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Thursday, 26 October 1905

Senator O'KEEFE (TASMANIA) -You simply say that we can only deal with the clauses contained in the amending Bill, and with such other sections of the original Act as would not involve any alteration of principle. I have given my reasons for maintaining that the suggested amendment does not mean a vital alteration in, principle. But even if it could fairly be considered vital, the Senate would be unwise to adopt your ruling, and thereby restrict our power. It has been said that, if your ruling be not adopted, great confusion will follow; but I should like to direct attention to the confusion which must inevitably result if the ruling be allowed to stand. In the latter case, if a Bill were introduced to amend an Act in certain particulars, and an honorable senator sought to amend it in another particular, he would be told by the Government that his amendment involved a vital principle, and thereupon it would be ruled out of order, and the honorable senator advised to introduce an amending Bill, if he. desired to carry out his object, There are few opportunities to introduce private measures of the kind, but Ave may suppose that an honorable senator is granted time, and does introduce a Bill to amend an Act in one or two particulars. What then may happen? Some other honorable senator may desire to amend the original Act in a particular not covered by the private amending Bill ; and the position on a former occasion is repeated. The second honorable senator may be informed that his proposed amendment involves a vital principle, and that he must introduce a new Bill. It will be seen that, under the ruling of the President, it would be quite possible to have half-a-dozen amending Bills within a year, each dealing with only one or two sections of an original Act; and surely that would mean greater confusion than could be caused by allowing honorable senators to move any amendments they thought proper. In giving his ruling yesterday, the President said -

There would also be this great disadvantage - that if it were necessary to amend an Act of great importance, on' which there was great difference of opinion, so far as the machinery of it was concerned, the Government would shrink from bringing down an amending measure. They would say : " If we bring down a Bill to amend the existing Act, the whole subject-matter of the Act will be open to discussion. It will all be raked in; and, instead of having a short Bill which can be dealt with in a short time, we shall have a long general discussion, and, probably, a radical alteration of the principal Act."

With all due deference to you, sir, I submit that that is a difficulty which could easily be avoided. The Government, if it had any such fear, could always clearly state in the title the definite intention of the Bill, and then it would be quite right to restrict honorable senators to the discussion of the sections of the original Act covered by the title. Then if a Government did not feel fairly sure of a majority, they would not introduce an amending Bill of a contentious character. Both the Government and the Senate would be per-' fectly safeguarded by showing in the title the express purpose of the measure.

The PRESIDENT -Will the honorable senator permit me to say that I do not think the title has anything to do with the question. Whatever a Bill may be called makes no difference to what the Bill is itself.

Senator O'KEEFE - In the early part of the session I intimated to Senator Keating my intention to propose this amendment in the Electoral Act, and until

I learnt that the Government were going to introduce an amending Bill it had been my purpose to take that course myself. Senator Mulcahy has devoted much time ai)d attention to the Hare-Spence system of voting, and has delivered a number of lectures on the subject in Tasmania; and soon after the session opened he assured me, that he would give me his support in the step which I contemplated. Knowing his deep interest in the subject, I suggested that he himself might introduce a Bill, and that I should support him, and that if that measure were defeated I could move an amendment in the Government Bill providing for the alternative of what has been called permissive plumping. However, I have now lost my chance of introducing a Bill, seeing that we are within a few weeks of the end of the session. When I found that the Government intended to introduce an amending Bill, I never for one moment doubted that it would be open to myself or any other honorable senator, to propose any reasonable amendment in the principal Act, although such amendment might affect sections with which the Government did not propose to interfere. If we are to be confined to the procedure which you, sir, have outlined, and in which the honorary Minister professes- to believe, what is the position? As I have pointed out, half-a-dozen alterations in the principal Act will mean half-a-dozen separate amending Balls, whereas if we follow the procedure which commends itself- to myself and others, all desired amendments can be made in one Bill. Admitting, for the sake of argument merely, that my proposed amendment does involve an alteration of principle, I submit that we should make our procedure as elastic as possible. That was the view taken by Senator Keating three or four years ago, when another measure was under consideration. The feeling of the Senate has always been in favour of enlarging, rather than of restricting, discussion, always, of course, observing reasonable bounds. If ever there was a machinery Bill, it was that dealing with the Post and Telegraph business; but an honorable senator proposed quite an innovation, when he submitted an amendment providing that only white crews should be employed on subsidized mail steamers. That amendment surely represented a most vital alteration in principle, of a much more far-reaching character than the amendment which I desire to have considered. Speaking from memory, I think that Senator Keating, who on this occasion supports your ruling, wasa strong advocate of the amendment I have just referred to. Senator Pulsford and others, on that occasion, contended that, asit was a machinery Bill, an honorable senator had no right to introduce a vital amendment, foreign altogether to the scope of the measure - that the Senate had no right to consider such a proposal. Yet two Ministers, who are upholding the President's ruling on the ground that my amendment seeks to bring about a vital alteration in principle, voted on that occasion for the amendment then proposed.

The PRESIDENT - Does the honorable senator think that that has anything to dowith the matter before the Senate?

Senator O'KEEFE - I certainly think it has, and I do not think that you, sir, should prevent me from giving illustrationsin support of my motion.

The PRESIDENT - I have no desire to do so; but will the honorable senator say whether any ruling was given in connexion with the amendment to which he refers ?

Senator O'KEEFE - My best answer to the question is that what was then proposed was allowed. An amendment involving a new principle entirely foreign tothe purpose of the Post and Telegraph Bill was allowed to be made in that Bill. The principle with which that amendment dealt had not even been thought of when the Bill was introduced. If ever there was an instance in which an amendment was moved involving a principle entirely foreign to the purpose of the Bill, as brought in by the Government, that was surely one. If your ruling, Mr. President, was taken on the point, it must have been in favour of permitting the amendment to be made.

The PRESIDENT - I never gave any ruling on that point; it was never brought before me.

Senator O'KEEFE - I know that the question was raised, ' that the proposal that the Commonwealth should pay only for the services of white labour, was entirely foreign to the purposes of the Bill. I have mentioned the matter to show that, in the past, our practice has been rather to enlarge than to restrict the powers of discussion, possessed by honorable senators. You, sir, have ruled against my amendment on the ground that it involves a vital alteration of principle, and . honorable senators who are supporting your ruling are doing so on that ground. I feel that I am, therefore, at liberty to direct your attention to the fact that a different course has been adopted in connexion with, analogous cases which have occurred in the Senate in the past.. Another matter entirely foreign to the purpose of the Bill was introduced by way of amendment when we were considering the Post and Telegraph Bill. As brought down by the Government, that Bill was simply a measure to provide for taking over the Post and Telegraph Departments of the States, and for the establishment of a single Department for the Commonwealth. It contained no provision dealing with the wages to be paid by persons in the employment of the Commonwealth, but an amendment was introduced providing that any contractor employed by the Commonwealth Government should pay the rate of wages ruling in the district in which he carried out his contract. Surely that amendment involved an alteration of principle foreign to the Bill as introduced. These two instances entirely support my contention that the Senate from the outset has desired in regulating its procedure to give the fullest possible opportunity for discussion, consistent with the proper conduct of business, rather than to restrict it in any way. I say that, when you ruled that this amendment involves a vital alteration of principle, and is of such a far-reaching character, that it ought not to be introduced into the Bill, you must have forgotten the procedure of the Senate in the past.

Senator Walker - The honorable senator should remember that the Post and Telegraph Bill was an original Bill, and not an amending Bill.

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