1st Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I wish to correct some serious misstatements which appear in the Melbourne Age in reference to my position and that of the honorable member for Wentworth in regard to the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. It is stated in this morning’s issue that -
It is now common talk in the lobbies that Sir .
William McMillan, determined to fight the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill tooth and nail, had a conversation with his ohief in Sydney, and that ‘ Mr. Reid, impressed by the representations made by the capitalistic organizations in New South Wales, promised to oppose the BilL
It is a pure fabrication that I had a conversation with the honorable member for Wentworth on the subject, that I was impressed by the representations referred to, and that I promised to oppose the Bill. The article continues -
On reaching Melbourne, however, Mr. Beid found out that his own party’s rank and file would not oppose the Bill as a whole ; that tho labourpurty was not going to sacrifice the Bill for Mr. Kiog8ton’s amendment; and- that the Government would ask for a dissolution if the Bill were rejected.
I found out nothing whatever as to the attitude of my party in reference to the Bill, and I did not consult them on the subject ; I do not know anything as to what the labour party is going to do, nor do I know, that the Government will ask for a dissolution in any event. It is further stated that -
Mr. Reid thereupon decided to make a “Yes - No “ speech, which would end with the giving of general support to the measure. These tactics are said to have incensed Mr. Bruce Smith and Sir William McMillan, his principal lieutenants. The next meeting between the leader of the Opposition and His lieutenant, who bore the heat and burden of the day during the long Tariff debate -
There is some little gleam of justice to the honorable member for Wentworth there - while Mr. Reid was busy at the Bar, is stated to have been of a dramatic nature.
That is another pure fabrication, because I had no interview with the honorable member except a mere friendly salutation when meeting with him.
Mr. Reid, it is said, took up the position that if the quarrel -
The quarrel was saying “How do you do? “ to the honorable member - were to be made public he would be obliged to resign, but Sir William McMillan declared that for private reasons he had contemplated retiring ; that the new development “ settled it,” arid that in the interest of the party he would vacate his seat before the general election in December next.
That is another series of fabrications. When the honorable member for Wentworth last returned from the mother country, a few months ago, he informed me that it would be impossible for him to continue to be a member of the Federal Parliament, and that announcement was made at a time when the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill had not been thought of. From the beginning of my relations with him in this Parliament to the present moment, we have never had a difference of a serious character with reference to any matter which has been before the House.
– Is the rest of the’ yarn true.
– The whole statement is absolutely untrue.
SirWILLIAM McMILLAN. - I did not expect that as a private member I should be called upon to publicly explain any action that I contemplate taking, much less that I should be expected to reply to an article in a newspaper which does not keep closely to the truth. But what my right honorable and learned friend has said is absolutely correct. After I returned from England, and had taken a fair survey of matters here, I made up my mind not to contest the. electorate of Wentworth at the next general elections.
– We are all sorry to hear it.
– I thereupon called upon the chief of my party at his house, and had an interview with him at which the honorable member for Macquarie was present. I told him candidly my reasons for deciding not to seek re-election. I have eome to that decision, not because of the amount of work to bedone, and not on the ground of ill-health, but because it is a physical impossibility for any man when 500 miles away from the seat of his business to carry out certain responsibilities entailed upon him in connexion with it, and at the same time perform the trust that he owes to the people as their representative. I have had no difference of opinion with the leader of the Opposition. He has been good enough to leave me absolutelyuntrammelled in my actions as deputy when he has been absent. In an interview which I had the night before last with a newspaper reporter of the Sydney press, I told him that he could inform my Sydney friends that there is no truth in the rumour that I am about to retire from politics for any reason other than that which I have now stated, but that I intend, if I can arrange my business affairs properly, and a constituency will be good enough to re-elect me, to return to Federal politics within two or three years. My only reasons for resigning are the pressure of private business, and the absolute impossibility of performing two trusts at the same time.
– I move -
That this House disapproves of the proposed distribution of the State of New South Wales into twenty-six Division’s, named East Sydney, West Sydney, Wentworth, South Sydney, Lang, Dalley, Parkes, Ashfield, North Sydney, Parramatta, Illawarra, Macquarie, Werriwa, EdenMonaro, Robertson, Newcastle, Hunter, Hume, Bland, Cowper, Canobolas, New-England, Gwj’dir, Clarence-Richmond, Darling, and Riverina, and shown on the maps laid upon the table of the House of Representatives on the 7th August, instant.
In moving a similar motion in regard to the proposed distribution of Victoria I dwelt shortly upon several matters which to my mind were very important as containing the reasons why the Government decided upon this line of action.
– The honorable member gave no reasons.
– If I had confined my remarks giving one reason only - the present location of the population because of the unprecedented seasons throughout Australia during the last five years- it should have been quite sufficient. I claim that no other reason is necessary to support the course which I now propose, though I have given other and very cogent reasons. Those reasons, hold, strongly supported the action which I asked the House to take in regard to the Victorian distribution, but they are still stronger in their application to the New South Wales distribution. The area of country in New South Wales over which this dreadful drought has extended is so much larger than the area similarly affected in Victoria that the distress caused by it has been more severely felt, arid indeed the western districts of the State have been almost denuded of population. In some districts the towns have been almost deserted. Perhaps no town in New South Wales was at one time more flourishing than Bourke. That town has now lost nearly all its population, although before the bad seasons commenced it was a large and flourishing business centre. For some considerable time past valuable properties there have been in the charge of caretakers. Hotels which were formerly leased at very large rentals are nowleasedat nominal rentals of ls. a week, and even in one case I have heard of ls. a year, simply that some one will take charge of them. But Bourke is not the only instance. A similar state of things existed at Cobar, Hillston, Nymagee, Walgett, Nyngan, and nearly all the other towns in the western district of New South Wales. Last night these facts were disputed with great emphasis. I have therefore had a statement prepared which shows that during the last ten years the empty houses in the Western Land District of New South Wales has represented 30 per cent of all the dwellings there, and it must be remembered, that there are some places on the eastern fringe of that district from which the population has not been driven away by the drought. I was aware of these facts before, but in view of the statement made by the leader of the Opposition and others last night, I determined to obtain definite and accurate information which could not reasonably be disputed. I have also received a telegram from the Electoral Officer in Sydney in regard to the fluctuation of population in the western district. I wished to know if he could give me any information as to the difference between the returns formerly collected by the State . collectors for the State and Federal Governments and those collected during last month. I asked for that information because I have not yet been able to obtain from New South Wales detailed lists of electors which I could compare with previous lists. I had found out, however, that in the town of Hillston, which is a comparatively small place, the number of persons there now is 200 in excess of the number of names previously collected. No doubt that additional 200 is made up of those who have gone back, because the conditions are so improved that they can now live there.
– Is the Minister comparing the numbers on the State rolls with those on the Federal rolls ?
– I am making a comparison between the two Federal rolls.
– There was only one Federal roll.
– The honorable member is mistaken. The departmental officer in Sydney sent me the following telegram : -
After looking further into the matter of the return to the country by electors, and making further inquiries as to the movements of people from the cities to the western district it seems that the people are returning to the Lachlan, Coonamble, Cobar, Bourke Dubbo and Moree districts in a modified degree.
– Does the officer say anything regarding the Sydney and suburban electorates?
– I have read the whole of the telegram.
– The Minister has obtained just such information as would suit his purpose; he ought to have obtained other particulars.
– I desired to obtain authentic information to support the statements which I had made, and which I knew to be correct, as to the movements of population from the drought-stricken districts to the coast and back from the coast again.
– All the people from the western districts have not gone into the city.
– A large number of them have gone into the honorable member’s electorate.
– How does the Minister account for the deficiency in the city and suburban electorates ?
– I do not know that there is a deficiency. I told the honorable member privately that the statements he made some time ago as to the deficiency in the city and suburban electorates was not borne out’ by the figures supplied by my officers.
– Why does not the Minister submit that information to US
– I give all the information I can to this House on every occasion. There is nothing to hide so far as the Department is concerned, because everything has been fair and above board, and the work has been done as expeditiously as possible - perhaps more expeditiously than many people could have expected.
– There has been one continuous bungle.
– I do not imitate the honorable member’s bungling. I have obtained information from the most reliable sources as to the movements of population to and from the western districts of New South Wales, with which I am better acquainted than with the outlying districts of Victoria. I know that in the latter State a large area of country has been drought stricken, but that area is limited compared with the districts to which I have referred. The population of Coonamble was reduced by the exodus of the people coastwards, as was also that of Dubbo.
– The departmental officer in Sydney states that the people are returning to Dubbo.
– I am informed that they are returning to Dubbo and the other places mentioned in a modified degree.
– How many 1
– Surely the honorable member does not expect me to give the exact numbers.
– The Minister has the rolls, and he should be able to tell.
– The people have left not only the towns referred to, but
Wilcannia - although it is very difficult to get away from there - and many other towns in the dry districts. The Hay district is still in a very dry condition, and those who have left it have not been able to return up to the present. The drought conditions existed over an immense area of country, and about 30 per cent, of the houses in that part of New South Wales are empty at present.
– If the proposed distribution of electorates were adopted, would the people -who have left those districts be placed under any political disability ? Would they not still have their votes 1
– The proposed redistribution is based upon the numbers of the people who were in the districts at the time the roll was collected, and that would remain in force, practically, for three years. Then, when the next return was taken, it would be found that the population in the western electorates severally would equal that of the cities and towns. The Government desire that any redistribution of electorates shall take place under normal conditions and after the people who have been driven away from the drought-stricken .districts have returned. The leader of the Opposition was in his usual political vein last evening, and when he is in that mood he purrs like a kitten at one moment, and the next, scratches like a cat, if he gets the chance. That purring never deceives me, however it may impose upon others.
– No, the Minister sits in his place like an owl.
– Order ! The Minister is not discussing the question before the Chair.
– I am desiring to do so. In reply to what the leader of the Opposition stated last night, with regard to my not having made any reference to the enfranchisement of women, I desire to say that there is no person in the community who will not credit me with having endeavoured to do the female voters every justice. I have fought for their rights and I have practically given them the franchise and they may depend upon it that it will not be taken from them or reduced in any way.
Honorable Members. - The Minister is doing it now.
– Order ! I would point out that it is quite impossible for the Minister to make any progress whilst honorable members who are sitting opposite to him indulge in such frequent interruptions. I must ask them to allow the Minister to state his views and to reserve any comments they may have to make until they have an opportunity of addressing the House at a later stage.
– Under the proposal made by the Government, the women of the community will not be placed under any disability. If any class of the community has been driven from the dry districts, it is the women. The men may have been able, in many instances, to withstand the hardships inflicted by the bad conditions - and I think that some honorable members can scarcely realize what they have had to endure - but the women have been driven away to save their lives and those of their children. When the country is in an improved condition, these women will return, and will be able to vote in the places in which they should exercise their rights. There is no possibility of the women being disfranchised, or being harshly dealt with under our proposal. The leader of the Opposition dwelt very strongly upon the fact that in the country districts representatives could be returned by a fewer number of electors than in the centres of population. It is very late in the day for him to find that out, or to champion the rights of city electors to equal voting strength with those in the country in the way that he attempted to do last night. I can remember an occasion upon which conditions exactly similar to those referred to by the right honorable gentlemen were brought about under a State electoral law. I then asked him to take action to remove the disproportions existing between the numbers of voters in the city and country electorates, but he refused to allow any adjustment to take place. When I had an opportunity to make an attempt in that direction, I found that the wording of the Act was such that, owing to the action of the right honorable gentleman, I could not do what was desired. The right honorable gentleman made such a virtue of his advocacy of the principle of equal voting power that one would have supposed that he had never assumed an attitude of hostility towards it.
– I wish the Minister would imitate my good acts instead of my bad ones.
– I should have to use a microscope in order to discover the good acts of the right honorable gentleman.
– The redistribution did not take place in New South Wales, because it was intended to reduce the number of representatives in the House of Assembly after federation.
– Just so, and the reduction has yet not been made. I believe that we shall have a succession of good seasons for some years to come, that the people will go back to the droughtstricken districts, and that it will be found that the present arrangement of electorates will fairly carry out the spirit and intention of the Electoral Act. I have every confidence in the Commissioner, but, under the conditions presented to him he was bound by hard and fast rules under the Act. Parliament very wisely provided that the Commissioner’s decision should not be final, but that it should come back to us for review, and that, therefore, Parliament should be the master of the situation. What was the use of inserting that provision unless it was intended, if necessity arose, to exercise the power given? We now have a legitimate opportunity of exercising that power under the exceptional circumstances which have arisen. It is useless to say that we have no right to interfere with the decision of the Commissioner. If that had been the intention of Parliament we should have appointed the Commissioner,, and have allowed him to gazette his decisions without any reference to Parliament. That would have been the logical position had it been so intended. But it was not so - intended. Though I have the fullest confidence in the Commissioner, I venture to affirm that if any honorable member willstudy the electoral map submitted, and will carefully note where a country electorate has been taken away, he will find that tie legislative provision relating to community of interests has not been respected, and that the conditions obtaining in one part of a district are entirely different from those which prevail in another part. In this connexion I might instance the inclusion of the lower Riverina country,, whose interests are both pastoral and agricultural, with towns like Cobar and WhiteCliffs, where, it -is true, there is lightpastoral country, but where the bulk of the people are miners. I would further point out that the immense tract of country embraced in that district is such asto compel a candidate to pass through Victoria in order to reach town3> like
Echuca and Deniliquin, and to return through this State and travelviâ Sydney as far as Bourke in order to reach another part of the same district. It seems to me that the country which has a community of interests with Southern Riverina, is that which lies along the railway, line as far up as Junee and Hay, rather than such places as Cobar and White Cliffs. Why that country has not been included in the same electorate I cannot conceive, because it would have provided the necessary quota.
– The Commissioner has pointed out that it could not have been done.
– The quota could have been obtained under the provisions of the law within country which has a community of interests with lower Riverina.
– Then the Minister does reflect upon the Commissioner ?
– No. I merely say that in my judgment he has committed an error, although doubtless he has done what he conceived to be the best thing. In his report that officer states -
The advent of the female voter is, however, not entirely accountable for the almost chaotic inequalities of voting power throughout the present electorates. The depletion of the population brought about by the drought (which, unhappily, still holds in its grip some parts of the western districts), is a factor, and, it cannot be doubted, that the failure of the whole of hist year’s harvest and the loss of at least 15,000,000 sheep, has resulted in a dearth of employment in the countay districts, and the consequent removal of the population elsewhere.
