2nd Parliament · 2nd Session
The Clerk informed the House that Mr. Speaker was unavoidably absent.
Mr. Deputy Speaker took the chair at 2.31 p.m., and read prayers.
Assent to the following Bills reported: -
Census and Statistics Bill.
Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Bill.
Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER reported the receipt of a message from His Excellency the Governor- General, recommending that an appropriation be made from the Consolidated Revenue for the purposes of a Bill for an Act to provide for compensation to be paid to Col. Price, C.B., and Lt.-Col. Bayly.
Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER reported the receipt of a message from His Excellency the Governor-General, recommending that an appropriation be made from the Consolidated Revenue for the purposes of a Bill for an Actto grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund the sum of £25,000 for the purposes of the erection of a memorial in honour of the late Queen Victoria.
Bill returned from the Senate, with a message that the Senate had agreed to all the amendments of the House of Representatives, with the exceptionof the amendment in clause 39, to which it had agreed with a verbal amendment.
Message taken into consideration forthwith, and amendment agreed to.
– I wish to know from the Vice-President of the Executive Council if it is true, as stated in the press, that Colonel Lyster has been appointed Commandant for Queensland. If so, is he the Colonel Lyster who was censured as the result of the Drayton Grange inquiry, and, when Commandant for South Australia, superseded by Major-General Sir Edward Hutton, because of his incompetence? If he is this Colonel Lyster, doesthe Minister of Defence think that he should be foisted upon the State of Queensland ?
– Will the honorable gentleman also ascertain whether the Minister of Defence sought or obtained the advice of the Inspector-General before filling the Queensland Commandantship ?
– I will endeavour to furnish a reply to both questions on Wednesday next.
– Has the VicePresident of the Executive Council read in today’s newspapers the account of an accident at the rifle ranges at Castlemaine which is supposed to have been due to defective cartridges ? These accidents are becoming so frequent that the Department should take steps immediately to recall all the cartridgeswhich have been issued, with a view to testing them and re-issuing only such as are good. Can the Government see their way to making their own ammunition?
– Will the Vice-President of the Executive Council, in replying to the question, say whether the cartridges complained of have been manufactured by the Colonial Ammunition Company at Maribyrnong, and whether allegations have not been made as to sweating taking place there? Will he cause an inquiry to be made into the whole matter?
– I will, on Wednesday next, supply honorable members with information in reply to so much of their questions as I shall then be able to answer.
– I wish to know from the Postmaster- General -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Mr.LIDDELL. - Has the Prime Minister read the following statement, which was published in. the journals a few days ago, as a. cablegram from London, dated 3rd December: -
President Roosevelt has granted an audience to Mr. O. C. Beale, of Sydney, the president of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia. In the course of the audience President Roosevelt sent a cordial message to Australia. “ Next to my own nation,” said the President, “ I am interested in the progress, success, and safety of your great democratic island continent. Beware of keeping the far north empty. Encourage the immigration of southern Europeans. They will cultivate your rich country, and will become good Australians.”
Does the honorable and learned gentleman reciprocate the sentiments there expressed ?
– I am sure that the people of the Commonwealth cordially reciprocate the sympathy shown by President Roosevelt in his statement that, next to his own nation, he is interested in the progress, success, and safety of this Continent. Next to our own nation, we place our kindred in America. I agree with him, too, that we should populate the far north, and, while preferring those of our own nation for that purpose, am willing to look elsewhere if they are unable to accomplish the task.
– Does the Appropriation Act make provisionf or the payment of the increments to salaries granted by the Public Service Commissioner’s classification? I have been informed that some officers have been told that they cannot be paid these increments out of the votes for this year.
– The Appropriation Act provides certain amounts for each Department for this purpose, but, as I have been informed that in some cases these amounts are insufficient. I have decided to supplement them, where necessary, from the Treasurer’s advance account, so that every public servant may at once receive the salary allotted to him by the classification. My reason for taking this action is that the classification has been submitted to both Houses of Parliament, and has been approved by His Excellency the GovernorGeneral in Council. I am not, however, prepared to pay from the Treasurer’s Advance any increases above the amounts set down in the classification, until such increases have been voted by Parliament.
– Has the Prime Minister received any correspondence from the Government of South Australia lately in respect to the taking over of the Northern Territory ?
– Not for a considerable time.
asked the Postmaster-
General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister of
Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– In reply to the honorable member’s questions -
I may add that certain information has been given confidentially to the Department, which of course I cannot use ; but the invoice price and cost of these bicycles is a great deal more than that which has been represented to me -£4 or £5 - by certain persons.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Some honorable members may ask why this measure has not been introduced at an earlier stage.
– Hear. hear.
– The honorable member ought to know very well why it has not been introduced before.
– Why is it introduced at this stage ?
– In consequence of continual talk and waste of time there has not been an opportunity to introduce the Bill until the present time.
– On a point of order, sir, I desire to ask whether it is in order for the Minister to state that certain things have not been done on account of the Opposition wasting time?
– It is not in order for an honorable member to accuse otherhonorable members of deliberately wasting time.
– The honorable member is a little too previous. I did not make an accusation against any honorable member; I said that owing, to the constant talk and waste of time, the Bill had not been introduced, but I did not mention members supporting the Government or any members of the Opposition. I think I was perfectly in order in saying what I did, because it is a fact. This Bill is considerably different from the Bill which was introduced in previous sessions. The former Bill provided that under division VIa. of the Tariff, bonuses should be given to persons in order to induce them to establish the iron industry from the ores of Australia. It will be remembered that on two or three occasions, when considerable debate on the subject took place, very serious opposition was raised to the question of giving bonuses at all ; and. although I strongly favoured) the method which was then proposed - in fact, I am ready to go to very great lengths with a view to getting the iron industry established here in a proper manner - I have altered the provision which heads division VIa. of the Tariff, with a view, not to grant any bonuses, but, when the Government are satisfied that the industry has been sufficiently established, to enable the iron made from native ores to be used in the manufacture of our machinery, and to give it what little protection division VIa. provides. It will also be recollected that since this question was last before the House, the Government of New South Wales have entered into a compact with one ironmaster - Mr. Sandford - to supply, if he can, all the iron which they may require for Government works. Under that agreement he has not nearly such a great inducement as he would have had a few years ago, when, perhaps, three or four times as much iron was used by the Government of that State. In consequence of the curtailment of expenses, the cessation of the construction of large railways, and, for a variety of other reasons, the contract which Mr. Sandford has secured is not such a very favorable one, I think, as some persons are led to believe. I have heard it stated by some honorable members that he does not want any protection. But I have had letters and personal representations from Mr. Sandford - and the Prime Minister, too, has had personal representations - that he is extremely anxious to see my proposal carried into effect. But, in addition to that, I have another object in view in submitting this measure at the present stage. Some honorable members have said, “ Why not let the matter rest for another period of six months or so? “ In my opinion, it has been resting a great deal too long - in fact, so long that it has checked very seriously the preparations which otherwise would have been made with a view to the development of theironIndustry on a large scale. Honorable members who have the slightest conception of this latent wealth, not in one particular State, but in all Australia, ought, I think, to give some assistance to develop a great industry. For various reasons, to which I shall not now refer, but which, perhaps, may be referred to before the debate closes, it is essential that something should be done at the earliest possible date. The enactment of this Bill at the present time will show those who are anxious to make preparations for the development of the industry what the view of Parliament is, and what they may expect if they invest their capital in this direction. Otherwise, there is no inducement, because the huge trusts in the United States are anxious to supply Australia with all the iron she may require, and are ready at any moment to sell it at a price at which it could not be manufactured from our own ores-
– Would not the farmer get the benefit of that?
– I hope that the honorable member will not commence to talk that kind of nonsense, because in the United States, when iron was imported, the price was a great deal higher than it is to-day ; and the reason why it is cheaper now is because the industry is well protected, and has developed to an extent which has surprised the world.
– How long ago was. that ?
– Not so many years ago.
– Is not the cost of production in every case cheaper now than it used to be? What rubbish the Minister is talking !
– It is not rubbish, and the iron is not rubbish, either. It is not very many years since America imported steel rails from Great Britain at a price a great deal higher than that at which she can manufacture them, not only for local consumption, but for export to Great Britain.
– What effect will the Bill have on the industries which use iron?
– It will have no effect, because it will not come into operation until there is a sufficient production of iron and steel from native ores to supply reasonably the demand. It will have no effect in increasing the price of the raw material to the manufacturer.
– Who is to be the judge of that?
– We know that it will not have that effect. I do not intend to consider the importers, because in the House there are always a number of honorable members who have one eye for the importer, and for nobody else.
– For the consumer, about whom the Minister does not seem to care.
– Under this Bill the user will not have to pay more for his iron than he does at the present time. Years ago I had some experience in this connexion, which I mentioned on a previous occasion. In 1891, when the Dibbs Tariff was imposed in New South Wales, a duty was placed upon pig iron, to take effect twelve months later. The Government anticipated that, within a year, pig iron would be produced locally, but, at the end of the term, there was no local production, and the result was that there was an increase of price to the man who used the raw material for his machinery and manufactures. But that result will not flow from what I am now proposing.
– Does the Minister say that the Dibbs Government imposed a duty of 10 per cent. on pig iron?
– Yes, but it was not to take effect until twelve months afterwards.
– I should like to see the proof of that statement.
– I can show the proof to the honorable member, because I was in the Ministry at the time, and know all about it.
– Does the Minister say that the Bill was passed by the Parliament?
– Yes. In order to avoid a similar result, the proposal I am now submitting is only to take effect when there is a sufficient quantity of iron produced from native ores.
– Then the Bill is only a placard ?
– It is not a placard, but an inducement to gentlemen who wish to invest their money to make the necessary preparations; and I have not the slightest doubt that they will. I do not know what the ideas of the honorable member for Franklin are in this connexion, but I am confident that the Bill, if passed, will lie of great benefit to his State, in which deposits of suitable ore exist quite dose to a port.
– On the last occasion the Minister said that the iron deposits were all contained in New South Wales.
– If the honorable member will keep quiet for a few minutes; I shall not detain the House long. I have already spoken two or three times on this subject, and given certain information, which I do not wish to repeat. I propose to add a few figures to those which I gave on the 9th December, 1904, in order to show the immense importation of iron. On that occasion I gave the figures up to 1903, and pointed out that in that year we imported, in a variety of ways, iron and machinery to the value of ,£7,209,259. I have had an opportunity of taking out the figures for 1904, and I find that in that year we imported iron and machinery to the value of £6,989,876, as is shown by the official return -
In view of the fact that we desire to provide work for our people, and that the establishment of the iron industry in our midst would afford more employment than almost any other, it is clearly our duty to do everything we can to encourage any persons who are disposed to embark upon such an enterprise. Those who decry our country are confounded by the fact that Australia was never so wealthy as she is to-day. Our exports,, which have increased in value to the extent of ,£.14,000,000 in three years, were never so large, and I believe that if we direct our attention to the development of our iron resources, we shall still more largely promote the prosperity of the community. I wish to point out the extent to which the provisions in the measure before us differ from those which are made in division VIa. of the Tariff. Some honorable members wish to make it appear that this measure raises the fiscal question, but if they refer to Hansard they will see that it was intended that the duties provided for in division VIa. should be brought into operation at an early stage. Provision is made that the duty shall come into operation on dates to be fixed by proclamation, and that the metals and machinery specified in the division,., except iron, galvanized plate and sheet, shall be exempt from duty in the meantime. Iron, galvanized, plate and sheet, is now subject to a duty of 15s. per ton, but that is no protection whatever. Under division VIa. it will be subject to a dutv of 10 per cent, ad valorem, which will represent between 30s. and £2 per ton.
– Will not iron, galvanized, plate, and sheet, be exempted under the proclamation?
– No. It is intended that those classes of iron shall lae brought under the operation of the duties provided for in division VIa., but the duty of t 5s. per ton will remain in force until such time as a proclamation is issued. Such a proclamation will not be made until those classes of iron ‘can. be manufactured from Australian ores.
– Then the duties provided for in division VIa. will not be brought into operation in regard to any classes of iron until they can be manufactured from Australian ores..
– No. It is provided in division VIa. of the Tariff -
Proclamation to be issued as soon as it is certified by the Minister that the manufacture to which the proclamation refers has been sufficiently established in the Commonwealth accord, ing to the provisions of any law relating to bonuses for the encouragement of manuactures or to the establishment of manufactures under the direct control of the Commonwealth or State Governments but no proclamation to be issued except in pursuance of a joint address passed 011 (he motion of Ministers by both Houses of Parliament staling that such manufacture is sufficiently established.
The Bill proposes to substitute for the introduction to division VIa. the following words : - “ The operation of this Division is suspended as to the articles of manufacture specified therein, which (except Iron Galvanized, Plate, and Sheet) are exempt from duty until this Division is brought into operation. “ This Division may, by Proclamation, be brought into operation as to any such article from a date specified in the Proclamation. “ Provided, however, that no. Proclamation bringing this Division into operation as to any article shall be made until the Governor-General is satisfied that the manufacture of the article (or, in the case of a Proclamation bringing this Division into operation as to Scrap Iron or Scrap Steel, is satisfied that the manufacture of Iron or Steel) from Australian ore or material is sufficiently established in the Commonwealth.”
– What is the reason for taking the control out of the hands of Parliament ?
– Although there might not be sufficient iron made from local ores to meet all our requirements, there might be enough to enable certain- classes of manufactures to be carried on. Take, for instance, the case of reapers ‘ and binders which are now made in Australia to a limited extent. The industry has only recently been established, and the manufacturers find it difficult to compete against the importers. Reapers and binders would be subject under division VI. to an ad valorem duty of 15 per cent. Supposing that a sufficient quantity of locallyproduced iron were available for use by manu- facturers of reapers and binders, it would be a. good thing to issue a proclamation relating to that particular item.
– But that does not answer the question as to why the matter is to be taken out of the hands of Parliament.
– The reason is this: If it were thought desirable to apply a duty of 15 per cent, to reapers and binders, it would be necessary under the division as it now stands to submit resolutions to both Houses of Parliament, and a great deal of trouble and delay would be involved. It was thought that that might be avoided by making such a provision as, that now proposed. Other classes of machinery! might be similarly dealt with until our production of iron from native ores had reached such a stage that we might bring the whole of the duties in division VIa. into operation.
– But the iron has first to be produced.
– I am perfectly aware of that, but it never will be produced unless the industry is assisted in some way or other. Since the Bill was introduced, I have had an opportunity of consulting several honorable members, and . I find that there is ‘ a general desire that the control with regard to the imposition of duties shall remain in the hands of Parliament, and I am prepared to meet the views of honorable members to that extent. The Government do not desire to exercise the power of bringing the duties into operation by proclamation, except with the object of facilitating, as far as possible, the production, of iron and steel produced from native ores and 0heir use in our manufactures.
– Still it is as well to submit every proposed dutv to Parliament.
– I understand that that is the feeling of honorable members, and, there-fore, I shall either accept or propose an amendment in the direction indicated. There is no necessity for me to make a long speech, because I have already addressed the House at length upon this subject two or three times. I do not propose to enter upon the history of the iron industry in England, Great Britain. America. Germany, or any other part of the world. Honorable members have had. the matter brought before them so often that they are thoroughly well informed with regard to it. I wish it to be clearly understood that, although Mr. Sandford has entered into an arrangement with the Government of New South Wales, he is as anxious as any one to see the small degree of protection provided for in division VIa. afforded to manufacturers to safeguard them against the competition of the great trusts of America, which can afford to dump their surplus products into our market, in order to crush our local industries. I hope that honorable members will deal with the measure as speedily as possible.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).I hope the Minister will consent to an adjournment of the debate, as is usual. The Bill deals with a matter of considerable importance, and it was generally understood that we should proceed with the Electoral Bill to-day. An adjournment until to-morrow will not make much difference.
– I had hoped that the debate would be proceeded with to-day, and that the motion for the second reading would be carried to-night, but I shall not oppose an adjournment of the debate. We shall proceed with the Bill to-morrow, and, I trust, conclude its consideration at that sitting.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Joseph Cook) adjourned.
In Committee : (Consideration resumed from 8th December, vide page 6588).
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 -
Section three of the Principal Act is
– Although I have given notice of a number of amendments, I have every desire to assist the Government to carry this Bill in the shortest period compatible with the importance of some of the alterations proposed in the original Act. I, therefore, intend to be very brief in my remarks, especially as, on the second reading, I alluded rather fully to some of the principal amendments I intended to sub mit, in order that honorable members might not be taken by surprise, and that there might be no need for me to speak lengthily at the Committee stage. The first amendment I intend to submit is, I may say, in answer to an interjection of the Minister, not intended as an instruction to the Government. Had it been so intended, the amendment would have been to substitute “the Postmaster -General “ for “the Minister of Home Affairs.” I simply propose that the Committee shall indicate whether in their opinion some consideration should not be given to the desirability of transferring the administration of the Electoral Branch to the Post and Telegraph Department, which already does a great portion of the electoral business. I take it that the Ministry might possibly object to receive an instruction from Parliament.
– Perhaps it may assist matters if I make a short explanation. So far as concerns the amendment of which notice has been given,. I think I can, to a certain extent, meet the honorable member. My own view of the matter is that, in the administration of the Departments generally, each Government ought to be free asto which Minister is given control.
– But a special Minister is nearly always mentioned when a Bill is introduced.
– According to the Acts Interpretation Act - “ The Minister “ shall mean the Minister for the time being administering the Act or enactment in which or in respect of which the expression is used.
– That is only for the time being.
– No; it means the Minister of the Department; so that if from the interpretation clause of the Act we ex- clude the provision that “ Minister “ means the Minister of Home Affairs, the administration will be left to the Minister who administers the Department.
– If no other Minister is mentioned.
– There is no other Minister mentioned.
– There will not be in this case.
– The matter will be left entirely to the Minister of the day. I do not want to go into any elaborate argument on the point. Personally, I do not agree with the honorable member for North Sydney, at the present stage at any rate,- as to the necessity for the amendment; but I agree as to the desirability of having the provision in such a form as to leave freedom to any Government who may take a different view. If the honorable member will withdraw his amendment, the matter can be left as being governed by the definition of “ The Minister “ in the Acts Interpretation Act. That, I think, would carry out the effect desired by the honorable member.
– As to the verbal effect, yes.
– I understand that the honorable member does not intend his amendment as a direction?
– No, as an indication.
– My own opinion is that there is no necessity for transferring this work to the postal officials. The honorable member for North Sydney practically argued that, because most of the electoral business is done by the postal officials, the whole of the administration of the electoral branch should be handed over to the Postmaster-General. My own opinion is that such an amendment would impose an undue burden on the officer administering the Department of the PostmasterGeneral. I agree with the honorable member as to the unwillingness of officers of one Department to do work for another, and as to the desirability of the officers contemplated carrying out these electoral duties; but that object can be accomplished, although the administration rema!ins with the Department of Home Affairs. At the present time arrangements have been made with the Post and Telegraph Department by which, when the Bill is brought into operation, not only postal officials, but public servants generally, wherever they have time within office hours, shall be called upon to give assistance in this electoral work. I think it is reasonable that public servants should be expected to perform Federal duties irrespective of the particular office or Department in which they are employed, provided those duties do not impose undue responsibility on them, under which circumstances, of course, they would be entitled to extra remuneration. I am willing to accept as much as I have indicated of the honorable member’s amendment,
Mr. DUGALD THOMSON (North Sydney). - The Minister’s proposal, and the words accompanying it, indicate that he personally is not in favour of my suggestion.
– Hear, hear ; at the present stage.
– That fact almost compels me to test the opinion of Parliament. As I have already said, the amendment is not intended as an instruction to the Government, but only as an expression of opinion that they should give the matter serious consideration.
– The matter has received serious consideration.
– Personally I am convinced that the change is desirable ; and I may in very few words allude to the statement of the Minister. First of all, the Minister thinks that the amendment will impose undue strain on the Secretary to the Department of the Postmaster-General.
– And also on the Minister administering the Act.
– And also on the Minister administering the Act. But that strain could and would be removed, practically entirely, from the Secretary to the Department of the Postmaster-General by the appointment of a Chief Electoral Officer - an appointment which it is intended to make. An undue strain on the Minister would not be so likely to follow when all the officers of a Department were in close touch with the work, but, if necessary, the Minister could be assisted by the member of the Cabinet who has no portfolio. It is quite clear to me that if any Department ite found best suited for a particular work, it is possible to make the requisite arrangements to meet the circumstances. It is very awkward when work has to be performed by two Departments ; there is always a bad joint, and a difficulty in working harmoniously.
– All the work of the Department of Home Affairs has to be conducted through two or more Departments.
– Not all the work.
– Practically all the work.
– Not all the work, and ifc is especially undesirable in the cage under discussion. We know that the Department of Home Affairs, in connexion with public works, is associated with the States Departments, and has ‘relations with other Departments of the Commonwealth service. But the Department of Home Affairs has not to borrow from those Departments- officers who, as in regard to electoral work, are thoroughly under its control, and not under the control for that work of their own Department.
