10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chairat3pm., and read prayers.
The following papers were presented : -
Audit Act - Transfers of amounts approved by the Governor-General in Council - Financial Year 1925-26- Dated 9th June, 1926.
Joint House Committee - Report, dated 3rd June, 1926, on Accommodation for Members of Parliament at Canberra.
Scat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) ActOrdinance of 1926 - No. 5 - City Area teases.
– Has the Prime Minister seen in this morning’s Argus one of the pictures of strike scenes in London showing the method of maintaining an essentialservice, with the explanation, “ Armed guards were posted at threatened points, and often did duty beside union pickets”? Does not, the right honorable gentleman think that the scene represented in the Argus may be a photographic forecast of what will happen under the Constitution Alteration (Essential Services) Bill?
– I cannot express an opinion as to the future. I made perfectly clear my view that none of the things he suggests are likely to occur under the bill to which he refers. I have not seen the picture, but if, in connexion with the unfortunate events in Great Britain, it was found necessary in the interests of the nation to employ armed forces in any way, all of us deplore it.
Mr.WEST. - I have been requested to ask the Postmaster-General a question with regard to the stamps which I understand it is proposed to have printed in connexion with the transfer of the Seat of Government to Canberra. I understand from some Sydney friends, though I do not know where they got their information, that it is the intention to print portraits of public men on these stamps. I ask the Postmaster-General to delay the printing of these stamps for a little time so that I may have my photograph retaken ?
Motion (by Mr. Bruce), by leave, agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be given to the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) on the ground of urgent business.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice - 1.Whatquantity of butter was imported into Australiaduring1922-23. 1923-24, 1924-25?
– The information is being obtained.
Public Service: Housing
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Mr.WEST asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Is it a fact that the Chairman of the Public Service Board has had numerous periods of leave of absence?
Is the Chairman of the Public Service Board now on leave; if so, for how long, and for what reason was leave granted?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Gift by Imperial Government.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– I regret that the information will not be available until to-morrow.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– As I stated yesterday, the operation of the clause of the agreement under which the Commonwealth was liable for the cost of maintenance of existing services for four years ceased on 28th March, 1926. Otherwise the agreement remained in force, and the business associations of the Commonwealth and Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited remain unaffected.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
If the Peanut Pool Board have not got the necessary legal authority to give us a proper charge over the produce they cannot obtain advances from the Rural Credits Department. They should, however, quite realize that this is not due to a defect in the Rural Credits Act, but entirely due to defect in their own constitution, which prevents them giving the Bank proper security.
As an alternative they could lodge the goods in on independent store, and transfer the store warrants to us, and this would enable them to obtain advances through the Rural Credits Department.
If they are unable to adopt either of these methods, we would be agreeable to make advances through the General Banking Department under the guarantee of the Queensland Government, though we would ourselves prefer to make the advance through the Rural Credits Department, were the Pool in a position to give us proper security.”
It will be seen that any difficulty that may exist in regard to Pools obtaining assistance from the Rural Credits Department is a matter for correction by the State authorities themselves.
– On the 11th June, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) asked the following question : -
What quantity and value of electrical conduit piping, Item 152b, Tariff Schedule, has been imported into Australia since the 1st January,1926?
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : - 8.110 cwt.; £9,770.
. - I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
This measure has been on the notice-paper for a considerable time. Act No. 11 of 1906 had particular relation to the submission to the electors of proposed laws for an alteration of the Constitution. The Commonwealth Electoral Act has been amended on various occasions. In 1922 and 1924 it was altered in respect of postal voting and the declaration form. The bill before the House proposes to bring the Referendum Constitution Alteration Act into line with the Commonwealth Electoral Act. A similar measure was passed through the Senate last Parliament, and remained on the notice-paper of this chamber until the prorogation of Parliament. This bill was, in February last, introduced in another chamber and passed, and is now submitted to this House for consideration and approval. As it originally passed the Senate, in addition to co-ordinating the Electoral Act and the Referendum Constitution Alteration
Act, clause 3 proposed to make some slight alterations respecting the time allowed for the preparation of pamphlets dealing with the arguments for and against proposed alterations of the Constitution. Unless both Houses of Parliament approved, such pamphlets would not be prepared and submitted to the people, but the Government does not now propose to proceed with that provision. The Government when it introduced this measure last year had no idea of submitting to Parliament, and later to the people, any proposed alteration of the Constitution.
– That remarkis unfortunate.
– The bill was introduced some time ago, so honorable members will realize that there was no ulterior motive in the mind of the Government when that provision was inserted in it.
– We do not suggest that.
– The Government feels that if it proceeded with clause 3 it would not give opportunity both inside and outside of Parliament for preparing the case for and against the present referendum proposals. I propose to move amendments to the bill in committee, when I shall be able to explain each clause fully.
– Will the Minister explain clause 2?
– Clause 2 of the bill proposesto adopt the provision of the Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1922, giving the right to an elector to approach the electoral officer or the presiding officer when his name does not appear on the certified list of electors, and to record his vote by making a statutory declaration that he is entitled to do so.
– Even though his name does not appear on the roll?
– Yes. The second alteration relates to an elector whose name is on the roll, but when he wishes to vote, finds that it has been already ticked off as if he had voted. If he is able to satisfy the presiding officer, after filling in a declaration form affirming that he has not exercised his franchise on that date, and that he is entitled to vote, the presiding officer is compelled to allow him to record a vote. We propose to insert that provision in the bill to make it conform with the Electoral
Act. On three occasions proposed alterations of the Constitution have been submitted to the people, apart altogether from the conscription referendum. In the original act it was made compulsory that pamphlets should be printed and issued to the people of Australia. For the preparation of such pamphlets ‘ an allowance of nine weeks was made. Within two months after the expiration of thata period the Chief Electoral Officer was obliged to print and distribute them to the electors throughout Australia. It is now proposed to alter the period of nine weeks to fourteen days. Most of the arguments that can be used for and against any proposed alterations of the Constitution are used in Parliament during the discussion of the measures. I think that honorable members will agree that fourteen days is ample time for the preparation of pamphlets. I said just now that on three occasions referendums have been submitted to the people of Australia. In 1915, three days only were allowed after the passage of the bill for the matter for inclusion in pamphlets to be in the hands of the Chief Electoral Officer ‘for printing and distribution.
– In 1915 the proposals were not put to the people.
– I understand that the reasons for and against were printed, but not circulated. In 1919 the act was amended by taking away the right of the opposing parties to submit, in pamphlet form, the case for and against the proposals.
– The circumstances were quite different.
– That does not alter the fact that Parliament consented to amend the law in that way. On two out of three occasions on which the opinion of the people has been sought by means of the referendum the. original provisions of the act have been departed from. In the circumstances, the Government considers that fourteen days is ample time in which to prepare the case for and against the constitutional amendments shortly to be referred to the people. Honorable members will agree that in debates in this Parliament, or at constitutional conventions, all arguments for or against any proposed amendments are adduced, and it should be an easy matter to assemble them and embody them in a pamphlet.
– Suppose honorable members desire the advantage of consultation with the great organizations in public life?
– I assume that they have already had that advantage. Most honorable members voice, not only their own views, but also those of the organizations outside this Parliament.
– The trouble on this occasion is that the outside organizations are speaking with so many voices.
– That is so. The proposal contained in this bill is by no means extraordinary. The arguments advanced in this chamber for and against the suggested amendments of the Constitution
– Could not be improved.
– At any rate, they were fairly complete, and all that remains to be done is for the leaders of the different schools of thought to assemble those arguments and submit them to the Chief Electoral Officer for printing and distribution. Another amendment to be proposed by the Government relates to the time allowed the .Chief Electoral Officer in which to distribute the pamphlet. Under the existing law the time allowed is two months, but when that provision was. put on the statute-book means of transportation and mail facilities were much less complete than they are to-day. Now, mail matter can be sent to any part of the Commonwealth in a very brief time.
– r A telegram can be sent from Melbourne to Sydney in 24 hours. It has been done.
– If necessary, pamphlets can be sent into the outback districts by aeroplane. When pamphlets are put into the hands of the electors a month or two months before the referendum is taken, they are very liable to be mislaid or their contents forgotten.
– Does the Government propose to allow the reasons for and against to be ‘broadcasted by wireless ?
– No doubt, if that facility is desired the Government will arrange for the leader of each party to broadcast his case. The bill provides that the pamphlet must be in the hands of the electors fourteen days before the vote is taken, and I think that will allow them ample time to study, the issue they will be asked to decide.
– Who is to be authorized to state the case agaiust the proposals ?
– The Government is in close touch with the members who are opposed to these proposals.
– I am sure the Government is not in touch with all members who are opposed to them.
– The Government understands that the two honorable members who constitute the opposing party have not yet decided who shall be the leader of that party.
.- Although this is a. small machinery Bill, it has to be read in conjunction with the principal Electoral Act and the Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Act and the many acts by which those statutes have been amended from time to time, and it is very difficult for honorable members to grasp the full effect of the bill. They should have had the assistance of a printed memorandum showing the portions of existing legislation that will be altered by the clauses of this measure. The proposal which the Government is now making is very different from the bill which has come from the Senate, inasmuch as the provision that a pamphlet may not be . printed and circulated unless both Houses of Parliament so decide is to be eliminated. It is the intention of the Government to move an amendment providing that, within fourteen days of the passing of the referendum proposals now before the Senate, statements which the parties desire to place before the people shall be forwarded to the electoral officer. That period of time is too short; but I must admit that the amendment is in keeping with the way in which proposals have been rushed through this House. Having protested against the forcing through of the referendum bills, I now have to protest against the inadequate time allowed in this bill for the placing of the argument upon it before the electors. The Government has circulated an amendment providing that the Chief Electoral Officer shall, not less than fourteen days before the dayfixed for the taking of the referendum, have the statements of the parties circulated to the electors. How can that be managed in the short time allowed? It is generally understood that the referendum will be taken towards the end of August.
– The intention of the Government is to hold the referendum as soon as the minimum constitutional period of two months has expired after the passing of the bills through the Parliament.
– That means that the vote will be taken about the end of August. The bills may be in tbe Senate for a fortnight, and a further fortnight has to be allowed for the argument to be stated. The date will then be about the 14th July. The statements pro and con will have to be printed and distributed throughout this vast continent, and it is doubtful whether that can be done between the middle of July and the end of August. The pamphlet should be in the hands of the electors at least a fortnight before election day. It is of no use wasting public money in printing and posting the statements if they do not reach their destination.
– There will be ample time for the statements to reach 95 per cent. of the people.
