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Wednesday, 18 June 1902

Mr SALMON (Laanecoorie) -I am astonished at the attitude assumed by honorable members from New SouthWales, who admit that the system which was adopted there completely broke down.

Mr Watson - Only once. It proved satisfactory on the other occasion.

Mr SALMON - It broke down because the commissioners had no responsibility. No responsible Minister would dare to lay before this Chamber a plan of distribution which would provide for districts having electors varying in numbers from 9,000 to 15,000.

An Honorable Member. - That was done in Victoria.

Mr SALMON - In Victoria we did not aim at equal electorates. Our object was entirely different from that sought to be achieved in New South Wales. We endeavoured to preserve the relations which existed in the State Parliament between the town and country electorates, but in New South Wales the commissioners had a definite instruction to adopt the principle of equal electorates. The result of that definite instruction to irresponsible men was to bring about a disparity of 6,000 voters between two electorates, with a maximum of 15,000 votes. There is no complaint in Victoria to-day with regard to the distribution which took place in that State.

Mr Watson - Yes, there is. I have heard a number of men state that the country districts have had too much representation.

Mr SALMON - Will the honorable member believe me when I say that a complaint was made by the present Treasurer, who was then leader of the Opposition and of the metropolitan party in theVictorian Assembly, that the country had not sufficient representation ? Even though the statement of the honorable member for Bland was correct, I would point out that it was not the distribution that gave rise to complaints so much as the allotment, which introduced an element altogether foreign to that which we are discussing. We are not considering the relations between town and country electorates, but the question of appointing irresponsible commissioners to prepare a scheme for our consideration. I regret the timidity shown by the honorable member for Wentworth with regard to the good faith of members of this Parliament. " I hope the day is far distant when we shall have reason to be afraid of the honesty of those honorable members who sit on the Ministerial benches. Our greatest security lies in the fact that we can trust them to bring down a scheme of distribution. On the score of expense alone I object to the appointment of three commissioners, and I am opposed altogether to Parliament and the Government laying aside their responsibilities in the way proposed. One of our duties should be to see that our elections are managed in such a way as to insure the honesty, integrity, and purity of our representation, and we cannot discharge our obligations in this regard when we are afraid to trust each other. Honorable members may say that they have no suspicions themselves, but they are giving colour to the suspicions entertained by those people outside who are only too ready to point the finger of scorn at Members of Parliament. I always feel when an attack is made upon the honour of Parliament that my own personal honour is being assailed, and 1 resent any attempt that may be made to belittle Parliament, or to derogate from the dignity of a magnificent free institution. Above all, I am a firm believer in Ministerial responsibility, and if we are going to have government by commission, the sooner we appoint a committee to conduct our business and go to our homes the better it will be. I am prepared to adopt that course if honorable members say that they have no further confidence in the honour and integrity of Parliament. We shall make a mistake if we allow those who are in authority to shirk their responsibilities. The time available for doing all that is required in connexion with the division of the States into electoral districts will -be 'very short, and we may find ourselves landed in the same awkward position as was brought about- in New 39 l

South Wales. The Government should instruct their officers to prepare a scheme, which should afterwards be carefully considered in Cabinet, and presented to Parliament with the Ministerial imprimatur. Then we should have an opportunity of considering a thoroughly fair and equitable scheme.

Sir William McMillan - The honorable member would make a party fight over it.

Mr SALMON - No ; there is no necessity for that. There could be a party fight only if honorable members were so base as to desire to take advantage of one another. I do not think any such state of affairs will arise in this Chamber.

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