Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 23 October 1913

Senator RAE (New South Wales) . - It again falls to my lot to move a motion, this time not for the introduction of a Bill, but for what I hope will be the indorsement of the principle. I beg to move -

1.   That in the opinion of the Senate the rights of self-government of many Australian citizens are gravely infringed by their complete disfranchisement while resident in Commonwealth Territories, and therefore the Constitution should be amended to provide -

(a)   That Parliament may pass legislation granting qualified citizens of such Territories (including the Federal Capital Territory) the right to vote on all proposed laws submitted to a Referendum of Commonwealth electors.

(b)   For the apportionment of the votes from such Territories in determining the issues submitted.

(c)   For the representation in either House of the Commonwealth Parliament of the Federal Capital Territory, on such conditions as Parliament may deem fit.

2.   That the House of Representatives be asked to concur in the foregoing resolutions.

The Constitution, as originally passed, provides that Territories in the possession of, , or acquired by, the Commonwealth may be granted representation in either House of the Parliament on such terms and conditions as Parliament deems fit to prescribe. But no power is given in the Constitution to provide for the inhabitants of the Territories voting on referendum proposals. As it is now constituted, the Commonwealth comprises six States, and a proposed amendment of the Constitution before it can be carried requires the indorsement of, not only a majority of the electors voting throughout the Commonwealth, but also a majority in a majority of the States. It may be argued that that position would be interfered with if the few inhabitants of our Territories were allowed the right to vote on referendum proposals, but I maintain that the- rights of self-government which pertain to citizenship in Australia are, as my motion states, gravely infringed by the present position of a number of settlers. In the Northern Territory, unhappily, as yet, there are only a few residents. In Papua, the number of white residents is very small. In the Federal Capital Territory, however, there are some thousands of residents already, and at no distant date, with the expenditure which is being incurred there year by year in providing for the establishment "of the Capital, there will be an everincreasing population. I see no reason why a democratically constituted Parliament should wait until the mere force of numbers compels it to consider a grievance. If, when the Federal Capital Territory has attained a population of 40,000 or 50,000, the pressure of the public opinion of the inhabitants and their sympathizers will be so great as to force Parliament to take action, that is not a proper position to be brought about. We should take up the attitude that if it is right for 40,000 or 50,000 people to have the franchise conceded to them, the right equally exists in the case of the comparatively small number now resident in the Territories. It is true, as I say, that Territories which may hereafter become States, like Papua and the Northern Territory, may now be granted representation in either House of the Commonwealth Parliament. It does not seem clear, according to the interpretation that lawyers put on the Constitution, that there would be power to grant representation to the Federal Capital Territory. Section 122 seems to include all territory owned by the Commonwealth. It reads -

The Parliament may make laws for the government of any Territory surrendered by any State to and accepted by the Commonwealth, or of any Territory placed by the Queen under the authority of and accepted by the Commonwealth, or otherwise acquired by the Commonwealth, and may allow the representation of such Territory in either 'House of the Parliament to the extent and on the terms which it thinks fit.

The question has been raised as to whether that section includes the right of giving parliamentary representation to the inhabitants of the Federal Capital Territory. Whether that is so or not is a point for lawyers to deal .with.

Senator McGregor - That is any Territory conceded to, or acquired by, the Commonwealth.

Senator RAE - It certainly seems to me that the power to grant parliamentary representation to other Territories includes that right. Whether there is any other obstacle which prevents that from being done, I am not prepared to say, not being a lawyer or a High Court Judge.

Senator McGregor - Even they would contradict each other.

Senator RAE - Probably. Clearly enough, the Constitution makes no provision for the inhabitants of those Territories to have the right of voting at a referendum, and of their votes being counted in connexion with a proposed alteration of the Constitution. My motion provides in paragraph a for an amendment of the Constitution so -

That Parliament may pass legislation granting qualified citizens of such Territories (including the Federal Capital Territory) the right to vote on all proposed laws submitted to a referendum of Commonwealth electors.

