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Tuesday, 31 October 1905

Senator HENDERSON (Western Australia) - I could understand this amendment if Parliament were a similar, body to the Commission we have already decided shall control electoral matters. If members of Parliament were appointed for a life-time, they might be regarded as having a. decided interest in the modus- operandi of dividing the electorates. But when these matters come before Parliament every member will regard them from the stand-point that he is judging, not a position that affects himself, but one which probably will affect some other persons. Consequently, if we simply regard the question from the* selfish point of view, the argument that a member 'of Parliament would be the judge in a matter affecting his own interests falls to the ground.

Senator Millen - Has the honorable senator forgotten what happened when the scheme for the division of New South Wales was before another place?

Senator HENDERSON - All the same, I am opposed to taking away the rights of Parliament in these matters. Otherwise we might carry the proposal to its logical conclusion, and delegate the business of Parliament to a Commission, merely assembling for the purpose of appointing the Commissioners, on whose shoulders the whole responsibility would be thrown. As representing the people Parliament ought to take absolute control of the electoral machinery, on which the electors depend, as an instrument whereby they can express their will. I shall vote against the amendment.

Senator DOBSON(Tasmania).- Unlike Senator Trenwith, I should say that under the amendment, corruption would be absolutely impossible. How can we conceive that any man would be able to bribe the Commissioners to such an extent that they would make a dishonest division? Even suppose it were possible to bribe the Commissioners, no one would have the faintest idea what the divisions were to be until they had been submitted, and thereby had become law. The three Commissioners have to consider the question from the geographical point of view, combined with that of community of interests, and I cannot conceive it to be possible that they could be bribed.

Senator MILLEN(New South Wales). - I wish to point out to honorable senators opposite ' some facts which' absolutely destroy the very pretty theories they have been weaving this afternoon. I have no wish to affirm that members of Parliament are different from the ordinary run of human beings ; in my opinion, there is just as much human nature to the square inch inside Parliament as there is outside - no more, and no less. But those who affirm that members of Parliament would be unmoved in their judgment by any personal interests in these matters, ought to consider what took place a few months ago, when the scheme for the redistribution of New South Wales was before another place. I shall not make any statements against anybody who voted on that occasion. But I draw attention to the curious fact that the representative of every constituency which had numbers below the quota voted against the scheme, while the representatives of every constituency which had numbers above the quota voted for it. Was that all coincidence? Am I not right in assuming that consciously, or unconsciously, the judgment of those members of Parliament was swayed to some extent by the circumstances in which they individually found themselves? I could multiply instances to show that difficulty has always attended efforts to bring about a reduction in the number of members, or an alteration of electorates, in the States Parliaments. Such schemes have always been held back until the last moment.

Senator Playford - The electors do not like to be linked to a district to which they are not accustomed.

Senator MILLEN - It does not matter what the electors like in the present instance. The people of the Commonwealth have adopted a Constitution which provides a basis of numerical equality.

Senator Trenwith - It is a pity we cannot devise some automatic method.

Senator MILLEN - I think that the method I propose is as nearly automatic as we can very well make it. A quota is given to the Commissioners, with a margin above and below; and if we stopped there the scheme would be absolutely automatic. The fact that the scheme is practically automatic is not disturbed by the following direction, which is not mandatory; but merely an intimation that, as far as possible, community of interests shall be taken into consideration. But considerations of community of interests are not to override the quota; the former is merely one of the matters to be considered.

Senator Trenwith - That direction might be made an excuse for " gerrymandering."

Senator MILLEN - Is it suggested that the three officials are likely to be guilty of " gerrymandering " ?

Senator Trenwith - I do not say that these three officials are likely to be guilty, but some three officials might be likely to "gerrymander."

Senator MILLEN - Just as we prefer to trust the Judges, I prefer to trust the Commissioners, who need not be the officials whom I have named in the clause.

Senator Styles - In the case of Judges there is an appeal.

