2nd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I should like to ask the Minister for Home Affairs whether, in view of the fact that at the last general election persons not on the roll were al lowed to vote at Penguin, Tasmania, he will have the matter investigated?
– In his speech yesterday the Prime Minister referred to some correspondence which has passed between himself and the Premier of Western Australia regarding the proposed transcontinental railway. Has he any further information on the. subject, and, if so, is he prepared to give it to the House?
– While matters are in a tentative position, I do not care to answer questions affecting our general policy; but as I referred to this subject yesterday, and am how in a position to give more definite information to the House, I shall be glad to do so. During the last few days, I have corresponded confidentially by telegraph with the Premier of Western Australia; but I am now authorized to make our telegrams public. The telegram which I sent to him is dated 6th May last, and is as follows : -
Re Western Australianrailway, representations made to me, feeling of members Federal Parliament towards proposal favours belief that opposition would be materially lessened if your Government indicate willingness contribute stated proportion of loss, if any, during the first ten years. As matter under consideration of Cabinet, early reply desired.
To that telegram the Premier of Western Australia replied from Perth oil the18th May, as follows : -
On condition that Commonwealth is allowed ft. free hand as to route and gauge of railway, this. State will be prepared for ten years after line constructed to bear a share of any loss in excess of our contribution on a population basis ; it would be premature to fix exact proportion we are prepared to pay at this stage, but I am confident that it will be liberal, and satisfactory- no doubt the Word intended is “ satisfy,” not “satisfactory”- the Federal Parliament of our sincerity in this connexion, and our belief that thework will soon be a directly paying one.
MINISTERS laid upon the table the following papers: -
Copies of telegrams between the Prime Minister and the Premier of South Australia with reference to the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta rail, way.
Papers relating to the Contract for the English Mail Service.
Ordered to be printed.
Observations by the Inspector-General of Works, and Reports by Surveyors Scrivener and Chesterman on proposed Federal Capital Sites in Southern Monaro and Tumut districts.
Abstract of papers re official recognition of associations of officers in the Postmaster-General’s Department, Victoria.
– According to the cablegrams which have been published in the newspapers within the last few days, communications are passing between this Government and the Imperial Government in regard to the establishment of penny postage. I should therefore like to ask the ‘ Postmaster-General what the present position is.
– I should be very glad to answer the honorable member, but, as the papers have only recently come under my attention, I ask him to give notice of his question for to-morrow, when I shall probably . be furnished with a reply.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
When the reports relative to the opium traffic, which the late Prime Minister (Mr. Deakin), on 22nd March last promised would be called for, will be available for the information of this House ?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
The Premiers of the various States have been asked to cause reports to be furnished by the police on the subject.
So soon as these have been received they will be at once made available for information, and full consideration will be given to them.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– Information is being obtained with a view to replies being furnished as early as possible.
asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– In reply to the honorable member, I beg to say -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Whether, in view of the rapid extension of suburban settlement beyond a radius of 10 miles from Sydney, he will consider the urgent necessity for providing such settlements with greater facilities than at present exist for telephonic communication with the metropolis by extending the privilege of city and suburban rates from 10 to 13 or 15 miles?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
The Postmaster-General will obtain a report and give the matter careful consideration. It is, however, thought that any money which may be available for the construction of telephone lines should be utilized for providing telephones for towns at a distance from the State capitals, and that have at present no telephone systems.
– I move -
That the experience of the recent general election suggests the desirableness of the Government obtaining the fullest information (by Commission or otherwise) of the conduct of elections in other countries, including the operation of mechanical contrivances for registering and counting votes, with a view to the introduction of such machines to the Commonwealth.
Notwithstanding that at this juncture we do not know under what Government we may be living a few days hence, ‘I submit the motion with confidence to the House, as it should be acceptable to all parties, since the inquiry I ask for would not involve a very great expenditure, and the information obtained would be of invaluable assistance to us in dealing with - as we shall have to do - the amendment of the existing electoral law. Wherever a member sits, he must be interested in obtaining electoral machinery which will work as economically as possible, and will secure the fairest and fullest expression of public opinion possible. The Act under which our elections are now carried out was introduced by its author, the honorable member for Hume, as the most uptodate measure in the world, but it has signally failed to maintain that reputation. I admit that in the first operation of an Electoral Act covering so large an area as Australia, and varying the electoral practices of the States of the Union, a certain amount of trouble and friction was almost inevitable; and no doubt many of the difficulties and much of the annoyance which has been experienced can be obviated by remedial legislation. As such legislation is so obviously necessary, I have taken an early opportunity to submit this motion, so that in our consideration of an amending Bill, we may be guided by the experience of other countries, and know the most recent modern improvements for the conduct of elections. The information which I wish to secure has not only to do with mechanical instruments for the registration and counting of votes, but also with the obtaining of information which may lead to the introduction of other methods to secure economy, celerity, and efficiency in the conduct of elections.
– I point out to the House that it is impossible for any honorable member to speak to the question when’ conversations so many and so loud are proceeding within the Chamber. I must ask honorable members to give attention to the honorable member addressing the Chamber.
– I am afraid that the motion is being discussed at rather an inopportune time.
– An opportunity for its discussion at this juncture has been given to suit the convenience of honorable members opposite.
– At the same time, the subject is one which should receive consideration. There is another motion on the notice-paper which deals with the same subject, and might be held to be wider in its scope than is this motion,’ but I still think that it would be wise to adopt the course I propose, because of the very valuable assistance which the suggested inquiry would give in the future consideration of the reform of our electoral law. During the recent elections the utmost friction and difficulty occurred, not only in those cases where the decisions were subsequently challenged in the High Court but in every electorate throughout the Commonwealth, and, to a great extent, the failure to obtain a sufficiently full expression of opinion from the people to be regarded as a national verdict was caused by the inadequacy of the machinery provided for the enrolment of electors and for the collection of votes. In city and country alike, numerous difficulties were encountered by the officers intrusted with the administration of the Act. Every one of those with whom I have spoken - intelligent and picked officials - have admitted to me that they have found difficulty in interpreting the Act, or in discovering instruments for carrying out its evident intention. The postal voting provisions caused many serious difficulties, and I amof the opinion now, as I was when the Electoral Bill was before us, that, without greater safeguards, the postal voting system provided for is open to the grossest abuse. I do not say that it was. greatly abused during the recent elections, but our experience then is sufficient to show that it may be largely abused during subsequent elections. Difficulties also arose in regard to the application of Form Q, and many of the other forms provided for in the Act. In regard to those provisions, too, there is great danger of. abuse. The provision, for example, for limiting the amount to be expended by candidates in contesting elections is notoriously insufficient to carry out the end we had in view. It is, in fact, inoperative in every respect. For my part, I made a return of my expenses in accordance with the requirements of the Act, but I am given to understand that many honorable members have made no returns whatever, and I am further informed that if they fail in this respect, or if, upon their furnishing particulars, it is found that their expenses were in excess of the maximum allowed by the Act, there is no power to punish them or to declare their seats vacant. When we were discussing the Bill I pointed out that if we could not enforce such a provision it should not be embodied in the measure. The Bill was recommended to us by the honorable member for Hume as the most perfect piece of legislation of its character ever introduced into any Parliament. The honorable member resisted all efforts made by myself and others to safeguard the postal voting provision, and stated that the matter had received such careful consideration that it was quite unnecessary to adopt additional precautions against abuses. Yet I should think that the honorable member himself must now admit that the Act requires amendment. If this be granted, and if a Select Committee be necessary, the inquiry would be made in view of the actual operation of the Act during the recent general election. We should, however, go further, and issue a commission to some one to visit other countries where they have had as great or even greater experience than our own in regard to the secret ballot system. Such a Commissioner could bring back to us such information as would enable us to consider how far we could make use of the’ modern improvements adopted in other parts of the world. It would be impossible for me to indicate the nature of these improvements in detail, but with regard to the forms adopted for preventing undue influence and bribery, for precluding candidates from incurring undue expense, for recording votes, and for insuring as large a vote as possible, it may be taken for granted that the “United States, Germany, Belgium, and even Great Britain itself would, as the result of their experience, be able to give us practical assistance.
– Does the honorable member propose to allow the .Commission to travel to the countries mentioned?
– Certainly, but I do not for a moment suggest that any undue expense should be incurred. Next to the late Treasurer, I am probably one of the most economical members of this House.
– ‘ And the present Treasurer.
– And the present Treasurer. I do not wish the Government to incur anY unnecessary expense. My suggestion is that some intelligent official whose experience in electoral matters may be regarded as qualifying him for the work should be selected as the sole Commissioner to obtain this information. I am’ not prepared at this stage to say who should be appointed, but I believe that a fully competent officer could be found. It would not be necessary to appoint more than one Commissioner. It may be urged that such information as I have indicated could readily be secured by means of written communications with the Governments of the countries referred to, but such particulars as could be obtained by that means might be derived from the books in our library, and would be of very little assistance to us. What we require is that a qualified officer should visit the countries mentioned, and interrogate the officials there with regard to the working of their electoral systems, and should, if possible, see an election in progress. Many of the States of America, have, amongst other things, adopted mechanical contrivances, which not only register the votes recorded, but enable the declaration of the .poll to be made almost simultaneously with the closing of the doors to the public. Just as we, in some’ of our public institutions have turnstiles for registering the number of visitors, and for indicating immediately the doors are closed the number of persons who have passed through during the day, so, in the case of the voting machines to which I have referred, when the last man has passed through and the. doors are closed, the indices can be unlocked, and the officials can at once see how many votes have been cast for Brown, Jones, or Robinson, and who has been elected. ‘ This is not a chimerical idea. Such, machines are in use, and, according to writers in the magazines, have made a saving equivalent to their whole cost in the course of three elections. If that be so, we should, as common-sense individuals, consider whether it would not be desirable to introduce similar machines into the Commonwealth. These contrivances have one important point in their favour. They entirely do away with disputed and informal votes, because once a vote is registered by the machine it cannot be recalled. The moment the voter manipulates the machine he records his vote, and no question can be raised as to the way in which he has exercised his right. This may, at first sight, appear to be a disadvantage, but honorable members will, upon reflection, recognise that the reverse is the case. The worst that can be said about informal votes, is that, according to the law of averages, they are likely to inflict as great a hardship upon one candidate as upon the other. Therefore, by eliminating them altogether in the way suggested we should do no harm, but save ourselves a great deal of trouble. Such machines’ would be less liable than the methods which we at present follow to lead to the accumulation of informal votes. There will always be more or less illiterate voters who will be confused as to what they are to do with the pencil and the ballotpaper placed in their* hands. Such persons will not know whether the cross should 1be placed on one side or the other, or whether they should strike out the name of the person for whom they wish to vote, or the names of those whom they do not favour. This is almost the sole source of informal votes. With the machines, informal votes would be impossible, and, moreover, the liability to informality would be reduced to a minimum. It would be almost impossible for a man who had intelligence sufficient to lead him to the polling booth to make a mistake when this machine was placed before him, and he was called upon to operate it by passing through a stile, touching a button or pulling a lever. I regret that I cannot give the House the fullest information with regard to the construction of these machines, but they have been described in the’ press, and it appears to me that two of those which have been in operation are simplicity itself. The returning officer attends , the polling booth as usual, and the machine is shown to the scrutineers on both sides before operations are commenced, in order that they may see that the indices are really starting from zero, that the machine is in working order, and that it moves only one point upon each touch of a button or pull of the lever, as the case may be. Then the returning officer and scrutineers stand on one side, and the voter, when he comes forward, steps on to a small platform, and by that very act causes a curtain to be drawn round him. When the voter is thus screened from the observation of the electoral officials, he is enabled to touch a button, or pull a lever, and record his vote in the direction he desires. His action in operating the machine causes a bell to ring, and upon hearing this the returning officer immediately throws the mechanismout of gear, so that the elector cannot record more than one vote. It is only when the machine is released upon the retirement of the voter that it can be rendered fit for use by another voter. Then, at the end of the day, instead of the voting papers having to be examined by a number of tired officials, who are frequently too worn out to count accurately, all that is done is to open the doors covering the metal indices under the machine in order to see how many votes have been registered for Smith, Jones,
Brown, or Robinson. The whole matter is then over, and no controversy can take place as to the number or character of the votes recorded. If a man happens to vote for Brown, instead of Robinson, he must put up with the consequences, and, according to the law of averages, it will probably be found that the result will be better than at present, when every vote has to be examined and is declared informal if it has upon it a pencil mark a little at variance with what is prescribed by law. We should avoid the necessity of having to refer to the High Court, as in the case of the recent Riverina election, such questions as whether a cross should be placed upon the right or left side of the ballot-paper what constitutes a square, or the effect of an extra mark upon the paper. We should get rid of all this trouble at one stroke. It is only fair to mention some of the arguments which might be used against such a promising method of recording votes. With regard to cost, I have already intimated that in California and other States the expense has been so slight that in some of the larger electorates the machines have paid for themselves in the course of three or four elections, owing to the saving of labour and time they have insured. I recognise that, whilst this might apply to large pollingplaces, it would hardly pay to use such machines at every polling-place throughout the Commonwealth. I would urge, however, that up to the point at which it would pay we ought to use the machine, and that beyond that we should retain our present system. I could furnish instances of the absurdity of relying upon the present system. The polling is concluded at 6 o’clock, and those who are interested have to wait until half -past 10 or n for any information regarding the result. Then, perhaps, in the case of an urban constituency, the returning officer has to come out and state that the numbers are approximately so and so, but that he cannot furnish an accurate return, because his officials are so worn out and dissatisfied that he is bound to give them a rest, and allow them to resume the count on the next day. Frequently, we do not obtain the definite results of urban elections until noon of the following day- As contrasted with that system, under which a heated and excited populace are required to wait foi several hours, we should, with the machines, be able to post the results almost simultaneously with the closing of the doors of the polling booth. . I think that would be a distinct advantage, which would compensate us for the expense incurred in procuring the machines for use in at least the large city and suburban electorates. Apart from this, there are many other points which we shall be bound to consider as time goes on. For instance, there is the question of compulsory voting. The members of this Parliament, as well as the citizens generally, are dissatisfied to find that so few electors take the trouble to record their votes. This apathy on the part of the electors is largely due to the difficulties that are placed in the way of many of those who desire to become enrolled, and to record their votes, with the result that they become disheartened and take no further interest in the elections. On these grounds I think that the appointment of a skilled and intelligent Commissioner, who would visit various countries and obtain valuable information that would assist us in framing machinery which would lead to the enrolment of the greatest number of voters, and afford the fullest facility for electors to vote, would be of muchadvantage. I do not say that I am in favour of compulsory voting; but I certainly think that something should be done to induce electors to record their votes. The compulsory system has been adopted in Belgium, with the result that the number of non-voters has been reduced to 6 per cent. There a man who fails to go to the poll is mulcted in a small fine unless he is able to give some reasonable excuse for his neglecting to vote. As we all know, the percentage of voters who . absent themselves from the polling places in some of the States is something like 60 per cent., instead of 6 per cent. Such a state of affairs is deplorable. In a country professedly democratic from east to west, and north to south, it is most regrettable to find persons who have the freest and most democratic Constitution in the world displaying so little interest in it that they do not trouble to record their votes at a general election; and the House will, sooner or later, have to consider whether it is not desirable to adopt some system of compulsion or inducement in order that we may secure a clearer expression of opinion on the part of the electors’ than we now obtain.
– What lines does the honorable member say should be followed?
– The honorable gentleman must bear in mind that I am seeking the appointment of a Commissioner, in order that we may ascertain the best lines to adopt. If we could devise any system that would reduce the number of non-voters in the Commonwealth to 6 per cent., we should secure a great national advantage. The Commissioner would obtain valuable information, not only in this direction, but in many other ways that we have not yet considered, and would be able to place before us a report that would show in a practical way the amendments which are necessary, in our electoral law. The appointment would not involve any large expenditure. An outlay of about£1,000 would be sufficient, and, if for that expenditure we could obtain this information direct from a skilful official, who had witnessed the working of various systems in other lands, we should accomplish a great work at a very moderate cost. It was once suggested in this House that, in the interests of economy, an effort should be made to obtain, by means of a conference between representatives of the Commonwealth and the States, a uniform franchise, and a uniform relation between the States and Federal constituencies, so that the cost of compiling the rolls, and. to a great extent, the cost of printing them would be materially reduced. If such a scheme could be devised, the one set of expenses would cover everything, and we should secure simplicity in the mechanism necessary for conducting a general election. I do not know of any direction in which larger savings could be effected than by the adoption of some general system which would render it necessary to print only one set of rolls, and require only one set of applications to remedy defects in them. The proposition is so simple that it is surprising that intelligent Ministers have not taken action to ascertain whether it is not possible to induce the States to fall into line, and to adopt coterminous electorates, so that by the addition of three or four States electorates, a Federal district could be formed.
– That would suit both the States and Commonwealth.
– We should have one set of rolls for the States and the Commonwealth.
– We should thus have to incur but the one expense. It has also been suggested that, in amending the rolls, good use might be made of the registration departments in the various States. If a man dies, there is at the present time no machinery in the Electoral Department by which that fact might be ascertained, and his name removed from the roll.
– The honorable member is in error in making that statement.
– I beg the right honorable member’s pardon. If, for example, my grandfather dies, I am not compelled to have his name removed from the rolls.
– The Department deals with that matter.
– It does when it prepares a fresh roll ; but I wish to secure an automatic method of removing the names of deceased persons from the rolls, and placing on the list the names of those who from time to time attain their majority. The revision would have to be carried out every six months. There is a registration department, in which the date of every man’s birth and death is recorded, and by making use of it we should be able to secure an automatic method of revising the rolls. If objections were subsequently made they could be inquired into.
– The scheme could not be worked.
– If an attempt were made, it might be found that the system was much easier than the right honorable member anticipates. I am simply advocating the appointment of a Royal Commissioner who would ascertain the various systems in force in other parts of the world, and advise us whether provisions and devices cannot be introduced into our electoral machinery to save expense, friction, and trouble, and to secure for us a better national verdict than we have been able to obtain in the past.
– I have listened with attention to the speech just delivered by the honorable member for South Sydney, and I must confess that he has given us a number of valuable suggestions. But I really do not agree with him that it is necessary to send a Commissioner to the other end of the world to discover the nature of well-known mechanical contrivances used in connexion with elections. It is possible to secure information about all such systems without sending a man to personally examine and inquire into them.
– An excellent mechanical contrivance has already been invented in the Commonwealth.
– We can secure full information in regard to every mechanical con trivance associated with elections without appointing a Royal Commissioner.
– The necessary contrivance can be produced in the Commonwealth ; it is unnecessary to go further.
-That is quite possible. The matter is one which could be dealt with here. The general object which my honorable friend has in view happens to be provided for in the motion of which notice has been given by the honorable member for Canobolas, and which is next on the . list: That motion provides for the appointment of a Select Committee of this House, and would enable full inquiry to be made in the Commonwealth. I think that in this case a Select Committee would probably be less expensive than would a Royal Commission. I am anxious that we should not appoint too many Royal Commissions. One Commission has already been suggested by the Ministry to deal with a very large question, and I am extremely glad that the Government propose to take that step. It is a proposal that I favour, and, although it may be somewhat expensive, the money will be well spent. I do not think, however, that the same could be said of the appointment of a Royal Commissioner to deal with this matter. In my opinion we can secure all the information we require by means of a Select Committee.
– Would that Select Committee be able to take evidence on oath ?
– I am not quite certain of what the law provides in that respect.
– It would be well if the Committee could do’ so.
– No doubt. Perhaps “the Attorney-General has looked up the matter, and can answer the honorable member’s question.
– If the right honorable gentleman puts a question on notice to me I shall answer it.
– I have not considered the point, and I do not expect the AttorneyGeneral to answer it off-hand. Whether it is open to a Select Committee to take evidence on oath or not, it seems to me that we could not have a more competent body, because honorable members of this House must have a large knowledge of the conduct of elections, and of the electoral machinery. -
– I should think so. I do not wish, at this stage, to adopt language that might seem to pre- judge any matter; but I would point out that there are certain words in the motion next on the notice- paper, which deals with this question, to which exception might be taken. Doubtless I am out of order in discussing that notice of motion, and I shall, therefore, content myself with saying that I think some inquiry is absolutely expected by the people of the Commonwealth. I do not think there is one matter in regard to which the people of the Commonwealth evince greater anxiety than their desire that we should, by inquiry, and by effecting alterations in the system, prevent the possibility of the recurrence of such incidents as took place at the last elections. In that respect I believe I voice the sentiments of every honorable member. I hope, therefore, that inquiry in some form or another will be made. I do not wish to use one strong word in reference to the matter; I simply wish to sse some impartial investigation held.
– The Government has no objection to that; but this is not the stage at which to deal with the notice of motion standing in the name of the honorable member for Canobolas.
