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Wednesday, 7 December 1938

Mr BLACKBURN - In 1917, the Nationalist party won every seat, and in 1919 every seat except one.

Mr McEWEN - A very substantial minority, because of those results, was denied representation. On the occasion of the last election, the winning senators were representative of 53 per cent, of the whole of the electors of the Commonwealth, the 47 per "cent, who voted for other candidates being denied representation. On the occasion of the 1934 elections, the winning candidates secured only 52.8 per cent, of the total number of votes cast, whilst the defeated candidates who, on that occasion, represented the Labour groups, received 47.2 per cent, and did not obtain a single representative.

These are not isolated cases. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) has drawn attention to a very glaring instance," whilst I have taken figures relating to more recent Senate elections. Of the total number of votes cast, winning senators secured 54 per cent, in 1931, 53 per cent, in 1928, and 55.3 per cent, in 1925. These figures show that there has always been a very substantial minority, which under the existing system has been denied representation in the Senate.

The advocates of proportional representation contend, broadly, that a Senate elected under that system would be more truly representative of the people, whilst those who favour the retention of the existing system, or reversion to the " first past the post " method, claim, inter aiia, that the results thus achieved indicate more clearly the majority will of the electorate, and facilitate more effectively the functions of government by lessening the likelihood of a stalemate.

In addition to the major issues referred to, there are also other phases of the Senate election system - the grouping of candidates; the order of the groups or of the names of the candidates on the ballot-papers; and the degree to which voters should be compelled to indicate their preferences - regarding which there is much contention and wide diversity of opinion.

The effective constitution of the Senate as a part of the governmental structure of the Australian democracy, and the adoption of the most satisfactory method of election, obviously are of the greatest importance. Having regard to many considerations which must be carefully weighed, the Government has arrived at the conclusion that it is desirable that the whole matter of the choice and the election-of senators should in the first instance be referred to a joint committee consisting of members of both Houses of this Parliament, for a thorough investigation.

The second matter proposed to be referred to the joint committee for consideration is the limitation of .electoral expenses in connexion with elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives. The existing provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act in this regard undoubtedly are not only ineffective, but also quite out of touch with present-day actualities. Were these existing provisions capable of strict application in their generally accepted sense, the limits imposed upon candidates would be unduly restrictive, having regard to modern conditions and to the vast growth of the electorates since the inauguration of federation and the fixing of those limits. Actually, it seems not only that the provisions are incapable of -a definite interpretation but also that, as there is no restriction on the amount which may be expended by a party or an organization on behalf of a candidate or candidates whom it supports, there is in reality in the overwhelming majority of cases no effective limitation on the' expenditure which may be incurred in connexion with electoral campaigns. Revision of the law in this connexion is obviously necessary - I think that there will be no division of opinion on that particular point - but before determining the character and the extent of the proposals to be applied to that end the Government considers it desirable that this matter also should be the subject of investigation and consideration by a joint committee consisting of representatives of the two Houses. It submits this proposal to the ' House believing it to be the best method of approach to a matter which obviously and, I think, by common consent, is due for1 revision and serious consideration. There have been the most positive expressions of opinion as to the unsatisfactoriness of the present method for the election of senators, not only by representatives of all political parties, but also by practically the whole of the press of Australia as well as by persons holding public positions not directly connected with politics. The. Government does not desire, and certainly it would be improper of it to do SO,-40 give any lead in this matter. It merely suggests that the two Houses should jointly constitute such a committee, and that that committee should be free to conduct the most thorough investigation of all the issues arising from these two particular points and to submit a. report to the Parliament, which, no doubt, would give consideration to it.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Rosevear) adjourned.

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