– Even if that be so, we are not justified in compelling the other 5 per cent. to vote in ignorance. If we compel them to vote in ignorance, most of them will vote “No.” In the original act two months was allowed after the statements were made for the information to be circulated to the electors. It is necessary to give sufficient time for the people to make themselves acquainted with the proposals. On this occasion the Government will not be assisted by a unanimous press, as it was at the last election. There is already evidence that the leading newspapers are fighting the Government’s proposals. The journals that created an atmosphere unfavorable to the Opposition at the election are now creating an atmosphere calculated to defeat the Government’s proposals. That is all the more reason why we should proceed slowly, and allow the people proper time for assimilating the facts. I see no reason for depriving the people of reasonable time for consideration. If the haste is because the right honorable the Prime Minister wishes to leave shortly for England, it would be better to allow the submission of this question to the people to remain until after his return. In that event, we could proceed to consider other legislation until the end of August. In any case, we cannot legislate before next year under the powers which the people are being asked to confer. There is, therefore, no reason why the appeal should not be made next February or March. The weather would then be better than it is in August. No one relishes a campaign at this time of the year, especially when there is no necessity for it.
– This time of the year is suitable in Queensland.
– But Queensland is only a part of the Commonwealth. The people should be given ample time to consider the cases submitted by both parties, so that they need not be guided by the newspapers,. which are giving publicity to all the tittle-tattle they can collect on this subject, without regard to whether it comes from interested sources. If they obtain an irresponsible statement about me, or about any other honorable member on this side, they give it full publicity, whether it is true or not.
– They frequently do not obtain the information from any one; they concoct it.
– That is true. The Age to-day publishes a statement that I. denied a few days ago, and that it must know is untrue. If we do not allow sufficient time for the people to obtain information from any other source than the newspapers, which have already shown their bias, what will be the fate of the referendum? The newspapers will poison the minds of the people. I trike no exception to any newspaper stating its views; but journalism’ has sunk to a low ebb when tittle tattle is published in an endeavour to disrupt this or any other party upon a proposal that is not a party matte’1. The pres3 will combine in opposition to these proposals; there will not be any newspapers advocating the affirmative view. It would be better to allow sufficient time for our case to be presented, as we should then have a chance of winning through. I believe that the powers sought under the first bill are absolutely necessary. I have pledged my fullest support to them, and
I shall honour that pledge, whatever may happen. I shall not fear the influence of the newspapers if I am afforded the opportunity of placing arguments before the people in support of the proposals. The Government would act wisely if it reconsidered the matter, and decided to grant further time for the preparation of a strong case. If that is not done, the people will not be able to understand the proposals, and from motives of safety they will vote against them. They must be enlightened. No one is more conservative than the Britisher or the Australian. ‘ He will not act blindly. Before he lends his support to any proposal, he wants to be assured that it is absolutely in his own interest. The case for and against must be allowed to reach the remotest parts of this continent, so that the whole of the people will thoroughly understand the matters upon which they are being asked to vote-
.- Two different proposals are affected by this bill - one relating to an amendment of existing powers, and the other to an entirely new power under the Constitution. The latter has never previously been placed before the people of Australia; but the first has. The argument which was advanced by the Minister in charge of this bill (Mr. Marr) might have had some weight if it had been directed to the second and third referendum proposals that were placed before the people, because they were practically the same as those which are contained in the first of the measures that we have considered. A full and complete case for and against those proposals was circulated on those occasions. But quite a differentposition exists in regard to the measure with which we dealt last night, as it breaks entirely fresh ground. A further consideration is that compulsory voting now operates, and a large additional body of electors will be compelled, not only to understand the proposals - if they can - but also to vote upon them. Parliament has a big programme to carry through before August, and those honorable members who are opposed to the proposals will have practically no time in which to prepare their case. The Government is strongly fortified with legal assistance, and it will experience little difficulty in having its case fully pre- pared. Only two honorable members of this House voted against the first bill. It has not yet run the gauntlet of the other place; but if our ranks are not strengthened in that quarter, the preparation of the case against its proposals will devolve upon the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) and me. I ask the Leader of the House (Mr. Bruce) if he thinks that that is a fair proposition. The Minister in charge of the bill expressed the wish that it should have a speedy passage. That is the desire of the Government in regard to the referendum proposals. A large number of those people who will be compelled to vote upon them will not have the opportunity to thoroughly digest and understand them, and a welter of confusion will arise from the fact that in the campaign, the Government and the Opposition will be in unison in respect to one portion of the proposals, but in disagreement and deadly conflict upon the other. How then can it be expected that a clear and enlightened view of the proposals will be placed before the country? For the first time in the history of Australia, the electors will be compelled to vote upon proposed amendments of the Constitution. According to the Prime Minister, the two bills will not be passed by anotherplace before the expiration of a fortnight, and thus only two months will be available for the people to consider them before voting upon them. I do not know of any circumstance that warrants the alteration of the Constitution by a fixed date. The convenience of the Government, or of any honorable member, must be brushed aside, in view of the greater issues that are involved. It is not necessary for me to deal in detail with the atmosphere in which these proposals had their birth. We are being asked to make a vital and fundamental change in the Federal pact, yet only a few weeks is to be allowed for the people to arrive at a calm and deliberate understanding of it. The atmosphere is entirely unfavorable to such an understanding. Has the Prime Minister considered the possibility of preparing a constitutional case against the proposals in the limited time that will be available? It will hardly be possible for the various organizations and States that range themselves against these proposals in the country to convene a Federal con ference; and the responsibility for that will rest upon those who support the Government. I strongly protest against the improper haste with which this whole business is being dispatched.
.- I support the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) and the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) in objecting to this unnecessary haste. These proposals may have far-reaching results, and affect the welfare of almost every person in the community, and fourteen days is altogether inadequate to prepare the case against them. I suggest to the Government that it should delay the submission of the questions to the people, so that they will be dealt with in an atmosphere of not hysteria,but of calm consideration. I hold very strong views on the commerce and industry bill, and I think I speak for a considerable section of the community. My objection to the measure is based on grounds totally different from those of either the honorable member for Wannon or the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), and in order that the questions may be submitted to the people fairly, I contend that I should be given the opportunity to present my case as well as the honorable member for Wannon and the honorable member for Swan.
– The honorable member deprived himself of that right by not voting on the bill.
– I assure the honorable member that I shall never deprive myself of the right to put my views before the people.
– Legally, the honorable member has done so.
– So far as I know, there is no law that prevents any party which is opposed to these proposals from presenting its case.
– There was nothing in the original act.
– I assure the Government that these proposals will be liable to grave suspicion if those opposed to them are denied facilities for stating the ground of their opposition. All 1 ask for is a fair field and no favour.I may not exercise the privilege of stating a case, but I contend that I should have the right to do so. If the Government denies it to me, or to any honorable members, the clear inference will be that it is afraid of full discussion. Certainly, full and adequate consideration of the matter will be impossible within the limited period of fourteen days.
– The position created by the agreement between the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) and the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) concerning the proposed amendments to our constitutional power over commerce and industry is without precedent. The act which it is now proposed to amend assumed that, when a constitutional question was to be referred . to the people, there would always be a party desiring to amend the Constitution, and. on the other side a party against the proposal. Time brought some changes. On the third occasion on which I had the honour to introduce into this House proposals for the amendment of the Conr stitution, the then Leader of the Opposition (Sir Joseph Cook) contented himself with objecting to-, not the subject-matter of the proposed referendum, but the time - it was. during the war - it was to be taken. There were, however, two parties in the House taking up party attitudes to the proposals. The present position is very different, and if the methods well suited to former occasions bc persisted in, the. electors will be placed in a most unfortunate situation. A case has now to be made out for and against the proposed amendments to our constitutional power over commerce and industry. The reasons given by the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), who were the only members who voted against the proposed amendments, were not those I should give were I required to prepare the case against them. The act provides for the preparation in tabloid form of the case for and against proposed constitutional amendments for submission to the people, not merely to compress the verbosity of honorable members, but principally to inform the mind of the electors. Now, although the case which the two honorable members; I have mentioned will prepare will be entirely convincing to those to whom it will appeal - I shall not ventureto say whether the number will be large or small - it will leave a vast number of people in Australia entirely uninformed upon the very points upon which they desire enlightenment. On this question, the position of the party opposite is no longer that of members of an Opposition; they have become in regard to it members of an almost homogeneous Parliament. I am afraid, therefore, that the pamphlet that is likely to be prepared may not fully represent the views of those who are opposed to the proposed amendments. The vast mass of the people who voted against the proposed laws for the alteration of the Constitution in 1911,. 1913, and again in 1919, will now be asked, by reason of the unexpected - and if honorable members please, belated - conversion of the Government and the party on thisside to a policy which I had long advocated, but without conspicuous success, to come to a decision without having the arguments against the amendments fullystated. I can hardly believe that the honorable member for Wannon will entirely cover that ground. Neither he, nor the members of the Labour party, can address themselves to the argument in opposition to that put forward by the party now in favour of the measure. But what we want is an informed public. The electors are now dragged willy-nilly to the poll, and whilst that may be an admirable thing in regard to the election of a Parliament, it is quite another thing to drag a man to the poll to answer a question severely abstract in its nature, and, it would almost appear, beyond the comprehension of some honorable members in this chamber. The electors can exercise if needs be their choice between parliar mentary candidates without much coneera for the policies they put forward, but in this case they will be asked to followan unlighted, and. almost unblazed track through an uncharted morass. To increase their difficulty, they will be told by the Leader of the Opposition to vote. “ Yes “ in regard to the first bill,and to vote “No” in regard to the second. They will be told by those who represent organized labour in New South Wales, probably in Queensland, and possibly alsoin this State, to vote “No “ in regard to both bills. They will be told By the Leader of the Opposition that he voted for one of these? measures, which contains at least one proposal to which he is utterly opposed - I refer to that for the creation of authorities - because no better course was open to him. How is the elector to thread his way through such a maze? He should at least be given an opportunity to understand these proposals for himself. He will be deafened by conflicting advice from all quarters. Some will say, “ do this,” otherswill say “ do something else.” There is great force in the statement of the Leader of the Opposition that the people should have more time to study these questions; though it is probable that, in any circumstances, they will follow their leaders. On the first occasion when Ihad the honour to introduce in this chamber proposed laws for the amendment of the Constitution, the Australian Labour party was divided. My friend, Mr. Holman, led a phalanx in New South Wales against the proposed amendment, and I led the forces for it.
– The Federal Labour party was solid.
