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Tuesday, 4 September 1906

Senator PEARCE (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I have not said that the lower percentage in Western Australia was due to the elections being held in December, but that the percentage for the Senate was lowered owing to there being no contest in the Swan division. In that division the lowest percentage of votes recorded in the Commonwealth was polled, owing to the fact that there was no contest for the House of Representatives. But in those divisions in which there was a contest for the House of Representatives a very much larger percentage of votes was recorded for candidates for both the Senate and the House of Representatives. I may add that even in the division of

Swan a more inconvenient month than December could not be suggested. There is a reason also why December is not convenient for electors even in our mining districts. Since the inception of mining in Western Australia, it has been the practice, except in the case of very rich mines on the Golden Mile, for mines to obtain exemptions a fortnight before Christmas for two or three weeks. There is practically a holiday of a month established, and miners during that period go down to the coast. A date late in December would not, therefore, suit even the mining districts of Western Australia. I understand that the reason for the introduction of the Bill is that it is thought that by the alteration proposed we shall be able to hold the elections in March or April, and it is manifestly undesirable that honorable senators who have been defeated at an election should continue to act in the Senate for nearly twelve months after their defeat.

Senator Clemons - That would not be necessary.

Senator PEARCE - It would not be necessary if senators so placed chose to resign.

Senator Clemons - Parliament might be called together earlier.

Senator PEARCE - There is no doubt that we could alter the date of the meeting of the Parliament, but if we were to continue the present practice we might have a defeated senator, a man in whom the State had expressed a want of confidence, continuing to sit here and take part in Commonwealth legislation. I understand that the object of the Bill is to enable the Government to fix some more convenient date for the elections for the majority of the electors, and that to overcome the difficulty of a defeated senator continuing to take part in Commonwealth legislation they propose to put the date on for six months, and to hold the elections between March and June. My knowledge of Australian conditions convinces me that by adopting this course we should secure a larger percentage of the votes of electors, and would enable the majority of the electors to record their votes with less inconvenience than they can do under existing circumstances. Whether the date be fixed for December or June, the election of senators will, no doubt, be fixed as near to the end of the senatorial term as possible. That would be the invariable practice adopted. If we retained the provision under which the senatorial term ends on the 31st December, there can be no doubt that the Senate- elections will be held in November or December. I think that the balance of advantage is shown to be with the course proposed to be adopted, and I shall vote for the second reading of the Bill.

Senator CLEMONS(Tasmania) [4.50}. - It is very singular that the first attempt made in the history of the Commonwealth to enter upon the important task of amending the Constitution should be made during the last month of an expiring Parliament. There are other circumstances connected with this Bill which are more than singular. It will not add to the dignity, good name, or reputation of the Senate if this measure is passed. Probably the most significant circumstance in connexion with it is that on the first occasion what an attempt is made to alter the Constitution a proposal is submitted to benefit sitting members of the Senate, and those who hope to be elected at the next election. I say that it is discreditable, if not disgraceful, that the first time we attempt to alter the Constitution we should do so with the object of adding six months to the term of office of sitting senators, and six months to the term of office of those who may be returned at the next election.

Senator Mulcahy - If that were the only reason it might be so.

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