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Tuesday, 19 August 1902

Mr BROWN (Canobolas) - In view of the attitude which I have taken up from the very outset, I need scarcely say that I support the motion of the honorable member for South Australia for the recommittal of this clause. At the same time, I cannot see my way to adopt his proposal that we should legislate to meet only the case of members of States Parliaments that are prepared to fall into line with his desire. In connexion with this matter we are not called upon to seriously consider the attitude of any of the States Legislatures; we have to consider what is right in the interests of the electors of the Commonwealth. If it is right, as the Minister contends, that the embargo contained in the clause should be placed upon members of States Parliaments desiring to enter this Legislature, the clause should be carried; but if it is wrong, as I contend it is, then, irrespective of any action which may have been taken by the States Legislatures, we should not agree to it. It is for that reason that I shall support the recommittal of the clause in the hope that it will be eliminated. The Minister in charge of the Bill informed the House that the clause was not submitted by him in any. spirit of retaliation for the action taken by some of the States Legislatures. I shall not dispute that statement, but members of the States Legislatures, as well as the electors, to a very large extent, consider that the clause is something in the nature of retaliation, and that if the States Parliaments had not led the way in this direction, the strong probabilities are that such a provision would not have found a place in the Bill. I may be wrong, but I consider there is a good deal in that contention. Notwithstanding that the States Parliaments have legislated in this direction, and in doing so have not only created a precedent, but made it very difficult for those honorable members who wish to secure the larger franchise, to fight this proposal, I believe that the question affects the electors more intimately than it affects honorable members of the Commonwealth Legislature or the States Parliaments. As to the contention that the clause would purify elections by making it impossible for members of States Houses to trade upon the amount of Government moneys that they had caused to be expended in their electorates, and in that way gain support which they would not otherwise obtain, I am prepared to admit that the electors might be fooled to a certain extent by such tactics. Still, I have such faith in the electors generally, that I do not believe the mere expenditure of money upon public works in the different electorates would considerably influence the result of an election. I should like to point out to the Minister that, assuming there is something in this contention, the clause does not wholly get over the difficulty. If. a State member desires to contest aseat in the Federal Parliament, he can avail himself of his opportunities during the greater part of the three years that usually intervene between one election and another. All that the clause provides is that a member of a State Parliament who desires to become a candidate at a Federal election, shall resign his seat at a certain date prior to the issue of the writs. The general experience is that while sometimes the expenditure of money on Government works is indulged in by Ministers, and to a lesser degree by Parliamentarians generally, because ordinary members have not the same power to endeavour to gain favour with the average voter in that way, the electors are able to size them up at their true value. I had some experience of this matter at the last election, when I had to fight one of the strongest members of the State Government of which the Minister in charge of the Bill was the leader. During the contest a great many public works that I could not cause to be carried out were authorized in the electorate, and have since been executed. The result was, however, that when the votes came to be counted up, I was on top. I do not think there is any reason to fear any serious vitiation of an election in this direction, and I fail to see that the difficulty, if it really exists, is met by the clause. If such a provision as this had been in existence at the time of the first federal elections, what would have been the result ? I think I may reasonably suggest that a number of honorable members of this Legislature would not have contested the elections if they had been required to resign their seats in the States Houses before doing so. Many of them would have been called upon to make much greater sacrifices than those made by an ordinary honorable member. "When the Federal Government was formed, its members were drawn from the States Ministries. Most of the members of the Government were leaders of their respective parties in the States Legislatures ; they had occupied office for a number of years, and had secured a much stronger position there than they can hope to attain for some time to come in this Legislature. It would be unreasonable to say that those gentlemen should have resigned their positions prior to entering this Parliament. I believe the absence of a provision such as that contained in this clause is responsible for the very high standard that we may claim for the first Federal Parliament.

Mr O'Malley - But are not horses handicapped for the Melbourne Cup 1

Mr BROWN - We do not run the federal elections on the lines of the Melbourne Cup. According to general report, many racing events are decided before the horses start, and while the starters for the Melbourne Cup run in the interests of the few, candidates for seats in the Federal Legislature run in the interests of the electors who return them. The clause would considerably limit the choice of the electors. The results of the first federal elections clearly prove that it would have such an effect, inasmuch as the majority of honorable members of this House were drawn from the States Parliaments. The probabilities are that if an enactment such as that provided in this clause had existed prior to the inauguration of the Commonwealth, this Legislature would not have contained anything like the present representation' drawn from the States Parliaments. We must remember that a federal election is different from' a State election. In the case of che Senate each State is polled as one electorate - an electorate of such vast dimensions that no matter how able or wealthy a man may be, it is practically impossible for him to make himself known throughout it, between the date of nomination and the day of election, if he is not in public life, or does not have very extensive newspaper support. It follows largely that in their own interests the electors must draw from the States Legislatures for their representation in the Senate. In a lesser degree the same remark applies to the House of Representatives. In most of the States the electorates for the House of Representatives are very extensive. I understand that in Western Australia and Queensland, some of the electorates for this House are as large as some of the smaller States, and in such cases it is only by drawing upon the States Houses that the electors are able to obtain representatives about whom they know anything. Another reason why we should not debar the members of the States Parliaments from having a reasonable opportunity of taking part in these contests is that in the interests of the . federal movement and of good government we should endeavour to create an harmonious spirit between the Federal and the States Parliaments. Is this proposal in that direction ? Does not the legislation that has been passed by the different States give to the members of the Federal Parliament the feeling that there is a certain prejudice against them on the part of the State members who have been responsible for that legislation % Does not that feeling operate similarly with respect to the States Parliaments, the members of which will know that the Federal Parliament proposes similar legislation t Will not that legislation be regarded as being of a retaliatory nature, and in the same very ignoble direction, and will it not give State members and Ministers a feeling that their position is being slighted and that certain obstacles are being placed in the way of any desire they may have to enter a contest for a seat in this House 1 Does not all this tend in the direction of creating friction between the two governing bodies, when it is desirable that every effort should be made to bring about an harmonious understanding in the interests of both ? Such being the case, I trust that, as a result of fuller consideration the House will see its way to reject the obnoxious clause. It is undoubtedly obnoxious to State members, and will be more so to the voters, in the near future, when they fully realize to what an extent it hampers and limits their right of choice. There may possibly be some who hold that it is undesirable to allow State members to enter into these contests, because they can use influence amongst the voters. But, as I said before, I do not object to that. I -think that the elector in general is too keen not to see through any effort of the kind. On the other hand, in my opinion at least, we ought not to look upon this House, or upon any House of Parliament, as the particular preserve of the members of it. "We are only here with the consent of the electors, and for the purpose of conserving their best interests. If the electors wish to replace us by better men, it is their undoubted right to do so, and I should be the last person to place anything of an obstructive nature in their way. As far as concerns advancing my own interests, I feel that I should be better off outside Parliament than in it, and if the electors do not want my services here, I am quite willing to face the position. The matter appeals 'to me strongly, as being one in which an attempt is made to limit the choice of the electors, and to create friction between the governing machines of Australia. I therefore hope that the House will see its way not to amend the clause in question in the direction indicated by the 'honorable member who has moved for its recommittal, but to strike it out- altogether.

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