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Wednesday, 5 September 1906

Senator TRENWITH (Victoria) . - This is the Bill about which it seems to me there ought not to be much discussion. Of course, it can be properly said that any alteration of the Constitution is important. It is impossible to over-estimate the importance, as a legal instrument, of the Constitution under which we work. But to say, because it is important, that we ought to hesitate to alter it when the lines upon which we propose to make a change are clearly, in our opinion, in the interests of the community, is. I think, a fallacious form of reasoning. What we are seeking to do is what we have been asked to do by a very large and important section of the community. The agricultural section in Australia - that is, that section engaged in cereal growing in all the States - is occupied in harvesting at the time when under existing arrangements we proceed with the general elections. Of course, it can be urged that technically this Parliament has no power to decide 'Upon the time for the Senate elections. That is a power which, under the Constitution, rests in the hands of the States. But the Constitution provides a period of duration for Parliament. Obviously, it would be extremely inconvenient, and sometimes, possibly, would create extremely anomalous results, if an election took place any considerable period before the natural termination of Parliament. It has been urged truthfully that we can now, if we choose, have the general election in October. Of course we can.

Senator Fraser - Or in November.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Why do we need this Bill when the matter is in the hands of the Government?

Senator TRENWITH - It can be said that we can have the general elections in August. But see the possible anomaly. The new senators cannot commence their period of office until the ist January. Suppose Parliament were elected in August. Say that an emergency arose - as has happened in the history of other Parliaments in the Commonwealth, and frequently in the history of the Parliaments of British-speaking peoples elsewhere - and it became necessary to call Parliament together hurriedly. Say that the elections had taken place on the ist October, and that Parliament had to be called together early in November. Suppose that certain senators had been rejected at the poll. They would still, however, be senators. Certain other persons would have been elected in preference to them, but the newly elected persons would not yet be capable of sitting in Parliament.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - The same thing would happen if the date were altered to June, and there were an election in Mav.

Senator TRENWITH - Even under this Bill we ought not, in my opinion, to have the elections earlier than late in May, in order to minimize as far as possible the effects of such a state of 'affairs as I have suggested.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - May as compared with July would be equivalent to the beginning of November as compared with the 1 st of January.

Senator TRENWITH - I am well aware that dates can be suggested when the same inconveniences would result as at present.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - The farmers of South Australia are more affected by the present date of elections than are those of any other State, and I know that they 'would not be inconvenienced by having the elections in November.

Senator TRENWITH - Hay is made in South Australia,, and hay is always made before harvest. Harvesting operations commence very quickly after haymaking.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - It is not the hay-making that is the trouble. It is the harvesting. The wheat drops out in the hot weather.

Senator TRENWITH - Hay-making is not nearly so important, but still it is of consequence. Honorable senators who know anything of agricultural pursuits are aware that it is very common indeed to see large quantities of hay absolutely destroyed by an unexpected or inopportune period of wet weather. It is often possible to save a large percentage of a crop of hay by active operations on the part of the farmer in shifting it about and getting it dry , quickly. At such times a farmer cannot be expected, at very great possible loss, to leave his work. Therefore, this 'Bill has been asked for by the people in whose interests it is designed.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - :By a portion of the people.

Senator TRENWITH - It is only claimed to be introduced in the interests of the agriculturists.

Senator Drake - We shall next have the people who are growing pumpkins wanting a different date.

Senator TRENWITH - I purpose to deal with that argument, but I want to clear up one point at a time. If we can suit the convenience of agriculturists without doing any injury to any other section of the community, and if this Bill will achieve that purpose, it is to that extent a good Bill. Unless it can be shown that we are conveniencing the agriculturists without prejudicing the interests of any other considerable section of the community, the Bill is not justified. Now, while it has been urged - and, of course, there is force in the argument - that, if we alter the date of the elections, we mav perhaps create inconvenience in the ranks of some other section, of the community, it has not been shown that that will be the result. We have proof that the date' now chosen for the elections is extremely inconvenient to a large section. We ought to try to remove that inconvenience, unless some equally great, or greater, inconvenience is created. Of course, I am prepared to admit that probably every one of the 365 days of the year would be inconvenient to some persons. It is impossible to select a day, a month, or a period that will suit every voter. But clearly it is our duty to do what we can to meet the convenience of the largest number of voters possible. So far as we have any evidence, this Bill will conduce to that end.

Senator Drake - It might be necessary to alter the Constitution every three years because it was found that the balance of convenience was different from what it was previously.

