it must secure absolute majority rule in every constituency throughout the Commonwealth. In order to get rid of the possibility of minority rule, outside bodies - and I am not speaking of one political party only - are obliged to select candidates to represent them. What is the result ? Undoubtedly the effect is to narrow political life, and to bring the expression of political opinion from the glare of publicit v, where men are checked by opinions not altogether assumed for party purposes, to small committees or parties, these committees to a certain extent being worked, perhaps, by still smaller committees. The biggest electorates in America are ruled by small committees, which select the candidates to be nominated. In many cases the final nomination depends upon the "boss" of these committees. The result is a parody of representative government.


Mr Ronald - Government by committee.


Mr GLYNN - Exactly. That is what we are coming to under the caucus system ; and I am not using that term in the restrictive sense in whch it is usually applied to the Labour Party. Under it men are compelled to degrade their moral fibre, and to kow-tow to small committees, in order to secure the privilege of appearing upon the hustings with some prospect of success. That is one of the acknowledged evils of the single member system. The indirect result is to compel' men to do that class of political touting which, even in the case of Ministries, is too often successful, in order to obtain permission to state their honest convictions upon the public platforms of the country. That is the position which obtains in America. In a report which was presented to the American Senate upon the working of the single member system, it is declared that men who were not willing to sacrifice their own judgment and conscience to the behest of party. and to become the servile echo of those who are their inferiors in knowledge, do not allow their names to be submitted as candidates for Congress or the Legislature, as it is certain that they -would be defeated. John Stuart Mill puts the true ideal thus -

In a really equal democrary every and any section would be represented not disproportion, ally, but proportionally.

That result is to be secured, not toy a Bill of this character-


Mr Wilks - John Stuart Mill wished to change the whole character of Parliament.


Mr GLYNN - He desired to introduce the system of proportional representation as it was advocated by Leonard Courtney and bv varions parties in Australia, and which was so clearly expounded by a woman of very great brains and patriotism in South Australia - I refer to Miss Spence. When we find men like Mr. Henry Fawcett strongly advocating it, and talking of the fetish of majority rule as being diametrically opposed to the first principle of democracy, which is representation in .proportion to numbers, we ought to feel called upon to fairly examine the merits of that system. I may add that in America there was one man who attempted to break down this caucus system - a man for whose memory we should entertain the greatest respect, because he was an individual of great ability and splendid patriotic instinct - I refer to the late Henry George. He stood for the Presidency of the United States as an independent candidate, who did not seek the support of any political party or caucus, and he polled a very large number of votes. A man of his popularity and great intellectual fibre, notwithstanding the splendid loyalty of his following, was unable to obtain the support of more than a fairly large minority of the electors. This shows how hopeless is the task of a man of independence who endeavours to break down the effect of the one-member system, and that of the caucus. The last election in Great Britain afforded conclusive evidence of the fact that the one-member system works badly. I remember reading two articles in the Times - one of which I noted, and which I have looked up this afternoon - on the question of electoral methods. In one of these articles the Times reviewed the morality of the system of canvassing, and dealt with the necessity of placing a check on the evils arising from the working of the one-member system. It also dealt with the question of the second ballot and transfer vote, proposals for which are now embodied in this Bill. The point I wish to make is that the solution of the difficulty lies not in either of these systems, but in the introduction of a system of proportional representation. On the 27th of January last the Times wrote -

The difficulty might, however, apparently be overcome by what is known as " the transferable " vote..... Probably if either were presented to Parliament it would be confronted by a formidable rival in the system of proportional representation which was advocated by John Stuart Mill, and, in a revised and simplified form, has long had a sturdy champion in Mr. Leonard Courtney.

If I remember rightly, Mr. Leonard Courtney, in 1884 or 1885, when the Gladstone

Electoral Representation Bill and the Redistribution Bill were under discussion, gave a very fine exposition of the principle of this system. Gladstone then threw cold water on it, but his objection was levelled at the fact that it was an invasion of a longstanding, system which had, in effect, grown round the hearts and prejudices of the people of England. The Times points out that at the last election, under the onemember system, there were 529 contests in counties and boroughs, and that the. Ministerialists polled 2,818,878 votes, and secured the return of 396 members. The Unionists, on the other hand, polled 2,233,685. and secured a representation of only 129 members. In other words, the Liberals represent an average of 7,118 electors per member, whereas the Opposition represent an average of 17,315 per member. In Wales the Opposition, polled four-ninths of the electors. They secured a total of 52,637 votes, bud did not get a seat; whereas 90,000 Ministerialists won thirty seats. In Manchester ten Ministerialists were returned by 51,000 votes, as against 34,000 polled in opposition to them, whilst in Birmingham only eight Oppositionists were returned by 51,000 votes to 23,000 votes. This shows that, under the one-member system, we do not obtain ideal results. It is said by some that the irregularities in one district will counterbalance those of another; but that is not a proper system. Under it, large minorities are silenced in, the, one district, and their only consolation is that in another district a minority, holding the same views as they do, have secured representation. That is not such a result as justifies the continuance of the one-member system. My objections to this Bill are that it has been introduced when the general election is very near; that it is simply a proposal to patch up a bad system ; that it evades a question, which, ought to be thoroughly threshed out in this House ; and that we should have an amendment of the electoral law in a different direction. We should have an amendment providing for a system of proportional representation on the lines - subject, of course, to some changes to make it applicable to local conditions - that have been adopted in Belgium, the Swiss cantons, and also in Tasmania, where it seems to have been successful. For these reasons, if a division be taken, I shall vote against the second reading of the Bill, although I cannot allege as one of the grounds of my opposition that I think that the proposed machinery would not work effectually. I do not think that the actual calculations would not be properly made by the returning officers, or that there is a possibility of a great number of informal votes being cast. The experience of Tasmania shows that the number of informal votes would not be likely to be large, and we have no reason to assume that the remaining electors of the Commonwealth would display less intelligence.







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