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26. Chapter XXVI. The Suffrage and Self-Government.

AUSTRALIA has given to the world many object lessons in the shape of advanced legislation, as well as some experiences to be avoided. Real progress can only be made where the people as a whole rule their own destines. Except in the Commonwealth, the masses have not yet secured control of their own law-making. In the mother colony of New South Wales, when they were drafting a new Constitution for responsible government, they referred the matter to a committee, which deliberately declared that in its opinion a conservative element was necessary in the Constitution, hence they proposed that a hereditary nobility should be created for the second Chamber. The Crown was to decide whether the first holders of titles should have a life tenure, but afterwards the Council was to be elected by the aristocracy from members of their own class.

This would have been adopted but for the storm the project raised. Numerous public meetings were held, and the late Henry Parkes and others fought the matter so strongly that the Legislative Council of the day had to give way, and the nominee system was adopted. The new Constitution giving responsible government was adopted on 21st December, 1853. A property qualification was required for electors for the Assembly, and in the Victorian


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Constitution, proclaimed November 23, 1855, the same provision was made.

Manhood suffrage and vote by ballot were first instituted in Australia in the Constitution adopted by South Australia when it secured responsible government on December 26, 1855. Victoria followed by adopting vote by ballot on March 19, 1856. The property qualification for Assembly electors was abolished August 27, 1857, and manhood, suffrage adopted on November 24, 1857. New South Wales adopted manhood suffrage and vote by ballot on November 24, 1858. Queensland secured manhood suffrage on January 22, 1872. Tasmania did not get it until January 28, 1901.

It was the advent of Labor in politics which brought womanhood suffrage, and in that, as in many other matters, South Australia led the way. The measure conferring votes on women was reserved for royal assent on December 21, 1894. It had a narrow escape, as it only just secured the necessary two-thirds majority on the second reading in the Assembly, and would not have passed but for an accidental circumstance. The Government Whip had secured the number required, viz., twenty-eight, but one of these was wobbly. This was Jimmy Howe, who had not the courage to vote against the measure, but openly said he was not going to stay at the House after eleven o'clock for anybody. On the night of December 11, 1894, the House was ready for the vote on the second reading. Solomon had the floor before 11 o'clock, and was making a stonwalling speech against the bill. The Opposition Whip had his eye on Jimmy Howe, and at last saw


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the latter leave for home—true to his assertion that he would not stay after eleven. The Whip handed a slip of paper to his leader, and on it was pencilled:

“It's all right, Sol.; there are only twenty-seven present now.”

“Sol” stopped; the division bells rang; but, to the utter consternation of the Opposition, Jimmy Howe turned up in division. It transpired that as Jimmy was going down the steps of Parliament House on his way home, he was met by Sir Langdon Bonython, who was on his way to see how things were going, and detained Jimmy in conversation until the bells rang, when of course the wobbler had to go in and vote as he had promised, and thus adult suffrage was originated in Australia.

West Australia adopted it next, on December 16, 1899. It came mainly because of Federation. Sir John Forrest's Government had an opinion that women would vote against the adoption of the Federal Bill, and therefore arranged for the women to exercise the privilege on the Referendum. It turned out that they voted for Federation. The next to adopt adult suffrage was the Commonwealth Parliament. Their measure was assented to on October 10, 1902. New South Wales followed on January 6, 1903. Tasmania was next, their Act being assented to on February 29, 1905. The Queensland Act is dated January 25, 1905. Victoria only secured the passage of the measure in November, 1908. The Assembly of that State passed the measure about sixteen times, but the Council had always rejected the measure hitherto. Australia


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has now gained full adult suffrage in the Commonwealth and for the Assemblies in all the States.

The next great struggle will be for the abolition of the second chamber in all the States. These branches of the Legislature have remained wonderfully loyal to the principle laid down by the committee which drafted the New South Wales Constitution. They are indeed a “conservative element.” Their idea of conservatism is to keep all powers, privileges, and advantages enjoyed by the rich safe in their hands, and to oppose any forward movement calculated to make brighter the lives of the masses. Every measure of social justice is either rejected or so emasculated as to be valueless. In word they claim to be the House of Revision and a check upon hasty and ill-considered legislation, but in deed they are the bulwarks of legalised exploitation and robbery of the people.

In State matters the people have not yet secured full self-government. So long as they permit the Upper House to exist, real advance is held back, and social justice is denied. Spasmodic effort has been made in almost every State to reform the Council, but every Government hitherto has given up the struggle just when the people were waking up. Electors have yet to be educated to realise that it is the extreme of foolishness to run a bicameral system in which one House spends its energies in framing and passing such laws as the people are suffering for the want of, while at the same time the other House deems it its bounden duty to put the result in the waste-paper basket. There are years of effort before the Labor Party ere they


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educate the people out of the superstition that we must have two Houses of Parliament. No other party has the courage or the interest to fight the Council; no other party has the machinery outside the House to keep up the struggle until the result shall be assured.

The Legislative Council in every State is a part —and the most important part—of the vested interests of the capitalist class. The land question and the ownership and control of machinery lie at the root of the social problem, and the Upper Houses are almost entirely composed of landowners and capitalists. The passing of a law giving manhood suffrage does not imply that the people really were able to enjoy the privilege. In almost all the States the electoral machinery was against the masses, and it took a long struggle on the part of Labor to secure the measure of self-government now enjoyed.

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