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Thursday, 6 May 1915

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) .- I had the pleasure of listening to the able speech of the honorable member for Angas in introducing the motion, and abo to the reply of the Minister of Home Affairs; and we have now had a contribution from the honorable member for Denison, who has seen the practical working of proportional representation in his own State, and apparently selected those points which are to the disadvantage, rather than to the advantage, of the system. It would be idle for any one to submit a proposal of this kind and claim that it represented a perfect system. No system is perfect, but any plan that aims at giving people representation in proportion to their numerical strength - except, of course, sections so small that representation cannot be given to them - is a step in the direction of affording the opportunity not only to exercise the franchise, but to voice their views in the legislative halls of their country. The Minister of Home Affairs, as one who has given this question a good deal of consideration, seems to take up a very anomalous position. He opposes this motion, but at the same time he is in favour of the initiative and referendum, which would greatly extend the power of a proportion of the people outside, though what that proportion is has not been definitely stated by the Labour party. However, if we take the figures in the case of some of the American States, or of Switzerland, we find that 8,000 electors may be able either to compel the introduction of legislation, or to demand a referendum on proposed legislation. The Minister of Home Affairs told us that he would not give to any minority outside the power of direct representation in this Parliament, but, as I say, he is at the same time prepared to permit the initiative and referendum, with the consequences I have indicated.

Mr Archibald - There must be a ratifying majority.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Ultimately that is so, but with the initiative and referendum a minority outside is given a great deal more power than would be given to it under proportional representation.

Mr Archibald - There is no analogy.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - There may not be direct analogy, but the same principle is involved.

Mr Archibald - I do not think much of the honorable member's logic!

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - As to that we oan agree to differ : but it struck me that the honorable gentleman's attitude was most illogical. If a minority has a right to have its voice heard outside, why should not the same minority have the right to send representatives here, with a view, perhaps, to convert the majority? Is the initiative and referendum merely intended as a sop to the minority outside? If the Government really intended that the initiative and referendum shall give a small minority outside the right to move Parliament, it will mean that a minority will be able, to a great extent, to " boss " Parliament - to force the Legislature to occupy much time in considering, possibly, insignificant proposals sent from outside. At the last Senate election the total Labour vote was represented by 6,234,000 odd, and the Liberal vote by 5,499,000 odd, showing a difference of only about 735,000 out -of a 12,000,000 vote, and yet we have the astounding result of thirty-one Labour representatives and five Liberal representatives. I have always understood that the idea of the framers of the Constitution was that the Senate should be the guardian House of the States' interests. In Victoria, except on one chance occasion, for a period of ten or eleven days, there has never been a Labour Government, and yet we have the remarkable fact that the Liberal party in Victoria has no direct representation in the Senate.

Mr Wise - You mean the Conservative party, which masquerades as Liberal.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I do not mean the Wise party; I do not suppose that a party which produces only one representative throughout the State can expect to rule Victoria. When this motion was introduced by the honorable member for Angas, the honorable member for Maranoa offered some remarks on it; and if we do not always agree with the honorable member for Maranoa, we must admit that he invariably brings robust common sense to bear upon the questions before us. I think that he was drawing upon that store of common sense rather than upon the principles of equity, in relation to electoral law, when he said, " Mr. Speaker, the system that gets me into this House is good enough for me." The proposal that parties should be given something like equitable representation in this Parliament, according to their numerical strength, is one to which no true Democrat can object. The Minister of Home Affairs was at some pains to explain how such a system might be manipulated, and that the ideals sought to be achieved by it might never be reached. The honorable member for Denison, speaking to-day, pointed out that, at the present time, there is a strong wave of public opinion in favour of the abolition of the liquor trade. He urged that we might have a party springing up having that for its sole object, with the result that the country, if this system were in operation, might be under the administration of a minority party representing, for the time being, the opinion of the majority on that one question. Let us consider for a moment the argument so advanced. If the opinion of the Australian people were overwhelmingly in favour of the abolition of the liquor traffic, then, under this system, the people would have their way. And if Parliament is to be a true reflex of the mind of the people, it must give the people their wish. This Anti-liquor party, having wiped out what it believed to be a blot on the national life of the country, might consider that it had served its purpose, and we might once more return to ordinary party lines. I hold that no one need take alarm if, from time to time, the people change their views. We have no right to feel that we are permanently entrenched in public favour. My experience of public life is not a very lengthy one, but it lias been sufficient to satisfy me that, with many of us, the feeling grows that we are here for life - that we are permanent members of the Commonwealth Legislature. That, to my mind, is not a good thing for the country. A man can remain too long in a Parliament, and I believe in giving the people greater facilities than they have to-day to change their representatives without changing their principles.