– Those officers would then be under the control of the Chief Electoral Officer.
– They would be under the control of the Post and Telegraph Department.
– They would be carrying out duties under the Department of Home Affairs.
– We know that in the Post and Telegraph Department there are the Money Order Office and the Telegraph Branch,., but the heads of these branches work side by side under the PostmasterGeneral, and, all being one Department, they act in harmony. Then there is the fact that the staff of one Department never takes readily to work which is that of another Department1, and it would not be possible to call upon these officers as readily as it would be if the administration of the measure were placed under the Postmaster-General. If the Minister had stated that he was willing to accept my amendment or the amendment he has suggested, for the reason I have given, it would have been a different matter, but as it is the latter only proposes what I have always contended should be done, namely, that we should leave the Government to decide which Department should administer any particular Bill. That freedom should be given, although we know that almost every Bill that is introduced allots the control to some particular Minister. If the Minister of Home Affairs states that he will give serious consideration to the matter - though he will not! come to a final decision at this stage - I shall be quite willing, being anxious to help rather than retard the passing of the measure, that the amendment should be adopted in the form he has indicated. On the other hand, the Minister has expressed the opinion that that step ought not to be taken.
– So far as I can see, that step should not be taken at this stage.
– That places me in such a position as makes it desirable to test the opinion of the Committee.
– Surely a machinery Bill is not the Bill on which to test the question. So far as I can see, it would not be advisable to make the change at the present time.
– If we had the States working through the police, and the officers of their Education Departments and the Commonwealth working through the Post and Telegraph Department,, we should not only greatly reduce the cost of working the Act, but should enable both the States electoral laws and our own to be carried out much more efficiently. We should thus create an Electoral Department with a staff unequalled by any staff under any Government. I do not wish to take the opinion of the Committee upon the subject if the Minister will promise to consider the whole question as to whether the electoral work could not be done better through the Post and Telegraph Department.
– I think it would be wise for the honorable member for North Sydney not to proceed with his proposal. As a matter of fact, Parliament is not the most fitting tribunal to decide such a question. Those who are administering the Electoral Act ought to be the best able to say to which Department of the Commonwealth the electoral work should be attached. I interjected just now that most of the work of the _Home Affairs Department is in connexion with some other Department. As a matter of fact, the Home Affairs Department practically has no staff, except the electoral staff and the public works staff, the latter of which is almost entirely confined to preparing plans and specifications. The work of the electoral branch has to be done practically through1 States officers. If that work is taken away from the Home Affairs Department, it will be deprived of a very large portion of its functions, and at the same time additional burdens will be piled on to the shoulders of the Minister who already has to supervise the largest Department in the Commonwealth service.
– - There is always an honorary Minister in the Cabinet.
– It may not be convenient to make the honorary Minister an assistant to the Postmaster-General. I do not know that we should secure more satisfactory results by transferring the electoral branch’ of the Home Affairs Department to the Post and Telegraph Department. The officials would not be brought in touch through their work with the rest of the officers of that Department. It does not follow that we should thus secure any greater homogeneity than at present. Probably in a few years, when more Departments are taken over and are administered by the Home Affairs Department, it might be wise to make such an alteration. I would also draw the attention of the honorable member for North Sydney to the fact that in some States the greater part of the electoral work is not done by postal officials. In South Australia a good deal of it is done by outside officers. But more and more there is a tendency to have the work done by officials of the Post and Telegraph Department, in consequence of which it may at some time be necessary to transfer the work -formally to that Department.
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs - Minister of Home Affairs). - Of course, the electoral work is entirely above party, and in its administration we desire to do what is absolutely the best for the Commonwealth as a whole. I have been looking into the working of our electoral machinery since I have been administering the Home Affairs Department, and I find that it is in an absolutely unorganized condition. When I took over the administration we had no permanent electoral officials. We had no Chief Electoral Officer, and practically at the end of this year the Department will be without a proper staff of trained officials. No matter to what Department the Electoral Department is attached, it will be absolutely necessary to have a Chief Electoral Officer and officers throughout the States to supervise the officials who do our electoral work. In each instance, we have to take the best men we can get in the Commonwealth Public Service for these positions. I have given a considerable amount of thought to this matter, and have come to the conclusion that the sooner our Commonwealth electoral machinery is put upon a clear, solid, and permanent basis the better it will be for the Commonwealth as a whole. For the last four years, we have had temporary men doing what should be the work of permanent officers. No matter which Department takes over the work, it will be essential for it to have a permanent staff for electoral affairs. At the present time, the whole of the electoral machinery has been organized by the officers of the Home Affairs Department. The honorable member for North Sydney has suggested that we should take a test vote to indicate the opinion of the Committee that the electoral work should be transferred to the Post and Telegraph Department. I think he will agree with me, however, that to hand the work over to the Secretary of the Post and Telegraph Department and his accountants and staff just now would be to invite failure in connexion with the next general election.
– Not necessarily. The work would be transferred when the Minister was ready to do it.
– One difficulty that has occurred, in reference to the transaction of electoral business, has been that some postal officials have objected to having this work imposed upon them. Most of our public servants have given most loyal and efficient service in connexion with the Electoral Act. But the difficulty arises when officers are asked to take upon themselves certain work, and they practically object to do it, because they consider that it is outside the scope of the particular duties which they are engaged by the Commonwealth to perform. I have, however, arranged with the Postmaster-General that a general instruction shall be given that Commonwealth servants co-operate with their officers in fulfilling Commonwealth duties generally. That is to say, if a post-office official is appointed to act as a divisional returning officer, and the men under him are not fully engaged, instead of outside assistance being called in and extra expense involved, they shall give him assistance in carrying out his work. Seeing that we have a general election coming on, and that a distribution of electorates must take place within a short time, with possibly a second alteration of the rolls, it is impossible just now to promise to make a. transfer of the Electoral Department to the Post md Telegraph Department. But I can promise that if I am allowed to go into recess holding my present position, I shall look into the matter very carefully.
– The honorable gentleman need not be afraid : we are going to deal very fairly with him.
– With that assurance. I will agree to allow this clause to be amended in the way that the honorable member desires.
Mr. DUGALD THOMSON (North Sydney). - Recognising that at this stage of the Session, this matter cannot be properly thrashed out to a conclusion, I am willing to accept the Minister’s assurance. He will find, if he inquires, that some of the work that is being done by subordinate officers under postmasters, is being done on the basis that the postmasters give to their subordinates the amounts that they receive for the work. That is a most unsatisfactory state of things.
– That is so ; it is not right.
– Anxious as I am to see the Commonwealth Electoral Department working efficiently, as it ought to do, and must do, if it is to be successful in such a large area as the whole of Australia, I feel satisfied that the Minister will, after an examination of the facts, recognise that there is a danger of failure owing to the work being done through two Departments. The element of personal responsibility is lacking. The Department, which has a magnificent staff all over Australia, must be directly responsible. I am willing to accept the Minister’s assurance. I move -
That after paragraph a the following new paragraph be inserted : - “(aa) by omitting the words ‘for Home Affairs,’ and inserting in lieu thereof the words of State administering the Act.’ “
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 5 to 7 agreed to.
Clause 8 -
– I ask the Committee to negative this clause. It is really the first of a series of amendments inserted in the Senate to provide for the appointment of three Commissioners for the purpose of redistributing the electorates. The Senate has proposed that the persons referred to in sub-clause 2 - a Judge of a Court of a State, the Surveyor-General or head of the Survey Department of a State, and the Commonwealth Electoral Officer for’ the State - shall, when a redistribution is ordered by proclamation, proceed to divide the States into electoral divisions. Their work is to have the force of law immediately the Executive has proclaimed the proposed divisions, as they are bound to do, and it is not to come under the review of Parliament. That is a reversal of the existing system.
– The majority of the Commissioners would be State officials.
– Yes, with the exception of the Commonwealth Electoral Officer in each State they would all be State officials. Under the system we have adopted one Electoral Commissioner is appointed for each State. It is his duty to distribute the State into electorates, and when he has made his distribution, it is advertised, and objection can be taken to the divisions he proposes. Then the whole matter is brought before Parliament for confirmation, and the control of Parliament is thus preserved.. The idea contained in the Senate’s proposal is to entirely eliminate the controlling power of Parliament in this matter, and to leave it in the hands of the Executive to decide when a redistribution of a State into electorates shall take place.
– It is not left entirely in the hands of the Executive.
– It will be in the hands of the Executive as it is now, to decide when a redistribution shall take place.
– Not under the amended provisions.
– Section 23 of the principal Act provides that -
A redistribution of any State into Divisions shall be made in the manner hereinbefore provided whenever directed bythe GovernorGeneral by proclamation.
We propose some modifications of that, but there is a provision under which the Governor-General in Council may order a redistribution when he thinks fit. The objection to the proposal of the Senate is that, in the first place, it does away with the control of Parliament altogether. I believe that Parliament should retain a controlling power in determining the distribution of its own electorates, and it should be the final court of appeal in such a matter. In my opinion, therefore, the Senate made a mistake in eliminating that control. When the original measure was first introduced, a proposal was made that there should be three Commissioners, but the House, without a. division, rejected that proposal, and decided that there should be but one Elec- toral Commissioner for each State. It was pointed out that if three Commissioners were to be appointed for each State, heavy expense would be involved. It is clear that for a State like Tasmania, with only five electorates, the scheme now proposed is a very cumbrous method of dealing with the sub-division of that little State. When the matter was, previously discussed here, it was pointed out that to have three commissioners for each State would mean that there should be eighteen Electoral Commissioners appointed. Under that, twelve new appointments would be necessary. Each of the officers appointed would, of course, be entitled to extra remuneration for work done under this measure. The Commission would probably take evidence in investigating matters, and might wish to travel, and it would be a very cumbrous Commission for such a purpose. The division even of a. State like New South Wales should not be a very difficult task for one officer acquainted with his work. Another objection to the proposal is that, in substance, it really leaves the House of Representatives at the mercy of the Executive of the day, because they are given the right whenever they think fit to say that there shall be a redistribution of the electorates. Under the proposal submitted by the Senate, immediately that took place the whole matter would be completely removed from the control of Parliament. The redistribution would have to take place in accordance with the scheme submitted by the Commissioners in each State, and honorable members will understand that the very fact that a redistribution is decided upon implies a dissolution of Parliament, and the return of a new Parliament on the basis of the new constituencies. On the whole, I think it is not advisable, especially at this stage, to accept these amendments. The idea of the Bill as introduced was to bring about certain administrative alterations found to be necessary for the efficient working of the Electoral Act. To accept the Senate’s amendment now might render it exceedingly difficult to carry out in due time the object of the Representation Bill, which was introduced specially in order that the next elections might be conducted upon such principles as would insure to each State the representation to which it is entitled according to the latest statistics of the Commonwealth. We fixed the enumeration day with that object at the earliest possible date, so that all the administrative arrangements might be made to bring the principle of the
Representation Bill into effect at the next election, and to secure to each State its due representation.
– That could be easily got over.
– If we are to have three Electoral Commissioners for each State, we cannot be sure how long they will take to do their work.
– We do not want three Commissioners for the smaller States.
– It will not be necessary to apply this to the first distribution.
– To avoid that, we should have to insert special clauses in this Bill. I think that the present system has worked satisfactorily enough. It is inexpensive; it leaves to an independent person the redistribution of a State into electorates.; and reserves to Parliament the control which I think it should always keep over such matters. In the circumstances, I ask the Committee to negative this clause, and we can afterwards deal with the amendments consequent upon it.
– I am very strongly in favour of what is proposed by this clause. In some of the States and elsewhere it is not unusual to have a permanent Commissioner or Commissioners, or to appoint them by Act of Parliament when the necessity arises, to redistribute the electorates, and for Parliament to accept the distribution so made.
– In New South Wales, the scheme of the Commissioners is subject to revision by Parliament.
– The decision of the Commissioners is final, I believe, in New Zealand, and, speaking from memory, I think the position is the same in the case of the British Parliament. It is undoubtedly desirable that Parliament should remit a matter affecting itself to the consideration of independent authorities. We know that members, and it may be parties, to some extent, are affected by a redistribution, and it is highly undesirable that those members or parties personally affected should be the judges of a matter affecting themselves. I have never known any good to result from a Parliament having power to accept or reject a redistribution scheme.
– The first Federal Parliament accepted some distributions and rejected others.
– In the :ase of two States, which had not been previously divided into electorates for this House, we accepted distributions, but we rejected all the other redistribution schemes. I do not propose to discuss the rights or wrongs of that decision ; but what has been the result of it? The Minister said that there ought to be a dissolution after a redistribution. There is some force in such a contention, although, of course, everything would depend upon the extent and the effect of the redistribution that had taken place. If, for instance, only two or three electorates were affected, there might be no good reason for a dissolution immediately following it. But if the Minister’s contention be correct, I should like him to say whether, after the number of Federal voters Wad been increased by about 100 per cent., and that increase had been distributed unequally amongst the electorates, there ought not to have been a general election on the new rolls. We know, however, that after these changes had occurred no election took place on new rolls, for the reason that the redistribution schemes were not accepted bv the Parliament. I do not propose to discuss the reasons for the rejection of those schemes, but I hold that we have been continuing our parliamentary representation on lines entirely foreign to the spirit of the Constitution, p.nd tol that of the electoral law of Australia. The Federal electorates are absolutely unequal. Surely that is an undesirable state of affairs, the continuation of which ought not to be encouraged. Owing to the rejection of the redistribution schemes, the people have been deprived of their constitutional right to equal representation, and such a position may again arise at any time. My experience makes me think it very desirable that this power should be taken from the Legislature.
– Too much power is taken from the Parliament.
– There is too much power taken from the Parliament in matters affecting the whole community ; but it would certainly be wise to take from it the power of dealing with a matter largely affecting the interests of honorable members themselves. The law provides for equality of distribution and1 representation, so that, in this case, it is not so much the people, as members themselves, who are affected. I think, therefore, that we should take a higher stand if we deter mined to hand over to disinterested judges matters in which all honorable members are personally interested. Those disinterested judges would act in conformity with the law, but the personal considerations of members, which must always weigh with a Parliament when it has such proposals before it, would not weigh with them. If Parliament were a body which could reframe a redistribution, the position would be different ; but we know that it cannot.
– We can send back a scheme for revision.
– Once a Parliament makes an alteration in the boundaries of one electorate, it is committed, perhaps, to an alteration of the whole of them. Parliament cannot undertake such work; the considerations involved are too personal.
– That power is not sought bv the Bill.
– It is already recognised by our Jaws. We should remember, as I have said, that in considering a redistribution scheme, Parliament must be influenced largely by the personal considerations of members, and that it is better that such work should be handed over to others, who, from their positions and the experience gained in those positions, are well fitted to carry out the work satisfactorily. It would be preferable to adopt that) course, even at the risk of minor objections arising, when we know that it would rid us of the infinitely greater objection that can be taken to members dealing with matters which are of such close personal interest to all of them that they cannot give them that judicial consideration which they would receive from others not directly concerned.
– Does, not the honorable member think that the electors would pen a;lize any honorable member who violated the principle?
– If the Parliament as a whole abused it, ‘ it is doubtful whether they would.
– Some of the electors themselves do not desire to be transferred from one electorate to another.
– Perhapsthat is so; but it is highly undesirable that this Parliament, founded, as it is, upon the principleof equality of representation, should be returned by electorates which, because of the reasons I have stated, are so unequal that in some of them the voting power of two electors is equal only to the voting power of one in others. Is it desirable that this, state of affairs, which has been the result of the present system, and, in all probability, will occur again, should continue for’ years? Under the Minister’s proposal,, a redistribution scheme could be placed before Parliament, and, if rejected, might or might not be’ returned either to the Commissioner responsible for it, or to a new Commissioner appointed for the purpose. On the last occasion the schemes to which objection was taken were not returned to the Commissioner. We were satisfied to allow the inequalities to continue. I quite agree that officers, such as are proposed! to be appointed under this clause, may sometimes make errors, but those errors are not likely to be nearly so hurtful as are those which a Parliament commits when it attempts to correct supposed anomalies in a redistribution scheme. Errors that might be committed by the Commissioners could not be nearly so dangerous as is the system of allowing Parliament to reject redistribution schemes with or without good reason, and thus postponing for months, or, perhaps, for years, the adjustment of electoral equality.
– I take it that the present Ministry are pledged to a redistribution.
– Certainly, but we are not legislating in relation only to the present Ministry. The Minister of Home Affairs has taken the valid objection that it would not do to delay the coming redistribution by making this clause apply to it. If this clause be adopted, the proper course to pursue will be to insert a further provision that it shall not apply to the forthcoming redistribution. A redistribution has actually been prepared, and if it were entirely abandoned it would involve a sacrifice of time and money. The delay which would thus occur might make.it difficult to have the new scheme ready for next session ; but that, however, could be avoided bv providing that the appointment of the three Commissioners for each State should not apply to the forthcoming redistribution. The reason for proposing the appointment of, three Commissioners is that it is thought that there should be more than one man to bring his intelligence to bear upon the questions to be submitted, because there will be no appeal. Reference has been made to the cost of having three Commissioners, but it should not be ‘anything like so great as the expense of making a redistribution, which, as in the case of some of the first redistribution, which was rejected, is entirely wasted. Any expense incurred under this clause will give a return. My experience leads me to regard it as. highly undesirable, and likely to lower the dignity of Parliament, that we should each be judges in our own cause. Other Parliaments have been content to hand over this work to trusted authorities, and I think that we should do likewise.
– It is no wonder that the appreciation of Parliament by the public and the press is said to be decreasing when honorable members themselves are afraid to trust Parliament to do its work.
– Parliament has allowed inequalities to exist for years.
– Courts have also allowed inequalities to exist. The instance cited by the honorable member tells against the present system, but I do not think that a similar instance will occur again.
– Why not?
– Because the circumstances which created it are not likely to arise again. This Parliament seems to be more afraid than are other Parliaments to trust itself to act fairly and justly. One of our first actions was to prevent the exercise of political influence in connexion with the management of the Public Service, in which matter I think we made a mistake, because we went to an extreme.
– The New South Wales Parliament has removed the control of the Public Service of that State from political influence.
– The New South Wales Public Service Act is not nearly so drastic in this respect as is ours. Then we took from ourselves the right to deal with disputed elections, and handed it to a Court of Disputed Returns. I do not feel strongly on that subject, though I think that a Parliament elected by,, and re sponsible to, the people is the best Court to try such matters. Now the Senate proposes that the distribution of divisions for this House shall be determined without appeal by a Court of three persons. However much that Court may show itself guilty of party bias - and it is not uncommon for Courts to err in that direction - no matter how much injustice and gerrymandering may have been “done, no appeal will lie from its decision. The representatives of the people will have to sit quietly under injustice, and will not be able even to raise their voices against it. If the work had to be done by Parliament itself, our decisions would go before the people for indorsement, but the proposed Court need not even give reasons for what it does, and will not require any indorsement of its actions by the people. The Court is to be formed of a Judge of a Court of a State, the Surveyor-General, or head of the Survey Department of the State, and the Commonwealth electoral officer of the State, or of two State officials and one Commonwealth official.
– The appointment of those persons is not mandatory.
– If any of them are not available, the Governor-General may appoint others. I do not think that a Court so constituted would be a good one. Reference has been made to the inequalities between the present New South Wales divisions, which are certainly gross, and should be altered; but there will be great inequalities between the divisions prepared by the proposed Court, if the margin allowed by the Electoral Act is adopted. South Australia was only recently distributed into divisions by a Commissioner; but one of these divisions contains nearly 36,000 electors, and another only 21,000; and the division whose population is growing the faster contains the larger number of electors. A distinct party spirit was shown in that redistribution, though unintentionally, but it was a distribution made by a Commissioner, and not by Parliament. I do not suggest that he was guilty of party bias, but, strangely enough, that was a case of what looked like gerrymandering, in which Parliament should have interfered. I asked the House to do so, but nothing was done, probably because we were at the time near the end of a session. If this clause were passed as it stands, however, a member would not have an opportunity to point out defects in any distribution, and very bitter feeling would be caused. The case to which I have referred shows the need for bringing these matters before Parliament, because what was done on a small scale in. South Australia might be done on a large scale in another State, and in some instances the Court might be guilty of direct party bias.
