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Wednesday, 23 July 1902


Mr HENRY WILLIS (Robertson) - The honorable member for South Australia apparently wishes to put back the clock, and revert to the plumping system. Some of the States have been divided into single electorates in order that the majority of the people may be properly represented, but the honorable member is not in favour of proportional representation. The honorable member made a strong point of the fact that if any particular party were to put forward any two or three candidates, and had to vote for six, they would be practically disfranchised ; but in such a case the party would be only reaping the reward of its own neglect. Under the system proposed by the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs the labour party would nominate a certain number of candidates, and the free-traders and protectionists would do likewise. The prohibitionists, the supporters of " Tattersall's," the licensed victuallers, and the socialists would also put forward one or more members of their respective parties, and the supporters in each case would plump for their own particular candidates. This would probably result in the return of representatives of a number of small parties. The representation of small parties is not to be desired in the general interest, and if strong parties are to be returned, majority representation mustbe provided for. Therefore, I am in favour of the Government proposal.

I should prefer to see only two parties. A third party is generally impotent in itself, and it is only by alliance with another that it is able to accomplish anything. Generally the result is more harmful than otherwise. I am as democratic os is any honorable member, and I have supported every democratic measure that has been brought forward. It would be impossible for the members of the labour party to do anything without the co-operation of the democrats on this side of the Chamber.

Mr. RONALD(Southern Melbourne).Under the provision, as it stands, the electors would be compelled to vote for the most objectionable candidates. At the last federal election in Victoria the labour party, to which I have the- honour to belong, submitted three candidates, and the instructions given were that the votes were to be cast first for the three labour representatives, and next for the most objectionable men, or those who would have the least chance of being returned. It was represented that if those who voted for the labour representatives were to support other liberal candidates, they would injure the chances of those they specially desired to return. That was a sneaking way of plumping, I admit ; but we had to resort to that subterfuge in order to overcome the effects of the iniquitous system of compelling men to vote for those whom they do not regard as fit to legislate. We have no right to insist upon the electors voting for a given number of men any more than we are entitled to compel every man in the community to record his vote. If the block vote is insisted upon, the electors will, in many cases, be compelled to support candidates of whom they do not approve. That is the position in which the electors of Victoria were placed at the last federal election, and the Bill proposes to perpetuate a most unfair system. We shall actually be forced to vote for men who, upon moral, intellectual, or political grounds, may be absolutely objectionable to the community. I sincerely hope that the Government will hearken to wisdom. There is no need to discuss the question of freetrade, democracy, or protection in connexion . with this clause. The greatest authority on democracy at the present time is Lecky, who, although a free-trader, declares that democracy is frankly and avowedly protectionist all the world over. That is a sufficient answer to anything that has been said in that direction. I hope that the Government will see the error of their ways, and not impose upon a large section of the community a condition which is immoral in its end, irrespective of whether or not its intention is immoral.

Sir EDWARDBRADDON (Tasmania). - We have heard a good deal about majority representation and majority rule, but I scarcely think that those who talk so glibly about majority rule grasp the full significance of that term. Does it mean that the whole representation of a country, of every interest and of every class, shall be monopolized by just a bare majority of the electors ? Could anything be worse in the interests of a State than that it should be represented by persons who were hostile to a" good deal more than half of its people ? Let us assume that in Australia four-tenths of the electors are free-traders, three-tenths protectionists, and that three-tenths are in sympathy with the labour party. Under the block-vote system it is almost certain that the great bulk of the representation would be divided amongst the free-traders and pro- tectionists, whilst the labour party would be entirely unrepresented. We have seen what proportional representation has done in Belgium. Prior to the adoption of that system, the clericals had it entirely their own way, but since its adoption the liberals have obtained . a fair share of the representation. Is not that what we all want to see 1 Do we not wish the interests of every section of the community to be voiced in our councils 1 Do we not desire that Parliament shall be a reflex of the true feelings of the nation ? Surely the only way in which that result can be attained is by the adoption of the system which was originally contained in this. Bill - that of proportional representation - which, even at this late hour, I should like to see the Government make an endeavour to force through. If, however, they decline to do so, by all means let us amend the clause under discussion so as to make it approach as nearly as possible the result which would have been obtained under their original proposal. I intend to move to add to the clause the words - "but may make the votes preferential by placing the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, ite, in' the squares opposite the candidates' names," thus indicating the order of the electors' preference.

Mr. BROWN(Canobolas). - To my mind, the principle of majority rule does not enter into the consideration of this question, which is one of legal tyranny. Under this clause the electors are asked to select those who shall represent them in the Senate. The Constitution requires that six senators shall be returned for each State, and because of that provision the Government propose to compel every elector to record six votes, irrespective of whether or not he can conscientiously approve of six candidates. If there are not six candidates who commend themselves to his conscience and good judgment, he is either compelled to become a hypocrite by casting his vote in favour of the return of men in whom he does not believe, or to disfranchise himself. I therefore support the amendment.

Mr. THOMSON(North Sydney).- I should not have addressed myself to this matter a second time but for the remarks which have been made by certain honorable members. Those who support the clause in the Bill have been accused of advocating a hypocritical and immoral proposal. I think the.confusion of ideas which prompted such a statement ought easily to have been seen by those honorable members who made that assertion. Do they mean to suggest that it is immoral that the majority should rule? Do they not recognise that two or three votes in this House are sufficient to determine the policy of the country ? If it is absolutely immoral that a small majority should possess that power, why do they support the institution of which they are members ?


Mr Brown - Why should I be compelled to vote for a man in whom I do not believe ?


Mr THOMSON - Has the honorable member had no connexion with associations which compel men either to vote for a particular individual of whom they may not approve or to abstain from voting? Has he never been connected with any organization which has chosen one particular individual as its representative and which has prevented any other candidate from coming forward in that interest? Has no vote been decided in meetings of different parties by a majority of one? Have not governments been supported in power by a majority so obtained? Whilst an honorable member may have what he thinks good reason to object to this provision, and to favour giving the elector the right to vote for a less number of candidates than there are vacancies to fill, I do not think it becomes him to accuse supporters of the clause of hypocrisy, and of advocating an immoral proposition. I should like to know whether the Government are in earnest in their support of this clause, and therefore I shall watch the division with very keen interest.


Sir William Lyne - I have supported the Bill as it came from the Senate.


Mr THOMSON - The Minister supported it upon two grounds ; first, because the original proposal has been altered by the Senate to which Chamber this clause applies ; and secondly, because he is opposed to plumping.


Sir William Lyne - I said that personally I was opposed to plumping.


Mr THOMSON - I quite agree that two opinions may very well be entertained on this question. I do not impute motives to those who hold a different opinion from that held by myself, and motives should not have been imputed to those who support the clause as it stands. In a single electorate it may be that 49 per cent. of the people are not represented by the person who is elected. All that is held is that in a number of constituencies that effect is balanced : and that is the reason for the democratic support of single electorates. So with State electorates. It is not true that, if there is a majority of free-trade voters throughout the Commonwealth, every State will be held by free-traders. One State may return all free-traders, and another all protectionists, and the same balancing influence is felt as with single electorates. Of course, there may be an objection to equal representation in the Senate which gives the same effective vote to the smaller State as to the larger State : but that is part of the Constitution.







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