CHAPTER XXIII. DEMOCRACY AT WORK
The attainment of voting by ballot presents a good illustration of this statement. The principle was one of the six 'points' of the English Chartists, and at the time when responsible government was conferred upon the Australian colonies it had not been adopted anywhere within the British Empire. It was brought forward in the Legislative Council in December 1855. On a resolution in favour of voting by ballot in the Electoral Bill then under consideration being carried against the wish of the Government, the first Victorian Premier, Haines, resigned office. But the motion, which was submitted by William Nicholson, was adhered to by the House. Clauses embodying the ballot principle were prepared by Henry Samuel Chapman, then a member of the Victorian Legislative Council, and afterwards a judge in New Zealand. Nicholson, though his motion secured the adoption of the ballot principle, was unable to work out a practical method of giving effect to it. Chapman's legal skill came to his assistance, and he was therefore the real author of the Victorian ballot system, which was passed into law in March 1856. In April 1856, South Australia also adopted a ballot system. The other Australian colonies soon followed these examples.
Yet there were many at the time who had grave misgivings about abandoning the old familiar method of open voting at the hustings, and, curiously enough, amongst them was Hugh Childers, then the Victorian Commissioner of Customs, but afterwards a member of several Liberal Governments in Great Britain. In England, where bills to institute voting by ballot were rejected twenty-eight times by the House of Lords, and where the supporters of the principle did not succeed till 1872, the system proposed was generally called during the discussions 'the Victorian ballot'; and a learned critic of American institutions records that in that country 'secret or as they are called "Australian," official ballot laws are now in force in all the States except Georgia and South Carolina' (Bryce, AMERICAN COMMONWEALTH, vol. ii, 148)
The Australian reformers brought with them from Great Britain a stock of political ideas which those who advocated them had failed to embody in legislative shape there, but which it was much easier to enact in Australia. Phrases of English origin became the common stock of Australian politics. The phrase 'one man one vote,' which expressed the aspiration to abolish dual or multiple voting powers for the propertied classes, was coined by Major Cartwright, the English radical, in the great days of Pitt and Fox. It is the law in all the Australian States, and the Commonwealth constitution enacts that 'in the choosing of members each elector shall vote only once.'
The principle of payment of members of Parliament, adopted in all the Australian colonies, was a Chartist demand. The abolition of the property qualification for members of the popular house of legislature, which all the Australian colonies likewise adopted, was taken from the Chartist programme. So was manhood suffrage. The 'People's Charter' of the early Victorian radicals did not, it is true, embody women's suffrage; and the main arguments for that principle were borrowed by its Australian supporters from John Stuart Mill and his school. South Australia was the first of the six colonies to confer the franchise on women (1894). Western Australia (1899) was the next. New South Wales (1902) was the third. Tasmania enfranchised women in 1903, Queensland in 1905, Victoria in 1908. When the Commonwealth was established, women were enfranchised under the constitution; and are also eligible for membership of Parliament.
The two colonies (New South Wales and Queensland) whose Legislative Councils were, in the commencement of responsible government, elected as nominee chambers, adhered to that system until 1922. In that year the Legislative Council of Queensland was abolished. In the four other instances the Councils were elected by constituents possessing property qualifications. In 1934 the constitution of the Legislative Council of New South Wales was altered (see earlier, Chapter XVIII).
There was one sharp crisis with the New South Wales Legislative Council in the early years of its history. The constitution of 1855 - Wentworth's Act - provided that the first Council of twenty-one members should be appointed by the Governor for five years, but that at the expiration of that term 'all future members shall hold their seats for the term of their natural lives.' It happened that during those first five years the Government headed by Charles Cowper had introduced a Land Bill designed to make it easier for poor men to acquire farms. The bill, whose author was John Robertson, embodied the contentious principle of 'free selection before survey,' which meant that a selector desiring to obtain a piece of land could enter upon any crown land - even if it were already leased to a squatter - pick out a block, and settle upon it. But the squatters who occupied large areas of land leased from the Crown objected to this proposal, because it would enable selectors to enter upon their sheep-runs, pick out the best pieces, such as well-watered and fertile parts, and leave them with the inferior land. It would also, they urged, enable men who had no real intention to settle to enter upon a leased run and select, in the hope that the squatter would pay them something to get rid of them. As the Legislative Council consisted largely of landowners and others who were friendly with the squatter class, it was quite expected that that House would amend the Cowper Government's Bill.