– Yes ; but it does not appear to be solid now. On the first occasion there was excuse for doubt and hesitation, because what was proposed was something quite new. We were endeavouring to lead the people to a bourne the very existence of which they then heard of for the first time. On the occasion of the second referendum Labour was for all practical purposes solid, as were, too, its opponents, the then Liberal party. They voted solidly against the proposed constitutional amendment, and the Labour party voted, not quite solidly but reasonably so, for it. On the fringe of both parties, some Labour backsliders voted against it, and some reformers in the Liberal ranks voted for it. Now, however, there is a schism of a very serious kind. Had it been possible to delay the introduction of these measures, and allow Labour to determine its position, I think the circumstances that have arisen would not confront us to-day. We should have had Labour, led by the Leader of the Opposition, against the amendments, and the party on this side for them. As it is, the only light that the people who are to be dragged to the poll can hope to obtain is that to be supplied by the honorable member for Wannon, who is already showing the strain of his responsibility, and the honorable member for Swan, whose spirits triumph over material conditions, and who will, no doubt, illumine the case against the amendments with that humour and brilliance which are the characteristic expressions of his soul. For my part, I do not see how the people can understand what they should do. Some one ought to prepare the case against the proposed laws, but there is nobody who can put the case against them as it is viewed by the great mass of unionists outside this chamber. Last night the honorable memberfor Richmond (Mr. R. Green) spoke of the unionists of Australia as representing about 10 or 12 per cent. of the population. If they represented only so small a percentage, there would be no industrial question in this country at all. I think we might take it for granted that, of every i00 people who pass by, between 47 and 50 are more or less intimately related to what is called the Labour or trade union movement. That has been so since 1910. At the last election, when all the currents of popular feeling were unfavorable, Labour was der feated by only some 10 per cent. of the total votes cast. Therefore, at least 40 per cent. of the people may be assumed to be opposed to the amendments. Yet no one will be able to prepare for them the case against the proposals.
– The Government should make an opportunity for them to put. their case.
– There are still twoparties in respect of this question, but they are not represented in this chamber. It is, of course, delightful to see this House unanimous ; but even unanimityhas disadvantages. I think that the Government should give an opportunity to the great mass of opinion outside, which may be expected to be hostile to these amendments, to state its case. How that is to be done, I do not presume to indicate, nor do I make any suggestion.
– I claim that we have the right. We refrained from voting for the measures.
– We must assume that the executive of the Labour movement stands for that movement. Its decision, whichever way it goes, must be regarded as the authoritative decision of theLabour movement in regard to this matter. That executive, it appears tome, directly or through any agents it may choose to appoint, either in or out of.’ this House, should have an opportunity of stating its case. If there had been two members of the Labour party here against the proposed amendments, the executive of the Labour movement might have acted through them. Of course, when there is an overwhelming majority, including the leader of the party, prepared to go in a certain direction, other members of it are naturally most reluctant, to oppose the course that is taken.
– What we want is loyalty to the country.
– Party government is, as much as anything else, a fact of public life . We cannot conduct public affairs without combining in parties, because we cannot exist without some sort of organization which, in its turn, depends upon and promotes united action. Thus it is inevitable that individuals at times have to be silent regarding, and even to vote against, what they would prefer to support. That often happens. Despite that, we know where the people outside to whom I have referred, are on this matter. I am perfectly certain that nothing on earth will make them vote for this legislation. They should have an opportunity of expressing their views. The circumstances that applied at the time of the passing of the original act no longer exist. The circumstances today are unique. The Prime Minister properly took advantage of the offer of the Leader of the Opposition; it would be monstrous had he not done so.
– The same difficulty presents itself to me. I cannot have recourse to the executive of the great organization that stands behind the Prime Minister.
– I realize that; the Prime Minister has that advantage. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) have opposed the referendum proposals for reasons that they have stated, and they must compose their own differences of opinion.
– There are no differences of opinion between us. We are like the Siamese twins on this question.
– The honorable members have every appearance of Siamese twins. The Prime Minister is in an awkward position. We have had five referendums, three on constitutional pro posals, and two on the conscription issue. The people have formed the habit of saying “No.” This is most embarrassing; but. it is, nevertheless, a tribute to our stability of character and conservatism. lt is upon such qualities that the Empire is built.
– May I suggest that we should dispense with the prepared case for and against, and leave the question to the platform ? Both sides would then have an equal chance.
– There is something Machiavellian in that suggestion. I do not know where it will lead us. Certainly pamphlets ought not to be prepared at publio expense setting out the views of one side only. Honorable members on the other side, acting with the best of intentions, and animated by a desire to serve their country, have held out the olive branch to the Prime Minister; he has accepted it, and they are now marching hand in hand with him, although the great bulk ofthe Labour movement is saying not “ Banzai,” but something very different. As the contest develops I do not doubt that there is reserved for them something of that experience of which I have had more than my share.
.- I agree entirely with the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) that pamphlets setting out only one side of the question should not be printed and distributed at public expense. That is an opinion that will meet with universal approval. One difficulty has not yet been mentioned. Two proposals will be submitted to the people, and, under the bill, the case for and against them will be presented by a majority of those voting on either side. Take the first proposal. Those who voted in its favour were the Government supporters, with two exceptions, and the members of the Labour party. The majority of those who voted in the affirmative will, therefore, be Nationalists, so that on that proposal the Labour view in the affirmative will not be expressed at all.
– In this case there seems to be more than two sides to each question.
– The majority of those who voted in support of the first bill are Nationalists, and, therefore, only the Nationalist view will be stated in the official pamphlet.
– The honorable member is wrong.
– The bill reads-
The argument in favour of the proposed law, consisting of not more than 2,000 words, and authorized by a majority of those members of both Houses of Parliament who voted for the proposed law.
The majority of those in both Houses who voted for this proposed law will be Nationalists.
– The honorable member is assuming that the two sections supporting the proposal cannot agree upon the terms of the case.
– I have not yet reached that stage. Although we. endeavour to lift this subject above party issues, it inevitably involves party views. We on this side favour an amendment of the Constitution for reasons that, in many respects, differ from those expressed by the Government.
– Those reasons could be added in the nature of a minority statement.
– That remains to be seen. I am trying to see if something cannot be evolved to overcome the difficulty. There are many reasons for additional powers upon which the majority of honorable members are agreed, but there are many others upon which we entirely disagree. We may agree that Parliament should have the widest powers, and yet disagree when it comes to exercising those powers by legislation. That is obvious. Therefore, an injustice is done if only the Government’s view, in the affirmative, is stated in the pamphlet submitted to the people.
– The same argument applies in the case of those who voted against the proposal.
– The views against the proposals will be expressed by a combination of those who voted against them in this House and in another place. It is not a question of arriving at a majority between the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory).
– It is a majority of those voting in both Houses.
– It is not a question, as has been stated to-day, of getting those two honorable gentlemen to agree. They must agree with others in the Senate who may vote against these proposals. There we have another cross-word puzzle to solve.
– The opponents of the proposals in the Senate will probably be the Labour party.
– We have no grounds to assume that, and we have grounds to assume the opposite. Assuming that the majority of those who vote against the proposal will also be Nationalists, the only view that will be put to the people, as stated in the official pamphlet, will be the affirmative view of” the Nationalist party, and the negative view of the Nationalist party. The Labour party attitude, for and against, will not be expressed.
– How will the second proposal be affected?
– There will be a straight-out fight on it. The Labour party is solidly against it. The Opposition will state its case against the proposal, and the Government will state its case in favour of it. It is not worth wasting money printing a ballot-paper in respect of the second proposal. It is mischievous and dangerous, and apt to destroy the value of the first proposal, which, if submitted separately, would have an excellent opportunity of being carried. I regret that the two proposals are being linked together. The big issue that is confronting this Parliament, and on which it is almost unanimous, is the extension of powers for the permanent use of this Parliament, and yet it is viewed from various angles.
– If portion of the 1912 act were rescinded, we could dispense with the pamphlet altogether, and leave the explanation of the proposals to platform discussion.
– That is another question altogether.
– Are we restricted to 2,000 words?
– Yes, unless we amend the bill.
– Why not publish both National party and Labour party views on the first proposal?
– The time for preparing the pamphlet is limited to two weeks, which shows the stupidity of rushing these proposals.
– We are agreed on that.
– The honorable member for Wannon and I are quite agreed upon that point. This issue is too big to be hurried. Within five years of the foundation of the Commonwealth, defects in the Constitution were discovered, and for over twenty years, we have waited for an opportunity to rectify them. A further delay of a. few months will not make much difference. The Prime Minister stated that the Government desires the poll to be taken about the end of August. If the Constitution Alteration Bills are disposed of by the Senate by the end of this month, and two weeks is allowed for the preparation of the case for and against the proposals, the pamphlets will reach the Chief Electoral Officer by the 14th July, and as they must be in the hands of the electors fourteen days before the vote is taken, only four weeks will be. available for their printing and distribution.
– So far as I am concerned, the Government and the Opposition can have the entire pamphlet. The press will suit me better.
– I have no doubt that the honorable member and the views he represents will be well served by the newspapers. I do not think that the pamphlet can be printed and in the hands of the electors by the middle of August. The suggestion of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) that the pamphlet should be prepared by agreement is impracticable. Even after the Ministerial party and the Labour party have stated their respective views in, favour of the first referendum proposal the case of those who are opposed to it must be stated. The only votes against that bill in this chamber were recorded by two Ministerialists. The view of the Labour organizations has not been stated.
– There is no Labour view in opposition to that proposal that Parliament can recognize.
– That is so.
– Abandon the pamphlet, and leave the propaganda to the platform and the press.
– I am afraid that the honorable member- is offering to play with loaded dice; he knows that the press will support him.
– The provision that the pamphlet shall reach the electors fourteen days before the vote is taken means that it must be in the hands of the local electoral officer by that date.
– No. The Chief Electoral Officer posts the pamphlet direct to each elector.
– Section 6a, when amended will provide that the case for and against the proposals must be submitted to the Chief Electoral Officer within fourteen days of the passage of the proposed law through both Houses. Under the present law the time allowed for consultation and the preparation of matter for the pamphlet is nine weeks, and another two months is allowed for its printing and distribution. Under this proposal, only one month will be available for printing and distribution.
– When the case for and against the proposal is presented to the Chief Electoral. Officer, his is the responsibility of printing and distributing the pamphlet, and he says that he can do that in the time which the proposed amendments will allow.
– I thought that the debate would be facilitated if I allowed some latitude to honorable members, but it is developing into a committee discussion. It is not in order to discuss at the secondreading stage the details of a bill and amendments to be proposed in coinmittee I suggest that honorable members should confine their remarks as far as possible to general principles.
