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4-154 (Text)

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author,male,Deakin, Alfred,29 addressee
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Clark, 1975
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I now come to the other principle of the Bill, which has been most thoroughly discussed - the proposal (contained in clauses 45 to 49) to abolish what is known in Victoria as plural voting. This proposal may be defended on a variety of grounds, into which it is undesirable - or at all events unnecessary - to enter. I do not propose to start, as antagonistic critics of the proposal might desire, by any metaphysical argument upon the rights of man, nor will I accept the challenge which has been thrown out by them to the effect that the assertion of the principle of time abolition of plural voting implies an assertion that all men are absolutely equal in respect both of their intellectual power and their moral worth.  No such allegation need underlie the proposition which is now submitted to this Chamber.
We know that, already, all men are equal before the law. We know that every step which has been taken in any country enjoying representative institutions with reference to the franchise has been in the direction, first, of the extension, and, next, of the equalization of that franchise. The reason why it was restricted in the first instance will be easily recollected by honorable members who are familiar with the history of the franchise in the mother country, from which we derive our constitutional liberties. Although, possibly, there may have been, in the first instance, when representative government took its first steps, so great a difference between the opportunities of enlightenment offered by different conditions of life in different classes of society as to apparently justify some difference in the political power which was entrusted to them, we all know that the steady progress, 'even in the old world, in the equalization of conditions during the last century or two, has led to an equalization of the franchise. The necessity for re-adjusting the franchise from time to time has been recognised again and again in the Parliament of Great Britain. And if it has been recognised there, how much more should it be recognised in this country, where the equalization of conditions has reached a stage as yet unapproached in the old world. Class distinctions should be swept away in Australia when we find that even those classes who are engaged in manual labour, instead of being as their fathers were in the past - a landless, penniless, and illiterate class of the community - are themselves small capitalists, possessors of property, men of education, thought, and intelligence. intelligence If it be admitted that in no country of the World is there so general a distribution of property, so wide a diffusion of intelligence and of education, as in this, surely in no country of the world is there so strong a case as exists in this for the equalization of political privileges. What is proposed by the Bill is not an absolute equalization of political privileges in Victoria, but an equalization only as regards 'the Legislative Assembly. Those who will object to this proposition, on the ground that the propertied classes in this community should enjoy some exceptional representation- that men who, by their own industry or from 'any other cause, have become possessed of an exceptional share of the material goods of life, should have exceptional recognition in the electoral franchise - must remember that they have already, under our Constitution, the most full and most adequate, if not undue, representation. They have a Chamber elected on a strictly property suffrage whose representatives are required to have a property qualification, and which cannot be dissolved even when it is out of harmony with the people at large. That Chamber possesses at present the power of an absolute veto upon all legislation, even though it may have been already endorsed by an overwhelming majority of the representatives of the whole people.  So represented, in a body so entrenched, with such special and extraordinary powers, surely the propertied classes in this community can never claim that they should have in addition to this a controlling influence in this House. Such a claim would be unfair and unjust; it could not bear careful and candid examination. It is not necessary that I should here enter into the general question of the representation of property in the electoral system, because that is not the question at issue in connexion with plural voting. If that question were to be argued, it might be necessary to call attention to the fact that the master-thinkers on political subjects in the old world - among whom may be mentioned that distinguished authority, John Stuart Mill - have expressly condemned the existence of any property franchise or qualification in a constitutionally-governed country. We are relieved from the necessity of entering upon that argument since we find that the question of plural voting does not involve the question of the representation of property. The plural voting which we propose to abolish is not given on any basis of property whatever. There may be, and there probably are, in this country, men who may be termed millionaires who have no more than one vote for the Legislative Assembly and one vote for the Legislative Council, because their property consists of bank shares and other stocks. A man may be a mining investor on a gigantic scale; he may be possessed of a stake in the country in shares and stock, which depend for their returns upon the progress and prosperity of the colony as much as