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Wednesday, 5 September 1906

Senator BEST (Victoria) . - I have had some difficulty in following the contention of Senator Millen. What he claims is that the first part of section 13, as proposed to be amended, namely -

For the purposes of this section the term of service of a senator shall be taken to begin on the first day of July following the date of his election - would apply to honorable senators who would be elected under the Constitution as it stands. The Bill, if passed, would be submitted to the electors at the same time, tout the mere approval of the Bill by a majority of the voters in a majority of the States would not complete the business, because section 128 says -

If in a majority of the States a majority of the electors voting approve the proposed law. and if a majority of all the electors voting also approve the proposed law, it shall be presented to the Governor-General for the Queen's assent.

After the election of the senators had been held the writ would have to be returned within a period of thirty days, and the new senators would take their seats as soon as the Parliament was called together.

Senator Clemons - But the assent of the Governor-General might be given.

Senator BEST - Is it to be supposed that the Governor-General's assent would be given to an amendment of the Constitution ?

Senator Clemons - I should certainly think so.

Senator BEST - Even if it were given, I do not think that the provision would apply to those senators. At any rate, the alteration would not be law until the King's assent was given. My contention is that at the time when the election was held the Bill would not be law. How could the election be subject to a provision which was not law when it took place?

Senator Millen - Does the honorable and learned senator mean to say that the tenure of honorable senators who were elected three years ago for a sixyears' term cannot be affectedby this Bill ?

Senator BEST - Undoubtedly their tenure can be affected by an alteration of the Constitution which is made in the prescribed way subsequent to the date of their election. For instance, it is possible, by complying with the provisions of section 128 of the Constitution, to alter the term of such senators to three years, because within the limits of the Constitution the power of Parliament is omnipotent. In the case under consideration, however, an election would have taken place pursuant to the law then in force, and without any contemplation of what might subsequently be substituted.

Senator Millen - Does the honorable and learned senator mean to say that the Bill would not affect the senators to be elected in November next?

Senator BEST - No.

Senator Millen - Because it would have been assented to after their election?

Senator BEST - Quite so.

Senator Millen - Then how can it affect them to the extent of giving them an extra tenure of six months?

Senator BEST - Undoubtedly the Parliament can, if it chooses, pass a law in order to extend the tenure.

Senator Millen - My point is that while putting six months on at the end of the tenure, the Bill is taking off six months at the beginning. .

Senator BEST - The new senators would have been elected under the then, existing law, and this Bill would have come into operation subsequently. If it attached a benefit to them-

Senator Lt Col Gould - But if it attached a disadvantage it would not affect them?

Senator BEST - It could not attach a disadvantage to a new senator, because he would have been elected before it began to operate. This Bill comes into operation subsequently to its being submitted to the electors. In addition to that. I urge that if it were possible it would be a complete breach of faith for any Government to at tempt to present the Bill to the GovernorGeneral, whose duty it is to present it to the King for his assent, so that it might come into operation in time to affect the coming elections. If the Governor- General considered that it was necessary to send the Bill to England for the King's assent, it would take six months.

Senator Drake - Is this a Bill which has to be reserved?

Senator BEST - The Constitution requires that it shall be presented to the GovernorGeneral for the King's assent.

Senator Clemons - There is no proviso regarding a special presentation. It will be presented just like any other Bill.

Senator BEST - I think the words are much stronger in the case of an amendment of the Constitution. For the moment, I do not remember whether there is any special provision as to the reservation of Bills amending the Constitution. Undoubtedly, the Governor-General gives his assent to many Acts of Parliament on behalf of the King.

Senator Turley - The Governor-General may reserve the Bill if he likes.

Senator Lt Col Gould - There are only certain Bills, dealing with Imperial concerns, which the Governor-General is instructed to reserve.

Senator BEST - No doubt that is so. But no Government would be guilty of advising the Governor-General to give his immediate assent to the Bill if, by doing so, it resulted in such a serious parliamentary anomaly as has been suggested.

Senator Playford - Hear, hear.

Senator Clemons - Does the honorable senator argue that if this Bill becomes law it can add six months to the term of a senator who is elected at the next elections, but cannot take a portion of his term away ?

Senator BEST - It could, if the Bill specifically stated so.

Senator Clemons - Could it make his term begin from the 20th July next?

Senator BEST - Yes, if that were provided in the Bill. But it is not capable of that construction. I do not think that any Government would be capable of creating such a parliamentary anomaly. As to the other contention which has been made, I look upon the Bill from one stand-point only. I have regard to the almost universal opinion in mv own State that March, Anril, or Mav would be more convenient months than December for holding the elections. Conservatives, Liberals, and members of the Labour Party alike have subscribed to the opinion that it is desirable that greater facilities should be afforded to electors to vote by holding the elections in some other month than December.

Senator Drake - If the people of the other States objected to this change, would the honorable senator help them to .make another alteration in the Constitution?

Senator BEST - I am now speaking for my own State. The only objection to the month of March has come from the Queensland senators. That objection undoubtedly has to be regarded. They tell us that April or May would suit them better than December. As the Bill proposes to offer facilities to hold the elections in April or May, we must take it for granted that the Government will suit the convenience of all the States. That is the sole justification for the measure. It has been argued that if the Bill is to work it means that the term of the House of Representatives must be curtailed bv three months. No doubt that would be the case. The House of Representatives on a previous occasion yielded to the suggestion of economy, and curtailed a portion of its term. Subject to the objection that the Bill entails a sacrifice on the part of that House, there is no reason why it should not be passed.

Senator Mulcahy - Does the Bill provide for the elections for the two Houses always being concurrent?

Senator BEST - It could not do so; neither does the present law.

Senator Mulcahy - -Why not make an alteration of the Constitution that would effect that purpose?

Senator BEST - I do not think it is possible. We are getting as near to that as is possible by this Bill. It .gives a certain degree of advantage, whilst it maintains some of the objections attaching to the present law.

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