3rd Parliament · 4th Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– I wish to know from the Prime Minister when he intends to have the High Commissioner Bill discussed. Is it being purposely kept back ?
– I propose to have it discussed directly we reach the Order of the Day. We cannot risk delay of business here and in another place just now for the consideration of what, after all, is a merely formal amendment. I have not yet let slip an opportunity to deal with the matter.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are - 1 to 3. A contract has been let to Mr. D. M. Mitchell, of Sydney, for the manufacture and supply, including painting, of 3,000 ballot-boxes for New South Wales, and 800 for Queensland, the amount being £1,286 14s.2d.
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are-
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
Mr. JOSEPH COOK laid upon the table the following papers -
Defence Acts - Naval Forces -
Regulations Amended (Provisional) - Nos. 38A, 47A to 47D, iooa - Statutory Rules 1909, No. 128.
Financial and Allowance Regulations Amended. (Provisional)- Nos. 49, 50, 50b - Statutory Rules 1909, No. 127.
– As I mentioned at the close of last week, and since to representatives of the press, it is proposed that the Minister of Defence shall move, this morning, the motion of which notice’ stands in his name. Owing to my omission to mark the Business Paper last night, it remains at the bottom of the list, whereas it should come first. I therefore move -
That the consideration of the Orders of the Day and the Contingent Notice of Motion, Government business, be postponed until after the consideration of the Notice of Motion, Government business.
.- I donot object to the arrangement of the Business Paper to meet the convenience of the Government, though Ministers act differently when we, on this side, express a desire for the conduct of our proceedings in a reasonable way.
– I think not. I am always happy to meet the honorable member.
– Very frequently the Prime Minister does quite the opposite. I wish to give the Ministry every facility for bringing forward their proposals, and therefore do not object to the alteration of the Business Paper now, to meet the honorable gentleman’s oversight.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That this House approves the new scheme of Naval Defence adopted at the recent Imperial Conference, and is of opinion that immediate steps should be taken to provide the proposed Australian unit of the Eastern Fleet of the Empire.
The Government asks the approval of the House for a scheme of naval defence formulated at the recent Imperial Conference, and submits the proposal in the simplest form, leaving questions of Ways and Means for further consideration.
– At some future time. We wish the proposal to be considered on its merits, and with respect to its principles, without reference to Ways and Means, and are, therefore, submitting it in this manner. A lady who is a well known, respected, earnest, and enthusiastic reformer, and a member of the Peace Society, wrote to me the other day.
– I suppose that she is also a member of the Ladies’ National League ?
– I should think that if she has any political leaning, it would be rather to the honorable member’s side in politics than to the other. She is full of terrors, and complains that Federation has brought in its train a tremendous crop of evils, of which none are of half the magnitude or consequence of the defence proposals. I mention this letter because it is typical of a number of others which have been received during the discussion of these matters, and represents a body of opinion in the community. In my judgment, we are, in these proposals, beginning, almost for the first time, to realize the promise of Federation, and so far from admitting them to be in the nature of evils, they should be regarded as the best method for preventing dire consequences, and the only guarantee of the safety of Australia. I do not disregard, or lightly underrate, the great body of. opinion which subscribes to the doctrines of the Peace Society. Those who hold those views, no doubt, regard war, as the great Napoleon did, as the trade of barbarians, and, on a cursory, superficial glance at the position, they may be pardoned for the view which they take. During this year, seven of the nations of Europe will spend £120,000,000 on naval defence, while the total European expenditure on warlike preparations, will exceed . £500,000,000. But these preparations, titanic and costly though they be, are preventives of war, and a security - the only security - for the peace of Europe. They make possible greater industrial and progressive development, with its resulting increase of wealth, which more than outstrips this additional cost. As Lord Bacon said, “ Providence for war is the best preventive of it.” These facts may face us tauntingly and mockingly at times, but we must make our preparations notwithstanding, because the alternative is still more horrible to contemplate. Now, if we are to realize exactly what is being done, and ascertain whether the Conference has arrived at a right decision, we should submit its proposals to the test of fundamental principles. We must remember, first of all, that Australia is part of the Empire, and that, within our means, we must recognise both our Imperial and local responsibilities. The Empire floats upon its fleet. A strong fleet means a strong Empire, and therefore it is our duty to add to the fleet strength of the Empire. Our first object is the protectionof our floating trade and the defence of our shores from hostile invasion or attack. But we have also to share in the defence of the Empire at large, and thus to relieve Great Britain of the burden of defence. Naval success means naval concentration, but, concurrently with the concentration of our naval strength in battle fleets, the enemy must be prevented, by raids upon its commerce, from a similar concentration. ‘Australia, which is so remote from the seat of Empire, must, while undefended, be a source of weakness to it, making for the diffusion and dispersion of its forces. It is our duty, therefore, to relieve theAdmiralty of the task of defending this territory, in order to facilitate the concentration of the main fleets of the Empire at the points of greatest danger. The proposals of the Conference recognise these fundamental principles of naval strategy. Should the. motion which I am moving be carried, we shall turn over a new leaf in the book of our evolution. Our tutelary stages are past, our time of maturity is here. Let us hope that with it has come a deepening and increasing conviction of the immensity of the debt which we owe to the Mother Country for sheltering us while we grew. In passing the motion we shall enter what has been called the great Sea League of the Empire, and the wardenship of the Pacific will be allotted to us as the worthiest and most adequate contribution to the defence of the Empire that the highest naval authorities can devise. This also is our response to the feverish war preparations which various nations are making - eight Dreadnoughts on the part of Great Britain, plus the creation of a great Pacific Fleet, and more to follow, if required.
