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Tuesday, 31 October 1905

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) - I very much regret that it is necessary to discuss this question to-day, when, for one reason or another, so many honorable senators are absent who were present when it was previously discussed.

Senator Findley - A number of them, are away with the Select0 Committee on the Tobacco Monopoly.

Senator MILLEN - I am not finding fault, with honorable senators because they are absent. On a motion to dissent from a ruling, it is desirable to get the decision of a full Senate, because otherwise the vote given may not express its view. I am sure that you, sir, must be getting somewhat tired of a discussion which has largely hovered round one central fact. If the judgment rested entirely with you I should be quite content to resume my seat, but an appeal 'has been carried from the Chair to the Senate. Your previous decisions seem to me to have marked a very broad distinction, and that is that the Electoral Bill is a measure to amend the Electoral Act, but in one particular only, and that is the machinery provisions. By assenting to the second reading of a Bill we brought under review the machinery, but not the principles, Of the Act. I take it that any machinery portion of the Act, although it be not referred to in the Bill, comes under our review, and is capable of amendment. If that is the true meaning of your ruling, sir, I submit that my amendment is entirely in order, because it deals with machinery only, and not with a principle. What it seeks to do is to vary the machinery by which the State is divided into electorates. Honorable senators have spoken as if it involved a Question of vital principle to take from Parliament a work which hitherto Parliament has reserved to itself. What is the principle in issue? Throughout the Act the Parliament, in a dozen different ways, has divested itself of power which it has handed over to other persons. One work which it did not reserve to itself was (that of testing the validity of elections. That right was reserved in the mother of Parliaments and to most of the States Parliaments. No one has contended that it was absolutely essential that either House of the Parliament should deal with a petition against the return, of one of its members. In the Electoral Act the Parliament has shown that it can divest itself of that portion of the electoral machinery as easily as it can. of any other) portion, because it has been handed over to the determination of a Court. That was purely machinery, and not principle. The main principle of Part III. of the Act is set out in the provision that each State shall be divided into electorates as nearly equal iki the number of electors as possible. The Act went on to say who was to divide the State. It was to be divided by a Commissioner, and he was given certain indications as to the interests he was to consider, and allowed a certain latitude above and below the quota. The Parliament said that in the work of dividing the States into electorates, it would take a hand; but that did not introduce a principle any more than if it had said that the revision of the work should be referred to the High Court. It was merely a part of the machinery of the Act; It had nothing to do with the subdivision of the States. The whole of the other provisions deal not with that overshadowing principle, but with the official who is to design the scheme, and the directions which are given to him as to various factors to be observed in adhering to that principle. I do not wish to institute a comparison, sir, between your ruling on my amendment and that given in another case.

Senator Guthrie - No.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator says " no" as if he thought that I would shrink from doing it.

Senator Guthrie - It does not suit.

Senator MILLEN - I do not know any argument so absolutely worthy of the honorable senator, and so little worthy of a Senate, as a suggestion that honorable senators will ignore an argument of this kind merely because it does not suit. I had another reason in my mind, and it was because I ventured to think that the honorable senator, and perhaps others, are prepared to give judgement, not with regard to the merits of this case, but because they are dissatisfied with a decision on an altogether different matter. Surely I have heard honorable senators speak of the principle of: plumping ! Do they call it a principle now or not? Senator O'Keefe affirmed by his amendment--

Senator DAWSON (QUEENSLAND) - The honorable senator cannot discuss that amendment.

The PRESIDENT - I propose to allow the greatest latitude of discussion, because I do not think that on a motion to dissent from my ruling I ought to draw the line too strictly.

Senator MILLEN - By his amendment Senator O'Keefe sought to lay down the principle known as plumping. Had it been adopted it would have been necessary to provide other clauses to carry out its object. That marks the broad distinction between the two amendments. In one case the principle that a man could plump was sought to be enacted.

Senator Guthrie - That a man should have the right to vote for one or two or three candidates, but not to plump.

Senator MILLEN - The amendment, if carried, would have given a man the right to plump, and in order to enable the right to be exercised machinery would have had to be provided. My amendment, however, is designed to provide machinery to carry out a principle previously laid down. If honorable senators believe that your decision in this case is right, but are inclined to vote against it, because, in their opinion, it is not consistent with a previous ruling, their proper course is to support the motion, and! to take such steps as they may think necessary to rescind a resolution which they deem to be wrong. I have good reason to think that very many of them believe that your latest decision is entirely right. In that case honorable senators ought to vote for upholding the ruling, because, if they think it is correct, it is their duty to say so. If, on the other hand, they think a previous decision is incorrect, the ordinary forms of the Senate are open to them, and they may ask honorable senators to reverse the decision. I submit that honorable senators will stultify themselves and the Chamber if they give a vote by which a decision which they believe to be correct is made to appear to be wrong - that by such a course they will not do justice either to themselves or to the Senate.

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