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Friday, 28 September 1906

Senator DRAKE (Queensland) - - Mr. President-

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator has, I think, already spoken.

Senator DRAKE - I wish to raise an objection on. a point of order.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator has already taken one point of order, and it has been settled. I cannot have the same point of order taken again.

Senator DRAKE - Then I desire to speak against the motion. The PRESIDENT. - Has the honorable senator not spoken ?

Senator DRAKE - I have spoken only on a point of order. The motion is made to facilitate the passage of the Constitution Alteration {Special Duties) Bill, and I hope that, even at this, stage, honorable senators will consider the danger of sus pending the Standing Orders to hasten the passage of this measure. It is a very serious matter to amend the Constitution. The proposal now being made is that the Constitution shall be so amended, as to allow of the imposition of special duties of Customs and Excise that are not contemplated in the Tariff Acts of 1902. No measure proposing an amendment of the Constitution should be passed until every opportunity afforded by the Constitution and the Standing Orders is given to honorable senators for a full discussion of the matter. The object of the motion now before the Senate is to set aside the safeguard provided by our Standing Orders for the proper consideration of all measures proposing amendments of the Constitution. We have provided in our Standing Orders that no such measure shall pass its third reading unless there is an absolute majority of the Senate in its favour, and until there has been a call of the Senate to insure that every member of it shall be in attendance. They provide, also, that the call is not to be made for a date earlier than twenty-one days from the date of the notice of the call. The object of the present motion is to do away with that safeguard. If ever there was an occasion in our history when it is desirable that these provisions should be most loyally and faithfully observed it is the present, when we are dealing with a Bill proposing a most important amendment of the Constitution, and are setting a precedent for all time. It is now proposed that we shall begin the amendment of the Constitution by sweeping awav the Standing Orders which . were deliberately passed by the Senate at

0.   time when there " was no party feeling, and when we were looking forward to the future, and considering how the affairs of the Commonwealth in Parliament could be most satisfactorily conducted to insure the greatest care and the fullest consideration, and we are asked to do that merely because the Government desire that this amendment of the Constitution shall be rushed . through. I cannot find any justification whatever for the suspension of the Standing Orders at this time. If, when we begin the amendment of the Constitution, we can afford, in the case of a measure proposing a most important amendment, to set aside all the safeguards we have provided to secure full consideration, we might as well sweep them away altogether. It is probable that no amendment of the Constitution will in future be proposed that has not been considered for years, and yet we now have this measure absolutely sprung upon us. So suddenly, in fact, has it been brought forward that it can be seen from the debate which has taken place that many honorable senators are not satisfied as to what might be the scope of measures which might be introduced in consequence of the proposed amendment of the Constitution having made the introduction of such measures possible. We have been told during the debate that the object which the Government have in view is to introduce a. system of old-age pensions. That, no doubt, is a very desirable thing in itself ; but there is nothing about old-age pensions in the Bill.

Senator Playford - We discussed that before.

Senator DRAKE - We have not discussed it in connexion with the suspension of the Standing Orders. I am dealing now with a motion intended to do away with the twenty-one days' notice which should be given to honorable senators of a call of the Senate to deal with any measure proposing an amendment of the Constitution, and I think I am entitled, in the circumstances, to show the evil effects which might result from dealing with amendments of the Constitution in this way. If the amendment here proposed is agreed to, and is embodied in the Constitution, we shall not know what Bill might be brought before Parliament seeking to impose special duties of Customs and Excise for all sorts of fantastic purposes. Within -the last twenty-four hours we have heard of a scheme of defence which, however desirable, will certainly involve very considerable expenditure. The amendment of the Constitution which we are now being asked to rush through without proper consideration would enable the Government to introduce a Bill proposing the imposition of special duties of Customs and Excise for the purpose of carrying out a scheme of that kind. Is an amendment of the Constitution which might be followed bv such consequences to be rushed through Parliament?

Senator Playford - It is not being rushed through. It will not come on again until next Tuesday.

Senator DRAKE - How many days notice will that' be? The Senate at the commencement of last session agreed to standing orders requiring twenty-one days' notice to be given before such a Bill could be submitted for its third reading, and now when a Bill is submitted proposing an amendment of the Constitution which would allow of the introduction of pernicious measures that might lead to the most disastrous results we are asked to sweep away the safeguard we have provided, and the .Minister says, !! You will have until next Tuesday." If the Minister, when the Standing Orders were being considered, believed that a notice of days was much too long, why did he not then suggest that it should be reduced to three or four days?

Senator Playford - There was no necessity to do so. I knew that we could suspend every one of the Standing Orders.

Senator DRAKE - The honorable senator did not think of that at the time, and he knows also that there are some safeguards provided even against the suspension of the Standing Orders. I say that if, when the Standing Orders were being considered by the Senate, Senator Playford had said that twenty-one days was too long a notice to give honorable senators in the case of measures proposing alterations of the Constitution, and had proposed that the notice given should be only three or four days, such a motion would have been scouted. The Senate was in its right mind then, and it was never thought that such a proposal as this would be brought forward. Before the Standing Orders were dealt with bv the Senate they had been considered by the Standing Orders Committee, consisting of the President and other honorable senators who stand high in the estimation of the Senate. T ask the Senate to resume the attitude of calm reflection in which it passed the Standing Orders providing for the notice of twentyone days, and to agree with me that this is not a proper occasion on which, to suspend them. I shall vote against the motion.