That is a very necessary and very much cherished right which the citizens of the various States possess. It seems an indefensible anomaly that a fully qualified citizen, resident in a State, possessing rights of Australian citizenship, shall, the moment he goes into the Federal Capital Territory, be disfranchised, and so lose those rights. I quite admit that it was an unavoidable position at the very outset, but there is no reason why it should be allowed to drift on interminably. There must come a time when some representation will have to be given to the few inhabitants of that Territory. There is no reason that can be adduced in favour of giving parliamentary representation in the future which does not apply to giving it to the present inhabitants. If it be said that it is time enough to do that when it is asked for, I may point out that the inhabitants of the Territory, which, till recently, was an integral part of New South Wales, have considered it a very serious grievance that at every Federal election, and at every referendum, they are absolutely denied any voice in the determination of such problems. That is a very serious injustice to inflict upon those who, in all their political lives, have been accustomed to exercise the franchise.

Senator Bakhap - Since when have they been disfranchised ?

Senator RAE - Ever since the proclamation of the Capital area as a Federal Territory, the residents have been demanding that some system or scheme should be adopted whereby the rights of citizenship could be restored to them. This is not a demand on the part of some previously alien or disfranchised electors for a right which they never possessed, but it is a demand that a right that the inhabitants have always possessed, and would possess in any other square foot of the Commonwealth, should not be denied them, because they happen to be located in the Capital area. I believe that in the Territory in which the "United States capital is situated, and which is known as the District of Columbia, the citizens are disfranchised, and the district is run by a Commissioner, under the direct control of the Congress. No such provision was deliberately made in our Constitution, and I do not think that, in their present temper, the Australian people would tolerate such a deliberate discrimination against their enjoyment of citizenship rights. It is, I maintain, the duty of this Parliament to watch over and conserve the rights and privileges of every member of the community throughout the length and breadth of the Commonwealth. It is a dereliction of duty on our part to allow obstacles to deter us from discharging that obligation. Obstacles only exist for the purpose of human ingenuity designing means to overcome them. While I admit that there may be a little difficulty in finding out the best Way in which to apportion the votes of citizens cast on any proposed amendment of the Constitution, yet I think it is not beyond the ability of this Parliament, 'or at any rate of this branch of it, to devise the means of fairly and effectively overcoming the difficulty. As the position exists now, if all the electors of New South Wales and Victoria voted unanimously for a proposed amendment of the Constitution, and if a majority in the other four States, or if even a majority of one in each of the other four States, opposed the amendment, it would be sufficient to prevent it from being carried, and in counting the votes of the residents of the Federal Capital Territory it would be difficult to know where to place them when they, as it were, upset the position which is created by section 122 of the Constitution.

Senator Bakhap - If you are going to put them with any State, put them with New South Wales.

Senator RAE - A very reasonable device would be to include their votes in the total, even if they were not included in the votes of a particular State. There are two majorities re- quired to cany a proposed amendment of the Constitution. One is a majority of the whole electors of the Commonwealth voting, and the other is a majority in each of four States. Even if you could not reasonably or consistently include the votes of these persons in the votes of any particular State, in order to ascertain or determine the number of States which should be said to have carried the proposal, it would, I contend, be perfectly fair and logical, and would to some extent enfranchise the inhabitants, to include them in the total number of votes.

Senator Bakhap - Originally they must have voted with New South Wales in regard to the adoption of the Constitution Bill.