– I understand, of course, that it would be premature for me to deal with it at the present moment. I trust, however, that the question will be considered quite apart from any charges of inefficiency. I am satisfied that it should be inquired into. If it turns out that there has been inefficiency in connexion with the elections, we shall have to make some improvement; while if, on the other hand, it transpires that there has been no inefficiency - that there has been nothing but mere pressure of misfortune, which no man could have avoided by the exercise of ordinary ability and discretion - I shall be the first to express regret for the remarks which I have made in reference to the Chief Electoral Officer. I should like the matter to be cleared up, as much in the interests of that officer as in the interests of any one who has criticised his ability. As we have but a short time in which to deal with private members’ business, I would suggest to the honorable member for South Sydney that he should allow the motion standing in the name of the honorable member for Canobolas to come on for consideration, for I think that the object which he has in view is covered by that proposition.
– I do not think that in dealing with this motion it is necessary to discuss the notice of motion which has been given by the honorable member ‘for
Canobolas. This proposition stands entirely apart from it, and it appears to me that it is also unnecessary -for us, at this stage, to enter upon a consideration of the conduct of the last elections, for it may also be dealt with on the next motion. This is entirely a non-party proposal, and I fail to see that anyone could object to the way in which it has been put before the House by the honorable member. I may say at once that I do not agree with his proposition for the appointment of a travelling Commissioner. I believe that the Government of the Commonwealth would be able to secure the information with much greater expedition, and certainly in sufficient detail to enable it to arrive at a conclusion in regard to the matters at issue, without appointing a Commissioner to visit distant countries. Voting by machinery is not, of course, a novel idea. I asked the Chief Electoral Officer to give me a report upon the matter, not in anticipation of the debate upon this motion, but in consequence of a letter I received from a person interested in some machine of the kind which has been described. I have not yet received the report. There are some manifest advantages to be derived from the use of these machines. There would, in the end, be greater economy and greater certainty as to results; there would not need to be any recount, and that is a matter which will appeal to some honorable members ; and there would be a much greater promptitude in ascertaining the result of an election. The principal disadvantage would probably be the first cost of the machines. We have 4,800 polling places in the Commonwealth, and while I do not suggest that a machine for each of these polling places would cost £100 - by the time it was placed in working order in every polling place it might cost as much as that - still, if that amount were expended it would mean an expenditure of something like ^500,000 on the basis of the present number of polling places. I can see no reason why we should not have a full inquiry .into these matters, and to that extent I cordially support the motion. I ask honorable members not to be led astray by the fact that there has been some friction and some considerable dissatisfaction in many electorates with respect to the operation of the present Electoral Act - I am not. now referring to the administration. The dissatisfaction and friction which has arisen is, I believe, largely due to the fact that the Act was novel, as applied in many electorates. In proof of that, we can point to some districts in which no difficulty whatever was experienced in connexion with its operation. Indeed, in the whole of the State of South Australia, where a similar Act has been in operation for many years, no hitch or friction of any kind was experienced in its operation, and the percentage of informal votes recorded was very small.
– That was not the case in many places in New South Wales.
– That is so; but I haveexplained that we had in the Commonwealth Electoral Act adopted the South Australian practice, and the people of that State being used to it, there was no friction or dissatisfaction caused by its operation. The honorable member will see that a great deal of the dissatisfaction and friction which has arisen elsewhere has been due to the fact that in those districts the practice adopted has been novel.
– Much of it arose from the administration of the Act.
– I do not propose to say either “ Yes “or “ No “ to that. That is not now the question, and it can be discussed upon the next motion, which I have no desire to anticipate. If the honorable member for South Sydney understands that it is not proposed by the Government, at any rate at present, to appoint any travelling Commissioner, but to make the very fullest inquiry from all places where the system to which he refers is adopted, and also from all places from which it can be suggested that we should be likely to obtain information with regard to the working of the electoral laws that would be of advantage to us, I shall cordially support his motion.
– I understand that the Minister for Home Affairs accepts the motion submitted by the honorable member for South Sydney with the reservation that it. is not the intention of the Government to appoint a roving Commissioner to make the inquiries proposed. With that I am quite prepared to agree. The two motions on the notice-paper dealing with the subjectof elections refer to clear and distinct issues. The motion now before the House proposes the appointment of a Commissioner to inquire into the conduct of elections outside of Australia. The subsequent motion on the paper deals with the conduct of elections in Australia, and par ticularly of the last general election. With regard to the conduct of elections outside of Australia, we have established here an elaborate Electoral Department, with a permanent head and inspectors. Parliament has not been parsimonious in its establishment, and the question naturally arises whether, when we require the information suggested in this motion, it is necessary that we should incur extra expense by the appointment of Select Committees or Royal Commissions to secure it. If the Electoral Department is to serve any purpose whatever it may surely be expected to be able to inform the Minister in charge of what is being done, not only in the Commonwealth, but elsewhere, in connexion with electoral matters ? What is proposed in the motion is merely the transference of responsibility for the supply of this information from the Minister or his Department to a Select Committee or Royal Commission. I have been pleased to hear the Minister in charge of the Department accept the full responsibility, and assert his confidence that the Department with the resources at its disposal can secure the information asked for, bring it up-to-date, and keep it uptodate. If the Department is not competent to perform that function we are entitled to know what it is doing, and why it should continue in existence. I have been pleased to hear the Minister explain that the responsibility will be rightly placed, and that he will insist upon the Department getting such information as will enable him to keep us abreast of the world in electoral matters.
– I entirely concur in the general terms of the motion proposed by the honorable member for South Sydney, and also with the view expressed that it is to be hoped that it will not result in the appointment of an expensive roving Commission. I agree with the last speaker that the Electoral Department should have power within itself to collect all the necessary information. I believe that one or two mechanical contrivances were submitted to the late Minister for Home Affairs, and I shall be glad to have the assurance of the present Minister that an opportunity will be given to examine the merits of these contrivances. I would ask the honorable gentleman to secure the permission of Mr. Speaker to have one of these machines exhibited in some part of the House. I think it would be found worthy of consideration. I have seen it in operation myself, and I am aware that two ex-Ministers of the first Commonwealth Administration who saw it were agreed that it possesses considerable merits. It is known as the patent of Mr. Higgins - not our respected AttorneyGeneral, but a gentleman of, the same name, and equally capable. I feel that we should be taking a step in the right directionby the adoption of some mechanical contrivance, as I believe it would tend to greatly reduce the enormous expenditure at present entailed in the conduct of elections. With the reservations to which I have referred I shall support the motion.
– I am glad to follow the honorable member for Kooyong, who has been unfortunately placed as being onlysecond to myself as the largest holder of voting certificates in Victoria during the last election. I am prepared to support the motion, which I had risen to second, because I believe that it is absolutely necessary that we should have some simple way of arriving at the number of votes cast at an election. It will be thought hardly credible, and I have no doubt honorable members will be astonished to learn, that the returns from the Melbourne district for the 16th December are not complete yet, and never will be complete, because I understand that the Department, finding that the returns cannot be secured, have altered their method of issuing the statistics. Representing a district which is the centre of Victoria, and in which it has not been found possible to return figures which can be posted, I am the more willing to support this motion. If the Electoral Department were to send a circular letter to every European Government, and only some seven would be necessary, I have no doubt they would, in reply, secure full information as to the methods adopted in European countries in the conduct of elections.
– They should include the States of America.
– In some of the States of America the result of an election can be told within half-an-hour of the close of the poll. I am aware that in Greece a splendid system has been adopted. There voters vote with a white ball, and even the arm of the voter is hidden. They can count the votes in hundreds, and in the city of Athens the result of an election can be declared within twenty-five minutes of the close of the poll. It is clear, therefore, that there must be some methods in existence which are a great improvement on the absurd methods adopted here. I have witnessed no less than seven different elections in England, and I must say that they have there a more cumbrous system than is our own. I cannot resume my seat without offering my word of thanks to Mr. Lewis, who is in charge of the Commonwealth Electoral Department. I have specially to thank him that in the last election held for the Melbourne seat there was not the humbugging nonsense which occurred at the first. I have been glad to hear the right honorable member for East Sydney say that if he should find that he has been wrong in what he has said concerning the Chief Electoral Officer he will be willing to withdraw the statements he has made. I can, of course, speak only from my own experience, but I think no man could be found more willing to assist a candidate than I found Mr. Lewis. I should like to add further that, in my opinion, the obsolete and effete system of conducting State elections in Victoria is not half as good as that which has been inaugurated under the Federal regime.
– I am entirely in sympathy with the motion, except that I object to the expense of appointing a Royal Commissioner. I am glad to find that the honorable member for South Sydney desires to cover a great deal more ground than is covered by the subsequent motion on the business-paper, which deals only with the administration of the existing Commonwealth Electoral Act. The honorable member proposes that the. question of compulsory voting shall be looked into, and also the method of getting names on and off the electoral roll, which, in my opinion, is a matter of equal importance. It has been our experience in South Australia that the names of persons who have been dead ten years are still on the rolls in that State, ‘and the returning officers state that until they are notified by the Registrar of Births and Deaths they have no power to remove them. A more serious matter is that in South Australia a certain organization has been in the habit of striking off the rolls the names of many persons who have continued to reside in the same district, and even in the same house. It is highly necessary that something should be done to prevent that procedure. Another matter to which I might direct attention is that persons who have been in the habit of putting names on the roll have left electoral claims to be filled up, and in my own experience I have found that the representative of a certain conservative institution has subsequently collected those claims, but has never sent them in to the returning officer. I have known certain persons to have had their claims sent in, but the claims of persons likely to vote for progressive candidates, as against conservative candidates, have been destroyed. We should do something to prevent this kind of thing.
– They should be sent to gaol.
– Undoubtedly; and I should have been only too glad to prosecute the persons responsible if I could have obtained the necessary evidence. It is very difficult, however, to get sufficient proof. I could give the name of one individual who is doing this thing, and could prove that the papers were collected, but I could not prove that they had not been handed in. The returning officer could say that he did not receive them, and I could not show that thisperson was responsible. In my opinion, an inquiry should be made into the matter. If we introduce counting and registering machines we need not incur the expenditure suggested by the Minister for Home Affairs, because, atthe beginning, at all events, it would be quite sufficient to use them only in the largely populated centres. The present system, if properly administered, will be quite sufficient for districts where there are only a few persons on the roll. Compulsory voting prevails not only in Belgium, but in many of the Swiss cantons, and there has been no attempt to abolish it. I think it is deplorable that so few of our electors record their votes, and the fact mentioned by the honorable member for South Sydney, that only 6 per cent. do not record their votes in Belgium, should convince the Government of the need to do something in the matter. I have great pleasure in supporting the motion.
– I support the general terms of the motion. As a Commission is likely to be appointed to inquire into the matters with which it deals-
– No one said so.
– I understand that there is no objection to the appointment of a Commission.
– There is an objection.
– I think that an inquiry should be made, and that it should be extended beyond the scope suggested by the honorable member for South Sydney. We should, at an early date, take into consideration the adoption of some system of effective voting which will prevent candidates for whom a minority of the votes polled’ have been cast being returned. Under present conditions not only is such a thing possible, but it actually takes place in many cases where there are several candidates. I am sure that some system could be found which would make it impossible, no matter how many candidates presented themselves, for any one for whom a minority of the votes polled had been cast to be returned; and the adoption of such a system would make it unnecessary to limit the choice of electors, because as many candidates as chose to do so could come forward, and the electors could freely discriminate between them. Therefore, I suggest that the scope of the inquiry be widened to include the investigation of proposed methods of effective voting.
– I have the greatest sympathy with the objects of the mover of the motion, but I object to any expenditure being incurred for an inquiry when we have already in existence a costly Electoral’ Department which ought to be able to do this work for us without additional expense. The Department is now so large that the Government should be able to obtain from it all possible information upon methods of voting. As a rule a general election will take place only once every three years, though, of course, more frequent dissolutions will occasionally occur; and in the interim a good live Electoral Department will keep itself posted in all information relating to elections. Not only is it the duty of the Department to do so, but the Minister at the head of it should see that it is in a position to supply him with any information that may be required as to the voting systems of the world. Such information can be easily and simply obtained. We know that some alteration of our present electoral system is necessary. For instance, there should be a change in the method of collecting our rolls. In many of the States the franchise for the House of Assembly is the same as that for the Federal Parliament, one adult one vote, and I see no reason why an arrangement could not be come to between the Governments of such States and this Government for using the same sets of rolls. Such an arrangement would be simple, and would effect a decided saving. I repeat, it is unnecessary to go to the expense of appointing a Commission to obtain the information sought for, because the Electoral Department should be in a position to obtain it, and to supply it. While I am in sym- pathy with the objects of the motion, I shall oppose the appointment of any Commission to do work which it is the duty of the Electoral Department to do.
– I shall oppose the motion, because I see that it means the expenditure of money. The proposal is that a Commissioner should be sent travelling round the world to obtain information as to methods of voting; but, surely, that information can be obtained in other ways. If machines for the registering and counting of votes are brought into use, Parliament will be prevented from adopting the Hare system, which, I think, is the only fair method of obtaining the expression of the people’s will where a large number of candidates come forward. I am further opposed to the motion because I think that we cannot be too careful about committing ourselves to expenditure. The general cry is that we are spending money too fast, and before we commit ourselves to the appointment of a Commission, we should see whether the information sought for cannot be obtained without expense from the Electoral Department. In Tasmania the House of Assembly has decided to adopt for the State .elections the districts used for the Federal elections, in order that the same rolls may be used for both. No doubt that example will be followed in other States, and thus the expense of collecting two sets of rolls will be saved. A good deal of blame has been cast upon the Department for its administration of the Act during the recent elections ; but much of the trouble which occurred was due to the fact that men new to the work were appointed to responsible positions. In many cases officers were appointed who had had no previous experience in the conduct of elections- In my district a Commonwealth officer was at the head of affairs who had never before had to do with the conduct of elections, but he posted himself up in the provisions of the Act, and took others into his confidence, and was thus able to carry through the election without a hitch. I think that when the next general election occurs, the officers will have become acquainted with their duties, and we shall be satisfied with the manner in which the Act is administered.
Mr. G. B. EDWARDS (South Sydney). - I am pleased that the Minister has not objected to the motion. He is in sympathy with it, though he is not prepared to send a Commissioner abroad to obtain information. The motion, however, expressly declares that the information may be secured by a Commissioner “ or otherwise.” But although the sending of an officer abroad to make inquiries is not insisted upon, a great deal is to be said in favour of that course, since it is not so easy to obtain the necessary information through the medium of the post-office. Often one writes for information, and obtains what purports to be a full reply, but the answer given is not always full, and one being ignorant of what there is to be known on the subject, is often left almost in a worse position than he would have been in without any information at all. It is only from a man who has seen machinery in operation that one is able to obtain full information regarding it. I am fortified in this attitude by a remark of Professor Sidgewick, who has written largely on political science. He has studied more than most writers the operation of the Constitutions of the various European countries, both by investigating those Constitutions where they are written, and by devoting himself to the study of their, historical development. His book upon the Development of European Polity has been published since his death, but it was his intention to proceed to the various countries of which he writes, and to live in’ each of them for a lengthy period, in order to obtain a thorough grasp of the operation of their- Constitutions at the present day. He said truly, that it is not in the written document of a Constitution, or in the history of its development which is to be gained from the books in libraries that you can obtain a true grip of its real operation to-day. If that is true of facts in regard to which most of us think the fullest information is to be obtained from the books in- our libraries, it is still more true of the operation of intricate and complicated mechanical appliances and administrative forms for the conduct of an election. There is always an outcry against expenditure, but there may be truer economy in spending money in a wise , undertaking than in objecting to such expenditure. The inquiry which I suggest can be conducted by a capable officer for a few hundred’s of pounds, in addition to his ordinary salary, and the money would be well spent. However, I am prepared to stand by the motion, and to leave it to the Government to say whether they will send a Commissioner abroad. A private business man, if he wished to obtain reliable information upon the working of any machinery or system connected with an office or factory, would not content himself with writing abroad for a description, however full and elaborate; he would adopt the more sensible plan of picking out a man, and sending him abroad to make inquiries on the spot, so that upon his return he could learn every detail. It has been said that we should be able to obtain all needful information from our electoral officers. That is an absurd objection to my proposal. If the present electoral system is not working well, it is not to those in charge of it that Ave should apply for methods of improvement. Officials are always inclined to become case-hardened, and to move in a rut. I.t is natural for them to take the view that the methods in existence are under all circumstances the best possible. I do not say that the Minister could not obtain a smart, up-to-date, official, who would satisfactorily act as a Commissioner to make inquiry abroad, but if he relies wholly on his Department for information and advice in regard to necessary or desirable reforms, he will be relying upon a very weak reed. If we rely exclusively upon those who areworking in the Department to keep everything up to date, our system will probably become thoroughly rotten, and develop all the diseases of bureaucracy. The best course to adopt is to select an intelligent man who can inquire into the whole question, and make recommendations as to the best methods to adopt.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move-
I think that honorable members will agree with me that it is very desirabl’e to secure efficient administration of cur Electoral Act. We have placed upon our statute-book one of the most liberal and democratic measures, and our desire is that every adult «in the Commonwealth should not only have the right to vote, but also possess every facility for exercising that right. If our object is to be attained, .the legislative enactment must be accompanied by efficient administration. I am willing to admit that the Electoral Department has had considerable difficulties to overcome. They had to apply a new system, and to contend against the misunderstanding which necessarily attended the introduction of conditions differing from those with which the electors of the various States were previously familiar. In other words, they had to educate the people to the point of enabling them to- take full advantage of the facilities provided. Further, there were inexplicable delays in connexion with the redistribution of the electoral divisions, and the preparation of the rolls, and these deprived the officers of the Electoral Department of that ample time which was necessary to enable them to make perfect arrangements for carrving out the election. Then the Government, for reasons which have been strongly condemned, decided not to proceed with the work of redistributing the electorates in Victoria and New South Wales, and therefore a large amount of work performed by the Department proved to be absolutely useless. Whilst making every allowance for these difficulties, however, my observations have led me ‘to the conclusion that the Department was lamentably lacking in- its administrative work. It is because of this, and because of the vital importance of having an efficient Department to administer matters relating to the exercise of the Commonwealth franchise, that I feel impelled to ask for an investigation. I do not wish to say too much with regard to matters of detail. It will be sufficient to point out that, as the outcome of the defective administration of the Department, two elections have been declared void on technical grounds ; and we may fairly assume that if present conditions are allowed to continue there will be a much larger number of appeals to the High Court in the future. This is a matter which should engage the .serious attention of the House. I was in the very fortunate position of not being called upon to contest an election, but I could plainly see from the way in which the arrangements were carried out that there would have been ample room for any one who wished to move in the direction of having an election declared invalid. For instance, it is provided in the schedule of the Act that a candidate shall be nominated by at least six electors whose names, polling places, places of residence, and numbers on the roll shall be given. I postponed my visit to my electorate for the purpose of nomination until the very latest date, and, upon calling upon the returning officer, found that he was not in a position to supply me with the numbers on the roll opposite the names of the electors who had signed my nomination paper. The roll was still in the hands of the Government Printer, and was incomplete, and it was only by making a special arrangement that I was able to obtain the particulars necessary to comply with the requirements of the Act. If I had been a country candidate, and unable to bring myself into close touch with the Government Printer in Sydney, the probabilities are that I should have been unable to furnish all the information required, and that my nomination might have been declared informal , on that account. Then, again, when it transpired that there would be no contest in my district, so far “as the House of Representatives was concerned, the Chief Electoral Officer seemed to overlook the fact that a poll would have to be taken for the purposes of the Senate election, and issued instructions to the returning officers to the effect that all their expenses should be reduced by about 50 per cent. The result was that, in common with many other honorable members, I have been put to a great deal of trouble in my attempts to secure the payment of the fees due to the officers employed in connexion with the election. Although months ago I was told by the Minister for Home Affairs that all payments had been made, and was also assured by the officers of the Department that everything had been settled, I discovered weeks afterwards that nothing had been done. Upon making a closer investigation, I was informed that some small hitch had occurred, and that if upon investigation everything was found to be in order payments would be made within two or three days. A month afterwards, however, I was told that the account were still unsettled. Some of these accounts still remain in the same unsatisfactory condition, a fact that displays a lamentable want of competency on the part of some one in the Department. I know that from the very outset it was the intention of the Department to select officers for this work from the Public Service of the Commonwealth. It was felt at the time that the duties could be discharged by officials of the Postal, Customs, and other Departments who were under the direct control of the Government of the Commonwealth; but I pointed out to the Minister in charge of the Department, as well as to the House, that great difficulties would arise if the. Government insisted upon giving immediate effect to their proposal. I drew attention to the fact that the officers of the service, however competent they might be, had not the experience necessary to fit them for so .complicated and extensive a work, and I strongly recommended the Department to utilize the services of the old State officials, at least to the extent necessary to secure efficiency at the then approaching elections. That suggestion was, to some extent, adopted ; but as the result of a recent visit to my electorate I do not hesitate to say that State officials who were engaged in connexion with the elections are so greatly dissatisfied with their treatment, that unless the Department is prepared to keep faith with them to a greater extent than was the case in connexion with the last elections, their services will not be at the disposal of the Government at the next. These are important matters which call for strict investigation, and if, upon inquiry, the charges made can be substantiated, the remedy should be applied. I have, so far, dealt only with the administrative machinery of the Electoral Office, and when we come to consider the position of the electors themselves - the people who are vitally affected - we discover that their grievances are intense. In the first place, as the result, apparently, of the outcry that persons had removed from country districts to various cities only to return to their old homes as the result of the breaking of the drought, it was taken for granted that these changes had occurred on a larger scale than was actually the case. The result was that, in dealing with the revision of the” rolls . relating to all the cities, the Department endeavoured to strike off as many names as it could, and apparently paid no regard to the equally important duty of ascertaining whether those who were qualified to vote were duly enrolled.
