2nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Has the attention of the Vice-President of the Executive Council been directed to a report of a meeting of the Rifle Association, in Sydney, at which serious allegations were made concerning the manner in which the recent matches at the Victorian Rifle Club range at Williamstown were conducted? As this Parliament provides a considerable amount for prize money, will the honorable gentleman cause inquiry to be made as to the truth of the allegations?
– I have seen the report, and will place a copy of it before the Minister of Defence, who, I am satisfied, will look into the matter. I will inform the House of the result of his consideration of it.
– Is the Prime Minister able, in the midst of the legislative auction which he is conducting, to give a passing, fragmentary thought to the keeping of the solemn constitutional compact with New South Wales in reference to the Federal Capital site? Will the matter be dealt with this session, and, if so, when?
– I hope to be in a position to submit a proposal next week.
– Are we to take it that the Government intend to deal definitely with the matter before the session closes?
– In view of the extremely long hours which the officers and attendants of the House have had to remain at work lately, will he, if it comes within the province of the Government, give favorable consideration to a request for paying them extra remuneration for the additional work which has devolved upon them?
– The attention of the Government was directed to the matter on the adjournment of the House only a few hours ago. Whatever may be done rests with the President and Mr. Speaker, who are always extremely sympathetic in cases of this kind.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– I ask the honorable member to postpone this question until Tuesday, when I shall try to have the information he desires, though I would point out that, in all but exceptional cases, the invoices are regarded as confidential, and it is difficult for the Department to get this information except from them. It is only when there is trouble between an importer and the Department that invoices are made public.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are these -
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The Minister of Defence is not yet in a position’ to give a definite reply in regard to these questions, the whole matter being now under consideration.
Motion (by Sir William Lyne) agreed to-
That the House do now resolve itself into a Committee of the whole for the purpose of considering the desirability of introducing a Bill for an Act to encourage manufactures in Australia, by altering the provisions for bringing into operation Part VIA. of the Schedule to the Customs Tariff 1902.
– I move -
That it is expedient toencourage manufactures in Australia by altering the provisions for bringing into operation Part VIA. of the Schedule to the Customs Tariff 1902.
I propose to take the same course on this occasion as I took on moving a similar motion in regard to the Sugar Bounty Bill, and to reserve my detailed statement of the intention and effect of the measure until it is before the House.
– I hope that my comparative silence in regard to this measure will not be misinter preted. Honorable members generally are so exhausted that the House may fairly be said to be in. a state of demoralization for purposes of legislation. I shall, there fore, content myself with calling attention to the extraordinary conduct of the Go vernment in bringing forward, during the closing days of the session, proposals for legislation regarding a subject into which a Royal Commission already sitting proposes to make the fullest inquiries, with a view to submitting recommendations to Parliament later on. However, I presume that Honorable members opposite will continue to sit tight behind the Government, as they have done for so long, and therefore it is useless for me to do more than to call attention to the extra ordinary course which is being taken.
– The Minister has not shown the necessity for bringing in this Bill during the present session. There is already more than a full list of measures on the business paper, considering the few sitting days which remain between now and Christmas. No business can be established during the recess that would justify the Minister in giving effect to the provisions of Part VIa., and therefore there is no need to pass this measure before the prorogation. It cannot be required during the recess, because more than the period for which the House will, be out of session will be necessary to estab lish an industry which would warrant the bringing into force of Part VIa. Why then should such a contentious and debatable Bill be introduced to add to our work when we are already overtaxed ? The Minister has apparently abandoned his proposal to give a bonus for the production of iron, and no new business should be introduced at this stage of the session which is not absolutely essential, considering the hours which honorable members are being asked to sit in order to get through the work. This Bill would do as well next Parliament, when an alteration of the Tariff is foreshadowed, as this, and we certainly should not be asked to deal with it before the session closes.
Question resolved in. the affirmative.
Resolution reported and adopted.
Motion (by Sir William Lyne) proposed -
That Mr. Deakin and Sir William Lyne do prepare and bring in the Bill.
– I protest against the introduction of the Bill at this stage of the session. We shall probably receive a full report from the Tariff Commission when we meet next year, and should be given an opportunity to avail ourselves of the result of their inquiries before being asked to deal with a measure such as this. I am prepared far a fair thing, but I am not prepared to act on the blind in this matter. I trust that the Government will not insist on pushing the Bill through. It is one which if proceeded with, will occupy a long time in discussion, and, so far as I can see, nothing will be gained by passing it this session. Parliament will probably meet early next year–
– I hope not.
– At any rate, we are to have another session in which we can deal with Tariff matters, and with this measure, which might well be held over until then.
– The request for the holding over of this Bill until next session is one of the most reasonable which the Opposition have made since they took their places on your left, Mr. Speaker. The Tariff Commission is sitting, and I expect that we shall be called upon to deal with some of its recommendations during next session.
– This proposal does not affect the duty.
– No, but it will give rise to a debate on the fiscal question. I shall certainly reserve to myself the right to vote as I please upon that subject. I think it is of far more importance that we should proceed with the Electoral Bill, which is a very debatable measure, and will occupy some time.
– I think it would be wise to allow the Bill to stand over until next session. It is true that we have not seen the measure, but if it assumes anything like the shape indicated in the press I shall vote against it. The step now proposed should have been taken at a much earlier stage of the session.
– I am amazed that the Government should attempt to bring forward a proposal of this kind at this stage of the session.
– Why? It proposes to make only a slight alteration in existing legislation.
– There is a time for discussing such questions, and that time is not now. The Electoral Bill will give rise to a prolonged debate, and it is nothing but sheer brutality on the part of the Prime Minister to force a proposal for the amendment of the Tariff upon our attention at this stage.
– I must ask the honorable member to withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw my observation, but I wish, in the mildest language possible, to express my opinion that it is undesirable from the stand-point of the health of honorable members, of the officers of the House, and of others whose work is increased by our late sittings that business of this kind should be brought forward at the end of the session. There is certain to be a long discussion upon the Electoral Bill, and I think that we should proceed with it without any delay.
– If the honorable member will sit down we shall soon reach that measure.
– The honorable member for Corangamite should ask permission of the honorable member for Bland to say a few words.
– It is hypocritical to ask that the Electoral Bill should be proceeded with, and at the same time to keep on talking in such a manner as to prevent us from reaching it.
– Any remarks I may have to make will not cause much delay. I protest emphatically against Ministers bringing in a proposal of this kind at the fag end of the session, when honorable members are not in a fit state to deal with. it.
– It israther amusing to hear honorable members protesting against the Electoral Bill being blocked when it is understood that immediately this motion is disposed of one way or the other the Electoral Bill will be proceeded with. So far as I understand the intentions of the Government, it is proposed to alter the date for bringing into operation Part VIa. of the Schedule of the Customs Tariff, which was deliberately passed by the last Parliament.
– That is, to practically impose additional duties.
– It is proposed to bring into operation duties which the majority of honorable members carried in spite of the Opposition,, and which form part of the settled policy of the country. We have a right to bring these duties into operation at any time that we may think fit. I quite agree with the honorable member for Corangamite, who, speaking on behalf of himself and his friends, said that he and they were not in a fit state to deal with a question of this kind. That is evidenced by the remarks that have been made this morning.
– I would remind the honorable member that of the five speakers who have addressed themselves to this motion four have been members on the Government side of the House. The Government have suddenly discovered! that it is necessary to bring into operation Part VIa. of the Tariff schedule, which has been allowed to remain ineffective for three years. It is an open secret that we shall have a fiscal struggle next session. We know that the Prime Minister’s desire is to flaunt the flag, not of fiscal peace, but of fiscal strife, and we may very well leave the proposed Bill to be dealt with in connexion with the reconsideration of the Tariff generally. The honorable member for Corangamite said he was amazed at the action of the Government, and I must confess that I am staggered at their proposal to legislate in this direction at this stage of the session. I trust that Ministers will merely use the Bill as a placard.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented by Sir William Lyne. and read a first time.
Debate resumed from 7 th November (vide page 4664), on motion by Mr. Groom -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– Perhaps I ought to apologize to the House for having been to sleep for two or three hours. Under the present process of legislation by exhaustion, it is becoming a crime to devote any time to sleep. I hope that the statement of the honorable member for Bland that certain honorable members are not in a fit mental condition to attend to business is not true.
– The honorable member for Corangamite said that.
– The hon orable member for Bland indorsed the statement.
– I accepted it as applying to the honorable member for Corangamite and his friends.
– I trust that honorable members are in a fit state of mind to give their attention to a very important measure affecting the whole of our electoral system - every electorate and every member. I trust that the Bill will be regarded as a non-party measure, and that honorable members will do their best to improve our electoral legislation. I regret that the Minister has brought in the Bill as an amending measure. I think that the provision that an amending Bill can be read into an existing. Act, and that the Government Printer can print the complete measure as if it had been passed at one time, ceases to be useful if its application is not confined to Bills in which the amendments are moderate in proportion to the number of sections in the original Act. The result of our dealing in this piecemeal fashion with our electoral legislation is that sections which ought to be amended have been left untouched. No attempt has been made to meet some of the difficulties that have been experienced in administration, or to dispel doubts which have arisen as to the meaning of certain sections, or those which make hard-and-fast conditions necessary, and which prevent improvements that would be of great assistance to the electoral officers in the performance of their duties. When, prior to the beginning of the session, I was preparing to introduce an Electoral Bill, I took a view quite different from that held by the Minister.