– We shall have to take back the 25s. if there is more to follow.
– Even that can be considered, if necessary. We say to these nations that just as they preserve the inviolability of their soil and maintain their land forces at sufficient strength to do so, so we as a maritime Empire are under an obligation to keep open the communications without which the Empire could not exist. Now, what has been done? I think that I am justified in saying that this movement had its genesis in the Dreadnought offers. Without those offers I doubt if there would have been this proposition to-day for the formation of a great Pacific Fleet.
– What nonsense ! Chronologically the honorable member is out five years.
Colonel Foxton. - It is not nonsense; it is perfectly correct.
– I hope that in his speech the honorable member will give us the chronology and the genesis of the whole proceeding. I shall ask for nothing better than that. In the meantime I hope that he will allow me to deal with the facts.
– Poor fellow.
– I admit that alongside the honorable member I am a poor fellow ; still I hope that he will allow me to proceed. These Dreadnoughts will provide the major force of the new Fleet. We have, indeed, by these offers created a new Pacific Fleet. That is a plain un varnished statement of fact. That Fleet is, as honorable members are aware, to consist of three squadrons, namely, one with its base at Bombay, another with its base at Hong Kong or Singapore, and another with its base in Australia. Our squadron is to be created by ourselves. The East Indies squadron is to be created by Great Britain. Great Britain is to join New Zealand in the creation of the China squadron. Canada will add her quota to Imperial defence, but she will do it in her own way, and in view of her peculiar geographical position. She proposes to establish a Fleet of a different kind at, perhaps, the same annual cost, but to be divided between her two seaboards, for reasons of her own. I am not quite sure that she is doing the correct thing - certainly not from a strategic point of view. But we may not criticise our sister Dominion, any more than we should like it ‘ to criticise us. We leave them to do their best in the light of local circumstances, and in view of all the surroundings of their position. But the fact is that they, too, propose to add their quota to the defence of the Empire, and to do so in a very substantial way. The Eastern Fleet will, therefore, consist of three vessels of the Indefatigable type, nine cruisers of the Bristol type, eighteen destroyers, and nine submarines, totalling thirty-nine ships, with over 7,000 men. If we add to this the four cruisers of the Bristol type which Canada proposes to create - one cruiser of the Boadicea type, and six destroyers - we get a total of fifty ships, and considerably over 9,000 men added to the fleet strength of the Empire. The capital cost to Canada will be £2,338,000; to Australia, £3,695,000 ; and to New Zealand, £2,000,000, or a total cost of £8,033,000 to the outlying Dominions. But this by no means represents the whole cost of the additions to the Fleet. For instance, the three Pacific units will each cost £31695,000, or a total of £11,085,000. If we add to that Canada’s contribution, we get, roughly, a total of £13,500,000 as the cost of the total additions to the fighting forces of the EmpireHere, then, is the response of the Empire, as a whole, to the needs of the moment from the Imperial point of view. Other nations are building Dreadnoughts. The response which Great Britain makes is eight Dreadnoughts this year on her own account, besides additions to the Pacific Fleets costing £13,500,000, or total additions to the fleet strength costing about £40,000,000 sterling. As regards the annual cost, Australia’s share will be £750,000 per annum. Canada’s share is estimated at £600,000, but it is only fair to her to state that, in addition to that sum, she spends on the protection of her fisheries, and on hydrographic surveys, not less than £200,000 per annum. New Zealand’s yearly bill will be £250,000. Altogether, the total capital cost will be £13,500,000, and the annual cost about £1,750,000.