– I think that safeguards might be added to the clause, because Parliament should have some control over the distribution of the divisions. We should, I think, be able to refer back to the Commissioners any distribution which we thought contained gross inequalities. I understand, however, from the honorable member for Boothby that, in the case to which he referred, Parliament refused to remedy the Inequalities complained of. That is evidence of the ineffectiveness of the present system. The House agreed to that distribution, and rejected the New South Wales distribution. Could there be a stronger indictment against the present system? I do not think that his argument is worth much to the side which he takes, but it is worth a great deal to the side which is taken by the honorable member for North Sydney. It proves that, for some reason or other honorable members vote very often just as may suit themselves, and it is of no use to shut our eyes to that fact. The present distribution of New South Wales may not be the best which could be made. But what can be done with the plan, except to refer it back to the Commissioner ? When it is clearly demonstratedthat a distribution ought to be made,it should be undertaken and be approved by the House. But if the House will not give its approval to a scheme what are we to do? In my opinion the House should retain the power to refer back a scheme to the Commissioners, but it ought not to be in a position to reject a scheme. No doubt this is a very drastic step to take. But. judging from our past experience, it would be far better for the House tohave only the right to refer back a scheme with the suggestions of honorable members, in the hope that it might lead to an alteration which would meet various cases of inequality.
– I think that the power of rejection is better and safer than the power of referring a plan back to the Commissioner.
– We are elected to a national Parliament; but we act too much on provincial lines. The present distribution of New South Wales, so far as my district is concerned, is not one which suits me; but I would not say a word in the direction of getting it altered. If I were invested with the right to fix the boundaries of my electorate, I should alter the present boundaries; but why should I be allowed to have a voice in making that alteration ? In these cases, we are not the proper persons to judge as to what is best and right. I am not the proper person to fix the boundaries of my electorate, because I should act, not in the interests of the people, but in my own interests.
– But Buggins representing the adjoining electorate would take care that the honorable member would not get an advantage of him.
– The representative of the adjoining electorate would be quite satisfied with the boundary that I should adopt. But, supposing that the two of us could agree on that point, what right should we have to fix the boundaries? When the boundaries of the twenty-six electorates of New South Wales are submitted to the House, can we possibly alter them, and if it were possible, how long would it take us to come to an agreement upon new boundaries? If it is absolutely impossible for honorable members to alter the boundaries laid down in a scheme, why should we go through the absurd process of requiring the Commissioner to submit his proposal to the House ? Surely we can select men who would’ be able to distribute the seats without being governed very much by party feeling ! Since the House contains three parties, each party might be allowed to have one representative, and three Commissioners so selected might be left to settle questions of boundaries. It must be clear to every honorable member that the House cannot effect the distribution of seats.
– It can veto a scheme.
– Yes, but it cannot do the work of redistribution. The only way in which we can insure finality is by intrusting this work to Commissioners. The House ought to reserve to itself the right to refer a plan back to the Commissioners if, in its opinion, it be not satisfactory. But it ought not to retain the power of rejection, and to do as it has done on one occasion, and that is to allow the inequalities to remain.
– Does not the honorable member think it a great impertinence for the Senate to interfere in this matter?
– No. We can tell the Senate that they have been grossly impertinent, but that as their suggestion is a good one, it has been accepted. If the House were to make a good suggestion to the Senate, I do not think that the latter would say that we were grossly imper tinent. What we ought to do is to act in the best interests of the people. The honorable member for Boothby has pointed out that even under the present law we shall never get absolute equality, that if we were to have equality to-day in. that sense, we should have inequality to-morrow.
– But we ought to be able to get a reasonable approximation to equality.
– If we were to raise the minimum, and lower the maximum, it might accomplish the object which the honorable member has in view. I do not know that it is necessary to discuss this question at great length. Although sheaves of amendments have been circulated by the Minister and others, yet we are expected to pass the Bill in the twinkling of an eye, simply because Christmas is coming.
– The Bill was circulated a long time ago.
– That fact will not justify us in dealing with the amendments without discussion. I shall support the clause.
– This is a very suitable time in which to deal with the Bill, because with the approach of the Christmas season we are all in a mood to deal with so many amendments. I think that most honorable members are of opinion that amendments such as have been proposed should be incorporated in our electoral law. As regards the redistribution of seats, there are special reasons why trouble arose in the last Parliament.
– There were no reasons then which do not exist now, according to the figures.
– The honorable member for North Sydney spoke of one State, but in Queensland there were very peculiar and regrettable circumstances that complicated the whole matter in. a degree which, perhaps, is not understood at the present time. I shall do all in my power to see that a redistribution of the States is passed before the next elections are held. I have no doubt that if the ensuing season is sufficiently protracted, the House will deal with this question in a satisfactory manner. In my opinion, a big principle is involved in the amendment under consideration. I do not look so unkindly upon the action of the Senate in making this amendment as does the honorable member for Herbert. It is an indication of the kindly interest which the Senate takes in our welfare, and of its desire to keep us out of the way of temptation. But apart from that consideration, the first principle of parliamentary government is that the elect of the people shall settle every matter concerning the administration of public affairs. These questions must come before the House, and if the majority ever do an act which is proved to be unjust, I shall have every confidence in the judgment of the democracy. The people may excuse a trifling inadvertence, but the perpetuation of an injustice will undoubtedly bring punishment upon its perpetrators. In my opinion, the House should retain the power of accepting or rejecting any plan of redistribution of seats, and, therefore, I shall vote with the Government.
– Ever since we began to discuss electoral matters in the Chamber, I have been in favour of intrusting the redistribution of seats to persons outside Parliament. In the first speech I made on this subject, I advocated very strongly that the work should be intrusted to Commissioners, because, as I stated then- and I have seen no reason for altering my opinion. - 1 did not think that it could be done so satisfactorily b’y the House as by independent expert Commissioners, who would be quite removed from those political considerations which always weigh with honorable members whenever they are called upon to deal finally with these questions. Some honorable members have objected to the action of the Senate in inserting this provision, but I do not think that should influence’ us at all. If, on its merits, the proposal is a good one, the fact that it has received the approval of the Senate should be a recommendation rather than otherwise. I am not sure but that the Senate is entitled to make a pronouncement even upon a question of this kind. After all it affects the States as States, as well as the Commonwealth as a whole. The honorable member for Wide Bay will recollect that when the last redistribution was made, some States were dealt with and others were not, and a question of relative injustice as between State and State arose. It would seem as if matters ‘affecting’ the States as such, in their relations to other States, might well be considered by the Chamber which specifically represents the States. With’ regard to the remark of the honorable member for Wide Bay as to the action of Parliament on the last occasion, I stated that there was no change so far as I was aware between the conditions which were supposed to justify the action of the Chamber then and those now prevailing. The latest figures show that the drift of population has not altered very materially, but that the relative inequalities in New South Wales are as great as ever they were, notwithstanding that the drought is supposed to have broken, and normal conditions to have been restored. The honorable member answered me on that point by saying that there were special reasons for rejecting the distribution in his own S’tate. I would remind the honorable member that that furnishes an argument in favour of referring the matter to Commissioners, whose decisions would be final. The honorable member not only rejected the scheme for the distribution of seats in his own State,, because of some inherent difficulties which were apparent to him, and because of inequalities which would have arisen if the decision of the Commissioners had been confirmed, but he forthwith proceeded to deal with New South Wales, as to the internal arrangements of which he knew very little indeed. We are not sufficiently acquainted with the conditions prevailing in every part of Australia to enable us to arrive at an accurate judgment.
– Unfortunately, our difficulty was with the Commissioner.
– I am aware of that, but on the merits and the facts as they affect each State we do not know enough to enable us to arrive at an accurate determination. For that reason I think we ought to refer the matter to experts who know all about the internal arrangements of the States, who have given them special study, and whose decisions will be based upon the best knowledge and the most reliable data. I am not sure mat even if we possessed the requisite knowledge, we should be the best tribunal to decide these questions. There is an old and wholesome rule that we should have nothing to do with the final judgment upon matters in which we are particularly interested. I do not think that we are a sufficiently impartial jury to be intrusted with the work of apportioning our own electorates - when that apportionment means so much to us individually. We must have an unconscious bias, and even when we have brought our best consideration to bear, we cannot be certain that we are as free from bias as we ought to be. Nothing is more vital to the people of Australia than a fair apportionment of the electoral power of the Commonwealth, and we cannot guarantee that result unless we arrange for a distribution by persons who will not be influenced by political feeling or by considerations as to how the arrangement of parties in this Chamber will be affected. Therefore, it seems to me that we shall act wisely if we intrust the work to experts. May I remind honorable members that we have already had experience on both sides. In New South Wales, the last redistribution of seats was made by independent Commissioners. That was satisfactory, so far as I know. I have not heard of any complaints whatever.
– That redistribution was subject to the revision of Parliament.
– The honorable member is mistaken. I am speaking of the last redistribution of seats in New South Wales. The final result was not subject to the revision of Parliament, nor was it determined by Parliament. What the New South Wales Parliament did - and we might follow their example with advantage - was to specially select three Commissioners to do the work. I do not think that these appointments should be left to the Governor-General.
– The State law required that the redistribution should be approved by Parliament.
– When the single electorates were redistributed, the decisions of the Commissioners were submitted to Parliament.
– Yes, but on the last occasion three Commissioners were specially appointed by Parliament, and were intrusted with the final determination of all matters relating, not only to the reduction in the number of electorates, but also to the limitation of their boundaries. That arrangement worked satisfactorily, andI think we might very well adopt a similar course, instead of providing that the GovernorGeneral shall appoint a Judge, the Surveyor-General, and the Electoral Officer of the State, to do the work. We could deliberately select three Commissioners, and leave the final determination to them, feeling that in our collective ca pacity we should not be able to bring such knowledge or experience to bear. If the clause be retained I shall certainly seek to amend it in the direction I have indicated.
– I intend to support the Government in their request that this clause be negatived. In the first place, I resent the interference of the Senate in the matter. I feel certain that if this were a matter affecting the Senate, and this Chamber interfered in the same way as they have done, they would express very strong objection.The question is one to be dealt with entirely by this Chamber.
– Why was the measure submitted to the Senate in the first instance ?
– I do not know. It is not suggested that the redistribution should be placed in the hands of members of this Chamber, but it is intended to preserve to us the power to reject any proposed redistribution if we are dissatisfied with it. The honorable member for Wide Bay referred to what he described as a regrettable incident in connexion with the proposed redistribution of seats in Queensland.
– Something of the same kind occurred in other States also.
– Yes. The honorable member for Boothby mentioned a case that had occurred in South Australia. If the decision of the Queensland Commissioner had been final we should probably have agreed with it. But it was not final, and that was what the representatives of Queensland took exception to. The Commissioner arrived at a determination, and published his maps, and immediately afterwards, without any apparent reason, withdrew them, and proposed another redistribution, altogether different from that first made. The same thing might occur again. The Commissioners might be as liable to unconscious bias as are the members of this Chamber. So far as my electorate is concerned, I could make a better division than that? now adopted if I were to consult my own interests. But I regard the present division as being, perhaps, as good as any other in the interests of the State, and I do not object to it, because I recognise that finality must be reached sooner or later. Another reason I have for objecting to handing over the power of redistribution to Commissioners is that we are continually stultifying ourselves by intrusting to others the authority which we should retain for ourselves. We have placed the Public Service Commissioner entirely beyond our control. The present occupant of the office is a gentleman in whom I have perfect confidence, and whose administration has, on the whole, been very good; but occasionally matters crop up with which this House should be able to deal. When the Electoral Act was under consideration I strongly advocated that a Committee of Parliament should deal with disputed election returns, because I thought that the House would stultify itself by surrendering its powers in this respect to another tribunal. Only this, afternoon a proposition of a serious nature was made, in another matter of importance, to give the whole power to the Governor in Council, or, in other words, a Minister of the Crown. Had not the House shown some resentment, an endeavour might have been made to carry that proposition into effect. And here’, again, we are being asked to surrender our duties to an individual or body., over which this Parliament would have absolutely no control. I entirely agree with the attitude of the Government, and hope they will defeat the present proposal, which I regard as a gross interference with the rights and privileges of this House.
– I hope the Committee will agree to retain the clause as it is. After listening to discussion. I regard this provision as the very kernel of the measure. We must jealously prevent any interference by honorable members, interested bodies, and interested associations in the delimitation of the electorates. I have always consistently held that the desirable course is to appoint one or more Commissioners to carry out this work. We have it in our power, when appointing Commissioners to see that thoroughly good men are selected. My experience of a similar appointment in Victoria leads me to the opinion that a Commissioner, occupying so high and responsible a position, would not exercise his power in the interests of any section of the community, or any party in Parliament. All who know the record of the Victorian Commissioner are convinced that he did not give one tittle of consideration to the interests of any particular member, but was concerned only with what he regarded as the just interpretation of his instructions,. I take a thoroughly disinterested view of this matter, because the Victorian Commis sioner has cut off the Toorak portion of my electorate, which, I think, ought to be represented by some member holding the views which I profess.
– There have been two Commissioners in Victoria ; would not the honorable member’s remarks apply equally to the previous Commissioner?
– Certainly; but that Commissioner dealt with different conditions. This House has full opportunity to select a Commissioner with the highest qualifications, and that is where, it seems to me, the discretion of Parliament can be exercised. It is the desire of every honorable member to have fair and just boundaries, and to keep the administration of the Electoral Act pure. Those who hold a contrary view to myself on the question immediately under discussion do so, I am sure, with a desire to arrive at the object I have just indicated - with the desire that there may be a proper representation of the views of the various electorates. I have been asked by the Toorak electors, and by the Oakleigh borough, to endeavour to have these places retained in the Kooyong electorate, but my reply has been thatI have no power in any shape or form - that the whole matter is in the hands of the Commissioner. I say deliberately that I am exceedingly sorry these portions of my electorate have been deleted. But, notwithstanding that fact, I think the method proposed by the clause is the one from which we are likely to get the fairest results. We cannot expect to have a Commissioner who will give satisfaction to every one; such a man is not born, nor likely to be born. We cannot, in my opinion, take any more effective steps to prevent gerrymandering than to have a Commission of one, two, or three members. I favour the appointment of one Commissioner, on whom can be thrown the full responsibility for the determination of the boundaries. I speak with knowledge when I say that in Victoria we have been very fortunate in the Commissiners we secured, and, therefore. I hope that the principle underlying clause 8 will be adopted.
– It is very desirable that Members of Parliament should, as far as possible, be relieved from discussing the boundaries of electoral divisions in which they are personally interested. Tasmania, under present circumstances, has a minimum representation of five honorable members, and I think it quite possible that there will be no alteration made in the boundaries. If the Commission is to be a heavily paid one, it is worth while considering whether it would be necessary to appoint three Commissioners for such a small State. My personal opinion is that the SurveyorGeneral of the State could do the whole of the work himself, practically as well as could three Commissioners. I differ entirely from the view that the Senate, in inserting this clause, is encroaching on the rights of the House of Representatives, considering that the Bill was submitted for the Senate’s consideration. The principle we have to consider is whether the boundaries shall be decided by Parliament or by Commissioners. How absurd it would be to call upon a member like myself to express an opinion as to the boundaries of Queensland, for example ! I have absolutely no knowledge of that State to qualify me to arrive at a decision. I can remember a case in the State Parliament of Tasmania, when the representatives of adjoining electorates, each desired to have a portion of one of these electorates included in his own. There we had at once a conflict between two men directly interested.
– Then other members, who were disinterested, could decide the question.
– But on what information? For example, a similar question might arise between the honorable member for Kennedy and the honorable mem- ber for Maranoa, both gentlemen whose word I should be prepared to accept on any matter of fact.
– But the honorable member for Kennedy and myself are quite agreeable, although he is taking some of my electors.
– But supposing honorable members under the circumstances were not agreeable? The honorable member for Kooyong has cited a case in which a corner of an electorate may be thrown into an adjoining electorate represented by a member holding entirely opposite political views from those of its former member.
– I am glad that Toorak is not thrown into my electorate.
– And I think the Toorak electors are also glad. In such a case it is highly undesirable that an honorable member directly interested should be called upon to decide the boundaries.I am sure the Chairman would not allow me to say that the manner in which the redistribution of New South Wales was refused by the last Parliament was a scandal ; but that would be the term applied to similar proceedings in any matter outside politics. The last Parliament refused to allow New South Wales to be divided into something like fairly even electorates, with the result, as has been pointed out, that there are cases of one electorate having more than double the number of electors to be found in an adjoining electorate.
– How did Parliament refuse ?
– Parliament decided that New South Wales should not be brought under the Electoral Divisions Bill.
– The same decision was arrived at in regard to other States.
– I know that, but I speak of New South Wales because of the inequalities which there are in that State.
– There are similar inequalities in Victoria.
– I believe there are to a lesser extent.
– To a greater extent.
– Could there be a greater condemnation than the facts I have stated, of the system which some honorable members favour? If the delimitation of the boundaries of New South Wales had been put: into the hands of a Commissioner, the inequalities and difficulties I have described would not have arisen.
– We have had too many Commissions and Commissioners.
– I believe that the electorates mapped out by Commissioners were accepted by the House without alteration. Unless we appoint Commissioners, differences of opinion will arise in the House, and the Bill may be shelved for the session. That will mean no redistribution of seats prior to the next election, and there will be a continuation of the present state of affairs.
– The present arrangements were good enough to return the honorable member.
-I was returned for an electorate delimitedby a Commissioner, and it would be infinitely better if all the representatives were returned under similar conditions. Believing, asI do, that the more we keep political influence out of the division of electorates the better it will be for honorable members themselves, I shall vote for the retention of the clause.
– When speaking on the motion for the second reading of the Bill, I intimated my objection to this clause, and am very pleased that the Minister has agreed to its deletion. Some honorable members do not seem to apprehend the position. They appear to think that it is proposed that Parliament should deal with the distribution of electorates without employing a Commissioner or any other expert officer to suggest certain boundaries. But that is not proposed. The Act at present provides that a Commissioner shall be appointed who shall do the detailed work, and make suggestions to Parliament, accompanied by plans. The clause which the Minister has invited the Committee to omit from the Bill would hand over the whole of the power to a Commissioner, and Parliament would) have no opportunity to revise his scheme. That appears to me to be a monstrous proposal. What has been our past experience in connexion with the division of electorates? In New South Wales, when Commissioners were appointed’ for the first time to define the boundaries of electorates, they conceived it to be their duty to issue circulars asking members of Parliament to attend at the office, and give them all the information They could, with suggestions as to how the boundaries ought to be determined. But the Commissioner appointed by the Commonwealth absolutely refused to see any member of this Parliament, or to receive information from any, except in a written form. If Parliament is not satisfied with the boundaries proposed by the Commissioner, it should be able to refer the scheme back to him for further consideration. In the light of the information given by members, the Commissioner would be in a much better position the second time to draw the boundaries on a fair and equitable basis. When the Commissioner’s second report was presented Parliament would probably have no hesitation whatever in accepting it. The question simply is whether Parliament is prepared to stand bv the provisions of the present Act; to appoint a Commissioner to define the boundaries, and to submit a report for confederation. ; or to surrender the whole power to a body of gentlemen whom the GovernorGeneral may appoint? I take it that the Committee will support the Minister in retaining a revisory power.
– I believe in the proposal of the Bill, and shall support it. The present practice is to appoint a skilful Commissioner to prepare plans for the division of electorates. The Commissioner may devote a great deal of attention to the work, and his plans may be fair and equitable. They may be regarded by both Houses of Parliament as worthy of adoption, and resolutions may be passed accepting them. If it were proposed that the plans thus prepared should stand unless they were disapproved of by a vote of either House, there would be a great deal to be said in support of the contention of the Minister and of the last speaker. But when we are asked to substitute for the scheme proposed by the Senate - which aims at removing all partisan feeling - a scheme which would make any proposed plan of distribution a party question entirely, I think we are asked to take a retrograde step. It is all very well for us to put ourselves on a high pedestal, and say that we are a very patriotic lot who do nothing, but what is in the best interests of the country. But every member of this, or any other Parliament, thinks that the interests of the country are best conserved by his party being in power, and being retained in power.
– Surely the honorable member does not suggest that Parliament would deliberately do an injustice?
– I do not say that an honorable member would deliberately do what he thought was an injustice, but I say that in political matters a member of Parliament may easily persuade himself, or his party may persuade him, that what .* he votes for is a most proper thing to do, whereas, in fact, weighed in the scale of ethics, it may be a most improper act. If it were not for that, party government could not be carried on for an hour. If every honorable member voted as his principles directed him to vote, the present Government would not continue in office for five minutes. I am prepared to vote for the Senate’s proposal, although I think it is a shade too drastic. It removes the redistribution of seats from parliamentary control altogether. If I cannot secure that, my views will be met bv inserting a clause to the “effect that any redistribu-‘ tion. by one Commissioner or three, shall, unless either House disapproves of it - or, as the matter concerns this House, unless the House of Representatives disapproves of it - come into effect. That would require a substantive act before the scheme could be disapproved of. At present a negative act - that is, the failure to do anything - is sufficient to knock on the head the most promising and carefully prepared scheme. I think that is a state of things which requires amendment. I hope that in a matter of this kind, in which honorable members are so deeply interested personally, we shall take a course which will leave us less open to exercise influence.
– Would the honorable member leave to the present Executive the framing of a Customs law?