Senator TRENWITH - I quite agree with my honorable friend that it is undesirable to have frequent alterations of the Constitution unless there be great necessity. On the other hand, it is undesirable that Parliament should be elected by any but the largest possible number of voters. If it can be shown that by altering the Constitution every six years we can secure a completely representative Parliament, and that by refraining from altering the Constitution, that end will not be attained, then, however objectionable that course might appear, it would be better to alter the Constitution. Senator Clemons told us that the American Constitution, in over 100 years of existence, has been altered comparatively infrequently. In this connexion, however, we have to remember that it is very much easier to alter our Constitution than it is to alter the American Constitution; and the difficulty has been the cause of great discontent and inconvenience to the people of the United States. They have sought to alter the Constitution, but the obstacles are so great that it has been found impossible to do so except in a few instances.

Senator Millen - When the honorable senator says " they," he does not mean the whole people of the United States?

Senator TRENWITH - No ; but I mean a considerable majority of the people. Fortunately our Constitution is much more flexible, and can be altered with less difficulty : and, therefore, the circumstances in America are bv no means indisputable evidence that the majority of the people there would not like to alter their Constitution more frequently. Senator Clemons introduced an argument which I venture to say is not warranted, namely, that there are honorable senators in favour of the Bill because it will extend their period of service in this Chamber. Senator Clemons described this position as undignified and suspicious, if not disgraceful ; but I venture to say that such terms cannot properly be applied. The extension of the tenure of office is a mere incident, though Senator Clemons spoke of it as the object of honorable senators in supporting the Bill.

Senator Drake - -Why extend the term of senators elected at the beginning of the last three years? The Bill cannot come into operation this year.

Senator TRENWITH - That is true.

Senator Drake - Then why give present senators a six months longer term ?

Senator TRENWITH - The term cf office may be either extended or contracted, whichever may be considered the better way.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - We have gone on for six years under the present system, and why not do so for another six years ?

Senator TRENWITH - For the reason that the elections would continue to be held at the same inconvenient time as in the past.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - The first of the two we cannot alter.

Senator TRENWITH - I do not know whether we can alter the first of the two, but we can alter the second of the two. However, I was, referring to the ignoble suggestion that honorable senators are actuated by the consideration that under the Bill their term of office will be. extended.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - I do not think that Senator Clemons said that honorable senators were actuated by that consideration, but that an extension of the term would be the result of the Bill.

Senator TRENWITH - As a matter of fact, Senator Clemons said that that was the object ; and I am sure that honorable senators must feel hurt at such an imputation being cast upon them.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - That might be said outside.

Senator TRENWITH - We know that Parliament is often spoken of disparagingly and most unwarrantably by persons' outside, who have neither the intellect nor the character to entitle them to cast such a reflection. That sort of thing cannot be helped; but the pity is the greater when we find the same sort of unwarrantable reflections being cast upon honorable senators within the Chamber. However, I do not desire to speak in a way offensively antagonistic, but merely to express the belief that the object suggested is not that of the Bill, aor of honorable senators. What the Bill really proposes is to make the time for holding the elections more convenient for the people; and it happens that, incidentally, we must either contract or extend the period of one Parliament. Personally, I do .not care which course is adopted ; but it is certainly wise to hold the elections at a more convenient time.

Senator Millen - To which elections is the honorable senator referring?

Senator TRENWITH - 1 am referring to the elections for both Houses; and we can all see difficulties, which cannot be avoided. If we make the proposed adjustment, and it proves to be the most convenient, the condition under which one branch of the Legislature holds office mayupset the whole arrangement. That difficulty could be obviated by another method of administration, which Parliament may yet have to adopt ; but that question, however, is not before us at present. If we were to discard the form of responsible government, and adopt the system of elective Ministers, the arrangement for the election for both Houses to be held at the one time could go on for ever. However, there is the possibility that, for once, admitting that we achieve the result we desire-

Senator Millen - I do not admit " for once"; it may be possible to have a dual election afterwards.

Senator TRENWITH - Yes. We cannot be certain that it will operate even for once, .and I realize the difficulties as fully as does the honorable senator. But that is no' argument! against doing our best' to so fix the time for the elections for the Senate as to suit the convenience of a large section of the community. Senator Clemons asked' what claim agriculturists had over amy other section of the community in this connexion,. I quite agree with Senator Clemons that the agriculturists, per se, have no special claim ; but. if it can be shown that any section of the community is inconvenienced, and that the inconvenience can be removed-

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Then we can hark back again.

