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Wednesday, 5 September 1906

Senator McGREGOR (South Australia) . - Either I must be getting very dense or honorable senators opposite are losing their power of explanation, because the more they talk the hazier I become. Those honorable senators have taken a very great deal of trouble to ignore the position placed before them by the Minister of Defence, who explained that before any action is taken by the House of Representatives, it is wise to see whether the electors are prepared to make the suggested alteration. That is undoubtedly the correct view to take, because if the electors decide against the alteration, matters will go on as at present. Would Senator Walker complain about that?

Senator Walker - No.

Senator McGREGOR - Every three years the House oT Representatives, under such circumstances, would experience the same difficulty about which honorable senators opposite have been howling. Those honorable senators profess to be very anxious about the House of Representatives ; but, in my opinion, it is our duty, first, to do our business as well as we are able, and, if possible, meet the convenience of the majority of the electors, as proposed by the Bill. Senators Walker, Gould, Symon, and Millen have raised the objection that a great deal of time will be wasted if Parliament be dissolved in December, and the elections do not take place until April or May. But that happens every year now; although 1 do not regard the. time as wasted, because in that interval the representatives of the people have any amount of work if they are prepared to do it. -That system has not done any harm in any of the States ; and I do not see that it would do any harm in the case of the Commonwealth. A great deal has been made df the fact that the writs must be issued ten days after the dissolution of Parliament.

Senator Lt Col Gould - Within ten days.

Senator McGREGOR - That is exactly the correction I desired the honorable senator to make.

Senator Lt Col Gould - I hope it will assist the honorable senator.

Senator McGREGOR - Senator Gouldwill see how much it will assist his argument. The writs must be returned within sixty days, and Parliament must meet within thirty days of the return of the writs. The writs could be issued three, four, or five days after the dissolution, and they could be returned fifteen, twenty, or forty days after their issue.

Senator Lt Col Gould - No; that would not give time for the elections.

Senator McGREGOR - I know all about that as well as Senator Gould. The honorable senator need not try to instruct his grandmother how to perform a certain operation which we have heard about in Punch. The provision for the return of the writs within sixty days has been made to enable their return from any portion of the Commonwealth. As the facilities for the return of the writs increase, Senator Gould should know that the time allowed may be shortened. Then Parliament might meet within five or twenty days after their return. So that all these arguments about extending the time for so many months, weeks, and days, fall to the ground. They may be useful to some honorable senators for the purpose of delaying the business of the country after they have been defeated in an effort to prevent the carrying out of the wishes of an important section of the community they often pretend to be in sympathy with. Senator Symon has lost sight of what transpires in the State from which he comes. It has always been the practice there to prorogue Parliament before Christmas whether the recess be an ordinary one or a recess before an election. The elections there generally take place between March and May. In years gone by there was no arrangement between the Legislative Council and the House of Assembly of the Parliament of South Australia that their elections should be held on the same day, or even in the same year. But, as a result of a certain reform movement which was started in the State, an endeavour was made to secure that the elections for the two Houses of the State Parliament should take place, not only in the same year, but in the same month, on the same day, and at the same polling places. That may be news to some honorable senators, but it ought not to be news to Senator Symon. The difficulties in the way of such an arrangement in connexion with the State Parliament of South Australia were greater than those which exist in connexion with the Federal Parliament. The tenure of office of Legislative Councillors was a fixed term which could not be shortened but by an alteration of the Constitution. If an election for the Legislative Council took place at a certain time this year, there could not be another until some time in the third year following. The elections were being held later and later every year, and the Parliament of South Australia cast about to find out how they could remedy this. They said, " We can take a lesson from the Federal Parliament." Honorable senators will admit that that was a strange thing for a State Parliament to do. They fixed a permanent' time for the expiration of the term of office of Legislative Councillors. The same thing had to be done in connexion with the House of Assembly, and it was done because that was the only way in which they could arrange for the holding of the elections for the two Houses concurrently. For just the same reason it lias been possible to hold the elections for the Federal Parliament in November or December up to the present time, because the term of office of members of the Senate was fixed to close on the 31st December1 in a particular year. A majority of the members of the Senate have agreed that it would te tetter to hold the elections in the autumn, and we now seek to do 'that under this Bill. Honorable senators opposite are anxious about the House of Representatives, but I can tell them something about that House which thev appear to have forgotten, and which shows that honorable members in another place are well able to look after themselves, and are in a position to do so. Originally, under the Constitution, the allowance to members oft the House of Representatives did not take effect until the meeting of Parliament. That was found to be very unfair to members of that House, and more unfair than it would be to members of the Senate^ because Parliament might be dissolved in November, and might not meet again until March or the end of February in the following year. As a result, honorable members would be elected to represent the people, and their allowance would not commence until Parliament met. In the circum- stances, what did the House of Representatives, in the exercise of their powers, do? They made provision that their allowances should commence from the date of their election as it does in the case of members in most of the States Parliaments. If we pass this measure, and it is accepted by the people, do honorable senators believe that the members of the House of Representatives who have shown their ability to do so much will not be able to overcome the little difficulty of providing that their elections shall take place concurrently with the elections for the Senate? In doing so, even under the Constitution, they would only te doing justice to themselves because they would merely be taking back what they had given away on a previous occasion. If this Bill is adopted by the people, and the House of Representatives expires by effluxion of time in1 March, the dissolution can take place in that month, and they will still be within their rights. Thev can do as has been done in South Australia, and as we have done already, and provide that the elections shall take place at as short a time as possible before the senatorial term will expire, and there will then be no difficulty. If a penal dissolution takes place, there will be no greater difficulty in the future under the provisions of this Bill than there would be under existing circumstances. It would be the duty of the House of Representatives and of the Senate, in the interests of economy, to do all thev possibly could to have their elections on the same day, and I am sure that should the difficulty arise honorable members in another place would make efforts to overcome it.

Senator Walker - Will the honorable senator deal with the difficulty of senators belonging to two Parliaments ?

Senator McGREGOR - A man possessed of so keen a mind as that of Senator Walker should have reached the solution of that difficulty long ago. We would be in no worse position in that respect under this measure than we are in now. Senator Symon suggested that the proper course would te to leave it to the Administration, and to hold the elections in September or October, and Senator O'Keefe pointed out that Parliament would then have to come together under the Constitution before the expiration of the term of office of honorable senators. No worse position would be created if the elections were held at the latter end of April or the beginning of May, and Parliament met in the first week in July. What difference would it make if in one year out of three the House of Representatives and the Senate met in the first week in July ? The difficulties which have been raised by honorable senators have been got over in the State, and they could be overcome in any circumstances that might arise in connexion with the Federal Parliament. Holding these views, I believe that the Committee will be wise in permitting the Bill to pass as rapidly as possible.

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