– You, sir; have stated the usual practice, but in this instance the only general principle involved is whether or not these pamphlets shall be distributed. There is no principle in the bill to examine, except the practicability of its proposals, and the measure of justice they offer to the supporters and opponents of the referendum proposals. Time is of the essence of the contract, and that is the justification for discussing the details in order to decide whether this measure is worth taking into committee. What has been said emphasizes the unwisdom of prejudicing an important constitutional issue by undue haste. If a constitutional session is to be held at Canberra next year, let us deal with the whole matter there and then. The further we investigate the Governments proposals now, the greater the muddle in which wefind ourselves.
– The main point involved in this bill is the desirability or otherwise of issuing a pamphlet setting out the views of those who voted for and against the two proposed constitutional amendments recently dealt with by this House. The statement has been made repeatedly that the referendum proposals are being rushed through Parliament, and that no reasonable opportunity to study them is being afforded. That argument was disposed of when the House, by passing the two constitutional measures, affirmed the desirability of referring them to the people at once. The suggestion has been made that the taking of the referendum should be delayed until after the constitutional session to be held next year at Canberra. The Government cannot accept that suggestion. It would be a grave blunder, and the Government would be recreant to its duty, and would violate its election pledges, if it did not proceed at once with the submission to the people of the proposals for dealing with the industrial situation in this country. I ask honorable members to look at the industrial conditions in this country today, and to ask themselves whether, if the Government was not proceeding with the amendment of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, and was not seeking additional constitutional powers, there would not be a serious industrial crisis, particularly in the great State of New South Wales. The fact that the Government is about to ask the people for greater constitutional powers has avoided in that State an upheaval that would have had far-reaching effects on the industrial life of this country. The Government stated quite clearly that it intended to have this referendum taken irrespective of any general constitutional referendum that might be taken after the holding of the constitutional session. Let me remind honorable members of the difference in time between acting now and deferring action until after the constitutional session.
– The right honorable ihe Prime Minister is discussing matters- that have already been dealt with by this House. I ask him to confine his remarks to the hill now before the chair.
– It is necessary to fix the time to be allowed for the preparation and issue of a pamphlet to the electors. The Government says that it is essential that this referendum be taken at the earliest possible date, so that Ministers may know their industrial powers with as little delay as possible. The matter does not end with the taking of the referendum, whatever may be the decision. If the proposals are accepted by the electors, the Government will have to prepare legislation under the new powers for submission to the House. Every industry in Australia is vitally affected, and -every possible care should be taken in framing that legislation. As soon as the referendum has been taken, theGovernment will consult with those persons who can assist it to decide which is the wisest course to pursue. Honorable members opposite will agree that I have shown that I am prepared to discuss these matters with industrial leaders. A considerable period of time must elapse between the acceptance of the proposals by the people and the passing of subsequent legislation. If the electors accept the proposals, the Government will proceed to legislate under the new powers, hut, if they reject them, the Government will do its best with the existing powers. In any case, the Government will go forward and do all it can to give effect to the mandate of the electors. Assoon as the legislation has been prepared, it will be submitted to this Parliament. Let me contrast that with the delay that will occur if we defer the taking of the referendum until after theconstitutional session. At the constitutional session the general revision of the Constitution will be considered, and the proposals agreed upon will not be submitted to the people until the next general election, which, honorable members know, -will not be for a period of three years.
– The right honorable the Prime Minister is not discussing the bill before the House. I ask him to confine his remarks to the bill.
– The point I have been trying to make is that the proposals should be submitted to the people without delay; but there is difficulty in setting up the machinery for their submission. I recognize that difficulty as clearly ‘ as ‘ any honorable member does. Under the law as it stands, a statement of the cases for and against the proposals must be submitted to the electors. The first bill was passed through this House with only two dissentients. The Senate is . numerically weaker than this House, and it is extremely improbable that the number of dissentients there will be greater in proportion than it was here. Let us suppose that the majority for the bill in another place will be relatively as large as the majority for it here. The effect of that will be that the majority of the majority will be composed of direct supporters of the Government. Although this is not a party issue, different views are held by the two bodies of men that compose the majority. The case to be presented to the electors is the case prepared by the majority of the majority. I agree that it is conceivable that, in presenting the case, the majority will not be entirely in accord .
– Why not decide not to issue the pamphlet?
-The two who voted against that bill are absolutely unanimous, although discord may be introduced later. In addition to them, a certain number of honorable members abstained from voting. No honorable members desire that one section of this House, which may represent only a section of the community, shall be able to present its case to the people in a better way than is permitted to other sections. As the country will bear the expense, these considerations should be taken into account. It is impossible to increase the number of pamphlets indefinitely. This House can recognize, in regard to any measure, only the section that votes for it, and the section that votes against it. The Government brought this bill down because it did not think it would be fair to proceed under an act which provides for a vote to be taken of the whole Parliament as to whether the pamphlet should be issued. It is within the discretion of the House to determine this matter. Whether fourteen days is too long or too short to allow for the preparation of a pamphlet, is a question for discussion at the committee stage of the bill. If, owing to the peculiar circumstances of the referendum, it is held’ to be unfair that certain sections of the community should be allowed to state their case at the expense of the Commonwealth, the Government will be prepared to consider a proposal that a pamphlet shall not be issued. The Government invites honorable members to express their opinions. The principle has to be determined before discussing the period to be allowed for the preparation and issue of the pamphlet.
– I notice that the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) is in the chamber. We are all aware that whilst he was travelling upon the business of the Commonwealth recently he passed through extreme peril in an accident in which several persons lost their lives, and many others were severely injured. With the permission of the House, I should like to express the satisfaction that I am sure every honorable member feels at his having come safely through that peril.
– Although the honorable member is out of order, I realize that his goodness of heart has prompted the remarks which he has just made, and which express our feelings.
.- If the Government has decided to issue pamphlets in connexion with the referendum proposals, the work should be proceeded with immediately; otherwise there might be considerable delay in having them distributed. Members of the Opposition will not have any difficulty in defining their attitude towards the referendum in relation to essential services. They will present a solid phalanx against that proposal. But the first of the proposals will cause difficulty, and if pamphlets are to be issued a spirit of give and take will have to be manifested. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) have the right under the act to state their case. But there is a very big section of the people outside this House who will not have that right. The honorable, member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) and, I think, several other honorable members on this side did not care to vote against their leader (Mr. Charlton), and therefore did not vote at all. From the sentiments that have been expressed by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), I understand that it is not his desire to deprive a considerable section of the community of the opportunity to state their case. He and those who support him will probably wish to place the case for the proposals before the people in their own language, whilst we on this side may be anxious to give altogether different reasons for their acceptance. In at least two of the States, possibly in three, a case will be prepared against the referendum, but a big section will not have the opportunity to state their views. I understand that 3,000,000 copies of the pamphlets are to be distributed. That will be a big task.
– Supposing that a dozen or more honorable members oppose the proposals, each from a different viewpoint, should they all be given the privilege of stating their views ?
– We cannot go to ridiculous extremes. If we are not careful there will be a muddle in the way in which the case is presented. If the strict letter of the act is to be adhered to, only the majority which voted for the bill, and the minority which voted against it, will be able to present their case. An opposing party in Victoria is being led by Sir Arthur Robinson, and I do not suppose that it will concern itself about the official statements, because it has sufficient funds to issue its own propaganda. Honorable members of the Country party in this House, with the exception of the honorable member for Swan, will doubtless combine with the Nationalists, whilst the minority section of that party, headed by Mr. Allan, the Premier of Victoria, will stand side by side with the Nationalists in the State Parliament. There may be a similar spectacle in every State. With so many voices advising the electors, confusion is bound to be created, and there will be such a doubt in the minds of a big bulk of the people that they will vote against the proposals. It would be a common-sense step to postpone the whole matter until it had been properly discussed at a constitutional session. If the honorable member for Swan and the honorable member for Wannon are not likely to avail themselves of . the whole of the space which is allowed to them under the act, could they not permit the balance to be used by that big section which otherwise will not have an opportunity of stating its case ? If the Government and its supporters persist with these rush tactics they will be ignominiously defeated in the country.
.- The Prime Minister referred to the necessity for haste in the matter, and gave one of the most extraordinary reasons that I have ever heard advanced in this Parliament. He said that it was essential for the referendum proposals to be submitted to the people at the earliest possible moment, so that the Government would know the power that it possessed under the Constitution, and the necessary legislation could then be brought down without delay. The carrying of the referendum will not in itself confer power upon the Government; legislation will have to be prepared and passed by this Parliament.
– That is what the Prime Minister said.
– Exactly . A few weeks ago the Government had not the slightest idea of bringing forward this legislation.
– I said in my second reading speech that the bill was introduced last year.
Mr.GREGORY. - It was reintroduced subsequent to the opening of this Parliament. We have a federation which gives national powers to the Federal Parliament and sovereign rights to the States. It was entered into freely by the whole of the people of Australia. The Constitution is the foundation of our liberties; yet we are informed that these proposals must be rushed to the people in order that the Government may have ample time to prepare legislation uuder them. Is it not more important that the people should realize the effect of the alterations that are proposed in the Constitution ? Last night I received one of the greatest surprises that I have ever experienced in my political career. The Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) declared that had full trade and commerce powers been asked for in accordance with the wishes of the Opposition, the Commonwealth would have had all the powers that it is seeking under this emergency legislation. I am sure that very few people in the community had the slightest idea that that alteration would give such drastic powers to the Commonwealth. It is essential that the people should have the fullest possible information of these proposed amendments. We should uot be justified in depending entirely upon the advice given us by the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), but should also seek advice from the most able constitutional lawyers in Australia, and from students of legislation, accountants, and others who may be in a position to advise us.
– Why has the honorable member mentioned accountants?
– I was thinking more of those interested in banking, and in other financial and commercial problems. Valuable information will be available from such men even though they are not legal practitioners. It will be remembered that at all of the pre-f ederation conventions explanations given by men who were not lawyers had a great deal to do with settling the divergent views that were expressed on the subjects under discussion. I do not think that the proposed pamphlet will affect the situation very much. The best means of informing the public mind on these questions is to allow a reasonable time for general discussion. I do not desire, unduly, to delay a vote on them, but I think that it should not be taken for at least three or four months after the bills are passed by both Houses of Parliament. The Prime Minister will not be able to speak on every public platform in Australia. I do not suppose that he even intends to visitevery State during the campaign; but he will have a full opportunity of stating his views through the press. In my opinion, we cannot exercise too much care in considering proposed constitutional alterations, and the unseemly haste with which these bills have been dispatched in this House is discreditable. Ordinary lay members of the House have had no opportunity whatever of satisfying themselves as to the possible effect of the alterations. It would be wise, in my opinion, to retain clause 3 in the bill, for I cannot see how the various parties can adequately state their case in all its aspects in a pamphlet. Both the Nationalist and Labour parties have been disrupted over these question’s, although it is true that no honorable member of the Opposition actually voted against the commerce and industry measure.
