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Thursday, 6 May 1915


Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - The member who gives the party a majority is an outandout Liberal of the old school, and ;f he is sufficiently progressive to enable tho progressive Labour Government to amend the Act, it will be done.

Mr J H Catts - What about the Tory Tasmanian Council?

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - I dare nob prophesy in regard to what may happen in the Upper House. You cannot get progressive legislation through that Chamber. At present, neither party has a working majority in the Tasmanian Parliament, and I gather from the press that it is the intention of the Government to try to alter the electoral system of the State. The system of proportional voting is all very well in theory. On paper, it is a beautiful system.

Mr J H Catts - Does the majority of the electors understand it ?

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - I question whether every honorable member of Parliament understands it. Honorable members can imagine the amount of calculating necessary to get out a return such as that for Denison. Sir Elliott Lewis got 2,732 votes, and was declared elected. When I stood for election in Tasmania I had to obtain 9,500 votes before being elected. Little parties can be formed all over the place, and so long as a candidate gets over the quota of 2,309, in he goes. I take it that this system is all right when there are many different sections desirous of returning members directly concerned with the temperance question, or the religious question, and so forth. But now that the parties are so clearly defined, it is not at all necessary. As an instance of how the people are divided into two distinct parties, I might cite one of the Senate elections in Tasmania, at which Colonel Cameron was a candidate.

Colonel Cameron had occupied a seat in the Senate, and might be described as one of the most popular gentlemen in Tasmania, for whom a personal vote could safely be relied on. But Colonel Cameron came out as an Independent candidate, and he did not obtain nearly, uie number of votes recorded for either the selected Liberal candidate, or the selected Labour candidate. I think that similar results could be found all over Australia at the present time; and it is for that reason that I think proportional voting now is of no earthly use. I admit that it would affect the representation of the State ; but of what value would that representation be? Any change in this regard could only have the effect of retarding business. We know how, in the case of the late Government, the party stuck closely to the leaders, who were thus enabled to hold office for a much longer period than any of us would have anticipated. The effect of proportional representation in the Senate would simply lengthen the sittings without having any effect whatever on the legislation.

Mr Poynton - Would proportional representation apply to both Houses?

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - I suppose so; but the difficulty would be in the grouping of the electorates; and my own feeling is that the party which had the greatest number of supporters in the cities would overwhelm the country vote. I have endeavoured to fit myself to discuss this question in the presence of such able men as the honorable member for Angas and others; and I hope that the motion will be thoroughly debated.

Mr Sampson - Can the honorablemember say whether proportional representation has had any material influence on the disposition of parties in Tasmania 'I

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - To be candid, the system did help the Labour party when that party was first inaugurated, and it will help any party until it becomes so numerous as to form a deadlock. As a matter of fact, in Tasmania at the present time, the position of parties is such that it is impossible to bring about any change.

Mr Glynn - Why should we, if people are so nearly balanced in opinion?

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - In the case of proportional representation, an elector gives his No. 1 vote to a candidate who voices his opinion, while possibly his No. 2 vote goes to a man whom he does not know at all; and, altogether, I fail to see how, under the system, we could have that fair representation which the honorable member for Angas has led us to expect. I have an open mind on the question, and I shall listen to the debate with the greatest interest. I have every desire for the fair representation of all people in the community; but I fail to see how this plan is to bring it about, in view of the distinct party lines which now exist.

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