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THE REPRESENTATION BILL, Issue 7981, 9 August 1889
THE REPRESENTATION BILL
At last this Bill has passed through all its stages in the House of Representatives, though not without much trouble and some heart-burning. But let us be thankful that things are no worse. With their overwhelming majority the country members could have forced the measure through, or compelled a dissolution. Now, nothing could well have been worse for the colony than a dissolution of Parliament at the present time. The elections would have occupied a most inconvenient period, just when farming and pastoral pursuits were in the full vigor of progress, and just when the Exhibition was either about to open or be in full swing. We do not hesitate to say that a dissolution would have been fraught with most injurious consequences, and we are thankful that these have been]averted by the moderation of both parties.
But no sooner had the Bill proper tided over the difficulties which originally beset it, than private members with fads must needs endanger its com-se. Sir John Hall endeavored to procure the adoption of what is known as the "triangular "or "cocked-hat" system, under which in the four large centres of population—Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin, each being entitled under the Bill to return three members—the electors would only have been able to vote for two candidates. This plan has been tried and found wanting elsewhere, and certain it is that the city electorates would not have been satisfied with it, because it would have practically limited their voting power. Then Mr Guinness, the clever but erratic member for Greymouth, brought down a clause which would have caused double elections in many cases. His argument was that if, say the number*of votes recorded in any district was 1,000 and the winning member only polled 450 votes against 550 votes recorded for the other two candidates, he was not elected by an " absolute majority," but actually by a minority, and that the two candidates highest on the poll should be compelled to undergo the perils of another election. This would scarcely suit candidates, and it certainly would not please the constituencies, who think it quite trouble enough to be compelled to vote once. Fortunately common sense prevailed. Sir John Hall could only gather ten supporters for his triangular system of voting, and Mr Guinness was not much more successful with eighteen, both divisions being taken in a full House. The woman's suffrage, threatened by Sir John, was withdrawn, wisely, as we think, but Sir George Grey managed to get in a clause abolishing the plural vote, There is a great deal of nonsense talked about the plural vote. It would be interesting to know what percentage of plural votes has been recorded at any general election. The record would, we feel assured, be very small, and the large majority of these would be found to be in towns, and to consist of persons who have changed their residences from one ward to another, and have been registered either by themselves or by political agents without their former registration having been cancelled. In the country it is not easy to record dual votes in one and the same day. The object arrived at will have been better achieved by the provisions of the new Electoral Registration Bill, which is based on the Victorian Act, whereby once in three years all the rolls are destroyed, and fresh rolls are made out from the "personal" applications of the electors. But the opponents of Sir George Grey's clause were not happy in their arguments in favor of plural voting. Their contention was that a lazy, unintellectual, unintelligent, thriftless loafpr was not equal to a Sir George Grey or a Sir Robert Stout, and therein they were quite right. But an intellectual, intelligent working man is quite the political equal of an ignorant plutocrat, and very much more so. Yet the latter may have many votes to the other's one. The truth is that property has its rights as well as its duties, and this consideration ought to be taken into consideration in allocating any measure of representation. However, this is a matter that will probably crop up again in connection with the new Electoral Registration Bill, and all the more pi'obably because it may happen that the Legislative Council will have something to say about " the rights of property" when they deal with the Bill. Further than that particular clause we do not apprehend that they will interfere with a Bill designed for the management of the other Chamber solely. But it would not be surpising if a clause were yet inserted adopting the principle laid down by John Stuart Mill that persons in the receipt of charitable aid should be disqualified from exercising the electoral right. This is a matter which has been mooted before in Dunedin, and the absence of such a provision has been grievously complained of in certain quarters. However, now that the Bill has escaped being engulfed in the quicksands of the House, let us hope that it will not be stranded on the shoals of tho Council. It has been calmly and deliberately discussed, and must be accepted as the almost unanimous verdict of the Representative Chamber, which it solely concerns,
THE REPRESENTATION BILL, Issue 7981, 9 August 1889
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