Senator RAE - That is not necessarily so in regard to all of them. As regards those who are land-holders in the district, doubtless that is so, but in the case of those who may have been attracted to the place since it has become Federal Territory, and an amount of Australian money has been expended there, they may have come from any quarter in the Commonwealth. It is as clear as noonday, though, that they were voters and residents almost to a man in one or other of the States. These are not foreign people attracted from some other part of the world, but Australians who had their voting rights in the respective States from which they came. I contend that, we should use every effort now to devise means for overcoming any obstacles to their present enfranchisement. It would not materially cause expenditure, and, even if it did, I would not consider that a valid argument. On the other hand, it would not be a disturbing factor in the- sense of introducing some alien interest to upset the deliberate opinion of the Australian people on any question submitted to them. If one citizen came from Victoria, another citizen from New South Wales, and another citizen from another State, and settled in the

Territory, their votes would probably not be cast differently from the direction in which they would have been cast had they remained in their respective States. Consequently, I can see no argument on the lines of upsetting the decision of the people as provided for in the present method of counting the votes. I can see no argument at all on those lines which would justify the keeping of these persons without the franchise. The argument that was used, I believe, in the case of the capital of the United States was that a capital containing a very large population should not be allowed to determine national issues when it was placed in a specially privileged position, so to speak. I could never see very much force in that argument. Itwould be just as logical to disfranchise the residents of Paris or London on the ground that if they acted together they could exercise an overwhelming influence on the destinies of their respective countries. We have no right to imagine that it will produce some evil In the days to come if the population be a large one, and we have no right to neglect this obvious duty merely because the number now is comparatively small. Every resident in the Capital area is very much aggrieved by being absolutely disfranchised. When the Commonwealth took over the Federal Territory the residents within that area ceased to be citizens of the State of New South Wales, and as there is no provision in our Federal law to meet their case, they were also disfranchised as Federal electors. This is a grave disability to deliberately inflict upon any body of Australian citizens. Politically speaking, they are absolutely outcasts - as much so as if they were foreigners, ignorant of our Australian conditions and English tongue. I maintain thatnow is the time to grapple with this subject. Up to a very brief period ago the district embracing the Federal Capital area was included in one of the New South Wales electorates, and therefore was represented in the Parliament of that State. Before it was taken over by the Commonwealth these persons were also Federal electors. Now they have simultaneously lost their rights as State and Federal electors. Everybody would scout the idea of taking away the right of citizenship from any Australian elec tor, but it is just as much a dereliction of" duty to keep these people out of their rights as it would be to take those rights away from them. At no future time will it be more practicable to restore those rights than it is at present. An alteration of the law to enable the Parliament to enfranchise them would not prevent this Parliament in the future from modifying or altering that law. Consequently, the proposed alteration makes only for greater freedom, and will not commit this Parliament to a course which must be followed for all time. The latter part of the motion, which relates to representation, has been included only for the purpose of covering what I have heard stated as Constitutional objections, which might stand in the way of Parliamentary representation being granted to the Capital area. In regard to the Northern Territory and Papua, we are clearly entitled' to concede those territories such representation as we may deem fit. We need not wait until they have become fullyfledged States.

Senator Clemons - I can assure the honorable senator that the Federal Territory and the Northern Territory are on: precisely the same footing.

SenatorRAE. - If that be so, subsection c of my proposal is rendered unnecessary; but the other sections remain untouched. If it be deemed wise to give the inhabitants of those Territories the right to vote on referenda proposals, it is necessary that the Constitution should be altered to confer that right.

Senator Clemons - I do not think so.

SenatorRAE. - The electoral law would hot cover it, because, while that law may vary the way in which a referendum is to be conducted, it cannot deal with that part of theConstitution which relates to how votes shall be counted and results determined. It is in order to cover that ground that I think it is necessary to amend the Constitution in the direction suggested. I am not oblivious to the fact that it is not reasonable to submit a very large number of constitutional amendments to the electors at the one time. Such a course is apt to confuse them. In this motion I have not done more than affirm a principle. I have not stipulated that its terms should: be given effect to immediately, becauseI recognise that everythingmust take its turn according to its importance. If Parliament deems it wise to submit to the electors other proposals of an emergent character it may be as well to defer this reform. But it is the obvious duty of every honorable senator who believes that a citizen is entitled to exercise his vote in any part of Australia - if means can be devised to enable him to exercise it - to affirm this motion. I submit it in the belief that the democratic ideas of honorable senators will induce them to indorse it.

Debate (on the motion of Senator Clemons) adjourned.

Suggest corrections