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3-087 (Text)

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Newspapers & Broadsides
Clark, 1957
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The COLONIAL SECRETARY said that on the occasion of moving the first reading of this Bill he had gone somewhat fully into the subject, in giving a running commentary on the various propositions which the Bill contained; and he had taken that course, unusual at so early a stage, in the hope of directing public attention to the question during the recess. He regretted, however, that, except some discussion in the press, the public out of doors had not given any expression of opinion on the subject, there has been only one public meeting held in Melbourne, on the subject, and that was directed only against the proposed endowment of public worship; but that could not be taken as an expression of opinion on the whole subject of the constitution or on the merits of the Bill. On the gold-fields there had been certainly two meetings held, but they did not discuss the merits or demerits of the Bill; but rather the right of the Legislative Council to deal with the question of the constitution. On this point, however, he need not dwell; but he did regret there had been no expression of public, opinion out of doors on the question. However, as there had not been any such a demonstration of the popular voice, he was entitled to assume that there were no very strong objections entertained out of doors to the main provisions and principles of the Bill. He must admit that upon the gold-fields the same apathy respecting political questions which existed elsewhere was by no means prevalent; and that the diggers felt aggrieved that they were not enfranchised, and were not represented in that House.  He did not blame the diggers for feeling thus aggrieved; but he wished it to go forth that it was not in the power of that House to enfranchise the diggers without referring to the Imperial Parliament and the Crown; and, considering the conflicting characters of the various constitutions to be sent home from the different Australian colonies, and the delay that might in consequence arise before the present Bill should be brought into operation, the Government had it at present in contemplation whether it might not be desirable to pass a short measure concurrently with the present Bill, granting the right of franchise to the diggers, which measure could obtain the royal assent more speedily and without the delays which might occur to the Constitution Bill. In the constitutional scheme now submitted to the House, it would be found there was ample provision made for the development of the principles of political freedom, according to the elements - regal, aristocratic, and democratic of the British constitution. As he had said on a former occasion, it would be vain to attempt, to stem the torrent of democratic or popular feeling, and they should rather aim at guiding and directing it to a proper end, and that was the view which the committee had proposed to itself in adopting the scheme now submitted to the House. The terms whigs, tories, and radicals in use in Great Britain had no application in a state of society such as existed in this colony, for they had no great establishments to maintain or pull down here as in Great Britain. They had no established church, no standing army, no national debt, and therefore those political terms were not applicable here. Their business was not to reform or uproot, but to create; and he trusted that in creating local institutions for this country they should succeed in imitating all the good points of the British-constitution, - a task which other nations who had attempted it, had hitherto failed to do. Blackstone laid it down that the right of the political franchise originally possessed by all subjects of the realm, had at a very early period, been limited to those who possessed some stake in the country such as a £40 freehold, because those who had no pecuniary interest in the welfare of the country were found to value a vote only for the price at which they could sell it; and it was on that principle that the committee had proposed a property qualification, to prevent mere passing adventurers, who had no connection with the country, from exercising the franchise in it.  But in fixing a property qualification, they had rated so low, as virtually to extend the franchise to the very poorest, and to exclude none of the deserving humbler classes from it; for which of them that was not a drunkard but was able to obtain sufficient property to enable him to vote when the qualification consisted of a 5£ freehold (annual value), a 10£ leasehold (annual value), or as a householder of 10£ annual value, a holder of a salary of 100£ a-year, or an occupant of the Crown lands for twelve months? Under this latter head the diggers would be enfranchised; and if they would not take out their license for twelve months so as to enable them to possess the franchise, he could only say they must care very little indeed about that privilege. With regard to the qualification of members of the one House, some were of opinion that there ought to be no property qualification at all, - an opinion in which he did not agree. But they had fixed the qualification so low - a freehold estate of 100£ a-year - that if it should be proposed to reduce it, he would prefer having no property qualification at all. In the constitution of the Upper House they aimed at obtaining the staid and grave opinions of men of experience and mature time of life, of a large property stake in the country, who would have a position of importance, to act not so much as a check as a counterbalancing influence against either the machinations of a corrupt or bad minister, or the hasty decisions of the Lower House in critical junctures: and he thought the propositions of the committee in this respect were calculated to attain that object. It was thought by some that a system of double election, either by electoral colleges or by municipal bodies, should have been adopted for the Upper House; and though he should himself have preferred a system of double election by means of municipal bodies, he regretted to say that it was impossible, owing to the non-existence of any such municipal bodies in the colony. They therefore proposed that the Upper House should be elected by a different constituency from that of the lower, and possessing a higher property qualification, viz, a freehold of the annual value of £100, or a leasehold of the annual value of £300 or a licensed occupancy of Crown lands with 8,000 sheep or 1,000 cattle thereon; and they further proposed, as a graceful homage to education, that graduates of universities and members of the learned professions should be electors to the Upper House.  The qualification of members was to be a freehold of £1,000 a year; and they further proposed a test which would prevent the abuse of a man obtaining a qualification for the purpose of becoming a member and then, when he had obtained his seat, parting with that qualification. to the Upper and Lower Houses so constituted, they propose to give similar powers to those possessed by the House of Lords, and Commons in Great. Britain, with the exception of the judicial functions of the House of Lords which they did not mean to confer upon the Upper House. As to the Royal prerogative there was no material change made in its exercise under the proposed Bill. They proposed to make it imperative on the Lieutenant-Governor to give his assent or dissent to any Bill submitted to him, within a limited time, and that was merely transferring the exercise of the Royal prerogative of veto from the Secretary of State for the Colonies to the resident Governor of the colony. He might add that care was taken to separate the legislative from the executive functions of the Government; for experience had shown that, on the Continent of Europe, some of the greatest disasters had arisen from the usurpation of the functions of the executive by the legislature. They had thus endeavoured to give effect, as far as possible, to the principles of responsible Government, on which alone the future stability of the institutions of the country would depend. They had not made any provision for a confederation of the different Australian colonies, because it was not their province to do so; but he trusted that during the ensuing discussion the opinion of the House would be elicited on that important point, and that the opinion would be in favor of a plan of confederation. Having thus given the House an outline of the main provisions of the Bill, he had only to move that it now be read a second time. 
Mr. GRIFFITH said all must admit the difficulty to be met in forming an Upper House in a new colony. He gave the hon. Colonial Secretary full credit in being desirous to follow. as nearly as may be the analogies of the British constitution, but would have been much better pleased if he had proposed to have the Upper House nominated by the Crown. It was most desirable in a country like this to encourage a high degree of civilisation, and he thought that would be best attained by adhering to the nominee system, which was the only one by which the different branches of the legislature could be kept in harmony. An elective Council might obstruct the Lower House for years, but a nominee one could always be popularised by the addition of new members, as the House of Lords has often been. He then quoted from Bulwer's 'Caxtons,' where it is recommended that the younger nobility should be encouraged to settle in the colony, and ultimately scions of royalty itself. The only means of obtaining a high standard of civilisation would be by the presence of an aristocracy; and though he was opposed to an aristocracy of mere wealth, he yet hoped to see the day when the state of things indicated in the extract he had just read would be in full operation, and then all would be well.