That statement affords me a further argument. Not only have former residents in various parts of the country been compelled to remove to other portions of New South Wales, but they have been unable to afford the labor which they employed in previous years, and which, when their means permit, they will employ in the future. Under these circumstances, no apology is required for the Government proposal, and very few additional reasons need be advanced in support of it. Then I am reminded by the Prime Minister - and I have no doubt that it is absolutely correct - the names of some 9.1,000 persons have been omitted from the New South Wales electoral rolls. I have previously pointed out how the discrepancy arose, and it is not necessary for me to again refer to it. I have had the figures analysed and checked more than once. Upon the first occasion, my information was that at least 82,000 names were missing, and my latest report is that the number is at least 91,000.
– Have the missing sheep been found ?
– We can find their bones, and nothing more. The bones of some of the electors have also been found. In Victoria, the fina] analysis of the figures showed that the names of between ‘ 35,000 and 36,000 electors were missing. That is bad enough in all conscience, but when we consider that nearly three times that number are unaccounted for in New South Wales, it becomes a much more serious matter. lt only goes to show that the present is not the proper time tq effect new electoral divisions of the country, which would work inequitably during the next three years. The leader of the Opposition and many of his supporters have never ceased to charge the Electoral Department with bungling. They have declared that everything has been done wrong, and nothing right.
– This proposal is the worst possible reflection upon them.
– It is no reflection whatever, and for this reason : Had it not been for an abnormal condition of things, which we were hopeful would have been happily removed long before these lists were required, no difficulty whatever would have been experienced. In any case, I have watched the dates so carefully that it is still possible to’ refer these boundaries back to the Commissioner.
– Will the Minister consent to the adoption of that course ?
– No. .
– Then why make that statement ?
– My reason for making the statement is that honorable members declared last night that there was practically no time to return these boundaries to the Commissioner for revision, and to deal with the matter finally before the prorogation of Parliament. I know that if we adopted that course we should still have at least a month to spare. But what would be the use of returning the maps to the Commissioners unless we could supply them with more complete and accurate data to facilitate the work of re-adjustment? If it . were possible to collect further information during the interval that is available, there might be some reason for the adoption of the course suggested, although the conditions have now so changed that half of the electors who deserted country districts during the recent drought have returned to them. Under the circumstances it would be simply’ fruitless to return this scheme to the Commissioner with a view to alteration. Possibly if we did so he would reply that he had made the best use of the figures ‘at his command and could not see his way clear to amend the boundaries which he has defined. Some honorable members have blamed the Electoral Department for the way in which the rolls have been collected. But I would point out that that Department did everything that was necessary up to the point of handing over the requisite forms to the police. When the police took charge of the collection of the rolls the matter passed out of the hands of the Electoral Department.
– When did the police take charge of the rolls ?
– At various times before the compilation took place.
– When did they take charge in New South Wales 1
– I cannot give the exact date, but it was some months ago.
– No ; it was not.
– The Electoral Department has discovered a few discrepancies in connexion with the collection. But the Department is not to blame for those discrepancies. I venture to say that those who ‘so glibly attack the Department have not the smallest conception of the stupendous task with which it was faced. In the past it has been difficult for the Department to accurately collect the rolls in the different States, even though it exercised supreme control over the police. It goes almost without saying that in dealing with six States in which the Department has not supreme control over the officers charged with the task of collecting the rolls the difficulties are infinitely greater. What is the alternative to the course which I adopted ? The House declared that the work of collecting the rolls should be performed as economically as possible. Had the Department employed outside agents all over Australia I am afraid to contemplate what the cost would have been. If I had not been able, through the courtesy of the various States, to obtain the services of the police in collecting the rolls, we should have had to pay a large number of outside people to assist in that work. The only other course would be to utilize the services of the postal officials throughout Australia, and, as a matter of fact, in Western Australia and the northern parts of South Australia we did utilize their services. In my judgment, the work in most of the States has been done as well as it was possible to do it under the circumstances. We cannot expect to obtain absolutely complete information at this early stage of our national history, but we have done the work as expeditiously and well as circumstances would allow. Honorable members have referred to the delays which have occurred. The fact that we had to work through the States Departments necessarily involved delay. In two or three cases it occupied a very serious amount of time. In the case of Western Australia, we should have had the rolls, and have been able to deal with the redistribution of that State now,, but for the delay which occurred in the final conclusion of arrangements between the State and the Federal Governments for the collection and preparation of the returns. In these circumstances I cannot believe for one moment that the public of Australia will not recognise, even if honorable members of the Opposition fail to do so, the difficulties which we have experienced. I feel satisfied that the public of Australia will acknowledge that we have been called upon to perform a great and arduous work, and that it has been carried but with but comparatively few mistakes.
– The honorable member said there was a discrepancy of 91,000 in the New South Wales federal rolls. That, is a fairly serious mistake.
– The State officials assert that practically no mistake hasbeen made. The information which I have received from the officers of the Federal Electoral Office shows that there is that discrepancy, although it is impossible to say whether it is due to the fact that many of the people whose names appear in the’ census returns, to which is added the- computation of the difference between arrivals, and departures and the natural increaseof population, are not in the State as, has been asserted. I believe that thereis a discrepancy, and that it is as great, or even slightly greater, than the estimate I have mentioned. Whether a mistake has been made or not, I have no desire to blame the officials. They assert that, no error has been made, although the discrepancy really represents a difference of one-sixth in the total number of electors in New South Wales.
– That is a big discrepancy.
– I admit that it is, and some attempt should certainly be made to account for it. We should either prove that it does not exist - that the people in question are not now in the State i - or else allow the matter to be dealt with when information more accurate than that which we have at the present time will be available to us. It is unnecessary for me to refer at length to the various divisions in New South Wales, but I feel that the House will agree with me when I say that we should endeavour, as far as possible, to preserve that community of interest which has been responsible for the return of honorable members, and has existed for the last two and a half years. It would not be wise now to ruthlessly destroy the existing electoral boundaries. It would be unwise to sever interests which have been working harmoniously together under the existing system for the last two years and a half, and to separate electors who have come politically to know each other better than they did before. It is wiser if possible to preserve these interests rather than to hack the electorates about in various ways without giving this matter due consideration. I believe that by adopting the course proposed by the Government, by retaining, on the occasion of the next election, the old electoral’ boundaries, we shall tend to preserve the community of interest to a greater extent than we should otherwise do, and that with a return of population to the districts which have been denuded by the d rou gh t, we shall find th at the variou s d i vision s are not so much above or below the quota as some people would have us believe. I belive that there will then not be anything like so great a difference between the measure of representation of country divisions and cpntres of population as that which has hitherto existed in Victoria, which existed at one time in New South Wales, and which exists in other parts of the British Empire.
-We have now reached the second act in the most astounding performance of any responsible Ministry in a country where manhood suffrage is supposed to prevail, and it is just as well that we should have a little daylight thrown upon the action of the Government. Yesterday those who represent the State of New South Wales were. at a certain disadvantage in dealing with the proposition in regard to Victoria, although the reasonsgiven by the Minister in reference to it en- . abled us, upon the high ground of principle,, to denounce as strongly as we could an invasion of the intention of the Constitution. We can speak, however, with greater confidence of the figures and the position of affairs generally in reference to New South Wales. In the first place, I can fully understand how it is that the Minister whohas just taken over the administration of the Customs Department has been commissioned by the Government to carry through this very delicate piece of business. Where would the Government have been if our frank friend the right honorable member for Swan had been assigned this task ? He would have told us the true inwardnessof this conspiracy against the manhood and womanhood of Australia?
– I rise to a point of order. I wish to know, Mr. Speaker, whether the right honorable and learned member is in order in saying that the Government are guilty of a conspiracy against the manhood and womanhood of Australia ?
– I ask the right honorable and learned member to withdraw the remark.
– I shall withdraw it for publication in another place, where I have the right of free discussion, and where I can freely express the opinion which I hold in regard to this transaction. I admit that it is necessary for me, in deference to . you, sir, to withdraw the remark ; but I shall express the same opinion in language towhich no objection can be taken. I repeat that the present Minister for Home Affairs,. Sir John Forrest, who knows the inward working of the Cabinet mechanism, and the wonderful understanding which has brought together the extremes of the conservative and labour’ influences in thisParliament, would have put the matter before us in a different way. I thought that a surgical operation would have been necessary in order to cause certain honorable members to vote together on a question involving manhood suffrage and the distribution of political power. But we saw yesterday a strange spectacle. We see it again to-day, and we shall also witness it in connexion with the proposition to be submitted in regard to the Queensland distribution. The whole matter was cut and dried before these motions were tabled. The whole thing was understood. When we hear of this sympathy with the disruption of political relations in existing electorates, we know what the Minister means. If the Commissioner’s redistribution had been adopted, one honorable member of the Ministerial party, the honorable member for Riverina, would have been effaced in his electorate. He seemed to age at once after hearing of the proposed redistribution, but we find to-day that he is a young man again.
– We used to sympathize with the honorable member while the position was uncertain. But yesterday he became rejuvenated. The honorable member whose constituency was to be wiped out will acknowledge the loyal service which the Government have rendered to him in return for the little services given by him on many other occasions, both inside and outside of this chamber. If the Minister for Home Affairs had been in charge of this matter we should have had no difficulty in obtaining from him a manly declaration that the democracy of Australia wanted a new bridle, and that lie was the man to pub it on - that inasmuch as the people of the country were supposed to be more conservative than are the residents of the towns, he would wipe out tens of thousands of democratic votes in large centres of population in order to redress, by a breach of the Constitution, the mistake of giving manhood and womanhood suffrage to the people of Australia. The Minister for Home Affairs could not be trusted with a delicate piece of political manipulation like this. He is too straightforward and too open for the work. We have now to deal with this state of things - and I appeal to honorable members who represent States other than New South Wales to give it their attention ; when we were dealing with a question affecting hundreds of thousands of voters in Victoria, we had before us at least a printed copy of the report of the Commissioner. We at least had in circulation a document upon which the fortunes of thousands of voters depended. But what will the people of Aus- 1 tralia believe when they know what I tell them now - that the whole of the able and exhaustive report presented by the Commissioner appointed by the Government to arrange the distribution of New South Wales has not been circulated amongst honorable members? What will they believe when they hear that the only document in which that officer gives full information, and deals with the movements of the population and the whole of the questions which have been referred to by the Minister for Home Affairs, has not been printed, and that I have had to obtain it in type-written form from the Clerk ? I suppose that the complacency of some honorable members goes so far as to allow them to submit to such a position ; but it is too much to say that the interests of hundreds of thousands of electors should be dealt with by us in the absence of the common decency of a printed copy of the Commissioner’s report. Honorable members who represent Queensland are the trustees for the people of New South Wales just as are those who represent that State.
– The Commissioner’s report was laid on the table as soon as it was received by me. It was then forwarded to the Printing Committee.
– This is an instance of the way in which the electoral business of the Commonwealth is dealt with.
– Gerrymandering !
– The information would have been fatal to the Government proposal.
– I am going to read at least some paragraphs in this report for the benefit of the people.
– Then the right honorable member has the report before him?
– Yes ; but it is not printed, and it is, I believe, the only type-written copy in the chamber. We have a printed statement setting forth the reasons why the Minister for External Affairs saw fit to detain and finally to admit into the Commonwealth three Maories from New Zealand, as well as printed documents relating to the most contemptible trivialities, but we have not in print a report from a Commissioner relating to the political interests of 600,000 electors of Australia. The Electoral Act was not passed a day or two ago. It was dealt with last year.
– Tt was assented to on the 1 1 th October of last year.
– I presented the report to the House the day after I received it.
– I am not referring to the report, but to the Act.
– Never mind the Act.
– But I do mind. The Electoral Act was assented to last October. Had we to wait for the passing of the Electoral Act before allowing certain preliminary work to be done in connexion with this gigantic task ? Surely I am still in a democratic Parliament when I say that the franchise is one of the questions nearest to us in endeavouring to protect the rights of the people outside this House ? Honorable members are all right, but we are speaking just now of the electors, not the members of this House. The electorates in which we have grown up in sympathy with our constituents are kept intact ; but we have to consider other people, who might wish, perhaps, to make a change in their representation. I wish to deal first with plain matters of business. The Electoral Act was passed in October last. The Government knew that an election of senators would take place in December of this year, and they knew that if any regard was to be paid to economy the elections for the House of Representatives must take place at the same time. They were aware of that fact months and months ago. The Commissioner was instructed some considerable time ago to prepare a scheme of distribution. If the Government intended to return this distribution to the Commissioner, they might say - “Every day is precious; we must deal with this matter even in its present unsatisfactory state, and return the distribution to the Commissioner in order that it may be set right in time for the elections.” But that is not the attitude of the Government. They are asking the House to give a vote which will nullify everything, and involve no return of the scheme to the Commissioner. There can be, therefore, no urgency in asking the House to take what would be a most serious step without this document being printed for our information. Will not honorable members of this House who do not .represent New South Wales do the electors of that State the justice of seeing this document printed and placed in their hands before this vital question is decided ? Am I asking too much from the honorableminded representatives of Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, and Western Australia in preferring that request ? Is that asking too much of those honorable members who maintain, and worthily maintain, I am happy to say, such a high standard of political honour 1 I am not using the expression in any sneering way, because I have expressed my appreciation of this House over and over again. I sincerely and joyfully recognise the conscientiousness of honorable members. While I think that the House has at times made the greatest mistakes, the statement of that fact is a very different thing from the imputation of unworthy motives to honorable members. But they are sitting now as a court of honour to determine the electoral rights of the people of Australia, and I ask them, therefore, if they are prepared to resist my application to them to read the able and exhaustive report of the Commissioner for New South Wales, whose capacity is not impugned. Will honorable members do New South Wales the favour to read the report of her Commissioner before they express either their approval or disapproval of it ? Is that asking too much of the representatives of the manhood of Australia? Is it too great a task for their Ministerial complacency ? There might be a reasonable excuse for dealing with the matter right away, if the proposal were that we should refer the proposed distribution again to the Commissioner ; but when we are asked to throw away the money, labour, and time which the production of the report has entailed, should not the Federal Parliament of Australia first read the document which contains it? Will honorable members not do our people the justice to consider that report ? The Minister for Trade and Customs laughs, but he is accustomed to these methods of bamboozling.
– I am accustomed to the right honorable member’s methods.
– The Minister represents an order of political ingenuity winch is perfectly understood in his own State. May I suggest that he has not ventured to give us the opinion of the Chief Electoral Officer of the Commonwealth upon any of these matters. We supposed that when some one was appointed to that high official position, he would be a man of such experience and standing in the public service of one of the States that his views and advice would be of some moment. I charge the Government, in the person of the Minister for Trade and Customs, with having appointed to that responsible office a man who has been proved to be absolutely incapable of performing the duties attached to it.