– I do not think the cases are analogous, for the reason that in the case of a parliamentary division of seats, the interests of honorable members are affected. Every honorable member knows, unless he is in the position of the honorable member for Gippsland, whose constituency is up against the border of New South Wales,that a piece can be taken off or added on to his electorate so as to make things uncomfortable for him. When an honorable member represents what I may call a middle constituency, like that of the honorable and learned member for Corinella, or that of the honorable member for Laanecoorie, things may be made extremely awkward by a fresh delimitation of boundaries. The matter makes very little difference to me personally,, because I happen to represent a constituency close up to a border; although both schemes which have been put forward chipped off one of the nicest little places that any honorable member could wish to have in his electorate. But that does not prevent me from supporting a proposal which will have the effect of removing the question of the redistribution of seats outside of party considerations. If we cannot secure the proposal of the Senate, I would suggest, for the Minister’s consideration, such an amendment of sections 21 and 22 of the principal Act as would make any scheme of redistribution become operative unless a resolution was passed by either House of Parliament disapproving of it. That is to say, I would make an express act of disapproval necessary before the scheme was rejected. If that suggestion were adopted, probably a good deal of debate upon this question, and the pos sibility of a difference of opinion with another place, might be avoided.
Question - That the clause stand part of the Bill - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 16
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clauses 9 to11 agreed to.
Clause 12 -
Sections twenty twenty-one and twenty-two of the Principal Act are repealed and the following section substituted in lieu thereof : - “ The Governor-General shall thereupon by proclamation declare the names and boundaries of the Divisions and those Divisions shall until altered in accordance with this Act be the Electoral Divisions for the State.” “ Provided that, until the then next ensuing dissolution or expiration of the House of Representatives, the redistribution shall not affect the election of a new member to fill a vacancy happening in the House of Representatives; but for the purposes of any such election the Electoral Divisions as theretofore existing, and the Rolls in respect of those Divisions, shall continue to have full force and effect, notwithstanding that new Rolls for the new Divisions have been prepared.”
Amendment (by Mr. Groom) proposed -
That the words “ Sections twenty twenty-one and twenty-two of the Principal Act are repealed and the following section substituted in lieu thereof : - “ The Governor-General shall thereupon by Proclamation declare the names and boundaries of the divisions and those divisions shall until altered in accordance with this Act be the Electoral Divisions for the State “ - be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ Section twenty-one of the Principal Act is amended by adding at the end thereof the following words : “
– Section 22 of the principal Act provides that -
The Minister may direct the Commissioner to propose a fresh distribution of the State into divisions.
We have decided to retain the method provided by the principal Act, but I point out that one means by which delays are possible is that there is no direction to the Minister, and he may or may not direct the Commissioner to propose a fresh distribution. In view of the evil which has been pointed out, I would ask whether the Minister has any proposal to make to obviate the consequences of inaction where a distribution is really necessary. It is of no use to say that a redistribution ought to take place, if the Minister is given power to allow a redistribution proposed by the Commissioner to lapse.
– I will consider the matter and it can be brought up again when we are discussing the proposed new clause 12.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 13 -
Section twenty-three of the Principal Act is amended by adding the following sub-section : - “ (2) Such proclamation may be made -
whenever an alteration is made in the number of Members of the House of Representatives to be elected for the State ; and
whenever in one-third of the Divisions in the State the number of electors differs from a quota ascertained in the manner provided in this Part by a greater extent than one-fifth more or one-fifth less ; and
at such other times as the Governor. General thinks fit.”
– On behalf of the honorable member for Boothby, I move -
That the word “one-third,” line 8, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ one-fifth.”
This deals with a matter which affects the larger States to a greater extent than the smaller States. In Victoria there would need to be eight divisions, differing from the quota to the extent set out in the clause, before any redistribution could take place. There has been great outcry in New South Wales, as well as in Victoria, on account of the inequality in the number of electors in the various divisions. In Victoria, so far as I can ascertain, only about eight divisions have contained a greater or a lesser number than the quota to the extent referred to. When the last redistribution was proposed the House saw fit, unwisely, in my opinion, to reject it. If this amendment had then been made there would have had to be a redistribution at that time. The amendment would mean that, in Victoria, there would have to be only five electorates, containing more or less than the quota to the extent proposed before a redistribution would be necessary; but under the proposal of the Government there would have ‘to be eight electorates, with more or less than the quota, before any redistribution could take place.
– I do not think that the (amendment can be accepted, because it would not fairly apply in the case of the smaller States. I am prepared to accept an amendment that the number of divisions be one-fourth. That would be more applicable to the smaller States. As a matter of fact, the following paragraph c is intended specially to meet the case of the larger States, and to overcome the difficulty referred to.
– If I cannot secure a lesser degree of discrepancy than will be provided by one-fourth, I shall certainly accept the suggestion of the Minister. I point out that it will provide for a very wide discrepancy, and we shall be still a long way from having anything like equal voting power in the different constituencies.
– The clause does not provide that the redistribution shall take place only when the discrepancy mentioned is reached.
– It will be evident that, as a matter of practice, there will not be any redistribution until the maximum of discrepancy allowed by the Act is reached. Under the existing Act, the number of electors in a constituency may be one-fifth above or below the quota, so that we may have a difference of 10,000 between the number of electors in two ad- joining constituencies. In some cases there is a far greater discrepancy, but unless that state of affairs exists in one-third of the divisions in a State, this automatic provision for a redistribution will not come into operation. I hold that whenever so great a discrepancy is shown, a redistribution ought to take place. In New South Wales, for instance, the number of electors in eight constituencies, might be altogether beyond the margin allowed, and still this provision as it stands would not apply. That being so, I fail to see that we shall effect any improvement if we allow the clause to pass as, proposed. I would call the special attention of those honorable members who plead for equality of representation to this provision, because it will allow a much greater departure from the quota than honorable members contemplate to remain unremedied. I would seriously ask the Minister whether he considers it necessary that opportunities should be afforded for such gross inequalities before the automatic provision can be applied.
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs - Minister of Home Affairs). - If in administering the Act I found that the number of electors in one constituency was so grossly out of proportion to ‘those of others as almost to shock the conscience, I -should consider that a distribution ought to take place. At the same time, we cannot escape from the fact that we are laying down rules of general application to the whole Commonwealth. The desire is to indicate to the person administering the Act the general principles upon which Parliament considers it ought to be carried out.
– This indicates the limit to which the Minister may allow the inequality to go.
– Quite so. We say that we think that, at the very least, as, soon as the state of affairs referred to in this paragraph arises,, a redistribution should take place.
– There is great danger of this provision being taken to indicate the only case in which a redistribution- should be made.
– I do not think so. There is great difficulty in framing a general rule to apply to all the States. A rule that would apply to Queensland might not be good for New South Wales ; and a rule that could be satisfactorily applied to New South Wales might be ridiculous in the case of Tasmania.
– Will the Minister tell me what is one-fourth of seven?
– Perhaps the honorable member will tell me what is one-fifth of seven. All that we are seeking to do here is to lay down a guiding principle, instead of leaving the matter, as at present, to the discretion of the Minister. I think it would be safer to allow the clause to pass in its present form, as it would enable the measure to be so administered as to do justice to all the States.
– I think that the arguments advanced by the Minister show that this paragraph is unnecessary. He has mentioned that if he found the number of electors, in only one electorate out of all proportion to that of another, he would cause a redistribution to be made.
– I said that where the number was so out of joint as to shock the conscience I should do so.
– It seems to me that paragraph c meets the whole case, because it provides that a redistribution shall take place -
At such other times as the Governor-General thinks fit.
Either paragraph b or paragraph c is unnecessary.
– The intention is that paragraph b shall lay down a guiding rule.
– But how can that be so when the honorable and learned member says, in effect, that if only two out of twenty-six electorates in New South Wales were so out of joint as to shock the conscience, he would have a distribution ?
– It has been suggested in another place that certain words should be inserted so as to clearly indicate that paragraph c stands as an entirely separate provision, and I intend to move an amendment to give effect to that proposal.
– The clearer we make our laws the better. It seems to me that we should not insert any unnecessary provision.
– Is the honorable member for Boothby prepared to accept mv offer?
Mr. BATCHELOR (Boothby)’.- If I cannot induce the Minister to agree to so amend the clause that a redistribution will take place whenever in one-fifth, instead of one-third, of the divisions of a State thenumber of electors is more than one-fifth above or below the quota, I shall, of course, accept his offer to substitute the word “one-fourth” for “one-third.” I understand that the Minister’s chief objection to my proposal is that if we provided that a redistribution should take place in the event of one-fifth of the divisions of a State being more than one-fifth above or below the quota, the result would be that such a discrepancy, in the case of only one constituency in one of the smaller States, would necessitate a redistribution.
– It would have to take place if the number of electors was only a few above the margin.
– Or a few below it. I would point out, however, that the population of those States which have only five representatives each is more stationary than is that of some of the other States; so that there is not much likelihood of this machinery being put into operation in their case.
– In Western Australia, we might have the mining section of the community shifting from one place to another.
– As I pointed out on a previous occasion, a mistake was made in connexion with the first distribution of South Australia into Federal electorates, inasmuch as the largest number of electors was given to a constituency which is a rapidly-growing one. The result is that although the numbers were nearly equal at the time of the distribution, they have now grown quite out of proportion. That tendency will increase. The constituency to which I allude is still growing at the expense of some of the others, and its voting power will become grossly unequal to that of other electorates. That position would not be changed even if we provided that a redistribution should take place when the electors in one-fifth of the divisions were above or below the margin. Such a provision would not apply, even if there were 40,000 or 50,000 electors in that constituency, unless there was a discrepancy in at least one-fifth of the electorates in South Australia.
– But the Minister will have a power over and above that provided for in this paragraph. This merely serves to indicate the limit beyond which the discrepancy shall not be allowed to go.
– I hold that whenever even one constituency becomes grossly out of proportion to others in the same State, an automatic redistribution ought to take place, but if honorable members are not prepared to agree to the amendment moved in my behalfby the honorable member for Yarra, I must, perforce, accept the Minister’s offer.
– I should like to know what effect this amendment will have upon the present redistribution ?
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs- Minister of Home Affairs). - The amendment will not affect it. The intention of the paragraph may be readily explained. If, for instance, it appears, on a return of the electoral population, that one-fourth of the constituencies in New South Wales are so, disjointed that the number of electors in each of them is more than one-fifth above or below the quota, the Minister will straight away order a redistribution. I understand that the existing conditions are such that the number of divisions which depart from the quota to a greater extent than is allowed by the Act is greater than that for which we now proposeto provide.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment (by Mr. Batchelor) agreed to -
That the word “ one-third,” line 8, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “one-fourth.”
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs - Minister of Home Affairs). - In accordance with a promise which was made in another place to Senator Millen, I move -
That at the beginning of paragraphc the following words be inserted : - “ Notwithstanding anything in this section contained.”
The intention is to make it perfectly clear that the Minister shall have power, under conditions other than those specified in paragraphs a and b, to order a redistribution.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. LONSDALE (New England).- In private conversation with the Minister, I have pointed out that I think it necessary to amend section 17 of the principal Act. In some cases, those residing on the borders of new divisions that have been mapped out find it impossible to define the boundaries marked on the maps, because there are no descriptions with them. I think that we should so amend section 17 as to provide for something being done to overcome the difficulty.
– The proper course for the honorable member to pursue will be to move, at a later stage, the insertion of a new clause.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 14 -
The whole of Part IV. of the Principal Act is repealed, and the following Part substituted in lieu thereof : - “Part IV. - Subdivisions and Polling places.
The Governor-General may, in any case in which he thinks fit to do so, by proclamation divide any Division into Subdivisions.
The Minister may, by notice in the
appoint a chief polling place for each
Division as he thinks necessary ;
– I move -
That the following new paragraph be inserted after line 13 : - ” (ba) Appoint such polling places for a divi sion outside the division, but not more than ten miles from its boundary, as he thinks necessary.”
This is an amendment of which I have previously given notice, with a slight addition, which I have made to meet objections that were raised by the Minister.
– Under the existing law an elector may vote either at the polling place for which he is enrolled, or at another polling place in the same division, after he has signed a certain declaration. The honorable member for North Sydney now desires to extend to electors the privilege of voting at polling places outside the particular division for which they are enrolled. I can see no objection to his proposal; but it may necessitate consequential amendments. So long as the polling places for any division in which an elector is enrolled, are confined to an area such as he suggests, outside the boundaries of that division, I can see no objection to the amendment.
– I think that the proposal is a good one.
– In Queensland a. somewhat similar provision was abused, but that abuse occurred under a different franchise.
– Under the provision to which the Minister refers, an elector was entitled to record his vote for a particular division in any part of the Stafe.
– No. The Minister was vested with power to proclaim polling places in any part of the State that he chose. In one instance a polling place for the division of Carpentaria was established at Brisbane. It was suggested that wherever a certain number of electors for a division could be found, polling places should be declared. I am quite prepared to accept the honorable member’s amendment, with the limitation which it imposes as a safeguard against abuse.
– In opposition to the case cited by the Minister, in which an abuse of a similar provision occurred in Queensland, I would point out that very great difficulties may arise under the existing law which prevents an elector from recording his vote at a polling place in an adjoining constituency, no matter how convenient it may be for him to do so. As illustrating my point, I may mention a case, which arose under the South Australian Electoral Act. The division of Albert embraced the whole of the eastern side of the River Murray. On the western side there were several towns at each of which there were a few settlers. Under the State law they were ineligible to vote at the polling place on the eastern side of the river. If they wished to exercise theirfranchise they were compelled to do so at a polling place which was 300 or 400 miles distant. That difficulty had to be overcome by the clumsy expedient of passing a separate Bill year after year, altering the boundaries of the districts opposite Albert so as to include the settlers upon the eastern side of the Murray. It seems to me that the proposal of the honorable member for North Sydney would entirely overcome any such difficulty.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Sections twenty-seven to fifty-four inclusive of the Principal Act are repealed, and the following sections are substituted in lieu thereof : -
– (1) The Governor-General may arrange with the Governor of a State for the preparation, alteration, and revision of the Rolls, in any manner consistent with the provisions of this Act, jointly by the Commonwealth and the State, to the intent that the Rolls may be used as Electoral Rolls for State elections as well as for Commonwealth elections.
When any such arrangement has been made, the Rolls may contain, for the purposes of such State elections, the names and descriptions of persons -
who are not entitled to be enrolled thereon as electors of the Commonwealth;
who are not entitled to be enrolledthereon as electors of the State ; and shall clearly discriminate and show -
the persons so enrolled who are electors both for Commonwealth and State ;
the persons so enrolled who are State electors only;
the persons so enrolled who are Commonwealth electors only.
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs - Minister of Home Affairs). - As honorable members are aware, I have already given notice of an amendment in this clause, and the honorable member for North Sydney has tabled a very similar amendment. This portion of the Bill has been framed with a view to enable the Commonwealth to make an arrangement with the States so that the one set of rolls may be used for both Commonwealth and State purposes. The practice was found to be a very convenient one in South Australia, where a saving of £1,300 was effected as the result of its adoption. The proposed substituted clause 30 has been amended in the Senate by the addition of sub-clause 2, which does not commend itself to my judgment. Paragraphs a and b have been framed to permit of the names of persons who are not entitled to be enrolled as electors of the Commonwealth in the one case, or of the State in the other, appearing upon the rolls. I have asked the Parliamentary Draftsman to remodel that portion of the provision, and to substitute other words. He has done so, and I shall ask the Committee to amend the sub-clause so that it will run as follows: -
When the rolls Rave been completed, marks can be put opposite the names, denoting either a Commonwealth or a State elector, or both. Thus the qualifications of the different personswhose names appear upon the rolls will be clearly set out.
– Suppose that a person is both a State and Commonwealth elector?
– Then the letters C and S can be put opposite his name to indicate that fact. It is possible that the State laws may require certain particulars to be supplied which we do not need.
– That would lead to trouble.
– I do not think so. The Act will be administered by a returning officer.
– The qualifications of electors will be set out in marginal notes?
– Yes. It will be made clear whether a person is a State elector, or a Commonwealth elector, or both.
– What is the object of the provision ?
– Some States possess a different franchise from others, and this provision is intended to enable the one set of rolls to be used for both. State and Commonwealth elections. If that can be done a great saving will be effected. Our aim is, if possible, to enter into an arrangement with the States by which uniform polling places may be proclaimed, and uniform rolls adopted. We also desire so to distribute the Commonwealth divisions that State electorates may be carved out of them. Finally, we hope to reach that state of affairs when the one set of officers will conduct both State and Commonwealth elections.
– Is not every State elector also a Commonwealth elector?
– Yes ; but every Commonwealth elector is not a State elector. I move -
Thatin substituted clause 30, sub-clause 2, all the words after “ State elections,” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words : - “ (a) the names and descriptions of persons who are not entitled to be enrolled thereon as electors of the Commonwealth, provided that it is clearly indicated in the prescribed manner that those persons are not enrolled thereon as Commonwealth electors ;
distinguishing marks against the names of persons enrolled as Commonwealth electors, to show that those persons are or are not also enrolled as State electors ;
other particulars in addition to the prescribed particulars ; and for the purposes ofthis Act those names, descriptions, marks, and particulars shall not be deemed part of the Roll.”
– I think that it would be an improvement if “Mrs.” were affixed to the name of every married woman on the rolls, to avoid mistakes in sending out circulars,.
– Proposed substituted clause 29 provides that such particulars may be prescribed if necessary. I will see what can be done in the matter.
– I agree with the proposal in the Bill, and think it a move in the right direction. The matter was brought before the Hobart Conference, and after discussion, the members, of the Conference agreed to support us in endeavouring to save expense to both the States and the Commonwealth by the adoption of some such methods as these. The suggestion for a joint roll was made to the Conference in a paper prepared by Mr. Garran.
– The Electoral Committee had previously reported in favour of the arrangement.
– That Committee pointed out the desirability of having a joint State and Commonwealth roll, but the method in which that could be done was suggested only by Mr. Garran. I had intended to move some amendments, but I am willing to accept the Minister’s amendment instead. I am not clear, however, that it does not necessitate the placing of a distinguishing mark against the names of those who are electors for both Commonwealth and State.
– Only when they are not enrolled as State electors.
– The fewer the marks on the rolls the better. There should be no distinguishing mark against the names of electors enrolled for both the Commonwealth and the State, while the letter “ S “ might be placed opposite the names of electors enrolled for a State only, and the letter “C” against the names of electors enrolled for the Commonwealth only. But I am not in favour of placing a mark against every name on the rolls. The concluding words of the amendment are -
For the purposes of this Act those names, descriptions, marks, and particulars shall not be deemed part of the Roll.
If the marks and names of Commonwealth electors are not to be deemed part of a roll, there will be nothing on the roll at all.
– The names and descriptions of persons not entitled to be enrolled as, Commonwealth electors are meant; but, as the honorable member has expressed a doubt on the subject, I will see if the wording cannot be made clearer.
– I agree with the honorable member for North Sydney that the fewer the marks we have on the rolls the better, and that it is unnecessary to place marks against the names of persons who are enrolled for both the State and the Commonwealth.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 16 agreed to.
Clause 17 verbally amended and agreed to.
Clause 18 agreed to.
Clause 19 -
Section sixty of the Principal Act is amended by omitting the words “ Returning Officer for the Division,” and inserting in lieu thereof the words “ Electoral Registrar keeping the Polling-place or Sub-division Roll.”
Amendment (by Mr. Groom) proposed -
That after the word “amended” the following words be inserted : - “ (a) by omitting the. words’ in the presence of a witness,’ and inserting in lieu thereof the words ‘ and witnessed by an elector’ ; (b)”
– Does that apply to transfers?
– We are providing in this clause for the same method of witnessing a transfer from one division to another as we have provided in clause 18 for witnessing a claim.
– I find it difficult to follow the proceedings of the Committee, but I should like to say a word or two on the subject of transfers. If it had not been for the use of the “ Q “ forms, of which so much has been said, half the electors in my division would have been disfranchised. I wish to prevent this.
– The matter to which the honorable member refers is dealt with in clause 21.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 20 -
Section sixty-one of the Principal Act is repealed, and the following section substituted in lieu thereof : - “ 61. The Electoral Registrar shall note on the application to transfer the date of its receipt by him, and shall file it in his office, and shall register it by placing the elector’s name on the Roll, and shall give notice of the transfer to the Electoral Registrar keeping the Polling-place or Subdivision Roll from which the elector’s name has been transferred, who shall thereupon remove the elector’s name from the Roll.”
Amendment (by Mr. Dugald Thomson) agreed to -
That after the second word “ shall,” line 6, the following words be inserted : - “ if it appears that the applicant is entitled to the transfer.”
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 21 -
After section sixty-one of the Principal Act the following section is inserted : - “ 61a. - (1) Any elector whose name is on a
Polling-place Roll may make application in the prescribed form to be changed to another Pollingplace Roll, for the same Division, on which he is entitled to have his name placed.
