The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 58
Parliament of Victoria, Wednesday, 4th March, 1863.
In a Bill for the Amendment of the Electoral Law of the Colony, it was proposed to allow any voter of a constituency entitled to elect more than two members, to vote for all the candidates which the constituency could elect, or cumulate such votes on one or more of the candidates. The discussion on this clause is fully reported in the (Melbourne) Argus, Thursday, March 5, 1863, and somewhat more briefly in the (Melbourne) Age of the same day.
Mr. Francis, to raise the discussion on the question, moved an amendment rejecting the clause for cumulative voting, but without therefore pledging himself to vote against it. He thought that if the clause passed, as it stood, it would be an instance of too rapid legislation in so young a colony. He should like to see the principle first accepted elsewhere. He had not heard of its introduction into the elections of members of the House of Commons. The proposal of Lord John Russell had not been adopted. It was scarcely adapted to a constituency returning less than three members, and was inapplicable to a constituency returning only one. In such a constituency the successful candidate might receive 1,100 votes, and the next on the poll might have 1,095. Where, under this clause, would these 1,095 voters find representation ? This led him to think that the clause did not go far enough, or, that it failed to provide a perfect mode of representing minorities. . . . He should be glad to hear arguments which would justify the Parliament of Victoria in being the pioneer in such a legislative experiment.
The Attorney-General said the question had been left an open one by the Government. When he introduced the Bill the matter had not been fully considered. Hare's book, with the commentaries upon it, had arrived in the colony while the Bill was being draughted. In the legislature of New South Wales, a Bill had already been introduced by Mr. Wentworth, giving effect to Hare's system . . . . . He thought it desirable that minorities should be represented. Take a constituency with 2,100 voters. It seemed very hard that a moiety of the constituency with one or page 57 two votes over should have the power to send into Parliament a member to represent the whole of the constituency, when nearly one-half of them would not be represented. It was said that it was wrong to make the experiment now, when it had not been adopted by the Imperial Parliament. He had great respect for the House of Commons, but if the principle was a philosophical one, the fact of its not being introduced at home was no reason why it should not be tried here. It was also urged that it was not a perfect principle, but it was useless to aim at perfection, for some fraction of the minority must always be unrepresented.
Mr. Heames objected to the attempted application of the principle to particular districts only. There was no class of the community to whom he would give advantages which others could not enjoy. If the power of concentrating their votes should be given to the voters of certain districts it would be unjust, and give one set of voters an unfair advantage over others. He was opposed, moreover, to the principle of the representation of minorities.
Mr. J. T. Smith opposed the clause. In the district which he represented three members were returned, and the effect of the clause would be injurious to it. Were it divided into three portions, and each part allowed a member, it might be represented as a whole; but to give an inconsiderable minority, perhaps not numbering one-twelfth of the whole body of electors, the privilege of returning a member who would vote in opposition to the other two, was practically to reduce the representation of the district to a single member.
Mr. Wood said that if the Legislature once laid down a correct principle that was a very important tiling, even though it were attended with no great practical results. He was not affected by the argument that this was a small experiment, applying to four constituencies only. It was for the political philosopher to lay down a great scheme, and it was for the practical man to test that scheme. The hon. member for East Bourke had said that minorities did occasionally return representatives, even under the existing system, by what was commonly called plumping. This was, however, a mere matter of chance; it could only happen where the majority was divided. The same lion, member had also told the committee that under the present system there was a representation of a variety of opinions; that the colony was divided into various interests—mining, agricultural, and town interests; but the hon. member seemed to have overlooked the fact that the same class might be predominant in every instance—that the majority in every instance might hold the same set of political opinions. To take the question of protection, for example. There might, probably, be a majority in the towns in favour of protection; and they all knew that in the agricultural constituencies, the farmers, and probably the labourers, were also in favour of protection. In the mining districts, no doubt, there was a majority against protection. It was clear, however, that even on the question of protection there would be a majority in favour of protection in two classes of constituencies, although those two classes might seem, at first sight, to have no connection whatever. The result of the present electoral system had been that there was a representation of interests, but not a representation of opinions. He did not think that interests ought to be represented at all. What, after all, was the representation of interest but the representation of selfishness ? Men's "interests,"in the common meaning of the word, implied that a certain number of persons belonging to the same sphere or the same branch of industry thought their selfish interests would be advanced by a certain course of legislation being pursued. That was not what ought to be obtained in the selection of representatives; but if, as was the case, it was found that the people of the colony held very different opinions, the page 58 object ought to be to get as many as possible of those opinions represented. How was the truth to be elicited but by hearing different opinions expressed by those who were best able to put them forth in the Legislature ? Every interest in the colony might be represented, and yet nothing like a majority or even a fair proportion of the opinions of the colony be represented. It had been asked what practical advantage would follow the adoption of the principle of the clause ? Great advantages would follow it, if it were carried out systematically. All classes of opinions, or, at all events, all those opinions which commanded the assent of any considerable portion of the colony, would be represented in that House, and all sides of any question would be heard. Whatever Ministry had been in office, he believed that it had not represented in any degree opinions, and the consequence had been to degrade the politics of the colony. Instead of being supported on the ground of its opinions, the Ministry had always been supported on personal grounds or interests; and either a Ministry or an Opposition, supported on those grounds, did not tend to raise the character of the Legislature. In the constituencies of Collingwood and St. Kilda, large minorities were defeated on every contest. The result of all elections had been that the minority was politically annihilated. This was calculated to lead to political inaction. The