– That is very unfair to the officer in question.
– It is anything but unfair. But he has a further disqualification, and I think it is a serious one. A man appointed to the position of trustee or custodian of the interests of the electors of Australia should have no political party history behind him. If there is one man who should never be put into such a position it is the man who has been a party candidate in the interests of the Minister for Trade and Customs.
– That is not true.
– At the New South Wales elections of 1898 the Chief Electoral Officer came out against one of my best supporters, the present member for Cook division in the State Parliament. He was, too, an active partizan of the party to which both the Prime Minister and the Minister for Trade and Customs belong.
– That is why he holds his present position.
– When the Prime Minister was a candidate for the Macleay electorate, and was opposed by the honorable member for Macquarie, a big fight took place between the two political parties in New South Wales ; and who then went round the electorate with the Prime Minister ? Who fought side by side with him throughout the election? The gentleman who is now Chief Electoral Officer of the Commonwealth !
– A nice man to place in charge of the Department !
– As I have remarked before, I have nothing to say against this gentleman’s personal reputation; but it is absolutely wrong that political partisans, however worthy and honorable as private citizens, should be placed in such a position. But more than that. This officer has been twice pensioned off by Governments which knew him. In 1885 - 18 years” ago - there was a reconstruction of the Lands Department, in which he was then employed as a draftsman. We know that when there is a weeding out, it is not the best officers who are sent away. The Chief Electoral Officer, however, “was then deliberately weeded out of the Lands Department as one whom it paid the public of New South Wales better to pension . than to employ. His pension was afterwards suspended during a period in which he was occupied in connexion with the preparation of the Local Government Bill. Years went by, and the Public Service Board was appointed. By that- time this gentleman had become Chief Electoral Officer of New South Wales, but the members of the Board, after investigating the condition of his office, thought it well tq remove him, and to appoint a subordinate to his place. They thought it better that he should be paid in the form of a pension £300 or £400 a year for doing nothing than that he should be employed in any capacity in connexion with the Public Service.
– Did not the late Sir Henry Parkes give him a bonus of- £500 for special service ?
– I wish the honorable member were guided by the actions of the late Sir Henry Parkes in more important matters. What is it to us if he gave him a bonus or 100 bonuses? I am told, however, by the honorable member for Macquarie that it was Sir George Dibbs who gave him that gratuity, in which case I can understand the action, because he belonged to the same party. I was speaking, ‘however, of the action of the members of the Public Service Board of New South Wales. They are not a body of politicians, but gentlemen who are quite removed from politics, who did not remove for him any political reason.
– But the right honorable member was discussing this gentleman’s fitness for his duties.
– I am questioning his fitness, and nothing else. As a proof of his unfitness, I said that the Public Service Board of New South Wales did not consider him a suitable person to perform the duties of Chief Electoral Officer in one State, although he is now in charge of the Commonwealth Electoral-office, which deals with the electoral affairs of six States. The members of the Board thought it a more economical arrangement to give him £300 or £400 a year to walk about the streets, and do nothing, than to employ him in the Public Service. Surely, that fact is the strongest evidence of his unfitness for his present position.
– I think that the granting of the bonus to him is a strong proof of his fitness.
– The bonus was a political gift.
– The Chief Electoral Officer had never entered politics when he was given that bonus.
– No doubt that is true, but he did not receive it as Chief Electoral Officer, although he was given a pension of £300 a year for not performing the work of Chief Electoral Officer.
– The right honorable gentleman is very vicious towards this officer.
– It is a disgraceful tiling that the honorable gentleman has placed a partisan of his in such a position ; that he has given it to a defeated candidate of his party.
– The right honorable member has made a great many misstatements in reference to this officer.
– These are all facts.
– They are not. The statements are absolutely incorrect.
– Is it incorrect to say that he was a candidate, and that he went round the Macleay electorate with the Prime Minister?
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has an elastic power of denial. Does he deny that this officer in 1898 opposed Mr. Whiddon for the representation of Cook division ?
– I am not aware of the fact.
– I am aware of it, and of a number of other facts. Does the honorable member deny that the Chief Electoral Officer toured the Macleay electorate with the Prime Minister ?
– I am absolutely unaware of the fact.
– I am in a position to say that he did. feir Edmund Barton. - He was never with me at any town in the electorate, so far as I know.
– He went round the electorate.
– As a poiut of order, I ask if these statements have anything to do with the motion before the Chair?
– They have a lot to do with it.
– Does the honorable member wishto garrote the discussion ?
– The honorable members who have interjected are quite out of order. The question before the Chair is the proposed disapproval of certain recommendations for the alteration of the electoral divisions of New SouthWales. The right honorable member for East Sydney challenges the action which has been taken in the past by the Electoral Office, and, incidentally, the fitness of the Chief Electoral Officer for the discharge of his duties. I do not think the right honorable gentleman has so far gone beyond what is relevant to the motion. Should he transgress the rules cf order, I shall call his attention to the fact.
– The statements which I have made in regard to the visit of the Chief Electoral Officer to the Macleay electorate, in support of the candidature of the Prime Minister, are made on the authority of the honorable member for Macquarie, who was a candidate for the Same seat, and who has assured me that the officer in ‘ question was all over the electorate. He may not have driven with the Prime Minister in the same buggy, but he went all over the electorate fighting his cause. The report of which we are asked to disapprove has been laid upon the table so recently that we have not yet been able to obtain printed copies of it.
– Would it not be just to admit- that I laid it upon the table as soon as I received it?
– I do not question that. I do not suggest that the honorable gentleman kept it back so that it should ‘ not be printed. I only mention the simple naked fact that it has not been printed, so that copies of it may be available for honorable members. There may be a hundred official explanations, showing that although miracles of zeal were wrought, it was unavoidable that the printing should not take place. I am dealing with the simple naked fact that the interests of the people of New South Wales are being guillotined by honorable members who have not read the report upon this vital question. It is not a report which one can take up and read in a moment. It does not cover merely a page of print; it covers 34 pages of close typewriting, and it would be impossible for any honorable member to digest its recommendations by a cursory glance over its contents. I ask the Government if they will adjourn the debate so that honorable members, before they vote on the question at the beck of the Ministry, may obtain copies of the report, and bring to bear upon its consideration the intelligence with which the Creator has endowed them. Will they allow their supporters to exercise their independence to that extent? Or, to put my request in a more conciliatory form, will the Government consent to postpone the division upon this motion until honorable members have had an opportunity to read the report in print ?
– -Upon what statement in the report is that request based 1
– For one thing, upon the fact that the document is composed of thirty-four typewritten pages which it is impossible to understand by merely glancing over them.
– Nearly the whole cf it is taken up with the description of boundaries and a statement of the population in the various divisions.
– Those descriptions are most important. I have looked at some of them, and I shall refer to ‘them later on. It is not as though we were in Court, moving for a rule nisi, when it is a question whether the evidence need or need not be read. I am simply asking for what is right ; for what is fair to the Commissioner and necessary in the interests of the people of New South Wales. When we dealt with the Victorian distribution we had printed copies, of the Commissioner’s report before us, and could form our own judgments upon his recommendations, and give an intelligent vote upon them. Honorable members, whether they did right or wrong in disapproving of that distribution, can fairly say, “ We saw the report and read the reasons of the Commissioner, so that we knew what we were doing.” But how can any honorable member say that he knows what he is doing in connexion with the New South Wales distribution when he has not read the report of the Commissioner ? However, we shall see. I make that appeal to the Government. Putting aside the other members of the Ministry, who do not cave much, I make that appeal to the Ministers who “represent New South Wales. Will the two Ministers who represent the people of New South Wales do them the justice to allow that report to go into the hands of honorable members before this momentous decision is given ‘( Will they do that for New South Wales in this matter which they do in reference to the most contemptible questions 1 In the most ordinary matters of administration, honorable members have only to ask that the papers be laid upon the table and printed, to insure compliance with the request. This is not a question of doing something in a hurry, but of tearing all that has been done into pieces, and doing nothing ; . so that there is no urgency regarding an act’ of destruction of that kind. In order to show honorable members that this report really ought to be considered upon the very point which the Minister has mentioned, I shall read one or two paragraphs. For the information of honorable members I should like to say that the Minister admits that Mr. Houston, the Electoral Commissioner for New South Wales, is one of the most eminently qualified men for such a task who could be found in that State. There is no doubt of that. He has been Under-Secretary for Lands for many years, and is now a member of the Land Court of New South Wales, and as such has travelled over a large portion of the State. He is a most able, independent, and fearless man. Now, I just ask honorable members, if they will
Dot trouble to -read this report before they decide - if that is too great a tax upon their industry or upon their patriotism - to listen for a moment to one or two paragraphs in the document. In the first place, I wish to dwell for a moment upon this question of community or diversity of interests. I am afraid that there is running through the consideration of this matter, without any conscious intention - I do not wish to accuse any one of any conscious intention to do that which they know to be wrong - a disposition to impart a political complexion to the question of diversity or community of interest. Community of interest is regarded as meaning community of interest with the party which is in power. There is a member of the Government party who will be wiped out if the existing conditions are not preserved, and there is a member of another party, which is closely associated with the Government, who is also in a state of doubt regarding his prospects of return if the new boundaries are adopted. Both these gentlemen have been rejuvenated by this patriotic Government, and I suppose that when both parties are satisfied, everything is about right - at least, so far as divisions are concerned.
– The right honorable gentleman ought to know.
– I do know. But I am not at present in the shafts to be driven.
– The right honorable gentleman may be there soon.
– -If so, the honorable member will find me a more restive animal than the one with which he has to deal at present. I give him fair notice that we may have an honorable alliance and work together for all things in which we believe, but that it will never be a case of the wrong fellow using the whip all the time. There will be no whipping at all - there never was before in our relations ; when it comes to that I hope we shall be able to agree to part company.
-The right honorable gentleman was not too bad when he was in the shafts.
-No. I had the advantage of carrying my policy with the assistance of my friends of the labour party who believed in another type of fiscalism.
– Order! The right honorable member is not addressing himself to the question before the House.
– My honorable friend from Queensland has quite a breezy influence upon the debate. I wish honorable members to listen to one or two of the paragraphs in the report, but I must ask them not to take my reading of these paragraphs as absolving them from studying the document themselves. I do not desire to be made a convenience of. I do not propose to read the report, but only enough of it to show honorable members, especially those who have been “fixed-up “ already, that they and those whose votes are still in the balance ought to regard it as their duty to consider the report. Just let me point out the condition of affairs that exists at the present time. In paragraph 14 of the report, the Commissioner refers to the female votes, and the difference that is made. He says -
It is obvious that in the present condition of the electorates, with numbers varying from 12,139 (Darling) to 32,476 (Lang).
Just consider the present state of things which this House is asked to perpetuate in a country of manhood and womanhood suffrage, with a great labour party, whose vital plank is “one vote, one value.” There are no reservations in the labour platform about droughts, or floods, or strokes of lightning, or party considerations; that fool of a programme is straight, and contains no reservations or qualifications. “ One vote one value” is the plank. The Commissioner points out that the existing discrepancy ranges between 12,000 electors returning one member and 32,000 electors returning one member. Now, there is the state of things which the Commissioner brings before this House elected on manhood suffrage. Are we going to carry our desire to keep the conservative, country, bucolic element over the restless democracy to such an extent that there is to be in the hands of the men in the country two and a half times the political power that is in the hands of the men in the towns ? Has it gone quite so far as that ? Is not that a range of difference between the minimum and maximum that might be almost too much for the men who believe in political equality ; for those who do not regard it as a phrase or a plank in a wooden platform, but as a real belief? Does not this state things take us back to the rotten boroughs of the mother country? What was the fight in the mother country but that of the conservatives against the artisans, in the towns obtaining political power? We saw little knots of people in the country returning members against hundreds of thousands of artisans who, because they lived in towns, and were progressive and therefore dangerous, were disqualified by an infamous abuse of the electoral law. We have a similar infamous abuse here, not brought about by political corruption or anything of that sort, but an existing fact. The state of things in New South Wales is so bad that if we agreed to this motion, 12,000 men and women in one part of the State would have political power equal to that enjoyed by 32,00.0 men and women in another part of the State.
– I suppose the right honorable gentleman is taking extreme cases?
– I am simply giving the statement of the Commissioner.
– But are not the cases mentioned extreme?
– It must be so. Now I come to the question of the extreme to which a democrat can stretch his political conscience. Can he stretch it to the difference between 32,000 votes and 1 2,000 votes? Is it stretchable enough for that? Look at the infinite precautions which we took in the Electoral Act. If a voter happened to be five miles away from a booth, we provided facilities which would enable him to record his vote. We took infinite precautions in the framing of that Act, which, in the light of the present proposal, becomes a huge hypocrisy. We took infinite pains to insure that every stray solitary elector away in the country should be entitled to bring the whole resources of the State under his control, in order to enable him to register his vote, and now we find that the man who introduced that Bill would disfranchise 20,000 electors in one electorate. What a hideous hypocrisy ! It may be tolerated here, but I do not think it will elsewhere. This is a sort of arithmetic that no political gloss will gild. All this is not my exaggeration but the statement of the Commissioner. I shall read the whole paragraph which is a very short one -
It is obvious that in the present condition of the electorates, with numbers varying from 12,139 (Darling) to 32,476 (Lang), equality of representation has no place ; and to give effect to the principle as contemplated by the Statute a reconstruction of the existing boundaries of electorates, more or less extensive in character, becomes inevitable.
Mr. Houston, is not a lawyer, and he did not need to be a lawyer to see the fact that, if we are to give a loyal adherence to the principles of the Electoral Act, some reconstruction is absolutely necessary. Surely these are matters upon which honorable members may take the trouble to inform themselves. It is not much to ask honorable members in the course of their busy lives to read a short report upon such an important matter. It is easy to hand matters over to the Government, and let them do everything ; but it is not fair. Now, here is another paragraph I should like to read. I wish to point out that the Commissioner has given legitimate effect in his distribution to all that the Minister has in “view. I should like to read to honorable members paragraph 19, which is as follows : -
An examination of the number of electors allocated to the proposed divisions, as set out in the table given in paragraph .1 -
How many honorable members have read the table given in paragraph 1 1 How many of the judges who are sitting here to determine the electoral destinies of the State of New South Wales have read this evidence, upon which they are to decide 1 The paragraph reads -
An examination of the number of electors allocated to the proposed divisions, as set out in the table given in paragraph 1, will show that, while high numbers have been adopted in thickly populated areas such as the divisions of the city of Sydney and suburbs and Newcastle, moderate or low numbers have been assigned to the divisions in the central or western districts, and to some of the coastal divisions.