Senator Lt.-Col.GOULD (New South Wales) [11.27]. - I suppose that the result of the motion is a foregone conclusion, but I feel compelled to say a few words in protest against the reckless way in which the Standing Orders are suspended at the end of each session. My protest should have all the more force when it is remembered that we are at present dealing with a. measure proposing an amendment of the Constitution. The Constitution itself Drovides that no amendment shall be made unless it is supported by an absolute majority, and a certain procedure is followed. No doubt that provision was wise. The object was to insure that no amendment of the Constitution should be hurriedly made at the will of the dominant party in Parliament 'for the 'time being. The Senate, in adopting the standing orders which deal with this matter, clearly recognised the very great gravity which must always attach to any amendment of the Constitution. In addition to the safeguards provided in the Constitution itself, we have made . provision that the third reading of Bills proposing an amendment of the Constitution shall only be taken after a call of the Senate, of whichtwentv-one days' notice must be given. The Standing Orders Committee, in dealing with the matter, determined that the Senate ought not to sanction any rushing of measures proposing amendments of the Constitution which was accepted by the people of- the Commonwealth as fixing the terms of the agreement under which the States agreed to federate. Every reasonable man must recognise how necessary it is that we should be careful not to sweep away any safeguard : which the Standing Orders provide in dealing with these important matters. If it is said that the session is about to close, and these Bills must be dea.It with, my reply is that it was the duty of the Government to have submitted them in ample time for their full consideration and faithful compliance with the Standing Orders.

Senator Playford - No; unfortunately, they forgot all about it.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - It is no credit to the Government to make that admission. They ought to have known of the existence of this particular standing order, and we can only assume that in their corporate capacitv they did.

Senator Trenwith - The honorable senator only discovered it in hunting round for something with which to euchre the Government.

Senator Lt Col NEILD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Col. GOULD.- The honorable senator is wrong, and. if he had been present, he would 'have known that this aspect of the matter was mentioned ata meeting of the Standing Orders Committee. The Government says that they forgot all about the existence of the standing order. But is that a reason why a necessarv safeguard should be wiped away, even at the will of the majority of the Senate ? I. do not wish honorable senators to be slaves to the' Standing Orders, but to observe them.

Senator Trenwith - Are we not acting in accordance with the Standing Orders?

Senator Lt Col' GOULD - - Certainly there is a rule to permit of a suspension of the Standing Orders, but does that mean that we are to suspend the code at any moment' under a wave of excitement? On the contrary, are not the Standing Orders intended to protect us against waves of excitement? Why do we have in the Chair a senator whose duty it is to insist upon our obeying the Standing Orders? It is simplv because we recognise that we need as President a man with a judicial mind who will not be swayed on one side or the other.

Senator Trenwith - The honorable senator has been trying to sway him.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- It is the duty of honorable senators, I submit, to try to sway the President whenever they consider that his ruling is wrong.

Senator Trenwith - I do not think that in history there is a precedent for the numerous dissents from his rulings.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- I believe that the points of order have been taken honestly, and with a desire to bring about decisions which would be followed until altered by the Senate upon ample notice. The dissents from his ruling have not been moved out of disrespect to or want of confidence . in the President. It has been recognised that every man is liable to make a mistake. We are entering upon a very dangerous course. What is to prevent a Government from waiting until the end of a session, and then trying to put through a far more drastic and sweeping amendment of the Constitution than this by resorting to a suspension of the Standing Orders, and thereby preventing the people and the Parliament of each State from having an opportunity to voice their opinions upon it ? Why was twenty -one days' notice of a call of the Senate required by the standing order? It was not simply for the convenience of individual senators, but in order that the people of the Commonwealth should have their attention directed to a proposed alteration, and an. opportunity to say whether in the interests of the Commonwealth it should be made. Every Parliament must be influenced by the feeling of the people on a broad question of policy. No question could be of greater importance than a proposal to alter the

Constitution. . It will not. redound to the credit of this dying Parliament that some of its last deeds should have been committed in derogation of every principle of protection and honour as between itself and the people. We have often heard of a Government trying to smuggle a proposal through ' Parliament. Here is an instance when not an ordinary, but an extraordinary, proposal is sought to be smuggled through. There should be no power to suspend the Standing Orders in this way when the Senate is asked to deal with a national question. All I can do is to protest against this treatment of a Bill that contains the germs of most important alterations, which, prior to their submission to the people, ought to be debated, not merely in the Federal Parliament, but in each State Parliament. I shall always raise my voice in protest against a measure being dealt with in a way which, I believe, to be injurious to the people of the country, to our principles of government, and to the Constitution, even if it should be no more than " a voice crying in the wilderness."

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