Editorial comment from The Argus Wednesday September 30 page 4
A lively debate was initiated in the Assembly yesterday upon the bill which contains the twin important propositions to deprive property of its last shred of representation and to give women the Parliamentary vote. Mr. Munro had evidently passed his enforced leisure in preparing an address full of extracts, which are partisan and of little value, and of poetry which may be pretty, but is not ad rem. Property, says the Premier, is not entitled to representation of any kind nor of any degree. The swagsman, according to the hon. Gentleman, has a right to an equal voice in the affairs of the country as the selector who devotes his brains, his sinews, and his earnings to reclaiming the wilderness, and who is tied by every interest, sentimental and material, to the soil. The workman who “knocks his cheque "down" regularly, and leaves his family in the gutters, is as good for all practical purposes, according to Mr. Munro, as the thrifty, sober artisan who by diligence and economy creates a home, and sets a noble example to his boys and girls. The vagabond, who is half his time in prison and half out can claim, according to the Premier’s doctrine, to be placed in the same position as the venerable pillar of society. These are not simply abstract theories on the part of the hon. Gentleman, but he proposes to put them in practice. To-day the representation of property is admittedly imperfect he would sweep it away and substitute nothing in its place. Can property talk? Asks the hon. gentleman. Can it eat? Can it think? And because the answer to these silly questions is "No," his contention is that therefore it cannot vote. Mr. Munro should have gone on to put the questions, Can property be injured by legislation? Can it take alarm? Can capital be driven out of the country? And as the answer in each case is "Yes," there is established at once a claim for some special consideration for property. The old axiom was that government exists for the protection of life and property, and it can scarcely be improved upon.
The feeling in this country is, we believe, rapidly growing that the doctrine of manhood suffrage does not exclude other considerations. It is argued with force that as every man can lose his liberty under the laws, and as every man pays taxes, the man is entitled to a voice in public affairs – though even here we would qualify the principle so as to make it read that every reputable man can claim a voice. But this idea, we believe, is spreading that every man with a stake in the country is entitled to a second vote by virtue of that stake. The stake may be large or small, but the circumstance that the man has acquired it is evidence that he is a bona-fide citizen, who necessarily has the permanent welfare of the country at heart; and whether the property is a cottage on Collingwood Flat or a mansion at Toorak, a selection in Gippsland or an estate in the Western district, the second vote, it is urged, should attach to it. The citizen would have a vote as a man, and a second vote as a freeholder. This, as we have said, is a democratic doctrine; it is a common-sense proposal also; and the more it is debated the more we expect it to grow in favour. "One man one vote", no doubt, but one vote also for the freeholder – for the man who makes Victoria his home, and who identifies her fortunes with his own. We shall hope to hear this theory fairly considered in both House – the Council as well as the Assembly – before the bill is donewith. Mr. Munro, with a shrewd anticipation of what is to come, deprecates the idea of interference by the Upper House, and insists that the Assembly has a right to frame its own electoral roll as it pleases. The argument is more plausible than sound. The measure which Mr. Munro has submitted is correctly enough termed "A Constitution Act Amendment Bill," and surely the Upper House is not yet deprived of a voice in the construction of the constitution under which we live. A dozen years back the Assembly displayed a lively interest in the franchise of the Council, and to-day the Upper House is entitled to reciprocate that attention. What if a Labor Parliament should propose to disfranchise all men enjoying incomes of more than £500 per annum? That is possible, and in such a case Mr. Munro would surely deny that it would be the right and the duty of the Council to act as a ??? in the electoral legislative. ... [This section of the microfilm difficult to read]
This freak merely crowns his electoral edifice. "Women earn wages", he says, "they pay taxes," they have their wits about them and therefore "they are entitled to vote". The hon. member doesn’t see that precisely the same remarks could be made about many girls and most boys between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one. Ninety per cent of the boys in Victoria are earning something at that period of their lives and are spending money on taxable articles, including cigarettes. These boys are not, however, given the vote on the grounds of political incapacity, and there is the same good reason for refusing women the vote, in the present generation at any rate – and probably for all time. The woman's vote, taken as a whole, would be the vote of absolute and unconditional ignorance, and on that ground it is to be sturdily resisted as fraught with danger to the community. Mr. Munro in reply to our Monday’s article, quoted Americans who advocate the principle, but that does not disturb the fact that they advocate it without success, the various states, after enquiry and trial, having one and all declined to introduce the system. Parliament is asked, as Mr. Gillies shortly put the case, to consent to a political revolution of the first magnitude without anyone attempting to indicate in what way the revolution would work. Mr. Gillies made references to classes of women who would vote at the bidding of others. He might be referring either to the temperance reformers or to the Celtic Biddies who would be obedient to their priests. The hon. member did not indicate which class (if either) was in his mind, but his argument is sound that there are such classes, and that before taking a tremendous leap which no people has yet taken we ought to consider these things – we ought to enquire how the proposed system will work. In practical politics the question is not whether a certain policy is logical or can be defended in the abstract, but is whether it will work for good or for evil. No attempt is made by the supporters of the system to forecast results, they rely on sentimental generalities only; and it is difficult to believe that even a considerably minority will on such grounds favour such a change.