An Autobiography HTML version

Proportional Representation And Federation
In the debates of the Federal Convention I was naturally much interested. Many times I
regretted my failure to win a seat when I saw how, in spite of warnings against, and years
of lamentable experience of, a vicious system of voting, the members of the Convention
went calmly on their way, accepting as a matter of course the crude and haphazard
methods known to them, the unscientific system of voting so dear to the heart of the
"middling" politician and the party intriguer. I believe Mr. Glynn alone raised his voice in
favour of proportional representation, in the Convention, as he has done consistently in
every representative assembly of which he has been a member. Instead of seeing to it that
the foundations of the Commonwealth were "broad based upon the people's will" by the
adoption of effective voting, and thus maintaining the necessary connection between the
representative and the represented, these thinkers for the people at the very outset of
federation sowed the seeds of future discontent and Federal apathy. Faced with
disfranchisement for three or six years, possibly for ever--so long as the present system of
voting remains--it is unreasonable to expect from the people as a whole that interest in
the national well-being which alone can lead to the safety of a progressive nation.
Proportional representation was for long talked of as a device for representing minorities.
It is only in recent years that the real scope of the reform has been recognised. By no
other means than the adoption of the single transferable vote can the rule of the majority
obtain. The fundamental principle of proportional representation is that majorities must
rule, but that minorities shall be adequately represented. An intelligent minority of
representatives has great weight and influence. Its voice can be heard. It can fully and
truly express the views of the voters it represents. It can watch the majority and keep it
straight. These clear rights of the minority are denied by the use of the multiple vote. It
has also been asked--Can a Government be as strong as it needs to be when--besides the
organized Ministerial party and the recogonised Opposition--there may be a larger
number of independent members than at present who may vote either way? It is quite
possible for a Government to be too strong, and this is especially dangerous in Australia,
where there are so many of what are known as optional functions of government
undertaken and administered by the Ministry of the day, resting on a majority in the
Legislature. To maintain this ascendancy concessions are made to the personal interests
of members or to local or class interests of their constituencies at the cost of the whole
When introducing proportional representation into the Belgian Chamber the Prime
Minister (M. Bernhaert) spoke well and forcibly on the subject of a strong Government:--
I, who have the honour of speaking to you to-day in the name of the Government and
who have at my back the strongest majority that was ever known in Belgium, owe it to
truth to say that our opinions have not a corresponding preponderance in the country; and
I believe that, if that majority were always correctly expressed, we should gain in stability
what we might lose in apparent strength. Gentlemen, in the actual state of things, to
whom belongs the Government of the country? It belongs to some two or three thousand