Amendment (by Mr. Groom) proposed -
That the words “in the presence of a witness” sub-clause 3, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ and witnessed by an elector.”
– I desire to ascertain what will be the effect of making this amendment. If the application of an elector to change from one pollingplace roll to another polling-place roll, or from one subdivision roll to another subdivision roll in the same division, is required to be witnessed by an elector, who will know whether the person called upon to witness is an elector or not? There are hundreds of men who think that they are electors, but whose names do not happen to be on the rolls. I cannot see what difference this amendment would make.
– In a preceding part of the Bill we require that a claim to be registered shall be witnessed by an elector. If a person changes from one polling place to another, it is desirable that his. application for a transfer shall be attested by some person who knows him, and an elector is considered to possess that qualification. Every one over the age of twenty-one years in the neighbourhood will be an elector, and there ought to be no difficulty in obtaining an attestation to an application for transfer.
– A man may be called an elector without being on the roll.
– In every constituency the rolls are always available, and I do not think that any difficulty can arise.
Mr. LONSDALE ‘(New England).- I cannot see any sense in making the alteration. Presuming that a man is. on the roll of the polling place which he has left, he cannot vote at the polling place to which he has gone, unless he gets a transfer.
– Yes, he can vote on a “ Q “ form.
– I am afraid that this alteration may result in the disfranchisement of a large number of electors. In my opinion it would be far better to provide a roll at each polling place, and to make it as easy as possible for electors to vote; but when we require a man to vote at the new polling place we make it much harder for him to exercise his suffrage. Under the electoral law of New South Wales this was done, and I think it might be done under the Commonwealth law. At the last elections great trouble was experienced by many electors when they came to vote. In Tamworth I met the manager of a station, who, I thought, would know all the electors in the district. Being anxious to find out the state of the rolls, I asked this gentleman where he would vote, and he said at Moonbi. I turned up the roll,, and found that it did not contain his name. When he glanced at the roll, he found that the names of forty persons in one small place had been left off. We discovered their names on the roll for Niangala. They were called upon to go up a’ range of mountains, and to travel a distance of about thirty miles, in order to vote, although there was a. polling pLace within three miles of them.
– - They could have voted on a “Q” form.
– They could not vote on a “ Q “ form, and, moreover, there was great difficulty in connexion with those forms.
– It was better to vote in that way than not at all.
– Yes ; and they would not have been able to vote if I had not telegraphed to the principal returning officer, and asked him to send’ to all the polling places in the electorate a supply of “ Q “ forms. It was not intended to supply them.
Mr. Groom. Every polling place ought to have a supply of “ Q “ forms.
– Every polling place had1 a limited supply. I telegraphed that unless the Department supplied every polling place with a large number of “Q” forms, half the electors would be disfranchised. So in the case of transfers great difficulty is experienced. So long as the rolls were available, I should allow the electors to vote at any polling place in their electorate, as they did under the State law. That is the better and simpler form. Country people are not like city people, and even the latter do not take the trouble to get their names transferred. We should make the law as simple as possible, in order that the largest number of electors may be able to vote. I do not see how I can propose an amendment in this clause. If I could have my way I should omit the provision, and simply require the rolls to be sent to every polling place.
– We all agree, I think, with the honorable member for New England in his desire to simplify the making of claims, for registration and transfer. So far as written claims are concerned, I think it is quite a mistake to require a witness to the signature of a claimant, and I intend to move for a recommittal of clause 17, in order to delete that provision. But in the case of claims for transfer from one polling place to another polling place, or from one subdivision to another subdivision, I think it is as well to require a witness to a claimant’s signature. At election time it is exceedingly annoying for a person to find unexpectedly that his name has been transferred. It does not happen very often, but still it does happen. When a representation is made, the returning officer has no means of ascertaining its bona fides unless the claimant’s signature is attested by some person. That attestation does not make a very great deal of difference, but still it serves as a slight check against misrepresentation. Our aim should be to simplify as much as possible the transfers which are covered by this .clause. I think it would be just as well to leave the clause as it is. The official returning officers are very prone to insist upon all kinds of checks, and we have to be very careful to see that they do not have an opportunity to institute checks which might prevent electors from freely using the facilities provided. As a rule, it is very difficult indeed to get an elector to .notify the head office of a change from one polling place to another. It is much more likely that the elector will fail to give that intimation than that any misrepresentation will be made. In these cases it is just as well to require the signature of a witness, but in other .cases that provision could be dispensed with.
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs - Minister of Home Affairs). - The difficulties to which the honorable member for New England has referred arose chiefly from the fact that, when the names were collected in the first instance, polling places were not assigned as conveniently to the electors as they ought to have been. But this clause is intended to enable a man who moves from one part of his electorate to another part to change his polling place. In some cases a man may remove to a distance of 300 miles, and still be in the same electorate. It is desirable to enable that man, upon making an application, to transfer to the roll of the polling place to which he has gone. This clause gives a man the right to select his own polling place, and to get his name on the corresponding roll. It does not deal with the evil to which the honorable member for New England referred.
Mr. LONSDALE (New England).- I have no objection to providing, for transfer from one subdivision to another ; but I think that difficulty will bc created in some of the country’ districts if electors are required to transfer from one polling place to another in the same subdivision. An elector should be entitled to Vote at any place! within the subdivision in which he resides. If the first sub-clause were omitted, my purpose would be served. Men have to move about from place to place in order to obtain employment at such occupations as fencing and clearing, and they should be entitled to record their votes at the nearest polling place in the subdivision for which they are enrolled. If the provision be adopted a number of men will be practically disfranchised.
– I should like to know whether sub-clause 4 of clause 6ia is necessary, seeing that it seems to be provided for in clause 61 ?
– Yes. Section 61 provides for transfer from one division to another, whereas the clause provides for transfer from one part of an electorate to another.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Mr. Dugald Thomson) agreed to -
That after the second word “ shall,” line 20, the following words be inserted : - “ if it appears that the applicant is entitled to the change.”
Clause further amended consequentially and agreed to.
Clause 22 (Alteration of rolls).
Mr. LONSDALE (New England).- I should like to know whether, in the event of a person being improperly struck off the roll, as deceased, the Registrar is to have the power to replace his name?
– Yes; that provision is made in sub-clause 2, which provides that the divisional returning officer may add the names of any persons whom he is satisfied are entitled to be enrolled.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 23 (Change to proper pollingplace rolls).
Mr. LONSDALE (New England).- I should like to know exactly what is conveyed by this clause?
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs- Minister of Home Affairs). - In a previous clause, provision is made that an elector may apply to have his name transferred from one roll to another. In this case we provide that the divisional returning officer may, of his own motion, make what he conceives to be a necessary transfer. He would act upon a report being made to him.
– What would be done if I found that a man was on the wrong roll, and reported the matter to the divisional returning officer ?
– He would verify the information and act upon it. As soon as he made the change he would have to notify the elector concerned.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 24 and 25 agreed to.
Clause 26 -
The whole of Part VII. of the Principal Act is repealed, and the following Part substituted in lieu thereof : - “ Part VII. - Removal of Names from Roll. Division 1. - Objections.
Any name on a Roll may be objected to by objection in writing lodged with or made by the Returning Officer.
Provided that a sum of Five shillings shall be deposited in respect of each objection lodged by any person other than an officer, to be forfeited to the King if the objection is held by the Returning Officer to be frivolous.
The objection may be in the Form D in the Schedule, and shall be signed by an elector registered onthe same Division Roll, or by the Returning Officer or Registrar.
It is the duty of the Returning Officer and of each Registrar to lodge or make an objection in respect of any name which he has reason to believe ought not to be retained on the Roll.
The Returning Officer shall forthwith give notice of the objection to the person objected to. The notice may be in the prescribed form and be served by posting it to the last known place of abode of the person objected to, or if that is not known then to the place of living appearing on the Roll.
– I propose to move that the whole of the proviso to clause 67 be omitted. It is proposed that the sum of 5s. shall be deposited in respect of each objection lodged by any person to the presence of a name on the roll. That would have the effect of preventing objections from being lodged. We desire to purify the rolls as far as possible, and I hold that it should be perfectly open to any person who knows that a name is improperly on the roll to lodge an objection. I am quite aware that in the event of the objection being upheld the deposit would be refunded, but I can conceive of many bonâ fide objections being held to be frivolous.
– The Bill, as introduced in the Senate, provided for a deposit of only 1s., and I am prepared to consider an amendment to restore the original amount.
– Then I move-
That the words “ five shillings,” line 9, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “one shilling.”
– I trust that the Minister will look carefully into the matter before he accepts the amendment. This is not a question of bona fides, but of frivolous objections.
– The deposit has to be made, whether the objection be bonâ fide or otherwise.
– I admit that, but I do not think we should encourage the lodging of objections.
-We should not encourage roll-stuffing, either.
– No ; nor should we offer facilities for the striking of names off the roll, which is, in reality, another form of roll-stuffing. According to my experience frivolous objections are frequently lodged by political bodies. This has happened most frequently in cases where there is a property qualification. I had intended to ask the Minister to consent to an amendment to the effect that in the event of the objection being held to be frivolous, the deposit should be paid to the person whose name was the subject of objection. I know of many cases in which electors, have been put to great personal inconvenience and expense in attending the Revision Courts, or at the office of the returning officer, in order to meet objections. Men have had to give up a day’s work in order to attend at the office of the returning officer, which may be fifty or a hundred miles away ; and yet in the case of frivolous objection no expenses are paid. Under the South Aus.tralia.ri Act. the returning officer or presiding officer of the Revision Court has the right to impose a penalty in. the case of a frivolous objection, and the money is paid over to the person against whom the objection was lodged. I remember one case, in which objections were raised to columns of names by the agents of a political organization, spiel y with the object of preventing bond fide electors from exercising the franchise. The presiding officer imposed a penalty in the first two cases, with the result that the rest of the objections were at once withdrawn. But, had there been no penalty, hundreds of names might have been struck off the roll.- I observe that under the Bill persons, objected to nee-l not necessarily attend personally, but, in many cases, electors find it more convenient to do so; and they ought to be reimbursed their expenses in the case of frivolous objection. I hope the Government will not agree to reduce the sum in the way proposed. I do not mind the reduction so far as, a deposit is concerned, but, in my opinion, in the case of a frivolous objection, the penalty ought to be more than 5s.
– That is a different matter. The amendment, in effect, abolishes the deposit.
– That is practically so ; but I hold that the penalty ought to lie higher than 5s.
– I do not like the idea of reducing this amount. One of the objects of an Electoral Bill, in the first place, should be to give all qualified people an opportunity to have their names placed on the rolls, and, in the second place, to insure that no name shall be removed without sufficient justification. A political campaign does- not extend over more than a week, or, at any rate, a month; and most of the political parties have, for a considerable time, had men in the various electorates watching over the interests of particular parties. The proposal to permit the lodging of objections is justifiable under some conditions. I admit that, unless we have an extensive staff, it Will not be possible for the officers to say definitely what names shall or shall not be removed from the roll ; but it is in the highest degree undesirable to allow representatives of any particular political party, on the payment of the smallest sum imaginable, to be able to offer objections to persons legitimately entitled to vote. We all know that a very small percentage of the electors objected to, put in an appearance at the Revision Courts. I have been at a Revision Court when the objections numbered hundreds, and not half-a-dozen people have been in the building. At that same Court, scores of people who were entitled to vote had their names struck off the roll, they not taking the trouble to attend.
– The Bill proposes to obviate that.
– The clause as il stands makes it obligatory on an elector to deposit the sum of 5s. in respect of every objection, the money to be forfeited in the event of the objection being found frivolous. That is a safeguard against a wealthy political party making objections on the chance that the people objected to may, because of their employment, or for other reasons, not be able, or neglect, to attend.
– Does the honorable member think that the payment of an extra 4s. would stop that practice?
– I think it would go a good way in the direction of preventing such abuses.
– A penalty of the kind has prevented such abuses*
– I believe it has If a man is engaged in the legitimate object of trying to purify the rolls, and he has a case which he can substantiate, he can afford to “ put up “ the money ; and the clause will prevent objections being made, as iri the past, on mere chance. The amount fixed ought to be sufficient to create a feeling of responsibility in those who make objections ; and in the interests of those persons who mav be unable, or neglect, to attend the Revision Courts, the clause ought to be passed as it stands.
– The honorable member for Kalgoorlie has, I think, to some extent misapprehended the provisions of the measure. The’ honorable member speaks as though it were proposed to continue the present Act, with all its provisions, in force. It is quite true that persons objected to seldom attend, for the reason that they lose a day’s work, or from some other cause ; but it is proposed that the returning officer or the electoral registrar shall communicate with the person against whom objections are lodged. There is no need for them to appear in person, because a letter may be written substantiating the claim. That is an amendment of the Act proposed in order to get rid of the Revision Courts, which have become useless institutions.
– How many would attend the Court?
– There is no need to attend; a person objected to may communicate in any way, so long as he satisfies the officer that he has a good claim to be on the roll. If the officer is of opinion that there is sufficient reason to retain the name, the objector can take further action only by appealing to a Court of summary jurisdiction, or to a specially called Revision Court. Under the Bill Revision Courts will be established only when there are cases to be decided. At the recent Revision Courts, very few people attended.
– At the 377 Revision Courts only fifty alterations were made as a result of objections by the public.
– All the other objections were made by officers. In fact, the Revision Courts were a perfect farce. An officer entered with his papers, and the magistrate inquired whether the list presented was a correct list of the persons entitled to vote. To this the officer replied that the list was correct, and the magistrate then inquired whether there were any objections. There being nobody in the court, no objections by the public were raised, and the proceedings were over in two minutes.
-Do the figures quoted not demonstrate the wisdom of fixing the sum at 5s. ?
– They demonstratethewisdom of retaining the clause ; but the amount of 5s. is too high.
– For the reason that when the officers are give considerable powers in the placing of names on the rolls, there must be opportunity given to the public to object.
– In a particular instance in Queensland, objection was made to a whole roll, and all those electors objected to had to attend.
– Objections are made on “ spec.”
– Even if that be so, a payment of1s. each would amount to a considerable sum in the case of a whole roll being objected to.
– What would the Pastoralists’ Association care about the payment of 1s. for each objection?
– What does it matter to a rich association whether the amount be 5s. or1s. ?
– If the amount be1s. the wealthy association will simply object to five times as many electors.
– I do not think so; and if the payment be raised we may shut out legitimate objectors. I think the payment in New South Wales is 1s. for each objection.
– I think so.
– In New South Wales, is there a penalty in case of frivolous objections ?
– That is another matter. The honorable member for Boothby raised a point which is worth considering, as to a penalty for frivolous objection. But placing difficulties in the way of legitimate objectors is an entirely different matter.
– There is a penalty not exceeding £5 under the original Act.
– I do not know whether that has been struck out.
– As I have already said, the point raised by the honorable member for Boothby is worth consideration. Where a person has raised a frivolous objection, he ought to incur a reasonable penalty, but I do not desire to discourage legitimate objections. The New South Wales objection fee is, I think,1s., and the Commissioner reported that, owing to this amount having to be paid, practically no objections were lodged by the public. People to whom 5s. will be a serious consideration should have the opportunity of lodging a legitimate objection toa name on the roll. I am quite with the honorable member for Boothby in making provision against frivolous objections, and it may be desirable to have a sufficient penalty for that purpose. But I am not in favour of a fee which will have the effect of inducing persons to refuse to take steps to remove names from the roll.
– I hope that the Committee will not alter the amount from 5s. I will give a concrete case to show what has happened in Queensland. The
Central Pastoralists’ Association on one occasion paid a man of straw to object to every name on the roll that was supposed to represent an elector opposed to its members in politics. The fee which, had to be lodged with the Revision Court at that time was 5s. But it happened that we knew rather more about the electoral law than did this big squatting association. There is a section in the Queensland Act to the effect that any objector must have his own name on the roll before he can lodge an objection. I happened to be the agent on this occasion.
– Under clause 8 of this Bill we require that objections shall be lodged by an elector.
– It is a very wise provision. Had it not been for that section in the Queensland Act, under which we raised a point for the consideration of the Revision Court, large numbers of electors would have been disfranchised. I will give another case, which occurred at Isisford, in the Central District. About eighty electors out of j 20 were knocked off the rolls. Some of them were actually in Court at the time, but were not allowed to state their case. As soon as a name was called on, a policeman went to the door and called out “John Brown,” and, although the man was in Court, and got up in answer to his name, he was not allowed to substantiate his claim.
– Is that Justice’s justice?
– I think the Minister was actually engaged in that case when it came before the Supreme Court. An application was made to Mr. Justice Chubb, and he ordered the whole of the electors who had been thus disfranchised to be reinstated. A more scandalous proceeding I never heard of in all my life. When it was found that we intended to fight these cases in the Court, our opponents let us alone. If such things have happened before, they can happen again, if a wealthy .organization chooses to put up money for the purpose of lodging objections. In the last case to which I have referred an election was to take place in about three months’ time, and our party would have been beaten simply from the effect of striking legitimate names off the roll if we had not taken prompt action. I trust that honorable members will pause before giving, under the Commonwealth electoral law, an opening for abuses.
– I hope the Committee will not make any alteration in the amount of the deposit. A few weeks ago a great outcry was made in the State of Western Australia in connexion with the State elections. A considerable number of men complained that, without having been notified, their names had been struck off the roll. A conservative organization in the State had been doing this work for some months previously. A few days ago I received a letter from a gentleman in Fremantle, asking me to pay particular attention to the efforts being made to deprive persons who were entitled to vote of the franchise at the next election, by the simple process of striking their names off the roll. If there had not been a five-shilling deposit to pay, probably hundreds of names would have been struck off the Fremantle roll. The organization to which I refer submitted a list of some 2,000 names to the returning officer, and said : “ These names are not on the State roll ; therefore we think you may as wel I strike them off the Federal roll.” Because the returning officer insisted on the objectors putting down a five-shilling deposit for each objection, they refused to lodge them formally, and I am given to understand that, after being refused by the returning officer, they appealed over his head to the Minister of Home Affairs. I have not seen the correspondence, but the Minister will know the case to which I refer. It is a scandalous thing that a political organization, no matter on which side, should stoop to such tactics. The only possible means of preventing such things being done by any party is to fix a sufficiently deterrent fee, such as five shillings, .and require it to be lodged with the objection. It would be a backward step if we reduced the amount. It has to be remembered that there are many electors who cannot attend the revision court to maintain their rights. Many are working at distances from their homes, and do not see the objections.
– - Has any honorable member, in the course of his political career, every known of objections having been lodged against the names of wealthy persons on the rolls? Never. This practice is resorted to for the purpose of disfranchising working men and women. It is difficult enough to get them on. It is well known that the rich people of this country are friends of the “Jy-Pyes.” Most of the “ Jy-Pyes “ dance when they whistle. If a man has money in ‘this country he is a “topnotcher “ ; but if he is poor, he is merely allowed To exist. It is time for us to put it beyond the temptation of rich men to interfere with the rights of the poor. We should take the temptation out of their way. It is only by means of legislation of this kind that we can do it. On the West Coast of Tasmania there have been efforts to strike many people off the rolls, but I never found that any steps were taken to strike off the names of .the “ boodleiers.” If any names are to be struck off, they should be those of the grafting “ boodleiers,” who are corrupting and bribing the community. Let us retain the objection fee at five shillings, and, if a claim is not sustained, the objector should be made to incur a penalty of ^20, the money to go to the hospitals.
– This discussion is rather amusing to me. I have had something to do with elections, but I have never known of such difficulties as have been mentioned here to-day If the fee of five shillings is retained, it simply means that, if a poor man desires to challenge the right of a rich man to have his name retained on the roll, he may be unable to do it. I have never seen’ any wrong done by means of objections to the rights of voters to be retained on the roll, nor do I believe that objections are made for improper purposes. The argument that, if the fee is reduced, rich men will take steps to remove hundreds of names from the rolls is to my mind so much bunkum. There may have been a few cases of the kind, but thev are very few indeed. I have never come across any. If the .fee is retained at five shillings, it will operate rather against the poor than against the rich. Personally, I do not care whether the fee is reduced or remains as at present.
– How would the honorable member deal with frivolous objections ?
– I am quite willing to allow a penalty to be inflicted in such cases. If we were to make the fee one shilling, and provide that, in the case of frivolous objections, a fine of five shillings should be inflicted, it should be sufficient.
– The difficulty is to meet the case of an objector being a man of straw. There are no means of recovering the penalty from him unless we have a deposit also.
– I have seen no wrong done under this provision. The only- trouble is that we cannot get the rolls purified by its operation.
