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Wednesday, 19 September 1906

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I should like to add to the remarks addressed to the Senate by Senator Drake some observations in support of the view which he has submitted. I ask honorable senators not to consider the view now brought under their notice as affecting in anv way the question whether the amendment proposed in the Constitution by this Bill is desirable or not. That is not the main point which Senator Drake is now pressing upon our attention. Whether it be desirable or not, a majority of the Senate apparently approve of the proposal, and the question now is whether the form in which the proposed amendment of the Constitution is to be submitted to the electors is the clearest and best that we could adopt. Senator Drake has referred to the difficulty which must necessarily arise in the mind of the average elector in determining what amendment of the Constitution this measure seeks to accomplish, owing to the form which has been adopted. The Bill proposes the striking out of certain words from a document which will not be before the electors, and the insertion of certain other words. To understand the confusion which will arise from the adoption of this form, honorable senators have only to cast their minds back to the time when we were dealing with a Bill proposing the amendment of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, in which the same course, of striking out certain words from certain sec tions, and inserting others, was adopted. They will remember how absolutely confusing and difficult it was to say exactly what the effect of the proposed amendment of the law would be. We had to have the two measures before us, and even then it was not possible to readily read into the Act the words which the amending Bill proposed should be inserted. How much greater, then, will the difficulty of the average elector be in this instance when in a majority of cases he will not have the Constitution before him to enable him to discover what is provided in this measure ? I take Senator Drake's point to be that, assuming that an amendment of the Constitution is to be submitted to the electors, instead of proposing it in the form adopted in this Bill, it should be submitted in a distinct provision. Instead of proposing to leave out certain words, and put in others, we should have one clause which, within its compass, would inform the electors plainly and simply what we propose should be done. The electors should have the proposed amendment of the Constitution clearly before them in order that they may be able to state on their referendum paper whether they approve or disapprove of it. I am certain that no honorable senator will contend that any considerable number of the electors will have the slightest chance of giving an intelligent vote on the proposition to be submitted to them in this measure. They will have to state their view of what is intended by the document placed before them from the varying interpretations placed upon it by the different candidates who address them. In expressing an opinion upon a proposed amendment of the Constitution, it is not desirable that the electors should have to rely for advice in casting their votes on the varying interpretations of different individuals. The amendment should be placed before them in such a way that he who runs may read, and every elector should be able to see plainly what is proposed. The form here adopted is, I think, the most cumbersome, confusing, and least satisfactory that it is possible to devise. I think that the Government, through their draftsman, have looked at the matter from a legal stand-point entirely. They desired to amend a certain section of the Constitution, and a certain way suggested itself to the legal mind. The way suggested might appear simple enough to the legal mind, but in preparing a proposed amendment of the Constitution it should be framed in such a way as to be clear, not only to the mind of a lawyer and draftsman, but to every man and woman in the country. Whether the Senate decides to take action to alter this proposal or not, I do hope that in future any amendment proposed in the Constitution will be framed in the way I have indicated. In the case of the amendment of the Electoral Act honorable senators will agree that it would have been better to have introduced a measure repealing the original Act. and taking its place, the new provisions being fully set out. Possibly at this stage the Senate will not be inclined to retrace its steps, but it is to be hoped that in dealing with future amendments proposed in the Constitution the desirable course suggested by Senator Drake will be followed.

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