– Some of us did not vote for it, so we are not to be taken as in favour of it.
– That need not be so. I should like to know whether it is the intention of the Government to enforce compulsory voting at the referendum?
– The compulsory voting provisions of the Electoral Act will apply. That is the effect of new clause9 which I intend to move.
– I sincerely hope that the Government will reconsider its attitude in that regard, and not enforce compulsory voting. I have a great objection to. people voting who do not take the slightest interest in these matters, and who will not even read newspaper articles on them, for they must recorda blind and unintelligent vote.
– Those who do not understand the proposals will undoubtedly vote “ no.”
– I desire a negative vote, but at the same time I want an intelligent vote, and if compulsoryvoting is enforced, we shall certainly not get that. The fact that the Prime Minister desires to leave for Great Britain on a certain date, is no justification for ‘our rushing this referendum forward. The right honorable gentleman will have opportunities to present his case beforehe leaves for Great Britain. Even if an affirmative vote is given by the people, no use can be made of the new power until legislation has been passed by this Parliament. I again urge that more opportunity should be given to the people id inform their minds on the full effects of these proposals.
.- I consider that the ‘Government, by these hasty methods, is endangering the likelihood of an affirmative vote ‘on the commerce and industry proposals, in which I am interested. Although I am entirely opposed to the essential service proposals, I do notdesire tosee a farce made of any referendum onconstitutional alterations. With the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), I am of the opinion that it will ‘be impossible for us fully to state out views to the people in the time the Government proposes to allow us. I do not wish to take advantage ofthe position in whichthe Prime Minister finds himself. I know that he wants to attend the Imperial Conference in London during October, but I can. see no difficulty in him stating his views on these matters before he leaves Australia, and leaving the continuation of the campaign to his colleagues. He has told us quite clearly that, even if the people give an affirmative vote on all the proposals submitted to them, nothing can be done to take advantage of it until next session. In those circumstances, it seems to me to be reasonable to ask for the postponement of the whole matter until the promised constitutional session can be held at Canberra. It will take a considerable time even to prepare a pamph let setting out the case pro and con.
– There is a constitutional difficulty in the way of delay; these proposals must be submitted to the people within two months of the passage of the bill through Parliament.
– Even two months would be better than the limited time the Government proposes to give us. It is ridiculous to think that the people can give an intelligent vote on these matters without having a proper opportunity to study them. In the time that is available, it will be impossible to even circulate these pamphlets in some parts of Australia, let alone give the people an opportunity to read and study them. They will have to depend upon broadcasting for their information about the proposed constitutional amendments.
– What parts of the Commonwealth does the honorable member refer to?
– The north-western part of Western Australia, Darwin, and such remote places.
– There are very few people there.
– There are some hundreds of people in those places, and it would be a gross injustice to the electors to have the referendum taken before they are given an opportunity to study the proposals. The pamphlets must be printed by the 21st July; they will not be available until the 28th July. They have to be distributed by the 14th August, and the referendum is to take place on the 28th August. Boats leave for the Nor’-West on the 4th August, and will not reach Broome until the 14th August. It will be impossible, therefore, for the pamphlets to be in the hands of electors in the neighbourhood of Broome by the 14th August. If it is urged that the pamphlets can be carried by aeroplane, the practicability of the adoption of that course has to be considered. I doubt very much whether the aerial ser- . vice of the north-west of Western Australia would be able to distribute the number of pamphlets necessary for the electors in that part of the Commonwealth. Even if the aerial post were used as far as Broome and Derby, it would not be possible, within the time proposed to distribute the pamphlets at Wyndham. Boats leave for Wyndham about the 6th August, and will not reach that place before the 14th August. The mail service takes two or three weeks to reach the east and west Kimberleys from Wyndham, and it is clear that in the circumstances I have mentioned some, of the electors will not be in possession of the pamphlets before the referendum is taken. I understand that. in the Northem Territory people will not have the . right to vote on these proposals.
– That is so ; they have the right to vote only for a representative in this chamber.
– I am satisfied that people residing in parts of Australia of which I have knowledge and in other remote parts such as districts north of Oodnadatta,, with which I am not familiar, will be unable to receive the pamphlets before they are called upon to vote at the referendum. It is regrettable and inequitable to allow so short a time for the distribution of the pamphlets. I should very much like to see the proposed amendments dealing with trade and commerce carried, but I believe that many people will turn them down, because of lack of information about them.
– Does the honorable member not think that six weeks is a sufficiently long time to allow?
– I have been contending that people in some parts of Australia will not receive the pamphlets before the referendum is taken.
– They will be very few.
– They will number 260 in one place alone that I have in mind. It should be remembered that people living in the hinterland of the north-west portion of Western Australia have to come in, sometimes 100 miles to a centre to receive their mail. I am, in this matter, standing up for the outback pioneers, about whom the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) should be concerned. I am claiming merely that the country men should be given the same advantages in deciding a great national question as the towndwellers.
.- It appears to me that this bill is necessary, if the questions to be submitted at the referendum are to be explained to the people in time for their decision to be registered by the end of August or thereabouts, and so that legislation based upon that decision may be prepared for consideration during an early session next year. The opinions held concerning the proposed constitutional amendments may be divided into four sections, and may be sub-divided into eight sections. There are those who are in favour of both proposals. There are a few opposed to both. There are those who are in favour of the first proposal, and opposed to the second, and there are a few who are in favour of the second proposal and opposed to the first. These four classes can be subdivided again, because some favour the first proposal for reasons which differ from those for which it is favoured by others. This applies to honorable members on both sides. So far as I can see tho only way out of the difficulty of preparing the case for and against the proposals is to appoint two small joint committees consisting of members from both sides in both Houses of the Parliament. The affirmative committee dealing with the first question would not necessarily be the affirmative committee dealing with the second question, because some of those dealing with the first question affirmatively would be opposed to th© second question. In this way there would be set out every conceivable argument in favour of,’ and in opposition to, both proposals.
.- The remarks of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson), might be used as an argument in support of the contention on this side that a longer time should be given for the preparation of the proposed pamphlets. I do not see how the case for either side can be properly prepared in fourteen days. - This House has been discussing the questions involved for days, and I think that very few honorable members have yet a clear idea of what the whole business means.
The bill makes provision for compulsory voting at the referendum. I have no objection to compulsory voting, bus if it is to be applied to the referendum, we should not stampede the people into giving their decision. They should be given ample time to understand the proposed amendments. The Prime Minister left some doubt in the minds of honorable members as to what will happen in connexion with the compilation of the pamphlets. I am not satisfied that the Government will adopt a method which will lead to the questions being put clearly to the people. I really had no intention to speak on this measure, and I rose only because I desire to reply to a statement made by the Prime Minister when speaking of the time necessary for the compilation of the pamphlets. He said that any one considering the position in New South Wales would come to the conclusion that if these proposals had not been made by the Government, serious industrial trouble would have arisen there, or the existing trouble would have been extended. In all seriousness, I ask the Prime Minister whether he is so unsophisticated as to believe, or to try to induce members of this House to believe, that the mere introduction of proposals for alterations of the Constitution - one of which will not be carried - was sufficient to’ stampede people into doing something that they did not want to do. The right honorable gentleman’s statement was absurd. The Government has stood idly by and permitted negotiations for the settlement of difficulties in New South Wales to be undertaken by the State . Government, and yet the Prime Minister, when those difficulties are almost settled, says that the introduction of. these measures prevented trouble in that State. He has said that he is prepared to discuss matters with industrial organizations. . I have been present on one or two occasions when he has done so, and those who have called upon him have come away cold, realizing that he is not prepared to do anything from their point of view. Where is the necessity for rushing the referendum ? I am satisfied that the Government does not intend to legislate on the basis of the decisions of the people at the referendum before the Prime Minister returns from his visit to England. It appears to me that it is the purpose of the Government to create an atmosphere in the electorate that will be one of doubt and uncertainty. It looks as if they desire their own proposals to be defeated. There have been a number of anti-Labour Prime Ministers in the Commonwealth, but so far as I know the present holder of the office is the only one who has been prepared to use industrial unrest to his own advantage. The 44-hour working week difficulty is settled in New South Wales, and the other difficulty that arose there is very nearly settled. The statements of the Prime Minister this afternoon will not hasten that settlement, though they might de- lay it. I have no intention of permitting the right honorable gentleman to get away with those statements unchallenged. He has not the least authority for taking credit to himself in the way he did. If the difficulty in New South Wales is settled, it will be by the efforts of the Labour Government of that State, and in spite of the refusal of the Commonwealth Government to do anything whatever to bring about a settlement.
.- This bill was passed by the Senate in February last, being discussed by that chamber because it had nothing else to do at the time. There was then not the slightest impression abroad that this legislation was urgently required. At that time, and for a long time afterwards, there was no suggestion of the proposed alteration of the Constitution. Various bills are being rushed through the House to enable the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) to attend the Imperial Conference to be held in England this year. It would be far better if he stayed at home, to try to solve some of our own problems instead of posing as the dictator of Imperial policy. I assure the Prime Minister that the British statesmen know their own business better than we do. The original act provides that, when a proposed alteration of the Constitution is to be submitted to the people, the argument for and against it sholl be prepared in pamphlet form within a period of nine weeks. The bill proposes to curtail that period to fourteen days, and provides that, within two months of placing the pamphlet in the hands of the electoral officer, it shall be printed and distributed among the electors. This provisionis mischievous, because it restricts the opportunities of giving information to the people in respect of a proposed alteration of the Constitution. Paragraph (3) of clause 3 reads -
Notwithstanding anything contained in this section, a pamphlet containing arguments relating to a proposed law shall not he printed and posted in accordance with this section unless, within one week after the passage of the proposed law through both Houses, those Houses decide by resolution that the pamphlet shall be so printed and posted.
Under that provision the Government would have power to prevent the distribution of pamphlets.
– That has been provided for in the amendment which has been circulated among honorable members. It will be seen that it confers on any individual member of the House the right to move a motion, and to have it dealt with forthwith.
– The Attorney-General must know that the Government controls Parliament, and could, if it so desired, prevent the adoption of such a motion.
– Under the amendment a private member would have the right to move for the adoption of the motion forthwith.