– In common with most Queenslanders, I am able to cite particular examples illustrating the operation of the clause we are now considering. I hope that the amount provided for in the Bill will be retained. I have a very ‘distinct recollection of an attempt which was made not to stuff rolls, but to sweep rolls clean of the names of electors who were undesirable from the point of view of a certain political party. This occurred in an electorate very near to the centre of the Moreton electorate. A sweeping list of the names of persons objected to was sent in with the result that the election was lost to the man against whom the party taking this action were opposed, although if the names of all who were entitled to vote had been allowed to remain on the roll, the election would probably have gone the other way. It may be said that there is not now the same objection that there was previously to objections to names appearing on the roll, inasmuch as those whose names are objected to will not be compelled, under the new provision, to appear at a Revision Court to substantiate their claims. But I point out that in some of the outside districts there are many men and women who are averse to writing official letters, ‘and in many cases, even though they should write them, they would have to travel a good many miles to post them. I see no reason why people who are justly entitled to have their names retained on ran electoral roll should be put to the trouble, not only of writing a letter, but of riding from seven to fifteen miles to post it,, in order to substantiate a claim which has been objected to. With the honorable member for Boothby, I would favour some provision under which the 5s. provided for in the Bill should go, not to the Crown, but to reimburse the elector who has been put to expense to defend the claim. We have recently passed a Census and Statistics Bill, and as we shall have our officers scattered throughout the Commonwealth, surely with all the machinery at our disposal we ought to be able to depend upon them to maintain a. reasonably pure roll, without any intervention by political organizations. With the abolition of plural voting, there may, perhaps, not be the same reason that there was in the pa.sf for watchfulness on the part of political, parties; but any one who lodges, an objection against the name of an elector should be so sure that his objection is sound as to be prepared to lodge a sum of at least 5s. Where an objection is found to be frivolous, I think that some penalty should be imposed which should go to reimburse the elector whose name has been objected to. I am sorry that the Minister has agreed to accept the amendment.
– I asked the honorable member to consider whether a suggestion I made would not meet the case.
– I think that the 5s. is little enough, and I think that there might also be imposed upon those who have been proved to have lodged frivolous objections some penalty to reimburse the elector whose name has been objected to for the inconvenience and expense to which he may be subjected in substantiating his claim.
Mr. CHANTER (Riverina).- In view of the discussion which has taken place, I think it would be unwise for me to press my amendment to a division, and I therefore ask leave to withdraw it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. BATCHELOR (Boothby).- I would ask the Minister whether, in order that the objection I raised just now might be met, he does not think that it is necessary to re-enact some portions of sections 83 and 84 of the principal Act, which by this clause it is proposed to repeal. Where frivolous objections are made, the expense to which the elector objected to is put in consequence should be reimbursed. I do not care to make a specific proposal until I have heard whether the Minister is prepared to consider the matter.
– On looking more closely into the matter, I notice that in division1 of Part VII. of the principal Act no provision is made for granting costs. The object is to have an informal tribunal without power to award costs, and the consequent power of issuing execution, and of recovering in case of default. But where an appeal takes place against the decision of the returning officer to magistrates who sit as a Court of Appeal, costs can be ordered. I am somewhat loth to convert the returning officer into a tribunal before whom counsel and others can appear, and invest him with all the powers and jurisdiction of a Court. We might, however, consider the advisability of deal ing with the matter in another way. We might provide that where a person’s name is objected to frivolously, and he is in consequence, put to expense, the person making the objection should , be penalized to a certain extent. There seems to be reason in the suggestion the honorable member makes. I do not at present know how that would harmonize with the scheme of the Bill, but it seems to me to be a just proposition that where a frivolous objection is made to the name of an elector, and the elector is, in consequence, compelled to travel some distance and incur expense in answering the objection, the person who objects should be penalized. I think that in the principal Act we provided for a penalty of £5.
– Make it £20.
– I do not care to make the penalty too severe. We ought to make the punishment fit the crime.
– To fine such a person £5 would be to let him off very lightly.
– The honorable member must recognise that, as the honorable member for Maranoa has pointed out, in this matter we are dealing with very cute men who put up men of straw to object. The objector might be a man of straw who would have no property on which we could levy to recover a fine.
– We could give him three months’ hard.
– I think that would be converting a civil into a criminal obligation. I shall consider the honorable member’s suggestion, and if I can see my way to have a clause drafted which will meet what he desires I shall submit it at a later stage.
– I hope the honorable member for Boothby will ask for something more definite. We have had rather a bad experience in South Australia in connexion with objections to names on electoral rolls. I have attended Revision Courts, and have known several objections to be lodged by individuals connected with a certain conservative association. In one instance, a young man came up to me in the Revision Court, and told me that he was able to be present only with the greatest difficulty, because he was engaged upon very important correspondence, and his employer was very unwilling to let him get away. This man had been living for several years in the same house, and yet his name was objected to on. the ground that he had left the district, and he was unable to secure any reimbursement of the expenses to which he was put to substantiate his claim. I have known the assistant returning officer of the electorate of Boothby on one occasion to allow his expenses to an elector whose name had been objected to. Honorable members should remember that it is not merely an elector’s tram fare that we have to consider, but the fact that they are very often put to very great inconvenience as- the result of objections lodged on very frivolous pretexts. Systematic attempts have been made in South Australia to strike names off rolls. Sme returning officers have told me that they had no sympathy whatever with what was being attempted, and that they were quite aware that in many cases the objections were not legitimate, but that they could not interfere. I disagree with the honorable member for North Sydney, who said that it ought to be easy to make objections. On the contrary, it ought to be made very difficult. It should not be forgotten that if any one votes who is not entitled to do so, he is subject to a penalty, and we can get at fraud in that way. Under this Bill electors who may have been illegally struck off the roll can appeal to a Court of summary jurisdiction, but we know what that means. There are a great many working women who will not go inside the door of a Court on any consideration. The opponents of the working classes are aware of that, and take every advantage of it. I have myself left electoral claims in every house in a whole street, and the agent of the conservative association to which I have already referred went round subsequently and collected those claims. He made a selection of those likely to vote the conservative ticket, and destroyed all the other claims, or never sent them in. It is a very difficult matter to sheet that kind of thing home. The result of this man’s action was that the .names of a number of women were left off the roll. I could give the State Parliament the name of the person responsible in that case, but I was asked why I did not prosecute. I could not prosecute without evidence, and I could get none of the women concerned to go to the Court to give evidence. I, therefore, say that we should1 make it extremely difficult to strike the name of an elector off a roll. Just as we impose a severe penalty upon a person voting who is not entitled to vote, so we should impose a heavy penalty upon any person who has procured the removal from the roll of the name of an elector who is entitled to vote. I hope the honorable member for Boothby will move an amendment to provide that where an elector’s name is frivolously objected tobe shall be reimbursed for the expense and inconvenience to which he is put in defending his claim, up to an amount which, I hope, will be specified in the amendment.
Mr. DUGALD THOMSON (North Sydney). - From the criticism of honorable members, one would think that there is no legitimate use for these provisions for objections.
– Yes, there is.
– The plea has been put forward that people should be easily able to get their names on the rolL, and that it should be intensely difficult to have their names removed.
– Who has put forward such a contention ?
– That is the tendency of the remarks which have been made.
– No man is dishonest - unless he happens to be a gaol bird - whose name appears on the roll.
– I venture to say that names of persons who have no right to vote have been intentionally placed on the roll. I do not say that that practice has been resorted to by one party or the other, but I am quite satisfied that such a thing does occur. It is not, therefore, well to place too many difficulties in the way of the purification of the rolls.
– Is it not easy to ascertain before objecting whether a person is entitled to be on the roll ?
– There are two distinct courses which may be followed. In the first place, we may make it so troublesome or dangerous to lodge an objection that no one will do so, whilst on the other hand we may provide a penalty for a frivolous objection which will act as a sufficient deterrent. I am favorable to provision being made for the imposition of a penalty for making a frivolous objection to enrolment, but I am not in favour of placing too many obstacles in the way of lodging an objection. Anything which assists to purify the rolls is in the interests of the community. . The present Bill will give facilities that do not exist under the Act for persons to secure enrolment without appearing before a Court. I naturally approve of the provisions to which I refer, because I had them inserted in a Bill for which I was responsible. The in- tention of these provisions is that when an objection is made against a name on the roll, or when a claim for enrolment is lodged, the officer before whom it comes will make inquiries. If an objection be made, he will have to communicate with the person objected to.
– But if the person objected to had removed from one end of the district to the other, the notice of objection would neverreach him.
– In some cases it may not, but if a man leaves his addresson removing from one place to another, such notices must reach him. I have never advocated the placing of difficulties in the way of persons who desire to secure enrolment, but only to raising difficulties to objections being lodged against those who have been improperly enrolled. Under this Bill the officer with whom the objection is lodged will wait a given time for a reply to the notice that he sends out. The person concerned will not be called upon towait upon the officer ; he may submit a statement in writing, and the officer may then say to the objector. “ I cannot strike this name off, because I have a statement from the person objected to which, if correct, shows that he ought to be on the roll.” In that event, the objector will have to apply either to a Court of summary jurisdiction or to a special Revision Court, which will be called only when it is required. But if the officer did strike off the name improperly, the person concerned, on learning of this, would have only to apply to that officer in order to have his name once more placed on the roll. That is to say, if the notice sent out to him in the first instance did not reach him he could take this action on learning of what had occurred.
– In scores of cases these notices never reach the persons objected to, although they have removed only from one street to another in the same district.
– Every man has to see that his name is on the roll. Owing to an error, my name has been omitted from a roll, and if I had not made inquiries I should have been disfranchised. I do not think it is wise - although I recognise that the Committee is against me. and therefore shall not press my objection - to require that a deposit of 5s. shall be made with every objection lodged. If we provide for a penalty in the case of a frivolous objection, that should be sufficient.
– The difficulty is that if a man of straw were put up, it would be impossible to recover against him.
– There may be such cases.
– Where the system has been worked to any great extent, that has been the method adopted.
– New South Wales is not free from the manipulation of electoral matters, but in the report of the Commissioners who were appointed to inquire into the electoral law, it is stated that owing to a deposit of1s. being required in connexion with the lodging of an objection, practically no objections have been made by the public. That report was issued within the last twelve months, but I do not know whether the Minister has seen it.
– I have not.
– I do not think that many frivolous objections would be lodged if we provided a penalty in such cases.
– Two thousand objections were recently lodged in Fremantle.
– The divisional returning officer did not accept them, because the ob jectors would not make themselves responsible for the objections.
– The only reason wasthat they were not prepared to put up the money.
– I think that there was a further reason.
– That was one reason ; and another was that the objectors could not give a guarantee that the persons concerned had not the necessary qualification.
– The officers also claimed that, in their opinion, a number of those to whom objection was taken had the requisite qualification.
– That is so,and the returning officer would not take action unless the objectors gave a guarantee in respect of the whole costs.
– Under this Bill, an inquiry will be made by an officer before anything is done. The only cases in which that provision will be insufficient are these in which the notices do not reach the parties concerned.
– That is the rule rather than the exception.
– Where the addresses of the persons objectedto were not known, that would be the position, but with the precautions I have indicated, and with the provision of a penalty for frivolous objections, I see no reasons for fear in this regard.
Mr.FRAZER (Kalgoorlie). - I heartily agree with those who have said that a responsibility should be cast upon a man who, for the time being, appoints himself a professional objector. The clause provides that the returning officer shall post a notice to the last known place of abode of the person objected to, but, notwithstanding this provision, hundreds of men, more particularly in mining communities, might easily be disfranchised. It is well known that miners, in an endeavour to better their position, shift from one camp to another, and often from one part of a campto another, so that notices of objection, although sent out as required by this clause, might never reach their destination, with the result that at the instance of a professional objector, a great many men might be improperly struck off the roll. If an elector be put to the- expense of attending before the returning officer, or before a Revision Court, to substantiate his claim, and is successful, the objector should be responsible for the costs, and should also be called upon to pay reasonable compensation for the inconvenience to which the elector is put. That is practically the effect of the proposal made by the honorable member for Boothby, and it has my cordial support.
Mr. CHANTER (Riverina). - I move-
That after the word “ to,” line 23, the following words be inserted : - “ And publish a list of the names of allpersons objected to in a local newspaper.”
There are thousands of persons whose occupations are such that they are compelled to move from place to place, with the result that notices sent out in accordance with the provisions of the clause as it stands would never reach them. But if it were also the duty of the returning officer to publish in a local newspaper the names of those objected to, the chances are that they would obtain the information necessary to enable them to protect their interests. I know of a large number of men who, under the electoral law of New South Wales, were supposed to receive notice, as provided for in this clause, but whose names were struck off the State roll, although they absolutely declared later on that they had never received any notice of objection.
– Theyhad fixed abodes?
– Yes. Notice of objection should have been forwarded to them, but it certainly was not, and their names were struck off the roll. Subsequently, upon representations being made to the State electoral officer, their names were reinserted. The only objection that can be urged against my proposal is that it would prove costly in operation. The objections would probably be few, and the space occupied by an advertisement in a local newspaper would be correspondingly small.
– Are local newspapers ever read ?
– They are read for local news, and, naturally, prominence would be given to an advertisement of this sort. I urge the Committee to accept the amendment. The cost of giving effect to it would be very slight.
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs- Minister of Home Affairs). - I trust that the honorable member will not press his amendment, because I scarcely think that he realizes the extent of the burden which it might impose upon the Commonwealth. The idea underlying the clause is that every divisional returning officer shall be a sort of continuous Court of Revision, whose duty it will be to keep the rolls complete and up-to-date. Honorable members know that changes in respect of 33 per cent. of the electors take place each year. It will thus be seen that the Commonwealth might very easily be landed in a heavy expenditure if it were compelled to advertise their names throughout the length and breadth of Australia. I quite agree that every person against whom an objection is lodged should have a reasonable chance of appearing before the proper tribunal to establish his claim. In the case to which the honorable member referred, there must have been a very gross miscarriage of justice. No elector’s name should be struck off the roll unless the officer responsible for its excision has evidence before him that the letter notifying him that the objection which’ has been lodged has been properly despatched in accordance with the terms of the Act. If the electors mentioned by the honorable member for Riverina had fixed places of abode. I cannot understand why the communications didnot reach them. If they had no fixed places of abode, it was the duty of the electoral officer to send the letters inquestion to their last addresses upon the roll. The honorable member must recognise that, in the case of a person without a fixed place of abode, the “ local newspaper” would be the journal circulating in the district in which the voter was last located. That being so, the probability is that the elector would have quitted that particular division, and consequently the advertisement would not reach him. I fear that the adoption of the amendment might land the Commonwealth in a very heavy expenditure. A similar provision was operative in Queensland for some time, but I think that it has been repealed. It was the means of providing a very nice subsidy to the newspapers just prior to an election.
– In Queensland the advertisement was only inserted annually.
– Under the proposal of the honorable member for Riverina, advertisements would require to be inserted constantly, and we must recollect that, even if only one name were advertised!, the introductory matter would probably occupy an inch of space. I will promise the honorable member to consider the question carefully. I should not like to commit myself to his amendment at the present stage.
Mr. LONSDALE (New England).- My experience impels me to conclude that the amendment would prove useless, as well as expensive, in operation. As a parliamentary candidate, I have found that when I have advertised in a local newspaper the time and place at which I should address the electors, nobody has seen the advertisement. Indeed, it is (a waste of money to attempt to reach the electors by that means. In the outlying portions of the country, it is far better for a candidate to advertise his meetings in the Sydney newpapers. Most of us are aware that the great bulk of the cost of contesting an election consists of advertising expenses ; consequently, it is easy to see that the adoption of the amendment under consideration would impose a. heavy burden on the Commonwealth.
Mr. BATCHELOR (Boothby).- In my opinion;, the amendment would largely add to the cost of administering the Act, and that without conferring any commensurate advantages. But my chief objection to the proposal is that it would provide a subsidy to provincial newspapers. When subscriptions to the local “ thunderer “ began to fail, it would be easy for its proprietor to raise funds by securing the lodgment of objections to a long list of persons, whose names appeared upon the roll.. I suggest to the honorable member for Riverina that* he would secure all the publicity that he desires if he provided that lists of the persons against whose enrolment objection had been lodged, should be exhibited at every post-office.
Mr. DUGALD THOMSON (North Sydney). - I think that the objections which will be lodged under this clause will be’ very few indeed, seeing that it requires an objector to pay a fee of 5s. In this connexion, I should like to quote .from the report of the Royal Commission, which inquired into the New South Wales electoral law and its administration. It says under the heading of “ Objections to names on the roll “ -
Any person may object to the name of any other person being retained on any general or supplementary general list if, before or on the 20th November, he sign and deliver, or cause to be delivered, to the Registrar for the division, and also to the person objected to, notice of such objection, with a statement of the grounds upon which the objection is made, the notice to the Registrar to be accompanied by a fee of is. Experience, however, has shown that the public do not object to names on the list. Whether it is that the is. fee is an obstacle in the way, or that the cause is apathy on the part of Hie public, it is a fact that up to the present no objection of the kind mentioned has been received at any time by a Registrar. The only objections taken have been those made by Registrars themselves, who may object to the name of any person on the list, provided notice be given to such person.
During the whole period that that Act had then been in force - some ten years, I think - no objection had been lodged by the public, against any person whose name appeared on the roll, although the fee demanded of the objector was only is. I am satisfied that if a fee of 5s. be provided, the objections which the honorable member for Riverina wishes to advertise will be. verv few indeed.
Mr. CHANTER (Riverina).- When moving mv amendment, I said that the only objection which could be raised against it was on the score of cost, and that is the only objection which has been raised against it.
– Except that it is useless.
– The honorable member appears not to look upon the local newspapers as valuable advertising mediums, but there I differ from him. In many parts of the Commonwealth, the residents get all their information of what is going on in the world from their local newspapers, and, while I recognise that the practice which I suggest would be a very costly one, I think that it would secure my object, which is to obtain the fullest publicity for attempts to alter the rolls. But the Minister could provide, by regulation, or in any other way, that all claims and names objected to should be posted at conspicuous places, such as the post-offices in an electorate. No doubt the local newspapers would publish for the information of their readers the lists so posted.
– I will make a note of the suggestion, and see if I can meet the honorable member in any way.
– It seems to me that there should be no difficulty. Certain obligations are imposed on the divisional returning officers by law, but they receive instructions from the Department as to the details of their duty. Surely, then, the Department could instruct them to post these notices in certain specified places?
– I dare say that that could be done.
– I think so. As advertising in the local newspapers is objected to on the score of cost, I ask leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
– I notice that it is the privilege of any person to lodge an objection to any name on the roll, provided that he deposits the sum of 5s. in respect to every objection; but this proviso does not apply to returning officers and registrars. Returning officers, I presume, will be Government officials, but it may happen that the registrars will not be; and, in any case, some of them may not be, above temptation to abuse their positions. They have the privilege of objecting to any name without lodging a deposit of 5s., and it does not appear to me that it is necessary for them to put their objection into writing. Under the principal Act, an individual objecting to a name on a roll is obliged to state the grounds of his objection, but it is not clear to me that the same obligation rests upon returning officers or registrars. Apparently, one of them might merely say, “I object to such and such a name being on the roll,” without giving any grounds whatever for the objection. I suggest to the Minister that he should apply to returning officers and registrars the same rule as is applied to ordinary individuals.
– Except as to lodging a deposit.
– Yes. If the Minister thinks that form D of the schedule to the principal Act must be used by returning officers and registrars, then, apparently, there is some defect in the drafting of the measure. To make assurance doubly sure. I should like to move the insertion after the word “roll,” at the end of proposed substituted clause 69, the words -
The grounds for each objection shall be in writing, and shall be transmitted to the Chief Electoral Officer on the completion of any roll.
– Why should they be transmitted to the Chief Electoral Officer?
– That they may be retained as records, so as to be accessible to any person whose name has been improperly removed from the roll.
– The objection should be kept in the office of the divisional returning officer.
– I wish him to be compelled to state, in writing, the grounds of his objection, and I want that statement to be accessible to any person whose name has been improperly removed.
– Why not strike out the words “or make,” after “lodge,” in proposed substituted clause 69?
– I am not wedded to my amendment, and will not press it if the Minister can show me that the obligation rests on returning officers and registrars to state the grounds of their objections in writing in such a way that they will be accessible to those who feel aggrieved by their actions.
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs- Minister of Home Affairs). - The practice has always been, whenever an objection is made, whether by an officer or private person, to forward a statement of it in writing to the person objected to, though, if the honorable memberthinks that the meaning of the clause is not clear, I have no objection to making it clearer. We can expressly makeform D of the principal Act apply to both private persons objecting and to the divisional returning officers. The intention of these provisions isto do what the honorable member says should be done. However, to make the meaning clearer, and to remove the honorable member’s doubts, I move-
That after the word “ objection,” in proposed substituted clause 69, the words “ in writing, setting forth the grounds of such objection,” be inserted.
– Will the statement of objection be accessible?
– Yes. It must be filed, and a notice of it sent to the person objected to.
