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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

Parliamentary Reform

Parliamentary Reform.

The Convention adopted the following Report on the subject of Parliamentary Reform :—

This Convention begs to impress it on each delegate, and on the district he represents, that, having given expression to public opinion on the present Land Bill, and, it is hoped, contributed largely to the defeat of it, and having also collected opinion as to the general provisions of the land bill which the people should hereafter demand, the next, subject indispensable to the accomplishment of their object is, the consideration of the means by which this "People's land bill," and every other good legislation, can be secured.

The one effective means of achieving good legislation, and making future conventions unnecessary, is thorough Parliamentary Reform.

The Parliament itself must be made the convention of the people.

The Convention reminds the people that on Parliamentary Reform, as on the Land Bill, attempts will be made to blind them by vague and illusory promises, if they do not themselves adopt some leading principles as indispensable, and by these principles test every candidate who presents himself at the hustings.

As such leading principles, the Convention suggest the following:—

1st. Manhood suffrage, without any special privilege to property.

2nd. Equal electoral districts, based on population, and to be re-adjusted by every new census.

3rd. The same qualification—simple manhood qualification—for the electors of both Houses of Parliament.

4th. The duration of the House of Assembly not to exceed two years. The duration of the Legislative Council not to exceed three years.

5th. No property qualification for members of either House.

6th. The abolition of all preliminary registration of voters as tending to the disfranchisement of the people. The security for the right and identity of the elector to be the oath of the party himself, that he is 21 years of age, a British subject, bom or naturalised, a resident of the district for two months, and that he has not voted before at the same election; a security of the same nature as, hat on which property and life are daily disposed of in courts of justice.

7thly. The number of members of the Assembly to be increased—say to 100.

8thly. There is another principle which the Convention have reserved to the last, because there is no other that they deem so important at present to impress upon the popular mind. They have reserved it in order to give to their recommendation of it a special emphasis and force.

This principle is the Payment of Members of Parliament.

The sacrifices required from a Member of Parliament in this colony are very great. He removes himself from his home and bis private affairs; he lives in Melbourne at considerable cost; and, if he discharges his duties honorably and efficiently, his labors are most onerous. It is idle page 25 to suppose that such duties will be well discharged without at least sufficient remuneration to idemnify him from loss or expenditure. By a few persons, and for a short time, they may be so discharged; but by the mass of members, or even by a few continuously, they cannot and will not be. If members are not paid, the people must be content to be represented by persons, who, having other business besides the people's business to transact in Parliament, will not only accept the duties to discharge them gratuitously, but will be very happy even to pay considerable sums for the profitable privilege of being entrusted with them. The history of the present Land Bill proves that is has been a very dear bargain for the people to have accepted for nothing the services of gentlemen who ultimately propose to pay themselves by confiscating the public lands to themselves and their friends.

The Convention submit that the experience of the colony is, that the services of men known and trusted in the several districts cannot generally be secured, unless these men are paid at least such a reasonable sum as may cover their expenditure, and save them from direct loss.

The Convention, while they request the attention of the people to all the foregoing points, solicit it especially to the following three—equal electoral districts; the abolition of registration; and the payment of members of Parliament.

The other points of Parliamentary Reform are, more or less, conceded, and the struggle will not be upon them. The efforts of the enemies of Reform will not be open, but disguised. Their endeavor will be to keep the promise to the ear, but to break it to the sense.

They will profess to give manhood suffrage, but they will endeavor to arrange the districts so as to make one man in certain districts equivalent to five or ten men in others.

They will profess to make the right of voting universal, but they will so embarrass it with regulations, and choke it with impossible conditions of continuous residence, as to make it unattainable in practice to a fourth of those whom they promise to enfranchise.

Professedly, they will enable the people to select any representative they choose, unrestrained by property qualification; but they will make the trust so expensive that few will accept it to do the people's business, and it will, in the majority of cases, be continuously held only by persons who retain it for the purpose of furthering transactions of their own.

The Convention, therefore, urge upon the several delegates that, in all local organisation, Parliamentary Reform, embracing all the principles herein enumerated, and, especially, equal electoral districts; the abolition of registration; and the payment of members of Parliament; be made a prominent subject for discussion, and a test for candidates presenting themselves on popular principles.