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Friday, 15 June 1906

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member would not be in order in reopening a discussion, except on a motion to rescind a vote which had been given ; but, while I cannot say how his speech will develop, the notice of motion which he handed to me, and the remarks which he has so far uttered, are in order. Standing order 269 says -

No member shall reflect upon any vote of the House, except for the purpose of moving that such vote be rescinded.

If the honorable member were to reflect upon a vote of the House, he would be out of order; but, so far, he is in order.

Mr SKENE - I have no intention of reflecting upon a vote of the House, or of touching upon what was done the other night. My object is to show that the anomalous position to which I wish to refer has been created by the Constitution, and I bring, the matter forward as a matter of urgency because an alteration of the Constitution would be necessary to get ridof the anomaly, and such an alteration could not take place until it had been agreed to' by an absolute majority of the two Houses, and had been before the public for at least two months. Although Victoria is losing a representative, and New South Wales is gaining one, the average number of electors represented by a Victorian member will be 28,000, while that represented by a New South 'Wales member will be only 25.000, the number of electors in New South Wales being 673,282, and in Victoria 616.426, or only 56,856 fewer. On those figures, New South Wales is justly entitled! to only two representatives more than should be given to Victoria, but under the arrangement provided for in the Constitution she will have five more representatives. The method of determining the quota is provided in section 24 of the Constitution in the following words : -

I.   A quota shall be ascertained by dividing the number of the people of the Commonwealth - not the number of the electors of the Commonwealth - as shown by the latest statistics of the Commonwealth, by twice the number of senators :

II.   The number of members to be chosen in each State shall be determined by dividing the number of the people of the State, as shown by the latest statistics of the Commonwealth by the quota.

When I first read that provision, it did not occur to me that it might create an anomaly such as I have just referred to; but, perhaps, some of the members of the Convention can tell us why the word "people" was used instead of the word " electors." In the light of what has occurred, the arrangement seems as erratic as that of some of the Southern States of America, when, in granting the franchise to negroes, they gave every five negroes three votes. To determine the quota by the number of the inhabitants of the Commonwealth, instead of by the number of electors, is really to, destroy adult suffrage, because such a method takes into account all the minors in the Commonwealth, from the last registered baby up to the young man or young woman of nearly twenty-one years of age. If the representation were based upon the number of electors, even' State would have the same quota.

Mr Wilks - Victoria has neglected to keep her cradles filled - that is the trouble.

Mr SKENE - I do not know about that. A number of young Victorians have left their native State to assist in the development of New South Wales, where they can get cheaper land. It seems to me that an injustice is being done to Victoria at present, and that similar injustice may be done by some other State in the future. I do not see why the minors in the population should be included in tha calculations made with a view of arriving at the quota. The only ' way of remedying, what I conceive to be a "defect in the Constitution, is by inserting the words " adult population " instead of the word " people." I know that it would be hopeless for a private honorable member to bring forward a proposal of this kind, but the Government would have no difficulty in taking the steps necessary to bring about the desired change. It has been argued that the reason why the number of electors in New South Wales is relatively small in comparison with the number in Victoria, is that trouble is experienced in enrolling, the electors. As no difficulty has been experienced in ascertaining that tha population of New South Wales now numbers 1.500.000 instead of 1 .400,000, in 1904, I do not see the force of the contention. If the total population can be estimated, there should be no difficulty in ascertaining the number of persons qualified to vote. This matter should be dealt with a't the present time, because, if steps are not taken to alter the Constitution prior to the next general election, it will be impossible to 'take action in that direction until after the next Parliament, has come to an end. The decennial census will be taken in 19.10, and we shall then be able to arrive at an accurate estimate of the population of the various States. If, however, the Constitution is not altered beforehand, we shall be in the same position then as we are now. I do not for a moment suggest that the framers of the Constitution thought that the adoption of population as the basis of representation would have resulted in injustice to Victoria, or that to their minds such a discre- paney was likely to arise between the quotas adopted for different States. Still, as matters have worked out, a distinct injustice has been done. I do not SUpPOse that the representatives of New South Wales would contend that it was just that thev should represent an average of only 25.000 electors, as against the 28.000 electors represented bv each of the Victorian members, or that on an electoral basis. Victoria should have five representatives less instead of two less. I know that an alteration in the Constitution is not to be lightly proposed, and if this were a mere matter of opinion, I should hesitate to press it upon the attention of the Government. I have dealt, however, with questions of fact, and have pointed Out clearly that under the present method of arriving at the quota, certain anomalies arise which should be removed at the earliest oppor-amity. I believe that within eighteen months of the adoption of the American Constitution, ten alterations were made, and that only six additional amendments - those effected after the civil 'war - have been made since. Therefore, I hope that the Government will not hesitate to remedy an act of injustice to Victoria, merely because it may be necessary to amend the Constitution.

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