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Wednesday, 29 August 1906

Senator HIGGS (Queensland) . - I think it is a matter for congratulation that the Senate has at last discovered itself. For nearly five years we have sought for a weapon by which we might punish a Government if we so desired. On various occasions we have passed resolutions concerning the conduct and attitude of different Governments towards the Senate, but never until the present time have we discovered any effective method of giving expression to our protest. Our resolutions have been passed by with a most amused remark or sarcastic reference to the powers of the Senate. We have never been able toget the Senate to take very positive action to enforce its view. I dare say that if the time should ever come when the Senate will deem it necessary to reject a Bill, not once but a second time, if the measure is important enough it will stand to its guns. But there are minor occasions on which it is necessary that it should express its opinion.

Senator Pulsford - On what has it expressed its opinion now?

Senator HIGGS - The honorable senator is too well informed with regard to the discussion of matters in the Federal Parliament not to know what was the expression of opinion, and the reason for it. There are times when both the present Opposition

Senator Millen - And the future one?

Senator HIGGS - The future one, if the honorable senator likes to put it in that way, and honorable senators on this side are in accord, and wish to express in an emphatic manner their views with regard to the action of the Government.

Senator Lt Col Gould - It is a funny way to do it by playing the part of the truant.

Senator HIGGS - It might be a funny way to do it in an ordinary Legislature, and it might be a peculiar way in a Legislative Council. I am sorry to think that some members of another place, and a section of the public and the newspapers, have not got over the impression that the Senate is a mere Upper House. It will be well for them and the public generally when they get to realize that it is something more.

Senator Pulsford - Will the honorable senator connect his remarks with the motion?

Senator HIGGS - I thought I was doing so. The motion contains a reference to the count-out on Friday, and I propose to come to that. The weapon which we. have discovered is one which - comes down as still as snowflakes fall upon the sod.

It must not be used thoughtlessly, and I am sure that honorable senators will find it very effective. If on non-party questions, or even on party questions - and I am not singling out the present Government for distinction - a majority of honorable senators find it necessary, to express their opinion, the most effective way which we have discovered up to the present time is a count-out.

Senator Guthrie - Is to stop supplies.

Senator HIGGS - We might have to do that later on, but the count-out will be a very effective way to bring before the public any action on the part of a Government which we think should be specially emphasized.

Senator Sir JOSIAHSYMON (South Australia) [2.45]. - Whilst I thoroughly agree with the sentiment with which my honorable friend opened his remarks - that it is essential that the dignity, the importance, and the power of the Senate should be maintained on all occasions, I am not a;t all sure - in fact, I am convinced of the contrary - that a count-out is exactly the weapon which it ought to use. There are many other and more effective ways in which it can assert itself, and whilst I concur in what my honorable friend has said as to the tendency of late - in fact, during the last five years - to consider that the Senate has not maintained the high place under the Constitution which was anticipated for it, still we have not, I think, utilized the powers; and weapons which are in our hands, and which are much more effective for the purpose than a count-out. A countout establishes nothing. If the Senate is unanimous, or if a majority of honorable senators so desire, they have other ways of asserting their opinion on the conduct of the Government. I need not indicate what thev are, and perhaps it would not be relevant to do so. A count-out, I repeat, establishes nothing, except that in the minds of the few who are in the chamber at the moment there is a feeling that if there is important business on the notice-paper, it is not fair that it should be transacted with a minimum number of senators present. That is all it indicates.

Senator Guthrie - It meant more on Friday. It meant stopping the grant of supply.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - I was not here on Friday- I am merely referring to Senator Higgs' suggestion that the Senate has discovered itself, and has found one more and glorious weapon. I scarcely think that it is the best weapon to use, or that which will best effect the purpose, although, if on the occasion of a count-out, it were possible that the reasons for that event and the particular conduct which was sought to be censured were brought under the notice of not merely the Senate but the public by that means, then what my honorable friend has said would, I think, be well founded.

Senator Pearce - We seize the first weapon that comes to hand.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - I do not wish to discuss that, because I was not here. Whilst quite agreeing with what Senator Higgs said, that we ought, on all occasions, to avail ourselves of every weapon we possess to maintain the control and the power of the Senate, to assert it on the highest possible ground, I doubt whether a count-out is exactly that weapon. It has its uses. There may be reasons for employing it that are not generally known, and it is because of the inability to have them plainly stated in the face of the Parliament and public that I think it will scarcely avail my honorable friend for the high purpose which I, in common with him, desire to see carried out.

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