Senator TRENWITH - No; if the inconvenience can be removed without entailing as great, or greater, inconvenience on other sections of the community, we should remove it. That is the course adopted in the case of all boards and committees, when it is found impossible to fix the meetings at a time to suit all concerned. The course adopted is to fix a time which will suit the convenience of the greater number ; and that is only what the Bill seeks to do in the matter of elections. There is no great principle involved in the Bill, which can create no danger to the populace, or cause any injury to the Constitution; and under the circumstances we might very properly accept it. Senator Clemons urged that this Bill would open the door to other alterations of the Constitution. But the door is already open; the Constitution necessarily and properly, provides within itself means by which it may be altered at the will of the people. There are reasonable safeguards against frivolous alterations; but the Constitution clearly contemplates that alterations may be necessary. If we agree that the Constitution ought to be altered we ought not to be deterred by the consideration that! there may be other requests for alterations in objectionable directions. What we have to consider is whether the proposed alteration is or is not worthy of approval. Senator Clemons contended that by putting into operation * this machinery, we leave it open to proposals for its use in regard to other issues: but I do not regard that as a sufficient argument against the Bill. In all cases the proposals made would be considered on their merits, and in the present instance the proposal involves an improvement which I think we might accept. I do not regard it as a very important improvement, nor as an improvement the neglect of which would seriously imperil the Constitution or endanger our elective machinery. The Bill, however, will provide greater facilities for voting for an important section of the community, who now suffer much inconvenience.

Senator Lt Col Gould .- Will this Bill affect the other House?

Senator TRENWITH - It will, so far as the other place continues the present arrangement-

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Tt will not affect the other House.

Senator TRENWITH - Tt will, so far as another place continues the present arrangement of holding its election concurrently with the election for the Senate. Of course, if there were an extraordinary dissolution the whole arrangement would be upset.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - We shall be utterly dependent on, I was going to say, the whim, or, at any rate, the resolution of the House of Representatives. We shall be tied on to the tails of members of another place.

Senator TRENWITH - They will be tied to our tails if there is anv tving at all.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - A penal dissolution would make waste paper of the Bill.

Senator TRENWITH - Not quite, because a penal dissolution would alter the period of the elections for the two Houses. At any rate, even if a penal dissolution did interfere with the concurrency of the elections, the election for the Senate would be at a time more convenient for the people; and, further, another penal dissolution would bring' the two Houses into concurrency again.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - It might or might not ; and in the meantime the States Parliaments might upset the whole arrangement again.

Senator TRENWITH - Although the States Parliaments have the right, they are bound within certain limits.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Twelve months.

Senator TRENWITH - The States Parliaments have wisely adopted a uniform period at the suggestion of the Federal Parliament.

Senator Millen - The States Parliaments have simply abstained from doing anything.

Senator TRENWITH - The various Parliaments have permitted that concurrence to continue. The last elections for the Federal Parliament were anticipated. Honorable members in another place consented to a curtailment of the constitutional term of existence of the House of Representatives in order to secure the concurrency of elections sought to be achieved now. They performed an act of selfdenial which, I think, we should all be prepared to do, for the purpose of securing so desirable a result as the saving of a large amount of public money. It is very probable that the arrangement will continue; but, whether it continues or not, if my first proposition is correct - that it is a more convenient time than that at which the elections are at present held - the Senate elections will take place in future at a time that is more convenient.

Senator Lt Col Gould - The honorable senator thinks that it is desirable that the Senate elections should not be held at a different time from those for the House of Representatives if that can be avoided.

Senator TRENWITH - Certainly ; and this Bill does not propose that. ' The House of Representatives can hold their elections concurrently with the Senate elections under the provisions of the measure we are now discussing, and they can arrange to continue that concurrence which we all admit to be desirable. Led on by interjections, I feel that I have discussed this comparatively trifling matter at greater length than I intended. There is really only one issue: - is it- or is it not most convenient for the electors to make this change? It seems to me that all the evidence is in favour of the assumption that it would be more convenient to them to make the change.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Where is the evidence?

Senator TRENWITH - I refer to the evidence of a large section of the people given by various means, such as public meetings, and the passing of resolutions by organizations with which they are connected. In this way they have said that the time at present fixed for the Federal elections is extremely inconvenient to them. I refer to people who are largely engaged in the production of cereals.

Senator Drake - I never heard anything of those meetings.

Senator TRENWITH - Then the honorable senator cannot be paying much attention to current history.

Senator Drake - I read the Age.

Senator TRENWITH - It has frequently been stated in the Age and in the Argus. I have not with me copies of the newspapers in which these statements have appeared, because I had no idea that the statement I have made would be disputed. There have been frequent declarations that the time now adopted for the holding of the elections is inconvenient. It has been urged in opposition that we may have the growers of pumpkins saying that some other time would be more convenient to them. It has also been urged; with as much show of reason as some other con- tendons that have been put forward, that it is a device of the present Government, with whom the Labour Party are associated, to hold the elections at a time when the agriculturists, who are the back-bone of the community, will be unable to go to the poll. I have no sympathy with the contention, that the back-bone of the com.munity is represented by one section of the people. I think that we are all of importance to the community as a whole; but I admit that the agricultural section is a very numerous section, and that its members have to contend with conditions that other citizens of the Commonwealth have not to cope with. Their labour is put into their means of livelihood, and when they have done all that they possibly can they are obliged to depend for the results of their labour on forces over which they have no control. They are therefore entitled to every consideration which we can give them, and this is one which I earnestly urge the Senate to accord to them.

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