– Does that calculation include interest and sinking fund?
– Yes; and, as the Prime Minister reminds me - I had intended to mention it later - the fact that South Africa is not included in this movement is due to her peculiar position. There is no doubt that she will make a response when her scheme of internal union is completed and established. She will, I believe, stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the Empire in augmenting the fleet strength organized for its safety.
Colonel Foxton. - She contributes £60,000 ayear now.
– Will the Minister explain the basis of the calculation of the annual cost? Does it include a sinking fund?
– Later, I shall give all particulars. With regard to our own unit, honorable members are already acquainted with the details. We are to get an armoured cruiser of the Indefatigable type, with a speed of 25 knots and an armament of eight 12-in. guns; three unarmoured cruisers of the improved Bristol type, with a speed of 25 knots and an armament of eight 6-in. guns ; six torpedo-boat destroyers of the River class, with a speed of 25 knots; and three submarines of the “ C “ class. It was the opinion of the Admiralty that the big ship should be laid down at once, and the others later, so as to time the completion of all about two and a half years hence. In addition to this, the Admiralty has very generously undertaken the whole of the inspection al work in connexion with the new fleet. That is, I think, a matter of first importance. I do not pretend to criticise what has been done in regard to the supervision of the destroyers, but I am glad that the Admiralty will take complete oversight of the construction of the new vessels, thereby relieving us of all anxiety in that respect. Further, it will provide us with all the specialist officers whom we shall require, so that we may begin our training for the newpersonnel. I have said that the cost of these vessels will be £3,695,000, but, in all probability, it will be more than that, because we must have the very latest improvements.
– Will any of them be built in Australia ?
– I sincerely hope that we shall be able to build the other three destroyers here ; but, as regards the other vessels, I do not know. My very earnest desire will be to build all that we can, to develop our building resources and the equipment of these boats in every possible way.
– The inspection by the Admiralty will be confined to the vessels to be built in Great Britain?
– Of course. I am afraid that we cannot hope to undertake the building of the larger vessels in Australia yet awhile, but I trust that the time may come for us to do that, and the sooner the better, I think. The sooner we are self-contained in everything relating to defence the better for all concerned. That is the spirit in which I approach this matter. All my efforts will be pointed in that direction. The Admiralty further agrees that, until we can be self-sufficient in these things, it will supply all munitions of war, and all stores requisite at the same price as that at which they are supplied to the Royal Navy. That again is, I think, a very great concession. It also makes us a free gift of Garden Island, and the naval base in Sydney, the upkeep of which costs about £50,000 per annum, on condition that it is kept in a state of naval efficiency. Honorable members are no doubt anxious to know how the new fleet will compare with the squadron which we have at present. I have taken the trouble to get some figures, from which to make a comparison of the relative strength of the two units. Honorable members will see at once the striking advance which this proposal means in the direction of effective defence. While our present squadron comprises nine vessels, the new Australian unit will Have thirteen. Note the number.
– A very unlucky number.
– A sacred number.
– It is the devil’s number, too.
– If there are any honorable members who believe in the mystery of figures, perhaps I may relieve their minds on that point by stating that it is not at all clear whether two submarines of the “ D “ class will not be substituted for three submarines of the ” C” class.
– Count the trawler and there will be fourteen.
– I think it will be found that submarines of the “ D “ class will be more suited to our coast than those of the “ C “ class. Therefore, when the vessels are complete, the mystic number of thirteen will, very probably, be found to be reduced to twelve.
– Wonderful, wonderful.