– Where was this?
– In the cities. Cases came under my notice in which persons who had shifted from one street to another in the same electorate were struck off the rolls, and were not afforded an opportunity to rectify this blunder. A great many of those who inspected the rolls as originally compiled, and found that their names had been duly enrolled, went to the booths on polling day satisfied that, as they had not received any notice of objection, they were qualified to record their votes. Judge of the surprise of many of them when they discovered that, as the result of the action of the Department, the names had been removed. As the result of the extraordinary way in which the Department allotted the electors to different polling booths, an even more remarkable state of affairs existed in many of the provincial districts. Electors were expected to vote at the polling booths on . the rolls for which their names appeared ;’ but it was open to them to vote at any other booth in their own division by signing the form Q. The allotment was made, however, in such a way that it was by no means uncommon to find the members of one family, all residing in the one house, allotted to two or three different polling booths. A case came under my notice in which an elector in my division journeyed to the polling booth, some six or seven miles distant from his residence, at which he had been accustomed to vote at State electionsHe was allowed to record his vote; but his wife was informed that her name, &s well as the names of other members of the family, were not on the roll for that booth. They mentioned the matter to me, and I discovered that the wife’s name was on the roll for a polling booth fifteen miles away from her residence. It is difficult to understand what basis the Department adopted in making these allotments. The experience of the settler to whom I have referred was a common occurrence, and this system, in my opinion, led to the disfranchisement ‘of a greater number’ of persons than did any other difficulty which the electors encountered. Electors who were accustomed to vol* at certain polling booths for State elections found on applying for their voting papers that their names were not on the rolls for those booths, and the presiding officer in many cases did not take the trouble to ascertain whether their names were on. the rolls for any other booth. They were simply told that they were disqualified, with the result that, although their names appeared on the rolls for other booths, they were disfranchised, being unaware that they had a right to vote under form Q. This state of affairs obtained throughout the country electorates, and to so great an extent that it reflected much discredit on the Department. It discloses an inefficiency on the part of some one, which, had it not resulted in the disfranchisement of hundreds of electors, might have been excused, but which in the circumstances demands the strictest investigation. Incidents of this kind that came under my own observation must have been fairly common throughout New South Wales, and I think that they were largely responsible for the reduced polling returns. The appointment of the Chief Electoral Officer of the Commonwealth has already been severely criticised in this House, and I do not propose at this stage to enter into a discussion of the matter. I have only to say that, in view of this criticism,, and of the dissatisfaction which obtains as the result of the way in which the department conducted the last elections, a Select Committee should be appointed in fairness to that officer himself. It must have one of two results. It will either show that the administration of the Department in connexion with the elections was inefficient, and that the criticism levelled against it was largely justified, or that, as the Minister responsible for the appointment contends, the Chief Electoral Officer is efficient.
– Does the honorable member propose that the work of the Select Committee should stop at that point?
– I propose that it shall deal with the question of administration.
– Is the Select Committee to have power to make suggestions for the amendment of the present electoral law?
– I think that the committee should have ample power to do so. .
– Then the honorable member should provide for it in his motion.
– I understand that the Department has fully investigated that matter, and that the Minister has certain proposals to put before the House. It is for that reason that I refrain from bringing this phase of the matter under special review. I have no doubt that if the Committee feels, as the result of its inquiries, that the defects of which complaint has been made were due to the faultiness of the Electoral Act, it will be open to it to suggest amendments. If it is to be of any great value it must cover a large range of inquiry. I should prefer the appointment of a Royal Commission that would be able to visit the different States, and investigate all these matters far more thoroughly than it is possible for a Select Committee to do. I recognise, however, that it is practically impossible for a large Select Committee to visit the different States so as to inquire into all these matters as fully as is necessary in order to place the Department in possession of the whole of the facts, and I am satisfied the Committee will elicit information that will demonstrate the necessity for radical changes, either in regard to the control of the Department or the legislation under which the Department is conducted. If the Ministry do not see their way clear to appoint a Royal Commission, I must rest satisfied with a Select Committee.
– Before the motion is put, Mr. Speaker, I should like to ask that my name be omitted, with the object of inserting in its stead the name of the honorable member for Hume.
– The honorable member for Canobolas has already moved his motion. If, before the honorable member resumed his seat, he had called attention to his desire that the alteration should be made, I should have permitted him to make it ; but as the motion has been submitted, I cannot allow any substitution of names. If the honorable member desires the alteration which he has mentioned, it is open to him to move it by way of amendment.
Mr. MALONEY.I may, perhaps, be permitted to say that it was by mistake that I allowed the opportunity to pass. I move -
That the name of Mr. Maloney be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the name of Sir William Lyne.
– My honorable colleague, the Minister for Home Affairs, having been called away, is temporarily absent from the Chamber. I assume that he will have an opportunity to speak to the motion later on, and, in the meantime, I desire to say that the Government do not intend to oppose the appointment of this Select Committee, so long as it is made clear that we do not, in advance, declare that there has been any fault in the administration of the Act by the Department.
– The honorable gentleman does not propose to limit the right of honorable members to criticise the administration ?
– No; but the Government would feel constrained to oppose the motion if it contained, in so many words, a declaration that would practically prejudge the whole question before the Committee had investigated the matter. I think it is only fair that it should be assumed that, although there may be room for inquiry, we have not, collectively, made up our minds that there have been faults on the part of the administrative officers. I understand that the words : “ and the apparent inability of the administrative Department to efficiently cope with its work,” have been omitted from the motion, and, under these circumstances, the Government have no objection to it. It must, I think, be apparent to us all, as it is to the general public, that a great deal of f riction, at least, arose in connexion with the last general election. In my own electorate quite a number of people, apparently through no fault of their own, were disfranchised. Even if the proposed inquiry should not disclose any fault on the part of the officials, it may result in the collection of information which will enable us more easily to correct defects in the law, thus preventing similar friction, inconvenience, and disfranchisement in the future. From that point of view, the Government have no objection to offer to the motion.
– Having seconded the motion fro forma, I should like, if it is permissible for me so to do, to make a reservation with respect to the second paragraph, because I think that possibly, instead of selecting the gentlemen whose namesare mentioned therein, it might be considered advisable to select the members of the proposed Committee by ballot. The motion is one which must appeal to every honorable member who has had an unsatisfactory experience of the conduct of the recent general election. From facts which have come to my own knowledge, I believe I can safely say that there have been tens of thousands of persons in New South Wales who were entitled to be enrolled, who were left off the rolls.
– Does the honorable member say that he has personal knowledge of tens of thousands who were left off the rolls ?
– No. I say that from facts which have come to my knowledge there must have been a large number in New South Wales, running into tens, of thousands, who were left off the rolls. Personally, I know of at least 2,000 electors whose names were left off the rolls, notwithstanding the fact that in very many instances those who found themselves unable to vote on the polling day had taken the trouble to inspect the lists to find out if their names were there. They had satisfied themselves that their names were on the lists which were exposed before the final revision of the rolls. In some cases persons who found that their names were omitted from the provisional lists went to the trouble of applying for enrolment, and, having done so, they naturally supposed that they would be enrolled. Honorable members can judge of their astonishment when on going to vote they found that, although they had complied with all the forms necessary to secure enrolment, their names had been left off the final rolls, and they were unable to vote. In my own electorate the residents of whole streets,includ . ing some of the main business thoroughfares, were left off the rolls, and people who had been resident voters in the district for forty years were deprived of the franchise. It also happened in many instances that members of the same family, living in the same house, found themselves distributed over eight different polling-places in various parts of the electorate. In some instances they had to pass three polling booths on the way to the one for which they had been set down in the lists. This was due to a new arrangement whereby voters were compelled to vote at a particular booth.
– That is a part of the scheme of the Act.
– It may be; but in its administration one would naturally suppose that the members of one family, living in the same house, would be allotted to one polling booth. Instead of that, some considerable trouble appears to have been gone to, by those responsible, to distribute the members of one family over as wide an area as possible, and to secure that no two of them should have the chance of voting at the same booth.
– That must have been accidental.
– That happened, not in one, but in many cases that have come under my personal observation. Many persons who went to vote, after having satisfied themselves that their names were on the roll. were informed, when applying for .their ballot-papers, that they were not on the roll. The roll was shown to them, and although at first sight it appeared that their names were not on the roll, this was subsequently proved to be due to the fact that the lists were not arranged in accurate alphabetical order. On the rolls, after names commencing with “At,” names commencing with “B “ were printed, and subsequently names commencing with “Ar” started again. People were -satisfied that the names for which they were looking were not included in the list according to alphabetical order, when if they had turned over two or three pages of the roll, they would have found that, after passing through “B” and “ C,” names beginning with “A” occurred again, for the same polling booth. This resulted in the disfranchisement of numbers of persons. It is a scandalous state of things, and the fact that it existed calls at least for inquiry. There is also this to be complained about, that, so far as Sydney is concerned, up to the date of the election, it was almost impossible for electors to obtain information which should be open to them. The most absolute secrecy was observed in connexion with matters which were of public concern, and it was impossible to obtain information from officers connected with the Sydney Electoral Office. Persons who sought information from them were curtly refused, or were referred to the Melbourne office, a circumlocutory method which will not, I trust, find sympathy with many members of this House. Every possible information should be open to every elector in connexion with so important a matter, and the fullest facilities should be offered to electors to obtain the information they require in order to exercise a right of citizenship. In speaking upon these “matters, I have no desire to cast any reflection upon the returning officers, presiding officers, and poll clerks who conducted the elections. They were placed in a very difficult position, and, so far as a great many . of them were concerned, in a novel position. I have every reason to believe that the gentlemen intrusted with this portion of the work did . their duty faithfully and well in the majority of cases. I know that I cannot too plainly, express my appreciation of the manner in which the officers appointed to do this work in my electorate performed their duty. I am sorry, however, to say that I cannot express equal appreciation of the manner in which their services have been rewarded by those who have had charge of their remuneration. The utmost parsimony has been exhibited in the payment . of these officers. Notwithstanding the enormous amount of work put upon them, and the fact that some of them actually became indisposed as the result of over-work, their services have not been adequately remunerated, and I understand that in some cases trivial accounts submitted by them are still outstanding. I represented this matter to the Minister previously in charge of the Department. I had his assurance that it would be attended to satisfactorily, but I have reason to believe that even up to the present time the claims made in some cases have not been met. I think sufficient has been said to warrant the appointment of some Committee of investigation into the administration of the Electoral Act during the last general election. I should like to have seen the scope of the motion so widened as to . include an inquiry as to the best means of remedying glaring defects in the Electoral Act.
– An amending Bill will be introduced, and the opportunity will then be given to discuss the matter.
– I thought that probably the inquiry made by the proposed Select Committee might lead to some suggestions being offered in that connexion. As to the personnel of the proposed Committee, I do not agree with that part of the motion. I think it would be very much better if the Committee were selected by ballot.
– The honorable member thinks that a matter of this kind should be left to blind chance.
– If we took a ballot for the selection of the Committee, I do not think it would be left to blind chance. The motion, as it stands, commits the House to the selection of a certain number of honorable members, who are, no doubt, veryestimable gentlemen, but the various States should be fairly represented, and honorable members may prefer to see certain names substituted. It is for the House to decide whether there shall be a ballot. I have no desire to take- up further time, but I support the motion, and trust that the House will carry it.
– A good deal has been said about the conduct of the last election, and the honorable member for Canobolas has, no doubt, moved in the matter in order that the question may be investigated, with a view of improving matters in the future. I am glad that the honorable member has decided to strike out words which would have prejudged the case. I am sure that no one will oppose the motion on its merits, because it merely expresses the desire that we shall investigate the subject in order to see whether unsatisfactory features existed, with a view to remedy them. I think that the only real complaint against the administration of the last elections was that probably the Department did not commence the work of preparing for them as soon as might have been done. The enormous extent of the work that had to be done probably did not present itself to the officials at once. To start a new Depart- 2 y 2 ment, and to organize under a new Act the whole of the electoral machinery of Australia, was a stupendous undertaking - an undertaking which, I venture to say, those who have not looked into it in detail can’ hardly realize. It had not probably appeared to the Department that the work was of such magnitude, and that there was scarcely sufficient time to carry it out in the ‘ event pf the elections taking place, as was whispered would be the case, before the end of the year. Honorable members will recollect that there was some uncertainty as to when the elections would take place. There was no legal necessity for them to be held until after the beginning of the present year. But in order to save money and to have the elections for the Senate and for this House at the same time, it was decided in November that there should be a dissolution last year. That was not definitely determined at an early stage, although the Government did not make a pronouncement until towards the close of the session. Therefore, the Department was not certain until the dissolution of Parliament was approaching, that the general election’ would certainly take place in December last year. Then it was found that there was not time to carry out the work in the way that was desired. The printing of the rolls alone was a work of great magnitude. We were dependent upon the States printing offices. In the matter of the printing of the New South Wales rolls particularly, I regret to say that they were not available forcandi dates or the public until ‘almost polling-day - or, at any rate, until after nomination day. The delay was not caused by the fact that the rolls were not ready to be printed, but was because we could not get the printing done. We even proposed to bring some of the printing over to Melbourne to be done, but that was objected to. The Premier of New South Wales made every effort to expedite the work. He also made a promise which he was not able, altogether, to fulfil, although he did his utmost to do so. The result was that the printing of the rolls in New South Wales, and in almost every State, was a long way behind hand. The errors that crept into them were caused through the hurry scurry. There was not sufficient time in which to carry out the work. I say that, because it is the truth, and because I do not wish to hide from the House the difficulties- the Department was in, although I was then its head. But all those difficulties will not occur again. The machinery is now in working order. The rolls are all in existence. They will be corrected by the Revision Courts, as is necessary. Every endeavour is being made to examine the rolls so as to have names struck off by the Revision Courts, in the case of persons who have left the districts for which they are enrolled,, or who have died.
– Are any new names to be put on ?
– I do not know exactly what the machinery is, but there are means by which every one can put himself on the roll, and can be put on. The registrars attend to that matter, and there is no difficulty in getting on. Every endeavour is being made to make the rolls as complete and as accurate as they should be. [ believe that the honorable ‘ member for Melbourne will agree with me that there are on the Melbourne roll some thousands of names of persons who were not to be found at the last election.
– The proportion of persons who voted at the last Melbourne election was the tenth in the list of proportions recorded throughout Australia.
– I am not referring to those who voted, but to those who were on the rolls, and were not to be found by the canvassers. There were, so I was informed, a great number of such cases. There is, of course, considerable room for care in having the rolls brought up to date. I think that one of the things that gave most annoyance at the last general election was the new system bv which persons were required - it was not compulsory, but still it was intended - to vote at certain polling places. Many persons did not know the name of the polling place to which they had to go. They had not taken the trouble to look. They went to the polling place where thev thought they had to vote, and were told to go to” another one. They were not told that they could vote under form Q as absent voters. On the other .hand, a great many persons exercised the franchise under form Q when there would have been no occasion to do so if they had known the polling place at which they ought to have voted.
– But the trouble was that people frequently found that they were not enrolled.
– To obviate that difficulty, a system was proposed which would, however, entail a large expenditure, even from the point of view of postage. It was proposed that every person throughout Australia should be informed of the name of the polling place at which he was enrolled, and at which he should vote, There is no other way in which the difficulty can be overcome. I believe that in South Australia there is an excellent plan by which, when the census is taken, the officials also’ circulate slips to show electors the polling place at which they are entitled to vote. That system of course gets over the difficulty. But every elector ought to know before a general election takes place at which polling place he is enrolled and where he should record his vote. He ought to be able to go there and vote quickly, and without any trouble. I cannot help saying that notwithstanding the complaints which are made in regard to persons not being upon the rolls, not a very large proportion of those who were enrolled took the trouble to exercise the franchise. I hear very little about that point. I do not suppose that honorable members are inclined to quarrel with the voting. They are inclined to think that it w.as not a bad system that returned them to this House. Most of us, perhaps, are not inclined to condemn altogether a system which has proved so satisfactory to ourselves individually. But the fact remains that not a large proportion of those who were on the rolls took the trouble to vote. We hear a great deal about certain prominent persons, whose names have been upon the electoral rolls for the States for a good many years past, going to exercise their vote, and finding that their names were not on the Federal roll. Perhaps there is some reason for the omission in many cases. When such complaints are made, it is placarded in the newspapers that a certain prominent man found that he was disfranchised. My reply is - “ Why did he not take the trouble to look during the month that the rolls were exhibited ? “
– How many names of persons who did not apply were put upon the rolls, both men and women?
– The names were put upon the rolls by the police. Some of those who complained of not being on the rolls never took the trouble to look at the rolls before the election day.
– Numbers of people took the trouble to look, and applied, .and their names were not put on the roll.
– I do not think that there are numbers of people in that position, although I believe it is a fact that in New South Wales a whole body of people were left off the rolls owing to an accident in the hurry-scurry of printing. But I think it is the duty of every man to see that his name is on the roll. Perhaps I am a sinner myself in not having been careful on some occasions; but that does not’ alter the fact that I ought to take the trouble to see that I am enrolled. It certainly ought to be done by everybody. In my own State I know that has been the practice; in. other States also people had to apply to be enrolled. The police did not go round and gather up the names and put them on the rolls. Every one who wished to be enrolled had to make an application. I think the same practice is adopted in many other countries.
– What is the use of people applying when no notice is taken of the application?
– Many persons about whom I am speaking, not only made no application, but they expected to be put on the roll without applying. Although these people expected to be placed on the roll, they did not take the trouble to see that their names were actually recorded. If such indifference is to be the rule in regard to this important matter, can we, in this big country, blame the police, or those who are charged with the compilation of the rolls, to a greater extent than we blame persons who ought to be eager to see that they are in the position to exercise the privilege of the franchise ? If there is to be any blame, I should place just as much, and perhaps a little more, on the persons who are given this privilege - to which they are entitled by law - and who, although they do not take the slightest trouble to see that their names are on the roll, when they find they have been omitted, turn round and find fault.
– Some who did take the trouble had their applications ignored.
– If those persons to whom the honorable member refers were eager and anxious to exercise the franchise, they would have taken good care to have their names on the roll.
– They tried every means.
– The honorable member would have us believe that it is difficult to get on the roll.
– One who failed was himself a returning officer.
– Then he was a very bad returning officer, or he would have seen that his name was on the roll.
– It used to be very difficult in Western Australia to get on the roll.
– No doubt in Western Australia a form had to be filled up; but there was no further difficulty.
– An elector had to own some property.
– No, there is no qualification except being a male or female adult - for the lower House.
– Anyhow, it was not worse in Western Australia than in Johannesburg.
– I do not think there was any special difficulty under the Act in Western Australia. It is true officers were not sent round to obtain the names, but any one who wished to exercise the franchise had only to apply to be placed on the roll either as an adult or under a property qualification. I am sure that the PostmasterGeneral never found any difficulty in getting his name on the roll in Western Australia.
– I know of many thousands who had difficulty.
– No doubt because they were not qualified.
– It was because Revision Courts were not held except once every three months.
– I know a case in which a collector left out a large number of names which had been sent in.
– I do not remember what the law was as to the dates for holding the Revision Courts. I may, however, say that the electoral law in Western Australia was the most liberal State law in Australia, and it was introduced and passed by myself. I wish to inform the House that the Department for Home Affairs has already taken some steps to remove deficiencies. As soon as the Commonwealth election was over, instructions were given that all the returning officers of the various States should hold a Conference in Melbourne. That Conference extended over some time, and as a result a report has been presented. I do not know whether the honorable member for Canobolas has read the report; but I suppose that, taking the deep interest he does in the matter, he gave it most careful attention before he submitted the motion. The report of the Conference goes into the whole question of the altera- tions in the law which are deemed necessary in order to insure better administration and facilities, and I have no doubt that the conclusions arrived at will be a guide to the Government when they are considering the amendment of the Act.
– I think that every one of the suggestions made at the Conference in regard to administration has been since adopted.