The Commissioner has given full consideration to all these matters. There is one paragraph in which the Commissioner refers to the calamitous state of affairs, which has been mentioned in connexion with the drought, and I wish to point out how he has taken into consideration those matters to which some honorable members attach a great deal of importance. According to this report there are 558,000 electors in the State of New South Wales. There are 396,000 electors in the city, and in what are called the coast electorates, including Newcastle, and the population up and down the coast. The Commissioner has given the total number of electors, in the coast districts including Sydney and suburbs, and he finds there are 396,000 in that area. There are 192,000 in the rest of New South Wales. The more populous part of the State to which I have referred, with 396,000 electors has fifteen members, which gives in round numbers an average of 26,000 electors, per member. The country districts with 192,000 electors have eleven members, so that the average number of country electors per member - and this is under the new plan which we are asked to reject, and not under the old state of affairs - is 17,000, against an average constituency in the populous area of 26,000. Surely the difference between 17,000 and 26,000 electors carries the idea of favouring the country a fair length !
– Is the right honorable and learned member sure of his figures, because they seem to diverge more widely than does the allowance under the Act ?
– We allowed a margin of one-fifth, which in the case of many of the electorates represents a. range of 10,000. The figures are given by the Commissioner in paragraph 10 ‘of his report. He says -
It will be seen that the eight city and snburban electorates (namely, East Sydney, West Sydney, Wentworth, South Sydney, Lang, Dalley, Parkes and North Sydney) include 234,406 electors, or nearly two-fifths (39’74 per cent.) of the whole number of electors ; and further, that these electorates, together with the Coast electorates (namely, Richmond, Cowper, Hunter, Newcastle, Parramatta, Illawarra and Eden-Monaro) contain no less than 396,869 voters, or over two-thirds of the electoral population of the State. The remaining 192,920 electors are distributed over an immense area, embracing about five-sixths of the State.
Is there an honorable member who will openly and straightforwardly declare that it is part of the principle of adult suffrage that the area upon which men live shall be counted ? Is there an honorable member who in the face of a single elector in Australia will avow that that principle is recognised in our electoral system ? Is “ community of interest”- to be represented by the possession or occupation of acres ? The Commissioner continues -
The> addition of 2S6,000 electors to the voting power of a State might of course -
I ask honorable members to recollect that there are now nearly 300,000 electors in New South Wales whose names were never previously on the roll - be expected to cause some disturbance of the existing electoral arrangements, but, when it is found that more than two-thirds of the total number of this new army of voters are located . practically on the eastern margin of the State, it is apparent that exceptional action must be taken to bring the electoral system into line with legislative requirements.
If anybody is a trustee for the honest carrying out of legislation surely it is a member of this House. How can we expect men to submit to our laws, and to go to gaol if they break them, when we ourselves break them flagrantly in Parliament assembled 1 May I remind honorable members of the definition of “undue influence,” which’ we solemnly inserted in our Electoral Act ? Section 178 reads -
Without limiting the effect of the general words in the preceding section, “undue influence” includes every interference or attempted interference with the free exercise of the franchise of any voter.
I say that this is a gigantic attempt at undue influence. It is an attempt to interfere with the franchise, not of one voter but of hundreds -of thousands of voters. Here these gentlemen of delicate political conscience, who prescribe gaol punishment for men who tamper with a vote ; who are so scrupulous about the law which is to govern people who are not members of Parliament, that if some ignorant wretch makes a trip by endeavouring to influence a voter at the polling booth, under our august directions he may be imprisoned, declare that if we interfere with the rights of hundreds of thousands of electors to vote at all, ©r to vote honestly and fairly, it is then a matter of high State necessity. There has been a drought, we are told. An enormous town in the interior of New South Wales which never possessed more than 300 or 400 souls at the best of times has lost some of its population. These remarkable vicissitudes are not provided for in this fool of an Act, although we provided for the case of a man who might be absent from a certain place upon polling day. He can utilize the postoffice in order that his vote may be recorded. What a farce it is to tell people that they have an equal opportunity of exercising the franchise when, in one part of the country, 12,000 electors can return a member, whilst in another part it takes 32,000 electors? What fatuous talk of equality ! Before this drought occurred - or rather before it reached the climax of its severity within the last twelve or eighteen months, because last year we lost 16,000,000 sheep and nearly the whole of our harvest of 16,000,000 bushels-
– On the figures of 1902?
– I intend to quote figures which relate to the period when the present electorates were first defined. I want honorable members to realize the difference which was then made in favour of the country districts.
– Why. did the right honorable and learned member permit of that ?
– I am not responsible for it.
– The right honorable and learned member was in the New SouthWales Parliament at the time.
– The present Minister for Trade and Customs is the gentleman whom the honorable member should question. I chanced to be the poor leader of the Opposition at the time. I have not so many supporters when I am out of office as I have when I am in. I have not so many persons running after me when I am in opposition, as when I am in Ministerial office. If I were upon the Treasury Benches I should have plenty of friends, although I might not be able to oblige them so well as does the Minister for Trade and Customs, because he sticks at nothing from a tram ticket to a transcontinental tour. I ask honorable members to cast their minds back to the state of affairs which existed before we adopted adult suffrage. As the Commissioner points out, two-thirds of the female vote in New South W ales is resident upon the eastern side of the State. Therefore, the discrepancies which existed then as against the populous areas are intensified by 1 the fact that out of 300,000 new voters 200,000 are resident within those areas. The number of voters within the existing electorates, the boundaries of which we are asked to perpetuate, ranged from 14,000 to 15,000 in the case of city constituencies - Newcastle has 15,000 electorsdown to 9,700 in Richmond, 9,300 in Darling, and 9,900 in Riverina. Honorable members, therefore, will see that taking the old boundaries, and the basis upon which they were determined, there was a difference as between town and country electorates of 5,000 voters in 15,000. In the city electorates there, were roughly speaking, 15,000 voters, and in the small country electorates 10,000. Of course some of the country electorates are very populous. There are four” or five country electorates containing about 10,000^ voters each. There is thus a discrepancy of 33 per cent, in favor of the country as against the town. The addition to that discrepancy caused by the introduction of the female vote makes it something enormous.
– But the right honorable member must allow for the female voters in the country districts.
– Two hundred thousand women reside in a limited strip of country upon the eastern side of the State, and the other 100,000 are scattered all over the country districts. There is, therefore, a further discrepancy of one-third in the case of the women. There was a difference of 33 per cent, previously. Yesterday the Minister claimed as the ideal of his demand in the interests of the country that there should be a difference of only one-fourth.
– I said that that is what I proposed in the Bill.
– I cannot refer to a better authority than is the leader of the labour party upon this question. A question of suffrage is involved, and that is a matter in which he has taken a very great interest. When the Electoral Bill was under consideration the honorable member for Bland repudiated the idea of allowing such a large margin as that proposed, as honorable members will see upon reference to Hansard, page 13,956. That was his opinion, and in this connexion it is interesting to note the difference between the principles advocated by some honorable members and their practice. This difference is one of the most marvellous that we have yet seen. At the same time, I think that the labour party can at least claim to have been as consistent as has any other party in the State. They have had a clear programme, and they have stood loyally to it. It is therefore all the more remarkable that honorable members of that party should seem, when it comes to a question of electoral boundaries, to fall from the high elevation in which they discoursed on the abstract aspect of this matter. The honorable member for Bland said -
My experience is th:Lt the country voter does register his vote, and takes a keener interest in the affairs of the country than do more indifferent people in the CitY. I could not on any consideration vote for a principle which I believe to be radically wrong.
This is a grand attitude to take up.
– The right honorable member would not act contrary to that principle ?
– No; and I am not going to do so on this occasion, but the honorablemember is - that is the difference. The honorable member for Bland was careful enough to say what was the principle that he was so much determined to support. Speaking for my honorable friends of the labor party, he gave expression to this noble sentiment, which is quite on the lines of the platform -
Every person, no matter where he happens toreside, should have an equal, and only an equal, voice in the control of the country’s affairs.
– Hear, hear.
– Honorable members of the Labour party are becoming such experienced politicians that they cheer a sentiment and vote the other way.
– The right honorable member taught us how to do that. .
– There can be no doubt about a further statement which was made by the honorable member for Bland. I ask honorable members to listen to this -
If we make special provision for country voters we might as well make special provision for gum trees.
This is a straight-out democratic sentiment.
– Hear, hear. It is.
– Honorable members of the labor party are now all gum trees. f
– The right honorable member is the only one who is up a gum tree.
– Order. I must ask the honorable member for Maranoa to remember that the standing orders provide that noises or disturbances of any kind calculated to interrupt the course of a debate shall not be permitted. I must ask the honorable member to observe the standing order, and to refrain from interjecting.
– If the honorable member would only observe the quota no one would complain. This is a very strong and true declaration of a principle uponwhich our whole political Constitution is founded. I desire to ask honorable members to consider whether they are carrying out that sacred principle in giving a man who lives in a country district of New South Wales two and a half times-the power of selecting a member that is enjoyed by a man who lives in a town electorate? That is a question which will have to be answered several times, if this matter goes on as the Government propose. It will require a certain amount of ingenuity to bring a rift of that kind a bit together. I have pointed out that under the old divisions, which we established some years ago, there was a difference of 33,000 per cent, in favor of th country electorates. That difference is aggravated now by the fact that the female vote is to be found mainly in the populous parts of the State. That state of affairs is shown in its extreme form by the cases which the Commissioner mentions - the difference between the number of voters in the electorate of Riverina which is represented by my honorable friend, Mr. Chanter, and the electorate of West Sydney, which is represented by my honorable and learned friend, Mr. Hughes. I admit that it is a mere accident that the honorable member for Riverina happens to sit on the other side of the House, and I suppose that it is all the better for him that he does so. But we have here a curious contrast. The honorable and learned member for West Sydney sitting on this side of “the House represents 32,000 electors, while the honorable member for Riverina sitting on the Government .side represents 12,000.
– The honorable and learned member for West Sydney represents nearly as many electors as I do.
– There is the same disparity between the number of voters for Yarra and the number in the electorate of Wimmera.
– If that is so, I fail to understand the eloquence which my honorable and democratic friend displayed in dealing with this question. The earnestness displayed by him was of a kind which I should Iia ve expected him to, show on some much higher plane. It is very easy to talk to large masses of the people, and to say - “Ladies and gentlemen, you are all free and independent electors, each having a fair share of political power, regardless of distinctions of wealth or locality.” How beautiful it sounds ! But when we come to fix the boundaries of our electorates, what a difference there is. We are told that there must be . a discrepancy of 20,000 between the number of voters in two electorates in order to provide for the loss which the drought occasioned in the population of a district which never had 20,000 men, women, and children within its borders. The honorable and learned member has referred to the position of a certain part of New South Wales. I would remind the House that two suburbs of Sydney have a greater population than is to be found in one-half of New South Wales. Two suburbs of Sydney, covering an area of 4 square miles, have more electors than are to be found in one-half of the State comprising an area of something like 150,000 square miles. These facts call upon a man to act in accordance with some principle. Are the people in the town to be denied equal political power ? If so, we should let them know it. Do npt let us construct elaborate laws to give them fair play, and then do Something different. Do not let the law makers be the law breakers. If there is a time when a House of Parliament occupies an unhappy position it is when it is discussing its own personal interests. What question could be of personal interest to every honorable member in this Chamber if this is not 1 I am happy go think, however, that whatever our interests have been we have always endeavoured to steer absolutely clear of them. It is unfortunate that we should be placed in a position of being judges in a matter affecting our own interests. No man likes to occupy such a position if he can fairly avoid it, and it is an unhappy circumstance that whereas we took so much pains to construct a fair and equitable system of national voting, we are now acting so far below our own standard when our electorates and the votes of the men whom we have to address and solicit to return us to Parliament are affected. It is an unhappy state of things, however honorable and straightforward every honorable member is, and, I have no doubt, will be, in his actions. We deliberately put aside this power. We deliberately and properly took a course which was a very extreme but a proper one. We, by our own legislation, practically said : “ We cannot have Ministers tampering with electoral boundaries ; we cannot have members dealing with matters of electoral boundaries ; not that they will do any wrong, but because we feel that it is more dignified to allow these matters to be decided by means of some other machinery.” We decided that the Government should have power to select a Commissioner for each State, and that when the work of that Commissioner was finished, we should have power in reserve - very properly, I think - to throw it out. We had another provision in the word “may,” which really meant “shall,” as most “ mays “ do only too often when applied to executive action. AVe provided that if the House were dissatisfied with the scheme it should send it back to the Commissioner for alteration. That is the machinery of our electoral law. We are asked to say bow, however, that we will not take that course, but that we will take a course which will enable us to fix the electoral boundaries of Australia ourselves, and to adopt boundaries which the State Parliaments fixed years ago. .If the drought lias made such a wonderful difference in the population of some of the country districts, is not that fact the strongest condemnation of the proposal to adopt boundaries which existed before the drought was severely felt? That is the dilemma of the drought argument. The drought has been most severe during the last eighteen months. Our cure for a state of things which has existed during this period is to revert to a state of affairs which existed before the drought was practically felt. I can see from certain indications that it is perfectly hopeless to fight this matter. The representatives of Queeusland, Victoria, and New South Wales voted fairly solidly on the proposition submitted to us in connexion with the distribution of Victoria. They,wil do so in dealing with this, the second proposition, and they will do so when the third motion is submitted to us. There is no doubt about that, and perhaps honorable members, under the circumstances, may not think it worth while even to read the Commissioner’s report in reference to the distribution of New South Wales. I think, neverthe less that the Government might fairly give them an opportunity to read it, if it is only for the sake of preserving the semblance of virtue. Let us assume the virtue, if we have it not. Letus really read this report, even though our minds may be made up as to the vote which we are to give. Let us at least go through the ceremonial which judges usually follow . of listening to the evidence before sentence is passed. This is the request which I make. I do not know that the reading of . the report- will cause an alteration in regard to many votes, but I think that iri common fairness this” able report should be considered together with the ‘ tables appended to it before we finally deal with this question. I feel that I have fully done my duty in connexion with this matter. I do not know what the Government have to say to my suggestion, that the Commissioner’s report should be printed and placed in the hands of honorable members. . I have no desire to curtail today’s discussion or to waste a single moment of the time of the House, but I hope that if the debate continues up to the usual hour of adjournment, the Government will allow it to stand over, in order to enable honorable members to obtain a printed copy of this report and to consider it before dividing upon the motion. That is the request I have to make.