landed property does; he may be a millionaire in possession of these sources of wealth; and yet he may have only one vote for the Legislative Assembly. He may be a landed millionaire, and yet enjoy no advantage in connexion with plural voting. If it be thought, as it has been argued in the mother country, that the possession of land is different from the possession of any other class of property, and that the proprietorship of land should be specially recognised - an argument in which there is some force, but which we are not called upon to debate at the present time - the fact remains that a man may be a millionaire in landed property in this country, and yet have no more than one vote. Why then should plural voting be defended? What is the principle - for surely there must be a principle - on which the system is based? The principle, if it be stated in its simplicity and nakedness, is that, under our present Constitution, a man should have extra votes, not according to his wisdom, intelligence, education, or wealth, but according to the proportion in which his landed property may, by design or accident, be divided among different constituencies. It offers a premium, not for education, intelligence, or even for the possession of wealth or handed property, but a premium for land - jobbing, for allotment-dividing among different constituencies. Under the existing system it is quite possible for a man possessed of comparatively small property to have, in the suburbs of Melbourne, fifteen or twenty votes, whereas a man with property of enormous value might have only one or two.  Let us ask those who support plural voting another question. Let us ask them to consider what they imply by their contention - what they mean by claiming to continue the extra votes given to men who have scattered allotments of land, as against those who have not scattered allotments. They imply by their efforts to retain this system a distrust of the manhood of this colony - a complete mistrust of its judgment and its justice. They imply that the bulk of the electors of this colony, if left to themselves, if governed simply by reason and swayed only by motives of public policy, would reject fair proposals relating to property, and insist upon approving unfair proposals. That distrust of the people of this colony is one which is quite unwarranted either by our political history or by out recent experiences. We are told by visitors to this country that our great festivals are remarkable for one thing more than another, and that is the capacity of our people to control themselves. Whether they are assembled in immense bodies of tens of thousands for purposes of festivity, or even of provocation, they are perfectly able to control themselves. If we look back at our political history, even in its fiercest and bitterest periods, we do not find any attempt on the part of those who believed themselves to be the majority to carry their views, except by constitutional means at the ballot-box.  Then it is argued that it is necessary to retain plural voting for the protection of property. The protection of property against whom? Who is to assail property unless it is protected? Whose property is to be protected? In this colony there is practically no class that can be called unpropertied. If that be the case - if the whole people of this country roughly speaking, are propertied - whom is property to be protected against? If, as the statistics show, almost nine-tenths of the people are propertied, what possible fear can there be of the remaining one tenth, who are supposed not to be propertied, but who in many cases are also in the process of becoming propertied? Again, some people believe that plural voting is a protection to the minority against the majority - that majority - that it enables a minority to cast, on a few trying times and on particular occasions; a majority of votes.
But I would ask honorable members to consider whether, if a minority and majority are so evenly divided as that would go to show, so narrow a majority could accomplish anything. At least, it could only secure a trifling and temporary triumph, which surely might be as easily gained, if the minority has right and justice on its side, by the ordinary constitutional methods of public agitation and education. Why disturb the whole machinery of our electoral system, why create suspicion and distrust on all sides, simply to retain three or four seats? If the minority is so strong that it only needs three or four seats to turn it into a majority, surely it does not need this agency; it only needs, if it has right on its side, to take advantage of the means of public education.  On the other hand, if the minority is so weak as to be beaten even with these three or four seats, of what value are they? Of no value whatever, bunt only a source of irritation to the opponents of the system. It is said, again, and the objection is one which is most frequently urged, although it is a sentimental objection, that the great argument against the abolition of plural voting is that you place the "gaspipe loafer" - the "man who sleeps in the gaspipe" - on the same level with the wealthiest, best-educated or most able man in the community in regard to his vote. Before dealing with the question of placing men on a level, let honorable members recall to their memories the struggles which have taken place in this colony, and say whether, at any time when there was a contest between the majority and the minority, the "gaspipe loafers" were found on the side of the majority or the minority? The "gaspipe loafers" are men who are always to be had by the candidate who spends money most freely. It is not the party of the majority that expects or gains