– Honorable members will see that something has been done already; and the Minister for Home Affairs, when he introduces the amending Bill, will, no doubt, be guided by the experience of the officials and also by the experience of himself or other members of the Go- .vernment. We must remember, as I have already pointed out, that this was the first election under a new system and that it applied throughout Australia. Previously there were different systems in the various States ; and I think that the one adopted by the Commonwealth is more in accord with the system of South Australia than with that of any other State. In some of the States, districts were divided, though in Western Australia there were no divisions, the same roll being issued at every. polling place, and voters having the privilege of exercising the franchise at any place within the district. In New South Wales, where the districts were bigger and more populous, there were divisions, the voter, having the privilege of exercising the franchise at any polling place within the division. That was all changed by the practical application of the South Australian system to the whole of Australia; and under the circumstances, is it surprising that there was some difficulty? Then there was a new arrangement made with the concurrence of the House, by which, to as large an extent as possible, the electoral officers should be Commonwealth or State officers; and this meant, in many cases, new men with probably little or no experience. There was’ a good deal of opposition to that arange.ment when it was introduced, returning officer, poll clerks, and other officials all over Australia having looked upon their employment as a sort of standing office or billet, out of which ‘they made a certain amount of money. The Government were charged with parsimony in the administration of the Act. I do not know whether the charge is well founded, but I do not think that it is. In. some cases there may be foundation for the charge, but, at any rate, it must be remembered that the Government had to administer a general law, and, as an election means an immense expense, there was a desire to make the administration as economical as possible. I may say that, in the future,, complaints as to disputed accounts and accounts not paid will not recur, because every, returning officer, poll clerk, and other official throughout Australia, when he accepts the appointment, will sign a paper setting forth the terms on which he is engaged. If a man does not sign the form, he need hot take the appointment. At any rate, there can be no recurrence of the difficulty such as in the case of the late elections occurred all over Australia, one officer charging twoor three guineas and another, perhaps, twenty guineas, for the same work. In fact, it would seem that the Commonwealth Electoral Branch is regarded as a sort of milch cow - that every one employed expects to be paid a high remuneration for his work.
– When that suggestion was made by the then Opposition, the right honorable member would not give us credit for making it.
– I have experienced the difficulty ; and as Minister I tried my best to act liberally in the settlement of accounts. I found great difficulty, however, in getting matters adjusted, because when one officer is paid more than another, the latter wants ‘to know the reason. I hope, however, that in the future all that will be obviated. The present Minister will’, no doubt, find the same, difficulty as I found, and will be very glad to see a definite system adopted, by which every one employed will know, before he undertakes the work, what he is to be paid. There is another point on which, perhaps, information may be obtained. We have recently had two elections - one ‘in Melbourne and one in the Riverina - and I should like to have some information from those conversant with the circumstances whether the same dif- Acuities and complaints, which were so common in regard to the first elections, have been repeated in regard to these two. I am inclined to think that now the machinery is in better order, and a going concern, the two elections referred to have been carried out satisfactorily and without complaint. If that be so, it shows that the whole difficulty in the first elections was occasioned by the hurry.-scurry to which I have referred. ‘ I do not rise for the purpose of opposing the motion. I regard the proposal as unnecessary; but if honorable members are willing to undertake the work there is no reason why they should not do so. I feel quite certain that all that may be proved against the manner in which the first general election was carried out, will be found to have been due to the new Act and the new system, and to there not being sufficient time at the last moment to make absolutely complete arrangements, especially in regard to the printing of the rolls. I can see no harm whatever that can be done by the proposed investigation ; indeed, the more the matter is investigated, the better for all of us. I believe,’ however, that when the investigation is completed it will not be possible to say that there has been any want of zeal, application, or determination on the part of those intrusted with the management of the Electoral Branch in any endeavour to achieve the best and most satisfactory results.
– Whilst I quite admit that an inquiry of the sort suggested may not be as needful now as it was at an earlier stage, I have no objection whatever to such a Committee being appointed, for the purpose of giving what information can be gathered for our future guidance in the conduct of electoral matters. All I have to say on the motion may be expressed in very few words. The constitution of this Committee - which will have to deal with matters affecting all members of the House - if it had any party complexion previously, has no party complexion to-day. The Minister who might have been held responsible by such a Committee does not now occupy his seat on the Treasury benches; and under the circumstances, I think the representation on the Committee ought to be as equally as possible divided throughout the House. As we have three practically equal sections in the Chamber, the Committee ought to be divided into three parts. I am not now speaking from a personal point of view, because, although my name appears amongst those proposed as members of the Committee. I have requested the mover to remove it, as. I anticipate claims on my time which would interfere with my attendance.
– I raised no objection to the composition of the Committee, because I thought that the honorable member for Canobolas was anxious to give the different States representation,
– I selected the proposed members of the Committee in order to secure State representation, without any reference to party.
– I certainly think that the honorable member was right, and that the different States ought to be represented on the Committee. But we have also to remember the fact that circumstances have changed since the. proposed Committee was first nominated; and I believe it will be in the interests of the House generally to have upon it an equal representation of all sections. I say that with the desire that some other honorable member should take my place, as I should prefer, for reasons which I have given, not to be on the Committee. There has been a list pre pared, which, fairly representing as it does the various sections of the House, may do away with the necessity for a ballot - a mode of selection which I do not recognise as the best possible in this case.
– On looking at this motion, I noticed two things: first of all how necessary it was, and how in accord with the feeling of the whole House, an investigation such as that proposed would be ; and, secondly, that the investigation is proposed to be carried out by practically one party in.the House. I do not think that that party would wish to gain complete control over the investigation of electoral’ matters. I am quite sure that they do not wish to get the conduct of electoral matters completely into their own hands, consequently, I anticipate that they will not object to having the three parties in the House properly represented.
– There is no objection to that.
An Honorable Member. - And also the different States?
– Yes; I looked into that question, and I found that it would be very simple to remedy that omission, and also to remove the other objection. I propose to move an amendment to the second part of the motion:
– The mover of the motion is looking into that matter with the honorable member for North Sydney, and I would therefore ask the honorable member to refrain from moving an amendment at the present time.
– In view of the fact that the mover is looking into the question, I shall not move an amendment, but I understood that he desired that the motion should stand in its present form.
– I am only too glad to learn that the motion is to be altered in the way desired.
– Notwithstanding the various complaints which have been made. I fail to see the necessity for the appointment of a Select Committee to make an investigation at the present time. It appears to me to involve purely a- waste of time, and to be another effort to shift the responsibility. I do not think that a single objection may be made in regard to administration or incidents under the Electoral Act which has not been called attention to in their report by the electoral officers. If a Select Committee is appointed the probability is that the amendment of the Act may be deferred for a very considerable time - perhaps its recommendations may not be given effect to before another election is held. As regards the complaints which have been made about the Electoral Act, I think the whole position is summed up in the statement of the honorable member for Swan. They are to be attributed to the fact that the conditions and circumstances were entirely new. The first great trouble -was due to the delay in the publication of the rolls as they were compiled. Honorable members who sat in the last House are fully aware of the reason why the publication was delayed. It was done in order that an attempt might be made - owing, to objections raised in the House - to get the rolls made more complete. It was felt that a very considerable number of names had been omitted. When his attention was drawn to that fact, the late Minister for Home Affair’s stated that he would have further inquiries made, and this delayed the publication of the rolls. Then, when the rolls were compiled, the time between the date of their exhibition to the public and the date of the holding of the Revision Courts was very short, and although an instruction was issued that applications from those whose names had not appeared on the rolls should be lodged some six or eight days before the meeting of the Revision Courts in . order that they might have a chance of being placed on the supplementary rolls, it was found impossible to have such names returned to the Revision Courts in order that they might be dealt with, or any inquiry might be made. Consequently, it was a scratch business from beginning to end. Although the Electoral Act clearly provides that all applications and claims submitted to certain authorities before the issue of the writ must be considered, and qualified persons be enrolled and allowed to vote on election day, still, it was known to the Department, and even to honorable members, that it was absolutely impossible to do so. That is a reasonable ground for complaint. It is within the knowledge of honorable members that the conditions were such as I have described, and therefore what good can be gained by holding an inquiry in that direction? We are as fully seized of all these facts as are the officers of the Department. In the case of my own district - a district not far removed from a central office, and well supplied with postal facilities - the applications of some persons were lodged on the eve of the issue of the writs; and yet, owing to the time required for holding an inquiry, it was found absolutely impossible to get that information, and to have the names enrolled, and the amended rolls returned to the officers by election day.
– There are a great many cases where it was possiblewhere the names of many thousands of persons were not placed on the roll.
– I aca quoting instances where, to all outward appearances, it should have been possible. An applicant was within a day’s postal communication from the central office, and half a day’s postal communication from the divisional returning officer; and yet, owing to the time which would have been occupied in sending his name to the central office, and. inquiry by the proper authorities as to the validity or otherwise of the- application, it was found absolutely! impossible to have the names placed upon the roll. When that state of affairs prevails under the conditions I have stated, although so many facilities ar-j provided, what possible chance of being enrolled would a person have in the remote districts of New South’ Wales or Queensland? It is in that direction that attention must be given. Again, a great many electors, owing to the conditions being novel, did not know whom they should apply to; and it was practically not until nomination day that electoral registrars were appointed throughout the length and breadth of the Commonwealth. I know that in many instances - I could cite a few cases in my own district - these officers were not provided with the necessary forms with which to meet the requirements of such applicants as might appeal to them within the specified time. Is it necessary now to appoint a Select Committee to waste more time ?
– Not to waste time, but to pursue an investigation which is absolutely imperative.
– We have had all these complaints voiced on the floor of the House, and if the Electoral Department has any justification for its existence, it should consist in. the fact that it possesses this information, and is in a position to cope with the difficulties which have been presented through the operation of the Act. Again, with regard to voting, we know that in some States - in Victoria for instance - the method of recording voteswas a departure from that which had prevailed for many years. I have heard many electors throughout this State express the opinion that the new plan of an elector marking a cross opposite the name of the candidate for whom he wishes to vote, is preferable to the old method of scoring through the name of the candidate for whom he did not wish to vote.
– Yet the marking of the cross led to a number of complications in the recent test case.
– It did wherever it was a new departure, but how few informal votes were recorded in South Australia, where this system has been in operation for a considerable number of years. All the electors to whom I have spoken on the subject admit that it is preferable to the old Victorian system, particularly when the ballot-paper contains twenty or twenty-five names, and the elector has to vote for only four candidates. In the case of the first general elections to this Parliament, the old plan of scoring through the names of the candidates caused more informal votes than did anything else. I think that experience has shown that the Federal system is a great improvement on the old Victorian method. . With regard to the right of electors to vote at any polling place within their constituency, and the grouping of electors on the roll, a great deal of annoyance and inconvenience was caused to electors, owing to the fact that, in the first instance, the police, instead of being told to compile the rolls and group the electors according to their residence or location round the polling booths, received no instruction except to send in the names in batches, the grouping being attempted to be done in the central office. In the case of my electorate the name of every person in one district was sent in to the central office in batches, yet when the rolls were published the names of as many as 100 persons - all the residents in one parish, in which there had been a polling booth for twenty-five years - had been omitted from the polling list. Strange to say, their names appeared on a list pertaining to a polling place at least fifteen miles distant. Being naturally anxious to get their names placed on the roll before election day, a considerable number of them sent their names down forthwith, ‘through the police authorities, to the central office ; but, owing to the confusion and hurry which existed, the names of a large proportion of them were not put on the polling list for which they applied. The policeman - a very’ capable man, who carried out his duties well - had inquiries made, and found that the name of every person in the district, without an exception, had already been submitted, and had been placed on the roll, but in the wrong place. That is not an isolated case. It is a case where the names of all the residents in a district were misplaced on the roll. I know a number of instances in the Mansfield district where the names of the members of a family, consisting of six or seven persons, should, owing to their location, have appeared on the same polling list, but were placed on no less than four polling lists. They were expected to go a distance of perhaps thirty or forty miles, right across a watershed, when there was a polling booth within a few miles of their residence. All that people required to do was to satisfy themselves that their names appeared on some roll, but unfortunately they could see only the list pertaining to their own polling booth. They had not an opportunity of seeing the list pertaining to a polling place perhaps forty or fifty miles distant in the same division. Consequently they thought that their names had been struck off the rolls. Again, some persons who knew that their names were on the roll were not aware that they could vote at any polling booth within their constituency, and, worse than that, a stupid provision was put inform Q. - I believe by the House -
– About the witness?
– No; I refer to the provision about putting in the number on the roll. It might be possible that rolls had been in existence for a considerable time, but the rolls used at the last general elections were, as the honorable member for Swan said only published in portions of NewSouth Wales a few days before that event. How could an elector tell a returning officer his number on the roll when he had not had an opportunity to see that roll?
That matter is also referred to in this report. Of course, it is not possible that I should have heard every complaint that had been made, but every complaint that I have heard, both inside and outside the House, is dealt with here. The experience of honorable members, and their knowledge of what has actually occurred in the administration of the Act, and its effect upon those engaged in various occupations throughout the Commonwealth, is surely sufficient to put us in a position to deal with the situation straight away. Would it have been reasonable to expect the Act to prove perfect in its first operation? Knowing the circumstances under which the general election was carried out, and the arrangements for conducting it were made, it is a matter for surprise that the results were so good. The rolls had to be prepared very hurriedly, and the electors were not well acquainted with the provisions of the Act. Voting by post was a new departure in some of the States, though it had been in existence in Victoria for a little while, and the electors did not fully realize that the privilege was necessarily hedged round by safeguards against abuse. I know that in Riverina many persons thought that all that was necessary to enable one to vote by post was to go to the nearest returning officer the day before the election and ask him for a postal ballot-paper, to be afterwards filled in and posted. But the electors will gradually become educated in regard to these and the other provisions of the Act. There is one other matter to which I wish to refer, and that is the system adopted in regard to the remuneration of returning officers. I agree with the right honorable member for Swan that uniformity is desirable where possible. But it does not seem reasonable or just to pay one man whose duties have caused him four or five days of work at exactly the same rate as another man who has been called upon to give up only one day.
– That was the original difficulty in fixing a scale.
– A subject of. this kind is one to which I would not refer if I were not forced to do so. I regard it as necessary to refer to it now, because injustice hasbeen done to very competent men, who have spared, no time or trouble in the efficient discharge of their duties, but who, when they have made only what to my mind was a fair and’ reasonable charge, have had the pen run through their accounts, and the sum of £2 2 s. paid to them, without any inquiry as to the merits of their claim or the nature of the work performed. I trust that the Minister will give his attention to this matter. If the House is determined to appoint a Committee, I do not care how it is selected. I am not afraid that the members of the Committee will be influenced by party feelings; I am sure that those who are chosen will consider only the interest of the electors of Australia. But I do. not think it desirable to have an unwieldly Committee. If four or five members only are appointed, and they get to work straight away, and adopt business methods, they can submit the result of their investigations to the House within a fortnight or three weeks. My experience elsewhere has been that the reports of Committees and Commissions are often so long delayed that it becomes doubtful whether the day of Judgment or the presentation of a report will occur first. I hope that such delay will not occur in connexion with any Committee appointed by this House. While I throw out these suggestions, I do not depart from my original position that the appointment of a Committee is unnecessary, seeing that we have all requisite information at hand.
– I do not agree with the last speaker that the appointment of a Committee is unnecessary. I think that the experience of honorable members generally points to the need for a searching investigation of the past administration of the Electoral Department, with a view to the suggestion of such reforms as will make the machinery of that Department work more satisfactorily in the future. No doubt legislative action is necessary to bring about a better state of things. But, apart from that, inquiry into the working of the Department is needful. I speak on this subject without the slightest personal feeling, though perhaps the case has been prejudiced hitherto by the personalities which have been introduced from time to time. I am very gratified at the complete change of front shown by the right honorable member for Swan. When he sat upon the Ministerial” side of the Chamber he stoutly defended’ the administration of the Electoral Department, and resisted to the uttermost all proposals for an inquiry such as is now sought for. However, a change of position appears to have brought about some modification of his opinions, and we have heard him say this afternoon that he considers the appointment of the proposed Commit- tee advisable. I understand that Ministers are favorable to an investigation by a Committee; but I wish to say a word or two as a guide to those who may be chosen to serve upon it, because, no doubt, they will read the. report of our debates upon electoral administration in order to gather up matter for an investigation. One subject which I would suggest is this - When the proposed re-distribution of seats was being fiercely discussed in this Chamber, the Minister then in charge of the Electoral Department brought down a new set of figures almost every day, and at the bottom of them were some mysterious initials which none of us recognised. I challenged him time and again to give us figures certified to by the Chief Electoral Officer, and countersigned by the electoral officer in Sydney who was responsible for their collection. I could not get such figures, though under any proper system of administration the two officers would work harmoniously, and it would be possible to get figures for which both of them would be ready to vouch, and as to which there could be no cavilling. The Committee might therefore find out what are the relations between the State office and the head office in Melbourne. It should be the duty of the State office to collect the rolls, and of the Federal office to make them up for Federal purposes.
– That is another argument for a Commonwealth Statistical. Department. ‘
– No doubt such a Department will in time be brought into existence, but it is impossible now. So long as the State officials collect our rolls there should be the most complete harmony between them and the Federal officials. The present administration of the Department, as of all the -Departments, is being ‘hampered and fettered by the centralization which obtains. One cannot get sixpence spent anywhere within the Commonwealth without first receiving the authority of an officer in Melbourne. Such a system is absurd. We might as well do without branch Offices in the States if the officials there are to have no power, because they serve no practical purpose. At the present time if we go to them for information we cannot obtain it. In this connexion I should again liketo refer to a case which I mentioned yesterday. A man erected polling booths at Windsor and Richmond, in my electorate, and he has not yet been paid for’ his work, although his claim has been certified to as correct by the presiding officer for the elec torate. The whole matter has been hung up in Melbourne for months past. I saw the Chief Electoral Officer two months ago about it, and he told me in a letter which I afterwards received from him that authority for payment would be sent immediately. I thought that everything was settled, until later on I received a letter from the man himself, saying that he had not been paid his money. Then I saw the Minister, but nothing was done for another three weeks. Now I learn that the case is settled, and that authority has been sent to Sydney for the payment of the money. My first impulse was to go to the Sydney office for information, but the officials there looked blankly at me, and said that they knew nothing about these matters. I might mention that the authority to pay is directed to the cashier at the General Post Office in Sydney. What he has to do with the matter I do not know, though the arrangement which makes him paymaster may be a wise one. All these matters, however, should filter through the Sydney Electoral Office, and should be dealt with on the spot by responsible officers. The Committee will do well to inquire whether the present system of centralization cannot be changed for a direct and’ more efficient control. I do not propose to say anything with regard to the actual conduct of the elections, because I should probably have to repeat what has been already said by others. I shall content myself by proposing to alter the personnel of the Committee. The honorable member for Canobolas has, in perfect good faith, proposed names of honorable members whom he thought would fairly represent all the States, and any one knowing the honorable member will acquit him of any intention to. appoint a partisan Committee. There is no reason, however, why the usual course should not be followed, and why States and parties also should not be fairly represented. I move -
That the names of Mr. Poynton, Mr. Dugald Thomson, and Mr. Maloney be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the names of Sir William Lyne, Mr. McLean,’ Mr. Kelly, and Mr. Cameron.
– The honorable mem ber for Melbourne has seen me, and has indicated that he wishes to withdraw his amendment. Is it the desire of honorable members that the amendment should be withdrawn?
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
– Great dissatisfaction exists in my constituency, in common with others, concerning the conduct of the last general election. Many electors were then, for the first time for many years, deprived of the franchise owing to the gross incapacity shown by the electoral offiers. My predecessor in this House, who has been a resident of the district for twenty-five or thirty years, found that, whilst there was a polling place within a mile and a half of his house, he was placed upon the roll for a polling place fifteen miles distant. Examples of this kind could be met with all through the electorate. Another well-known resident informed me that although he had given the names of himself and his wife and other members of his family to the electoral officer, and had seen them written down, he could not find them upon the roll for any polling place within fifty miles. Bungling seems to have taken place all through the piece, and general dissatisfaction has resulted. The grouping system adopted by the Department was most unsatisfactory, and would not stand favorable comparison with the method adopted in connexion with the State elections. A great many electors were placed upon the roll for polling places where they had no right to be, and, as a result, many were under the impression that their names were not on the roll, and therefore refrained from taking steps to record their votes. A sweeping change was instituted, and as only the very faintest indication of its nature was given to the electors it is not to be wondered at that so many people expressed dissatisfaction. The instructions sentout, from time to time, from the Electoral Office showed that the officials, or some of them, had very curious notions as to the way in which a general election should be conducted. The usual method of counting the votes is to make up the return for each polling booth and send the information to the principal Returning Officer. For somereason, this method was departed from, and I do not think the alteration was a wise one - although possibly it may have been. The first proposal, however, was a most extraordinary one to apply to a scattered constituency such as mine. It was suggested that the whole of the ballotboxes should be collected, and sent to the town where the Divisional Returning Officer was situated, namely, Portland, before the votes were counted. This would, in many cases, have involved carrying the boxes for 40 or 50 miles on horseback, and per haps another 100 or 120 miles by train. It was gravely proposed to collect all the ballot-boxes in the constituency and send them by coach or rail to one common centre to have the votes counted. If that scheme had been adopted, I doubt whether we should have learned the result of the election before the end of December. Fortunately, saner counsels prevailed at the last moment. As it was, however, the electoral officers were bewildered and confused by contrary directions, and a vast amount of work was thrown upon their shoulders, which, whilst subjecting the candidates to great inconvenience, conferred no benefit upon the public. I think that the unfortunate candidate has a right to be considered in these matters. The sooner he is put out of his misery the better. As matters turned out, the candidates were kept on tenterhooks for an unreasonable time. It is all very well for those candidates who get here, but it is very unpleasant for those who are kept unduly waiting for the result of the election.