Mr Archibald - Then the honorable member would favour annual elections 7

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - No; I am not very keen on such a proposal. I should prefer quinquennial elections, believing that a five years' term would give a fair trial to any party that might be in power.

Mr West - In other words, the honorable member would like to be here for life?

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - No; notwithstanding the work which the honorable member has done, I should not be prepared to give even him a life-term in politics. I subscribe to the principle of preferential voting for the reason I have just given, and because I think a party is often compelled in politics to carry a. man who has grown out of touch with it. There are men who have served their party well in years gone by, and who, although perhaps they have outgrown their usefulness, have still to be carried by their party.

Mr Archibald - Is the honorable member now talking of the Liberal party 1

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - No; I am speaking of political parties generally. I recognise that the principle of preferential voting for the House of Representatives, and proportional voting for the Senate, would do much to bring about that condition of affairs to which the honorable member for Angas has referred : that parties would then be rather inclined to look for points. of agreement in respect of which they could serve the whole community, rather than for points of difference. They would cease to try to set up policies in direct opposition to each other for no other purpose than to insure the maintenance of a strict party system. The Minister of Home Affairs alluded to the position of parties in the Old Country, and expressed the opinion that the party system is alone the basis upon which all political issues have to be determined. I do not share that view. Since the outbreak of war we have had to consider many measures of a non-party character, with the result that the House has been less shackled by party considerations than before, and we have consequently found honorable members in agreement on many questions regardless of the side of the House on which they sit. Bui where strict party lines are maintained, we never find honorable members from both sides coming together, even on questions concerning which their views are very much alike. This is a world of diversity- a world in which 1,700,000,000 souls exist, and in which no two persons are exactly alike. How is it possible, then, to imagine that a mould can be produced to fit the minds of half the people of this country ? Every day, by means of party principles, we are making greater exactions upon the people. We are asking the people more and more every day to make an abject surrender of their own personal opinions in order that they may join certain parties. They are asked to subscribe in advance to codes of politics which sometimes they may not have fully considered. The old idea of a deliberative assembly is, to my mind, the better one. In this House seventyfive men - drawn from every corner of the Commonwealth - are expected to meet to deal with the affairs of the country. The Commonwealth was divided into seventyfive electorates, so that each division might have its logical representation in the halls of Parliament, so that each might select as its representative a man who knew the conditions of life there, who knew its wants, and the conditions of its industries. In this way it was intended that the House of Representatives should contain the corporate wisdom of the whole nation rather than that it should consist of a collection of units on the one side, all subscribing to the one set of principles. The idea was that we should have here seventy-five men of diverse thoughts; that the doors of the halls of Parliament should be thrown open; and that with the press of the country present, and the light of day shining upon our deliberations, we should give expression to our honest opinions and pass measures designed to benefit the whole of the people. I regret to say, however, that we are stepping backwards in the matter of political representation. We are in the bog and the rut of party politics. The honorable member for Adelaide smiles, and is in disagreement, I presume, with the views to which I am giving expression; but he himself is tied and bound by the rules of his party. I do not wish to hurt his feelings in any way, but he must admit that before he could obtain a seat in this House he had to join his party, that he had to surrender his own views and to pledge himself to carry out the platform of his party.

Mr Yates - He took a part in forming the platform, and in framing the pledge, of his party, because he believed in it, and not because he was driven to do so.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - The honorable member himself had to sign a party pledge. Why did he do so 1 Was it that he could not trust himself ?

Mr J H Catts - Did not the honorable member for Wannon have to submit himself for selection?

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I gave no pledge, and was not asked to give one.

Mr j H Catts - But did not the honorable member have to submit himself to selection by his party?

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I did, but I gave no pledge. Did the honorable member for Adelaide sign his party pledge because he could not trust himself to stand by the policy of his party?

Mr Yates - I gave . the pledge because I had to - because it was already in existence.

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