anything from the "gaspipe loafers". The "gaspipe loafers" to a man cast their votes on the opposite side, as many of us have reason to know, and the wealthy advocates of extra votes to property, and of the rights of property, are never safer than when they can appeal to a constituency which contains a considerable share of the "gaspipe" vote. But, sir, does giving the "man in the gaspipe" a vote place him on a level with the man of education, of intelligence, or of property? Why, what do we all do when we present ourselves before the electors? Do we solicit votes only? Not so. We know that in almost every case what counts for far more than a man's vote, if he be a man, is the influence he brings to bear upon others in the winning of many votes. Wealth has its natural and just influence in every community. The possessor of wealth, especially of wealth wisely used - employed in the development of the country - connects himself in a dozen ways with the manhood of this country, and receives a response which has never yet been denied.  Equalizing votes, like equalizing men, before the law, will not alter the merits of a case, although establishing a fair principle for its decision. A minority which has on its side wealth, and may also have on its side a certain amount of education and intelligence in consequence, always carries with it a considerable power. The proposal to continue plural voting is not a proposal made to protect property and scarcely a proposal to protect the minority. if looked at rightly, it simply is an effort on the part of people who possess plural votes because they have a certain kind of property, to be relieved of the first and greatest duty which devolves upon them as citizens of a democracy - the duty to submit to tire rule of the majority, and never to consent to win a victory except with the consent and approbation of the majority of their fellow citizens... lie community will recognise that in equalizing political privileges they are taking no step that offers the slightest suggestion of danger to any class interest, to any propertied interest, or to any educational interest in the colony.  On the contrary, leaving property to its own natural influence, apart from the franchise, places its interests on their only sure and permanent foundation. Not only the majority of the people to-day, but the majority - and the great majority - of the people of this country for years past have been opposed to this system of plural voting. The great majority of members in this House to-day, and the great majority of members in this House for sessions and Parliaments past, have been in favour of the abolition of plural voting.
Well, sir, if the majority of the people of this country, and the majority of Members of Parliament in this House, are opposed to plural voting, who can hope to retain it? It is not for me to deal with the suggestion which has been made, that even if the proposal to abolish plural voting is assented to by the country at large and by this House, yet the proposal, after passing the popular Chamber, will not become law. I cannot entertain such a suggestion. The proposal which we make relates only to our own Chamber; it relates only to the franchise by which members of this House are elected; it has been endorsed by those who sent us here to represent them, it is endorsed by the great majority of the representatives in this House - and who is it then can stand, or should stand, between the expression of opinion of the electors and of their representatives in this House, and its consummation? I cannot believe that so unfortunate a circumstance should occur as that any Chamber elected on a different franchise should criticise the means which are used by the people of this country for obtaining an Assembly in which they have confidence. To do so would only be to shift the criticism froth the franchise which we are now discussing, and which relates to this House, to another franchise and another representation which do not belong to this House. It will surely be admitted that by constitutional rule and practice the majority of the electors of this House, with the majority of their representatives, are entitled to the final and absolute control of the means by which this House is elected.
What is sought is that these means shall be made in harmony with the principles upon which our self-government is based, and in harmony with the principles on which the Legislatures of America , have already based the representation of many of the States of its great and prosperous Union. The friends of plural voting look in vain for any principle on which they can justify the retention of the system. Even if they argue in favour of proportionate property representation, they cannot possibly defend plural voting. Though they may avoid and evade the issue now put to them, they cannot defend fairly and squarely the principle on which plural voting is based - the principle of multiplying votes according to the multiplication of allotments - as a principle which should be maintained in any constitutionally-governed country. And if they ask themselves what is the end which this agitation is bound to have - the conclusion which, whether near or remote, is absolutely certain - they will see that their postponement of the inevitable will not help them in any way, and that their efforts to retain their advantage are only aggravating the sense of injury which the great majority of the electors feel.  While not benefiting the cause which they have at heart, they are furnishing a constant source of distrust and disquiet to the great body of the people, who, if they are determined on anything, are determined on one thing, and that is that plural voting shall be abolished.