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Thursday, 26 October 1905

Senator TRENWITH (Victoria) - The honorable senator who has just resumed his seat said that we should be unduly restricting the powers of Parliament if we adopted the ruling which you, sir, have given. I take the opportunity to point out that one of the most sacred duties of Parliament is to see that all legislation that finds its way on to the statute-book has had the fullest and most complete exercise of the mind of Parliament. To permit the bringing in of altogether new principles by amendments of a Bill in

Committee would deprive Parliament of one of its strongest safeguards. That is one point I strongly urge. The various checks and safeguards set around our method of procedure have been the growth of centuries, and the basic principle underlying them all is that the people shall have the fullest assurance that Parliament has had every opportunity of knowing what was being done. Thus we have first, second, and third readings, with proceedings in Committee, so that, stage after stage, the fullest information as to what is being done shall be possessed by Parliament.

Senator Best - The same argument would apply to every amendment proposed.

Senator TRENWITH - No. What we are anxious to secure, and what the Standing Orders are meant to secure, is that principles shall have the fullest consent of Parliament. We then go into Committee, not to discuss principles - although I regret to say that is frequently done - but to provide machinery to give effect to the principles we have distinctly and definitely adopted on the second reading. Senator Best urges that the title is the guide to us in dealing with the Bill ; but I submit that all recent parliamentary practice is against that theory. There was a time when the greatest possible care was given to preparing the title of a Bill, so that it was almost a Bill in itself. But, for the sake of convenience - and every one will admit the convenience - it is now held sufficient to have the title comprehensive enough to express all that is in the Bill, and there is not the slightest objection if it expresses a great deal more. All recent rulings lay it down that we should, be guided as to the scope of a Bill by what is contained in the body of the Bill.

Senator Best - We have to be guided by both.

Senator TRENWITH - As a matter of fact, if it be found, as sometimes is the case, that a Bill, after it has gone through Parliament, is not quite consistent with the title, the latter is considered so unimportant that it may be amended then, or at any time. All the title does is to give a general idea of the nature of the Bill to be dealt with.

Senator Best - That shows the further liberty of the Committee.

Senator TRENWITH - There is in Victoria a Local Government Act of an extremely comprehensive character, involving many principles. If it were proposed to amend that law with regard to, say, 'the powers to construct tramways, the title of the amending Bill would be simply "A Bill to amend the Local Government Act." That is all that would be considered necessary in the title, and, guided by the body of the Bill, we should be distinctly confined to the question of tramways.

Senator Best - The honorable senator is quite incorrect. In Victoria a Bill was introduced to amend the Local Government Act, so as to indemnify councillors for overdrafts of 30th September, and there was inserted in it an entirely foreign, provision, indemnifying councils in regard to certain acts of negligence.

Senator TRENWITH - My contention is that we are bound by the substance of a Bill - that the title only requires to be sufficiently comprehensive to express all that is in the Bill, and that it is not objectionable if it be comprehensive enough to more. The Bill itself is the guide, and it is the Bill, and not the title, that we deal with on the second reading. As to the particular measure under discussion, will any one argue that the principle discussed on the second reading was whether or not it was desirable -to amend the Elec:toral Act? The principle discussed was whether it was desirable to amend the Electoral Act in the direction indicated in the Bill.

Senator Best - Does the honorable senator say that we did not discuss parliamentary elections machinery generally?

Senator TRENWITH - Decidedly we did; but the question I ask is whether the principle discussed on the second reading was the desirableness of (amending^ the Electoral Act. The principle submitted and discussed was whether it was desirable to amend the principal Act in the direction indicated in the Bill. In Committee we do not discuss principles, but provide machinery to give effect to the principles adopted on the second reading. What principle in the present Bill does Senator O'Keefe seek to amend? It is not pretended that his proposal is an amendment of any provision in the Bill. It is distinctly a new clause. No doubt new clauses are admissible, and often necessary, in order to make more complete the machinery for giving effect to the principle previously adopted on the second reading. But this is a proposal to initiate an entirely new electoral principle, so far as the Commonwealth is concerned. I do not pretend to say whether that principle be good or bad, but I contend that our liberty is not in the slightest degree restricted if we are prevented from discussing or adopting it as an amendment in the Bill. If we believe in the principle, it is competent for any one to introduce a Bill giving effect to it.

Senator O'Keefe - I can give reasons why I did not introduce a Bill.

Senator TRENWITH - The honorable senator may have perfectly good reasons, but he is in no way prevented from introducing a Bill. Our liberty might be very materially restricted if such a proposal could be made as an amendment in this Bill. Many honorable senators reside at a great distance from ihe Seat of Government, and have their own private affairs to attend to, and, having voted for the second reading of a Bill containing only principles which meet with their approval, they might absent themselves, confident that all that remained to be done was to furnish machinery to carry into effect those principles. If those who disagree with the President's ruling are correct, those honorable senators might find subsequently that some other and entirely different principle had been embodied in the Bill by way of amendment.

Senator O'Keefe - It would be honorable senators' own fault for not being present.

Senator TRENWITH - The honorable senator is not quite correct' in that view. If it be declared a fault to be absent from the Senate, we shall 'require some further standing order. Under existing conditions a new principle cannot be introduced into a Bill in Committee, but all amendments must be relevant to the subjectmatter, not of the Act we are amending, but of the Bill before Parliament. Senator Best fell into an error when he read from a Bill and, construing it as if it were an Act of Parliament, argued on that basis. The honorable and learned senator was reading a Bill which, if carried in its piesent form, provides that when it becomes an Act it shall be read in conjunction with the original Act; but it does not follow that the Bill must be read now in conjunction with the original Act.

Senator Best - I say that we have both under discussion at the present time.

Senator TRENWITH - Decidedly we have the original Act under discussion, in so far as the clauses of the Bill refer to it; but the other portions of the original Act are not now before us. That is the conclusion to which my reading and knowledge of parliamentary usage leads me, in view of all recent parliamentary practice. What decides the question of relevancy. is not the title, but the subject-matter of the Bill. If that were not sp, it would be worth while establishing a precedent to resist in Committee the introduction of so striking an innovation as the proposed amendment, containing, as that amendment does, a principle about which there is the strongest possible difference of opinion. Of course, we cannot express an opinion now as to the merits of the amendment, but it is of great importance, because it may mean a very much more equitable representation, or, on the other hand, a complete subversion of the principle of representation. To introduce a provision of that 'character, and call it an amendment in the Bill, without showing any point in which it ils relevant to the subjectmatter of the Bill, would, so far from extending the liberty and the privileges of Parliament, very materially restrict the freedom of Parliament to act with due deliberation and perfect consideration at all times, and would be an immense danger to the people whom we represent. I shallcertainly vote to uphold the ruling of the President.

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