– In the present squadron there are 90 guns of 4 in. and over; whereas in the new Australian unit there will be only 54 of that calibre. That seems at first view to show less efficient gun power, but quite the contrary is the case, as the next item in the list will show, In the weight of gun metal, or, in other words, in gun power, the present squadron shows 6,120 lbs., while in the new unit it will be 9,750 lbs., or close on 10,000 lbs. In the present squadron there are 21 torpedo tubes, while in the new unit there will be 35. Then, in the matter of com.plement, that is, officers and crews, honorable members will see what economy has resulted from all the improvements that are taking place from year to year in the art of naval warfare. The present squadron contains 3,218 men, whereas only 2,283, or a difference of nearly 1,000 men, will be required for the new unit. The average speed of the present squadron is 20.4 knots, while the speed of the new unit will be 25.6 knots. From these figures, it will be seen that in speed there is an increase of 25 per cent ; in torpedo tubes an increase of 66 per cent. ; and in gun power, or weight of metal, an increase of nearly 60 per cent. in superiority. A very striking fact is that the armoured cruiser alone will have a heavier weight of metal than the whole of the existing squadron, that is to say, this one armoured cruiser will be of very much greater fighting efficiency than the whole of the present squadron put together. The heaviest gun in the present squadron is 9.2 in., with a projectile of 380 lbs., while in the new squadron the armoured cruiser will carry eight 12-in. guns, with a projectile of 850 lbs. The flagship of the present squadron is a first-class protected cruiser, with a protected deck of armour from 3 inches to 6 inches, and 6-in. armour protecting the gun positions. In the new unit the flagship will have a complete armoured belt of from 4 inches to 7 inches, with 8 inches protecting the heavy gun positions. According to Jane’s Fighting Ships, the matter stands in this way : - Taking the Dreadnought as a unit of 100, the Indomitable war value is 70, or somewhat over, and the total value of the present Australian squadron, even if the vessels were all new, would, on the same basis, be 53. We thus see that this one vessel will be very much superior in fighting force to the totality of the present squadron. It is a fact worth noting, in passing, that, under the new scheme, Britain will save a considerable amount of money. The total cost of the present squadron in Australian waters is £950,000 annually ; that is for the upkeep of the squadron and the Sydney base.
– Including our contribution ?
– Including everything. It includes a proportion of the central administration expenses. Australia pays Great Britain £200,000 per annum, so that the total amount paid by Great Britain at the present time for upkeep is about £750,000 a year.
– About three and a half times as much as the so-called subsidy.
– Yes. It has been agreed at the recent Conference that Great Britain shall, for the present at any rate, pay towards the cost of the unit a sum of £250,000 per annum, and she will thus save, in round figures, £500,000 per annum under the new arrangement, while getting, of course, a fighting value greatly superior to that under the old one. And now, with regard to the details of the £750,000 which represents the annual cost to Great Britain of maintaining the Australian unit - and here I answer the interjection of the Leader of the Opposition. The £750,000 is made up as follows : - Pay, victualling, and so forth, at English rates, £177,000; upkeep of hulls, maintenance, and so forth, £173,000; interest and sinking fund, £259,000, reckoning the life of the unit at seventeen to eighteen years ; extra Australian rates of pay, shore establishments, and so forth, £141,000. In connexion with the creation of the new unit, a great deal of labour and effort will be required. It will not be found an easy matter to begin from the bottom and build up an Admiralty in Australia. That, however, is the task that has been assigned to us ; and there has been a hope expressed by the Imperial authorities that we shall make ourselves self-sufficient in the least possible time. Accordingly, amongst other measures, there will be required, first of all, a Bill for the necessary funds for the building of the fleet.
– When will that Bill be submitted?
– That will be submitted later on by the Treasurer.
– This session?
– Probably this session.
– I should think so. Surely the Minister can say ?
– I do not know that it is absolutely necessary for the Bill to be introduced this session. The money will be there the moment it is required ; and that is, perhaps, all we need trouble about at the present moment. That, at any rate, is one of the measures to be introduced, and I have said all I have to say of it just now.
– It will be after the elections !
– If the honorable member will drag political considerations in, let me tell him at once that I hope it will be before the elections.
– This is only a political move !
– I am glad to believe that in this House the honorable member for Cook is the only man who would make an observation of that kind.
– A number of others believe as Ido.
– So far, we have kept mere partyism out of this great question.
– What about the Dreadnought - is that a party matter ?
– The honorable member ought to know that I have been talking about the Dreadnought for a long time. We shall also require a Bill–
– Suppose we move that the question be now put?
- Mr. Speaker, I ask that these interjections shall cease.
– I must ask honorable members to. refrain, not only from inter rupting, but from carrying on conversations across the chamber. These are very disturbing to the honorable member addressing the Chair; and, perhaps, I may be pardoned for saying that when a statement like that of the Minister is being made, it should receive the attention its importance deserves.