– Order ! I would point out that there is so much conversation proceeding in the chamber that it is difficult for me to follow the honorable member’s remarks, and I can quite understand that those who have to record our proceedings will experience great difficulty in doing so. I ask honorable members, if they must converse, to do so in subdued tones.
– When I was called upon to consider the question of the amendment of our electoral law., I came to the conclusion that the necessary amendments were so numerous - covering as they did about 120 sections out of a total of 210 - that the only proper way of effecting them was by placing an entirely new Bill before Parliament. That Bill was prepared, and is in existence in the Department of Home Affairs at the present time. Instead of submitting” that measure, the Government have seen fit to deal with the question in the form of an amending Bill. The amendments which it foreshadows relate to 90 sections of the original Act out of a total of 210. By adopting the course which he has, the Minister has retained some defective sections in our electoral law which, under other circumstances, we should have had an opportunity of removing.
– Thev can be amended in this Bill.
– That is so; but more time will be absorbed in discussing the Bill in its present form, and in making additions to it, than would have teen occupied’ in the consideration of an entirely new measure.
– Still, the amendments come within the order of leave.
– Oh, yes. The difficulty that now confronts us is in dealing with the matter thoroughly at this late stage of the session. I quite agree that where the amendments required are limited in number, an Act should be amended in the way that is now proposed, but where they are numerous, the better practice is to submit an entirely new measure. I would also point out that some matters which might have been dealt with in an entirely fresh Bill - and which, as a matter of fact, were dealt with in the measure that T prepared - cannot be considered in connexion with this amending Bill, because its scope will not permit that to be done. For instance, I have given notice of my intention to submit an amendment relating to the disqualification of members attaching to the acceptance of fees for services rendered in their capacity as members; but I am very doubtful whether it will be in order.
– It is a verv good amendment, too.
– I think we ought to set an example to the States Legislatures in that matter. We ought (o be able to say that this Parliament is prepared to mete out punishment for actions which tend to the degradation of all parliamentary # institutions. I do not wish to anticipate the question which may arise in that connexion, but it seems to me that there is a danger that my proposal may be held to be outside the scope of the Bill. Again, the measure which I had prepared contained a provision declaring that the Court of Disputed Returns should also have the power to decide upon the qualification of honorable members. At the present time that tribunal can determine whether or not an election is valid, but I would also allow it to decide the question of whether a member is qualified to occupy a seat in the Commonwealth Legislature. That power is not possessed by the Court at the present time. The title of this Bill, which is merely an. amending measure, does not cover that matter, and un–. less some words can be added to it, such, for instance, as “for other purposes,” I fear that the questions to which I have alluded cannot be dealt with. In moving the second reading of this measure, the Minister of Home Affairs stated that it was based almost entirely upon the report of the Conference of electoral officers which met some time ago, and upon the recommendations of the Select Committee, which inquired into certain electoral matters. Whilst the Bill contains a great many proposals which are the result of the report of that Conference, and of the recommendations of the Select Committee, I would point out that about half of the dozen principal amendments were not recommended by either of those bodies. One-fourth of them were so recommended ; but in respect of another fourth, the recommendations of the Select Committee have been departed from. Whilst those bodies made some very valuable suggestions, the Bill itself contains - as did the measure which I prepared - proposals which were not reported upon bv them, and others in which! there has been a variation of their recommendations. However. I do not intend to discuss the Bil! in detail, as I have no wish to occupy more time than is necessary. One of the most important amendments which I have foreshadowed is extremely simple. But there is more beneath it than, at first sight, appears. In clause 4, I propose to amend section 3 of the principal Act by omitting the words “ for Home Affairs ‘’” with a view to substituting “of State administering the Act.” I intend that amendment to test the views of honor-‘ able members upon a very important question. If the administration of the Electoral Department is to remain in the Home Affairs Office, there is no necessity for the amendment. But if, on the other hand, it is to be removed from that office, the House, by adopting the amendment, can clearly indicate that it is of opinion that the Department - for reasons which I shall state as briefly as possible - ought to be transferred to the control of the Post Office. The Select Committee which inquired into the working of the Electoral Act, strongly recommended that wherever it was possible to do so, officers of the Commonwealth Public Service should be employed in the administration of the Act. If effect is to be given to that recommendation, we must recognise that the Postal Department is the most suitable one to control the administration of the electoral law, because its ramifications extend all over Australia - not merely along its coastline, but also into the interior.
– The Customs Department also extends over the whole Commonwealth.
– I do not say that the services of officers of the Customs Department could not be utilized in this connexion. But the Post Office reaches not merely the coast, but the most remote portions of the interior. If effect is to be given to the recommendation of the Committee in this respect, there is every reason why the Department, whose officers are responsible for the carrying out of the electoral law, should be charged with the control of it.
– Ninety per cent, of the men who run the Electoral Department are members of the staff of the PostmasterGeneral .
– The honorable member is quite right in saying that a large proportion are.
– Does not the honorable member think that the Postmaster-General has already enough to do?
– With a Chief Electoral Officer, and a good staff, such as could be created in the Postal Department, the duties of the PostmasterGeneral, in administering the Electoral Office, would be very small indeed. In any case, if we decide that the Department shall be transferred to the Post Office, we can make any provision that may be necessary to give effect to our wishes. We can even go to the extent of allowing the ‘honorary Minister in any Cabinet to act in the Post Office as the administrator of the Electoral Department. We can do anything that may be required to provide a sufficient staff for carrying out the Act, when we once decide the Department through which the law can be administered most efficiently. I think that I can point out reasons for the present unsatisfactory state of affairs - reasons which cannot be disputed by the Minister. In the first place, while some officers in the Postal Department willingly take up this work, others undertake it only with reluctance. We know that work unwillingly entered upon is not likely to be done so well as is that which is freely undertaken. However willing a postmaster may be to carry out his electoral duties, his operations are hampered, since under the present arrangement he is unable to secure the assistance of his staff ; not one member of it can be called upon to deal with work that is extraneous to the Department. But however hard he may work - and some of these officers have overworked themselves in carrying out the duties of their dual position - the fact remains that when he has become au fait with electoral matters, he may be transferred to another district, with the result that the electoral work of that division is liable to be thrown into a state of chaos. If two or three officers discharging these duties were transferred shortly prior to an election, and we cannot always foresee when an election is likely to take place, serious difficulties would arise. Another point is that one of these competent and enthusiastic officers might be replaced by a man who would less readily undertake these special duties. In any case his successor would know nothing whatever about electoral work, and some months would necessarily elapse before he acquired the requisite knowledge. In the meantime, he would be very apt to make serious mistakes. Officers of the Postal Department are discharging this work and giving greater satisfaction than would be secured by the employment of person* outside the service, ‘and. therefore, I think it is a sensible proposition that it should be treated as ordinary departmental work; which every officer in that branch of the Public Service must be prepared to carry out. This system would lead to the building up of a magnificent staff of electoral officers. The boy entering the Postal Department would come into touch with the electoral branch, just as he now comes into contact with the money order branch, and at the age at which the mind is most receptive he would begin to learn the administration of the electoral law. As he passed from post to post he would acquire a wider and wider knowledge of the work, and finally in this way we should build up a staff ready to meet any emergency. We should have men with knowledge ready at any moment to fill vacancies caused by transfers or death.
– And the men would be both competent and loyal.
– That is so. It must not be imagined that if the electoral branch were attached to the Postal Department the officers of that Department would raise any objection to the discharge of the duties appertaining to it. Many postal officials now object to the work only because it is superimposed upon what are regarded as their ordinary duties, and also because they are unable, in attending to it, to enlist the services of the staff surrounding them. Many of them hold that the special remuneration they receives does not sufficiently compensate them for the additional work which is thus thrust upon them. In many cases it does not. Where the time of a postmaster is fully occupied in attending to his postal duties, the special remuneration which he receives for attending to electoral matters is not by any means equivalent to the extra work thus imposed upon him. But if the administration of the electoral law were made part and parcel of the ordinary work of the Postal Department, the officers of that branch of the Public Service, instead of objecting to it, would be well pleased. They would recognise that it added to the importance of their Department, and strengthened their own position. Would any officer of that Department welcome a proposal to take from it the Money Order Branch? I am sure that none of them would. They would know that it would reduce the importance of their positions.
– And, perhaps’, lead to their receiving reduced pav.
– That is so. But if, on the other hand, the work relating to the Money Order Branch were now to be imposed upon them for the first time, and those charged with the duty of looking after it could not secure the assistance of even a youth in the Post Office to enable them to cope with the extra demands thus made upon them, they would naturally object. I am of opinion that the administration of the electoral law should be carried out by Government officials.
– Postal officials?