– What has the honorable and learned member to grumble at.
– I am not grumbling; but I am thinking of the other candidate, whose party celebrated what they deemed to be a victory, by vociferous cheers, and by indulging in liquid refreshment about two hours too early. I felt very sorry for them when the returns were completed. The conditions to which I have referred show that the system adopted was not very successful from any point of view. One point has not been touched upon yet. and that is the faulty drafting of the Electoral Act. Candidates are placed undera great many restrictions, but there is practically no penalty for disregarding the Act. It is provided that no candidate shall spend more than . £100 in election expenses, but no adequate penalty can be inflicted for exceeding that amount. Such an offence does not constitute bribery, and it does not come within the definition of an “ illegal practice.” It is simply a breach of the Act, for which the maximum punishment is a fine not exceeding £50.
– Will the honorable and learned member assist us to make the Act workable ?
– Certainly, I shall. My own feeling is that, if a candidate does not comply with the provisions of the Act with regard to expenses, he should be unseated. That is provided for under the English law, and also in the State of South
Australia, and we should adopt the same provision in the Commonwealth Statute. If a candidate spent .£1,000 in securing his election, the only penalty to which he would be liable would be a fine not exceeding £s°-
– If the expenses are to be fixed at a certain amount, the electorates should all be of the same size.
– I represent one of the largest electorates in Victoria, and without revealing the secrets of the Department, I think I may say that I got through my election as cheaply as any honorable member. I do not care what amount is fixed. It should be not only illegal to exceed the maximum, but the successful candidate who did so should lose his seat. Either this penalty should be provided for, or the section should be struck out. If the provision for the limitation of expenses is to be operative, its violation should result in a member losing his seat. A number of offences are dealt with in sections 173, 174, 175, 176, 177, 178, and 180, for which no real penalty is provided. In England, where the Corrupt Practices Act is of a most stringent character, and is drawn in a very skilful and workmanlike fashion, the heaviest penalty is inflicted for a breach of the Act, namely, the loss of a seat. Our High Court, however, has decided recently that a man may be guilty of all the corrupt practices enumerated in the Act - may be a corrupt candidate, may corrupt the electors, and may be dishonest in his. candidature in every shape and form - and still we have not the power to unseat him. The Act is not a credit to the draftsman, and the attempt which has been made to shorten its language by providing for a table of offences and punishments, instead of making specific provision for each case, has rendered it, to a very large extent inoperative. If it be the wish of Parliament and the public to keep elections free from corrupt practices, the punishment should be sharp and severe. Men who are guilty of corrupt practices should not be allowed to sit in Parliament. We should either strike out the restrictive clause or make them effective. I feel a good deal of sympathy for those candidates who have had to put up with improper practices on the part of their opponents, and who are powerless to visit punishment upon them. The Act reflects no credit upon the Government which introduced it, and the sOoner it is amended the better. I was rather disappointed to hear the Prime Min ister say that it was intended to make bribery, and apparently bribery only, a ground for depriving a member of his seat. The Amending Bill must go a great deal further than that if it is to be satisfactory to the House. Adequate punishment must be provided for all cases of corrupt practice.
– There could be no moresevere penalty than to deprive a member of his seat. .
– In England, if s candidate is found to be guilty of corrupt practice, he is. not only ejected from Parliament, but prevented from becoming a candidate for some considerable time afterwards. I do not say that we should go so far as that; but that principle has been adopted in the interests of the people, and accepted without question in a country in which the experience in electoral matters is much wider than our own. I hope that the Committee will have power to deal with these matters; that it will not be limited to a consideration of the mere question of the want of administrative ability shown by the Department; but that it will also direct its attention to the largely farcical nature of the Act, and the necessity for amending it on a proper and common-sense basis.
– I agree with the honorable member who has just resumed his’ seat, that we shall act wisely in agreeing to the appointment of a representative Select Committee of this House, to investigate the inconsistencies shown in the administration of the Act at the last general election. I recognise that, as the right honorable member for Swan has pointed out, we must not lose sight of the fact that the Act had but recently come into operation, and that the officers called upon to administer it were entirely new to the work. The whole staff, from the highest official to the humblest assistant in the Department, was new to the procedure to be adopted, and. in dealing with the complaints that have been made, full attention should be given to that fact. I have the honour to represent an electorate which comprises a greater number of electors than is to be found in any other Commonwealth constituency, and I am aware of the difficulties which the officers experienced in seeking to put the electoral machinery into good working order. I recognise that in the discharge of that duty they displayed a degree of energy which deserves every consideration. It seems to me that a great deal of the blame attached to them individually was attributable “rather to the Act itself than to any failing on their part. One of the evils which became very manifest during the contest in my electorate was the want of proper grouping, a matter to which reference has already been made. One would imagine that in a . . suburban electorate, such as that which I represent, the mere fact that a polling booth was .’.tot very conveniently situated would not prevent a large number of persons recording their votes ; but my experience teaches me that the inconvenient situation of polling booths very seriously reduced the number of those who exercised the franchise at the last election. In addition to the want of proper grouping there was a failure, in selecting the booths, to recognise that many voters had to travel by rail to record their votes. It was certainly desirable that the polling places should be as near as possible to railway stations, in order that those who had to go to the city might be able to record their votes with as little inconvenience as possible. In one or two cases in my own electorate, however, the polling booths were most inconveniently situated. I hope that the Committee will consider it within its province to deal with matters of this kind, and to suggest the framing of regulations under the Act that will obviate the recurrence of such defects. The point as -to the desirableness of securing a thoroughly representative Committee has already been dealt with, and I am satisfied that it is the wish of the honorable member for Canobolas that the Committee shall be one that will be able to deal effectively with every phase pf the question. I trust that it will supplement the able report that has been issued by the Chief Electoral Officer by placing the House in possession of the results of its investigations before we are called upon to deal with that absolute necessity, the amendment of the Electoral Act. Reference has been made during the debate to the difficulties which were experienced by many electors in ascertaining whether their names appeared on the rolls. To my mind those difficulties were due to the haste with which the arrangements had to be carried out, and to the novelty of the whole procedure ; but many of those who had to administer the Act considered that the facilities offered for the inspection of the rolls were insufficient. I am aware of a number of cases in which electors who desired to. record their votes found, on attending for that purpose at the polling booth, that their names were not on the rolls. I heartily agree with the motion, but the difficulties which were encountered in administering what was really a new piece of legislation should not be forgotten when we are dealing with the manner in which the last general election was caried out. It seems to me that it would be advisable to require the head of every household to fill up a form - on the lines of the papers used in the collection of the Census returns - setting forth the names of all the occupants of his dwelling. To my own knowledge a number of occupants of dwellinghouses were not included in the lists supplied for the preparation of the rolls, and I feel satisfied that if the proposal I have made were carried out it would be attended with useful results. If we do not secure a complete and perfect roll we shall defeat the aims and objects of the laws under which we exist. It is a disgrace to the community that so many persons should fail to record their votes, and I would suggest the desirableness of the Minister or the Committee considering whether it would not be wise to provide for the infliction of a small penalty on those who persistently neglect to exercise their right of citizenship.
– The tone of the debate and the reasonable attitude adopted by honorable members in urging that an inquiry should be made into the conduct of the last general election disarms any opposition on the part of a representative of the Department. No accusation has been made against any of the officers, but the request that an inquiry into the whole matter should ‘ take place has been preferred in the most reasonable terms. The motion, as amended, certainly contains nothing to which exception can be taken, and the personnel of the proposed Select Committee apparently gives satisfaction to the House. I was pleased to see the right honorable member for Swan rise to support this motion, because I certainly should have felt some diffidence in agreeing to a proposition that might otherwise have been regarded as a reflection on his administration. It is undoubtedly well that in criticising the Department, we should recognise the immense difficulties which confronted the officers and the very short period within which- they had to organize a scheme for conducting the elections on a uniform system throughout the whole of Australia. They had to make arrangements so that practically from Cape York to Cape Leeuwin, and from Geraldton to Melbourne; every elector on the roll should be able on the same day and between the same hours to record his or her vote at the polling booths provided. That giant task required some organization, and in dealing with the complaints we should certainly have some consideration for the difficulties which were encountered. It was not so much the work of organization itself as the short time in which that work had to be carried out that occasioned difficulty. Let me say that’ some of the grievances to which reference has been made during this debate have already been removed’. The complaint as to electors who found that their names were not on the rolls is, as we all know, a perennial one. No matter what system we adopt we shall continue to hear such complaints ; but the Commonwealth rolls are certainly being brought up to a greater state of efficiency than was previously the case. When purging the rolls for the electorate of Melbourne of the names of those who, because of their removal to other districts, were not entitled to vote, we also arranged for the police to collect names that were not on the list, although they were entitled to appear upon them. It is no part of the duty of the Department to confine its attention to the removal of names from the rolls. What we desire is that every elector who is quali.fied shall be on the rolls.
– The Government wish to build up as well as to destroy.
– We wish to remove from the rolls the name of every one who is not entitled to appear on them, and to see that every one who is qualified is included in the list. Great laxity is undoubtedly shown by the electors themselves. Many of them rarely take the trouble to ascertain whether their names appear on the rolls until an election is at hand. It is only at the last moment - generally when they go to the polling booth - that they make the discovery that their names have been omitted. The facilities offered to electors to ascertain whether they have been enrolled are very extensive, and should be sufficient for the purpose ; but in practice we know that they are not wide enough to maintain the rolls in an effective condition. Although the South Australian system boasts of many excellent features, I cannot say that even the rolls of that State are kept up to that standard of effectiveness that we should like to see. In the course of twelve months they are often found to comprise the names of many who should not be on the rolls, while the names of others, who have removed from one district to another, and have not taken the trouble to transfer their names from one list to another, do not appear on them. In view of the necessity for making some alterations in the boundaries of districts in New South Wales, as well as in Victoria, and, perhaps, in some of the other States, instructions are being issued to the police to purge the rolls of names that should not appear upon them, to collect the names of others that have been omitted, and, as far as lies within their power, to bring the rolls up to date. Some reference has been made to the Conference of electoral officers which recently took place in Melbourne, and I have to inform the House that nearly all the recommendations made by it have been adopted. One proposal deals with what has been a source of great difficulty - the fixing of the remuneration to be paid to assistant returning officers and other officials engaged in conducting elections. All assistant returning officers are not on the same footing. In some cases an assistant returning officer has but one polling place under his control, while in others he has sixteen or twenty, or even more, and has to travel over a large tract of country, and to transact much work that does not fall to others. In these circumstances it was difficult to fix a uniform charge, and it is due to that difficulty that so many accounts have been in dispute. Some of the electoral officers under the States system have received a very much higher rate of payment than have those of other States. In the endeavour to secure something like uniformity - because the attempt to secure uniformity had to be made - those electoral officers, who, under the State system, received a generous, and, in some cases, a lavish payment, as compared with that of others, felt that they had not been fairly treated. They expected the Commonwealth to allow them a similar remuneration, and did not think the payment made by the Federation was a reasonable one. That has been responsible for a large number of disputed accounts, more particularly in Queensland, where the scale of payments under the State system was much higher than that- in some of the other States. That applies to some extent also in . New South Wales. . It was suggested that, after the experience of the general election much better results might have been expected in the two by-elections which have since taken place, and any unbiased person will admit that there has been very great improve-
I ment. In the case of the last election held for Melbourne the administration was, I think, fairly satisfactory, and there was very little to complain about.
– Satisfactory in its results?
– It was highly satisfactory in its results, and it was satisfactory also I think from the point of view that reasonable facilities were afforded to electors to vote; also there was promptitude in the payment of accounts. It is too soon yet to say whether there have been any failures of administration in connexion with the second Riverina election. An officer of the Department was sent up to the district to organize the election, and, according to the latest report we have from the officers in that district, not a single hitch has occurred. I have no doubt that as the electors become accustomed to a form of registration and voting which is novel as compared with the practice of which they have previously had experience, all friction and grievance will quickly subside.
– They will subside if we have local responsible officers doing local work.
– The honorable member must be aware of the necessity for uniformity of method. So far as many matters are concerned, the practice must be uniform, and the difficulty of securing uniformity of practice where persons administering the Act have been used to an entirely different practice is so great that it is only, fair we should make allowance for the difficulties which naturally existed. I am pleased with the tone of the debate, and I am hopeful that the results of the investigation by the Select Committee will assist the Department and the public generally to a better knowledge of the best methods of conducting our elections. Our object, of course, is that every possible facility shall be provided to the electors to record their votes.
– As I understand there is a desire to curtail this debate in order that a decision upon the motion may be come to before the House rises for the tea adjournment, I do not propose to occupy much time. I wish, however, to move an amendment to the first paragraph- of the motion. It appears to me that it is not wise to appoint a Select Committee merely to inquire into the administration of the Electoral Act, without enabling the Committee at the same time to point out what defects, if any, are to be found in the law._ The right honorable member for Swan, in the I course of his speech, said that the police were instructed to put the names of men on the electoral roll. Speaking for Tasmania, I am in a position to say that they were instructed to put the names of female electors on the rolls; but they were not instructed, and, except in one or two instances, they did not put the names of male electors on the rolls in that State There is a certain establishment, not far from Hobart, known as the Invalide Dep6t, where there are some 300 men. These men were never placed on an electoral roll for the State Parliament, but they were put on the Federal roll, and so far as I know, the names of no other men were put on the Federal rolls by the police. Men on the State rolls were not transferred to the Federal rolls in a number of cases. I wish to move -
That after the word “ House,” line 7, the following words be added : “ With power to suggest amendments in the existing Electoral Act.”
I move this amendment with the consent of the honorable member for Canobolas, and I understand that the Government have no objection to it. It will widen the scope of investigation by the Select CommitteeIt seems to me that, whilst members of the Committee ‘will have time to investigate the administration of” the Electoral Act, they will also have time to investigate the defects of the Act itself, and they will bc able to report to the House, for the benefit of honorable members who have not time to devote to the subject, what amendments should be made. I think that, unless these words are added, it will be of little use to appoint the proposed Committee.
– I point out to the honorable member for Wilmot that there is an amendment already before the Chair, with a view to striking out certain names in the second paragraph of the motion. It is, therefore, impossible for me at this stage to accept any amendment relating to an earlier portion of the motion. Perhaps the honorable member who moved the previous amendment will temporarily withdraw it?
– I withdraw it with pleasure.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment (by Mr. Cameron) proposed -
That after the word “ House,” line 7, the foi- lowing words be added - “ With power to suggest amendments in the existing Electoral Act.”
– I am verv glad to hear that the tone of the debate has been a pleasant one. I am afraid that was not the disposition of thousands of electors, who found themselves robbed ot their votes at the last general election. We are here preserving perfect impartiality in view of the fact that, until the proposed inquiry is made, we cannot have any sound opinion upon matters of which we have no personal knowledge. I quite applaud the disposition to be absolutely impartial until we have a proper inquiry. I am satisfied that that is the disposition of the Government, and after the inquiry we shall see whether all the strictures which have been uttered were justified. I rather approve of the suggestion contained in the amendment moved by the honorable member for Wilmot, because I think we can scarcely inquire into the administration of the Electoral Act without giving the Select Committee some power to make suggestions for its amendment.
– Is not that conveyed by the motion ?
– If it is so understood, that is all that is required.
– I have no objection to the insertion of the words proposed ; but I think it is understood.
– We ought to make sure of it.
– I am afraid that it might not be so understood by the members of the Select Committee. For’ instance, during the deliberations by the Committee some suggestion might be made with respect to an alteration of the Act, and a discussion might then arise as to whether the suggested amendment dealt with a matter of administration. If it were decided that it did not, it might be contended that the Committee was appointed only to inquire into the question of administration. Perhaps it is somewhat novel to delegate to a Select Committee of the House a duty of this kind.
– That difficulty has just been suggested to me by the Minister for Home Affairs.
– That may be so; but I do not see why we should be tied up by somewhat musty rules. There is no party complexion about the Electoral Act.
– The proposed Committee is fairly representative of the whole House.
– There being no party feeling in connexion with this motion, I think that what is proposed might safely be done in this instance.
– The right honorable and learned member will see that another difficulty is that this may hang up unnecessarily ‘* the introduction of an amending Electoral
Bill, as the proposed amendment may be taken by the Select Committee as an instruction.
– It must be understood that it is not to do that. It must be understood that we do not desire the Select Committee to draw up a new Bill for us, or anything of that sort. What is intended by the amendment is that, if the Committee, in the course of their labours, discover something of so much importance that they think it necessary to suggest some alteration of the law, they should be at liberty to do so.
– I think that is already conveyed by the motion.
– The amendment would do no harm, as the Select Committee need not make any suggestions unless, they like.
– I notice that the Minister for Home Affairs will be one of the members of the Committee, and I think I might ask my honorable friend the member for Wilmot to accept the statement of the Prime Minister, as the amendment he proposes might, if agreed to, lead to a lot of idle discussion in the Committee about the Electoral Act.
– I propose only that the Committee may make suggestions for the amendment of the Act if thev think it desirable to do so.
– My honorable friend might accept the assurance of the Prime Minister that there will be no difficulty about that being done if it is found desirable.
– If that is understood, I have no objection to withdraw the amendment.
– There might be an election at any time, and it would be wise to secure admittedly necessary amendments of the law before other matters are considered.
– I have no desire at present to suggest any controversial matters, because we should not involve a. Select Committee in matters of heated controversy. But I do hope that the Committee when appointed will inquire into the basis of information conveyed to this House and which led honorable members to practically disfranchise thousands of people, upon considerations of political equality Certain statements were made in this House about towns, and even whole districts, being depopulated and denuded of electors, and upon the faith of those statements the House took a course of action which honorable members will remember met with my very strong protest. It will be admitted as essential to the usefulness of a public
Department of this kind that when matters involving important issues affecting the electors come before the House the Minister in charge of the Department should be supplied with the fullest and most reliable information, whatever way it may happen to tell.
– The amendment as proposed by the honorable member for Parramatta will place certain members on the proposed Select Committee who will have an opportunity of ascertaining the facts in connexion with that matter from the right honorable member’s point of view.
– My somewhat strong attacks upon the Chief Electoral Officer have been made in connexion with this question. If the Select Committee find in the Electoral Department business-like data collected in a business-like way justifying the statements made by the late Minister for Home Affairs, Sir William Lyne, in connexion with the matters which I am talking about, I should almost look upon that as a sufficient answer to everything I have said. It is a mere question of the existence of documents or information in the office at the time. The honorable gentleman who was in charge of the Commonwealth Electoral Bill made certain statements as to population and inequalities, which justified members of this House in doing something which I am sure would have been considered contrary to their principles if the information upon which they acted could have been shown to be wrong. This is the only request I make. If it is discovered by the Select Committee that there is business-like data, such as any business man would have to enable him to settle a question involving ^50, I shall be prepared to withdraw almost everything I have ever said against the Department.
– I think that some points have .not yet been touched upon in this debate. The right honorable member for Swan has said that electors who fail to take the trouble to see that their names are on the roll deserve to have them left off.
– I did not say that, I said that they should bear half the blame.
– I accept the right honorable gentleman’s correction. It seems to me that the difficulty arises from the construction of the roll itself. Instead of one alphabetical list, there are a number, and in some cases one has to look through about 200 alphabetical lists before he can be sure that a particular name is not on the roll. In the face of that fact there is great excuse for any person failing to see whether his name is oh the roll or not. I know that I have personally wasted a tremendous amount of time in looking through alphabetical lists to ascertain whether some name appeared on the roll; but strange to say’ the person was on the roll for another electorate. He was living on the border line of two electorates, and was placed on the roll for the electorate in which he was supposed to reside, although he had applied to be placed on the roll for the electorate in which he actually resided. When the election took place, as his name appeared on two rolls, he’ took his choice as to the electorate in which he should vote.
– He was a wise man.
– He . asked himself the question, “Which of these candidates am I most anxious to see returned ?” and voted for him.
– He voted for the honorable member, I hope?
– No ; he voted for one of the members of the Ministry. It is clear that an alteration should be made in the method of compiling the rolls. They should all be compiled on one alphabetical basis. Much trouble would be saved by that plan. It is said that we ought to get the States to act in conjunction with the Federal authorities in the compilation of rolls. But we know very well that some of the States are terribly behind the times in not having a fairly liberal franchise. Until there is a reform in that direction it is of no use talking about compiling the States rolls and the Federal. rolls on a uniform basis. That reform cannot be accomplished until the laws of the States with regard to the franchise are brought into harmony with the Federal law. There is one other matter which I should like to mention in regard to this subject, and that is the complaint I have heard made as to the want of payment by the authorities in connexion with the recent elections. It appears to me that some of the trouble has arisen owing to the fact that returning officers having been appointed to make arrangements for the elections,- they, instead of organizing the various electoral districts and polling booths themselves, deputed the work to deputy returning officers, ‘ who, ‘ consequently,’ did a large amount of work which should have been done by the chief returning’ officers- They have been used to doing that work in the
State electorates, and were called upon to do practically the same work during the recent Federal elections. That has had something to do with the excess charges made, which are in dispute in some cases. But consideration should be shown to these men in arranging for their payment.