– The bill also proposes to bring the Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Act into conformity with the Electoral Act. The Electoral Act has been in operation for many years, and there is really no urgent necessity to amend it. As this measure requires serious consideration, why not postpone its consideration until the constitutional session to be held at Canberra next year ? The Prime Minister, when speaking on this bill, showed clearly that he has lost the calm judgment and affability that be at one time possessed. He proposes to rush this legislation and the referendum proposals through both Houses of Parliament. At least four months will elapse after the referendum is taken before the official figures will be available. He evidently ‘thinks that there is a probability of imminent industrial disturbances. I assure him that, under the administration of Labour Governments, there are practically no industrial disputes in New South Wales and Queensland. Perhaps the Prime Minister anticipates that serious trouble will follow the enforcement of the Government’s financial proposals. I assure him that there is no possibility of carrying the referendum proposals unless the proposal to take control of essential services is withdrawn. This bill cannot be considered as essential for the welfare of the community, in view of the fact that it has been shelved for many months. Any alteration of the electoral law must restrict the opportunities of the people to exercise their votes, and also occasion serious inconvenience to the Electoral Department in determining the intention of Parliament. There was a reason for the introduction of the bill in another place. This House, in which legislation should originate, had not completed its consideration of any of the bills outlined in the Government’s programme, so the Senate had no work to do. Accordingly, in the early days of the session, that chamber took advantage of the opportunity to emasculate the Referendum Act by this amending bill, which will prevent the people being able to study the issues to be placed before them. This House should register its disapproval. “Why should the people be penalized? Why should they be prevented from studying the reasons for or against the proposed alteration of the Constitution in regard to legislation for the maintenance of essential services? Practically a. complete page of the Oxford Dictionary is devoted to definitions of the word “ essential,” and considerable space also is devoted to the definition of the word “ services.”
– Order! That bill is not before the House.
– I am aware of that, Mr. Speaker, but indirectly this measure concerns two of the bills which have been passed recently by this chamber. My purpose is to show that the people should have every opportunity to study the effect of those measures by means of literature circulated during the referendum campaign. I am in deadly opposition to one of those measures, and certainly am not godfather to the other. I can see the danger ahead, and I wish the people to be fully informed as to their probable ill effects. In committee, I shall do all I can to prevent the passage of this bill by moving amendment after amendment.
Question - That the bill be now read a second time - put. The House divided.
Majority … … 18
Question so resolved in. the affirmati ve.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
Section four of the principal act is amended by omitting from paragraphg of sub-section 2 thereof the words “and section one hundred and twenty-one” and inserting in their stead the words “sub-section 3 of section one hundred and fifteen, section one hundred and twenty-one, and section one hundred and twenty one a”;
Mr.MARR (Parkes - Honorary Minister) [6.14]. - I move-
That after the word “ amended “ the following words be inserted: -
The purpose of this amendment is to make the provisions relating to a disputed election applicable to the Referendum Constitution Act.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr.Charlton. - Will the honorable member explain the effect of the proposal to omit from section 4 the reference to section 121.
.- Sections 121 and 121 (a) refer to voters who, on presenting themselves at the polling booth, are refused a vote, either because their names are not on the rolls, or because some other persons have voted in their stead. They may be permitted to vote after signing a declaration. This clause merely makes an alteration in the machinery in order to make the procedure in connexionwith referendums uniform with that prescribed by the Electoral Act.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Section 6a of the principal act is amended by adding at the end thereof the following subsection : - “(3.) Notwithstanding anything con tained in this section, a pamphlet containing arguments relating to a proposed law shallnot be printed and posted in accordance with this section unless, within one week after the passage of the proposed law through both Houses, those Houses decide by resolution that ‘the pamphlet may beso printed and posted.”
Section proposed tobe amended - 6A. (1) If within nine weeks after the postage ofthe proposedlaw through both Houses there is forwarded to the Chief Electoral Officer -
on argumentin favour of the proposed law, ….
an argument against the proposed law, …. the Chief Electoral Officer shall,within two months after the expiryof those nine weeks, and not later thantwoweeks after the issue of the writ, cause to be printed, and posted to each elector, as nearly as practicable, a pamphlet containing the arguments, together with a statementshowing the textualalterations and additions proposed to be made to the Constitution.
Amendment (by Mr. Marr) proposed -
That in line . 1, allthe words after “ amended “ be omitted, and the following words be inserted in lieu thereof: - “(a) by omitting from subsection (1.) the words nine weeks and inserting in their ‘stead the words ‘ fourteen days’ ; and (b)byommitingfromthatsub-sectionthe words ‘ within two months after the expiry of those nine weeks, and not later than two weeks after the issue of the writ’ and inserting in their stead the words ‘’ not less than fourteen days before the day fixed for the taking of the votes of the electors for the purposes of the referendum ‘.”
..- The existing law allows nine weeks in which to prepare and submit to the Chief Electoral Officer the case for and against proposed alterations of the Constitution, and he is allowed eight weeks in which to have the arguments printed and distributed in pamphlet form. This amendment provides that the arguments must be placed in the hands of the Chief Electoral Officer within fourteen, clays of the passing of the Constitution Amendment Bills, and that the pamphlets must be in the hands of the electors not less than fourteen days before polling day These limitations are too severe. More than a fortnight is required for the preparation of the case for and against any proposal to alter the Constitution. Rather than hurry the preparation or distribution of these pamphlets in the manner proposed by this amendment, it would be better to issue no pamphlet at all. It is not possible to prepare arguments, have them printed, circulated, and digested by the electors within the time proposed.
– The electoral officers say that it can be done.
– Doubtless the electoral officers would be content if the pamphlet reached the electors within the prescribed fourteendays before the poll was taken. I do not think that it can be distributed in the time which the amendment will allow, and we have no right to prevent evena small percentage of people from knowing and understanding the reasons for and against the proposed amendments. If people are in doubt as to the meaning of an amendment, they will vote against it.
Sittingsuspendedfrom6.30 to 8p.m.
.- The discussion in committee has cleared the air completely, if it were necessary, of anydoubt onthe question of whetheror notanyparty, any section of a party, or amy individual could be trusted, in this welter of confused thought to accurately express the view of any other individual regarding these proposals.For instance, the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) rightly said that the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) and I were quite unable to put the case from the point of view of the dissentients on the Labour side and the body behind them.I recognize that I am unable to do it, and I would not attempt to do it. If it fell to the lot of the honorable member for Swan and myself to do that, their case would be unstated. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) made the position even more bewildering when he explained that, although he had not voted against the granting of the powers, he had spoken against the bill; that neither the honorable member for Swan nor I could possibly express the views of the body that he represented; and that he could not trust the Government, or even the Leader of his own party, with the statement of the case on his behalf. While the honorable member for Dalley, who trusts nobody in this chamber, stands in complete isolation, the honorable member for Swan and I, at least, form a party of two who think very much alike. The preparation of the case for and against the proposals relating to commerce and industry would, as a matter of practical politics, be put by the Government side to the complete exclusion of both sections of the Opposition. Such a state of affairs would reduce the whole campaign to ridicule in the eyes of the people. If the honorable member for Swan and I had to draw up the case, we should call to our aid the clearest brains available, and attempt to prepare a statement that would clarify the atmosphere. But there is no person in the country who could express the views of the right honorable member for North Sydney to his own liking. Therefore, I intend to propose the insertion of a new clause, and I hope that the Government will give an indication at this juncture whether, instead of persevering with the amendment that the Honorary Minister (Mr. Marr) has moved, it will accept my suggestion, which, I think, after all, will be fairest to all sections, both in the Parliament and in the country. I propose to move the insertion of the following new clause : -
Section 6a of the principal act shall not apply in relation to any referendum upon the proposed law entitled, “ Constitution Alteration (Industry and Commerce) 1926,” or upon the proposed law “ Constitution Alteration (Essential Services) 1926.”
I hope that the Government, when it ascertains the feeling of the committee, and realizes . the state of bewilderment that will follow any attempt to state the case for and against, will recognize in my amendment a means of saving the unfortunate elector the trouble of perusing the proposed document, and of saving the country at least from £10,000 to £15,000, which would be the cost of preparing, printing, and distributing the referendum, pamphlet. My proposal would put all sides on an equal footing. Then the honorable member for Dalley could explain his. position to his heart’s content, and everybody else in the chamber and in the country would be unfettered by official views stated by any party or section of a party. In view of the temper of the people outside, I think that my suggestion would meet the situation much better than any attempt to state the case for and against the proposals - as the right honorable member for North Sydney expressed it - in tabloid form. My amendment in effect would mean that this referendum would be conducted in the same way as that held in 1916 by the Hughes Government, without the case for and against the proposals having been published in the form of an official pamphlet. If the amendment by the Honorary Minister be persisted with there will be no opportunity to deal with my proposal, because it will have been resolved to proceed with the publication of the statement of the case.
– The honorable member’s amendment takes the form of an addendum to section 6a. Will he not have to move it at the end of clause 3, after the Minister’s amendment has been disposed of? .
-If the Minister would withdraw his amendment and permit my proposal to be considered, the difficulty would be overcome.
.- The Minister has submitted two amendments. According to the usual procedure the proposal by the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) should be considered as an addendum.
– I agree to that.
– I do not see how it can be dealt with until the committee has disposed of the clause itself. After the Minister’s amendment has been considered, the honorable member forWannon can submit his amendment.
– A new clause can be considered only after all the other clauses have been dealt with.
– I think that your ruling, Mr. Temporary Chairman, is sound, but I see nothing to prevent the honorable member for Wannon from moving his amendment as an addendum to the clause.
– Would it not be preferable for the Honorary Minister temporarily to withdraw his amendment?
– I approve to a considerable extent of the honorable member’s proposal. If his amendment is not considered as an addendum to the clause. I think that he would have to give notice of his intention to propose the insertion of a new clause, which could only be considered at the end of the committee stage.
– It would not be a new clause. It would have to be an addendum.
.- The only way to test the feeling of the committee on the matter is for the Honorary Minister to withdraw his amendment temporarily. Then an amendment could be moved to eliminate clause 3 of the bill with a view to the insertion in its stead of the clause indicated by the honorable member for Wannon.
– This clause provides for an amendment of the principal act, irrespective of its application to this or any other referendum, and it is competent for an honorable member to move an amendment providing that it shall not apply to the coming referendum.
– But this clause contains an amendment that the committee would not accept if it were not for the special emergency that has arisen.
– The bill could be brought down if there were no referendum in contemplation.
– Why not decide the nain issue before we determine the period that must elapse prior to the holding of the referendum?
– I prefer the adoption of that course.
– The amendment suggested by the honorable member for Wannon deals . with the main question of. whether a pamphlet shall or shall not be published with regard to the present proposals. If it is put forward and agreed to, the occasion for the Government’s amendment will have disappeared. . On the other hand, if the committee decides that a pamphlet shall be issued, the conditions attaching to the issue of it can then be decided. The Government is willing to withdraw its amendment to allow the amendment of the honorable member for Wannon to take precedence.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
– I move -
That all the words after “Act”, line 1, be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following: - “shall not apply in relation to any referendum held upon the proposed law intituled Constitution Alteration (Industry and Commerce) 1920. or upon the proposed law intituled Constitution Alteration (Essential Services) 1920.”