– I have said postal officials, because the ramifications of the Postal Department extend, not only along the coast, but to every part of the Commonwealth. But I am now proceeding to make a comparison, between official and non-official, electoral officers. Experience has satisfied me that the recommendation of the Select Committee that officers of the Public Service, wherever possible, should be employed to do this work is a proper one. Although some public officers have failed to discharge their electoral duties as well as they ought to have done, their work, taken as a whole, has been undoubtedly superior to that of persons outside the Public Service.
– In some cases it has.
– I am speaking, not of individual cases, but generally. I admit that some of the electoral officers outside the Public Service have done their work very well ; but I would remind honorable members that the responsibilities attaching to the administration of the electoral law of the Commonwealth are much greater than are those involved in the administration of the electoral law of a State. An infinitely greater area has to be covered, and the central control is not in such close touch with all its branches as is the central control of the States. It would be impossible to arrange for a satisfactory service by outside persons except at enormous cost. The remuneration that we allow for the discharge of duties relating to the Electoral Office is not sufficient to enable a man outside the service to give the whole of his attention to that work. In order to make a living, he must necessarily devote his attention to other matters. These men will not neglect other business in order to attend to electoral matters, and when they arc called upon to leave a district, either permanently or for a time, thev do> not hesitate to give up the remuneration which they receive from the Electoral Department. Whilst some excellent men outside (he Public Service take up this work - the only objection to their employment being that, as the remuneration is not sufficient to render it unnecessary for them to seek other avenues of employment, they may at any moment throw it up - others who undertake it are men who pick up any trifling addition to their income, where, and as best they can. In many cases, they are not capable of securing and holding permanent positions. The vagaries of this, class, and the deaths which take place in their ranks from time to time, are- liable to continually disrupt the sendee, because no one is being prepared by them to take their places. Many of them desire to’ retain to themselves the knowledge of electoral matters which they have secured. They do not disseminate that knowledge, and, therefore, no one is being prepared to take their place. Then, again, they are more liable to remove from one district to another than are officers in the Department.
– And some of them have very conservative views.
– Quite so. When we employ such men, we have not the guarantee of their remaining in the service of the Electoral Office that we secure by utilizing the services of the officials of one of the public Departments.
– We have really no claim upon them.
– That is so. As the honorable member reminds me, the remuneration which we give them is so small that in many cases they do not hesitate to give it up. When a crisis comes they say, “ We do more than we .ought to do, having regard to what we are receiving.”
– That is the time when some of them threaten us.
– It is. We have a better guarantee that the work will be well done when we employ public officers to discharge these duties, since they know that their position and their salary depend upon their satisfactory service. The defect of the present system is that, while we have a guarantee as regards men now doing the work, we are not educating others to take their place when they are removed, or fall ill, or die. If we could not alter the arrangement, we might be able to endure it, but it presents great dangers, and we must on occasion feel the evil effects of it. Although every effort has been, and, no doubt, is being, made to improve the position, and to bring about a state of security, disturbing elements may introduce themselves at any time, when the system must break down at some point, which would be a very serious occurrence immediately prior to a general election. The simple remedy is to transfer the whole work of the Electoral Branch to the control of the Department whose officers are now doing a great deal of it under circumstances of unnecessary difficulty. I cannot see why objections should be raised to the change. As I provided for it in an amending Bill, which I had drafted when I was controlling the Department, and which is now among its records, it cannot be said that I wish to reduce the importance of the Minister- of Home Affairs, or to take a single feather from him, though, in any case, the importance of a Department should not prevent changes being made which’ are in the interest of the community. Australia is an enormous continent, and, when a poll is being taken, votes have to be collected from settlers scattered sparsely through areas which are difficult to reach, and, therefore, our electoral system cannot be satisfactorily carried out without great intelligence and energy in its application. I would point out, however, that there are a number of matters not yet taken over by the Commonwealth, which’ will naturally come under the administration of the Department of Home Affairs, and that there are others which might well be transferred to it from Departments which are more heavily weighted. I have always objected to the provision which is so common.lv put into our measures that “ This Act ‘shall be administered by the Minister of such and such a Department.” I would rather leave it to the Cabinet to make such adjustments as they may think fit ; though, of course, it would not be well to make frequent changes.
– It is more a matter foi each Administration to deal with than to be determined bv Act of Parliament.
– In my opinion, it should be left wholly to the Administration to deal with it as it likes. If the change I suggest were made, I do not think that the Department of Home Affairs would suffer in importance. In the carrying out of its functions, the Commonwealth Government will be forced to make a larger use of its postal officials than was made by the Governments of the States, who have scattered through their territories public schools, lands offices, and police stations. The Commonwealth Government controls only one set of offices spread throughout its territory, and must take advantage of those offices for the purposes of administering other than postal business. As I said on a prior occasion, a firm which had branches in every State would not dream of creating separate establishments in each of those States to run any new agency it might take up. It would1 add the work of running that agency to the duties of its existing staff, and, if necessary, would employ more officers, while its employed would be delighted with the arrangement, because they would know that, with a larger turn-over, their positions would probably be improved. I do not know what is the Minister of Home Affairs’ opinion on this subject, except so far as it has been indicated by his action in omitting my amendment from the Bill ; but I trust that he will be able to adopt the suggestion. in availing ourselves fully of the services of the postal officials, we should be creating a unique electoral staff. Those officials would be sufficiently in contact with electoral work to take up any of the duties imposed by the Act at any time, and would be in close touch with the people. At present, whenever we wish to purify our rolls, we make a new collection, and thus secure accuracy, so far as it can be secured under our present system. But, immediately, the rolls begin to drift again towards a state of disorder and chaos. There is no constant force acting to keep them even moderately correct, and the amendments not due to action by the electors themselves are very uncommon between elections. If an election should take place before there was time to make a new collection of names, the rolls which would be used would contain enormous errors. But if the various postmasters were intrusted with the duty of seeing that the rolls are kept accurate, they would be able to avail themselves of the information, which they could obtain daily from the letter-carriers, as to new removals, new arrivals, and so on.
– Is not that done now? In most places the postmasters keep the rolls.
– Yes ; but the officials acting under the postmasters are not bound to do work for the Electoral Department. In most cases they do not do it, and in many they have refused to do it.
– Often the postmasters do not trouble themselves about the matter.
– In many cases they have not been asked to do so. It is not right that the officers of the Postal Department should be controlled in any respect by another Department. I wish now to explain another proposal, which is not so important as that with which I have been dealing, but in regard to which I intend to move an amendment. I think that provision should be made for the establishment of polling-places outside the divisions’ for which they are established. In country districts one polling-place might often be made to serve two or more divisions, if it were not for the fact that each polling-place must be within the division for which it is established. Then, in Sydney, the Circular Quay, which is separated from the northern suburbs by a narrow strip of water only, would be a convenient place for taking the votes of the thousands of passengers who are brought there by the many ferry steamers which ply from various parts of the harbor.
– In Queensland, Brisbane used to be made a polling-place for Carpentaria. Would not the adoption of the honorable member’s suggestion get us back to the old system ?
– What the honorable, member for North Sydney suggests is less dangerous than the system of postal voting which we have adopted.
– Yes. Moreover, it” is all a matter of administration. Why should it be necessary to provide polling places _ on each side of the border of two contiguous divisions, when one polling place would answer the purpose?
– Could not that be provided for by regulation?
– Not now. But I think that the Minister should have the power to deal with the matter within certain limitations. In some places the physical conformation is such that it is more convenient for electors to cross the border into the neighbouring division for the purpose of recording their votes than to proceed to the nearest polling place in their own division. I know that in some of the country districts of New South Wales, owing to the physical features, electors frequently have to pass a polling place in an adjoining electorate in order to reach that at which they are required to record their votes in their own division. I do not see why polling places for a particular division should not be declared outside of that division. The next proposal relates, not, to an extension, but a limitation, of the present law. I notice that the Minister proposes to abolish the regulation form, by which any person can vote at any polling place in a State.
– I think the honorable member is mistaken.
– If the honorable and learned gentleman will look at clause 39, I think he will find that it is proposed to abolish the regulation form, which allows votes to be recorded at any polling place within a State, and to retain the “Q” form, which permits of votes being recorded at any polling place within an electorate. When the Electoral Act was under consideration, I suggested that it should be possible to declare a polling place outside a division, and as the then Minister could not see how the object aimed at was to be accomplished by inserting a provision in the Bill, the matter was left to lx; dealt with by regulation ; and the regulation form was drafted accordingly.
– There is some misconception on the part of the honorable member, because the regulation form is still preserved.
– I should like to direct the attention of the House at this stage to the fact “that it is almost impossible to discuss a Bill of this nature in the ordinary way upon the motion for the second reading. The second-reading debate should be addressed to the principles of the measure, and not to the discussion of details of clauses, which is not then allowable. As this debate proceeds, however!., it becomes more and more plain that it is almost impossible to discuss the Bill at all without going into details. I suggest, therefore, that the second-reading debate should be shortened as much as possible, in order that the details of the clauses mav be dealt with in Committee.
