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Thursday, 6 May 1915

Mr YATES (Adelaide) .- I should not have spoken but for the remark made by the honorable member who has just resumed his seat - that in the matter of electoral reform the people of Australia were stepping backwards. To my mind, a proportion of those who are supporting this proposal for proportional representation are not sincere. I cast no doubt on the sincerity of the mover of the motion; but I believe that the Liberal party would not be in favour of the introduction of such a system, and that they would carry this motion only for party purposes. In South Australia we had the spectacle of the Liberal party, while in opposition, declaring itself in favour of proportional representation, although it was hard to determine whether they referred to proportional representation or effective voting. They declared that they would bring such a system into force, but when the time came to test their sincerity these gentlemen failed to do what they promised. They wished to make themselves secure, and one Liberal Minister declared that under the system which they proposed they would remain in power for fourteen or twenty years. Liberalism, we were told, was going to rule in South Australia, but, as on pre vious occasions, it over-reached itself, and the Liberal party, instead of being in power in South Australia to-day, is a forlorn crowd. It is hard to find any one prepared to man the Liberal ship there nowadays, because of the wrecked condition to which it has been reduced. Before taking office, the Liberal party in South Australia proposed to establish what it described as a sane system of representation, under which the people would not be hampered by the restrictive pledges which, it was said, Labour imposed upon its nominees. But the fact that when they had the opportunity to put the system in operation they failed to do so makes me more than ever believe that the proposal now before us is not genuine. According to the honorable member for Wannon, we are going backwards. As a matter of fact, it is only the party on this side of the chamber that has ever pushed anything forward in politics. The honorable member instanced the position of this House, and he claimed that there had been no Labour Government in Victoria, but, in my opinion, if you scratch a Liberal in Victoria, you scratch the same individual in any other State. Liberals are all the same, no matter from what State they come, and therefore, although they may be gathered together in this House from various States, they are the same set of individuals. The fact that in their own State Houses, which have far greater power in regard to the development of the States than has the National House, they do not relieve us from the dead hand of the past in the shape of the restricted franchise for the Legislative Council, is a strange commentary upon their protestation that they desire to relieve the body politic of the shackles which they claim the Labour party has placed upon it. I told the electors in the district' that I have tho honour to represent that I should oppose this proposal when it came forward, not because I was not prepared to realize that a proportional representation system has not many merits, and perhaps would be good for the Commonwealth, but because I considered that before I should be ready to give away that for which the Labour party had fought in their backward progress - if I may use the paradox - in gaining their present position in the Commonwealth, the other party should first show their Iona fides, and in the State Legislatures urge reform in regard to that House which has been the bar to the progress of the community. If the Liberal party would show their bona fides in that direction, I am satisfied that a majority of honorable members on this side of the chamber would be prepared to meet them in the direction of making progress more stable, sound, and prolific by making it wider.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Are you aware of the fact that on the agenda paper for your Conference which is to be held in Adelaide next month there is a proposal for proportional representation for the Federal Parliament?

Mr YATES - In all probability the matter will be proposed, but I have no hope of its being carried. I was at the Conference when proportional representation was placed on the platform of the South Australian Labour party, and I know how many supported it and why it finds its place on our platform.

Mr Glynn - Your party will probably gain by it in South Australia.

Mr YATES - I hope sincerely that the anticipations of the honorable member are correct. The members of the Labour party in South Australia know my opinion in regard to effective voting or proportional representation and the spirit behind the movement. They knew my attitude when the proposal found its place on the platform of the Labour party in South Australia.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - It could only be put on the platform by a majority.