Mr. BROWN (Canobolas). - I do not propose to traverse the arguments used by the different speakers on this question. They have been mostly favorable to the proposal. With regard to the amendment of the honorable member for Wilmot, I may say that I understood that my motion embodied his proposal. I think it is desirable to make the point clear, and, therefore, I shall have no objection to his amendment.
– He has agreed to withdraw it, and has accepted the understanding.
– I understand that the honorable member agrees to withdraw his amendment, on the understanding that my motion covers it. With respect to the amendment suggested by the honorable member for Parramatta, making some changes in thepersonnel of the Committee. I wish to say that I have no objection to the honorable members whom he puts forward. My nominations were made with a view of securing as fair a representation as possible of the States. I did not concern myself so much with the representation of parties as seems to be the wish of the House. I desire that justice should be done to the question, but I am in this position. I have asked the honorable member for Bass and the honorable member for Grey to be members of the Committee, and I consider that they are well qualified to serve upon it. But the honorable member for Parramatta proposes to omit them.
– Why not have those honorable members also?
– I shall vote for my own proposal, as the two honorable members whom I have mentioned have kindly consented to be placed upon the Committee, and I trust that the House will elect them.
– Do not the Standing Orders provide for the number of a Select Committee?
– The Standing Orders provide a certain number, unless the House orders otherwise. If the House adds additional names, it will be ordering otherwise. The honorable member for Wilmot is not present, so that I cannot ask him to withdraw his motion. I will, therefore, put it.
Amendment (by Mr. Joseph Cook) negatived -
That the name of Mr. Poynton be omitted.
Amendment (by Mr. Joseph Cook) agreed to-
That the namesof Mr. Maloney and Mr. Dugald Thomson be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the names of Mr. Cameron, Mr. Kelly, Sir William Lyne, and Mr. McLean.
Question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Brown) agreed to -
That the Committee do report this day month.
– I have to report the receipt of a message from the Senate requesting the concurrence of the House of Representatives in the following resolution : -
That, in the opinion of this Senate, in order to provide the necessary money for the payment of old-age pensions, and for other purposes, the. Commonwealth Government should undertake the manufacture and sale of tobacco, cigars, and cigarettes.
Debate resumed from 18th May (vide page 1287), on motion by Mr. Watson -
That the letter from the Secretary of State for the Colonies regarding the use of the title of “ Honorable “ by members of the first Parlia. ment of the Commonwealth of Australia be printed.
– The sentence or two which I had the opportunity of addressing to the House last night with reference to the programme submitted by the Prime Minister will suffice for my present purposes, more especially as any task of criticism which may be required in that direction will no doubt be supplied by other speakers. It did not fall within the province of my honorable friend to call attention to the correlative accompaniment of the programme, which, to my mind, is perhaps of profounder importance. What I feel we are called on - and at no distant date - to deal with is not simply a programme with which we are familiar, but a situation with which we are familiar. With your permission, sir, I shall trespass on the attention of the House for a few moments by referring to the circumstances out of which that situation has arisen, because it commenced at the very inception of the Commonwealth, and arose almost naturally out of that occasion. The Government who took office at the outset were drawn together by general considerations, and required, for the most part, to frame their programme after they took office. They were returned to this House in a majority upon the main issue submitted - that was the fiscal issue - and their first and deepest duty to the country lay in their endeavour to deal with it in accordance with their principles. The issue had a twofold importance, which caused it to overshadow every other interest of the Commonwealth at that time. In the first place, under the Constitution, the States were left dependent on this Parliament for the revenues which they should receive from the Customs duties, hitherto wholly appropriated by them according to each of their Tariffs. The States were granted three-fourths of the sum to be raised by the Commonwealth from this source ; but, as there was no requirement as to the sum, that meant three-fourths of x. Consequently, the study how to meet the demands, and even the necessities, of the States, without plunging them into the direst financial difficulty, was one overruling consideration in dealing with the Tariff. The other consideration was the task which we believed allotted to us, not of extending protection - as many of us would have desired - but of preserving all industries already in existence in Australia. On that head a deep division of opinion existed, which made the passage of the Tariff a matter of the greatest difficulty and peril But, for my own part the obligation which rested on members always appeared to exist independently of our responsibility as protectionists. It seemed to me - though I unhappily proved erroneous in my forecast - that even those who differed from us on the fiscal question might well have united in conceding to the existing industries of the Commonwealth a few years within which to adjust themselves to the new conditions created by Inter-State freetrade. I mention these facts briefly, to remind us why we felt that to the passing of this Tariff all other interests must be subordinated. In whatever form it might be shaped., no beginning was possible for the Commonwealth, and no security was possible for the States in their financial relations, until the Tariff became law. During its passage, which occupied the whole of the first and longest session, we were, as a Government, in the position of men with a charge on them from which it was impossible to escape. We were tied, so to speak, to the post, and, at whatever cost and whatever sacrifice, it was our duty to live until we had passed the Tariff. That forced us to face the fact that, even at that early stage, there were three parties in the Chamber. Our fiscal party, which was in a majority, included a number of members who belonged to the Labour Party, and who, on other questions, adopted an entirely independent or hostile attitude. Consequently, except on the fiscal question, the Government had no consistent majority in the Chamber. Under these circumstances, the Government carried on their legislation and administration- under these circumstances, some of the members of the Government were called on to submit to what they felt to be sacrifices almost of principle. I belonged to the wing of the Cabinet which felt no such compulsion, and made no such sacrifices. I was happily not called on to consent to anything repugnant to my opinions and principles, though I was called on to assent to some proposals which were contrary to my judgment, because I believed them to be either in anticipation or in excess of what was necessary at the time. But, of course, in a Ministry formed as ours was, a different measure of sacrifice was demanded, from different members; and there is no doubt that many of us felt that even if their principles were imperilled, they were bound to remain at their posts and submit to extremely irritating reverses. That was because the Labour Party at that time, though not in its present strength, held the balance of power, which it used, I may say, without fear, and certainly without’ favour or affection either to the Government or to the Op-‘ position. To the members of the Labour Party who shared our fiscal faith we wereindebted for continuous support of varying degrees; but never, so far as I can recall,. did the party, as a party, on any critical occasion cast its vote in favour of the Government.
– There was the want of confidence motion.
– But that was a fiscal question.
– And there was the white labour question.
– What about my case?
– There was no division on that.
– Yes, there was a division on the motion of the honorable member for Parramatta, as I know, because I voted with the minority.
– It has escaped my memory ; but I believe that, in all such cases, members were voting for the Labour platform, and not for ours. Many times those fiscally associated with us strained points in our favour, and several times those who were not fiscally attached to us cast votes in our favour ; but that was all because, at those times, a White Australia, or some similar matter, affecting their programme, was before the House. What I mean is, that never at any time did the Labour members vote against anything in their programme, or for anything which was not immediately associated with it. That is what I mean when I say they used the balance of power without fear, favour, or affection.
– There is no disagreement in the present Government, at all events.
– My point is this : we have acknowledged, and I am prepared to acknowledge, as I have said, our indebtedness to those who shared our fiscal opinion. But that indebtedness was only incurred in relation to matters outside the programme of the Labour Party, so far as my memory at present serves me. I speak to-night at much shorter notice than I could have wished. It was not until after mid-day to-day that I thought of speaking, and since then many occupations and anxieties of another kind have occupied my attention. I am, therefore, speaking without book, and trusting to my memory, which may be at fault ; but, so far as I remember, on no critical occasion did the Labour Party as a party cast its solid vote in favour of a Government proposal. If they did so I do not remember the circumstances.
– Yes; they did on the night that the honorable and learned member for East Sydney moved the adjournment of the House.
– I have also to state, in justice to the members of the Labour Party - and having regard to statements that have been made - that never at any time, to my knowledge, did they apply private pressure to that Government or to its members. The Labour Party applied public pressure whenever they had the opportunity, and in that they were, of course, well within their right.
– And always upon public questions.
– Yes. On no occasion did the Labour Party apply private pressure - -on no occasion did they, so far as I remember, take any attitude of a personal character. So that when I criticise them I hope honorable members will agree that I am anxious to do justice to those with whom we were associated on the fiscal question, and on some other questions during the life of that Parliament. I wish also, incidentally, to point out that this alliance was one which never involved the Labour Party in any sacrifice of a tittle of their programme, or in regard to any question on which they felt strongly. Nor do I say that the Labour Party ought to have made any sacrifice ; but comments are made on the conduct of the affairs of that Parliament which would lead people, unacquainted with the facts, to suppose that private pressure was continually applied, and that on other occasions sacrifices were made.
– Who makes those comments ?
– The comments are familiar to us ; I have heard them even in this House. Then came the close of the Parliament, and the appeal to the country. The three parties in the first Parliament approached the electors independently, and the contest was carried on by each without regard to the fortunes of its neighbour. Of course, my honorable friends opposite prospered on the antagonism which existed between the two parties now sitting on this side of the House ; but I am not aware of any cases in which any party extended quarter to the other, unless it were in the compliment paid to a few of us of allowing us to enter the House without a contest.
– That was a mistake.
– The Government, for whichI had by that time become spokesman, submitted to the electors one fundamental Question upon which we had been absolutely divided from my friends on the other side of the House. We told the country that, in our opinion, the extension of the awards of the Arbitration Court so as to embrace the public servants of the States was not authorized by the Constitution, was contrary to its spirit, and in any event at this juncture was injudicious. On that doctrine, such as our strength was, we were returned, and honorable members opposite - so far as I know without exception - were returned on an exactly opposite proposal in that regard. Then the fiscal question, which loomed very large at that election in more than one shape, at least, was successfully disposed of, because the effect of the return of honorable members was that it became evident that no re-opening of the Tariff war would be possible in this Parliament.
– Hear, hear.
– That was not a thing desired by my right honorable and learned friend.
– When I get a licking, I take it. I got a licking, and I admit it.
– Consequently, I am somewhat at a loss to understand on what ground we are now informed that a proposal submitted yesterday that the actually existing Tariff truce should become open and avowed for the duration of this Parliament is in some mysterious manner a sacrifice of protectionist interests. The Protectionist Party went to the country proposing that fiscal peace should obtain for this Parliament. On that one proposal they succeeded by a great majority, and, having secured that, they are bound in loyalty and honour to observe it. I hear, therefore, with considerable amazement some suggestions that to make an open avowal of what is the obvious fact - expressed in the living presence of honorable members in this House, distributed as they areon this question - is a surrender in some mysterious manner of the protectionist interest. It appears to me that the statement which was submitted yesterday to a meeting of the party with which I am associated puts the situation in unimpeachable terms when, referring to a coalition, it says -
The fiscal question is the one insuperable obstacle, and a truce upon that question is imperative. It is accordingly agreed that, during the natural term of the present Parliament, a truce shall be observed undisturbed by a premature dissolution. But no member of the united party shall be deemed to have forfeited his full liberty of action at the expiration, by effluxion of time, of the present Parliament.
That is a statement which might have been made, or which might be made, just as much in regard to my honorable friends opposite as to honorable members sitting on this side. So far as the whole House is concerned, that simply puts into plain words the facts of the present situation. Beyond that, comment on differences is, to my mind, unnecessary from me, because I hope to focus attention on the situation. I ought not, however, to pass from the question of the inclusion of public servants within the operation of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill without a further reference, because, during the consideration of that measure, the Prime Minister, as he reminded us last night, in September last, and on occasions since I think, at all events in conversation, had communicated his view that the issue as to whether Federal control could or ought to be extended to them was not, in his opinion, a question of principle, or, at all events, ought not to be made a matter of confidence, or no confidence in the then Government.
– Hear, hear.
– Not only were those the views of the honorable gentleman, but they were the views of a number of other honorable members, mostly on his own side, who took sufficient interest in the fortunes of the Government that met the House to endeavour to arrange some device by which that particular difficulty could have been’ surmounted without sacrifice of principle. A great deal of time and thought was very kindly spent in that regard, which was much appreciated by myself, though I took next to no part in it, because, in the first place, to me it appeared to be a question of vital principle. It seemed to me that it was a touchstone between what I called the Federal and the Unitary parties in this House. But any other touchstone would perhaps have served as well to remind us that in this House the three party position continued in an exaggerated, or, as some would term it, an aggravated form. The Labour Party, instead of merely holding the balance of power as between the two sides, had itself become one of the powers of this House. It seemed to me therefore inevitable that with the House divided in that particular, and with the Labour Party organized on principles which make it a party in a sense differing from that which pertains to honorable members on this side - it seemed to me immediately after the election that any endeavour to evade or postpone the arbitration or any similar issue must be futile. The solution arrived at in regard to it must go more deeply than that particular question went, to the root of the three party situation, and resolve the three parties into two. Nothing short of that, it. seemed to me, could give the Government of the day power to proceed with their administrative and legislative tasks with that certainty of duration which would enable them to discharge those tasks to their entire satisfaction. No other condition of things could prevail which would enable the members of this Chamber to discharge their obligations to their constituents until a majority was found united on questions of principle and on a practical policy, opposed by those who differed from it, but who were on these questions in a minority. Until that normal condition of constitutional government was restored, it was vain to seek by any device or expedient to postpone the inevitable.
– There is no difference in the policies now ; we can go on.
– That is a matter for discussion a little later. At the present mo-, ment it appears to me that it is the duty of the House - and at all events, erroneously or not, I have conceived it to be my duty - to expedite the solution of that condition of affairs as early as possible. It seems to me ‘that no party in this House can satisfy itself or its constituents while that condition remains, and that, in the interests of each and every member, and in the interests of the country which we all serve, it became the crux of the situation how to restore the normal conditions, as I have termed them, of constitutional government. Honorable members will perhaps recall some remarks addressed to the Australian Natives’ Association nearly four months ago, in which as clearly as possible I called attention to ‘ this state of affairs. Censure followed from some quarters, because on that occasion I carefully and deliberately refrained from indicating which of the two parties were to unite. I did that of set purpose, partly because I thought that a condition of things had occurred in which it was possible for members of all parties to practically unite in a patriotic endeavour to restore the necessary conditions of constitutional government, while, if that were not possible, I wished to make it perfectly plain that, so far as the Ministry was concerned, there was ho party movement on foot for its own interest. We yere at that time under the disability of having it supposed that the proposition submitted was made with a view to our own retention of office, since as we were the Ministry of the Commonwealth, any party approaching us would do so on the basis of finding us in possession, and of leaving at all events some of our representatives in possession. We were under that disability, and for that reason, too, I endeavoured to make it perfectly clear, and thought I had succeeded, that, while the situation imperatively must be resolved .by the reestablishment of majority rule, I was following a policy which has been sometimes referred to in another country as the policy of the open door. There were two doors, one on each side of us, and we left both open. Honorable members will see that the party to which I have the honour to belong had a peculiar right to take that course without being accused of any attempt to curry favour, because it had a wing which touched the Labour Party so closely as to be almost indistinguishable from it, and another wing which touched their opponents in this House almost as closely. Constituted as the Liberal Party -always has been of those who stand between the Labour Party and the so-termed Conservatives, it was perfectly natural for us to open the doors in both directions, and to indicate that proposals ‘ which . were in accordance with our programme and were open and above board, involving no secret compact, could be made either to us, or, if it pleased them, between the two other parties in the House apart from us. The essential was the restoration of majority rule. The particular; combination for that purpose was left to honorable members themselves to determine, bound as they are by their declarations to their constituents and to the country at large. Those remarks were the prelude to much interesting private discussion, but no public overture followed. I hope that it prepared the public mind, and directed the attention of the members of this and the other Chamber to the emergencies of this Parliament. But nothing definite followed - no precise overture.
– Did the Ministry of the day wish for an overture?
– Decidedly. We wished to know which party, or whether both parties, could find ‘that there was in their programmes a common ground upon which there could be a blending of forces, so as to secure a durable and trustworthy majority to carry on the affairs of the country. There was one difference which was not forgotten, and it was this : if> at that time, overtures had been received from those who are now sitting on this side of the Chamber with us, the questions at issue would have been narrowed down to those of policy. If the overture had come from members opposite there would have been equally serious questions Of organization. Honorable members opposite are returned in accordance with a particular method, which, I understand, -begins with local selection. They are bound in writing - to a particular programme. Their minority is required on certain questions - the range of which I do not pretend to precisely understand - to bow to the majority.
– Only so far as the programme is concerned.
– The programme, and giving effect to it; questions arising out of it. I am informed that upon matters relating to the programme there is no minority ; the majority expresses its will and the minority concurs.
– The Cabinet does no more and no less.
– It usually does much less ; it cannot do more. In addition to that, they are, I understand, largely, if not wholly, governed in their electoral campaigns by local organizations, with which it is necessary to count as well as with the representatives in Parliament.
– What does the honorable and learned member mean?
– Should the parliamentary party think fit to recommend a particular candidate, the local organization is not bound to accept him.
– There is local autonomy so far as the selection of candidates is concerned.
– Subject to the ratification of the central committee.
– So it is with the Freetrade Organization in New South Wales.
– And with the Reform League in Victoria.
– I do not wish to do more at this stage than to point out that those questions will require to be taken into consideration, because, although honorable members say that similar practices to some extent exist in connexion with the other parties, we must confess, whether reluctantly or not, that they are not observed in anything like the same degree, and have nothing like the same potency, either in connexion with elections, or in this Chamber.
– The principle involved is the same.
– The Prime Minister will have many trials and difficulties, but he possesses, so far as their numbers go, a body of supporters more united, not only than any other body of members in this House, but than any other body of members, except the Labour Party, in any other House.
– That is because they believe in their principles.
– I am not called upon to impugn their belief in their principles; it is sufficient for me to point to the fact that they act unanimously, and that they do so in consequence of the mechanism to which I have alluded.
– We fight for them, and we do not abandon them when we are defeated.
– The honorable member belongs to a party whose members are perfect.
– Although those questions were raised informally at various times between honorable members opposed to myself and my colleagues, the fact remains that, prior to the exit of the late Government, nothing formal was done on either side. We retired from office, and my honorable friend succeeded us. It became necessary, when the Ministers whom I see before me met the House, for those who had been the Ministerial Party to consider their position in regard to the’ new Government. They debated it, and upon their authority I ventured to express their opinions in this House, to which I will briefly refer by quoting from page 1248, No. 7, of that inestimable record Hansard. The words used were these -
I am charged to extend to the Government the assurance that the Opposition propose to extend to them the utmost fair play. We feel that the tasks which they have shouldered merit forbearance, and we hope that they will receive it. We await with anxiety the statement of the proposals they intend to submit. When they are submitted, of course, the imperative duty of an Opposition - not necessarily to oppose, but to criticise and examine - will be fearlessly exercised.
That referred to the programme of the party. I spoke of the situation in these terms -
The obvious and sensible fact which stares us in the face when we look at these benches, and which stares the country in the face, is that honorable members opposite have no such majority.
That is the majority to which I have just been referring.
The two parties who hold opinions differing from them and from each other are necessarily, by the circumstances of the situation, ranked on this side of the House in overwhelming numbers. The position of instability which existed when I spoke two or three months ago exists to-day, in an emphasized manner. While the late Ministry lived, it was possible for honorable members to group themselves upon a question which took honorable members opposite outside their own direct programme, outside their strict party union. The disappearance of the fiscal question from the arena, at present, has recast the main issue, and brought about the transformation which we witness to-day. I am sure that the country will see in this grouping of honorable members - necessitated by the very circumstances of the case - no indication of any individual changes of opinion, but unmistakable signs of a new development. The situation was bound to develop ; the situation could not remain as it was, and I venture to think cannot remain long as it is. It is for my honorable friends who now hold the reins of government to realize, as I believe they soon must, that there rests upon them to-day, with clearer perception than perhaps most of them have hitherto enjoyed, a conviction of the necessity for the constitutional rule of a majority in this House, and the necessity of acquiring that majority, if they are to do justice to themselves and the measures of legislation which they propose to introduce.
– That is something upon which we have made up our minds.
– I went on to say -
At the present moment the part numerically played by the Opposition or Oppositions in the business of the country will be actually greater than the part played by the Government. I do not think that any one will suppose that such a condition of things can be maintained. I think that we must all agree that it can only be maintained even temporarily by that honorable granting of fair play to which I have already alluded, by that extension of consideration from one side of the House to the other which enables us to discharge our common duties to the public.