– I do not intend to discuss details, but I was rather led away owing to the apparent misunderstanding that has arisen as to the intention of the Bill. I desire to direct attention to the danger attaching to this very elastic form of voting. I am entirely in accord with those: who would’ extend the greatest facilities possible for the registration of votes, so long as there is no serious danger of fraud. I recognise, however., the great risk of fraud that is incurred in connexion with the present provision. If it should be discovered that frauds can be perpetrated, the regulation form of voting will be used by unscrupulous men of every party to stuff the ballot-boxes. I wish to avoid the scandal that would be created by resort to any such methods. We know that after a time all easy means of fraud’ will be discovered, and1 that they .will be availed of by unscrupulous persons. It was thought that the electoral-right system adopted in New South Wales would prevent fraud, and it worked excellently for one or two years. It has been discovered, however, that that system can easily be, and has” been, worked in order to perpetrate fraud, and it is now proposed to abandon it. The facilities now offered to a man to go into any polling booth in a State and represent himself as - a certain elector, and to register a vote by the use of a regulation form, are so full of danger, and may be worked so readily by unscrupulous persons, that, as Minister) I could not see my way to recommend their continuance. It is so easy to obtain a list of persons who cannot, for various reasons, record their votes in certain constituencies where there may be close contests, and to poll the votes represented with the greatest ease and safety, though dishonestly, in other electorates all over the State. It is easy for a man or several men, to go into a number of polling places, and to poll the votes of electors, careless of whether or not such electors are likely to present themselves afterwards.
– An elector can use the “ (J “ form only once in the same name.
– The “Q” form is not so dangerous as the other. The mere signing of the declaration involves no risk, and the regulation forms could be used in any number by unscrupulous men. It is all a question of unscrupulousness and money. I am not reflecting on the electors generally, but it must be admitted that there are unscrupulous .persons who would sign, such a declaration.
– The same thing might be done in connexion with postal votes.
– There is some danger of it, I confess.
– There is no instance upon record in which the system to which the honorable member refers has been abused in Commonwealth elections.
– I admit that there may be no cases of importance for an election or two-
– I know of two cases in which false declarations were made upon regulation forms in Queensland.
– The objection of the honorable member would apply equally to the use of “,Q “ forms.
– Yes, but the danger is less in the case of the “ Q “ forms.
– In connexion with my election one of the forms was signed after the supposed voter was dead.
– If we are to secure absolute safety, we shall have to compel electors to vote only at the polling place for which thev are enrolled.
– T quite admit that. That was the principle underlying the Act in the first instance.
– But we cannot do that in the case of a nomadic population.
– I am not advocating that we should. I merely say that we should have to do it to secure absolute safety. I contend, however, that we ought to remove the greater risks, at any rate. Under no electoral law in the world does a similar provision exist. If elections can be safely conducted under the wide power conferred by the use of the regulation form, why not dispense with threefourths of our electoral provisions by erecting polling booths throughout the States and allowing a man to enter them and say, “ I am an elector of such-and-such a district, and desire to record mv vote for that division”? By doing so, we should rid ourselves of half the complications which now exist.
– If we did that. I do not believe that we should have any more cases of fraud than exist at present.
– If elections can be safely conducted at the present time, when we allow every unscrupulous individual to take advantage of the regulation form, it logically follows that we may reasonably extend the same privilege to every scrupulous man in the community and allow him to vote at any polling place in a State as an elector of a certain division, after signing a declaration. If we adopted that system we should at once get rid of many of the difficulties of administration. Whatever may be the opinion of honorable members in regard to .the safety of that provision, they must admit that I have accurately stated the position. There is another matter connected with our electoral law upon which I know some honorable members will not be disposed to agree with me. I refer to the electoral expenses which a candidate is permitted to incur. I am not one of those who would sanction a large expenditure by candidates in the conduct of elections. Indeed, I would do everything possible to restrict such expenditure to thoroughly legitimate items, and to confine it to reasonable limits.
– We thought that we were doing that, but we did not succeed.
– I have always held the opinion that laws which are so rigid that under certain circumstances they cannot be complied with will be evaded. I have no desire to see the £100 limit exceeded in the conduct of some elections. I am perfectly prepared to adhere to that limit in the case of my own constituency. At the same time I >have no desire to see a system of fraud initiated in connexion with this matter. If we do not permit a candidate to expend more than ^100 in the case of elections for the House of Representatives, and if we impose a limit of .£250 in the case of Senate elections, it is quite impossible to expect that the first-named sum will be sufficient to defray the expenses of a candidate who is compelled to canvass a constituency ‘which is infinitely larger than Tasmania.
– My own electorate is as large as New South Wales. Yet a candidate for the Senate is allowed to expend ,£250, whilst I am limited to an outlay of ^100.
– If a lot of voluntary work were not done for the honorable member, he could not conduct his campaign for an expenditure of £100
– When we demand that something shall be done which cannot be done, breaches of the law will occur. I do not wish to see men occupying seats in this .Parliament who will spend ^500 or £r..000 in securing their return, and who will make a declaration that they have expended only £roo.
– The punishment for such offences should be made more swift and sure than it is..
– We ought to recognise that all elections cannot be conducted for the same outlay. In some constituencies, if a candidate were to limit his expenses to £100, he would deprive many of the electors of the opportunity of knowing his views. He has a right to disseminate his opinions amongst them. To adopt a hard-and-fast rule, under which candidates for the representation of electorates which are far larger than at least one of the States, will be limited to the same expenditure as those who contest constituencies like East Sydney or West Sydney, which one’ can traverse from end to end in half an hour, is. to make our legislation ridiculous. Under the operation of such a provision the tendency will be to secure the return of men who spend £1,000 in an election, and declare £100, and to exclude those who confine their expenditure to the limit imposed by the Statute. I know that this legislation is designed to benefit those who cannot afford to spend a large amount. In my opinion, we ought to fix a minimum, and also a reasonable maximum, and I intend to submit a proposal which will allow the electoral officer - having regard to certain prescribed conditions - to decide the limit which shall be imposed for each electorate.
– Does not the honorable member think that that would be allowing him too much power?
– I am quite willing that the limit should be fixed by the Executive through the GovernorGeneral in Council.
– It would be utterly impossible to prescribe different amounts for various constituencies in the States.
– I am quite certain that any intelligent officer would be equal to the task. I am sure that members of this House could fix a reasonable limit. They know the means of communication that exist in their electorates, and also the areas which they embrace.
– My election cost me . £27.
– Then the honorable member was well within his limit.
– But would it be reasonable to fix a maximum of , £100 in that case? “ The other fellow “ would not be able to contest the seat for such an outlay.
– I quite agree that another candidate for the electorate which the honorable member represents might have to spend more than £100.
– The position is that I have behind me an organization that provides me with scrutineers and so forth, whereas an opponent of mine would not possess those advantages, and would have to spend more than £200.
– If he spent £200, and said that he had spent only £100, he would be one of those who would be prepared to spend £1,000 if rich enough, and to declare £100.
– I am merely pointing out the difficulties in the way of forming an estimate of what is a fair amount to allow.
– We could decide the relative cost, not so much by the number of scrutineers, halls, and so forth, to be engaged, but by the area to be covered, and by the other considerations in the amendment.
– But the area test is not a reliable one.
– There are 200 polling booths in my electorate, and if a candidate had to provide a scrutineer at each of those places, that alone would mean an outlay of £200.
– But does the honorable member think that it is reasonable to fix a maximum to apply equally to the expenses of a candidate for a city electorate, which one could cross in halfanhour, and to those of a candidate for a country electorate which is larger than Tasmania ?
– The expenses of contesting a city electorate are often greater than are those attaching to a contest for a large country electorate.
– They ought not to be.
– There is, for example, the cost of holding public meetings.
– In a city electorate where a hall capable of holding 1, 000 or 2,000 persons can be secured, the expense in that regard should not be anything like as great as that which must be incurred in connexion with holding meetings in a large country electorate. The Minister cannot justify the proposition that there should be a maximum allowance for election expenses applying equally to city and country electorates irrespective of their size. In moving the second rending of this Bill, the Minister of Home Affairs referred to the introduction by the Senate of a clause providing that the work of redistribution should be left to three Commissioners in each State.He said that the same proposition was rejected when the original Bill was before the Parliament.
– I do not think I said that. At all events, I did not intend to convey that impression.
– I do not wish to suggest that the Minister intended to mislead the House, but I wish to correct the impression that might be formed from his remarks that this proposal was dealt with by the first Parliament. The proposal that there shall be three Commissioners in each State to carry out the work of redistribution, and that the form which the redistribution shall take shall be left to their decision, meets with my approval. That proposed, when, the existing Act was before us. was that three Commissioners should be appointed to carry out a redistribution, but that the Parliament should have the right to reject or accept their schemes. We came to the conclusion that there was no necessity for the appointment of three Commissioners for each State in those circumstances, but if we are to abide by the decision of the Commissioners we ought to have three, as proposed.
– But we should not need three, for instance, in Tasmania.
– The proposal is not a new one. I think that it has been adopted in New Zealand, and that other States by special Acts have appointed certain officers to delimit electoral districts for the local Legislatures. I am strongly in favour of the amendment proposed in the Bill, because the system of giving Parliament the power to deal finally with a redistribution scheme has never, to my knowledge, resulted satisfactorily; I have never known a Parliament to make an alteration in the boundaries of an electorate.