– I have listened to the case made out by the leader of the Opposition, and it seems to me that he has endeavoured to work up a great feeling of excitement in connexion with this matter. He has nevertheless failed to give us an analysis of the situation such as we have had from him at other times. He has strongly complained of the work done by the Chief Electoral Officer, and it is contended by him that that officer is incompetent to deal with a matter of this kind. That seems to me to be an argument in support of the contention that the scheme has been so badly prepared that it is unreliable.
– The scheme was prepared by the Commissioner, not by the Chief Electoral Officer.
– The leader of the Opposition dealt at some length upon the alleged incompetency of the Chief Electoral Officer.
– A good man might have saved all this trouble.
– The right honorable member said that he was incompetent.
– If he is a competent man he should be working for the New South Wales
Government, instead of walking about enjoying a pension.
– Does the honorable member say that he is a competent man?
– I am not discussing his merits. My point is, that if the leader of the Opposition’s criticism of the Chief Electoral Officer be correct, we have strong reason for adopting the course proposed by the Government. I do not know why he was dragged into the discussion. I have been strongly urged by the “ few hundred people “ living in the back parts of New South Wales - to whom the leader of the Opposition has referred - to represent their opposition to this scheme of distribution.
Mr.F. E. McLean. - All their objections have been noted by the Commissioner.
– They are strongly opposed to this re-adjustment of the electoral boundaries, andlam anxious to get at the true facts of the situation. There is more than one reason for the rejection of this distribution. One reason why I think we should disapprove of the proposed distribution is that the people of the western districts of New South Wales very strongly object to the way in which the Federal divisions there have been allotted. It cannot be said that the Commissioner, in markingout the boundaries of tliose divisions, has obeyed the instructions of the Act to have regard to community of interests, or means of communication. For instance, the townships of Warren, Nyngan, and Cobar are made part of Riverina electorate, although their interests have nothing in common with those of Riverina proper, whose population is, in its business relations, associated chiefly with Victoria, as are the people of Broken Hill with Adelaide.
– Perhaps, it would have been difficult to obtain the necessary quota in any other way.
– No ; the quota could have been obtained by extending the Riverina division towards Albury. No one can reasonably contend that those divisions have been properly laid out. The people of Bourke and Brewarrina object very strongly to being placed in the same electorate as Broken Hill, a township from which they are separated by a very great distance, and with which they have no communication. I wish to support the statement of the Minister in regard to the manner in which the country districts of New South Wales have loRt their population because of the drought.
Whilst there was a very severe drought last year throughout the whole of New South Wales, the back country has suffered from practically a continuous drought for seven years past, and has consequently been almost depopulated.
– All these facts were known when the Electoral Bill was under consideration.
– I had the honor to be a member of a Royal Commission which was appointed to take evidence in regard to the condition of the people in the western districts of New South Wales, and in that capacity not only travelled over the whole country, which I already knew very well, but had great opportunities to ascertain the exact condition of affairs there. The Commissioners found that great numbers of people had removed from the district, and that many parts of it had been practically depopulated. In some places the licences of hotels had been cancelled, and the buildings had been left in the charge of caretakers, because there was absolutely no business to be done, the population having moved elsewhere. But as the result of the change of season and of recent legislation passed by the Parliament of New South Wales, on the recommendations of the Commission, whereby rentals have been lowered and leases extended, an influx of population ha-s set in. People are now carrying out improvements, and doing all they can to make their properties pay, so that conditions are rapidly changing again. While the drought existed, the residents of the western districts removed to the coast, but now that it is thought to have passed away, and easier conditions of tenure prevail, they are rapidly moving back again. This change of affairs has taken place since the rolls upon which the Commissioner’s recommendations are based were prepared. We have heard a great deal about the difference between the treatment meted out to electorates where one contains 12,000 electors and another 32,000 ; but, in my opinion, the comparisons which have been made are unfair, and’ I think that when the new rolls are collected it will be found that these discrepancies have largely disappeared.
– Does the honorable member know that new rolls have been prepared within the last few day3 ?
– The rolls cannot be considered complete until the revision courts have dealt with them. The conditions under which the old rolls were compiled were altogether abnormal. It has been asked - “ Why not refer the Commissioner’s report back to him 1 “ That would be a sensible thing to do, if there were time.
– The Minister says that there is time.
– There might be time if the elections were to take place next year, but if they are to be held simultaneously with the Senate elections at the end of this year, there is not time. The members of the Opposition have protested that no political feeling is being displayed in this debate, but I cannot reconcile their statements with the speeches which I have heard from them. In my opinion, the conditions of the country should be correctly ascertained and fairly deal t with, so as to get as nearly as possible equal representation. If the next election is conducted on the old divisions the results will be fairer than if we adopt the Commissioner’s distribution. We are not responsible for the present unsatisfactory state of things, but it is self-evident that we cannot approve of a plan of distribution which is based upon an abnormal situation. I shall therefore vote for the motion.
– I believe very strongly in the principle of one adult one vote, and in having equal electoral districts. Not only should each adult have a vote, but each vote should, so far a3 possible, be of equal value. Furthermore, I think that the people in the city should have the same representation as the people in the country, and the people in the country the same representation as the people in the city. A great deal has been said during this discussion about the action of the Government in attacking the principle of one adult one vote, but it should be remembered to the credit of the Prime Minister and of the Minister for Trade and Customs that they were associated with the Ministry which gave to New South Wales the principle of one man one vote and the principle of equal electorates. That Ministry was the first in the Empire, if not in the world, to bring in a Bill providing for equal representation.
– The late Sir Henry Parkes introduced the Bill, and they took it up.
– They carried it through Parliament.
– When every one was in favour of it.
– Not only did they do that, but, under the leadership of the Minister for Trade and Customs, the principle of adult franchise was adopted by this Parliament.
– But the Government are now strangling that principle.
– I regret, as a free-trader, that I cannot associate these reforms with the free-trade party in New South Wales. The right honorable member for East Sydney and the honorable members for Parramatta and Macquarie were members of a Ministry which was in power for five years, but they did nothing to give the women of the State a vote. At that time the right honorable member for East Sydney was omnipotent. He could have done what he liked, because he had the most loyal support that was ever given to any Minister.
– Hear,- hear. The honorable member could not see a flaw in me then. ‘
– One might imagine, after listening to the speeches which he delivered this morning and last night, that he had done something to broaden and extend the New South Wales franchise ; but there is. not a man or woman in that State who can say that it is due to anything that he did that they possess their right to vote.
– Some of the party helped to get it.
– We helped as much as the honorable member did.
– When the honorable member was a Minister he did nothing. The labour party were never in power.
– Order. I am afraid that the honorable member is going beyond that incidental reference which may be fairly permissible. I must ask him to discuss the motion before the Chair.
– I was rather led away by the interjections. After listening to the leader of the Opposition one would suppose that in regard to the redistribution of seats he was politically immaculate.
– Comparatively speaking.
– We shall see presently whether he was immaculate, even comparatively speaking. An Electoral Act was passed in New South Wales in 1893, which provided for single electorates, and under which it was compulsory upon the Government to redistribute the seats at stated times. In 1896, three years afterwards, the Honorable J. N. Brunker, who was then the Chief Secretary in the .administration led by the right honorable member for East Sydney, laid upon the table of the House a return showing how the seats should be redistributed under the Act. The return remained there for eighteen months, and no action was taken by the Reid Government.
– A series of disastrous floods occurred about that time.
– For eighteen months that return lay upon the table.
– Order ! I fail to see what that matter has to do with the subject under discussion.
– I am proceeding to show the reason why the right honorable member for East Sydney did not take action with regard to the redistribution of seats under the New South Wales Electoral Act.
– I rise to a point of order.
– I just now called the attention of the honorable member to the fact that he was going beyond the subject under discussion, and I understood that he was about to connect the matter with which he is now dealing wilh the subject before us. If he so connect it he will be quite in order.
– In October, 1897, eighteen months after the return which I have mentioned was laid upon the table, the adjournment of the House was moved by Mr. Price - a very eminent member of the New South Wales Parliament - who accused the honorable and learned member for East Sydney of jerrymandering. The right honorable gentleman replied as follows : -
The fact was that at the time this report was made the rolls were in a perfectly rotten state - as we all know. They Were utterly unreliable.
An Honorable Member - So they are now.
The Right Honorable G. H. REID.- Probably they are so still : but I had a consultation with the Chief Commissioner. I went into the matter and he had to admit that they had to take the rolls as they were. They could not get behind the rolls and pick out good and bad voters. They had to take the rotten rolls as they were. The consequence was that their redistribution was unreliable. Tint was what made the Government pause about currying it out, because it is always serious to redistribute electoral boundaries. We would have to redistribute a large number of
S n 2 electorates. It is a very expensive, troublesome, and inconvenient thing, and we want to be perfect^’ sure of our ground in doing it.
The right honorable gentleman’s Ministry had been in power for eighteen months, and yet that was what he had to say regarding his own rolls.
– That statement was made regarding a few districts, and did not apply to the whole of New South Wales.
– Yes, it did. I now take the same position that the right honorable gentleman assumed some years ago, when he refused to distribute the seats in New South Wales because of the imperfect state of the rolls. We have it on the very best authority that the Federal rolls are not what they should be. We all feel sure that the honorable member for Macquarie, although he isastrong partizan, would not make a statement unless he- believed, it to be correct. He informed us some little time-a-go that he made no apology for. moving the adjournment of the House, because 150,000 people in New South Wales had been disfranchised, on account of the incompleteness of the roll. The honorable member for. Werriwa also, during the same debate, stated that 150,000’ electors in Ne»v South Wales, and from 60,000 to 70,000 in Victoria, were disfranchised. If this is a fact - and I take it that the honorable member believed what he said - we have the very best of reasons’ for hesitating to adopt the plan of redistribution now submitted to us.
– I think that the 150,000 referred to the whole of the Commonwealth.
– The honorable member’s statement referred to New South Wales alone. In view of the statements’ made by the leader of the Opposition, is it fair to ask us to redistribute these seats if we believe that there are 150,000 peopleomitted from the rolls.
– If the rolls are faulty the report should be sent back to theCommissioner.
– Why should the honorable member “stone- wall” the motion in this; way if he is content that the rolls should go back to the Commissioner?
– Why has the Govern- ment been making a farce of the whole thing 1
– The Electoral Act requires that the report of the Commissioner shall come before Parliament, and I think; that we were wise in providing that the matter should be finally dealt with by Parliament.
– Is there anything in the Act which directs that this motion should be submitted?
– I understand so.
– There is nothing in the Act providing for it.
– Order. I have already had occasion todirect attention to the repeated interjections which have made it almost impossible for the honorable member to proceed with his speech. The honorable member for Macquarie and the honorable member for Parramatta are both offenders in this respect, and I hope that I shall not again have to call their attention to this matter.
– I have not made an interjection to-day until now.
– I can only say that for the last five minutes the honorable member for Barrier has had difficulty in proceeding with his speech because the honorable member for Macquarie, and the honorable member for Parramatta, and the honorable and learned member for Werriwa have been interjecting - sometimes all three together.
– On a point of order, I desire to put myself right. I understood that it was the custom to permit relevant questions when honorable members were addressing the chair. If, however, it is the rule that such questions cannot be asked, I . hope that it will be generally applied.
– The honorable member cannot point to any standing order conferring such a privilege. All interjections are absolutely disorderly, but in order to facilitate debate interjections which are not of such a character, or which are not so frequently repeated as to interrupt the speaker, are overlooked. When, however, interjections become so frequent that they are repeated at intervals of a second or two, or two or three members interject together, the practice becomes absolutely intolerable, and must be stopped.
– I wish to apologize if I have done anything wrong.
– No apology is necessary. Will the honorable membei kindly take his seat. The honorable member for the Barrier.
– I undwstand that the report of the Commissioner must be presented to the House, and I contend that the Minister is pursuing the proper course in asking us to reject it, on the ground that the recommendations have been arrived at upon insufficient data. I think that I have proved, through the words of the honorable member for Macquarie, that the Commissioner could not do his work properly, because 150,000 voters have been omitted from the rolls. No doubt he has done the best with the data at his command, and he has failed through no fault of his own. I admit that I am not satisfied with the boundaries allotted to my constituency. I shall support the motion, for two reasons. In the first place, I think that a large number of persons have left the back-blocks, of New South Wales during the recent drought, and that many of these are now going back. In the second place, I am dissatisfied - as I think any honorable member would have the right to be - with the way in which my electorate has been altered. So far as the Barrier electorate is concerned, I know that it was under the quota, and it would have been quite fair for the Commissioner to add some portion of the adjoining district, in order to make up a sufficient number. Instead, however, of adding to the Barrier electorate, the Commissioner took away 2,000 or 3,000 voters near Broken Hill ; and, in order to make up for the greater deficiency, added a long strip of country which it would be exceedingly difficult to properly represent. The honorable member who might be returned for that constituency, in order to address the electors, would require to go through Adelaide to Broken Hill, then to return to Sydney, and proceed by train to Bourke. Afterwards, he would have to go back to Sydney, and proceed by train northwest to Walgett ; then come back, and proceed to Brisbane ; afterwards, travelling by train to Cunnamulla, and so onwards, until he reached the northern borders of his electorate. Unfortunately the rain has not extended over the whole of the backTblocks of New South Wales - I wish it had - and I think it would be unwise to attempt at present to redistribute the boundaries of the electorates.
– I hope I may be allowed to refer, by way of explanation, to the statement made by the honorable member for Barrier - that there was a plan for the redistribution of the electorates of New South Wales before the Parliament of that State during my time as head of the
Government. I wish to point out that the case ,to which the honorable member refers arose under the Electoral Act of New South Wales, and had no reference to a general redistribution of electoral boundaries such as that now before us. The Act contained a. provision that after every census there should be a general redistribution of the whole of the electorates, numbering 125. In addition to the general redistribution to which I have just referred, provision was made or the readjustment, at periods between the dates fixed for the census of the individual electorates, in which the number of voters had risen above or fallen below the legal quota The case to which the honorable member has referred was not a general redistribution ; it was done to remedy anomalies in the case of a very small number of electorates.
– Did it not represent practically the same thing?
– No. It was a redistribution only in the case of a few electorates in which the number of voters had got a little above or a little below the quota between the two periods. It was in no sense a general redistribution of the electorates.