– In addition to a Bill to provide the funds, we shall require one similar to the Act in force in the Royal Navy, with like regulations. There will, first of all, be the training of the Australian personnel to be looked to, and. for this purpose we shall require a naval college for officers. If we are to have effective co-operation with the Royal Navy, our officers must be interchangeable, and subscribe to the same standard of efficiency - they must be subject to identical training, with an equal standard of qualification in corresponding ranks. By that I mean that a lieutenant here must be equal to a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and so with a captain; and if we are to have an Australian Admiral, as I hope we may, he must be equal to an Admiral of the imperial Navy.
Motion (by Mr. Webster) proposed -
That the Minister of Defence be not further heard.
Question put; and division called for.
– I appoint the honorable member for Gwydir and the honorable member for Hindmarsh tellers for the Ayes, and the honorable member for Bourke and the honorable member for Dal ley tellers for the Noes.
– I desire to be relieved of the duty of teller, Mr. Speaker.
– Then I appoint the honorable member for Cook teller for the Ayes.
– I also desire to be excused, Mr. Speaker.
– I ask the honorable member for Batman to act as a teller for the Ayes.
Question - That the Minister of Defence be not further heard - put. The House divided.
Majority … … 35
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I move-
That the Minister of Defence be not further heard.
– Are you bound, sir, to accept these motions ? I do not think so.
– Order ! The question is - “ That the honorable the Minister be not further heard.”
The House divided.
Majority … … 33
Question so resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Mr. Joseph Cook) put -
That the question be now put.
A division being called for, and honorable members proceeding to divide,
– I hope that honorable members will now allow me to proceed.
– After what has occurred, I will move the closure on the honorable member if no one else does.
– I move the motion. I shall decline to proceed, in the circumstances.
.- I desire to move the adjournment of the debate.
– I move -
That the question be now put.
– Does the Prime Minister agree to that?
Question - That the question be now put - put. The House divided.
Majority … … 14
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question put, and division called for.
Dr. Maloney. - Yes
– If the honorable member for Darwin declines to act.I appoint the honorable member for Kennedy a teller for the Noes. Will the honorable member act?
Question - That this House approves the new scheme of naval defence adopted at the recent Imperial Conference, and is of opinion that immediate steps should be taken to provide the proposed Australian unit of the Eastern Fleet of the Empire - put. The House divided.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 19th November, vide page 6140) :
Proposed new clause (Mr. Bamford’s) further considered - 28B. After section one hundred and seventyeight of the Principal Act the following section is inserted : - 178A. Subsequent to the day of nomination and until after polling day any newspaper may print and publish the speech of any candidate, but if my newspaper shall print and publish the speech of any candidate, such paper shall also print and publish the speech of every candidate, and shall give equal space and prominence to each, but shall not comment in any way upon any such speech during the period aforesaid, and shall not, in its leading columns or otherwise, advocate any policy or party or in any way attempt to influence the vote of any elector.
Penalty : Five hundred pounds or six months.
Upon which Mr. O’Malley had moved -
That the proposed new clause be amended by the addition of the following words: - “Any person wilfully disturbing a public meeting shall be liable to six months in gaol with hard labour without the option of a fine.”
.- The honorable member for Herbert, who proposed this new clause, has, at my request, consented to its withdrawal.
Proposed new clause negatived.
– I move -
That the following new clause be inserted : -
After section one hundred and seventeen of the Principal Act the following section is inserted : - 117A. The Returning Officer shall during the progress of an election and on its completion cause to be exhibited in a public place prescribed, a list with addresses of persons to whom postal vote certificates and postal ballotpapers have been issued.
Postal voting and the extent to which it lends itself to improper practices have already been fully debated.I think that the new clause I propose would tend to minimize the abuses of the system. It would not involve any real addition to the work of Divisional Returning Officers, because under the existing Act they are obliged to make out such lists for issue to each of their subordinate officers. All that I ask is that, in addition to making out these lists for the information of their subordinate officers, the Divisional Returning Officers shall see that copies of them are exhibited in a public place. Under the existing Act the lists which are now made out are accessible to the public, but only on personal application to the Returning Officers. Those officers have a multiplicity of duties to perform during the few days preceding an election, and it is often most difficult for people who wish to examine the lists to get access to them. Their exhibition in a public place would overcome that difficulty, and, in my opinion, would check some abuses of the postal-voting system.