– That has been done by the Victorian Parliament.
– That may be so, but I have not known it to be done in the Parliaments of which I have been a member. I have seen a scheme delayed because for some reason or other honorable members did not feel inclined to support it. Very often personal considerations are responsible for these delays. Honorable members think, perhaps, that a district has been wrongly added or cut off from an electorate, and considerations such as these must operate when honorable members are the judges in matters relating to themselves. I have known no good to result from conferring on a Parliament the power to affirm or alter a redistribution. On the contrary, I have known equal representation to have been indefinitely delayed. In this, as in all other matters affecting each member’s interest, we cannot be the best judges. The proposal now embodied in the Bill is that three Commissioners shall be appointed in each State to divide it into electoral divisions. The Governor-General in Council is given power to appoint others; but the official position of these Commissioners is recognised. They are to be men whose official duties must necessarily make them familiar with the features of the various divisions of the State for which they are appointed, and who ought, therefore, to be in a far better position than are members of Parliament to judge generally what is the best distribution.
– Do they not, as a rule, favour the following of mechanical lines, rather than the recognition of community of interest?
– But we give them instructions to consider community of interest.
– They do not always do that. Unfortunately, Commissioners are sometimes swayed by party bias.
– I do not think we shall have anything to fear in that regard if we provide that three Commissioners shall be appointed, and that, as proposed, one of these shall be a Judge. In any event, the divisions must be framed by them. At the present time Parliament does not carry out the work of redistribution. That work must be done by a Commissioner in each State so that the objection raised by the honorable member to the new scheme would apply equally to the present system. Parliament cannot alter a redistribution ; all that it can do is to reject or affirm a scheme.
– It may reject a scheme and indicate its reason’s for doing so.
– That is all. When that is done another redistribution has to be made either by the Commissioner who made the first, or by some one else.
– The Parliament can consider objections to which the Commissioner has refused to listen.
– But we cannot alter the boundaries of a proposed division.
– Having considered objections to it, we might give directions to the Commissioner.
– But all that would mean delay.
– It is better to have delay than injustice.
– We have been suffering an injustice for several years. The inequalities in relation to our electorates are so great that thev cannot be defended by any one who believes in equality of representation.
– I grant that.
– That state of affairs has been perpetuated because honorable members for various reasons could not see their way to accept the first scheme submitted to us. I fail to see how any harm could result from allowing the whole work to be done by the Commissioners. I quite admit that their decisions might adversely affect some honorable members. But as a rule that is the result of any redistribution made. In most cases, a redistribution leads to a disturbance which members do not relish. We know our present electorates; we know that we have supporters, and perhaps organizations in various parts of them, and we are therefore dissatisfied when any disturbance or alteration in the boundaries takes place. That, however, affords no reason for delaying the work of redistribution. It has been proved, not only in this Parliament, but in others, that delay must result when these considerations are allowed to sway those who are acting as judges in matters affecting themselves. The proper course to pursue is to refer the whole question to Commissioners. I do not care how the Commissioners are appointed as long as they are fairly selected, and consist of men who have no other interest to serve than that of securing a fair distribution.
– The objection is to making their decision final.
– In any case, the decision of the Commissioners in the end becomes final bbecause Parliament, even though it may not be enamoured of them, is ashamed to go on rejecting scheme after scheme. We could never hope to have a majority of honorable members enamoured of any scheme.
– There is no objection, so far as I know, to the present redistribution.
– I have heard of objections, although, owing to the length of time that has elapsed since the first distribution was made., it may be accepted. Owing to the non-acceptance of one scheme, we have endured for a long time a very unequal state of representation. Such a position is far more injurious to the people of the Commonwealth than would be the excision from two or three electorates of small portions that ought not to be cut off or the making of additions that ought not to be made. The most important consideration, so far as the Commonwealth is concerned, is that the people shall have that equal representation for which the law provides. If that be denied them for any length of time, owing to the natural objection of some honorable members to a redistribution scheme far more evils and scandals must arise than would otherwise occur. For these reasons I shall support the proposal now in the Bill. I am sorry that this measure has been introduced so late in the session, when it cannot get the consideration which it should receive, unless honorable members are prepared to sit here at hours during which they should not be asked to sit. I should have liked to see the Bill submitted earlier in the session, but, late as it is, I hope that honorable members will give it the consideration which it is entitled to receive ; and, in dealing with it, will not be governed in any way by party considerations. The Minister has attempted to improve the existing law, and the Bill will improve it in many respects. But I hope that the Committee will be able to improve it still further, and that the result of our labours will be to establish in Australia the best electoral system iin the world.
– I agree with the honorable member for North Sydney that it is a pity that the Bill has been introduced so late in the session, because it is a measure to which we should devote considerable attention, and involves many points requiring discussion. It is also unfortunate that we should have to deal with it immediately after an all-night sitting, though I do not think the Government are to blame for that ; the cause is rather the excessive amount of work which remains to be done at this period of the session. But. under the circumstances, I feel that it will be advantageous to accept the advice tendered by you, Mr. Speaker, some time ago, to get to close quarters with the subject. The very interesting and important points raised by the honorable member for North Sydney stand each by itself, and can be best dealt with by concentrating attention on them individually.
– I wished to foreshadow the principles which, in my opinion, should be adopted, and I did not desire to take honorable members by surprise.
– Quite so. I am not suggesting that the honorable member is to be blamed for the time which he occupied in setting forth his views. But if, on the second reading, other honorable members discuss the points which he has raised, that discussion will have to be repeated in the Committee, and thus time will be lost.
– We should not be allowed to discuss broad administrative changes in Committee.
– I am speaking of points which stand by themselves, and do not dovetail into others in such a manner that they cannot be properly discussed in Committee. Such points as postal voting and absent voting, for instance, can be best dealt with in Committee. I agree with the honorable member for North Sydney as to the inconvenience of the form in which the Bill has been drafted. It would ‘have been better to introduce an entirely new Bill, instead of proposing a large number of amendments to be incorporated in the Act. Honorable members, no doubt, are better acquainted with the electoral law than is the average man outside Parliament, but it is nevertheless extremely difficult for us to see the effect of many of the provisions of the Bill. It seems to me that changes are being proposed almost for the sake of change - mere alterations of verbiage, which’ it is hardly worth while making, though, perhaps, in Committee the Minister will be able to give the reason for them. It is, however, difficult to understand what is proposed, because of the way in which the Bill has been drafted, and it will be difficult for the electors to know what our law really is.
– The amendments we make will be incorporated in the present Act when it is reprinted.
– It is very difficult to understand the effect of the proposals in the Bill, and to draft amendments on its provisions.
– That is so. If the honorable member for North Sydney proposes to move an amendment providing that the control of the Electoral Branch shall be removed from the Department of Home Affairs to that of the PostmasterGeneral, I shall not support it ; but if he merely tests the opinion of the Committee on the question,’ and leaves it open to some future ‘Administration to make the change if they think it desirable, I shall vote with him. I do not think that Parliament should lay down any hard-and-fast direction in matters of this kind. In my opinion, each Administration should be free to say what branches the various Departments shall control. I believe that in the course of time, it will be found more advantageous to place the Electoral Office under the control of the Department of the PostmasterGeneral ; but I am not in favour of making the change at present. However, I shall be prepared to discuss that, and the other points which have been raised, when we get into Committee.
– I shall confine my remarks to indicating one or two matters to which I should like honorable members to give consideration, and which I hope will be discussed at greater length in Committee. In the first place, I intend to invite the Committee to abolish the fee of 5s. which is charged when persons lodge objections with a view to purifying the rolls. I think that every one who knows that a roll is being stuffed, or that an attempt is being made to stuff it, should be free to give the electoral officers information on which they can act. The Bill provides certain safeguards in regard to voting by post, to prevent the abuse of the system; but no provision is made for punishing those who improperly use our postal voting machinery. All the applications signed in the presence of witnesses should be filed, and kept with the other documents used during elections, for purposes of record, so that, if any person has improperly used the postal voting machinery, the fact may be discovered, and he may be punished.
– The postal voting machinery was grossly abused at the last election.
– Is it not possible to apply verbally for a postal vote?
– No. Such applications must be in writing, and should be filed for reference by the Department, or in any proceedings which may be taken for the invalidation of an election. I presume that every honorable member knows of cases occurring at the last election in which persons who were practically living alongside polling places obtained and used postal votes. The Bill requires reasons to be given in applications for postal votes, and where the statements made in such applications are untrue, those making them should be punished. I intend also to ask the Committee to make it imperative for a divisional returning officer to recount the votes when good and substantial reasons are given for a recount.
– What would the honorable member call substantial reasons?
