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Tuesday, 4 September 1906


Senator BEST (Victoria) .- This debate has revealed an extraordinary phase that never for a moment struck me previously; namely, that there is supposed to be a base design on the part of the Government in the introduction of the Bill. . We are led to believe that

Ave must not take the Bill on its own merits, but that it is brought in simply for the purpose of making it easier for a certain section to effect future amendments of the Constitution. Personally, I do not think for a moment that that is the intention of the Government. I am prepared to judge the Bill on its merits, recognising, as I do, that every innovation, so far as the Constitution is concerned - every departure from it or amendment of it - must be submitted by separate Bill, and be dealt with on, its merits. I am aware, and we must all be aware, that much as we prize our Constitution, and reluctant as we are to alter it unnecessarily - or to alter it at all, indeed - the fact remains that it must be altered to meet the convenience of the people, and for the purpose of bringing it more into line with the requirements. There is one direction in which an alteration of the Constitution may be necessary, perhaps, at an early date, namely, to enable proper facilities to be given for taking over the States debts. My honorable friend, Senator Clemons, who raised the objection to which I have referred, and regarded it as a serious reason why the Bill should be rejected, will realize that an alteration may become necessary to effect what was originally the design of the Constitution in that respect. I give that as one example only, and I reject the suggestion, so far as I personally am concerned, that the Bill will give any additional facility for the introduction of matters which do not meet with my approval. The most extraordinary suggestion I have heard was one made con.cerning the dignity of the Senate. It" was regarded as most discreditable that we should be engaged in giving to ourselves an additional six months' term. I look upon that merely as incidental to the carrying out of the objects of the Bill. What I specially dra.w attention to, however, is this : that, while it is regarded as necessary to carry out the aim of the Bill to do that, the measure does not come into operation when we alone pass it. It has to be passed bv am absolute majority of another place, which certainly has no selfish or discreditable motives for agreeing to it. In addition to that, the Bill has to be submitted to the electors themselves, and it will be for them to say whether they deem it wise that this "extension of term should be made. |I point out, also, that those honorable senators who are returned at the next election will be elected by the people knowing that thev are to be chosen for a term of six years and six months. I therefore think that my honorable friend, Senator Clemons/ rather overdraws the picture when he represents that the additional six months is to be given for the purposes suggested. My honorable friend went on to say that the Bill might be rendered nugatory bv one of two reasons. First of all. he' said the States themselves might refuse to agree to any particular date that we as a Commonwealth might fix for the elections. But it is idle to suggest that the States are deliberately going to put the electors of Australia - who, whether they be electors for the Commonwealth or the States, are the same people, and have to bear all the burden of the expenditure - to additional expense, and that their anxiety for economy will not be insisted upon in the matter of choosing senators and representatives. I am inclined to think that there will be cooperation on the part of the Commonwealth, and the States for the purpose of securing economy, and that they will make every effort to achieve that object. My honorable friend made another objection to the Bill - that taken bv Senator Millen last week. Senator Millen said that the most serious objection to the measure was that it would involve the expenditure of money without the sanction of Parliament. He pointed out that an election might take place in April or June, and that probably Parliament would not be able to meet till July That could take place only once in three years. But suppose that we did not meet till July. The financial year, ending, of course, on the 30th June, the Government would in July actually be incurring expenditure without the vote of Parliament. Certainly the Government could not go on doing so beyond the 1st August. Parliament would have to meet some time in July, in order to vote supplies. If, however, Parliament did not meet until towards the' end of July, the Government would commit the Commonwealth to expenditure for the ordinary services of the year during that month. It is certainly a very wise and prudent principle that we should endeavour to secure that Parliament shall authorize the expenditure of money before it is incurred. But when we remember that the expenditure can only be for the ordinary services for less than a month, I do not think that any very serious consequence can be suffered by the Commonwealth in this connexion. Of course, there is one objection incidental to the present condition, of affairs. That is that a penal dissolution of the House of Representatives might result m different dates being fixed for the elections for the two Houses. That might, of course, occur under existing conditions; but my honorable friend, Senator Clemons, went on to say that the full value of this Bill might be altogether lost if that occurred. It might; but as a matter of fact there will be a big effort on the part of the Government to fix upon as convenient a date as possible for the purpose of securing concurrent elections. That is best exemplified bv the action taken by the House of Representatives in agreeing even to forfeit part of its own term for the purpose of securing economy in having the elections for the two Houses on the same date. I support the Bill on its merits. Its design and object are good. I believe it has been proposed" with the object of meeting the convenience of the greater number of- the people of the Commonwealth. I do not suggest that the month of March is the most convenient month for every State. ' I believe that my honorable friends from Queensland urge objections to it.


Senator Givens - It is the worst month in the vear from our point of view.


Senator BEST - But the same objection would not attach to the month: of April or May, and, according to the terms of the Bill", the elections could be held in either of those months.


Senator Pearce - Most probably in May.


Senator BEST - That is so.


Senator Mulcahy - The elections could now be held in May.


Senator BEST - According to the Constitution, the elections could undoubtedly now be held in May. But there is the same objectionable feature that attaches to the American Constitution, namely, that if the elections were held in the earlier portion of the year, a defeated candidate might actually sit in the Senate, andtake part in its deliberations, for the balance of his term.


Senator Mulcahy - Surely that would be no calamity.


Senator Givens - It might vitiate every Act passed by the Senate.


Senator BEST - At any rate, such a position is against the principles of representative government.


Senator Keating - It introduces representation without responsibility.


Senator BEST - That is so. We know, as a matter of fact, that the Government seek to show some intelligence in the administration of the Electoral Act; and the desire would be to fix the election for the Senate as near to the end of the term as possible, so that there might be a joint election towards the close of the year.

SenatorGivens. - The end of the financial year ?


Senator BEST - At the end of the time mentioned in the Bill. Every honorable senator is iustified in referring to his own State : and I can say for Victoria that March, April, or May is universally admitted to be infinitely more convenient than either November or December. Consequently, if April or May were found equallv convenient to all the States-


Senator Givens - Either would be excellent for Queensland.


Senator BEST - Exactly. Why should we be restrained from fixing a convenient time merely because of some sentimental objection to altering the Constitution? It is the duty of Parliament to afford every possible facility to the people to vote, and that is my sole reason for supporting the Bill. It is a reason which justifies Parliament in making this alteration in the Constitution, in order that the fullest representation shall be secured at the elections.

Debate (on motion by Senator Trenwith) adjourned.







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