.- There is much to be said in favour of the amendment. I have been carefully considering this matter during the day, and the more I look into it the stronger becomes my conviction that the provision as it stands will not do justice to the parties in the House. It will entitle the majority party to submit a case to the people. I do not know whether all the minority parties, of which there are many, will have the same right. Supporters of the Government, with few exceptions, favour the proposals in both bills; but honorable members on this side, with a few exceptions, favour the proposals in the first bill, but oppose those in the second bill. No difficulty arises in that connexion in stating our views, but a case prepared by the Government, and setting out reasons for supporting the first bill, might not be acceptable to honorable members on thisside. Although we support the proposals, we may not support the reasons advanced for them by the Government. The effect of issuing a pamphlet may be to antagonize the two parties on the platform.
– Many of the reasons advanced by the Labour party might induce Nationalists to vote “ No.”
– And the reasons advanced by the Government might induce members of the Labour party to vote “No.” Even at this early stage we can see that there is a marked difference of opinion outside. At the 1911 and 1913 referendums the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who was then a member of the Labour party, prepared pamphlets. At that time there had been a party conflict, and it was thought that each side should have the right to stateits case. On the present occasion the two parties have agreed that this Parliament needs additional powers, and both are going to advise the people to grant those powers. But members of the two parties may advocate the granting of the powers from different points of view. If the Government issued a pamphlet ofwhich we did not approve, and we had to explain ourselves on the platform, confusion would he created in the public mind. In the circumstances, it would be wise for the Government to accept the amendment.We shall have rauch opposition. The press will be hostile, and that will be a big burden to carry. The newspapers do much to create puhlic sentiment. Let us take the platform in favour of the proposals in the first hill, and state our views to the people. In that way the appeal will probablybe more effective than if we issue a pamphlet. The circumstances to-day are different from those that prevailed when the original act was passed. If we go before the country united, there will he a good prospect of obtaining assent to the proposals.
Mr. BRUCE (Flinders - Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs [8.28] . - The debate on the motion for the second reading of this bill showed that tremendous difficulties have to he overcame in issuing a pamphlet stating views for and against the proposals. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) analysed the position clearly, and showed that a pamphlet could not give a fair statement of the case on both sides. I recognize that there is considerable force in that contention.. As the Government is responsible for these proposals, it would naturally like to present to the people its own arguments in favour of them, but it recognizes that that would not he fair. The majority on the first hill consisted ofsupporters of the Government and members of the Opposition, and only two honorable members voted against it. In view of the voting in this House, and the probable voting in (another place, the result of issuing a pamphlet in favour of the proposals in the first bill would be that direct supporters of the Government would state the case in support of the proposals, and would be able to present it from their point of view. In view of the division which took place in this House that wouldnot be fair, and consequently the Government is prepared to accept the amendment. It is probably the only way out of the complicated and novel situation which has arisen. I have given this matter much thought, and recognize that it wouldbe quite impossible to state a ease which would give entire satisfactionto all. While we all know that there axe divisions in this Parliament, and that various shadesof opinion on this matter are held by honor able members, we can recognize nothing but the fact that ‘certain honorable members have voted for, and others against, the measure. The reason why some “have supported it and others have opposed it cannot be considered when the position is being placed before the electors. No pamphlet which may be issued can be expected to represent fairly every shade of opinion. I need only add that if the amendment ls agreed to, the Government will not at present proceed with the proposal to amend section 6a. That can bedealtwith at another time when a full opportunity will be be given to honorable members todiscuss the proposals. If it is decided that no pamphlet shall be issued in this instance it may be desirable to postpone the consideration of any alteration of that section until we have the experience gained in the, forthcoming campaign to guide us.
Amendment agreed to.
– In view of the decision of the committee I shall not proceed further with the printed amendment in my name which has been circulated.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 4 -
Section 14a of the principal act is amended -
by inserting after sub-section (1.) thereof the following sub-section: - “ (1a.) For the purposes of voting pursuant to section 91a of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918-1925, the ballot-papers to be used may be in the form prescribed by the regulations in relation thereto.”; and
by omitting from sub-section (2b.) thereof the words “ section 121 “ and inserting in their stead the words “sub-section (.3.) of section 115, section 121, aind section 121a “.
– I should like the Minister to give us an explanation of this clause.
– There are practically three sections affected by this clause. Section 91a of the Commonwealth Electoral Act refers to an elector who applies for a postal vote, probably because of sickness, but who before the time for forwarding the postal vote expires finds that he has recovered and. is able to attend at the polling booth. Under the Electoral Act such an elector may go to the polling booth, hand in his postal ballot-paper, and receive in exchange an ordinary ballot-paper. Section 121 of the principal act relates to an elector who attends at. the polling booth to record his vote, only to find that the presiding officer is not satisfied that he is entitled to vote. His. name may not be on the certified roll. Under the Electoral Act the elector in such circumstances may demand a vote, in which case he is permitted to vote after having signed the necessary form.
-Whether his name is on the roll or not?
– Yes. The amendment is to bring the Referendum Act into line with the Electoral Act. Section 121a of the principal act provides for the case of an elector who is told by the presiding officer that he has already voted. In 1924 amending legislation was passed to provide that, in such circumstances, upon the elector signing a statutory declaration that he had not previously voted at the election, and that his name had been improperly marked off, the presiding officer should issue a ballot-paper to him so that he would not be deprived of his vote.
– Is the Minister aware that 75 per cent. of the votes cast under that section at the last election were rejected by the returning officers?
– The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) is a member of a committee which is inquiring into matters of electoral reform, and which it is hoped will make some valuable suggestions for our future guidance. I am sure that every honorable member desires that every elector entitled to vote shall be given the opportunity to do so.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 5 (Application of absent and postal voters’ provisions).
,- I take it that the explanation just given by the Minister covers this clause also.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 6 -
Section 20 of the principal act is amended -
by inserting therein, after sub-section (3), the following proviso: - “Provided that the ballot-papers used for voting in pursuance of section 91a. of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918-1925 shall be dealt with as. prescribed by the regulations relating thereto.”; and
– I should like the Minister to explain the meaning of paragraph a of this clause.
– The clause provides for regulations being made for the guidance of presiding officers and scrutineers.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 7 agreed to.
– I move -
That, the following new clause 5a be added: -
Section 19 of the principal act is amended by omitting from paragraph (e) the words “ an Assistant Returning Officer “ and inserting in their stead the words “an Assistant Presiding Officer “.
This new clause is necessary to rectify a misprint in the present act. It provides for the substitution of the words “ an assistant presiding officer “ for the words “ an assistant returning officer “ in the present act.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
.- I move-
That the following new clause be inserted : - 6a. After section 20 of the principal act the following section is inserted: - “20a. (1.) If a scrutineer objects to a ballot-paper as being informal, the officer conducting the scrutiny shall mark the ballotpaper admitted or rejected according to his decision to admit or reject the ballot-paper. “ (2.) Nothing in this section shall prevent the officer conducting the scrutiny from rejecting any ballot-paper as being informal although it is not o’bjected to.”
This provision is identical with that which is contained in the Commonwealth electoral law.
– His decision will not be final, will it?
– No. A petition may be presented, or an ordinary application made for a re-count.
– At an ordinary election scrutineers are appointed by the different parties to represent the various candidates. In the present instance, on account of the happy consummation of our efforts, the conditions may be different from those of an election. I do not know that we shall all be upon the same side; but all the respectable people in the country will be, and there will be no one to question the decision of the scrutineer.
– The scrutineer cannot do anything.
– Oh, can he not? A good scrutineer can do a great deal. I want to learn from the Minister what is the intention of the electoral office in regard to the appointment of scrutineers representing all parties.
– The business of conducting a referendum is peculiarly nonparty. There are no candidates. In an election for the Senate or the House of Representatives the candidates can nominate scrutineers, but in the case of a referendum it is laid down that the Governor-General shall appoint one scrutineer at each polling booth, if he so desires. The law in relation to the taking of referendums makes the following provision : -
– The scrutineer will be a most important person.
– As this will be a nonparty question, and as all parties are satisfied with the act as it stands, we should be prepared to accept the scrutineer appointed by the Governor-General or by the Governor of a State, as he will be a non-party man.
– The presiding officer, and not the scrutineer, will have the authority.
– That is so; but the other man will scrutinize the ballot.
.- There will be much diversity of opinion concerning the merits of these referendum proposals, and if the Government is to have the sole right to appoint scrutineers, those persons who are opposed to its proposals will have nobody to watch their interests.
– Hear, hear!
– The whole matter will be in the hands of partisans.
– Does the Dalley party claim the right to appoint a scrutineer?
– I claim it not for the Dalley party, but for the great majority of the people of Australia.
– There has always been a sufficient number of informal votes to carry these proposals, and therefore the scrutineer is in a position to defeat the referendum.
– That is so, unless there are scrutineers watching the interests of both sides. There is not the slightest doubt that the persons who are appointed as scrutineers will be partisans and will not take a great deal of interest in the vote if it is not going the way they desire it to go. The Government ought to make provision whereby those who are opposed to these proposals will have the right to nominate scrutineers to watch their interests. It is amply protected by its right to appoint scrutineers to watch its interests. “We claim the same right on behalf of the majority of the citizens of Australia.
– The majority?
– I said the majority. After the referendum has been taken the honorable gentleman will discover that I am correct in stating that the majority of the people of Australia are hostile to these proposals.
– All parties agree that the Electoral Act is administered in a very fair manner.
– I do not object to the provisions of the Electoral Act.
– Honorable members must admit that neither the Government, the Opposition, nor any other party has a hand in the selection of poll clerks. Hundreds of those officers are appointed at each election. Although they are officially appointed by the Governor-General, they are selected by the divisional returning officers on account of their experience and proved worth. The scrutineers to whom honorable members refer are those who watch the interests of particular candidates. The officers referred to in this measure will really be assistant presiding officers. The honorable member for Dalley need have no fear that the Government will pick out men who will watch the interests of only one side.
– I am not claiming the right to appoint poll clerks; the divisional returning officers always act fairly in the appointment of those officers. But as at an ordinary election, we should have the right to appoint scrutineers who will watch our interests.
– It cannot be done.