– I would instance what occurred at the Riverina election in 1903. There were five assistant returning officers in addition to the Divisional Returning Officer. Each of the assistants counted the votes for his subdivision, and forwarded his, certificate to the Divisional Returning Officer, presumably with aview to a final scrutiny. It was ascertained prior to the declaration of the poll that a mistake had been made in the count at one particular place. Upon this coming to my knowledge, I reported the matter to the Divisional Returning Officer not once or twice, but several times, and the assistant returning officer who was concerned also called attention to the mistake. Notwithstanding that, the Divisional Returning Officer absolutely declined to reopen the parcels sent to him, and declared the poll upon the statement made to him in the first instance, and afterwards corrected by the assistant returning officer. I should call that a substantial reason for having a recount. It should not be left to the discretion of the Divisional Returning Officer to refuse a. recount in such a case. The law should be mandatory. Then, again, a very similar case occurred in Tasmania, but the results were different. It was suspected that a mistake had been made, and upon a request being made to the Divisional Returning Officer, he ordered a recount, and thus did justice to all concerned, and probably effected a saving of thousands, of pounds. This may appear to be a small matter, but, in view of what has happened, it is well worth the consideration of the Committee. I shall ask honorable members to consider the question that has been dealt with at some length, and very ably, by the honorable member for North Sydney - the question of the limitation of expenses of candidates. I am indifferent as to whether the limit is fixed at £1 or £10,000, but care should be taken to see that the specified amount is not exceeded. The provision now in the Act was so applied at the last election that the proceedings were farcical. While several candidates strictly complied with the requirements of the law, and probably thereby lost a large number of votes, others who had no scruples very largely exceeded the limit, not only in regard to their own personal expenses, but also in respect to amounts that were spent on their behalf, in some cases to the extent of thousands of pounds. It is, desirable that this abuse should be guarded against, and I shall ask honorable members to seriously consider Whether we should not adopt the practice of the British Parliament, which is also partly followed in South Australia. It is of no use to ask a candidate to sign a declaration before a justice of the peace to the effect that he has not exceeded the limit of £100 allowed by law, and to ask him to give details of the expenditure and supply vouchers for every item of £2 and upwards, if the declaration and the particulars are to be packed away in some vault to which no one can obtain access. If an unscrupulous candidate becomes aware that his false declaration will never be seen after he has attached his signature, he can sign it with impunity and give any particulars that may occur to him. Will it be believed that when I asked for a copy of the schedule of expenditure furnished by my opponent at the last election, my request was refused? I first of all applied to the Department, and they declined to allow me to see the document. I then asked honorable members to move in the matter with a view to having an order made by this House that the statements of expenses, including my own, should be laid on the table. I was informed, however, by the highest authority, that it was not possible, even by that means, to attain my object, and I had to abandon my efforts in that direction. No one beyond the officers of the Department and the candidates themselves can knowanything as to the contents of the statements furnished. It would be quite possible if the particulars were published for information to be given to the Department, upon which action could be taken against candidates who had violated the law.
– Unfortunately, no adequate punishment is provided for.
– Then such provision should be made. Without doubt, all honorable members desire to keep our elections as pure as possible. The practice of the House of Commons is to give the fullest publicity to the statements furnished by candidates. Not only are they published in the Gazette, but also in the newspapers. In South Australia, a similar course is adopted. The public are made aware of the whole of the facts, and, if they have any reason to believe that the statements are inaccurate, can give the information necessary to enable proceedings to be taken. When the Bill reaches the Committee stage, I shall invite honorable members to make amendments which I hope will greatly improve the law. I shall also ask honorable members to revert to the system which has been adopted in all the States, and which was followed in the first instance by the Commonwealth’, of referring disputed returns to a Committee of this House, instead of to the High Court. I can look back over a fairly long political life, and I cannot recollect one instance - no matter how strong party feeling may have been - in which a Legislative Committee has failed to do absolute justice in the case of a disputed election.
– The system in New South Wales was scarcely perfection.
– No, but it approached perfection. All the parties were in a .position to come before the Committee and plainly state their case. The Committee had power to examine witnesses on. oath, and to take all the evidence they desired. They made their report to Parliament, which reviewed the whole position, and then declared whether the election was valid or otherwise. All this could be done at very small expense to the parties to the dispute. When the Act was under consideration, the honorable member for North Sydney warned us that it would be a mistake to transfer to the High Court the jurisdiction in the matter of disputed elections. He had obtained some knowledge as to the expense incurred in England in invoking the aid of the Law Courts for the settlement of these disputes. He urged that we should adhere to the old practice, which, so far, had not been abused.
– I have never seen any substantial injustice done.
– Nor have I. I say most emphatically that, although this Parliament was supposed to have enacted the Federal electoral law, the honorable member for Melbourne and myself had to bear the cost of making its purpose plain. When I tell honorable members of the expense to which I was put, they will see the absolute necessity of making some change. The intention of Parliament when it intrusted the High Court with the settlement of election disputes was to make the procedure as cheap as possible to the petitioner. It also stipulated that the Court should be guided by considerations of equity and good conscience, without reference to legal technicalities. In my innocence, I thought it would be quite possible to lay my case before the High Court in my own way, and without incurring great expense; but I found that, owing to the rules of the Court, I could not make a move without legal assistance. I was legally hobbled from the outset, and I could do nothing without employing all the force and machinery of the law. Moreover, it seems to me to be impossible for a Court, constituted of members of the legal profession, to decide a matter upon the lines of equity and good conscience, instead of upon legal principles. I do not wish to reflect upon the High Court, for which I have a great respect, but I am merely giving the House the benefit of my experience. I have embodied my views upon this question in certain amendments which have been printed, and to which I ask honorable members to give their careful consideration. I shall reserve any further comments under this heading until the Bill has reached the Committee stage. I am perfectly satisfied that I snail then be able to place before honorable members facts which will induce them to refer all disputed elections to a tribunal appointed by this House, and responsible to it.
– To a body nominated by Mr. Speaker?
– Yes. With all due deference to the High Court of Australia, which has been constituted a Court of Disputed Returns, I say that it is absolutely impossible for its members to divest themselves of the effects of their legal training. The proceedings in connexion with the case in which I was so deeply interested showed that the Court’ was unconsciously biased by its own rules. Those proceedings were prolonged to an unreasonable extent, and finality was not reached until they had been carried into two States, and a large expenditure had been incurred. This delay and expense would be avoided if such cases were decided by a Parliamentary Committee. At a later stage, I trust that honorable members will assist me to give effect to my views upon this matter.
– I do not intend to detain the House at any length in discussing this measure. There are, I believe, a number of desirable amendments in our electoral law proposed in this Bill. These, I think, should be carefully scrutinized by honorable members, in view of the very trying experiences of most candidates at the last general election. Upon that occasion, I think that a number of us received hints as to the manner in which the Act requires to be amended. Certain practices which were then adopted seem to me to involve a great deal of delay and needless worry. For example, in Victoria, the method of counting the votes was totally different from that which was previously adopted in this State. The result was that candidates were kept on the “grid-iron” for very much longer than was necessary, and the suspense of their friends and relations was also needlessly protracted. I see no valid reason why the method which was formerly adopted in Victoria should not be again resorted to. Under it, the practice was to count the number of votes recorded at each polling-place, and to send it on to the returning officer for the district. Thus the grand total of the votes cast at the various polling-places could be very speedily “ascertained. But under the system which was followed at the last general election, the returns of the different booths were grouped, with the result that an immense amount of duplication occurred, not in the actual counting of the votes, but in the records which were made public. As a candidate who represents a scattered district, I can assure the House that it is not a pleasant thing to be kept upon the “grid-iron” so long. Every honorable member must sympathize with the honorable member for Riverina in the very trying experience through which’ he passed at the same election. We all recognise that it is a very serious matter when an honorable member, through’ no fault of his own. is subjected to the enormous outlay which he was obliged to incur in litigation, and in contesting a second election. . At the same time, I cannot see my way to support his proposal to refer all disputed ‘elections 10 a Parliamentary Committee instead of to the High Court. The experience which the Federation had of an Elections and Qualifications Committee was not of a hopeful character. Honorable members will recollect that, during the first Commonwealth Parliament, a petition against the return of an honorable member was. presented in another place. The proceedings connected with the hearing of that petition were of .such a prolonged, expensive, technical, and partisan character, that they convinced a great number of honorable members that it was highly desirable to refer the decision of all such cases to a judicial body. It was that experience which led honorable members to depart from Hie old system, and to insert in the Electoral Act a provision that all disputed elections should be determined by the High Court. It is only natural to assume that a Committee selected from both sides of the House - when the question at issue is one which is open to debate - will be capable of being influenced by party considerations. In Great Britain it used to be the practice to refer disputed elections to a Parliamentary Committee. That practice, however, was deliberately abolished bv the House of Commons, which transferred its privileges in the matter to a judicial body in which it was thought the public would have greater confidence. I know that there is to be found in the records of the Victorian Parliament a case in which the return of Mr. Levien, for Geelong, was disputed.
– That was a verv bad affair.
