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Tuesday, 19 August 1902

Mr MAHON (Coolgardie) - I am sorry that the honorable member for Macquarie has ventured to indulge in what I cannot help calling cant. He said that the majority must rule. Does anybody suppose for one minute that the party in this House which is recognised as the representatives of democracy is likely to oppose majority rule, to begin with ? Suppose that six senators were to be returned by New South Wales, and that there were 99,999 voters on the rolls, does the honorable member wish to contend that 50,000 electors who desired to get a particular brand of senator were to secure all the representation in the Senate, and the 49,999 voters were to have none? Is that the majority rule of which- the honorable member speaks? It would be an atrocious injustice to give all the representation to the 50,000 voters. Every State contains a considerable minority who attach a particular value to some

Cry or question, and if they are sufficiently numerous, they ought to be allowed to return a man who is able to voice their views in Parliament. Suppose that in New South Wales 15,000 or 16,000 electors took the same view on the fiscal question as does the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, and wished to close the ports of Australia, would it be fair to deny them all representation in this Parliament ? The honorable member has not touched the fringe of the most important point at stake, and that is whether it is just or fair that no representation should be given to a minority in a State, no matter how powerful or numerous it may be.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why not propose a system of proportional representation ?

Mr MAHON - I have no responsibility for the framing of the Bill. I am trying to get as near as I can to' what is fair, and that is to give an opportunity to a man to utilize his vote as he thinks fit. My honorable friend says that an elector should have the right to vote for the three best men. If I approve of only one of three candidates, why should I be compelled either to refrain from voting at all or- to vote for men in whom I do not believe ? All the argument is in favour of retaining the clause. The honorable member has said that an elector has an opportunity to put forward his own candidates. What chance is given to an isolated voter to nominate candidates 1 Nobody knows who are to be the candidates until the nominations are made, and the only opportunity which an elector has of exercising influence at all is when he goes into the polling booth to vote, and he may not find on the ballot-paper three names of which he approves. Why should a man be compelled to vote for a candidate he does not wish to see elected ? What does this talk about one vote one value mean ? If I go into a polling booth with a friend, and he votes for the three candidates on the ballot-paper, and I vote for only one of them, does he not put his three men as far forward as I put mine ? If I choose to plump for my man, what does it amount to ? It is not as if I were able to give three votes to one man. I have the right to vote for three candidates, and if I choose to vote for only one of them, what has Parliament to do with that exercise of my right ? Why should it attempt to regulate what I am to do with my vote? Supposing that this Bill contained a provision for compulsory voting, and that it became law, an elector would be driven to the ballot-box to- vote for candidates whom he did not approve of, and did not wish to see in Parliament. If the electors are not allowed to plump, they will obtain their object in another way. Bogus candidates will be nominated, and the electors will vote for the bogus candidates as well as the man for whom they desire to plump, and at times they may elect a man who should not be returned. We have no right to prevent an elector from doing what he likes with his vote. If he chooses to vote for three men, well and good ; but if he prefers to vote for only one candidate, in what way does he imperil the Constitution ? Why should he be deprived of the liberty of voting for only one candidate if he disapproves of the other names on the. ballot-paper? I hope that the committee will stand by the clause.

Mr. L.E. GROOM (Darling Downs).When I submitted this proposal, in the firstinstance, to the committee, I said that I saw no reason why a man should be compelled practically to vote against the dictates of his conscience. I pointed out that if a man were compelled to vote for candidateswhom he did not desire to see in Parliament, he might be the means of bringing about the defeat of his own candidate. We are told that we are undemocratic in endeavouring to introduce this provision into the Bill, and the honorable member for Macquarie has defined democracy to be the rule of the majority. I have never heard it stated 'as part of a democratic system that the majority are to compel the minority to do things which, perhaps, in their consciences, they cannot approve of. As a rule in a democracy there is a desire to give every liberty and every freedom for expression of opinion ; but when it conies to deciding what law should govern that democracy, then the opinion of the majority, as expressed through proper constitutional agents, should prevail. But the suggestion now made is that the individual elector shall not have that liberty. He has not the chance of nominating his candidate. All he can do is to. vote for the candidates who arenominated. He may not be a member of the great political organizations which toa certain extent control the nomination of candidates, yet if the idea of the honorable member for Macquarie were carried out,, either he would have to vote for a man whom he did not desire to see in Parliament, or refrain from voting. Instead of giving all votes one value, we should be absolutely silencing many electors. If electors wereentitled to vote for only one candidate, their votes would not have any increased value except so far as they might tend to secure minority representation. This would not be opposed to the democratic principle that the will of the majority shall prevail. I only desire to restore the clause to the form in which it was originally introduced by the Government in the Senate.

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