minority, feeling themselves powerless, would decline to take any part in future elections. This was not a desirable state of things. It was not to the interest of the colony that a large body of men should be led to feel that it was useless for them to take any part in political contests. A gentleman sitting behind him said, "Divide the constituencies."No doubt, in some cases, one class of political opinions was predominant in one part of a district, and another class of opinions was predominant in another part of the district. This, however, was a mere accident; it was one which was not likely to continue, and, above all, it was one upon which no stable system of legislation ought to be based. The Legislature ought to endeavour to give the minority a fair share of the representation in every locality. It had been said that the four constituencies ought to be consulted by their representatives before the change. If it were proposed to place them under some disability, it might be reasonable to ask their opinion, but he really could not see what ground they had for being consulted, when it was proposed to confer on them a privilege not extended to other constituencies. Moreover, it was contrary to the very principle to consult the constituencies, for it was the opinion of the majority which would have to be asked, while the principle of the clause was the representation of the minority. He could refer to subjects which had been agitated from time to time in the colony; and, without disrespect to any members, he would say that candidates had been driven of necessity occasionally to conceal their opinions, or, at all events, to put a gloss upon them. ("Oh !") No doubt there might be a class of persons who had not been driven to that—who, having no opinions of their own, merely endeavoured to ascertain the opinions of a majority, in order to subscribe to those opinions; and he admitted that that class of persons had had no violence done to their opinions. (Laughter.) From time to time a few active persons banded themselves together to agitate for certain changes in the law. When the Constitution was inaugurated, many persons were anxious for the repeal of the clause which authorized a grant of £50,000 a year for religious purposes; and in almost every constituency where these persons had been at all successful, candidates were driven to say either that they would vote for the immediate abolition of state aid to religion, or that they would not oppose the principle, although they thought the grant ought to be continued for some years longer; and yet all this time there was a very large minority entirely opposed to the theory. (Hear.) Then, with regard to the land question, page 59 there had been from time to time a vast amount of agitation, and persons had been obliged to give up the opinions they entertained, or, at all events, simulate opinions which they did not hold, in order to be returned. But it would have conduced more to the character of the Legislature if these persons had been able to come honestly and openly forward, and say—"We are opposed to the prevailing theories on the land question; we admit we are unable, in consequence, to command the support of the majority, but we appeal to the minority of the constituencies, who, we are sure, agree with us."(Hear.) Electors would not be driven to take advantage of the clause unless they pleased. (Hear.) Theoretically speaking, the chief objection to the clause was, that it did not apply to the whole colony—that it was limited to four constituencies. But, if the system worked well, it could be extended. Constituencies now returning two members could be so enlarged as to return three; and constituencies at present returning only one member each could be amalgamated, so that the united electoral district should have three representatives. In all countries where legislation had been really progressive, it had been tentative. An experiment was tried on a small scale, and when found to work well the principle was extended. (Hear.)
Mr. Higinbotham, after dealing with the objection that the clause would give the power of combined action to particular sects of politicians, and the argument as to the possibility of representing all opinions, expressed himself hostile to the proposed measure. If the government had proposed Hare's system in its entirety, he would gladly have assented to the proposition; but for other and far more important reasons than the representation of minorities; but it merely suggested the adoption in a mangled form of one feature of the system applied to four particular constituencies, and for which he had heard nothing urged which had any weight on his mind.
Mr. Duffy said that the present clause was copied from the Bill previously introduced by the member for Portland, to whom Mr. Mill had written to express his gratification that a representation of minorities was to be attempted. The principle of such a representation was the result of the best and most philosophical opinions. He adverted to Lord John Russell's proposal in the Bill of 1854, and the interruption to the progress of reform caused by the Crimean War, and addressed himself especially to the arguments with regard to the force which might be acquired by the professors of religious or political opinions.
Mr. Woods, admitting that, theoretically, it was correct that minorities should be represented, said the Bill did not carry the principle out. It was possible that some opinions might not be represented in the House, but this was an evil which could not be obviated: they must stop somewhere, or else a minority of one intelligent voter might demand to be represented.
Mr. O'Shanassy appealed to members, in considering the question on the high ground from which it deserved to be reviewed, to discard from their minds all thoughts of the effect of the clause upon local political parties. If they did so, whatever the present conclusion might be, the discussion could not be fruitless, for it would tend to educate the community. After replying to arguments of preceding speakers, he expressed his belief that the more the question was discussed and examined the more likely it was that at a future day a full system of representation would be brought forward by some Government possessing the confidence of the country. He did not know any country in the world in which such a system could be more judiciously tried than in Victoria, a colony accustomed from its infancy to the exercise of political privileges. He hoped to see the day when public opinion would be so enlightened that, no longer page 60 seen through the narrow medium of local or sectarian jealousies, this most equitable scheme would be adopted with the full approbation of all thinking and right-minded persons.
Mr. Beery opposed the clause. If the question of minorities were to be dealt with, it should be considered in all its bearings, and not upon a clause by which the principle was introduced in a mangled form. Hare's proposition was not before the House.
Captain M'Mahon regarded the representation of minorities as opposed to the great principle of constitutional government—the rule of the majority.
Mr. L. L. Smith predicted that the adoption of such a clause would lead to anarchy, like that in America.
Mr. Cohen and Mr. Orr also opposed it in its principle.
Mr. Francis, having referred to Hare's book, quoted the observations it contained on the minority clause in the English Bill of 1854. (Pp. 14, 15.)
Mr. Levi supported, and Mr. Mclellan, Mr. Ramsay, and Mr. Houlston, opposed the clause.
The Attorney-General replied.
The clause was ultimately negatived.