– The leader of the Opposition has already alluded to the fact that we are asked to consider this matter without having before us the printed report of the Commissioner. 1 think that is a very strong reason why the Minister should consent to adjourn the debate upon his proposal. Surely if we are to take any action upon the report of the Commissioner, it is only fair that that document should be before us so that we may be fully seized of its contents. Personally I have seen only a portion of that report, and I am quite unable to form conclusions as to the soundness or otherwise of the divisions recommended by the Commissioner. Last night I thought that the proposals would not affect the relative strength of parties in this House. To-day I find - and it is a very significant fact - that under them those districts, which are represented by honorable members upon this side of the House should have two additional representatives. If those districts were allotted the same quota of electors as were the constituencies which are represented by honorable members opposite, they should have two additional representatives. The quota allotted to electorates which are represented by members upon the other side of the chamber is 21,058, and if those portions of the State which are now represented by members of the Opposition were allotted a similar quota, they would have two additional representatives, because there would be a difference of more than 40,000 in the total vote. That is a very significant matter. I appeal to the good sense of the House as to whether that fact in itself does not constitute a sufficient reason for deferring the further consideration of this proposal until honorable mem- , bers have the Commissioner’s report before them in print 1 The Commissioner in his redistribution has not given two extra seats to honorable members upon this side of the House, although they would be entitled to them upon the numbers which I have quoted. He has given them only one extra seat. Personally, however, I should raise no objection upon that ground. But in a division it must be remembered that the loss of one member makes a difference of two votes, and it is significant that the Government proposal if it is carried will have the effect of giving two additional votes to the Ministerial side of the House. Upon previous occasions Ministers have very properly postponed the consideration of matters until complete information in regard to them has been in the possession of honorable members. Surely the postponement of this debate till Tuesday would not involve any undue delay. The honorable member for Darling expressed his approval of the course which the Government are taking, because he declares Parliament has to deal with this matter in accordance with the Act. I quite admit that it is right that it should be dealt with. But it is the evident intention of the Act that if Parliament objects to the boundaries defined by the Commissioner, they shall be returned to him for revision and amendment. If the Commissioner occupied an undue time in recasting those boundaries, so that the House was compelled to appeal to the country upon the basis of the old electorates, we could at least* urge that an honest effort had been made to comply with with the provisions of the Act. But no such course is proposed. The extraordinary step of disapproval is accompanied by the still more extraordinary declaration on the part of that Minister that he has no intention whatever of fulfilling the conditions laid down in the Act by returning the scheme to the Commissioner for revision. Only one reason is given for this proposal. It is that the western portion of New South Wales has lost a considerable number of its population owing to the drought. But that portion of New South Wales had lost its population before the Electoral Bill was passed. That knowledge was within the ppssession of the Minister and of the representatives of various districts at the time. Yet no attempt was made in the Bill to provide for that circumstance. So far from doing so, the Minister, in reply to an interjection by the honorable member for Gippsland, affirmed that the country and city electors would be equally represented That promise has not been given effect to. The districts in the new division which have suffered chiefly from drought are those of Hume, Bland, Canobolas, Gwydir, Darling, and Riverina. Under the redistribution scheme recommended by the Commissioner, these six extensive electorates would contain 112,779 voters, whereas, according to the quota for the whole State they ought to contain 136,104 electors, so that they benefit to the extent of 23,325 electors. But if we compare them with the remaining twenty electorates of New South Wales we shall find that they have gained an advantage, not of 23,325 electors, but of 26,475. Does the Minister mean to tell me that more than that number of voters have quitted these districts owing to the drought ?
– I think so.
– I venture to question the accuracy of that opinion. But assuming that they have, they did not go to the city and suburbs to any large extent. The majority of the people in those districts belong to the working class. My opinion is that this more than covers any exodus of population. I contend also that if 26,000 people did leave these districts - and that would be a very large proportion of the total number on the rolls - they did not go to Sydney. Honorable members may readily imagine what would be the effect of 26,J00 people entering the city of Sydney.?
– With their families.
– Yes ; allowance must be’ made for their families, and we should thus multiply the 26,000 by three in order to ascertain the total number who, according to this assertion, migrated to Sydney.
– Nearly 80,000.
– But most of the men in these country districts are single. It would not be fair to multiply the number by three.
Two would be a more reasonable figure to adopt.
– That would mean that 52,000 people left these districts. I am satisfied that nothing like that number went to Sydney. The Minister said that an. enormous number of the people who left the drought-stricken districts went to the city and suburbs of Sydney, and that most of them took up their residence in my electorate.
– I said that a number of them did so.
– As a matter of fact the honorable member said that most of these people went to my electorate, but I will accept his statement that a large number of them did so. He attributes to this migration of population the fact that the number of electors in the city and suburban divisions is so large, whilst the number in the western district is so comparatively small. Let me put befere the’ House some figures relating to the State electorates of St. Leonards, which is in North Sydney ; Warringah, which is another portion of North Sydney ; and Willoughby, where these people would have gone, if they really went to the northern districts of the city. The present rolls which have been prepared for those three electorates contain the names of 10,569 males, while, according to the rolls prepared three years ago, there were 11,143 male electors in those constituencies. Therefore, the’ number of electors in the division to which so many people are supposedto have flocked from the drought-stricken area has actually been reduced by 574 during the period named. The honorable member for Bland will support my statement that during all this time these three districts have been growing rapidly; but, despite that fact, and notwithstanding the assertion that numbers of people from the drought-stricken area have taken up their residence in these electorates, and have been placed On the rolls, the actual number of male electors has decreased.
– I do not think that the comparison is a proper one.
– The honorable member says that most of these people went to North Sydney - that they have settled along the North Shore line, and at Mossman, and at Manly.
– I venture to say that the rolls for the honorable member’s electorate will show an increase in the number of male electors.
– I am not referring to my electorate as a whole. I am dealing only with those portions which are complete State electorates, and enable us to make a comparison. As the honorable member knows, the sections of Ryde and Northumberland, within the boundaries of the electorate of North Sydney, are not complete State divisions. We, are therefore, unable to compare the number of electors in those districts with the number on the rolls three years ago. If it is true that these people left the drought-stricken country and took up their residence in my electorate, they would certainly have settled not in Northumberland or in Ryde, but in the suburban portions of my division. The figures I have quoted are provided by the Electoral-office in Sydney as being those upon which they prepared the distribution, so far as these three State electorates are concerned. What has become of all these people?
– They seem to be the “lost ten tribes.”
– I cannot yet acknowledge that I represent the lost ten tribes. They certainly have not come to my electorate, and I am unable to discover where they have gone. A number of people who formerly resided in the drought stricken areas undoubtedly shifted, not nearly all to the city and suburbs, but to other more favoured rural districts. The miners no doubt would seek work in the coal districts, while others would go into country electorates where better conditions prevailed. Then, as one honorable member has pointed out, many of the settlers and farmers removed their stock to more favorable localities, and they had to go with them to care and tend them.
– The names of those who were travelling stock would not appear on any roll.
– In many cases their names have been placed on the roll. I know that certain squatters and settlers took up ground for stock purposes, and the men who were attending their stock had their names placed on the roll for the district.
– That course was not followed so far as I know in Victoria.
– In the case to which I have referred the police collected the names. If these people would not take up a temporary residence in the more favoured country districts, they would not remove to the city.
– Not very many of them would have their names placed on the city rolls. They would be absent.
– The contention is that the number of electors on the city rolls has been increased in this way. We find that an allowance of 26,000 has been made in respect, of the changes of population caused by the drought, and I fail to see that there can be any proper objection to the distribution on that ground.- The position is a remarkable one. It is said that until recently a set of circumstances existed in New South Wales, which renders it undesirable to carry out the provisions of the Electoral Act passed by this Parliament. Those circumstances were known to exist when the Minister was introducing’ that measure and discussing its provisions, and the conditions were better when names were being collected. At that time the drought had been broken up in many parts of the State. Bourke, and many other western districts, which had not seen, a blade of grass for years, were covered with verdure when the Minister gave instructions for the collection of the additional names.
– The rolls upon which this distribution was made were twelve months old.
– But the Minister has later figures showing why no alteration should be made.
– Why does he not produce them?
– We should certainly have them. We are asked to decide this question without having printed copies of the Commissioner’s report before us, and in the absence of those figures which, if really genuine, would influence any fair-minded man in regard to the reconsideration of this question. The figures were obtained at considerable expense, but they have not been put before us. The question of expense is one which demands some attention. Nearly the whole of the expenditure which has been incurred up to the present time in connexion with this work is to be of no avail. Surely it is a reflection upon the Minister if he comes down to this House and says - “ Despite the fact that I knew of the special conditions which existed, I went on with certain work provided for by the Electoral Act. I spent large sums of money in carrying out the work, and I have now to admit that it is useless. It has been rendered useless by causes which existed at the time it was entered upon.” , “Why did we increase the electoral staff to carry out this work ? Why have we made arrangements with the States and paid for the collection of these names ? Why have we gone on printing the rolls in accordance with the proposed scheme of distribution, when all this work is largely to be undone, and when a fresh set will have to be printed? The increased expenditure upon the electoral office which was rendered necessary by the fact that we intended to go on with the scheme of redistribution, is now to be thrown away. This is an unfortunate position for the Minister, and it seems to me that, as all these names have to be redistributed on the rolls, it is very unlikely that the work will be carried out, and a fresh distribution obtained before the next elections. If the figures which the Minister is supposed to have in his possession justify the proposal to abandon all the work which has been done, they should be placed in our hands. The report of the Commissioner should also be printed and circulated, and I contend that the request that this should be done is not an unreasonable one. Surely the Minister is not going to “dragoon us into coming to a decision when he himself admits that he has not given us sufficient data to enable us to form a satisfactory judgment upon the matter. I do not describe the honorable gentleman as unreasonable, but I say that any reasonable Minister, would acknowledge that to be a fair request, and would say,- “ I will give the House printed copies of the Commissioner’s report and all the additional information I have in my possession, so that honorable members may come to a decision on the subject with a full knowledge of the facts.” There will always be objections to any electoral distribution, unless the Commissioner intrusted with the work is given an absolutely free hand. We, of course, are not prepared to do that. We cannot allow the Commissioner to act purely on his own motion and decide how many electors there shall be in one division and how many in another. A Commissioner, if given an entirely free hand, might say - “ In this division it is so difficult for persons to travel about that it would not be fair to make the quota so large as in a division where travelling is easier.” He might also determine to give to the producing districts a much larger proportional representation than he gave to the city and suburban divisions. But we could not give the Commissioner a free hand, and therefore we laid down certain rules for his guidance, though it must have been plain that those rules would sometimes operate in a manner contrary to the inclinations of many of us. I do not say that the proposed distribution of the Commissioner for New South Wales is. the best that can be made. I- do not know. Some of the objections which have been raised to it by the honorable members for Darling, Barrier, and Riverina appear to me to be reasonable, but I am not prepared to say that a better distribution could be made, even of that part of the State which they represent, if the rules laid down for the guidance of the Commissioner are to be followed. I am, however, perfectly willing that he should be permitted to try to do better. If we give him that opportunity we shall do a great deal to remove the stigma which must otherwise attach to us for acting in opposition to certain principles which we deliberately adopted when dealing with the Electoral Bill. Those principles were not adopted without consideration ; they were inserted in our electoral law only after amendments in other directions had been proposed and rejected. If those who, like the honorable member for Bland and his party, were most anxious for the adoption of those provisions absolutely abandon them for no good reason shown, it will be a serious reflection upon them. It must be remembered that, not only have we not copies of the Commissioner’s report before us, but we are also without the figures which the Minister must have, or should have, to support his statements about the movements of population. I do not say that if good reasons are shown we should not disapprove of’ the Commissioner’s recommendation, on ‘ the ground that it does not provide for proper representation ; but if we do so with our present lack of information we shall be chargeable with the absolute abandonment of the principles’ which we ourselves have decided should be followed in regard to the distribution of electorates. I shall be very surprised if individual interests, whatever they may be, are allowed to influence honorable members to that extent. That, however, is the charge which will be brought against us, unless good and sufficient reason is shown for the action which we are now asked to take. Therefore, I ask the Minister to place us in possession of printed copies of the report. Why should New South Wales be treated differently in this respect from Victoria 1 I have had an opportunity to glance through the report in typewriting, but I have not read one-tenth of it, and I have not mastered that portion of it which I have read ; while other honorable members have had no opportunity to see it at all. In addition to the report, there should be in the hands of the Minister, or of his officers, or of the Commissioner, data which will support the statements which he has made as to the movements of population. Let us have all that information before we take action, and do not let us come to a conclusion in a manner which will leave us open to the imputation of improper motives, when there may be good reasons for doing what is proposed, which would entirely prevent such an imputation. I am prepared to support a motion to refer the proposed distribution again to the Commissioner, so that the procedure approved of by honorable members and embodied in the Electoral Act may be taken. As the report of our discussions upon the Electoral Bill will show, it was anticipated that the proposed distributions of the Commissioners might not be considered satisfactory, and we therefore made provision for their return under such circumstances. I think that that is the course we should follow now. But. apart from that question altogether, I ask honorable members - and I do not think that my requests are generally unreasonable - to place the representatives of New South Wales on the same footing as those of other States, and allow us to read the Commissioner’s report before we give a vote upon his recommendation. I am willing to be convinced by any reliable evidence that can be put forward in support of the Minister’s contentions ; but I emphatically protest against the motion being forced through in a manner which makes a difference between the treatment meted out to New South Wales and that given to the other States. I anl sure that the Minister and other honorable members will, on consideration, see that my request is a reasonable one. It can create no unnecessary delay, and I hope that it will be complied with. I move -
That the motion be amended by the insertion after the word “That,” line- 1, of the words “in order that a fresh distribution maybe proposed by the Commissioner of the State.””
– In stating the amendment to the House, I wish to take the opportunity to inform honorable members that I have discovered, during the last few moments, that I am, although unwittingly, responsible for the non-appearance of printed copies of the report in question. The practice in dealing with papers laid upon the table of the House is that they are not printed until a determination has been come to in regard to them by the Printing Committee; but when it is evident from the notice-paper that certain papers will be required by the House before the Printing Committee is likely to have an opportunity to deal with them, I take the responsibility of ordering them to be printed, without waiting for a meeting of the committee. When notice was given of motions for the disapproval of the proposed distributions of the Commissioners of certain States, I asked if the Printing Committee had ordered the printing of the reports of the Commissioners; and was informed that, while the reports of the Commissioners’ for Victoria and South Australia had been printed, those .of the Commissioners for New South Wales and Queensland had been ordered by the Senate to be printed. That being the case, I did not give directions for the printing of them to the order of this House, because I did not wish to duplicate expense. If that order had been given by the Senate, and followed in due course, the papers would have been ready in time ; but I have just discovered that what the Senate ordered to be printed was the report of the Commissioner for Queensland, the report of the New South Wales Commissioner having been omitted. Upon that discovery, I at once directed the printing of the report of the New South Wales Commissioner, and I am informed that rough proofs of the document will be ready to-morrow morning. I regret that delay has been caused through this inadvertence, but that is exactly how it arose.