Question - That the proposed new clause be inserted - put. TheCommittee divided.
Ayes … … … 16
Noes … … … 29
Majority … … 13
Proposed new clause negatived.
– Having regard to the temper of the Committee, it seems almost useless to propose amendments designed to perfect the Bill. The Government, apparently, are determined to. resist every amendment submitted from this side. However, I move -
That the following new clause be inserted : - “31A. After section one hundred and ninety- one of the Principal Act the following section is inserted : - “ 191A. For the purposes of this part of this
Act, the Chief Electoral Officer of the Commonwealth, and under him the Commonwealth Electoral Officer of a State, shall investigate all bona fide complaints of breaches of the law and take action to enforce the penalties prescribed for offences under this Act.”
I propose that this provision shall be inserted in that part of the principal Act which sets forth a number of offences, and provides for the punishment of offenders by way of fine or imprisonment. Acting on the opinion of a former Attorney General, the Department has laid down the principle that it is no part of its duty to seek to secure the enforcement of penalties in respect of a number of offences under the Act. Electors who have complained of breaches of the Act, and have submitted evidence in support of their complaints, have received from the Department replies to the effect that it is no part of its duty to enforce these provisions; that the persons concerned must take action. The result of this is that many of the sections dealing with offences have become practically a dead letter. I hold that it was the intention of the Legislature,, in passing them, that the Department should be charged with the duty of seeing that the Act w.as properly observed; that it should investigate complaints, and, if necessary, take, action to enforce the penalties for which provision is made. In many cases that has not been done. Let me cite a case which occurred in mv own electorate. At the last general election there were distributed . a number of libellous handbills, which, in. contravention of the law, neither gave the authority on which they were issued, nor bore the imprint of the printer. A number of gentlemen in my electorate forwarded, through me, copies of these circulars to the Department, and invited it to take action to vindicate its own legislation. They received a reply to the effect that it was no part of the duty of the Department to initiate proceedings in such cases ; that the matter was a private one, and that, as it seemed to affect me, I should be asked to set in motion the machinery of the law. That to my mind was a most improper stand for the Department to take. One of the principal reasons why that part of the Act which deals with offences has been ineffective, and, I daresay, will be more ineffective, is this attitude of the Electoral Department. This proposed new clause will place upon the officers of the Department the responsibility of taking action to enforce penalties for violation of the law. I am utterly at a loss to account for the attitude which, the Department has hitherto taken in regard to this matter. It is contrary to everything that has been done in respect of other legislation. It is because the Department has shielded itself in this way that the law has in many cases been infringed. I feel impelled, therefore, to ask the Committee to place in this Bill a direction that the officers of the Department shall take action to investigate all bond fide complaints and, if a violation of the law is disclosed, that they shall institute proceedings against the offenders.
– With all respect to the honorable member for Calare, I submit that there is no necessity for this proposed new clause. The honorable member has hardly put the position of the Department fairly before the Committee.
– I have put it as I know it.
– I do not make that statement with any desire to be offensive, and I think that after the honorable member has heard my explanation, he will come to the conclusion that he is slightly mistaken as to the attitude actually taken up by the Department. He has referred to the distribution of libellous handbills in his own constituency, and has said that in that case the Department shielded itself behind an opinion given by the Attorney-General of the day. As a matter of fact, however, the identity of the offender was not disclosed. Surely the honorable member .does not think that the Electoral Department should be constituted a tremendous detective machine, and that its officers should be kept running all over the Commonwealth in an effort to locate offenders against the Act.
– When it is disclosed that an offence has been committed the Department should take action.
– But if the identity of the. offender is not disclosed, does the Minister say that the Department should take no action ?
– How can it take action if it does not know who is the offender?
– Surely the Department could ask the police authorities to investigate complaints of breaches of the law ?
– In all cases where a bond fide complaint’ has reached the Department it has been forwarded to the Crown Law authorities, and in many cases a prosecution has taken place. The Department already investigates complaints as to breaches of the Act, and all bond fide cases are forwarded to the Crown Law authorities. Wherever there is justification for a prosecution, the Crown Law Office proceeds against the offender. We should require a tremendous staff of officers to carry out the honorable member’s proposal. So far from the position having been fairly put by the honorable member, the fact is that in Victoria there have been five prosecutions for breaches of the Act.
– In one of them the VicePresident of the Women’s National League at Geelong was prosecuted.