The reference to legislation was repeated a little later on. It will be noticed that the fact that I spoke from the opposite side of the table did riot in any respect alter the attitude which I had previously assumed. Both doors were still wide open, and the necessary - the inevitable - coalition might have taken place between my honorable friends opposite and the followers of the right honorable member for East Sydney, or between ourselves and either of the other parties. When I spoke in this House three weeks ago the doors were also wide open, and I do not think my honorable friends on the opposite benches can complain that
I did not point Out to them with sufficient clearness that the immediate obligation rested upon them to secure a majority, if they had not one already. Since> then they have taken the question into consideration, and only two days ago, as I understand, they arrived at the conclusion that on their part no coalition is desirable. It appears to me that so far as the maintenance of majority rule is concerned, they do not at present intend to achieve it. They hope for a majority in favour of each of the proposals which they submit to this House, to be drawn from either one flank or the other of the parties on this side of the House. At any rate, they have not yet realized the necessity, which I took the liberty of pressing upon them, of acquiring a majority which should sit and vote with them on the main articles of their programme, and also with regard to the character of their administration. I regret that they have not taken any steps beyond the purely negative course which appears to have been adopted. I’ do not think that when honorable members look at the document submitted to both parties on this side of the House yesterday they can take exception to the. statement of the situation therein contained. My right honorable friend and myself agreed to state it in this fashion -
Under -the extraordinary circumstances at present obtaining, it might be said that all parties in Parliament could have been invited to unite, so far as their principles would allow, for the purpose of carrying on the Government. Unfortunately the party now in office, quite apart from any questions relating to its programme, maintains a control of its minority by its majority, and an antagonism to all who do not submit themselves to its organization and decisions, which seems to make it hopeless to approach its members upon any terms of equality, even under the present exceptional conditions.
– That document was drawn up at a time when the honorable and learned member still hoped to coalesce with the Labour Party.
– It was not issued until the attitude of the Labour Party was definitely known. Whatever my honorable friend may have thought, I had the best reasons for believing, from what I had heard before the document was drawn up, that no offer would result from the meeting of honorable members opposite. Under these circumstances honorable members will realize that the position occupied by the party to which I have the honour to belong was a critical one - in my eyes more serious and more critical than it possibly seems, or appears to have seemed, to many of my honorable friends who are associated with me. At the meeting to’ which I have referred, they formally adopted the policy of the open door, and they also authorized me to consider any proposals which might be made by either of the other parties, with a view to obtaining a majority upon some ground of public principle. I was expressly authorized to do that, and the fact was publicly announced. It did not then rest with me to sit idle, with that mere intimation, when overtures for the consideration of the principles which we professed, and of the circumstances which surrounded us, were made by my friend the right honorable member for East Sydney. The interjection just made by the Minister of External Affairs appears to suggest that, acting on behalf of the party which had authorized me to take this action, I could not have received any proposal from my honorable friends opposite, while proposals were being made by my honorable friend the right honorable member for East Sydney. But, as the right honorable gentleman .knows, and the public knew, I was authorized to receive proposals from either party, . and my right honorable friend knew also, as I pointed out, that I was perfectly open to receive a proposal from honorable members opposite. At the time this document was drawn up, three days ago, I was acting under the belief, although not with knowledge, that there would be no such proposal. Consequently, in this matter I have been perfectly frank with both sides. I did not conceal the facts from my right honorable friend, or from honorable members opposite, and it became my duty, not only to consider any overtures which were made, but to use every endeavour to arrive at a. ground of common agreement. As I have often stated, I believed such an agreement was a great necessity in the interests of the country, and. I had a further motive, to which I am about to allude, in the conviction that it would be in the interests of the party for whch I was commissioned to act. Now, unfortunately, I have to depart from the practice which I always endeavoured to follow as far as possible, namely, of excluding personal considerations or statements as to my personality when dealing with questions before this House. So far as’ I can judge, that course, which I would infinitely prefer to follow, is not possible for me to-night. I must necessarily occupy a few minutes in speaking in regard to my own position and action at greater length than I have any taste for. As a rule it appears to me that matters such as those with which we are now dealing can best be settled upon general grounds, without reference to particular persons, or their obligations, or intentions. When overtures were made to me by the right honorable member for East Sydney, I had already pre-considered the attitude which I should adopt in regard to any proposal from either side. I had been trusted in the fullest manner by those associated with me. They had imposed no embargo. They were, of course, not to be bound except by the consent which they might subsequently give, but they had imposed no preliminary conditions. I felt the imperative necessity of doing whatever lay in my power to resolve this situation - to create a majority based upon principle publicly announced, and I felt the diffidence which any agent, acting for principals, must feel as to what part I was authorized to take in any future combination that might result. I do not put the parallel as an exact one, because it differs very materially. On most occasions when negotiations of this kind are intrusted to a leader for the time being, it is with the implied understanding that he himself is by no means to be debarred from sharing the positions which are to be filled in the combination to be formed; but in the special circumstances of this case it seemed to me that ordinary conditions did not apply. So far as I could see, they did not apply to any circumstances of this situation, which is unprecedented, not only in our history as a Commonwealth, but in many respects, if not in all, in the history of the States. It therefore calls for a course of action which we could not foresee or find precedents for. I could not but foresee that if this majority were obtained by a combination with honorable members opposite, there was a section of the party associated with me that would be likely to be compelled, sooner or later - and probably at once - to sit in opposition to that coalition, and to me, if I were a member of that Government. On the other hand, I recognized that if the combination were made with my right honorable friend the member for East Sydney, and those associated with him, there was another section of the party which would probably feel called upon immediately to sit in opposition to me. I had further to face the fact that colleagues of my own - more loyal col- leagues no man ever had - were divided in the same manner, and that I was to be asked to form or to join a Government which some of my old colleagues would be forced to oppose. In these circumstances, what might appear an unusual action will surely begin to be clear to honorable members. I was called upon to act for a party which it appeared certain must be divided and rent asunder soon in any case by events or by the effect of a combination, that would call upon me to take office at a time when old . colleagues were out of office and old supporters1 were in opposition. I admit and accept my full responsibility for endeavouring to bring about a coalition of some kind in the public interest, and although I did not shrink in the least degree from the responsibility thai thus devolves upon me - and must remain - I feel that in the circumstances I have discharged my duty. I have assisted to the best of my ability in the task of restoring responsible government by a majority, and should have proved my sincerity by sitting behind whatever Government might have been formed by my party. It was my intention to support it loyally and honestly, and so accept the full responsibility of my action, but I considered that I was not called upon to undergo the personal trial of separation from old colleagues and supporters. It is with disgust that I discuss myself, but in this instance it seems unavoidable that I should do so. No man is indispensable. What is more, I venture to think - as I submitted to those of my own party who have in the most generous manner criticised my actions - that, my own usefulness would not be impaired by my standing out of office. When I speak of office,’ I include even the highest. I had made up my mind that whatever coalition might be formed - with whatever party the combination might be made - I should” take no office, not eyen the highest ; that my usefulness would not be impaired by my remaining outside the Government, and that the fact that I did not take office would be another guarantee to those of my party, which, probably as divided, would be the weaker of the two in either combination, that there would not be any sacrifice of our principles or of the programme on which we were elected. I felt that the coalition would be called upon to honestly and faithfully state its programme before the public, and I was prepared to follow and support it. I believed that if my party joined either one side or the other it would, if divided, be the weaker of the two, and that if, whilst being loyal to the coalition, I stood out of the Government, it would be a further guarantee - although a guarantee of fair terms was not required - that no danger or peril to the party I had induced to join, and no injury to its interest would follow as the result of the coalition. As a member of the Government I . should have had the ordinary ties- which bind the members of a Cabinet. I must have been loyal to them, and could not have broken away even to prevent what I thought might become a danger. As an ordinary supporter I should have had an honest duty, to perform; but if at any time I by any chance was led to believe that danger would arise to the principles which my party professed - and- 1 do not think that any danger would have arisen - I should have been perfectly free and vigilant in their defence. I felt also that I was justified in the view of my Victorian friends in taking up this stand, because I had acted in a like manner on a previous occasion. My political, co-mate and brother in office, the right honorable member for Balaclava, knows how anxious he was to stand aside for me when he formed his first State Government, which did so much for Victoria; He knows, too, that I felt at the time that my public duty lay, not beside him, where it otherwise would have gladly been, but in giving him my support. For five years he never relied upon me in vain. Although I was not a member of his Government, we worked loyally and faithfully together. He was the man in whom I relied - and I rely upon him now - as the representative of Victoria and of our party to take a position which all would willingly accord him, with the confidence that he had earned it by his long and honorable career. The fact that I had acted in this way on a previous occasion led me to feel that I might satisfy my Victorian friends and allies who are so zealous at present for my undesired- advancement, ‘that any Government which relied upon my support would have no reason to fear that my support covered any ulterior motives. There is another personal incident to which I venture to allude, and happily it is the last. The secret history of Cabinets is not written, or to be written ; but once in my lifetime I made the fatal mistake - and it was in connexion with a State coalition Government - of failing to insist on the acceptance of the resignation I had tendered. I saw plainly enough that what I believed to be mistakes in policy were about to be made. I was entirely opposed to the particular policy then suggested, but allowed myself to be persuaded that consideration for my party and my colleagues, in which I hope I have never failed, demanded that I should sacrifice my own views to those of others. I did sacrifice my own strong views to those of others. I did so on that occasion, but shall not do so again. Happily I can now. pass from individual considerations, feeling that I can legitimately say that it is no failure of duty, it is no shrinking from responsibility, and it is no evasion of obligation, when I ask my party to allow me to stand aside and support the Government which is to be formed, instead of taking any active part in its administration. In considering the overtures that were made to us by my right honorable friend the member for East Sydney, we had after all only to determine a programme. Great minds agree. The three parties in this House are able to congratulate themselves upon that undoubted mental attribute, and, with the exception of the tobacco which the Prime Minister puts in his pipe, and the national note he hopes to be able to put in his pocket, my honorable friend has practically adopted our programme.
– That is surely a humorous allusion.
– I hear that my honorable friend’s programme was framed first. That, I submit, is a detail, because I have had quite sufficient evidence in times past of the honorable gentleman’s ingenuity and foresight to believe that when he framed his programme he was really reading the programme we were going to frame, in advance. My honorable friends opposite say that for the present session we are agreed practically upon a programme, and they ask what need there is for any further agreement.
– None whatever.
– But I have heard that at election time, and have heard it put in very different words. Candidates whose policy was indistinguishable from that of my honorable friends opposite, candidates who were practically labour members in every proposal they submitted, have said, “ Why oppose us, when our proposals are precisely the same as yours?” What has been the reply of my honorable friends opposite ? That unless those candidates were prepared to accept the full respon sibility and ties of the organization to which they belonged, their programme went for nothing.’ We know, and know unhappily at the present time, that the fiercest contests waged, and most frequently waged by my honorable friends opposite have been, not against men most removed from them in politics, but against those who have approached most closely to their political programme.
– The men who believewe are right, and will not go with us, those are the men we oppose.
– Exactly. How do my honorable friends like to be measured by their own bushel ? How do they like to have that applied to them by a majority in this House saying “ Your programme is the same, but unless you join our organization we are reluctantly compelled to oppose you.”
– The parties are too nearly related to be married.
– I take it that I have supplied an absolutely parallel illustration.
– No ; because honorable members opposite have not got an organization.
– We are proposing to frame one, upon such terms that all the most thoughtful and able amongst honorable members opposite may readily join it. What I have to point out is that no game is a good game which two cannot play at. I do not need, nor have I any desire, to reflect upon the organization of the Labour Party. I do not think it would help either them or ourselves in this discussion. But it must drive home to them the real urgency of the present situation when theyrealize how poor a game it is that only one can play at. If each of the three parties in this House chose to adopt their principles and their organizations, the result would be disastrous, I think, to my honorable friends opposite, as well as to the other parties.
– There has only been a difference in methods. We stole the methods of honorable members opposite, and they have stolen our clothes.
– And they have now stolen our methods as well as our clothes.
– You are only giving a little milk to the young tiger you want to train. This is your milk and water diet.
– The argument I again submit to my honorable friends opposite is the necessity of acquiring a majority in order that they may be constitutionally, what they are now in fact, the Government and leaders of this House, and it will be impossible for them, in this House, and I think in any other House, to secure that majority under their present conditions of organization. Unless they are prepared to throw open their doors to a free influx of the Liberals of the community, and to accept the joint burden of responsibility with them, there can be no hope for their retaining, even though they momentarily gain, a majority In this Chamber. I am not without hope in this regard, because, so far as I can judge, there are symptoms of relenting on their part already. We deeply regret that to-night we have not with us the right honorable member for Adelaide, who sat yesterday in the Ministerial corner, happily in very much improved health, and whom we hope to welcome back before long. That right honorable member, so far as I am aware, is not, strictly speaking, and never has been, a member of the Labour Party.
– The right honorable member was never opposed by the party in South Australia.
– Exactly. He has been treated, so far as his election was concerned, as if he had been a member of the party. That is a good beginning. I look now at the Attorney-General, and see in him a second illustration of what may be considered a relaxation of the rule.
– Was he ever admitted to a meeting of the caucus, or is he still outside the door?
– The right honorable member for East Sydney sat outside our caucus for five years, and didremarkably well.
– I look upon the right honorable member for Adelaide as the first dove, and am happy now to be able to see the second dove, if I may liken so harmless a bird to my able friend the AttorneyGeneral. I am encouraged to hope that the door is being put even more ajar, and that, while the light of the present debate holds out to burn, there is no sinner even on this side of the House who is without hope of receiving a welcome from honorable members opposite.
– Then we had better adjourn the debate for a week.
– Let them all come.
– I am unacquainted with the conditions upon which admission will be granted.
– By ticket only.
– I am unaware whether any ceremonial such as is associated with certain friendly societies is insisted upon ; whether candidates for instance are blindfolded before being admitted.
– No; only gagged.
– It is only upon admission to coalitions that they are blindfolded.
– Until my honorable friends opposite are prepared to accept the burden of the situation by making it absolutely public on what conditions new recruits are admitted to their ranks, and until we are informed of the programme to which they are expected to subscribe, the Prime Minister must see that he is raising between himself and this House, or, to be perfectly fair, that he is allowing to remain between himself and this House, a barrier which not only separates honorable members of his party from other honorable members, but emphasizes the fact that a party sits on the Government benches which is a visible minority in numbers in ‘ this Chamber. What is the danger signal for the Labour Party, and for every thoughtful man on this side of the House? It is the knowledge that if my honorable friend the Prime Minister could obtain a dissolution in the course of the next few weeks or months, as the case. may be, and were to go to the country, unless the conditions of all recent elections, and of the present elections in Victoria are altered, we shall see my honorable friends turning upon the very men who have been associated with them, who have helped them, who have kept them in office, and who have assisted to pass their legislation.
– We guarantee that we will not do that.
– They know the reverse.
– But do they know the reverse ?
– Then honorable members opposite have made a bargain with them ?
– The right honorable member for East Sydney himself can tell the House all about bargains.
– I should think so !
– I must ask honorable members not to interject so continually, and particularly not to interject by answering each other across the Chamber. It is quite impossible for the honorable and learned member for Ballarat to proceed under such circumstances.
– Mr. Speaker, though regretting that the decencies of debate should be disturbed, I do not complain of receiving valuable and useful information; because I have realized, as we must all realize, how superior - if I may venture to say so without disrespect - is the personnel of the Labour Party in this House to the Labour Party in any State House with which I have the opportunity of being acquainted. I am quite prepared to learn, therefore, that Federal Labour Party methods will be in advance of those which are followed in the States. But I have before me in my own State, and under my own eyes, at the present time, in the person of two men whom I will not name, because I do not enter into the discussion of State politics, examples of men who have been associated with the Labour Party in Parliament, who were indistinguishable from it in the policy which they supported - except that for some reason unknown to us they have not signed the pledge - who have sat shoulder to shoulder with the Labour Party and have never separated from them on any vital question, so far as my own knowledge goes, but who are yet being opposed to the death in this very State of Victoria.
– Who are they?
– It is unnecessary to answer that question.
– I do not know the two men referred to, and I think I know the affairs of the Labour Party in Victoria very well.
– When I give the names to the honorable member in private afterwards he will admit that I have given a fair statement of the facts. In entering into any consideration in respect to the future of parties, does it not rest upon every man of us to have a fair and explicit understanding that the men who unite in this House to support important principles, and to follow the same Ministry, shall not be found flying at each other’s throats the instant there is an appeal to the country ?
– We will guarantee that with regard to those who support us. Has the honorable member a similar guarantee for those who support the agreement which was published yesterday?
– None; but there is this that I will say upon that point. The honorable gentleman’s party - the party which surrounds him - is, I believe, a party of great power and authority throughout the Commonwealth, and deservedly so. But he is not in a position to be able to say, so far as I know, that even his recommendations can be given effect to, or will be given effect to.
– We can find a means.
– Just to the same extent as the honorable member can with regard to his supporters.
– It was just the same in the last elections in New South Wales, and the honorable member for Lang is a living instance of it.
– Of what is that ?
– That the right honorable member for East Sydney could not control the local organizations of his party.
- Mr. Speaker, I am certain that honorable members opposite will not regard these remarks as idle. They seem to me to go to the root of this situation, because the situation cannot be resolved, nor majority rule restored, unless we clearly recognise the need of parliamentary freedom within the bounds of party discipline. I must say that, so far as regards freedom, my own party is the most practical instance on the face of the earth. As regards its unity or discipline I have less to say. I dare say that the right honorable member for East Sydney possesses more coherent organizations, at all events on some questions ; yet I doubt if even his organizations can compare in any particular with those of my honorable friends opposite. In policy, in conduct, and in outward appearance, there is much in the party machinery of my honorable friends opposite that resembles, not the party machinery that we employ, but resembles the party machinery which my right honorable friend employs. One of the chief differences is that ours is inefficient and his is efficient. But another difference is - and this is the important point - that I believe that if our party machinery is inefficient, it is largely so because of the individual freedom whch it conserves.
– Freedom to depart from pledges to the electors ? Because that is all we are pledged not to do.
– We are able to fight the Age ; the honorable member must know that.
– What I venture to say they have to consider is this - whether their efficiency is not secured at the cost of individual freedom. Of course, honorable members opposite reject that implication. I invite a reconsideration of the point, because it is difficult to determine when party machinery passes into what is termed in America “ the machine.” What we have to fear here is that the machinery - so useful as long as you are not in a majority, so extremely efficient while you are fighting an uphill fight on the way to power - may, when you become possessed of power, repre- sent almost exactly the machine as it now exists in America, worked in the primaries by interested persons, and afterwards by. organizations and combinations for personal ends until it becomes represented in the Legislatures by men who move just as the strings are pulled outside.
– Is it not to America to which we look for examples ?
– For some, but not for the model of a party machine, nor for the use of such machines under all circumstances. My honorable friends will, I hope, take the lesson from America to heart, and realize that it is high time to depart from the strictness of what I may call the protection maintained during their early youth. They should recognise that their party, represented by this Ministry, is now fully developed, and that what I may call their political native industry no longer needs that protection ; but that its machinery is liable to precisely the same dangers as have laid the most democratic country in the world open to such scandals as we have witnessed recently in connexion with the Congress of the United States, and which deprive the Legislature of dignity and of the confidence of the people. That is inevitable when party machinery becomes a party machine. Party machinery is in existence in England, but nowhere in England do we find the “machine.” There we find that in times of great stress, or change in the development of public opinion, new organizations arise, while older organizations are modified or pass away; and, consequently, there is that freedom of action preserved by the freedom of the individual representative and the individual elector. But my honorable friends are approaching - and if they become a majority will be tempted perhaps to embrace the methods of - the machine which is fatal alike to the liberty of the individual elector and the liberty of the individual representative. And so it is that I have ventured to occupy this time in criticising the methods of the Labour Party, because they form so important a feature of the situation which we are called on to face. I take it that the ideal of those honorable members which, within my own experience, has broadened very considerably, and which commenced its realization as an organization practically of manual labourers, represented by manual labourers-
– Never !
– The honorable and learned member for Ballarat knows that that is not true.
– That is my recollection.
– Perhaps the honorable member for Melbourne will withdraw the statement that something which the honorable and learned member for Ballarat has said is not true.
– The honorable and learned member for Ballarat knows that I am a living instance-
– The honorable member for Melbourne must withdraw his statement without qualification.
– I withdraw with pleasure; but I appeal to the honorable and learned member for Ballarat as to whether he does not know that I was the very first labour member returned in Victoria.
– The honorable member was the second or third labour member returned to the Victorian Parliament.
– I was the first.
– I beg the honorable member’s pardon ; but Senator Trenwith was the first labour member, when he was returned as the representative of Richmond in the Victorian Parliament.
– No; we were returned together, but the poll in my case was declared first.
– The fact is not material, and if my statement is objected to I do not wish to press it. I have spoken according to my recollection. I have heard the statement made from the platform; but whether it represents a general principle of the party does not matter on the present occasion.
– All classes have’ been returned in the labour interests from the very first, including journalists, as well as manual labourers.
– I do not dispute that the organization, or its principles, have broadened, and have only to look at the Labour Party in this House to realize how it has outgrown the stage to which I have referred.
An Honorable Member. - It was never in that stage.
– If honorable members opposite consider it a reflection to be asso ciated with manual labour, then I withdraw.
– All I desire to make clear is that the Labour Party was never restricted to manual labour.
– I do not think it was ; but the Prime Minister will admit that there was a strong tendency in its first years - and I am afraid the tendency exists still to some extent - to constitute it a merely class organization. That phase, however, is becoming less - it is passing away, as honorable members will agree it is desirable that ‘ every tendency of that kind which exists should pass away. Representation, when it was that of the landed class only, was injurious to the country ; that class looking uncommonly well after themselves, and only in a very secondary sort of way after other interests. And in the same manner as the representation of the landed class passed away, so should pass away the representation of class interests of every kind. We have no ground of complaint if honorable members opposite look after the interests of manual labour; on the contrary, they will only be following the example of the class previously in power. But as we have grown out of one domination, we hope to grow out of the other, andsee honorable members in this House derive their representative power from all classes of the community. While my friends are free to term themselves a Labour Party, they, I hope and believe, do not by that claim an exclusive representation of labour.