– There will be presiding officers and assistant presiding officers. At each individual centre there will be a scrutineer who will scrutinize the count and submit it to the divisional returning officer, who in turn will send it to headquarters. Those scrutineers will be appointed by the Governor-General. The honorable member for Dalley need have no qualms; he can rest assured that the divisional returning officers will see that the best men are appointed.
.- I hold strong opinions regarding the necessity for the appointment of scrutineers. At one election we were able to upset the result upon appeal to the High Court, because scrutineers representing our party were stationed at the polling booths. I had another experience when the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was Prime Minister. On that occasion he was not quite so anxious as he appears to be to-night to have scrutiueers appointed. I refer to the conscription referendum that was taken in 1916. The matter was allowed to go through this House withoutmuch discussion, and it might have had very serious consequences. I was in charge of an office in London when the referendum was taken. The votes of the soldiers were counted in an adjoining room. As an anti-conscriptionist stationed in London I claimed the right to see the votes counted, but instructions had been received from Australia that that privilege was to be accorded only to captains, colonels, generals, and other high officials in the military organization. Probably nobody knows the result of that vote. I am quite satisfied that an adequate check was not exercised at the count. The action then taken was opposed to the spirit of fair play. The feeling in regard to these proposals is somewhatmixed at present, but that condition may become accentuated in the ensuing seven or eight weeks before the vote is taken, and it is possible that parties will range themselves very strongly either for or against them. The honorable member for Dalley is merely claiming that every part)’ shall have the right to nominate a scrutineer to sit at the table when the votes are being counted. The Government is not being asked to bear the expense. The proposal of the Ministry is that one scrutineer shall be appointed for each counting place. There will be 20 tables in some polling booths. It must not be forgotten that many electors require to be assisted to record their votes. In every election that I have conducted, but particularly since I entered the Federal arena, the scrutineers of the Labour party have been instructed that when an elector who produces a Labour card asks for assistance every care shall be taken to see that the vote is cast in accordance with the wishes of the elector. What is wrong with the proposal to give every party the right to nominate a scrutineer ? The right honorable member for North Sydney stated by interjection that at past referendums the number of informal votes had been sufficient to carry them. If there are scrutineers at every table giving assistance to electors, fewer informal votes will be recorded. Frequently electors will not ask for assistance unless they know that ‘scrutineers are available to give it. ‘ The number of people who put their ballot-papers in the box unmarked is surprising. Quite a number of people will vote “ No “ and “ Yes “ on these proposals. I hope the Minister will accede to the request that any political party which has strong feelings in regard to the questions to be submitted at the referendum may nominate scrutineers at each polling booth.
– The honorable member ‘for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) has just recalled to my mind the fact that, at the five referendums that have taken place in Australia, three on proposed amendments of the Constitution, and two on the conscription issue, the number of informal votes was very large. The questions submitted to the people in 1913 covered., inter alia, practically the same ground as the proposed amendments in relation to the industrial and commerce powers of the Commonwealth. On the proposed law relating to corporations, there was a majority against of 26,000, and the number of informal votes was 83,000. On that relating to industrial powers, the majority against was also 26,000, and the number of informal votes was 81,000. To all practical purposes the same ratio was maintained on the other four questions submitted. It is a most striking fact, and one not experienced in ordinary elections, that practically the same number of electors should on the six questions record informal votes, when they were simply asked to say “ Yes “ or “ No.” I think it can be taken for granted that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the intention _ of the electors was perfectly clear, but they probably made some technical errors which rendered their votes informal. If a scrutineer at a referendum is able to determine whether or not a ballot-paper is informal, he wields a power which, in the circumstances, may create a most unsatisfactory feeling in the minds of the people when the forthcoming appeal is made. In all human probability, unless there is a great swing-over of opinion, I do not think that the majority for the present proposals will exceed the majority against the previous proposals. The people will be so equally divided that if 20,000 electors cross from one side to the other it will be the most we can expect. The referendum would easily be carried or lost by a majority of 5,000 votes out of a poll of 3,000,000, just as in 1913 the proposals were defeated by 26,000. out of a poll of 2,000,000. At that time, the two parties were so distinct that the lines of cleavage were obvious to all, -and when. I set out the case for, and the then Leader of the Opposition the case against, the amendments, the people accepted the arguments as those which appealed to them. At that stage we had had no experience in these matters, but, since then, the people have become a little more educated in regard to them. > We are now asking them to agree to two questions, in regard to one of which we have had no experience, and in regard to the other a new proposal has been embodied which will make many hesitate to accept it. I think that the Government should bring down an amendment to enable scrutineers to be appointed by both sections, because, for all practical purposes, on these questions there will be only two sections, those for and those against. The argument put forward by the Honorary Minister (Mr. Marr) is not at all convincing. He declares that a scrutineer will be nonpartisan. As a matter of fact, a scrutineer cannot be non-partisan. He is compelled to vote “ Yes “ or “ No,” and, unless he is a bigger fool than any one else in the community in giving his vote, must have reasons for voting one way or the other. There is in the community a percentage of mental degenerates, but there are- not enough of them to put one in each polling booth. Therefore, we must obtain the services of average men, and, human nature being as it is, the average man will give the benefit of the doubt to his own party. . That being so, I suggest that scrutineers be appointed by each party.
.- There is something humorous in the situation. We have had the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) telling us of what has occurred at referendums. On every occasion a referendum has been taken in Australia the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has been either Prime Minister or the right hand man to the Prime Minister, with the right to appoint scrutineers as well as presiding officers and poll clerks. Was the large number of informal votes to which he has called attention caused by the class of scrutineers he appointed, or by the case for the amendments as prepared by the right’ honorable member? This referendum will cost from £80,000 to £100,000. I hope the proposals will be turned down, and I will do all I possibly can to have them turned down, but at the same time I realize that the administration of the Electoral Department is clean, and I. can see no value in adding to the expense by the appointment of. additional scrutineers. All they can do is to watch the marking off of names on the rolls, and take objection if at the count they think a vote is being accepted or rejected improperly.. We have just come to the conclusion that. it. is as well not to publish the case for or against the proposals, because of the difficulty of preparing and issuing the pamphlets. We should also encounter difficulty if we raised the question of appointing scrutineers. Who would appoint them?
– Those who are sufficiently interested for or against the Government’s proposals.
– I do not see any objection to the appointment of scrutineers if they are paid by various organizations, but I have a great objection to the Government being asked to appoint and remunerate scrutineers on behalf of those who are opposed to their proposals.
– I can clear that matter up.
– I hope the Minister can doso, because I do not want to see the expense of the referendum increased in the manner suggested.
.- The scrutineers appointed by the Government simply attend the final count after the ballot-boxes are taken from the various tables in the booths. But I can see no objection to scrutineers being appointed at each table as is done in the case of ordinary elections. At one polling booth in my electorate there are 25 tables, and. I am satisfied that I can get fifteen persons who will attend at that booth on polling day without fee or reward, and help the poll clerks at the tables. I have the greatest admiration for the officers of the Electoral Department. They carry out their duties and the trust reposed in them faithfully. Curiously, many people are nervous at the ballot box, but that is not the reason for so many informal votes. I took an interest in elections long before I was elected to this House, and I have frequently assisted as a scrutineer in the Senate count. At the last election many ballot-papers had such words written across them as “ Short and long,” “ I am a socialist,” “ None of them are any good,” and others that I cannot mention, as there are ladies in the gallery. It would considerably help the conduct of the referendums if scrutineers could be allowed to act as they do at ordinary elections; and it would give the public much more confidence in the proceedings. Plenty of volunteers would offer for this work, and with their help many people who otherwise might not be able to cast a formal vote in the way that they desired, would do so.
.- The debate on this clause has proceeded on the assumption that only one scrutineer may be appointed; but sub-section (2) of section 18 of the Act reads : -
The Governor-General or any person authorized by him may appoint one scrutineer at each polling place in each State, and the Governor of a State or any person thereto authorized by him may appoint one scrutineer at each polling place in the State.
Section 19 provides the machinery for giving effect to section 18. Obviously, two scrutineers may be appointed, and that will meet the objection raised by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) and other speakers on the other side of the committee. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) seemed to assume that ballot papers were rejected by the scrutineers; but, as a matter of fact, only the presiding officer, or the assisting presiding officer, can reject them. In the circumstances I shall vote for the clause.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Marr) agreed to -
That the following new clause be added: -
Section 33 of the principal act is amended -
by omitting the words “or on account of the absence or error of any officer which is not proved to have affected the result of the referendum” and inserting in their stead the words “ or on account of the absence or error of or omission by any officer which did not affect the result of the referendum “ ; and
by adding at the end thereof the following proviso: - “ Provided that where any elector was, on account of the absence or error of or omission by any officer, prevented from voting on a referendum, the court shall not, for the purpose of determining whether the absence or error of or omission by the officer did or did not affect the result of the referendum, admit any evidence of the way in which the elector intended to vote.”.
Motion (by Mr. Marr) proposed -
That the following new clause be added: -
The principal act is amended by omitting the words and figures “ Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918-1919” (wherever occurring) and inserting in their stead the words and figures “ Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918- 1925”.
.- This clause, I am given to understand, makes provision for compulsory voting.
– Compulsory voting would prevail irrespective of the insertion of this clause, for the Acts Interpretation Act provides that any reference in one act to another act is to that act as amended.
– In that case I should like the Government to give some consideration to the wisdom of suspending compulsory voting for the purposes of this referendum. I am not pleased at the prospect of 80,000 or 90,000 persons giving informal votes on these matters. I know that compulsory voting is the present policy of the country; but I do not like it.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Standing Orders suspended.
Motion (by Mr. Marr) proposed -
That the report be adopted.
.- The act contains a long list of authorized witnesses. In Victoria we have, I suppose thousands of commissioners for tak ing affidavits, who are able to witness almost any document that a justice of the peace could witness. Seeing that postmasters postmistresses, school teachers, and many other persons are authorized to witness postal votes for Commonwealth elections, I think it reasonable that commissioners for taking affidavits in Victoria who are competent to witness postal votes under the State act, should also be competent to witness them under the Commonwealth act. The fact that they cannot do so at present causes much inconvenience in country townships, where petty courts do not sit. I hope that the Government will give some consideration to making these commissioners authorized witnesses.
– I will bring the honorable member’s suggestion under the notice of the Government, and inform him of the result. A good deal may be said in favour of it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Bill returned from the Senate without request.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
.- I move-
That the House do now adjourn.
The hour is possibly a little earlier than usual for the adjournment, but honorable members had a fairly long sitting yesterday, and I have no desire to appear unreasonable. Nor do I wish to ask the Leader of the Opposition, in view of the heavy day he has had, to make an important second-reading speech at this stage.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 9.30 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 June 1926, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1926/19260616_reps_10_113/>.