– Those notices seldom reach the persons to whom they are add res scd
– That is the fault of the Postmaster-General’s Department.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. BATCHELOR (Boothby).- I desire to move this further amendment -
That the following new substituted clause be added : - “ 72A. If any objection is held by the returning officer to be frivolous, the person objected to shall be entitled to a reasonable allowance, not exceeding ^5, and the returning officer shall award such sum to be pa-id by the objector, and in default of payment, such sum may be recovered in any civil Court as a de°bt due by the objector.”
Section 83 of the principal Act provides that if any objection is not established, the Court may award to the person objected to a sum not exceeding £5 for costs, but no costs are to be awarded if the Court is satisfied that in objecting the objector acted in good faith, and on reasonable grounds. In the case of a frivolous objection being lodged by a person other than an officer, the Court has power under section 84 to inflict a fine up to the sum of £5. Both these provisions have been left out of the new clause. As a rule, perhaps, the fine inflicted would not be so much as £5, but where electors have been called upon to meet frivolous objections, their expenses ought 10 be reimbursed. In the case of unreasonable objections being lodged by subordinate officers, the returning officer would always be in a position to deal with those persons, either bv dismissal or by reprimand.
– I am not quite so sure that the new clause is not wide enough to cover those cases.
– There is no reason why costs should not be granted against private persons who may be held to have lodged frivolous objections.
– I am not quite sure that this clause does cover objections by returning officers. If in the principal Act it is provided that no costs shall be awarded against an officer if the Court is satisfied that in lodging the objection he acted in good faith and on reasonable ground, why should we not take a similar precaution in this case ? The amendment may place it in the power of an individual to get at the Commonwealth for a good round sum.
– But the returning officer would be the judge.
– Yes ; but we ought not to leave the Commonwealth open to be attacked in that way.
Mr. LONSDALE (New England).- It is the duty of an officer to take off any names which should not be on the roll. In performing this duty, he may make a mistake, but he is not likely to deliberately make a frivolous objection. The proposed fine may or may not be too large to be inflicted in other cases, but certainly in the case of an officer who has- made a mistake it should not be possible for an elector to enforce a claim for costs against him.
– Suppose that a frivolous objection has been lodged by. an officer, and that the man whose name has been objected to has been put to considerable expense, should it not be reimbursed to him?
– An officer might lodge an objection to the name of some per son whom he believed to be outside the district, but who was not.
– Then it would not be a frivolous objection.
– An officer who was fonud to have made a frivolous objection should be removed.
– As a layman, I am troubled about the propriety of using such” a vague term as “frivolous.” According to the dictionary I have consulted, it means -
Silly, trifling, trivial, petty ; given to trifling, characterized by unbecoming levity ; silly, weak.
I should like a legal member of the Committee to suggest a better term, because, in my opinion, it would be most difficult to prove that an objection was frivolous. [ am in favour of inflicting a penalty upon persons who have made objections for the purpose of disfranchising others. But I doubt whether it would be possible in one case out of a thousand to prove that an objection was frivolous. Therefore I think that it would be better to forfeit the amount of the deposit in a case in which the objection was not upheld.
Mr. HUTCHISON (Hindmarsh). - In those cases where expenses have been allowed under the State Act, I have found the greatest difficulty in getting the magistrate to see that anything further than a mistake had been made. Under this provision there would be the greatest difficulty, I think, in getting the. presiding officer to see that the case was one which merited the forfeiture of any sum of money. It would be only fair to provide that the amount of the deposit should be forfeited in every case where the objection was not upheld. In some cases it has not cost men more than the price of a tram fare to go to the Revision Court to meet an objection ; but in other cases men have had to lose a whole day or half a day. I have known the expenses to be reimbursed in some cases, but not in others. I have known electors to be obliged to put off other engagements in order to go to the Revision Court because it saf on a particular day. “Surely, if an elector has been put to inconvenience in proving that an objection lodged to his name could not be substantiated, he ought to be reimbursed his expenses”!
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs- Minister of Home Affairs). - I did not quite catch whether the honorable member for Boothby intended his amendment to apply to officers. The returning officer has to consider his own objection, and therefore he would be called upon to decide whether it was frivolous or not. I should offer no objection to the amendment if it contained this proviso -
Provided that this section shall not apply to any objection macle by an officer.
The officers are responsible to the Department, and would not be likely to make an objection which was frivolous.
Mr. BATCHELOR (Boothby).- In my opinion, the Minister has given a reason for not accepting the addition to the clause which lie has suggested, and that is that the returning officer is not likely to declare that an objection which he had lodged was frivolous. I would remind the Minister that in most cases the objections would emanate from the registrars who are postal officials, an3 who, perhaps, might not he very well acquainted with the provisions of the Act.
– But they could be removed if they did not carry out their duties properly.
– The honorable member does not quite see what I am aiming at, and that is to insure that a person who had been put to expense and trouble in meeting a frivolous objection should be compensated. It would not be very much satisfaction to that person to know that the objector had been dismissed from the sei vice, or reprimanded. It would not make any difference to him whether the objection had emanated from an outside person or from a subordinate official. If the returning officer has declared that the objection ought not to have been lodged because it was palpably frivolous, then the elector ought to be recouped his expenses.
– Then the officers would be afraid to make any objections.
– Surely they could trust the head of their Department - the returning officer - not to deem their complaints frivolous ! He would be very unlikely to take that course, because, if he did, he would be making a reflection upon his own administration. The probability is that even in those cases where the objections were frivolous, the returning officer would, not so deem them.
– Has this provision ever been made in a State Act?
– No. Frivolous objections are almost always lodged by outside organizations. There is no reason why, in the event of a frivolous objection being lodged, whether by an officer or any one else, the person who is put to inconvenience should not be compensated.
– Would it not be better to provide that where an objection is made “ with malicious intent ,! the deposit shall be forfeited?
– No : because it would be very difficult to prove “ malicious intent.” The word “ frivolous “ has been used in a number of our Acts, and has proved sufficient to meet the case. Officers will not be prevented from sending in objections, because thev will know that the decision will rest with the divisional returning officer.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. DUGALD THOMSON (North Sydney). - I understood that the Minister intended to move an amendment which would exempt officers from the provision as to the deposit to be made when objections were lodged.
– No: I asked the honorable member if he would agree to a modification of his amendment.
– Surely tion. I am strongly opposed to placing the amendment should not be accepted unless officers are exempted from its opera- officers in such a position that they will be deterred from making objections By fear of the consequences. It seems to me that we are taking a course which will prevent the rolls from being properly purified.
– The provision will merely make officers a little more careful.
Mr. LONSDALE (New England).- I do not think that officers should be placed upon the same footing as outside persons. In view of the fact that they will have a large number of names to deal with, they may make an occasional mistake, but in such an event they should not be penalized. I think that the Minister should insert some such proviso as he has indicated.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 27 -
Section one hundred and nine of the Principal Act is amended -
by omitting the whole of paragraph (a) and inserting in lieu thereof the following paragraph : - “(a) who has reason to believe that he will not on polling day be within ten miles of the polling-place for which he is enrolled, or a prescribed pollingplace for the subdivision for whichhe is enrolled ; or “
by omitting from paragraph (b) the words “ believes that she “ ; and
by adding at the end thereof the following sub-sections : - “(2) In the case of an application under para- graph (a), the applicant shall state in the application the reason for his said belief.”
-On behalf of the honorable member for Riverina, I move -
That after the word” belief,” line 18, the following words be inserted: - “All such applications shall be filed by the electoral registrar, and beopen to inspection by the public at any time during office hours.”
In the case of applications under paragraph a, the applicant is required to state in the application the reason for his said belief, and the honorable member desires that the applications shall be open for inspection by the public. His object is very much the same as that which I had in view when I moved that reasons for any objection to a name upon a roll should be communicated to any person who might feel himself aggrieved. The honorable member for Riverina thinks that the application of any person who lodges a claim for a postal vote, and who expresses the belief that he will be more than ten miles away from the prescribed polling place upon election day, should be accessible to any member of the public who may desire to inspect it. The proposal is a reasonable one, and I hope it will be accepted.
– I suggest that the amendment should be amended by the insertion of words providing that the application shall be open for inspection for a period of thirty days after the election day. It would be highly undesirable to allow canvassers to go to the returning officer and find out the names of the persons who have postal votes.
– I am willing to accept that modification.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment (by Mr. Mahon) proposed -
That after the word “belief,” line 18, the following words be inserted: - “All such applications shall be filed by the Returning Officer, and after the declaration of the poll shall be open to inspection by the public during office hours.”
Mr. LONSDALE (New England).I understand that postal votes are not issued except to persons who are likely to be ten miles away from the polling place on election day. Is any provision made for persons who are ill and cannot go to the poll?
– Yes. Such cases are provided forin the next sub-clause.
– I think some provision should be made to prevent the improper use of the postal vote, by providing for the inspection of applications prior to polling-day. Experience gained in connexion with the recent election for the Melbourne division showed that the agents of one of the candidates made a practice of obtaining postal vote applications from numbers of persons who had no occasion whatever to use them, and to whomno such concessionshould have been granted. We should not extend the facilities for voting by post, but, on the other hand, should surround the privilege with such restrictions as would prevent abuses. I trust that the Minister will consider the advisability of framing regulations that will put a stop to the improper practices that have been resorted to in the past.
– I trust that the Minister will agree to provide for the inspection of applications for postal votes, bothbef ore and after election day. The provision for voting by post was first adopted in South Australia, in order to enable seamen and others, who could not possibly attend the polls,to record their votes. The facilities thus afforded were, however, most improperly used. I have known of dragloads of applicants for postal votes having been taken to post offices by the agents of certain political associations. Many ladies have told me that they had not intended to vote, but were induced to sign applications for postal votes. They had no idea that they were doing any wrong. When women were first enfranchised, many of them strongly objected to going to the polling booths, and the election agents presumed upon this fact.
– What did it matter, if their votes were not recorded more than once?
– The postal vote system is destructive of the secrecy of the ballot.
– Apart from that, it has been greatly abused. I should not, of course, dream of taking legal proceedings against women who had acted in ignorance of the law, but I should immediately prosecute a male voter who had abused the Act. The provision as it stands is dangerous.
– Would the honorable member be in favour of striking it out altogether ?
– No, but I should limit its application to the cases of seamen, shearers, and others, who, owing to the nature of their occupation, are often absent on polling day. I would urge the Minister to adopt my suggestion. If an elector knows that his application will be open for inspection both before and after polling clay, he will be careful not to make a false declaration.
– Strike out the provision altogether.
– No, I am not in favour of adopting that course, because the postal voting system is of great convenience to shearers and seamen, for whose benefit it was originally adopted. I do not believe in disfranchising any elector, but neither do I believe in leaving a loop-hole for fraud.
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs- Minister of Home Affairs). - I hope that the honorable member for Hindmarsh will not press the proposal he has indicated. I do not believe it is desirable in the interests of particular classes ofpersons. that it should, previous to an election, be known who are in possession of postal-vote certificates. My object in this clause, as in other clauses dealing with postal voting, is to restrict and safeguard the system as much as possible, having in . view the desirableness of preserving the secrecy of the ballot. It would be most undesirable that persons holding these certificates should be subject to all sorts of influences and annoyances at the hands of canvassers and others. The object of the amendment is, I understand, to make it possible to discover whether a false statement has been made, and, if so, to have an. immediate prosecution ; and to that object we should confine ourselves. We have been told that on the occasion of the Melbourne election domestic servants and barmaids made sworn declarations that they would be away from the electorate on polling-day. whereas, by virtue of their contracts with their employers, such reason must have been false. In my opinion, the modified amendment which I have accepted will meet all the reasonable conditions of the case.
– I think I shall have to move that the whole clause be struck out.
– That would not do any good, seeing that the original Act would then remain in force without the safeguards which this Bill provides.
– This clause gives the employer an undue advantage over the employe. Does any honorable member mean to say that a lady who is kind to her servants has no influence over them? With postal voting, the votes of these servants, which really belong to the labour candidate, is obtained for the other side through the mistress of the house.
– And those who will not vote against the labour candidate are sent away with the children to the seaside.
– When there is an electoral battle on, the people of the country must stand up and be counted. When there is a fight between my conservative friends opposite and myself, I show no mercy, and I expect none ; and when I see an attempt to score off me, I am determined to win if I can. This postal vote is a “ boodleiers’ “ vote - a stolen march on labour when labour was asleep.
– What about sailors on the coast?
– There would be no objection to the postal voting if we could avoid giving undue influence to the monied classes, who already possess too much power. The man with the money runs the world, andI desire to take that power out of his hands. I desire to be friendly with my honorable friends opposite, but I tell them that they are in the fog-land of illusion. I wish to carry out the Scriptural injunction, “ lead us not into temptation”; and I am determined there shall be no room for undue influence of the kind I have indicated. In my opinion postal voting is a huge fraud, and an invasion of the rights of democracy. My desire is to move that the whole clause be omitted.
Mr. LONSDALE (New England).During the last election which I contested the wealthy man of the district was on the side of my opponent, and he drove in all his domestic servants from the station on the polling day. His idea was that they would vote for my opponent ; but it so happened that they voted for me.
– How does the honorable member know that?
– I know the fact, and I can prove it. There may be a few cases in which undue influence of the kind is successful, but it was certainly not so on the occasion to which I refer. I do not know that this station-owner endeavoured to use much influence, but I doubt whether he would have driven those servants in had they told him they were going to vote for me. The incident shows that the ideaof thehonorable member for Darwin on this score is quite erroneous. Postal voting is an undoubted advantage to those who, by their occupations, are taken away from home on polling day. If the capitalist had taken the attitude that postal voting conferred too great an advantage on shearers, harvesters, seamen, and so forth, I could have understood the position. I support postal voting because it affords an opportunity to those who are compelled to travel, to vote in the easiest possible way. It is a principle of democracy that every man and woman shall have the fullest opportunity to record their votes, so long as there are proper safeguards against fraud.
– If we strike out the whole clause,we shall revert to the original Act, whichwould place us in an evenworse position. I suggest that the honorable member for Darwin, if he submits an amendment,would attain his object by moving that theword “ repealed ‘ ‘ be substituted for “amended,” and the re mainder of the clause struck out. Personally, I should vote for such an amendment.
– Would the honorable member disfranchise allseamen?
– Yes, Iwould, and in order to avoidwhat I conceive to be a very great danger. I admit that there are a great many personswho use postalvoting in a bonâ fideway. I should have been satisfied if the section, as originally intended, had applied only to seamen, commercial travellers, shearers, and others whose occupations cause them to travel ; but the system of postal voting has become a mighty engine of fraud, corruption, wholesale intimidation, and coercion.
– I have not seen anything of these things.
– The honorable member must go through theworld with his eyes shut. It may be that there will be a considerable disadvantage to a number of people if this provision is struck out ; but, on thewhole, it is, I think, a great deal better that a few people should be unable to exercise the franchise than that the ballot system should break down. And it is being undermined by our method ofvoting by post. At the last Melbourne election, more persons exercised this privilege than exercised it in the whole of South Australia. Do whatwe will to prevent fraud and intimidation, oncewe do away with the necessity of the personal attendance of the elector at the ballot-box,we run a serious danger of leaving electors open to coercion. Ifwe are going to allow voting by post for personswho are absent from home, there is no logical reason for not allowing it to allwho will be inconvenienced by attendance at the ballot-box ; and, if that is permitted,we have a system under which the ballot may be entirely abolished and voting by post may become universfal. One of the greatest dangers threatening us arises from the fact thatwe have constantly added to the facilities for voting by post. I took a hand in the original proposal in South Australia. The idea thenwas to grant the privilege to personswhowere more than 25 miles from a polling place on election day.
– Itwas originally a plank in the platform of the Labour Party.
– We have tried it, and it has failed most lamentably.
– The honorable member has become conservative.
– Very likely.
– The distance is limited to 10 miles instead of 5.
– That is a little better. The extension of the privilege to women who have “reason to believe” that they- will be ill on election day virtually means that there is no reason why women should attend personally at all. Then the privilege has been extended to those who had” reason to believe that they would be prevented by serious illness or infirmity from attending at the polling booth. The greatest danger of all has arisen from allowing th”e voting to take place in front of almost anybody. The multiplication ot authorized– witnesses constitutes the greatest danger to ‘the system.
– Why not restrict their number ?
– Every time an effort is made to restrict the number of authorized witnesses, some honorable mem ber proposes that an additional class of persons be added to the list. Under the South Australian Act, the voting had to be performed in front of a postmaster at the post-office.
– What about sick persons?
– How many sick persons are there who are not able to vote at a polling booth or at the post-office? Make what provision you will, there will still be some persons who, for some reason or other, will be-unable to vote. You cannot provide for every contingency. But my contention is that we have opened the door to wholesale fraud. It is proposed not only to authorize Commonwealth Electoral Officers, all returning officers, all electoral registrars, all postmasters, all persons in charge of post-offices, all police, stipendiary and special magistrates, but also all justices of the peace for the Commonwealth, the head masters of State schools, all officers of the Department of Trade and Customs, all members of the police force, all mining Wardens, Wardens1 clerks, medical practitioners, and quarantine officers, and all classes of persons employed in the Commonwealth who are declared’ by proclamation to be authorized witnesses under the Act. We may saythat almost all the inhabitants of Australia are authorized witnesses. Bv, widening the list of authorized persons we have produced this effect - that each party can have its own justice of the peace or its own medi cal practitioner running round to get votes , because the authorized witness has the power of taking a vote, as well as of witnessing the application. When votes are handed to these persons, they may or may not post them. I object to the whole of these witnesses, except the postmasters. If we require the votes to be witnessed at a post-office by the postmaster, there is come guarantee for personal attendance, and there is not the same amount of danger from intimidation. As a matter of fact, instead of sailors and commercial travellers using the voting by post provisions, they have principally been used by servant girls and men servants, like grooms and coachmen, who, in many cases, have practically been roped up, and intimidated into voting as their employers wished. I will not say that this system works more against one party than another, but it makes for fraud all the time. It is immaterial whether the coercion is used in favour of a democratic or a conservative candidate. It is essential to purity in elections. that the votes should be recorded in the polling booth by personal attendance. If we are to allow wholesale voting by post., we might as well throw aside the whole machinery of the ballot.
– I sincerely hope that the Committee will not follow the lead of the honorable member for Darwin and the honorable member for Boothby by eliminating the provisions, for. voting by post. If that is done, it will lead to the disfranchisement of 25 per cent, of the electors in some parts of the country. Elections frequently take place at harvest time in this country, when it is extremely difficult for a farmer to leave home, and absolutely impossible for his wife to leave on the same day. Frequently such people would have to drive fifteen or twenty miles to a polling booth. If we insist that they must attend personally, it means that thou- . sands of women will be disfranchised. In my own electorate such persons might as, well be struck off the rolls altogether as have the privilege of voting by post taken away from them.
– Can they not vote at a post-office?
– I agree with that idea. I do not believe in permitting, any person to be an authorized witness. I will support a proposal to limit the number of authorized witnesses, but I will fight tooth and nail -agains.t abolishing the privilege altogether.- I quite agree that it is a grave danger to allow any Tom, Dick, or Harry to be an authorized witness. It must lead to vote stuffing. But to take away the privilege of voting by post altogether would be an extremely serious deprivation.
– I sincerely hope that the proposal of the honorable member for Darwin will not be approved by the Committee. Indeed, his proposal would not achieve his object. If we omitted the clause under consideration, we should s,imply leave the Act as it stands. With the idea of abolishing voting by post I have not the slightest sympathy. If the idea originally emanated from the Labour Party, I take credit for its authors for their foresightedness. The next best thing to giving every adult person a right to be on the roll is to give those who are or* an opportunity of expressing their opinions on election day. If in this community a number of people are so unfortunate as not to be located in a great city, or at a convenient point for recording a vote at the ballot-box, it is only reasonable that, special facilities should be provided for them. People in the back-blocks who do not enjoy the conveniences afforded to those living in the centres of population deserve special consideration from Parliament. The honorable member for Hindmarsh represents a constituency which embraces a port, and as it is very likely that a number of seamen on the roll for that constituency may be out of the district on the day of an election. I am surprised that the honorable member should be willing to accept the provision made for a complete elimination of this proposal. In my own constituency, it is quite possible that in the interval between the holding of the Revision Courts and the day of election a rush might break out which would have the effect of removing hundreds of men to a distance from a polling booth. If the. proposal submitted by the honorable member for Darwin were agreed to, those men would be disfranchised, whilst if the provision for postal voting were retained, they would be able to express their political opinions. I arn opposed to no precaution which may be considered necessary to secure that the opinion of an elector shall be expressed once only, and without undue influence. Where postal voting provisions are surrounded with safeguards to prevent the intention of the Legislature being defeated, they form one of the best systems for the convenience of electors that has yet been devised. It may be urged that some political parties can secure the services of justices of the peace, or the support of a teacher of a State school, but I frankly say that up to the present time I <- have seen no instances of corruption of that kind in my constituency. If other honorable members have had experience which they think justifies them in making certain alterations in the law, I hope they will be such as will safeguard the intentions of the Legislature, and will not inflict hardship upon those who may not happen to be within reach of a polling booth on the day of an election.
