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Friday, 31 August 1906

Senator HIGGS (Queensland) .- I can see no objection to the Bill, except the uncertainty that must be present in the mind of everybody about any Bill that is brought forward in the expiring hours of a Parliament, when, in our hurry, we may overlook some consequence which might, perhaps, be very inconvenient, if not dangerous. The Bill merely provides, so far as I can see, for an addition of six months to the term of senators who are to be elected this year and of those who will be elected three years later. I do not pay much attention to the dangers which Senator Millen and others have outlined. They seem to me to be imaginary possibilities rather than probabilities. The measure is introduced partly, perhaps, for the convenience of some Members of Parliament - or, rather, partly for the convenience of one House - but mainly in response to a desire that the date of the elections should be altered. I agree with Senator Drake that no matter what date we fix, no matter what season of theyear we determine is the most convenient, circumstances may upset all our arrangements. As a matter of fact, March would not suit us in Queensland, because it is the rainy month. It is certainly inconvenient to be electioneering in wet weather in tropical and sub-tropical country. When elections have been held for the State Parliament in February or in March, and the streams have been flooded, candidates have frequently been prevented from travelling.

Senator Best - April would be suitable.

Senator HIGGS - April and May would suit us better. Those months are usually chosen for the elections for the State Parlialiament for that reason. How much force is there in Senator Millen's contention as to a probable dissolution of the House of Representatives rendering all our efforts in passing this Bill null and void? The tendency of the Federal Parliament is to have regular periods for the elections; and I am inclined to the opinion that there never wall be a double dissolution of the House of Representatives before the Parliament expires by effluxion of time. Members of the House of Representatives view, with a great deal of dread, not the uncertainty of the elections, but the travelling which an election entails. Many members of another place have constituencies larger than the State of Victoria, while candidates for the Senate appeal to constituencies many times larger than some of the countries of Europe. An election is not contemplated with any equanimity, in view of the appalling distances which have to be travelled, and the immense amount of work entailed. Members of the House of Representatives were inconvenienced by the last general election, on which occasion they very generously sacrificed several months of their term of office in order to save the States and the Commonwealth expense. The question of expense will operate against a state of things such as Senator Millen has described. A separate election for the Senate would mean an extra expenditure of something like £50,000, and this in itself would, I think, prove an effectual bar to a dissolution.

Senator Millen - A dissolution of the other House does not rest with the members.

Senator HIGGS - As a rule, when there is a dissolution of a Legislative Assembly, it is in consequence of the action of members who have turned out the Government. Senator Millen has suggested that a sitting senator, who had been rejected at the poll, might, pending the expiration of his term, take his place in the Senate, and share in the work of legislation. It is a matter of some surprise that Senator Millen should at last have assumed the attitude of an advanced reformer. I never before heard Senator Millen complain because in New South Wales, and other States, the system largely obtains of appointing to the Legislative Councils, men who have been rejected by the electors for the Legislative Assemblies. I suppose that the majority of the members of the Legislative Councils in the various States have at one time or other been rejected by the constituencies - that they are men who have lost the confidence of the people, and yet, as members of Second Chambers, are allowed to shape legislation..

Senator de Largie - And they are appointed for ever and aye !

Senator HIGGS - In many instances, members of the Legislative Councils are appointed for life.

Senator Drake - But there is a difference. In the case of senators, their term will not have expired, and, therefore, the case is more one in which somebody else has been selected than one in which senators have been rejected. I imagine that such a case as that suggested by Senator Millen would be very unusual. A period of thirty days may elapse after the return of the writs.

Senator Walker - Which writs?

Senator HIGGS - Not the writs issued in connexion with the bank controlled by the honorable senator - not the writs issued against some poor devil who is not able to pay his interest.

Senator Walker - I am asking whether the honorable senator means the writs of the State Governor or the writs of the GovernorGeneral.

Senator HIGGS - I must apologize to the honorable senator for my little levity. I do not think that any senator rejected at the polls in November, would put in an appearance here to take part in legislation. The State represented by such an honorablesenator, might be franchised to the extent of his vote, but the contingency is not one likely to arise.

Senator Drake - The President of the United States continues in office under similar circumstances.

Senator HIGGS - Senator Drake has contended that we ought not to alter the Constitution.

Senator Drake - What I say is that we should alter the Constitution only with caution.

Senator HIGGS - The honorable senator contended that we should exercise great care and deliberation in making any alteration in the Constitution. There is an advantage about a written Constitution, and there is also an advantage about an unwritten Constitution. Some writ ten Constitutions are a complete bar to progress. Our Constitution, however, contains safeguards which would, I hope, prevent any radical alteration against the interests of the people. In order to effect an amendment of the Constitution, there has to be the consent of a majority of the people and of a majority of the States ; and surely that is sufficient to prevent any detrimental change. The only alterations sought under the Bill are in regard to the date of the elections, and to the extension of the term of honorable senators by six months in either case. I think we may give ourselves the credit of saying that that is a very desirable alteration.

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