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Thursday, 26 October 1905

The CHAIRMAN - It is irregular to postpone a portion of an amendment.

Senator Pearce - Why not allow these sub-clauses to foe carried, and recommit the new clause for further consideration.

Senator MILLEN - I am willing that that course should be followed if the Minister assures me that an opportunity will be afforded for their reconsideration.

Senator Keating - I have no objection to that.

Sub-clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.

Proposed new clause agreed to.

Postponed clause 9 -

Section fifteen of the Principal Act is amended -

(a)   by omitting the words " a quota shall be ascertained in each State," and inserting in lieu thereof the words " the Chief Electoral Officer shall, whenever necessary, ascertain a quota for each State"; and

(b)   by omitting the whole of the last paragraph, beginning with the words " until rolls are compiled."

Senator MILLEN(New South Wales). - Section 15 of the principal Act which this clause proposes to amend, provides that -

For the purposes of this Act a quota shall be ascertained in each State as follows : -

It is here proposed that that should read -

For the purposes of this Act the Chief Electoral Officer shall, whenever necessary, ascertain a quota for each State.

I take exception to the use of thewords " whenever necessary." Honorable senators are aware that in connexion with' the Electoral Bill and the Representation Bill I have been contending that our electoral machinery should, so far as the proportion of representation and the division of States into electorates are concerned, operate automatically. But here I am met with the proviso that the Chief Electoral Officer shall ascertain the quota " whenever necessary." When is that? The term is extremely vague, and open to all the possibilities of indefiniteness, postponement, and delay. When Senator Keating introduced the Representation Bill, he quoted these words from section 24 of the Constitution, and said that it was desirable that we should legislate - and his reference was to the Representation, Bill - because this phrase used in the Constitution was rather vague. I interjected, " The Minister admits that it is vague?" The honorable senator replied, " Undoubtedly," and I then said that the phrase was vague, whether in a Bill or in the Constitution. I now remind the honorable and learned senator that he has admitted that this phrase is vague, and that I object to vagueness of this kind. I think that a clear direction should be given to the Chief Electoral Officer as to when he shall ascertain the quota. I am afraid that it will be a little difficult to amend the clause to give effect to what I desire, and that it may be necessary to draft an entirely new clause.

Senator Givens - It might be allowed to go as it is for the present, on the understanding that it would be recommitted.

Senator MILLEN - I have no objection to that, but I am prepared to test the feeling of the Committee by moving that the words " whenever necessary " be left out.

Senator Guthrie - We should know what is to be substituted.

Senator MILLEN - I propose to substitute a definite direction that the Chief Electoral Officer shall determine the quota at certain specified times, and, if honorable senators please, periodically. The matter should not be left so vague as it will be if these words " whenever necessary " are used. Who is to determine when the necessity will arise? We know the principle on which we have to work. Whenever the number of electors in any electorate is above or below the quotabeyond a certain specified margin, there should be a redistribution. This can only be ascertained by continually watching the movements of population, and I think that there should be a direction to the electoral officer to ascertain the quota with some frequency. The difficulty is that it is only by ascertaining the quota that we can tell whether the movement of population has been such as to render action necessary. Strange as it may seem, we must ascertain the quota in order to discover whether ft is necessary to ascertain it. All that is required to be done is to divide the electors of a. State by the number of members to which it is entitled. New South Wales, for instance, returned twenty-six members to the House of Representatives, and to ascertain the quota in that State we must divide the total number of electors for the State by twenty-six. This is done for the purpose of ascertaining whether in any electorate the number of electors hasunduly increased or diminished, and the object of that again is to -discover whether a redistribution is necessary. I do not know the feeling of the Committee or the Minister in the matter, but it seems to me that there is a very serious objection to the use of the phrase "whenever necessary." Several alternatives might be substituted. We might provide that the quota shall be ascertained periodically, that it shall be done annually, or every two or three years, or on the enumeration days proposed to be provided for under the Representation Bill. I am not wedded to any of these alternatives, but I strongly object to the vague term " whenever necessary." I propose to strike these words out, and I believe that the Minister or his officers, if that is agreed to, will be prepared to assist me in drafting an amendment which may properly take their place. I move -

That the words " whenever necessary," lines 6 and 7, be left out.

Senator KEATING(Tasmania- Honor: ary Minister). - These words occur in this clause, which is designed to amend section 15 of the Act, the first paragraph of which reads -

For the purposes of this Act, a quota shall be ascertained in each State as follows : -

When we were passing that Act we were formulating, for the first time, the electoral machinery of the Commonwealth. That provision could only take effect in connexion with the first determination of the quota, and, so to speak, its operation has now been exhausted, because the quota has been determined in accordance with it. It may be necessary, because of the drift of population, that the quota shall be taken from time to time, and we propose by this clause to perpetuate that provision ; but we are not fixing any specific time when the quota shall be determined, and on the contrary provide that it shall be determined " whenever necessary."

Senator Millen - How can that time be determined ?

Senator KEATING - " Whenever necessary " would be whenever the drift of population, would be such as to necessitate fresh consideration of the quota.

Senator Millen - How can that be determined unless the quota is first ascertained ?

Senator KEATING - Undoubtedly it can. One can note the difference in population and the difference in representation, and the quota can then be determined by dividing the whole number of electors of a State by the number of representatives for that State. As has been pointed out by Senator Millen, the words " whenever necessary," are used in the Constitution, and before we strike thom out here the honorable senator ought to be able to supply us \Vlt something which will take their place, and will meet the circumstances of the case more efficiently than these words do. We are proposing to make perpetual a provision which was made in the principal Act only for the case of the first determination of the quota. The operation of the provision is now exhausted, but the necessity for the determination of the quota from time to time still remains. It is desirable that the quota shall be ascertained whenever occasion requires, though not necessarily every year or two years. In one State it may not be necessary once in five years, but in another State it may be. Until Senator Millen can point out better words that he intends to substitute I shall ask the Committee not to agree to his amendment.

Senator PEARCE(Western Australia).I think that the difficulty may be overcome by linking up this Bill with the Representation Bill. It is provided' in the latter Bill that there shall be an enumeration day every five years, that upon that enumeration taking place the Chief Electoral Officer shall issue a certificate as to the number of the population, and divide the .State for the purpose of ascertaining the quota, and that his certificate shall be laid on the table of each House. Why can we not say that whenever the necessity is shown by that certificate-

Senator Millen - The quota referred to in 'the Representation Bill has nothing to do with this quota.

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