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Tuesday, 4 September 1906

Senator MULCAHY (Tasmania) . - I do not like the Bill for many of the reasons which have been mentioned by Senator Clemons. Arn alteration of the Constitution is a most serious matter, and ought not to be attempted unless the occasion absolutely demands it. But, apart from that consideration, I do not think that the remedy proposed is as good as it might be for the purpose of overcoming the inconveniences attached to the present system. It appears to me that the Constitution in some respects needs to be made a little more elastic than it is. Undoubtedly the time when elections take place at present is exceedingly inconvenient to large numbers of people who are compelled at that period to devote attention to their own affairs. It is not merely that the duties which necessarily have to be performed by the farming population prevent their going to record their votes. The electors desire to do something more than that. They wish to have an opportunity to "hear the views; of the various candidates, and to educate themselves in the affairs of their country. They cannot have that opportunity when the elections take place at harvest time. That seems to me to be a sufficient reason for the introduction of a measure to permit an alteration of the date to suit the convenience of the people. But under this Bill we are asked to proceed from one arbitrary date to another. It seems to me that it would be very much better to give an elastic power to the GovernorGeneral to enable him to prolong the term of the Parliament for a limited number of months, if an election could not conveniently take place at the ordinary date.

Senator Trenwith - Does the honorable senator mean that he would give a general discretion ?

Senator MULCAHY - There is a discretion now.

Senator Trenwith - But it is specific.

Senator MULCAHY - I do not see that there would be great harm in giving the Governor-General such a power. Another defect in the measure is that it assumes that the parliamentary term for the Senate will always expire at a time when an election for the House of Representatives is imminent. We have no right to make such an assumption. It ig possible, under our Constitution, to have a penal dissolution of both Houses. I do not say that it is probable that such a. thing will take place; I hope not. But in. any case, it is inevitable that sooner or later the time for the parliamentary elections for. the two Houses will not be concurrent. Is it justifiable for us to alter the Constitution in this way merely for the sake of the Senate? I shall not oppose the Bill at this stage, but in Committee I should like to see an amendment such as I have suggested made in it.

Senator Clemons - If we adopt the Bill in any form it will involve an amendment of the Constitution.

Senator MULCAHY - One argument used by Senator Clemons appealed to me, namely, that it is not justifiable to alter the Constitution for this purpose alone. He seemed to think that the desire was to use the power to alter the Constitution in some other direction. I should oppose the Bill altogether if I did not see that it is inevitable, sooner or later, that we must amend the

Constitution in a far more important direction than this. Even now there is an alteration necessary in connexion with the taking over of the States debts. I do not like the idea of a proposed amendment of the Constitution coming before us in such a shape that it will go forth to the world that we have been actuated by selfish motives in seeking to add six months to our term. But even that proposal has to be submitted to the people. While I shall not vote against the second1 reading of the Bill I reserve to myself the right to oppose its third reading if it is not amended in Committee.

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