– Surely the Minister, after that statement, will give way
– It was my intention not to speak upon this question,, but as so much has been said about the action of the Government, and nothing has been said about the rights of the electors, who, I think, should be considered under any electoral law, I wish now to make a few remarks. The boundaries of the division of Riverina have been so fixed by the Commissioner as to give dissatisfaction not to a few only, but to every elector within that division, and on their behalf I feel bound to protest against his recommendation. There is not a progress association or a municipal body within the division which has not sent to the Commissioner, in writing, its objections to the proposed rearrangement of boundaries, and offered reasonable suggestions for an improvement.
– What reply did the Commissioner make?
- His reply may be gathered from the maps. The leader of the Opposition dealt very unfairly with the Chief Electoral Officer. I do not know why he should be referred to in this connexion, because he had nothing whatever to do with the rearrangement of the electoral divisions. His work lies in a different direction altogether, and he should not have been made the subject of the charges levelled against him. I wish to contrast the action of the Chief Electoral Officer with that of Mr. Houston, the Commissioner for New South Wales, against whom, however, I have not a word to say. It will be recollected by representatives from that State that when the redistribution of the boundaries had to be made upon the reduction of the number of representatives in the Assembly to 125, three Commissioners were appointed, of whom the Chief Electoral Officer was the head. Their first act was to intimate to every member of the State Parliament, and to acquaint the public through the press, that they were prepared to receive suggestions before they proceeded to fix the boundaries of the new electorates. The result was that they had all the suggestions and objections that could be urged before them and they were then in a position to so arrange their boundaries that when their report was presented it was accepted without any hesitation. In the present case, however, the boundaries were fixed before any honorable member, who was interested either personally, or on behalf of the constituents, had been consulted.
– It is not a member’s question.
– It is a public question, and honorable members are here to represent the public. It is the duty of honorable members to see that the wishes of that section of the public which they represent are communicated to the Commissioner, and that due attention is paid to them. We were placed in such a position that until the Commissioner had done his work no suggestions could be communicated to him. The consequence was that the Commissioner did not care at a later stage to stultify himself by ‘ re-arranging certain boundaries as suggested.
– The honorable member knows that that is not the reason for objecting to the report.
– I know that what I state is absolutely true. We are now asked by those who are opposed to the course proposed by the Government to hold our hands because the report of the Commissioner has not been printed. It has been on the table of the House for a week, and a great many, if not the whole of the honorable members representing New South Wales have seen it.
– How could we see it if it is not in print ?
– I made it my duty to see it, and every honorable member had the same opportunity. Tt was not reasonable on the part of honorable members to first reproach the Government for incurring unnecessary delay and to afterwards chargethem, when they were endeavouring togive full and proper opportunities for discussion and final decision before the elections, with rushing the matter through to the disadvantage of the electors.
– They are rushing todestroy the work that has been done.
– I am surprised that the leader of the Opposition did not display more fairness when he was dealing with the report of the. Commissioner. He treated one matter in a very delicate way, and the honorablemember for North Sydney who had seen the report also carefully refrained from quoting one paragraph, which proves conclusively that the temporary loss of population by drought stricken districts was known to the Commissioner, but could not be taken into consideration, because he had to be guided by the official figures which were supplied to him.
– How could any one properly study such a, report in an hour or so ?
– In view of the fact that the report had not been printed and that some honorable members had not read it, the leader of the Opposition should have given a fair rendering of the statements of the Commissioner, and’ not have confined himself to the recital of those portions which suited his own case. I intend to read one of the paragraphs to which the right honorable gentleman referred in order to show conclusively that although the Commissioner when dealing with this matter knew very well that the population of certain electorates had been temporarily removed and that the people would go back as soon as the drought had come to’ an end, he found himself unable to make due allowance for that fact. In paragraph 13 he says : -
The advent of the female voter is, however, not entirely accountable for the almost chaotic inequalities of voting power throughout the present electorates. The depletion of population brought about by the drought - which unhappily still holds in its grip some parts of the Western Districts - is a factor ; and it cannot be doubted that the failure of the whole of last year’s harvest, and the loss of at least 15,000,000 sheep, has resulted in a dearth of employment in the country districts, and the consequent removal of the population elsewhere.
I can give the House my personal assurance that thousands of electors had had to leave the Riverina division at the time these rolls were compiled, and that the greater proportion of them have now returned. Therefore, if new rolls were collected to-morrow there would be a considerable increase in the returns. Furthermore, as the years go on, with. favorable seasons the number of people in the electorate will be largely added to, and the representation given to it under existing circumstances will be fully justified. When we passed the Electoral Act we gave the Commissioner a marginal allowance which he was intended to use, so that in the, thickly populated districts the full margin on the up-grade should be given, whereas in the country electorates the full margin on the down grade should be allowed. If that had been done there would have been no necessity to rob the country of one member and to give him to the city. My experience is that those who represent the city of Sydney always consider it as being New South Wales, and that they regard any proposal intended for the benefit of the country with disfavour.
– The honorable member has no right to say that.
– I make the statement as the result of my experience. *
– The honorable member had better refrain from making insinuations or we shall retaliate.
– I never insinuate, but, on the other hand, say straight out what I mean.
– The honorable member is departing from his usual custom.
– When the Electoral Act was passed we provided that the Commissioner should be specially directed to take into consideration, first, community of interest. I do not say that the Commissioner has deliberately disregarded community of interest amongst the various electors included in any one division, but I would ask honorary members to look at the maps which are before them and to compare the old divisions with those now proposed. He has destroyed the community of interest in the electorate of Riverina, by taking away a portion of the territory on the eastward and extending the electorate northward. Instead of community of interest there would be great diversity of interest under the proposed arrangement.
– Why not send the report back to the Commissioner?
– It has been suggested on several occasions that we should send the report back to the Commissioner ; but I would ask, for what purpose ? If we decided to compile new rolls, which would include the people who were omitted at the last collection, I should have no hesitation in agreeing to that course, but the honorable member knows very well that there is not the slightest chance of compiling a new roll in time to permit of its being used in connexion with the elections which are expected to take place in December next. I could understand honorable members taking the position that all those who are enfranchised should be placed upon the roll, and that, as it would be impossible to prepare proper rolls between now and December next, it would be better to postpone the elections until April. But it would be idle for us to send the report back for reconsideration by the Commissioner upon the data which is at present at his command, and especially in view of the statement made by the honorable member for Macquarie that 150,000 persons have been omitted from the roll. Another direction to the Commissioner, was that he should take into consideration means* of communication. He admits in his report that the electorates are so arranged that there is a danger that it would not be possible for the electoral’ officer in some cases to issue his papers and receive them back within the time allowed by law. It was also directed that existing boundaries should be taken into consideration. It was, of course, only reasonable to suppose that the old boundaries would be somewhat altered, but if honorable members will look at the maps they will see that the Riverina electorate has been so altered on its eastern side as to destroy the community of interest which formerly existed, and that it has been extended for 600 miles to the northward. The division is so formed that an altogether unreasonable period of time would be occupied in traversing it. Starting from the electoral centre of Hay, a candidate, in order to reach White Cliffs in the north-west, would have to travel by rail and coach for over 1,300 miles, and in order to reach Cobar in the north-east would require to retrace his steps for 1,300 miles, niel Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, thence to Cobar. This would occupy him thirteen or fourteen days, and would allow him only about a fortnight within which to cover the remaining part of that vast electorate. It would be impossible for the electoral officer to issue the necessary electoral papers and secure their return within the period specified by the Act. The Commissioner was allowed the fullest discretion in regard to fixing the quota ; but let us see how he has acted. In the three electorates of Darling, Barrier, and Riverina, there was a deficiency of only 12,221. Will any honorable member seriously contend that 12,000 electors had not left these districts. Personally, I know of thousands who have done so. Notonly have the squatters had to send their sheep away, but they have had to leave with their families, their boundary riders, and others.
– Why, six months ago the honorable member declared that there was no drought.
– I trust that the honorable member will speak the truth where it is demanded of him. He has never heard me make any such statement.
His remark is not warranted by fact, and does not do him justice. The drought has cost the Riverina district at least 15,000,000 sheep. It has not only driven the squatters away from their homes, but also the farmers with their wives, sons, and daughters. The electoral rolls were compiled at a time when these people were absent from their homes. Under such conditions, why should the country districts be robbed of an electorate in order that an additional electorate may be given to the metropolitan area? Had the Commissioner allowed to. the electorates in the county of Cumberland - which is practically Sydney - the maximum permitted under the Act, there would have been no necessity for him to create a new electorate. East Sydney is deficient of the maximum by 718, West Sydney by 2,520, Wentworth by 2,239, South Sydney by 1,634, Parkes by 1,733, Dalley by 787, Lang by 2,963, North Sydney by 2,558, Parramatta by 2,726, Illawarra by 3,850, and Macquarie by 4,829.
– I should like to know the source from which the honorable member obtains his knowledge of geography. There is no part of my electorate situated in the county of Cumberland.
– I obtain my knowledge from the Commissioner’s report. Lithe Ashfield electorate there are 26,500’ voters who could have been included in metropolitan constituencies, but the Commissioner preferred to create a new electorate containing 24,393 voters. Had the maximum been given- to these electorates, and had it been gradually extended outwards till the country districts were reached, the whole matter might have been very easily arranged. Of course, we must recognise that there will always be fluctuations, in population. I venture to say that in the district of Darling, which the Commissioner proposed to cut out of the new electorates, there is more room for expansion than there is in any of the city constituencies. I believe that, under a proper system of irrigation, where there are hundreds of people in the Riverina district to-day, there- will in the future be thousands.
– Let us postpone the consideration of this question for 100 years.
– There is no need forthat. At the same time there is no justification for robbing the country districtsof their fair share of representation in orderthat the metropolitan area maybe benefited-
– Is not the honorable member satisfied ?
– I am always satisfied, even when I am defeated. The suggestion that we should defer consideration of this matter until the report of the Commissioner is in print is not sufficiently sound to warrant delay. Mr. Speaker has clearly explained that it is no fault of the Minister or the Government that the report is not in type. The “Victorian Commissioner’s report upon the redistribution scheme in this State was discussed yesterday. That document was in print but how many honorable members read it? Although the report of the New South Wales Commissioner is not yet in print, its contents can be grasped in a few moments.
– The honorable member has not grasped it because he alleges that a portion of my district is the county of Cumberland.
– Anyhow it is within the sphere of the city influence. In the Riverina district the people are unanimous in asking that their community of interest with other parts of the State shall be respected. They suggested that the Commissioner should take into consideration that there are commercial /ones in that territory - that a certain portion of it trades with Melbourne, another portion with Adelaide, and still another with Sydney. These circumstances should have been taken into consideration, but they were entirely ignored by the Commissioner. My only object in rising was to give my personal assurance that I know of thousands of electors who were absent from their homes at the time the rolls were collected, a great many of whom have since returned. The honorable member for Bland also affirmed that he knew there had been a depletion of population. For any honorable member to look at the map, and to say that 12,000 persons have not removed from the districts in question owing to the drought, is to doubt the evidence of one’s own senses. Surely we do not desire to act unfairly to those who were temporarily absent from their homes when the rolls were collected, by depriving them of their just share of representation, and by giving an increased measure of representation to the city ? The honor of this House is involved, and I am sure that it will not sanction such a proposal.
– After all the reasons^ which have been urged in favour of an adjournment of this debate, I trust that the Minister will consent to the adoption of that course. I desire to have an opportunity of reading the Commissioner’s report.
– Let us go on.
– Does the Minister intend finishing the debate to-day ?
– I do not know yet.
– Surely the Minister is- acting unreasonably in this matter. He is adopting the most remarkable procedure ever known in a House of Parliament. We are a deliberative bodv, and whenever any question is brought up for discussion, the Executive Government is supposed to place in the hands of honorable members the whole of the official information relating to it that is available. If ever there was an occasion upon which we should have the most complete details, surely it is when we are dealing with the whole foundation ef the future Parliament ! I would remind honorable members of the course of procedure that has been adopted. A week ago certain maps were submitted which defined the boundaries of the proposed new electorates. But in studying those mapswe had before us no reasons whatever as to the reasons which had influenced the Commissioner in denning these boundaries.. On Wednesday the Prime Minister gave notice of a series of resolutions for the following day. Prior to that there had been absolutely no intimation as to when this discussion would take place.
– Yes ; there had been.
– We did not know anything about the matter until Wednesday night.
– We knew that the schemes were to be discussed..
– There was no official information available. Everybody understood that maps were submitted as a preliminary to laying the reports upon the table of the House. I hold that if there is the slightest chance that any honorable member will be incapable of discussing the subject intelligently in the absence of the Commissioner’s report, if there is the slightest chance of any soreness being occasioned to the representatives of a particular State, the Government ought to give way, so as to be absolutely upon the right side. If the Ministry are satisfied that they can carry their proposal no harm can result from an adjournment of the debate, because their proposal is to do nothing. I do not think that the Minister for Trade and Customs is treating either myself or other honorable members fairly. The member for Riverina has had an opportunity to peruse the Commissioner’s report.” I have not; but even if I had, I should refuse to digest it ‘this afternoon. To my mind, the Minister is acting very unreasonably, because unless an adjournment is granted I shall have to address myself to the question without being possessed of the necessary knowledge. I believe there is a rule in the American Congress that a gentleman can “ hold the floor “ and practically say nothing for an hour. I have no desire to “ hold the floor “ till four o’clock, and then, to have the motion put as to whether I should be heard on the next day of sitting. I do not think that the Ministry will gain anything by adopting these tactics. I have no desire to repeat what has already been better said by other honorable members. I feel that this is a matter which should be fully discussed, and that in fairness to the Commissioners, and especially to the New South Wales Commissioner, printed copies of the reports should be placed before honorable members. It is a slur upon the New South Wales Commissioner that the maps should be placed before the Parliament, and that a debate should take place in this House in regard to the way in which he has carried out his work, while no attempt is made to give honorable members the benefit of his report. It is an outrageous and, it seems, to me, an unconstitutional course for the Government to pursue. I contend that the Act requires that the report should be placed before us, and that the Government are acting in an absolutely unconstitutional manlier. I hold that the report is not before the House to-day, and when Mr. Speaker has made an explanation, and when the common sense of the House is with me, the refusal of my request indicates a childish obstinacy on the part of the Minister. I do not indulge in rhodomontade, nor do I ask for anything that is unreasonable, and I appeal to the Minister to grant this request. The fact that I may not be able to speak again on this question is a very small consideration, because there are other honorable members of the Opposition who can discuss it, and I dare say that those who have spoken already will be able to speak again on the proposal to amend the motion. What will the electors of New South Wales think when they are told that, when one of their representatives made the reasonable proposal that this matter should be adjourned, in order that every member of the House might be able to obtain and to read a printed copy of the Commissioner’s report, the Minister, for the sake of threequarters of an hour of useless discussion, refused that request 1 Such a thing will not tend very much to the glory of the Minister nor do credit to his common sense. I wish to move that the debate be adjourned, and that I have leave . to continue my remarks on Tuesday.
