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§ 69. “One Electorate.”

One of the arguments in favour of the election of senators by the State Legislatures was that thereby the corporate and undivided representation of the States in the Senate was secured. It was, however, considered that the advantage of unified State representation in the Senate could be secured quite as effectually by the system, now provisionally embodied in the Constitution, of “one State one Senatorial electorate.” As soon as it was decided that the senators should be elected by the people and not by the legislatures, the view was pressed with great force that the people of each State, in choosing senators for the State, should vote as one constituency. If a State were divided into electorates, and if locality became the guiding principle of selection, the special purpose for which the Senate was constituted would be obscured. That purpose is that each State should be represented as a whole, as one entity, and not in divisions or sections. Voting as electors of one great constituency, it is contended, the people of a State will not be


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influenced by local sympathies and parochial interests; at any rate not to the same extent as if they were required to vote in provincial groups. It is believed that the process of voting in one common electorate is calculated to promote the selection of the best men whose services are available—men of broad views, established reputations, and extended experience, such as should be elected members of the Senate. There would be a better chance of giving effect to what Sir Henry Parkes, in 1891, described as the only conservatism possible in a democracy—the conservatism which arises from official position, length of experience, and weight of character. (Mr. E. Barton, Conv. Deb., Adel., p. 669; Mr. H. B. Higgins, Conv. Deb., Syd., pp. 369-70.)

A serious objection raised to the system of “one State one Senatorial electorate” was, that the expense necessarily involved in contesting an election extending over a whole State would be so great that only rich men would become candidates for the Senate, and that poor men of talent and capacity would be excluded. It was, however, denied that such would be the case. On the contrary, it was contended that the largeness of the electorate and the vast number of voters to be canvassed or appealed to would render it impossible for even a rich man to secure a seat in the Senate by lavish expenditure; he would have a better chance of doing so in a small or moderately large electorate. A man of limited means who had the confidence of the public would have a better chance of being successful than a millionaire who did not possess that confidence. It was mentioned during the debate that, on the occasion of the election of members for the Federal Convention, it was found that democratic candidates of moderate means had no difficulty in taking part in the campaign, on equal terms with conservative candidates, backed by wealth and social position. If the well-to-do candidates spent more money, it was because they were expected to do so; it did not follow that the expenditure of money gained them many more votes. Mr. Trenwith was proud to mention the fact that his expenses in connection with the Federal Convention election did not exceed £4.

The next objection was that the election of senators was a matter of State concern, and that each State should be allowed to decide whether its senators should be chosen by the people voting in one or several divisions. It was also feared that popular election would tend to place in large cities, towns, and centres of population the dominating influence in Senatorial elections, to the prejudice of the people in the country districts who, through want of organization, would not be able to exercise an influence proportionate to their numbers. It was accordingly proposed at the Sydney sittings of the Convention to amend the “one State one electorate” plan adopted at Adelaide, and to allow each State, if it thought fit, to split its territory into as many senatorial electorates as would be consistent with the application of the rotation principle.

The proposed modification was strongly opposed by most of the leading members of the Convention. It was pointed out that the amendment, if adopted, might endanger the principle of State representation in the Senate, with which the sectional election of Senators would be inconsistent. Local representation was adequately provided for in the House of Representatives. In the Senate the principle of locality, as the basis of representation, should be ignored, and corporate representation should be insisted upon. Under no circumstances, it was argued, should the matter be left to the discretion of the State Parliaments. It was not a matter of solely local concern. It was absolutely necessary that there should be uniformity in the electoral system by which senators were to be chosen; because the mode in which senators were chosen in one State might substantially affect the people in other States. If the power to cut up a State into senatorial districts were granted to the State Parliaments it might lead to “gerry-mandering;” by a careful adjustment of the boundaries of districts, and the grouping of populations in those districts, a State Parliament would be able to unduly colour the political principles of the senators returned for the State. (Mr. H. B. Higgins, Conv. Deb., Syd., p. 369.)

With reference to the suggested possibility of cities, towns, and centres of population exercising a predominating influence as against voters in rural districts, it was


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pointed out that the Parliament of each State was empowered to make laws prescribing the method of choosing Senators for that State (sec. 9). In the exercise of that power the State Parliaments, if they thought fit, would be able to introduce a system of preferential voting, providing for the representation of minorities, which would completely dispose of the objection referred to. (See Note § 77, “Methods of choosing Senators.”)

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