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Wednesday, 2 March 1904

Mr MAHON (Coolgardie) - I do not rise with the object of striking any discordant note at this stage ; but I think that the House ought to be made aware of what I believe to be a constitutional impediment to the occupancy by Sir Frederick Holder, not merely of the office of Speaker, but of the position of a member of this House. It is with considerable regret that I- direct attention to this matter, because no one recognises more fully than I do the impartiality and ability displayed by Sir Frederick Holder. But it is quite clear from the facts which I shall have the honour to submit that the honourable member has contravened a section of the Constitution. On the 23rd November, 1903, the last House of Representatives was dissolved, and Sir Frederick Holder then ceased to be a member ; and, having ceased to be a member, he ceased to be Speaker. On the 3rd December Sir Frederick Holder was re-elected as a member of this Parliament. During the interval between the dates mentioned Sir Frederick Holder drew the usual allowance made to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, although at the time he was neither Speaker nor a- member of this House. I do not wish to delay the House, and therefore do not propose to do more than make a brief statement with the object of recalling to the minds of honorable members the terms of section 45 of the, Constitution, which reads as follows : -

If a Senator or a member of the House of Representatives . . . directly or indirectly takes ot agrees to take any fee or honorarium for services rendered to the Commonwealth ... his place shall thereupon become vacant. .

To my mind, three points are worthy of attention. In the first place, we have to ascertain the exact meaning of the words " fee or honorarium," and in the second place to consider what is implied by the phrase " services rendered to the Commonwealth." Webster's Dictionary defines a "fee" as a reward for services performed, or to be performed, and " hon;orarium " as a fee offered to a professional man for his services. I hold the view that by accepting an allowance or fee between the two dates to which I have referred, when he was neither Speaker nor member of Parliament, Sir Frederick Holder has contravened the section of the Constitution from which I have quoted.

Mr McDonald - But how' does that section affect the case when Sir Frederick Holder was not a member of this House?

Mr MAHON - I have not quite arrived at that point. I wish to direct honorable members' attention to the meaning of the phrase " services rendered to the Commonwealth." I take it that any service rendered to this House is a service to the Commonwealth; and if Sir Frederick Holder, during the interval referred to, performed any official duty at all, he must have rendered a service to the Commonwealth. It could not have been a service to the last House of Representatives, because that House had ceased to exist, and it could not have been a service to this House, because this House had not come into existence. Therefore, I hold that if Sir Frederick Holder performed any service as Speaker, or any service such as is usually performed by a

Speaker, such service must have been rendered to the Commonwealth, and I respectfully submit that in accepting a fee or honorarium for it he has contravened the Constitution.

Mr Watkins - But on the honorable member's own showing, he was not' a member of Parliament at the time.

Mr MAHON - On the 3rd December he again became a member of Parliament, and the allowance which he drew covered not only the interval between the 23rd November, but the whole period up to the end of December.

Mr Harper - How could we settle this question without a Chairman ?

Mr MAHON - I presume that no settlement could be arrived at to-day ; but, having made this discovery, I considered it my duty to place it before the House at the earliest possible moment. There is one more question to be considered. Is the vote which was passed by this House in the Appropriation Bill,' in the extraordinary form of a note not recognised in the text of the measure, strictly constitutional ? I do not wish to argue that point now. But whether or not the House did right in voting the Speaker a certain sum as payment for services rendered, I do hold that Sir Frederick Holder, by receiving the money, has forfeited his seat as a member of this House. To my mind there can be no reasonable doubt upon that point. Any contention that the money was given as a gratuity I shall be prepared to rebut by proof at a later stage, and I apprehend that some ulterior action is desirable, both in the interests of the House and of the honorable member concerned. I do not wish to interfere with the election of the Speaker, but I consider that a matter which many honorable members regard as a constitutional impediment to Sir Frederick Holder's occupancy of the office, and of the position of a member ot this House, should receive early attention.

Mr. DEAKIN(Ballarat- Minister for External Affairs). - I think that the honorable member for Coolgardie, holding the opinion he does has taken a proper course. After having listened to him, and having glanced at the Constitution, I would point out that if his argument is good it goes a great deal further than, perhaps, he realizes. That may or may not be an argument in favour of its soundness. If his argument is pushed to the full extent, it might be difficult to find any authority in the Constitution for the payment of any allowance to the Speaker or Chairman.

Mr Mahon - I am relying upon section 45.

Mr DEAKIN - However, as I say, the honorable member has taken his course, and since he has called attentionto the matter it will receive the fullest consideration. At the same time, whatever weight may attach to the case made out by the honorable member, affects not the action now proposed to be taken, but the position of Sir Frederick Holder as a member of this House. That is not a matter with which this House is competent to deal, but must be remitted to the High Court.

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