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Tuesday, 19 August 1902

Mr ISAACS (Indi) - In one respect I agree with my honorable friend who has just spoken. I think that we should undoubtedly take up an erroneous position if we were to attempt to pass any such amendment as -has been suggested by the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Solomon. I have no doubt in my own mind that such a proposal would be quite unconstitutional, because it would destroy uniformity of qualification throughout the Commonwealth. It would also be a clear indication that this Parliament regarded the whole question as one of retaliation. That, I venture to state, in spite of all that has been uttered on the subject, is not the sentiment that has animated any of the members of this House in agreeing to the clause as it stands. I should be extremely sorry to think that either House of the Federal Parliament would descend to frame its measures in any spirit of retaliation in consideration of anything that the States Parliaments have done; and I should strongly oppose any procedure on our part from which any one could draw the conclusion that such was our motive. The State legislation on the subject is, however, an evidence of a feeling that has spread oyer Australia that a man should be " off with the old love before he is on with the new."' It is an evidence that the feeling- the proper feeling, as I venture to term it - that has governed the speeches and votes of those who are supporting the Government in this matter is shared in by, and has been embodied previously in legislation at the instance of, the members of the Parliaments of the various States of what is now the Australian union. If that was the Australian feeling before, when there was no spirit or sentiment of the retaliation - if that was the idea of the States Parliaments then - must there not have been some strong reason for it 1 I do not attribute to them - nor would any honorable member do so - any idea of casting any reflection on a future Federal Parliament, or the members of it ; but there must have been some strong sentiment which made the members of the States Parliaments feel that it was not right that any man should fill for any considerable time a position in one Parliament with a view, possibly, to obtaining a position in another. The -circumstances of the first Federal Parliament are no guide for the permanent rule that is sought to be established, because, in the first place, the Federal Parliament had not come into existence at the time of the State legislation, and there was no competition between the two bodies ; and, in the second place, the period was so short that allowed of the nomination of a member of the State Parliament for membership of the Federal Parliament that the considerations that are now appealing to us could not possibly have existed. At the same time I have no doubt that many of us must have felt that our position in the States Parliaments - some as private members, some as Ministers - was no disadvantage whatever in the contest in which we had to take part. My honorable friend, the member for Canobolas, has given to-night in his speech very cogent evidence indeed in support of the position now taken up by the Government, because he has proved out of his own mouth that it was possible - not only possible, but was actually done in his own case - for a member of a State Parliament and a Minister in a State Government to use very persuasive means indeed to gain the seat that my honorable friend now occupies. That is very strong evidence of the most direct kind in support of the clause which the Government have brought forward.

Mr Watson - But the result showed that the influence was of no value.

Mr ISAACS - Fortunately for' my honorable friend, the member for Canobolas, the efforts which were made failed to turn the scale against kim.

Mr Fowler - They were intended to have an effect.

Mr ISAACS - Yes, and they must have had some effect upon the position. The fact upon which my honorable friend can congratulate himself is that what was done was not enough to spoil his ultimate chances. I think we are justified in considering this question, and many other questions that concern us, in the light of the new conditions that surround us. We are accustomed to look at these matters from our own particular State stand-point, and, speaking for myself, if this were simply a question affecting Victoria, with a limited area, where the circumstances are entirely different from those affecting a huge federated Australia, I should be very sorry to pass any such clause. I was no party to the passing of the section which appears in the Victorian Act. I do not think I was in Victoria at the time it was passed. But at the same time I cannot help seeing the difference between the position of various members of the Federal Parliament, and the position as far as we Victorians are concerned. To the Victorians, such a provision as this would be of no importance whatever. A Victorian member is living upon the spot, near to his constituency. Most of us are within a few hours' distance of the places we represent. We can go there, if we so desire, with a small expense of "time and trouble. We can keep in touch with our constituents in a way that our brethren from the distant States are utterly unable to do. While this matter was previously under discussion, I spoke about it with many of my honorable friends who are members of this House, and who represent distant States, and they convinced me absolutely that while they were here attending to their parliamentary work, while they were doing their duty in this House - arid doing it well, if I may be permitted to say so - there was no doubt whatever that, in many instances, State members in those distant constituencies, in close touch with the electors, were paving the way for future electoral contests. Not only were statements made to me, but facts were related to me by those honorable members which convinced me that there was strong ground for the statements. I felt then, as I feel now, that we ought not to deal with this question in the same way, and by the same standards, as we should deal with it if it were merely a matter affecting our own State. That is the point of view that should weigh well with us. When I regard the question of the public welfare or the public advantage, I consider that the scale does not turn in the way in which some honorable members who are supporting the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. V. L. Solomon, would have us believe. It has been said that we should be guided in this matter by a principle which comes down to this - that we ought not to restrict the choice of the voters. That position has been emphasized. If it is said that the voters ought to have a free and unrestricted choice, I ask, whose fault is it if they do not have that choice ? Is it the fault of the Federal members, who go to the constituencies as candidates and candidates only, or is it the fault of the State member, who says - " I refuse to give the voters of my constituency a free andunrestricted choice, because I refuse to relinquish the position I fill in the State Parliament until I can get something else?" Who limits the freedom and choice of the elector - the Federal member, or the man who clings to the position he occupies in the State Parliament, during which time he is strengthening his chances, and paving the way, and who refuses to get off one horse until he has got on the other, if honorablemembers can imagine such a position? It strikes me that the weight of the argument is entirely in the opposite direction fromthat put by the honorable member for Canobolas. If I could convince myself that we were in danger of restricting the choice of the electors, I should give my vote in the other direction. But it is not so. If the welfare of the electors is to be considered, the State member can say, " I think I should give the people the opportunity of electing me," and he can resign his seat in the State Parliament. If he says "No-, I care less for the freedom of choice of the electors than I do for my own position," who is toblame? Let the State member and the federal member stand on the same footing. Let them both go to the electorates as candidates. Do not handicap the federal member. Do not put the State member or the State Minister, able to retain his position in the State Parliament for three years at least. and able to use those persuasive arguments which the honorable member for Canobolas has evidenced here to-night, in a position which no federal member can possibly occupy. Federal Ministers do by force of necessity occupy Ministerial office, but the bulk of the federal members do not occupy that position. In the various States we have an infinitely greater number both of members and of Ministers, and the restriction of freedom of choice, if it comes from anywhere, does not come from the Federal Parliament. That is the key-note to the opposition to the Ministerial proposal, and I think there is nothing in it for the reasons I have given. I submit that the public welfare will best be served by saying to the federal member as the States have done - I do not complain of it - " You are to have no inducements to cling to your position in the Federal Parliament and try, while holding, that position, to oust a State member," and on the other hand to say with equal justice, and with equal force to the State member - " You are under no personal disability. You have the same right and the same freedom to offer your services to the federal electors as any one else has." All we say is that the size of Aus.tralia is such and the circumstances are such, that many federal members cannot often visit their electorates during a session, and they are placed in a most unfair position by being handicapped in the way they are, according to the testimony which has been given to me. We are not taking a wrong .step, but a right step, in supporting the Government, and I hope that this clause, which has been passed twice by the House - first by so overwhelming a number that its opponents would not take a division, and secondly by a very large majority indeed - will be indorsed to-night by the vote we shall have.

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