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Friday, 31 August 1906

Senator DRAKE (Queensland) . - This is a Bill to amend the Constitution, and, as such, it ought to be approached with great deliberation and caution. We ought to be extremely chary of making alterations in the Constitution. I fully appreciate our powers of amendment, and they should be used whenever a case of overwhelming, necessity arises, and the wellbeing of the whole people is concerned. But, if we err at all, we should err in the direction of over-cautiousness, because it is not only the Constitution of the Commonwealth as a. political body, but it is also the charter of the States, having been accepted by their people as a compromise between the sovereignty which had previously been exercised bv the States and the new sovereignty which it created.

Senator Givens - But that is safeguarded, because the Constitution cannot be altered without the consent of the majority of the States.

Senator DRAKE - I know al] the steps which are necessary in order to insure an amendment of the Constitution, and they are not too rigid to be overcome in the case of necessity ; but I still adhere te* my view that, as the fundamental instrument of government, we should be very chary in making amendments therein. There is a tendency, I am sorry to say, at certain times - and it has been emphasized of late-with parties or individual politicians who have schemes, perhaps perfectly right arid proper ones, for carrying out certain matters under the Constitution, as soon as they are confronted with a difficulty in the Constitution, to say, "Oh, let us amend it." Practically, the principle they adopt is, " We hold certain views with regard to particular matters. If they are not in accordance with the Constitution, so much the worse for it : alter it."

Senator Pearce - It cannot be worse for the Constitution unless the views are in accordance with the opinions of the majority of the people.

Senator DRAKE - I am only pleading now for deliberation and caution, and the honorable senator must see the application of my remarks. During the past few years I have heard a great number of amendments in the Constitution proposed, and in almost every case, after having gone very carefully into' the matter, I have come to the conclusion that the Constitution is right, in the interests of the whole of the people, and that the proposals are not right. I believe that no amendment of the Constitution is necessary at the present time, and I should not be disposed to budge from that position unless an overwhelming case were made out to my satisfaction. In the present case, I have come to the conclusion, that there is no necessity to amend the Constitution. The reason which is put forward generally is that we have had two elections close to the end of the year, that that is an inconvenient time for certain sections of the people, and that therefore the Constitution should be altered in order to allow1 the elections to be held at some other time in the year.

Senator Pearce - We have had only one election near the end of the year.

Senator DRAKE - I thank the honorable senator for the correction. The first general election was held in March, and the last near the end of the year. We are told that, on account of the inconvenience of that period, we should proceed to amend the Constitution. Even if that be so, and there is nothing in the Constitution to require the elections to take place in December, I would point out that in such a vast territory as Australia, and with such varieties of climate we should never find any time in the year which would be equally convenient to everybody and every section. If we altered the Constitution so as to have the elections in March, we should assuredly find certain sections of the public complaining that that was a most inconvenient time to them. Pursuing the same course, there would be another agitation to amend the Constitution, in order to have the elections held at another date, and we might be engaged from year to year in tinkering with the Constitution, in order to find a date which would suit everybody. That, however, is impossible. The Constitution at the present time allows one year - from the ist January to the 31st December - for the holding of elections for the Senate. The objection which Senator Millen raises to elections taking place a long time before the expiration of the term of office of sena tors is not, I think, sufficiently strong to justify us in making any alteration in the present arrangement, because I do not agree with him that there is anything to lead us to believe that an honorable senator who knows that his term of office will expire at the end of the year will be less attentive to his legislative duties than he would be in other circumstances. There are several honorable senators who have allowed it to be known for twelve months that they are not going up for re-election at the end of their term of office, but we have not found them in the discharge of their legislative duties one whit less attentive than they were previously.

Senator Millen - Are they living far from here?

Senator DRAKE - No, they live quite close.

Senator Millen - That makes a big difference.

Senator DRAKE - I do not think that a senator from another State who had made up his mind not to stand for re-election would be less attentive to the discharge of his duties than he had been before. That is not, I think, a consideration which should weigh with us, and, as I have said, the Constitution allows the senators to be elected at any time .in the year, if that course be considered desirable, when there may be an election taking place for the House of Representatives. I want to call attention to a point which apparently has escaped the notice of Ministers, and, perhaps, of Senator Millen, and which must be remembered throughout the debate, and that is that the election of the senators is a States matter. It is the State Governor who issues the writ, and the State Parliament which makes the law in regard to the time of choosing the senators for a State.

Senator Keating - " The times and places."

Senator DRAKE - Section 9 says -

The Parliament of a State may make laws for determining .the times and places of elections of senators for the State. and section 12 provides that -

The Governor of any State may cause writs to be issued for elections of senators for the State.

That, to my mind, makes, it perfectly clear that the election of senators is in the hands of the States. We cannot compel the Governor of a State to issue writs for the election of senators at any time if he does not choose to do so. Under the law made by its. Parliament he may select any time in the last year of the expiring term of office. In one State one period may be more convenient ; in another State another period may be more convenient; and there is nothing in the Constitution that I can see to prevent the States individually from choosing various times for the election of senators. Suppose that we had an election for the House of Representatives taking place in March, and that in a particular State it was considered inconvenient to hold the election of senators at any time later than that, the elections could take place simultaneously. It is of no use for us as a Federal Parliament to raise questions as to the desirability of senators being chosen a long time beforehand. The answer to that is that the Constitution allows the whole of the year for the purpose, and puts the whole matter in the hands of the State, so that it can choose its own time. Under these circumstances what advantage can be gained by passing this Bill? Supposing that the proposed alteration of the Constitution were made so far as the time for electing the senators was concerned - and that we are told is the object - it could be entirely passed over by a State, and the only difference which would be made then, and which we have the power to make, would be to add six months to the term of office pf the senators next elected. The particular object which it is supposed would be attained by the proposed amendment of the Constitution would be no advantage whatever. It would be very inadvisable for us to pass the Bill unless we could attain some definite and useful purpose. With regard to the other House we have nothing to do with their electoral arrangements.

Senator Millen - What !

Senator DRAKE - I mean to say that we cannot affect the time at which the election of members of that House shall take place, because a dissolution might occur at any time. Its members are not elected for a fixed term, and if we altered the Constitution with the idea that the elections for the two Houses would be held simultaneously, and that thereby expense would be saved, it might be upset in a moment bv a dissolution of the other House taking place at some time not coincident with the end of the term. Unless I change my opinion bv reason of any arguments I .may hear, I shall feel compelled to vote against the second reading of the Bill.

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