Mr YATES - The honorable member should not forget that a thin majority can often PUt something on a platform. Evidently the honorable member is quite prepared to accept what a thin majority might do in South Australia, but is not prepared to accept what a thin majority has done in regard to the constitution of the Senate. If he accepts the verdict of a thin majority in the one case, why should he not allow a thin majority to dominate the affairs of the Commonwealth as it does to-day ? I am not prepared to argue the matter of proportional representation from the stand-point of equity, because I believe that honorable members opposite are not sincere. Last session I heard the honorable member for Cook opposing a motion on the ground that those who had proposed it were; not sincere in their proposal. Whatever advantages we on this side of the House possess have had to be fought for over a long series of years. The Labour party has had to grow from nothing to the power it is to-day; and while it was coming into its own, there was ample opportunity for the other side to give way in the direction of proportional representation, and the recognition of minorities. But no; everything we have got has been wrested from the other side, and yet to-day we have an appeal to the f fairmindedness of the party now in powerto give away that for which it has had to fight in the past. In the other sphere of politics and activities governing our daily lives, our opponents in State Houses hang like grim death to the dead hand of the past, not giving away one iota. Even after a recent referendum of the people in South Australia, some of them are hoping to heaven that the hard-crusted Tories in that State will not listen to the voice of the people, and will turn the referendum down. The Honorable C. C.: Kingston, who admirably adorned this House, took a referendum on one occasion on the subject of adult suffrage for the Upper House, and the people carried it by an overwhelming majority; but the Tories of the Legislative Council would' not accept the will of the people, and turned adult suffrage down. Yet to-day, because there are only five Liberals in the Senate - and one of them is only half aLiberal, because he was returned on the Labour votes in South Australia - we are asked to give away that power which is ours by reason of that just system of adult suffrage. We are asked to give back what we have wrested from the other party by sheer hard work in the direction of educating the masses, and showing them that we could do some good for them. Only last session the Commissioner of Crown Lands in South Australia made the statement that the Government had made the Liberals safe in South Australia for the next fourteen or twenty years; but that gentleman spoke without realizing what public opinion was in regard to reelecting him and his confreres. His Government repudiated the principle of proportional representation, and gerrymandered the electorates in such a way that they hoped to be in power for that period ; but they were mistaken. Again, going back to the move prior to that occasion, when the Democracy were allowed, as far as the then head of the Government would allow them, a say in regard to how they should be governed, they said, in no uncertain voice, that they were satisfied Democracy should govern, and that this reform should be brought about. But when the matter went to the House of privilege, the House by which the Liberal element will always stand, and for which it will always fight hard, it was turned down. They even tried, by gerrymandering, to further entrench the House of privilege by increasing its numbers, notwithstanding that the proposal was against the opinion of the general community, as far as could be ascertained without a vote having been taken on the question. This House of second-hand thought was increased in numbers, not with the idea of giving to the Democracy greater privileges and powers of self-government, but in order to preserve to those who had so long held the reins of government, if possible, even greater powers. To revert to what brought me to my feet, the charge of the honorable member for Wannon that we were going back in politics, I say that it is only because we are going forward that this reform is urged from the other side.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I simply said that we were going back electorally.

Mr YATES - The honorable member asked me whether I believed in the pledge

Mr Joseph Cook - Are you quite sure that you are going forward or going round ?

Mr YATES - I am satisfied that the Labour party will, if we adopt this proposal, be giving something to the other fellow which he would never give to them; and until he gives up that which is not rightly his - the power of a priviledged House - the Democracy will be arrant fools if they give anything away.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Suppose the principle were made uniform, would you approve of it

Mr Page - He would give it consideration.

Mr YATES - Yes, I would give it consideration.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Then set an example now by passing this motion.

Mr YATES - No. We have held no privilege but that for which we have fought and which we have gained. The Liberal element hold privileges to which they have no right, and which the dead hand of the past has given them. Let them, therefore, be generous and give way. Let the honorable member go to his Premier in Victoria and ask him to bring in a Bill for the reform of the Legislative Council. Let him ask the Liberals in South Australia to give support to the present Premier of South Australia when he asks for a redistribution of seats and incorporates a system of proportional voting. But they will not hear of it in South Australia, and the Bill would be kicked out of the Legislative Council, as was the referendum initiated by the Hon. C. C. Kingston. The honorable member knows full well that the Legislative Councils will not give way; and he knows, also, that to-day this motion is brought forward without any sincerity. I do not say that the honorable member for Angas is not sincere, for I have every confidence in his sincerity; but those who support him, and those who still support the State Houses of Legislature as they are constituted, ask for this reform with their tongues in their cheeks. The honorable member for Wannon asked me whether I signed the party pledge because I could not trust myself. I pledged myself because past experience has taught the Labour party that there are many who cannot trust themselves. The body politic is only human; and knowing that many are liable to fall - we have had some in this Parliament with which South Australia has had to deal - the party behind demand that all, good, bad. or indifferent, should sign the pledge, and accordingly we sign it. That we should be twitted with taking a retrograde step in politics is rather funny. We are told that the Labour party are hampered and leg-roped, and progress sideways like the crab, yet the Liberal element pay lis the compliment of copying us even in regard to the plebiscite. When I was secretary to the Labour party in South Australia, I had sent to me the pledge of the Liberal party. It was foolscap size, whereas our pledge is on paper about a quarter foolscap size. The pledge of the Liberal party in South Australia is nearly word for word th9 pledge of the Labour party.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member must not proceed on those lines.

Mr YATES - I know that the pledge has nothing to do with the electoral question, though perhaps it is a phase of the life of our body politic; bub as the matter was referred to by the honorable member for Wannon I wished to reply to him. I have nothing further to say in regard to the motion other than that I am satisfied that it is not sincerely put forward as a wishod-for reform, and that it is brought forward for the purpose of regaining ground that has been lost by the Liberals. As we are asked to confer this favour on the Liberal element while they continue to withhold the franchise, so far as State Houses are concerned, I must oppose the motion.

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