– What about the squatters, doctors, lawyers, and so on ?
– If then we meet on the common ground that we each of us appeal to all classes of the community, that we each of us claim to study the interests of all classes of the community, and that we each of us alike enter this House pledged to give due regard to the interests of all classes of the community, we have taken the first step to meet on the common platform which properly belongs to us. But there are other steps which it is necessary to take. Honorable members will require to see that the man who represents all classes of the community does not himself belong to an exclusive class in Parliament, to an organization which imposes shibboleths and restrictions on his action, but leaves him, as between his pledges and his constituents, to the verdict of those constituents, and the criticisms of his fellow members and associates - which does not seek to ostracise those who hold similar opinions, nor to represent one class of the community, nor insist that they should be marked with a particular mark, or branded with a special brand.
– Would not the honorable and learned member drive every freetrader out of politics if he had the power ?
– I should like to have a good working majority. I am not anxious to drive any section out of politics. In the next place, may I submit that my honorable friends opposite scarcely lay enough stress on more than the first function of a Legislature. The first function of a Legislature is necessarily legislation ; but under our system of government there is indissolubly associated with that the work of administration, which is as fundamental and important, as my honorable friends are rapidly learning.
– We do it.
– Realizing the burden of Executive power which now rests upon them they feel that the charge of the administration bulks as large in their every-day thoughts as the task of legislation, that without administration legislation can be rendered of little effect. In that democratic country, the United States of America, the Executive, although absolutely without legislative authority, represents even more than the Legislature - its great national ideal. Under these circumstances, it is scarcely sufficient to say that the programme which we suggest is the programme of all parties in the House. They require to give guarantees as to administration.
– We are glad to see that there is such general conversion to Our programme.
– We are always at our offices, anyhow.
– I believe so.
– That is where they are doing the most harm.
– I hope that the PostmasterGeneral does not think that I insinuated anything to the contrary, because that was the last thing in my thoughts.
– If we are there we are supposed to attend to our work, anyhow.
– Certainly. Does the honorable gentleman think that I had any suspicion of the contrary in my mind ?
– The whole tendency of the. honorable and learned member’s remarks has been to the effect that we are not taking enough care about administration.
– It is well to learn how one’s observations are being received.I can assure the honorable gentleman that if he could see ray thoughts crystal-clear, even clearer than I can see them, he would say. nothing of that kind.
– I beg pardon. That is what I inferred.
– I can assure the honorable gentleman that he has been quite wrong. I was endeavouring to pursue the train of thought that it is not sufficient to deal with legislation only, because in this country legislation and administration are inseparably associated. . Administration is of the highest importance, as the honorable gentleman perfectly well knows, and is united with legislation by the system of responsible government. It is to that consideration that my remarks are leading. We cannot look on this Chamber as simply ‘ a parallel to the AmericanHouse of Representatives. We have to recall that its task is not simply legislation, but to control the Executive by means of that responsible government which we believe keeps both administration and legislation in closer touch with public opinion than any other form of government yet devised. Now, responsible government depends on a consistent majority being found behind the Government.’ Perhaps honorable members will find after all that the position I have been putting incessantly for the last four months of the necessity for two parties only - of the absolute necessity for majority rule - is bound up with the existence and exercise of the powers of responsible government, with the due control of administration as well as with the passage of proper legislation. Our system of government, unless it be seriously and, to my mind, fatally altered, demands for its preservation and continuation the existence of a majority behind the Government. Considering the uncertain majority we had in the first Parliament, we did wonderfully well. But those were the days of the beginning.
– You always had a minority.
– No; we always had a majority on the fiscal question and on the White Australia question - our two chief planks. Responsible government being imperatively necessary, my honorable friends will see the lines I havebeen following when I say that it is a situation with which we have to deal, and not merely a programme of legislation. We have to deal with a situation, which so long as honorable members opposite are in a minority, leaves them in a position of insecurity, and this side in a position of temptation. The difference should be that their side should be sitting in a position of security, and this side should occupy an attitude of watchfulness, for then, and then only, will there be responsible government and sufficient guarantees for administration as well as legislation.
– Is not the administration more likely to be safe with the majority sitting over there?
– I am very grateful to the honorable gentleman for the implied compliment. He implies that he wishes us to protect him against himself.
– Indeed, not.
– Partly from want of sufficient time in which to arrange and collect my thoughts, and partly owing to the queries with which I have been met, I am afraid that I have been straying from the line of argument that I intended to follow:. I was about to approach more closely the immediate situation, and to leave the general considerations with which, perhaps, I have dallied too long. Good work as we did in the first Parliament - marvellous work, I believe, the people of future times will say - we necessarily were engaged in the preliminary task of clearing the timber, notfor the Federal Capital, but to permit of the necessary organization which has followed. That time has passed away. The fiscal question for the time being is buried. With the fiscal question the cardinal difference that separated honorable members has also disappeared, and, consequently, the situation by which we are faced to-day is one which never occurred during the last Parliament, which is peculiar to the present Parliament, and which must, therefore, naturally, and by the necessity of the case, lead to new groupings of honorable members. Previously the members of the Labour Party were themselves divided - outside their platform - when the fiscal issue was raised.
– We have some freedom then ?
– Outside the platform, and outside certain other requirements. The same division has been removed from between honorable members in other parts of the House. We are face to face, therefore, with a fresh set of circumstances, which must necessitate a fresh determination of members and alliances. Honorable members opposite recognise that. Their programme for this session might be termed colourless, except in regard to the social measures which have been already laid before us, and that of itself points to the removal of that Alpine chain over which previously we used to climb in the endeavour to assail each other’s pastures. We find ourselves now in the plain open country. We have passed through Korea and the Manchurian mountains, and have come out into the open, where the forces on each side can be distinctly seen. Under these circumstances, is it not time that whatever course be followed, in this House at all events, as much as possible of the inseparable excrescences of strife should now be laid aside? We have seen the differences of separate States in the Commonwealth unhappily forced upon us by the fact that - at all events in the two most populous - diametrically opposite fiscal policies have found favour. We are now upon a ground which offers a means of avoiding the discord which has been occasioned by that separation. After the sweeping away of the fiscal barrier, if only for a time, there will be the possibility of better relations between the States of New South Wales and Victoria. In the other States the division has been far less acute, but even in them an opportunity is now afforded to thoughtful men to reconsider the new situation without continuous reference to their old ties. May I suggest, with bated breath, that the time has come when the personal bitternesses which have arisen out of prolonged fiscal and other strife may well be laid aside, let us hope for ever? Whenthe fiscal strife revives, if it ever does, it may generate similar warmth of feeling, which will lead to similar exaggerated expressions, but at the present time we surely have no need to resort to those personal weapons, to bring back those unhappy recollections, to re-open those ancient sores. That enables us to face the new situation as we should face it, with open and free minds. I have found, in the course of the informal discussions between some honorable members opposite and myself, a disposition to look more frankly at the future, and more openly upon their difficulties, than I have ever known before. I must confess that, in the course of the discussions which have led to the preparation of this document, notwithstanding the warnings which I have received as to the astuteness of my right honorable friend-
– Oh ! I am only the harmless comic man.
– That is quite true.
– Notwithstanding the caution that, under his gay exterior, he veils the most dangerous and subtle designs, he and I, though he has been by no means easy to move, and possesses sufficient Scotch blood to prevent him from giving anything away, have met in a perfectly fair spirit, and I am, therefore, prepared to find that the attitude which members generally have adopted towards each other may need to be reconsidered. It is the situation which forces this reconsideration upon us. It needed a good deal of pressure to bring together my right honorable friend, and myself to consider these documents; and it needed a good deal of pressure to induce my honorable friends opposite to enlarge their boundaries. But we must realize that, in this House, circumstances will be. too strong for the wishes of many of us. The pressure must become responsible. For my own part - and I should have said it in its proper place had not a diversion led me astray - with responsible government as we know it, the party system, speaking of it in a parliamentary way, requires to be carefully preserved. With the existence of a majority and a minority comes the condition that the members of the majority shall be united on all their main principles,’ and shall govern, while the minority act in opposition to them. I hold so strongly to the party system that I contend for it that we must always be prepared to make reasonable sacrifices, representing that fair consideration for the difficulties of others which we expect for our own. I hope to be loyal, so long as may be possible, to all the members with whom I have been associated in past years. Nothing but circumstances of the extremest urgency shall lead me to consent to a severance of our relations. What we have to face in this House is the possibility, arising from beyond and outside ourselves, of circumstances that require us definitely to take one sideor the other. It was not under a perfectly clear sky and without any pressure of necessity that my right honorable friend and myself met together to endeavour to. consider a common platform, and that my party threw open its doors in the endeavour to obtain a majority favorable to our political principles. It was because any one who considers the state of this Parliament must realize its utter instability, the constant temptation which its present condition affords, both to those in Opposition who lead and to those who usually follow, so that we may at any moment, and without warning, be confronted by crises which would not be possible if a firm and consistent majority sat behind the Government of the day. We did not create this unstable condition of things; the country created it when it returned three equal parties. Those parties were re-elected after a triangular duel. If the electors had been confronted by two parties only, they would have given a decisive verdict, and “in order to obtain a decisive verdict from the country in the future, it will be necessary to divide this House into two parties. It is only in that way that we shall be able to obtain the verdict of the majority, and secure the proper working of responsible government.
– Why was it not done at the last elections?
– Because three parties persisted in fighting each other, instead of two of them combining, as circumstances are now compelling us to do.
– There were very few triangular fights.
– There were a great many. A number of seats, equal at least to the number of supporters lost by the late Government, were lost in consequence of triangular duels. The situation is partly an inheritance from the last Parliament, and partly from the fierce fiscal contest at the last election, coupled with the effective organization of my honorable friends opposite. Under our system of government the situation is one of peril, uncertainty, and instability, and cannot be maintained. That is why it deserves the consideration of the House. It is for my honorable friend to make such proposals as will enable him to acquire a majority which can keep him in office in spite of the criticisms of the minority on this side of the Chamber. Otherwise it is inevitable that, so soon as a fair opportunity offers, a majority on this side will displace him, and cast upon him the responsibilities of leader of an Opposition. If honorable members have followed my long and rambling speech, they will see that from first to last it has sprung . from one root. I have endeavoured to faithfull v and consistently follow one course since the last election. I realized that we needed not so much a new programme as a new distribution of parties, and the restoration of responsible government, with majority rule, covering all the powers of administration and control that such a majority would give. I am sure that all honorable members must agree upon’ this point, and trust that in loyalty to the country which sent us here, and to our constituents, we shall with the least possible delay recon sider our position, so as to group ourselves into two parties in accordance with the principles upon which we are returned. If the principles of my honorable friend the Prime Minister meet with most general acceptance, let him have his majority sitting with him, and let those who cannot support him sit on this side in opposition. Legislation must be more or less perilous, and our administration ineffective, because uncertain, until this condition of affairs is brought about. It therefore lies with honorable members to consider the situation as well as the programme submitted by the Government. We can no longer shut our eyes to the dangers by which the present position is surrounded, and the assaults which may be sprung upon us as surprises. It was in order that there might be timely consideration beforehand that the proposals to which I have referred were laid before the two parties. It was in order to guard honorable members against being called upon in the haste and urgency of some vote which would affect the life of the Ministry to consider their position suddenly and unexpectedly. We have partly met the necessities of the case by suggesting a basis for our union, and ought to be prepared to deal with it further. It was-‘ solely on account of the serious nature of the situation, especially to my own party, that I have thought it necessary to offer these remarks in justification of our attitude, and of the course we have followed.
– We have all listened with great interest and sympathy to the honorable and learned member, especially to his remarks relating to his personal experiences and the difficulties which have beset him during the present crisis. I can assure him that he never stood higher in the estimation of Australians than he does today, and that nothing in his official life has become him better than the manner of his leaving it. I say that without the least irony, because I believe that the manner of his leaving official life, and his manner of receiving the present Ministry, are worthy of the highest admiration. I propose to make only a short speech, and I hope that my honorable friend will not regard the brevity of my remarks as any disparagement of his speech.
– The Romans shortened their swords, and widened their Empire.
– My remarks will be brief, because there is so little to find fault 2 z 2 with in the deliverance of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat. It was probably expected that owing to his recent experience the honorable and learned member would come here to curse us, but instead of that, like a certain prophet of old, he has remained to bless. It is quite true that the prophet had interviews and conferences by the way with a certain animal. I understand that the honorable and learned member for Ballarat had the advantage of conferences with the right honorable member for East Sydney. I am speaking only by way of analogy, and not with any offensive intent, so far as the right honorable gentlemanis concerned. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat, in waiting for overtures from the representatives of the two other parties, reminds me very much of the young lady to whom he referred at the A.N.A. banquet. If I might press the comparison further, I would suggest that he is like one of the characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was very admirably presented to us last year. There Demetrius is pursued by Helena, and he pursues Hermia. I venture to suggest that the right honorable member for East Sydney is Helena, and is pursuing Demetrius, in the person of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, who in his turn is pursuing Hermia, in the shape of the Labour Party. I really think that my honorable friend makes too much altogether of the three parties bogy. I know that there is a great deal in what he has said, but he must not forget that, although it may be very convenient and nice for a Government to have a majority, a number of Governments have been carried on without majorities. I do not allude to the German Parliament, where the Ministry never had a majority, because it may be urged there are differences between the Constitution of that country and our own. It will be found, however, that in England when the Corn Laws were repealed by Sir Robert Peel, in 1845, the Government were in a minority, whilst the Great Reform Law was carried in 1867 by Mr. Disraeli, when his Government were in a minority. Again, in the initial stages of the working of the Federal Constitution some of the greatest and most far-reaching measures that any Parliament has ever passed were introduced by a Government who were in a minority from first to last.
– The Government led by the right honorable member for East Syd ney in New South Wales was in a minority in the Parliament of 1898.
– I understand that the right honorable gentleman carried on his Government for five years upon lines of which he could fully approve, whilst he was dependent on an alliance with the Labour Party.
– We had a majority against both the other parties at the beginning.
– That’s absurd.
– I must ask the Minister of External Affairs not to interject across the table. It is very disorderly.
– The House has during the last few years heard more than enough of the domestic quarrels of New South Wales, and perhaps I ought not to have digressed to the extent I have done. Three weeks ago the honorable and learned member for Ballarat promised us fair play, and said that he would wait for our programme. He always keeps his word, and now that our programme has been disclosed he finds that our measures are exactly those which, of his own accord, hethought fit to present to the people of Australia. In the programme put forward, not only by the honorable and learned member, but by the right honorable member for East Sydney, there is not one proposal which has not been included among those of the Ministry. Therefore, I suggest, with all respect, that until my honorable and learned friend is in a position to judge as to the manner in which the Government will administer the affairs of the country, his proper place is on this side of the House. We know that the honorable and learned member’s sympathy is, and always has been, with progressive legislation, and therefore there is no one in the House we should more warmly welcome as an ally and a guide. There is only the one point in dispute between us - the point on which he thought fit to stake the life of his Government. I refer to the proposal to include railway and other public servants within the operation of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill.
– A very important point.
– It may be. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat appeals for government by majority, and I would remind him that so far as that point is concerned, we certainly have a majority. That fact was demonstrated by the result of the division, and those who voted with us on the last occasion will, if they remain true to their principles, vote in the same way again. We have a majority on that question, and, adopting his advice, we govern in that respect by a majority. As soon as we pass from that matter we have the honorable and learned member’s full approval of our programme. It is, of course, very convenient for Governments to feel that they have only one party with which to deal”, or, in other words, to know that they have a majority ; but it is not always convenient for the country. My experience and reading are that Governments are best held in check and controlled when they feel that they have to commend their principles not merely to the party supporting them, but to the majority of the House, and some of the best measures that have been passed into law have been framed by Governments at a time when they felt that they had to please a certain number of honorable members of the Opposition.
– Hear, hear. A glorious fighting platform !
– At the present timethe question is really not one of two parties. Having regard to the fact that the honorable and learned members who lead the two branches of’ the Opposition have joined in proposing to the Commonwealth the same programme that we have put forward, I submit that the Ministry is in the happy position of being able to feel that there is now only one party in the country - one party supporting old-age pensions, one party supporting all the minor measures, and one party evidently supporting the building of the Federal Capital and the transcontinental railway. I shall go one better than the honorable and learned member for Ballarat. He says that we have at present three parties, and that we require but two. I assert that we need only one. May I also say that but for a very peculiar development during the last general elections, we should have had only two parties - even nominal parties - in this House. In what I am about to say I have no desire to attribute blame to honorable members. I simply wish to state the fact that in New South Wales it was determined that the fight should be based’ upon an issue which had really been abandoned for. the time being in all the other States - the issue of free-trade or protection. The question had been discussed in the first Parliament, but recently we witnessed the extraordinary spectacle of the’ representatives of one of the six States, with the exception of the members of the Labour Party, basing all the essential voting upon the issue of free-trade or protection, although the issue was dead, and of no practical purpose; The result of . the attitude taken up in New South Wales at the last general elections was that in Victoria the Ministry was forced to a large extent to see that protectionists were returned. But for that peculiar development - one State going to the poll upon an issue different from that which was taken up by all the others - we should have had only two parties, and they would have been what we are going to have in the course of a very short time - the parties of progress and of reaction. ‘ There are going to be two parties, but, with all respect to my honorable and learned friends opposite, they are not going to be the parties of Mr. Deakin, or of Mr. Reid, or of Mr. Watson. . We shall settle down in a very short time to the old time-honoured cleavage which history has shown’ to be universal, the distinction between those who are for progress and those who, if we may put it in a mild form, are for caution. Although, as the honorable and learned member has said, I am not a pledged member of the Labour Party, I view with a great deal of indignation - and I can speak more freely than can those who are pledged - the statement that the Labour Party is a class party. . That misrepresentation Has been sedulously fostered in newspapers, on public platforms, and, I am sorry to say, even in Parliament. No doubt the Labour Party has rightly endeavoured to strike at the root of the evils that exist, at the lowest part of the tree, but at the same time its members avow their intention to dp their best for the whole community. If there is one thing more than another which has driven me and a number of men into sympathy with the Labour Party, it is the gross and cruel injustice to which they have been subjected.
– My honorable friend always spoils my periods. In my opinion, the outcome of this crisis must be very beneficial to the whole community. I do not put it as being beneficial to any party; but for years past I have watched with concern a party growing in influence, in numbers, and in power, yet never facing responsibility. The effect of the creation of the present Ministry, be it short-lived or long-lived, will be good for Australia. It will help to sober those who are in power, it will make them see the limita- tions within which they must work, and at the same time it will help to sober - and they need sobering even more - their unjustcritics. It will enable the people of Australia to see that the affairs of the Commonwealth can be managed as coolly, as sedulously, and as honestly by members of the Labour Party as by any other group of honorable members that could be found in the House. In the Attorney-General’s Department there is not that departmental work that is associated with other branches of the Government service, and therefore I am free to say that I never saw a group of Ministers tackle the work of their Departments with such earnestness, honesty, industry, and care, and with’ so strong a determination’ to. do right to all classes, as have been exhibited by my honorable colleagues. I can make that statement with more freedom than can others, and I have only to say in conclusion, as my honorable and learned friend said the other day, that the people of Australia may consider their destinies and affairs as safe in the hands of the Labour Party, of whom some people speak sneeringly, as they would be in the hands of any other body of men that could be found.
– I believe that the right honorable member for East Sydney desires to speak on this important occasion, and I propose to ask for the adjournment of the debate in order that he may do so.
– The honorable member can keep the debate going.
– I have not prepared a speech for delivery on the situation. I think it is right that the leader of’ the Opposition, Mr. Reid, should be heard.
– Who is leader of the Opposition?
– Why didnot the right honorable member for East Sydney take up the positionof leader of the Opposition ?
– Honorable members think that by making interjections of that kind they will cause division in our ranks.
– Is the honorable member speaking to the question?
– I move -
That the debate be now adjourned.
Honorable members will admit that theright honorable member for East Sydney should be heardupon this question, and the right honorable member is not nowpresent.
Mr.P age.-He isjust outside the chamber. ‘
.I may be permitted to say that I quite recognise that the right honorable member for East Sydney has a right to be heard on an occasion of this sort. If I did not immediately consent to the adjournment of the debate suggested, it was due to a feeling that the hour is somewhat early for the House to adjourn, and I thought other honorable members might be willing to continue the debate, and thus avoid taking up time at a later stage.
– Would it be quite fair, in the circumstances, to expect honorable members to speak until the two leaders on this side have spoken? The circumstances are peculiar.
– I quite admit that. Honorable members will determine for themselves whether, at this stage, they are justified in speaking. If no other honorable member desires to speak I consent to the adjournment of the debate.
Motion agreed to; debate adjourned.
House adjourned at 9.34 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 May 1904, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1904/19040519_reps_2_19/>.