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Thursday, 26 October 1905

Senator GIVENS (Queensland) - I should probably agree with your ruling, sir, as being in accordance with ancient precedent, if I thought that ancient precedent were a proper guide for this Senate.

Senator Lt Col Gould - It is in accord with modern precedent.

Senator GIVENS - If some honorable senators had their way> we should always act on ancient precedent. They take the view that because people in bygone ages, or, it may be, in recent times, have laid down a certain rule, we should slavishly follow that rule, whether it be right or wrong. I do not hold with that doctrine. 1 agree with you, sir, when you say that we are laying down a practice for ourselves; and it is for that reason that I am exceedingly anxious, in framing precedents for the future guidance of Parliament - though I hope no future Parliament will slavishly follow our precedents - to be careful that our mode of procedure is in a right direction. For that reason, I take the liberty, with all due respect, to differ from your ruling. I' hold the idea very strongly that we should have the power to amend in the fullest possible degree every Bill brought before us. Undoubtedly, in theory, we have that power, and I believe that in practice also we have it, provided the amendments are relevant to the Bill.

Senator Trenwith - That is the whole question.

Senator GIVENS - The whole matter in dispute now is whether the amendment proposed by Senator O'Keefe is relevant to the Bill before us. Without labouring the details, an examination of the Bill from the title onwards goes to show that it is a Bill to amend the existing Electoral Act. It proposes the amendment of that Act in many and various ways. To my mind, the amendment proposed by Senator O'Keefe - the merits of which I do not propose to discuss at this stage - is merely a minor amendment, which does not deal with any important matter of principle, as some honorable senators would have us believe. It deals with the question as to how the elector, on whom we have conferred the franchise, shall exercise his vote - the limits within which he shall exercise it.

Senator Trenwith - Is not that a very important matter of principle?

Senator GIVENS - It is not. The conferring of the vote is an important- matter of principle. We deal with an important principle when we say who shall, and who shall not, have the right to a vote. We dealt with an exceedingly important principle when we conferred1 the franchise on the female portion of the population. That was an entirely novel principle, in connexion with which it might well have been appropriate to go through all the circumlocution desired by Senator Trenwith'.

Senator Trenwith - It was no newer than is this. There are more places in which female franchise exists than there are places where the Hare-Spence system is in vogue, or where plumping is permitted.

Senator GIVENS - What is the real cause of the trouble in this instance? It is that we are asked, in an amending Bill, to amend the electoral law so extensively as practically to repeal one-half of it, and the proposal is submitted to us in a piece-meal fashion. This amending Bill should have been brought down in such a form that its first clause would have proposed the repeal of the principal Act, and then the new electoral law should have been set out in full.

Senator Trenwith - And that has not been done.

Senator GIVENS - It has not been done, and that is the cause of the trouble. If that course had been adopted we should have had the whole subject under full review, and we should have been enabled to pass an electoral law in accordance with the desire of Parliament.

Senator Trenwith - And now we have not that opportunity.

Senator GIVENS - I submit that we have. I say that if the practice of introducing in this fashion amending Bills of so far-reaching a character is to prevail, and we are to be prohibited from proposing important amendments, because no reference is made to the subject with which they deal in the amending Bill submitted for our consideration, the power of Parliament disappears immediately. It becomes a mere myth, and Ministers are the bosses of the situation. What should be the position occupied by Ministers in respect to Parliament? Unfortunately, it is not what it should be. The position which they should occupy is that of a mere committee of Parliament holding certain positions in order to carry out the wishes and desires of Parliament. Instead of occupying that position they have unsurped almost the sole power in the past, and unless we take a strong stand they will continue to usurp power in the future. They come down with an amending Bill, and say, "We desire to amend .the existing ,law in this fashion, and in no other." I say that when a Ministry adopts that tone to their masters - to the country, and members representing the people - the shorter shrift a Government of that kind gets the better for the country and Parliament also.

The PRESIDENT - Does the honorable senator think that he is discussing the question ?

Senator GIVENS - I am, because I am dealing with the cause of the trouble in which we find ourselves at present, and I am trying to find a way out of the difficulty. Ministers come down here and say, in the most arrogant fashion, "You must amend the Set in this particular direction, and in no other." So we have Senator Keating practically telling us that it is entirely outside our province to do anything whatever with the principal Act unless we do it at the express wish and invitation, of. the Government, as if the members of the present Ministry were bosses of the whole situation, and could dictate to a free Parliament and a free people. I entirely repudiate their right to assume any such position. It will be a bad day for Parliament and for the country when any such attitude on the part of the Government will be tolerated. It is exceedingly important that the rights of the Committee of the Senate to deal with a Bill of this nature should not be too much restricted. I agree with the ruling laid down by the President that no entirely new and foreign principle can be introduced by way of amendment into a Bill in Committee. But I point out that we are not by the amendment proposed by Senator O'Keefe seeking to introduce an alteration 'pf the law, involving a new departure, as, for instance, the proposal to adopt the Hare-Spence system of voting would have done. I think the President very properly ruled that proposal out of order. By Senator O'Keefe's amendment we merely propose to discuss whether it is better that we should adopt the method of voting in force at the first Commonwealth election or that adopted for the second election. Apart altogether from the merits of the two methods of voting, which I do not propose to discuss, I ask honorable senators whether there is any great departure in principle involved in an amendment of this kind. Is it not a fact that the method of voting, adopted without too much consideration in the principal Act, was adopted more by way of experiment than anything else? The proposal to adopt that method was a distinct departure from the old method of voting, which gave an elector the right to vote as he pleased ; but the new method having been adopted in the principal Act, Senator O'Keefe desires that the matter shall be reopened in the consideration of this amending Bill, which proposes to amend the principal Act in a very far-reaching manner. I respectfully submit that the amendment should not have been ruled out of order, and that if the ruling is to stand it will undoubtedly restrict the right of the Committee to amend a Bill in what might be considered a desirable direction. For these reasons I am reluctantly compelled to vote against the ruling gwen by the President.

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