Senator MILLEN - There is no appeal from the decision of the Court of Disputed Returns. The automatic character of the method I propose could only be destroyed in one contingency, namely, that the three Commissioners were hopelessly corrupt.

Senator Styles - Or incompetent !

Senator MILLEN - Incompetent Commissioners might do some little injury to community of interests, but they could not get away from numbers. _ Ability would tell where one Commissioner was better able than another to adjust numbers with due regard to community of interest. I decline to believe that corrupt persons would be intrusted with this work. One argument in support of my proposal is. that unless it be adopted, it would be possible for another place to deprive a State of an additional member given to it under the Representation Bill. At present Western Australia returns five members to the House of Representatives, but the time will come when that number ought to be increased to six, and yet the scheme, providing for the increase, might be so delayed that at the next ensuing election Western Australia would be able to return only five members. On the other hand, New South Wales, for instance, might lose a member - and that is by no means improbable as time goes on - and yet the scheme for dividing the State into twenty-five electorates, instead of twenty-six, might not be presented by the Minister as promptly as it ought to be, with the result that at the next election that State would return one more member than it was entitled to. All these are grave reasons why this matter should be out of the reach of Parliament, or any persons who would be likely to have their judgment swayed by personal interests. For that reason, I trust that the Committee will support not only the amendment, but the decision already arrived at. It was clearly understood when the Committee adopted the first portion of mv amendment what it would lead to. Senator Styles shakes his head, but if I am not right, then I can only say that the Senate did what is very unusual, and voted in the dark. In outlining this amendment, I outlined the whole scheme, not once, but twice, and it seemed to me that honorable senators knew clearly the further amendments that were to follow.

Senator STYLES(Victoria).- Senator Millen, when speaking last week, reminded us that we were dealing with this particular amendment, and not the others, which were to follow. The honorable senator seemed to attach a great deal of importance to the fact that the twenty-six members who represent New South Wales in another place were dissatisfied with the scheme of redistribution presented some time ago.

Senator Millen - I did not say that the whole twenty -six were dissatisfied, because the majority who represented the larger electorates voted for the new scheme.

Senator STYLES - That , means that only ten or a dozen members were dissatisfied with the scheme, and the question arises what were the balance of the seventyfive members of another place doing to allow their judgment to be swayed in the way indicated?

Senator Millen - Was there not some dissatisfaction also in regard to Victoria? If the dissatisfied men of one State voted with the dissatisfied men of another they could make up a majority.

Senator STYLES - I do not think that Parliament would countenance such a wrong. Even if the whole twenty-six members for New South Wales had been dissatisfied, it does not follow that they could persuade the majority, who can always hold the scales of justice.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator knew as well as I did what was going on.

Senator STYLES - I am not so much behind the scenes as is the honorable senator. I hope the Committee will reject the amendment.

Senator PULSFORD(New South Wales). - In view of the fact that there is a very small attendance this afternoon, I suggest to the Ministerin charge of the Bill that he should agree to defer the division on the amendment until to-morrow.

Senator KEATING(Tasmania Honorary Minister). - Honorable senators knew on Friday last that Senator Millen intended to submit these amendments today. Ministers have repeatedly stated that the business will be taken in the orderin which it appears on the notice-paper. In deference to the request of honorable senators, I have just agreed1 not to take up the consideration of the motion in connexion with the Canadian mail service, but if we . are now to hold up the consideration of the Electoral Bill because, for various reasons, some senators are absent, we shall never be able to know what business will be before the Senate.

Senator Givens - I might ask the Minister to postpone the next matter.

Senator KEATING - We might be asked to postpone the consideration of the Census and Statistics Bill, or to remove the Commerce Bill from the notice-paper. It is not as if the amendments had been sprung on the Committee. They were indicated by Senator Millen on the second reading; they were the subject of a President's ruling on Friday last, and honorable senators were aware that they would form the first busi ness to be dealt with to-day. In the circumstances, I cannot consent to the suggestion made by Senator Pulsford.

Senator Pulsford - The Minister will admit that there will be a fair claim for a reconsideration of the Bill in a full Senate.

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