– I am surprised that a labour man should bring forward a proposal to do away with voting by post. If any one is convenienced by such a system it is the working man. There are builders in my constituency who have contracts for the erection of buildings in different parts of the State, and although I do not say that anything of the kind would be done, if the proposal now made were agreed to it would be possible for those builders to send numbers of their men out of the town during the week in which an election was held, and those men would be disfranchised if they could not record their votes by post. At the last election, some men were ordered to work at a place forty miles from the city, and told me that they would rather lose two or three days’ work than lose their right to vote, but that they would prefer to vote by post. They went to the post-office and made the necessaryarrangements to vote by post, and then went away to their work. They would have had to lose two or three days’ work and pav if they had remained in the city to record their votes. On the other hand, the “boodleiers,” of whom the honorable member for Darwin speaks, would have no difficulty about losing a day, as they could vote when and where they pleased. In my own district, there are some zoo voters in Bass’s Strait, and they get a mail only once in three weeks, and only then when the weather is favorable. One man went sixty miles in a sailing-boat to collect a number of voting papers and bring them back in time for the election, but the winds being contrary. he was blown away, and those votes were never recorded. In this way, people living iri a British community, and as much entitled to vote as I am myself, were deprived of their votes. The honorable member for Darwin has some islands in his constituency, and at the last election a special steamer was sent there, and the people were thus given an opportunity to exercise the franchise. The right 0 to vote by post has been advocated by members of the Labour Party for years in Australia, and surely they are not now going to give it up. If they do, people may say that after trying hard to obtain a particular concession, they despise it when it is obtained. To deprive electors of the right to vote bypost will inflict very great injustice on men who are working in mines, and in the outside districts, and on commercial travellers. I agree that we should punish those who obtain postal votes by false pretences, as was done at the last Melbourne election. I believe that paid canvassers were the transgressors on that occasion, and such persons should be severely punished when they are detected.
– I shall vote for the repeal of this clause, because I know how the postal vote was abused at the last Melbourne election. The experience gained on that occasion satisfied me that the system was absolutely rotten.
– The wrong-doers were punished.
– The honorable member cannot name one who was punished. Several were brought before the Police Court, but every one of them got off. The candidates at that election had nothing whatever to do with the abuse of the system, but their agents had, and I do not blame them for doing what the law permitted them to do. We had abuses of the system in two keenly-contested elections, and I shall give honorable members some idea of the value of the postal vote, when I say that at the Riverina election the postal votes recorded were 172 for Mr. Blackwood’, 177 for Mr. Chanter, and 162 informal votes - nearly as many as were recorded for either of the candidates. That shows the value of the postal vote in a keenlycontested election where every vote on both sides was whipped up.
– Such a thing could not happen in an intelligent constituency like Maranoa.
– No; because the honorable member for Maranoa told the electors not to use the postal vote, but to come to the ballot-box. I say that if we wish to preserve the secrecy of the ballot, the electors must record their votes at the polling booths.- The honorable member for Boothby told the Committee that almost any one might witness an application for a postal vote certificate, and I should be ir» favour of the postal vote if it were , safeguarded as it is in South Australia.
– It is the practice of canvassers going round to collect these votes that causes the trouble.
– That is so. If we take this postal vote system as applied to electors on stations, I may tell honorable members that in nearly every instance the postmaster is a general storekeeper under the patronage of the station boss. He must do what the boss tells him, or he will get his walking ticket.
– And most of the squatters are justices of the peace.
– Every one in my constituency who wears a starched shirt is a justice of the peace; no one who wears a soft shirt is a justice of the peace in Western Queensland. The Minister of Home Affairs knows that what I am saying is perfectly true, and is as well aware as any member of the Committee of the trickery practised in Queensland in regard to electoral matters. Every employe on a station can be intimidated under this postal vote system. The order may go forth that the station hands must all apply for postal vote certificates. Under these provisions the boss would be present to witness the applications, and the result would be worse than the present State system in Queensland, under which the votes are counted on the station immediately the poll is declared. What chance would a candidate who was opposed to the squatting interests have? I am surprised at the Minister suggesting that justices of the peace, &c, should have power to deal with this matter.
– I say that we should adhere to the original Act, which provides for postmasters.
– The justices of the peace in Queensland are such a nice, intelligent body of men, that I would not even think of asking them for advice in regard to the purchase of a walking-stick.
– I think that the honorable member’s suggestion was that they should be authorized to attest affidavits for the High Court.
– That is a different matter. We know that nine-tenths of those in Queensland are politically rotten; they have been elevated to the magistracy for political reasons.
– I would not say that the percentage of “politically rotten justices” is as large as the honorable member asserts.
– If the honorable member had had as much experience of them as I have had in Western Queensland, he would recognise the truth of my statement. What sort of justice is meted out in some of the Courts there?
– I know that in some cases it is far from equity and good conscience.
– I am not particularly keen about the repeal of the provision for voting by post; but I agree with the honorable member for Boothby that we should hedge it round with as many safeguards as possible. We should either do that or go “ the whole hog.” If it is right for domestic servants, shearers, shed-hands, and bush workers to enjoy the voting by post facilities, every one else should have the same privilege, and we might as well do away with the ballot-box. If it suits his purpose, any man can believe that he may be ill on election day. The honorable member for New England says that such things as have been mentioned during the debate on this clause have not come within his ken. He must have been walking about the country with his eyes shut. Such cases are rampant in New South Wales;, and we have taken our cue from that State as to the means of defeating electioneering dodges.
– Far greater facilities are extended to such persons under the regulation and “Q” form.
– I am opposed to legislation by regulation.
– But even those who avail themselves of the regulation form have to attend personally at a polling booth.
– I think that even if it be only for our own benefit these provisions should be safeguarded. We are all equally interested in this matter. I wish to be returned at the next general election, and have no desire to commit political suicide by inserting a provision in the Bill which will cause me to be rejected. I do not think any other honorable member wants to do so. I hope that the honorable member for Darwin will not press the amendment, which he has suggested; but that we shall so safeguard this provision that a recurrence of the abuses to which reference has been made will be impossible.
– I trust that the postal voting sections of the Act will not be wholly repealed, because I think that, in view of the fact that we have conferred adult suffrage upon the people of Australia, they are very necessary. But J. would point out that under the Act as it stands too much power is placed in the hands of servants of the States. I had rather a bitter experience in this respect at the last general election, which, as honorable members will recollect, took place towards the end of December, after the State schools had broken up for the holidays. The State schools are under the control of the States Governments, which are not always in sympathy with the policy of the Commonwealth Parliament, and some persons make it their business to avail themselves of the services of female school teachers just over twenty-one years of age, who are entitled to witness applications for postal vote certificates. Wives of Ministers of the Crown have been known to drive them round in their buggies to the homes, of working men, while the latter were at work, and to induce- the women-folk to apply for postal vote certificates. This happened at the last general election in mv own constituency,, as well as in others. The requisitions were taken to the returning officer - the postmaster in my electorate - and were granted. The forms were then taken back to the women, who were guided in voting by the way in which their interviewers spoke of the several candidates. The result was that between 200 and 300 postal ballot papers were lodged by women who were not sure how they voted. A school teacher, who was just over twentyone years of age, and was, therefore, qualified to witness applications ‘for postal vote certificates, and also to witness postal ballot papers, was driven round in buggies by members of what are known as “ the Silvertail push.” She was under the dominance of the Department at the time, and as the res.ult of this arrangement between 200 and 300 votes were lodged before the other party knew anything of what was going on. Whenthey did become alive to the fact, the result was that the system was abused on both sides. Hundreds of women who were able to go to the polling booths signed applications for pos.tal votes. I consider that the system of voting by post is necessary,. but that it should be so safeguarded that these abuses will not be permitted. Postal voting is necessary, for instance, in connexion with those engaged in the dairying industry. That is a point which ought not to be overlooked. In many cases there is not a polling booth within les.s than fifteen, miles of a dairy holding or farm. The husband may choose to travel to the polling booth in the morning to record his vote, but the wife must remain to milk the cows and supervise the dairy during his absence. By the time that he has returned - after travelling thirty miles - it is too late for the wife to be able to reach the booth before the closing hour. There must be some means of enabling women so situated to record their vote, and I, therefore, think that the postal voting system is necessary, provided that it be so safeguarded that it cannot be abused and subjected to manipulation. I hope that the Minister of Home Affairs, in administering this measure, will take care that the abuses which have been brought under the notice of the Committee will not be repeated at the next election, which, I presume, will take place during, or immediately prior to, the Christmas holidays of next year.
– Much has been said as to the efficacy or otherwise of voting by pos.t, and one would imagine that the question at issue was a most important and material one; but when we turn to the records of the last general election, we find that, with the exception of those given in the electorates of Melbourne and Riverina, the number of postal votes for the whole of Australia was insignificant. If it was difficult for electors to avail themselves of the voting by post system in 1903, how much more difficult will it be for them to take advantage of it under the restrictions now to be imposed? In order to prevent the system being abused, we are so loading it up with safeguards that it will become useless, and I, therefore, think that the honorable member for Darwin should press his proposed amendment. As it stands^ voting by post is a dangerous system, for it can be worked by those who wish to gain an advantage over their opponents. Even in the case of the electorate of Riverina, the postal votes recorded were less than 5 per cent, of the total number polled, and 33 per cent, of them were absolutely informal. This shows that the question of voting by post is not a material one. If the Minister would bring the polling booths closer together, he would secure a larger vote than is likely to be the result of the passing of these provisions. Instead of doing so, however, the Department is endeavouring to abolish polling places that have existed for years. I ask tha Minister to give some attention to the desirableness of increasing, rather than diminishing the number of polling places.
– I am sorry to hear so many of my friends attacking the postal vote provisions of the Electoral Act. I regard those provisions as the necessary corollary to a universal franchise. I have a very lively recollection of the time when you, sir, and I spent a great deal of our time in endeavouring to educate the people of Queensland up to an appreciation of the justice of universal suffrage, and of the wisdom of offering special facilities to those engaged in nomadic pursuits to record their votes. Nothing has since occurred to cause me to alter my opinions in that connexion. Because certain persons may have misused the privileges conferred by an Act of Parliament, we ought not to deprive even one eligible voter of the opportunity to exercise the franchise. One would imagine, from the statements of some honorable members, that these postal votes are open to the public. As a matters of fact, they are, and ought to be, as secret as if’ they were placed in the ballot-box.
– Does not the honorable member know that in voting by post electors vote openly, and in a room filled with people ?
– The honorable member is merely referring to instances in which the law has been violated. Does he say that we cannot reach such offenders?
– I am certain that we cannot.
– I say that we can. When such offences are proved, the Government which failed to reach their authors would not continue in office very long. Upon the proposal to require an elector who wishes to avail himself of the postal provisions of the Act to go before a postmaster, I am opposed to the honorable member for Boothby, for the rea. son that there are many cripples who are mentally sound, but whom it would be absolutely impossible to take to a post-office. Why should they be deprived of the right to exercise the franchise ? The honorable and learned member for Corio points out that the mere fact of another person looking at the signature of a voter is an offence. I admit that that provision is contained in the principal Act. We have yet to educate the Courts up to an appreciation of the heinous character of political offences. At the present time, many persons are prone to regard such breaches as very venial ones indeed. I hope that the time is not far distant when the Courts will regard them as offences of the first order, and will commit their perpetrators to imprisonment for a term of years.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. FRAZER (Kalgoorlie). - I am of opinion that the provision requiring an elector to be ten miles distant from the division for which he is enrolled before he is entitled to record his vote at a polling place in an adjoining division is an unreasonable one. I think that the five miles limit imposed by the principal Act is quite sufficient.
– Five miles in some parts of the country is as bad as twenty miles in other portions.
– The distance specified in the principal Act is, inmy opinion, ample to insure that this provision shall not be taken advantage of without justification.
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs- Minister of Home Affairs). - The object of imposing a ten miles limit is to prevent the abuse of the provision by electors in the cities. It was pointed out to the Select Committee which inquired into Electoral Administration, that under the five miles limit contained in the principal Act, many persons voted by post, who ought not to do so. The provisions in regard to voting by post were primarily intended to meet the cases of residents in the outlying districts, or of persons who would be absent from the particular polling places for which they were enrolled upon the day of elections.
– They could vote under the absent voter’s provision.
– That is so. The Committee recognised that the system was open to certain abuses, and desired to restrict these as much as possible. They, therefore, recommended that some safeguards should be provided. In the absence of proper safeguards they recommended the repeal of the section. I ask the honorable member not to press the matter.
– I hope that the Minister will give this matter his very earnest consideration. I think that the honorable member for Kalgoorlie has made a very good point. In many parts of Tasmania, especially in the mining districts represented by the honorable members for Darwin and Bass, there are practically no roads at all, and it is as difficult to travel five miles as it is to travel twenty or twenty-five miles in districts near a metropolis. The regulations under these Acts seem to be framed by persons who know nothing of the conditions of the country districts. I would have no objection to making the distance ten miles close to the large cities, but I do not think that it should be made more than five miles in rural districts. If we increase the distance we shall practically take away the franchise from many electors.
– I promise to reconsider the matter, and will consult with the honorable member for Kalgoorlie in regard to it, and then recommit the Bill if necessary.
Mr. LONSDALE (New England).I see the force of the Minister’s objection, and I suggest that an exception might be made in the case of country districts, where the advantage of voting by post is greatly appreciated.
Mr. BATCHELOR (Boothby).- I ask the Minister to remember that, if the distance is increased, the area of fraud is widened.
– It must be remembered that all that persons are asked to declare is that they believe that they will be away from home on polling day.
– They have to state their reasons.
– Does the Minister think that that stipulation will make any difference in practice?
– Then the honorable gentleman is very optimistic. I should prefer uniformity in this matter, though I have no great objection to a difference being made between metropolitan and country districts. The fraud which takes place in country districts under the previous provision is not so great as that which takes place in the cities. However, if I understand that the Minister has agreed only to consider the advisability of recommitting the Bill, and that he is not weakening in his position in regard to it, I shall say no more on the subject at the present time. The matter is one of very serious moment in the interests of Australia. I have had special opportunities to know that an immense amount of fraud now takes place, and that it will be very dangerous to extend these facilities.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
After section 109 of the Principal Act the following sections are inserted : - “ 109A. The following persons are authorized witnesses within the meaning of this Act : -
All Commonwealth electoral officers of States … all Postmasters, Postmistresses, or persons in charge of postoffices;. . . all Justices of the Peace ; . . . all legally qualified medical practitioners …. all officers in charge of quarantine stations . . .
Amendments (by Mr. Groom) agreed to.
That after the word “ Postmasters,” line 6, the word “or” be inserted; and that the words “ or persons in charge of Post-offices,” lines 7 and 8, be left out.
Amendment (by Mr. Groom) proposed -
That the words *’ all Justices of the Peace,” line 8, be left out.
– I object to this proposal. It is a reflection on the justices of the peace of Australia. They are as competent to do this work as any of the other classes of persons mentioned, and have been intrusted with it by the principal Act.
– They have not been intrusted with it bv the principal Act, and are the only persons mentioned in the clause who are non-official.
– They are the persons who are hawked round.
– That may happen in the honorable member’s electorate; but I have known of no case of the kind. The justices of the peace of Australia will compare with any other class.
– I think that justices of the peace and medical practitioners should be left out, for the reason given by the Minister, that they are not Government officials. Neither class was mentioned in the original Act. That is one reason why the amendment is being proposed, and I hope that it will be adhered to by the Minister.
– I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to the necessity of making a distinction between an authorized witness to ‘an application for a postal vote certificate and an authorized witness who is able to go round to witness and to collect the postal voting papers.
– We are treating them in the same way.
– I should not mind a justice of the peace being an authorized witness to an application for a postal vote certificate.
– If we put one class in we shall have votes made informal by reason of the difference.
– My own feeling is that we ought not to allow any of these persons to collect postal ballot-papers. The trouble has arisen from allowing peripatetic postmasters, or masters of State schools, or justices of the peace, to go round to witness and collect these papers. What they may do with them afterwards depends upon their honesty of character. I consider that a serious inroad is being made upon our voting system. I ask honorable members to limit the use of this system to the polling place and the post-office. Between the issue of the writ and election daythere is an opportunity to a person to get to a post-office and record his vote. Surely that meets the case of every one except the few persons who, on account of serious sickness or infirmity cannot go, and who as a rule, are not able to exercise the suffrage. We have to trust entirely to the honour of the authorized persons who witness and collect the postal voting papers. A reference has been made to the capacity, honest)-, and integrity of justices of the peace. I am willing to admit that occasionally some scoundrels are appointed to the commission of the peace; but it is just the same with legally qualified medical practitioners.
– I have agreed to. omit that class.
– That will limit the number of these persons to some extent.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Mr. Groom) agreed to -
That the words “ all legally qualified practitioners,” lines 9 and 10, be left out
– The officers in charge of lighthouses form a distinct class, and have the right to vote. I would, therefore, ask the Minister to agree to the insertion of the words “ lighthouse or “ before the words “quarantine station.”
– I would ask the honorable and learned member not to press his proposal, because this class may be included under paragraph b if it be found desirable.
– Every one might be included under that paragraph.
-I shouldnot like to make a definite promise on the spur of the moment, because I do not know what I might be committing myself to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses29 to 31 agreed to.
Clause 32 -
After section one hundred and eighteen of the Principal Act the following sections are inserted : - “118a. The following directions for regulating voting by means of postal ballot-papers shall be substantially observed : -
If the elector’s right is so impaired that he cannot vote without assistance, the authorized witness, if so requested by the elector, may mark his vote on the ballot-paper ;
The elector shall then place the ballotpaper with the counterfoil attached into the envelope addressed to the Returning Officer, and fasten the envelope, and hand it to the authorized witness for posting.”
Mr. CHANTER (Riverina). - I wish the same rule to be carried out in the witnessing of a postal ballot paper for a person whose sight is impaired as is carried out in the polling booth. Therefore, I move -
That after the word “ballot-paper,” line11, the words “ in the presence of a witness” be inserted.
Amendment agreed to.
– I should like the Minister to explain how he expects paragraph g to operate. In my opinion it is a very objectionable provision. Men who might be in the pay of the State or the Commonwealth, and yet active political partisans, might be engaged for the purpose of witnessing the signatures to postal ballot-papers. Frequently, in spite of what has been said here to the contrary, collectors would be able to see the way in which the elector had voted, but the paper would be handed to him to be posted. That, 1 think, would be a source of great danger.
– Why should not the elector post it himself?
– The honorable member is going to propose something which would be very much more dangerous.
– How could a sick person post the ballot-paper at a post-office ten miles away?
– This provision is not specially intended for sick persons.
– If the voter retained his ballot-paper he could open it again, and exhibit it to anybody.
– I am speaking of the agent of a candidate who may have not only one paper, but 100. It seems to me that this is a very dangerous provision.
Amendment (by Mr. Batchelor) proposed -
That the words “authorized witness,” in paragraph g, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ Postmaster.”
. -I trust that the honorable member will not press his amendment, because it would be a dangerous innovation. After a postal ballot-paper had once been issued and attested, the elector might open it and manipulate it as he pleased. The object of the provision is to insure that very secrecy at which the honorable member aims. Immediately a man votes, his paper must be sealed up, and placed beyond his control, and the authorized witness is under a heavy penalty to see that it reaches its destination. The amendment is fraught with very serious danger.
– The Minister does not see my point. What I propose is to be done only at the post-office. The Minister has referred to the obligation resting upon the authorized witness, but we have never yet used that term as applying to any person other than the one who witnesses the application. We have never regarded the authorized witness as the person who would take charge of the ballotpaper.
– Oh, yes, we have; “ authorized witness “ is a general term.
– We have not used the term “authorized witness “ as applying to the person who is responsible for the posting of the ballot-paper.
– I could not accept the amendment.
– The Minister knows perfectly well that I have made representations in the same direction for some time past, and I desire to test the feeling of the Committee with regard to my proposal.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin) proposed -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until 10.30 a.m. to-morrow.
– I would ask the Prime Minister to agree to adjourn until half-past 2 o’clock tomorrow. He is not facilitating business by requiring honorable members to sit for such long hours.
– I wish, if possible, to avoid sitting late, and am afraid that if we adjourn until half-past 2 o’clock tomorrow we shall have to sit late.
– We were told that we should not be required to sit late to-night.
– It is not our fault that we are late.
– Honorable members on this side have been holding their tongues in order to allow the business to proceed, but we did not understand that the Minister would attempt to carry the Bill so far as he has done. The Government will not get any “ forrarder “ by going on in this way - but they may please themselves.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.42 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 December 1905, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1905/19051211_reps_2_30/>.