Mir. ROBINSON.- Most decidedly it was. The petition against his return ‘was heard- by a Parliamentary Committee, and that case shows how - during the heat of a great political contest - a tribunal of that kind may be influenced bv party considerations. We should guard against that possibility, and, therefore, I am not prepared to support the honorable member for Riverina in the step which he contemplates. If, however, some procedure can be adopted which will reduce the cost of a reference to the High Court, I shall be very pleased indeed. Experience frequently shows that bodies of laymen are, themselves, the most technical of individuals. I remember being connected with a parliamentary petition before an Elections and Qualifications Committee in Victoria, and’, without reflecting in the slightest degree upon its members^ I can say that they took an extremely technical view of certain sections of the Constitution - a much more technical! view than would have been taken by a Court. That experience is by no means uncommon. When laymen are placed in positions which require them to give decisions upon legal or quasi legal questions, they frequently record extremely technical decisions. The question of offences against the Electoral law is also dealt with in this Bill. At an early stage of the sittings of this Parliament, I expressed the opinion that we should provide, in a more comprehensive fashion, that candidates guilty of certain offences should be unseated. If honorable members will look at the existing Act, they will notice a list of offences for which certain punishments are prescribed. Those punishments do not seem to me - although they are severe enough from a monetary stand-point - to be by any means adequate. If it is desirable to restrict the expenses incurred by candidates at elections, I hold that the individual who exceeds the limit prescribed by law should be liable to lose his seat instead of being punished by a trumpery fine, as he is at present. The Minister informs me that it is proposed that if a candidate commits an illegal act, which is likely to affect the result of an election, he shall forfeit his seat. That, I think, is a most desirable amendment. Prior to the last election it appeared to me that, although the existing Act purported to provide for the infliction of heavy penalties for certain breaches of the law, and to provide a very severe code for the conduct of elections, yet in actual practice there was nothing to prevent a wealthy and unscrupulous individual from absolutely disregarding most of those provisions. For my own part, I think that the cost of elections should be kept as low as possible, because the Federal constituencies are so large that a new candidate must necessarily have a fairly hard row to hoe. In the interests of the public, every man should have an opportunity to contest a seat. There is one other matter to which I wish to refer. I should like to know what is the necessity for providing for voting by post when we allow those absent from the districts in which they reside to use the absent voters’ certificates, or what are known as “ Q “ forms. Let me put a concrete instance of the position before the House. At the last general election I was 150 miles from the district in which I reside. I therefore proposed to vote by post, and actually applied for a voting by post form. I found, however, that to comply with all the red tape provisions relating to voting by post would mean that my ballot-paper would not be lodged in time. I therefore went to a polling booth, which, as I have said, was 150 miles from that in respect of which I was enrolled, and voted for both Houses on the absent declaration form. In that way I. was able to record my vote promptly, and without any great expense to the Government, whilst there was a total absence of the red tape rules relating to voting by post. If every man who is absent from his own polling district can avail himself of the absent declaration form, why should we have voting by post?
– A man working on a railway line some distance from a booth might be able to vote, but what would be the position of his wife and adult daughters if voting by post were abolished.
– That is a good point. I admit that there is some justification for the system of voting by post, so far as it relates to females. It seems to me, however, that the system should be lightly availed of by men who are absent from the district in which they reside, because the absent declaration form offers them a readier means of exercising the franchise.
– Voting by post is to accommodate a man who cannot go to any polling booth. -
– Polling booths are so numerous that it is almost impossible for a man to avoid being near one of them.
– But the honorable and learned member would not abolish voting by post?
– I would not, since I have ascertained that in the case of female voters it might be largely used. From their point’ of view it ought to be retained. It seems to me that the provisions of the Act relating to the issue of absent voters’ certificates were not sufficiently well known at the last general election, and that consequently many persons were debarred from voting, because they believed it too late to secure voting by post forms. These are matters, however, that can best be dealt with in Committee, and I, therefore, shall not further detain the House.
– I do not intend to delay the House long, for the reason that I think that the Bill is essentially one tobe dealt with in Committee. I wish, however, at this stage to make a few remarks which I may not have an opportunity to put before the Committee, because from information that I have obtained, I fear that it will be impossible to move certain amendments that have been suggested. The amendment relating to bribery, of which the honorable member for North Sydney has given notice, will, to my mind, prove a safeguard to members of both Houses, and I shall be very sorry if it be not inserted. I must say, in passing, that I listened with pleasure to the speech made this morning by that honorable member. It was one of the most instructive addresses on electoral matters that I have heard. The honorable member showed a thorough mastery of the facts, and put them before us in a clear and concise manner. He dealt with many matters that I should have put before the House, had he not preceded me.
– Why did not the honorable member allow him to remain in office, so that he could introduce this Bill?
– The honorable member is aware of the exigencies of the political situation. From my point of view, having regard to those with whom the honorable member for North Sydney is associated, it is better that he should be in opposition. But I wish him no ill. If we hod in vogue a system of elective Ministries, I am sure that the honorable member for North Sydney would be chosen by an overwhelming majority as a member of the Cabinet. I regard him as one of the most interesting speakers in the House. He invariably marshals his facts well, and the most implicit confidence can be reposed in any statement that he makes. His suggestion that the Postal Department should be charged with the administration of the electoral law is one of the wisest that has been made during the debate. _ During my peregrinations through Western Queensland, I have met with many postal officials who regard as peculiarly irksome the electoral duties thrust upon them, inasmuch’ as they relate to another Department; but if those duties were made Fart and parcel of the work of the Postal Department, I am sure we should be able to secure a most effective service. The honorable member for North Sydney put the position well, when he said that under the present system a postmaster, acting as an electoral officer, when met by a rush of work, could not call in the assistance of any of his staff, although all of them might be idle ; as officers of the Postal Department, they would not be allowed to assist him in discharging outside duties. If the Postal Department were charged with the control of electoral matters, a postmaster would be able at any time to call upon his subordinates to assist him. As to the suggestion which we have heard that at the last general election some postmasters acting as returning officers rendered inefficient service, I may say that I know of many junior officers who assisted postmasters to carry out the elections, and that they entered upon the work with much enthusiasm, doing their very utmost to bring it to a successful issue. On the other hand, at the last moment men outside the service, who were appointed as assistant returning officers, and so forth, took up a “ stand and deliver “ attitude. Thev refused to do the work unless they received £10, or in some cases £20, whereas the Department was offering only £5. Owing to the peculiar circumstances the Electoral Office had to yield to their demand, and subsequently when assistant returning officers in other States learned that some of these men had received £20 for discharging duties in respect of which they had been paid only £5, trouble naturally arose. Another reason why the Postal Department should take over this service is that postmasters, and those associated with’ them would have something to lose if they failed to satisfactorily discharge the duties of the electoral branch. They would be responsible to the Public Service Commissioner, and might oe punished for any neglect of duty. On the other hand, a man outside the service has nothing to lose, and by his neglect might invalidate an election. I know that I, tot one, was returned illegally, and through no fault of my own. If the Electoral Office be attached to the Department of the PostmasterGeneral, he will be able to control, not only the returning officers, assistant returning officers, or registrars, but to order the officers of the Department generally to assist them in carrying out their duties. Under the present state of affairs, these officers do not like to be asked to work for another Department; they naturally shirk such work, and undertake it with ill grace. They know that their position in the Postal Department is secure, and that the only result of any neglect shown by them in carrying out work relating to the Department of Home Affairs would be the taking of that work out of their hands. They would offer no objection to that being done. But if the Pos,tal Department took over the Electoral Office, it would be unnecessary to confine appointments as returning officers to postmasters. Such positions might be given to other officers who were willing to discharge the duties attaching to them. There are many junior officers who would gladly undertake such work.
– And would prove efficient officers.
– Undoubtedly they would. That is another reason why I should like that proposal to be adopted. In Queensland - and I refer to that State because I am more familiar with the conditions prevailing there than I am with those ruling in other parts of the Commonwealth - a postmaster appointed to act as returning officer in a country district would be familiar with the readiest means of communicating with outside polling booths. He would knowexactly how_ long it should take to communicate with the different polling places, and would be able without difficulty to select the men best suited to act as presiding officers. A postmaster in that State knows every one in the district in which he is stationed. No one has a better knowledge of the district. Every one has to call at the post-office for his letters, and in this way the postmaster becomes acquainted with practically every’ one living there. Consequently, no one would be better able to attend to the purification of the rolls. A postmaster in a country district, as I have said, knows every one for miles around, whilst the postmaster in any of the large towns would be able to avail himself of the services, of the letter-carriers in keeping the rolls accurate and up to date. However,, in Committee we can deal with the various matters requiring consideration as they come up. But ever honorable member should interest himself in the Bill, because upon it will hinge our whole system of parliamentary representation. If we put our heads together, and deal with it as a non-party measure, we shall, no doubt, be able to frame one of the best Electoral Acts, not in Australia only, but in the world.
– The experience which honorable members gained during the last elections should be of great assistance to them in dealing with this Bill. The present Act is by no means perfect, and its administration on the occasion to which I refer was of a very peculiar character. The bungling which occurred would have been disgraceful had a schoolboy been intrusted with the management of affairs.
– If the honorable member knew the difficulties with which the Department had to contend, he would not say that.
– I know that hundreds of names were left off the rolls.
– It is not fair to blame the central office for all those cases. Many of the mistakes were inevitable.
– I know that the names of twenty-one persons residing in a certain village were left off one roll, and that,, in other cases, there was great confusion. I trust that the future administration of our electoral law will be better. No doubt the Minister desires that it shall be perfect, and, in framing this amending Bill, he had the advantage of knowing the proposals of the honorable member for North Sydney, whose draft Bill must have been of great service to him.
