Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 19 April 1904

Mr MALONEY (Melbourne) - In addressing myself to the proposal under consideration, I may remark that during the last three and a half months I have passed through an experience to which I hope no other honorable member will ever have to submit. At the recent general election this question was certainly put before the people, so far as the district of Melbourne is concerned. In the second contest for that constituency it was made absolutely the dominant question. At every meeting which I addressed it was brought prominently forward, and only at one of those thirty gatherings was a single hand held up against this proposal. The gentleman who voted against it subsequently informed me that he did so under a misapprehension.

Mr O'Malley - He was deaf and dumb.

Mr MALONEY - He was very much awake when I explained the position to him. When I mention that no less than four meetings were held in positively the most conservative portion of Victoria - I refer to Jolimont - and not a hand was held up against the proposal, I think I may fairly claim that the question was thoroughly threshed out. I was returned to this' House to vote for the amendment proposed ; but, even if I. had not been, I should have voted for it just the same. I utterly fail to understand why we should deny an undoubted right to any human being, irrespective of whether he draws his wages or salary from a Government or from a private individual. I have not the slightest doubt that if the Prime Minister could see his way clear to take the opinion of the people on this question by means of a referendum - and if he would consult the Consul for Switzerland he would find that that could be done at a very moderate cost - the voice of Australia would declare that every human being in our midst should be under the same law, and then the honorable and learned gentleman would be willing to carry out that mandate. We have had it indicated in the press that the writing is on the wall, " Beware ! if you vote for justice to the public servants you must dread a dissolution !" That bogy has been manipulated by the press, but I feel satisfied that the division on this amendment will show that the representatives of Australia are determined to give justice to the people whether they be employed by Governments or by private individuals. I am somewhat at a disadvantage in having to follow two lawyers who have in succession addressed themselves to this question. One of those honorable and learned members repeatedly referred to the proceedings of the Convention, and a reference ' to a report of the debates of the Convention will show that I am right when I say that the introduction of the conservatism which tinges the Constitution was primarily and principally due to the representatives of Western Australia. Where are those representatives now? We find only one of them occupying a seat in this Chamber. By whom were they elected ? By the people? No; they were elected by the State Legislature of the day. And I dare say every honorable member will agree with me that the Parliament of the Commonwealth would not be what it is if the Parliaments of the States had the power to nominate its members. I feel somewhat strongly on this question. I have heard many arguments as to the meaning of words which were uttered at the Convention, because I have had some experience of the High Court of Australia. I had a flutter before that Court for about two and a-half days, with the result that I was involved in costs amounting to £200. Did honorable members imagine when they voted for the creation of that Court that it would be so expensive a tribunal? Was it not thought when it was resolved that the Court should deal with petitions against the return of members that a deposit of £50 would be enough to cover all the costs of the inquiry ? I was assured by my legal adviser, whose every contention was unanimously accepted by the three Judges, that if I carried the proceedings to their final issue costs amounting to £2,000 would be incurred.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It was pointed out during the consideration of the High Court Bill that the cost of taking petitions before the High Court would be very heavy.

Mr MALONEY - I would far sooner be ruled by this Parliament, elected as it is by the people, than by a High Court. I have no desire to see the High Court placed in the position of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, and if at any time my vote can prevent the . possibility of such a thing, it will be at once available. The honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne, the late Mr. John Hancock, myself, and others who opposed the Constitution Bill did so; not because we were hostile to Federation, but because we desired that the people themselves should have the high power of amending the Constitution. I have a firm and full belief in my fellowAustralians, and feel satisfied that if the matter were put to a vote of the people they would sweep aside mere legal maxims and the frequent references which we hear ' to the Constitution of the United States of America. The States were deluged in blood before one of the small amendments which have been made during 100 years in the Constitution of the United States could be carried out. There is not one honorable member of this Chamber who would say that he does not trust the people, and if the majority of honorable members so recently elected vote for this amendment, why should there be any suggestion of removing it? The principle at stake has been enunciated by the people of the most conservative communities, as well as by those of the far-away back-blocks, which are so well represented here. Before constitutions are mankind was, or, in the words of one of the American poets, " Before I was a citizen, great nature made me." Why should we be bound down in the way to which reference was made a few moments ago by the honorable and learned member for West Sydney ? Why should we be bound down to one principle if by waiving it we should do a great justice? Even if this amendment be. in contravention of the Constitution, I maintain that the people require it, that their power should be dominant, and that we should consult them. As to the suggestion that there may be another election at an early date, I have only to say that while I am rather fond of a fight, three election contests within a period of four and a-half months are rather too much for me.

Mr Wilks - With an appeal to the High Court thrown in.

Mr MALONEY - I do not desire any further acquaintance with the High Court. I should prefer to see a change in reference to the method of dealing with election petitions ; and I hope that this House will in its wisdom ultimately make an alteration in the system. There must be a strict scrutiny of the way in which voting has been carried on throughout Australia. I trust that we shall soon go to a. division on th'is question, for I do not suppose that the vote will be varied as the result of any speech. I was once placed in a peculiar position, and was led, perhaps from motives of curiosity, to ask various celebrated politicians whether they could tell of a vote which had been changed by a single speech. I could not, however, obtain even one satisfactory answer in respect of a parliamentary experience extending over thirteen years ; and when I waited on the great people who sway the daily newspapers, I found that even they were unable to, give me any information on the subject. Doubtless, we have all made up our minds as to the way in which we shall vote, and I hope that if the majority vote, if not on this, at all events on the next amendment, for what I believe to be the right principle, there will be no attempt to waive their decision. I know that those who are opposed to my views are as honest as I am in the opinions which they entertain, and if they were in the majority I should accept their decision.

Suggest corrections