– The honorable member cannot do that. He can ask for leave to continue his speech.
– Very well, sir. I shall adopt that course.
– Leave to the honorable member to continue his speech can be granted only unanimously. Is it the pleasure of the House that the honorable member have leave to continue his speech ?
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear.
– The question is that the debate be adjourned.
– I did not move the adjournment of the debate.
– The position is that the House has unanimously granted the honorable member for Wentworth leave to continue his remarks.
Debate (on motion by Sir WilliamMcMillan) adjourned.
In Committee (Consideration of Senate’s amendments) :
– I propose to ask the Committee to agree to these amendments.
– In globo?
– Yes. The whole of the amendments have been printed and were circulated two or three days ago. I propose to call the attention of the Committee to the amendments that are more than verbal ones. The first of these is in clause 31, which originally provided that -
In addition to the matters in which original jurisdiction is coferred on the High Court by the Constitution, the High Court shall have original jurisdiction in all matters which involve any question, howsoever arising, as to the limits inter se -
of the Constitutional powers of the Commonwealth and those of any State or States, or
b ) of the Constitutional powers of any two or more States.
The Senate has struck out all the words after the word “ matters’,” line 4, in order to insert the words, providing that the High Court shall have original jurisdiction in all matters - arising under the Constitution or involving its interpretation.
Both paragraphs (a) and (6) were included under this original power, but the amendment takes the power named in the Constitution, that cases involving the interpretation of the Constitution, “ may,” not “ must “ be brought in the High Court. At present appeals must be taken to the States Courts. The amendment allows appeals in these cases to be taken to the High Court if the litigants desire.
– Was not the provision taken out of the Bill by this House?
– It was one of the four or five paragraphs which were struck out by us. We omitted the whole of the paragraphs which appeared in the clause, and subsequently replaced parts of this one. The next amendment of substance occurs in clause 34, which gives power for the issue of writs. It has been thought that cases might arise in which a mandamus ought to be granted by the High Ceurt. If honorable members turn to the clause they will see that paragraph ( c ) enables the Court to order or direct the issue of writs commanding the performance of any duty by any person holding office under the Commonwealth. In these circumstances the Senate has inserted after paragraph (d) the words “ (dA) of mandamus; or”. The clause as passed by us also provided that the High Court might make orders or direct the issue of writs -
From each of these paragraphs the Senate has omitted the words “ not being the Supreme Court of a State.” The effect of that alteration is that an order of the High Court might command the performance of a duty by a Supreme Court if it were a duty relating to the exercise of its Federal jurisdiction, or it might require them to abstain, from the exercise of Federal jurisdiction. The amendment does not interfere in any way with the extra Federal jurisdiction of the States Courts, but removes the prohibition upon the High Court to require them to do or abstain from doing matters relating to the Federal jurisdiction. The next amendment of substance occurs in clause 36. When the Bill was before this House I agreed, in consequence of an objection raised by the honorable and learned member for Indi, to omit the words -
But so that on appeal shall not be brought from an interlocutory judgment except by leave of the High Court
The honorable and learned member did not express a decided opinion, but he suggested a doubt as to whether it was within the power of the House to place that limitation on the right of appeal from the courts of the States even in regard to interlocutory matters. He said that he doubted whether we had that power of limitation, and for greater caution, and in order that the matter might be reconsidered, the words were struck out. On reconsideration, it seems desirable that they should be replaced. I do not think that the constitutional difficulty exists. In Victoria, because of the abuse of these appeals which formerly existed here, it was thought necessary to pass a special Act to limit the right of appeal in interlocutory matters ‘ to cases in which leave was granted. Having satisfied my self that the constitutional objection does not hold good, it seems to me desirable that we should not depart from the practice which has been approved in the States, as the result of their experience, and, therefore, I shall ask the Committee to consent to the amendment made by the Senate, restoring this provision. The word “directly” has been introduced by the Senate in paragraph
The jurisdiction of the High Court shall be exclusive of the jurisdiction of the States in the fol lowing matters : -
When this paragraph was discussed in the House, I took the view that the words- “ matters arising under any treaty,” would, not refer to any cases arising, for instance,, under Extradition Acts, or Acts paesed in. pursuance of a treaty, and, therefore, that we might very properly leave the phrase as it stood. But on further consideration it appeared to honorable members of another place to be desirable for greater caution that the word “ directly “ should be introduced. It thus made it even plainer than before that there is no intention to take cases under Extradition Acts, and similar matters exclusively under the jurisdiction of the High Court. The amendment makes it clear that the only cases intended to be reserved are those which would spring directly from some treaty and not from an Act. A further amendment made by the Senate in clause 39 -is the insertion of a new paragraph providing that the jurisdiction of the High Court shall be exclusive of the jurisdict ion of the several Courts of the States in -
A very strong view was taken that this provision should be inserted, the opinion being held that if peremptory orders were issued to a Commonwealth officer or a Federal Court they should be issued only by the High Court, and not left to the different courts of the States.
– Did we not strike out a very similar provision ?
– I cannot for the moment remember whether or not precisely such an amendment was made. If a provision of the kind existed in the original Bill it was not in this form. . .
– In the original Bill it was provided in paragraph (f) of clause 40 that the jurisdiction of the High Court should be exclusive in -
Matters in which an order or writ is sought to be obtained against an officer of the Commonwealth in respect of some act done or omitted to be done by him in the execution of his duty.
– This involves a question which, I am assured, has been fully debated elsewhere, and the amendment very strongly pressed as being desirable. The Bill has been submitted to so many changes in this regard that I was not able to charge my memory with the fact that we had originally made this proposition. That still more convinces me of its excellence. The other amendment occurs in Clause 40. Paragraph (c) of that clause, as agreed to by this House, provided that -
Wherever a decision of a Court or Judge of a State is declared by the law of that State to be final, the High Court may grant special leave to appeal from the decision to the High Court.
That gave a right of appeal where otherwise there would have been no right. That provision has been re-shaped in this way -
The High Court may grant special leave to appeal to the High Court from any decision of any Court or Judge of the State, notwithstanding that the law of. the State may prohibit any appeal from such Court or Judge.
The provision includes in positive form the contents of the original paragraph, but is much wider. Finally clauses 66 and 67, which make provision for litigants who have brought suits against the Commonwealth or a State being able to obtain satisfaction of their judgments have been amended, so that clause 66 now reads -
No execution or attachment, or process in the nature thereof, shall be issued against the property or revenues of the Commonwealth or a State in any such suit.
Clause 67, which formerly provided that -
On receipt of the certificate of a judgment against the Commonwealth, the Governor-General may cause to be paid, out of moneys to be provided by the Parliament, the amount of such damages or costs as are awarded to such party, and may perform any decree or order pronounced or made by the High Court in the suit - has been amended to read -
On receipt of the certicate of a judgment against the Commonwealth or a State the Treasurer of the Commonwealth, or of the State as the case may be, shall satisfy the judgment out of moneys legally available.
The provision does not, so to speak, coerce Parliament, but it puts more than a moral obligation upon it to vote any moneys which the Court may hold to be due to any person who has brought an action against either the Commonwealth or a State. In this way it is sought to secure justice without the appearance of a coercion of a legislative body. Honorable members will notice that the main features of the Bill have not been departed from, either as to the number of the Judges, and the conditions of their appointment, or as to the jurisdiction of the High Court, except in the cases to which I have called attention.
– How could it be known before a suit was brought whether it involved an interpretation of the Constitution?
– The parties will have to risk that.
– In the Bill as it originally stood, the High Court had not-only a wider area of jurisdiction but a power to remove suits as of right from the States
Courts. All that now remains is the extremely limited power to which I have referred. The High Court in such cases is open to litigants only if they desire to enter it. No obligation is imposed upon them, since the jurisdiction is optional. If parties do not choose to go to the State Court, they can go to the High Court. The only increase in the exclusive jurisdiction of the High Court is that in regard to the issuing of writs of mandamus and prohibition where officers of the Commonwealth or a Court are concerned. Surely it is a proper thing that the High Court, and not a State Court, should be the tribunal .applied to in such cases. On the other hand, the jurisdiction of the High Court has been somewhat restricted by the limitation of the power of appeal in regard to interlocutory applications.
– I think it is hardly fair to ask the Committee to deal with these amendments this afternoon, and the proposal to deal with them must have come as a surprise to every honorable member.
– It was mentioned last night that they would be dealt with.
– A great many honorable members went away believing that the debate upon the electoral divisions would continue until the rising of the House, and I do not think any honorable member anticipated that the Senate’s amendments of the Judiciary Bill would be brought forward. I certainly feel compelled to divide the Committee in regard to them.
– I do not think that this is fair.
– I am sorry that the honorable and learned gentleman should think there is anything unfair in that. It is new to me to be told that it is unfair to divide a Committee against amendments to which one is opposed. I should probably feel disposed to divide against them in any case, but I shall certainly do so if they are proceeded with this afternoon, because I do not wish to stultify the action which I took during the former consideration of the measure by this Committee. My views on this subject differ widely from those of the Attorney-General, and I am perfectly at liberty to protest against the proposed amendments. There are two amendments of substance upon which I wish to speak. The proposal that the Federal jurisdiction shall be exclusive in cases of mandamus and prohibition against
Federal officers was discussed at fair length in connexion with a clause which, though differently worded, had much the same effect as the provision we are now asked to adopt; and the Committee deliberately decided that, although the system suggested might in the abstract be a proper rounding off and completion of the exclusive Federal jurisdiction of the High Court, it might in operation frequently inflict injustice upon the subject. The Committee also expressed the opinion that there should be, if possible, no extension of jurisdiction beyond that given by the Constitution in relation to the original jurisdiction of the High Court ; but on a consideration of the matter it conceded to the AttorneyGeneral an extension to matters affecting the . Constitutions of the States. The Senate proposes that the original jurisdiction shall extend to cases arising out of the Constitution or involving its interpretation. The cases arising under the Constitution will, I hope, be comparatively few, but they will arise between subject and subject, as well as between State and State, or State and Commonwealth. Cases involving the interpretation of the Constitution, however, will, I think not be inconsiderable in number, at any rate during the years immediately to come. It is quite true that it will be optional for parties to go before the > High Court, but the Committee nevertheless decided not to extend the original jurisdiction of the Court, even by giving that option. I do not think that the Government are respecting the view of the Committee upon this matter. The amendment provides for an extension which, to all intents and purposes, so enlarges the jurisdiction as to include not only suits between the sovereign States and the Commonwealth and between State and State, but suits between private individuals. That is an extension over the boundary line that was deliberately laid down by us. The discussion upon this question was of the fullest, and the Committee unmistakably expressed its view. Consequently, I consider that we should not be called upon to assent to the amendment as one requiring little consideration, or one upon which we could reasonably yield at once. I confess that so little did I expect that this matter would be considered to-day that it was only when I closely followed the remarks of the Attorney-General that I fully appreciated what was sought to be done. I have not exaggerated the facts, but have endeavoured to state what I believe to be the exact substance of what took place. As we are being asked not merely to assent to an amendment by the Senate, but to reverse a well considered decision, I would ask the Attorney-General to postpone the consideration of the matter. I shall feel bound to protest against the reversal of a decision for which the reasons appear to me to be as strong as ever. I do not blame the Attorney-General for asking. the Committee to agree to the Senate’s amendment, because it will have the effect of restoring a provision which he thinks should never have been excised, I can fully understand his sympathy with the amendment, but at the same time I believe that the Committee will not be inclined to accede to his proposal. Under all the circumstances, I think it is undesirable that we should deal with the matter this afternoon.
– I trust that the Attorney-General will see the propriety of assenting to the request for postponement. The Committee have to thank the honorable and learned member for Corinella for having brought this important matter under their notice. There is no doubt that the amendment made by the Senate is a most important one. The provision relating to the issue of ‘ writs of mandamus should also l’eceive careful consideration. When we had the Bill before us on a former occasion we so shaped the provision as to enable persons in Western Australia and Queensland, or other places distant from the seat of Government, to obtain relief within a reasonable time. It was pointed out that under the Bill as introduced, a Federal officer in Kalgoorlie or some other outlying part of the Commonwealth could not be proceeded against by a private citizen except by way of application to the High Court in Melbourne. This would have involved great delay and inconvenience. I think that under all the circumstances the Attorney-General might, with good grace, consent to the request of the honorable and learned member for Corinella.
– I must say that I was surprised when the honorable and learned member for Corinella, who has made a study of this matter, and who has watched the Bill from the first, complained that, although the amendments had been printed and in the hands of honorable members for two days, he had had no opportunity of examining them.
– I said that I should have examined them, but I had not done so.
– If the honorable and learned member and others who have devoted such close attention to the Bill have not had an opportunity of acquainting themselves with the amendments, I should be loath to expect them, without proper scrutiny, to agree to them, and I should certainly not think of asking other honerable members to do so. This measure is too important to be dealt with by any catch vote. I have very little doubt that we should have been successful in securing the approval of this Committee to these amendments, but having regard to the history of the Bill, I am particularly anxious that it should . finally leave this Chamber with the approbation of all honorable members. The measure has been most considerately handled in another Chamber. It has been approved in its present shape by overwhelming majorities, and I feel sure that the Bill in its original form would have met with ready acceptance. In view of these circumstances, and the fact that so many steps have been made to meet this Chamber, I had hoped that honorable members would have been prepared to give full weight to the views expressed elsewhere, and to sacrifice their opinions to the extent asked. In connexion with a Bill of this kind, in which every phrase may have its value, it is necessary to give the fullest consideration to every amendment, and under the circumstances I shall not ask the Committee to proceed at this stage. The first ten of the Senate’s amendments, however, are of a purely verbal character, and I shall therefore move -
That the Senate’s amendments in clauses 2 to 19 be agreed to.
Motion agreed to.
Sir EDMUND BARTON (Hunter-
Minister for External Affairs). - I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
On Tuesday we propose to go on with the motion relating to the distribution of New South Wales into electoral divisions, and shall then deal with the Senate’s - amendments in the Judiciary Bill. If there is a short time available we may consider the new clauses in the Defence Bill, .but otherwise we shall proceed with the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, to which we desire the House to devote continuous attention until the second reading is passed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 3.53 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 14 August 1903, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1903/19030814_reps_1_15/>.