– In my opinion, the central administration did wonders at the last elections.
– Great allowances must be made for the fact that the Department was administering a new Act; but I trust that the mistakes which were made will not occur again. In the draft Bill of the honorable member for North Sydney, provision was made for the adoption of voting machines where that was thought desirable and practicable. We know that in other countries such machines have been successfully used, with the result that greater accuracy has been, secured, at less cost, and with no violation of secrecy. I am not prepared to recommend any particular machine-
– If anything went wrong with a machine, how could a re-count be obtained ?
– Voting machines have been used in cities, like Buffalo,, in the United States of America, with great success, and T do not think that we need fear any trouble should we adopt them here. Experts are giving a good deal of consideration just now to the perfecting of machines which will save a great deal of the expense and trouble necessitated’ by the present system. Experiences, like that of the honorable member for Riverina would be things of the past if an effective voting machine could be universally adopted, and I think that we should provide in the Bill for the installation of voting machines wherever it was seen that they could be used with advantage. In Committee, I intend to move in that direction. The Bill is one to which a great deal of consideration should be given - almost more consideration than honorable members will be disposed to bestow upon it under present circumstances.
– No doubt the Government will have the hearty support of honorable members generally in its effort to improve our electoral law, though many of the provisions of the Bill must inevitably be altered in Committee, I hope with the result of making them more satisfactory. I congratulate the Minister of Home Affairs on the explanatory memorandum which he has submitted, and I think that his example in this respect might be followed with advantage by other Ministers in connexion with other Bills. This memorandum will be of great assistance to honorable members in helping them to understand the effect of the proposed amendments, and any alteration of them that may be suggested. I shall not criticise the Bill at length, because it is a measure which can be more effectively dealt with in Committee than at the second-reading stage; but I wish to remind the Minister of one important omission. Although the miscellaneous provisions of Part XVII. disqualify persons convicted of bribery or undue influence, it seems to me that they do not go far enough. Thev apply to candidates for election, and not to sitting members.
– The Bill, like the original Act, deals only with persons who are being elected to Parliament ; the disqualification of sitting members is provided for by the Constitution. I doubt if what the honorable member proposes would come within the scope of the Bill, though I am in accord with his views on the subject.
– I hope that some means will be found for doing what I think should be done.
– Under the Constitution, if a member is convicted of bribery, his seat is declared void.
– Acts of bribery punishable in a candidate should be equallypunishable in a member.
– A member convicted of bribery, at common law, would lose his seat.
– I do not think that that provision meets the cases which I have in view, which are those in which a Member of Parliament gives monetary gifts to electors or bodies of electors, such as sporting and recreation clubs and other associations of electors.
– I do not think that we can prevent that, though it would be a great relief to honorable members if it could be done.
– I look upon gifts of this kind as bribery of the worst form. Furthermore, when persons approach a Member of Parliament for donations which they would not ask for from him as a private individual, they are committing what in some circumstances might be construable as an act of coercion, although they may not realize the fact. I think that means should be adopted for checking the prevalence of this sort of thing. If we do not prevent it,, we give the wealthiest and very often the least capable, and most unscrupulous, the best chances of maintaining the seats in some constituencies. Under the present system, a member who cannot afford to be as liberal as he might like to be often gets the reputation of being mean and stingy. In my own case I received upwards of 800 written applications for subscriptions and . donations in the one year, apart from verbal requests. I call the attention of the Minister to the matter in the hope that in Committee means may be found to put an end to this state of things, which has grown already to the dimensions of a very grave abuse.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).I think we might very well take the second reading of the Bill now, and then adjourn. If that understanding is arrived at, I shall be willing to forego my right to speak. I certainly feel quite unfit to continue the discussion on this Bill, which is, in some respects, the most important that we have had submitted to us this session. Having regard to the sheaves of amendments which have already been prepared, we shall not be able to do the measure simple justice within less than a fortnight.
– Let us pass the motion for the second reading now, and commit the Bill pro forma.
– Very well; I shall forego my right to speak any further on the motion for the second reading.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and committed pro forma.
In Committee (Consideration of Senate’s message, vide page 6528).
Motion (by Mr. Austin Chapman) proposed -
That the Committee agree to the Senate’s amendment of the agreement.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).I understand that the Senate has fixed a definite period for the agreement, and has provided that at its expiration the Eastern Extension Company shall not be permitted to revert to the conditions which existed prior to this agreement being made. That was the original intention, but owing to the defective drafting of the agreement the Senate has. considered it necessary to place the matter beyond all doubt. Asthat is the only effect of the alteration suggested, I shall support the motion.
– I should like to hear some explanation from the Postmaster-General, because I am not quite clear as to what is proposed. Do I understand that at the expiration of the ten years’ period the Eastern Extension Company will receive three months’ notice, and that at the end of that time the rights they now enjoy in some of the States will cease to exist?
– The amendment merely makes clear the intention of the agreement. In, the opinion of the Government that intention was sufficiently expressed beforehand, but the Senate have thought fit to expressly state that at the end of 191 5 the agreement with the Commonwealth and the company shall come to an end, and that no notice shall be required.
– I understand that the amendment really puts into plain language what was previously provided for in the agreement, and that three months must still elapse before we shall know our exact position. I should like some assurance from the Minister that the present unsatisfactory condition of affairs in connexion with Pacific Cable business will not be permitted to continue. Nothing whatever has been done to adopt business methods, and as we are losing money every day, I think that the period of inaction should be brought to an end without further delay.
– It will be.
– I want to feel assured that the interests of the taxpayers will be conserved to a greater extent than in the past, and that business energy will be infused into the management, and approved methods will be adopted in the prosecution of the interests of the company. I think the public are entitled to know the results of the Conference that was recently held in London, and how soon we may look for an improvement in local matters.
Mr. BATCHELOR (Boothby).- The answer given by the Postmaster-General to the honorable member for Kooyong indicates that he is going to prosecute with greater vigour the interests of the Pacific Cable as against those of the Eastern Extension Company. I would remind him thathe is the Postmaster-General of the Commonwealth, and not of the States, which are contracting parties so far as the Pacific Cable is concerned. Pending the final acceptance of the contract, the PostmasterGeneral must recollect that he is the representative of the States that are interested in the long land lines which connect the cables of the Eastern Extension Company, and that all the business which, owing to the influence of the Government, is diverted to the Pacific Cable, will be gained at the expense of South Australia. The interests of that State, therefore, should not be forgotten. I ask the PostmasterGeneral to exercise his functions with absolute fairness towards those who may be injured by an access of business to the Pacific Cable as well as towards those who may be benefited by it. Until the separate interests that now exist have been amalgamated, the Postmaster-General should not unduly influence business in either direction.
– So far, no business methods have been adopted in pushing the interests of the Pacific Cable.
– I want to know whether the Pacific Cable business is to be pushed at the expense of South Australia. We cannot complain of fair competition, but we have every right to object to action such as was taken by a previous Government with the result’ that all telegrams regarding which no stipulation was made as to route were forwarded by the Pacific Cable. It seems to me that in that case undue advantage was taken of the small - ness of the representation of South Australia in this House. The three States which are interested in the success of the Pacific Cable have by far the greater representation in this Chamber, and it behoves members from the other three States to see that no injustice is inflicted. I would ask the Postmaster-General, whilst prosecuting the interests of the Pacific Cable, not to injure South Australia.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Austin Chapman) proposed -
That the report be adopted.
Mr. KNOX (Kooyong). - I made a specific request for information, and I think we are entitled to some statement from the Postmaster-General.
Mr. AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EdenMonaro - Postmaster-General). - We shall do everything that we can to place the business of the Pacific Cable upon a commercial basis without doing anything to injure South Australia. That is the attitude which the Government take up. We recognise that, so far as the Pacific Cable is concerned, our interests have not been looked after as they might have been, and after the ratification of this agreement, we shall endeavour to place matters on a more satisfactory footing.
– It is all very well for the Postmaster-General to say that he intends to place the affairs of the Pacific Cable upon a business footing without doing anything to injure South Australia, but I think that he should explain how that can be done. If he will guarantee that any loss that may result to South Australia from the action of the Government in diverting business from the Eastern Extension to the Pacific Cable shall be made good, South Australia will be delighted to see the
Pacific Cable converted into a paying concern. I believe that a fair thing should be done to South Australia, which has incurred an enormous expenditure in establishing telegraphic communication between the Commonwealth and Europe. The bene- fits which have accrued from the construction of the overland telegraph line would not have been secured to the people of Australia if that State had not undertaken the very large expenditure which has proved such a severe drain upon her finances. I do hope that the Pacific Cable will be made a success, and that the Postmaster-General will be prepared to do more than make the bald statement that, in achieving that success, he will see that South Australian interests are not injured.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin) agreed to-
That the Order of the Day be read and discharged.
Mr. DEAKIN (Ballarat - Minister of
External Affairs). - I move -
That the House at its rising adjourn until Monday next at 2.30 p.m.
I do so in the hope that, by application during the coming week, we may be able to break the back of - if not finally dispose of - the remaining business for this session.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 3.2 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 8 December 1905, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1905/19051208_reps_2_30/>.