– I do not know whether that is so. There have been five prosecutions in Victoria, three offenders were convicted, one was committed for trial, and one was discharged. In New South Wales three prosecutions have taken place, and in each case the offenders were convicted. In South Australia there has been one prosecution and one conviction. These circumstances evidence that so far from the proposal of the honorable member being necessary, the Department is already doing all that it’ can to punish those who commit breaches of the law. I submit, therefore, that there is no necessity for the insertion in the Bill of the proposed new clause.
– I submit that the Minister of Home Affairs has not touched the position at all. He says that the Act provides certain penalties for certain offences, but he adds that the Department will give effect to its provisions only when a breach of the law and the identity of the offender have been revealed. That is not the practice which is adopted by other Departments. For instance, if the Customs authorities have reason to believe that the Customs Act is being infringed they at once act on the information supplied to them and endeavour to locate the offender. Otherwise, the provisions of the Customs Act would become a dead letter. But here the Minister, upon receiving information that an infringement of the Electoral Act has taken place, refuses to send the complaint on to the Crown Law authorities unless the identity of the offender has been disclosed. I say that when information is forthcoming that a breach of the Act has been committed it is his duty to refer the matter to the authorities for their investigation, and to endeavour to ascertain who is the offender.
– There is no clause of this character in the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act.
– No, because the Department does not need a clause of this kind. If it can be shown that a breach of the Act has been committed it is the duty of the Department to at once institute proceedings with a view to ascertaining who is responsible for it. But the Minister says in effect - “ We will not take action until you have discovered the offender.
When you have located him we will institute proceedings against him.” I say that the whole of our legislative enactmentswould become a dead letter if other Departments acted in the manner in which the Electoral Department is acting. That is why I wish to throw upon it the responsibility which is shouldered by other Departments of vindicating its own legislation.
– We send all bond fidecomplaints to the Crown Law authorities.
– But there issomething which the Minister should dobefore he sends those complaints along. He should use the machinery of Government to determine who is the offender. It is the duty of the Department to assist the people to discover who is the offender.
– Surely it is the duty of the people to assist the Department?
– The people are willing to assist the Department, but the Department refuses to be assisted. In the case to which I previously alluded the Department wrote informing me that it was no part of their duty to institute proceedings, and that if I were aggrieved I should take action. I regard that as a gratuitousinsult. It was an attempt by the Department to lay upon me a duty which did not properly attach to me, and to shirk responsibility itself. I trust that in the immediate future the policy of the Department will be changed, and that it will take the samesteps as other Departments take to vindicate its legislation. If the Minister .is not prepared to do that, I hope that the Committee will place on the Department the onus of doing what I propose.
.- As the Minister has announced his opposition to the insertion of the proposed new clause, I recognise that there is no chance of it being carried. But I think that the Department should take action whenever complaints of breaches of the law are submitted to it.
– It does. It investigates them, and if a fair case is made out the complaints are sent along to the Crown Law authorities.
– Then the Minister must have assumed that the case brought under the notice of the Department by the honorable member for Calare was not a bond fide one. As the Department declined to investigate his complaint, obviously it did not regard it as a bond fide one.
– The Department acted om the advice of the Attorney-General.
– The party with which the Minister is associated were in office at the time. I trust that if the honorable gentleman is in office at the forthcoming general elections he will see that the provisions of the Act are properly carried out. What is the use of prescribing penalties for offences if we do not impose them ? As a matter of fact, a number of persons have declared their willingness to subscribe £1,000 to defray the expenses of a candidate to fight the honorable member for Wannon.
– In what way is the Act being broken?
– Section 175 of the Principal Act says -
promises, or offers, or suggests any valuable consideration, advantage, recompense, reward, or benefit for or on account of any candidature, or withdrawal of candidature, or any vote or omission to vote, or any support of, or opposition to, any candidate, or any promise of any such vote, omission, support, or opposition : Shall be guilty of bribery..
These persons have distinctly stated their willingness to subscribe a certain sum of money for the purpose of “downing” a Labour man. If our Electoral Act is to be properly administered, I hold that these persons who are infringing its provisions should be prosecuted. I should like to see a term of imprisonment substituted for the cash penalty which is prescribed in connexion with certain offences. A few months in gaol would do men like Mr. Ritchie and some other Western District squatters an immense amount of good. In my opinion the Department should closely investigate the accounts of the expenditure incurred by candidates. If the Act is to be reduced to a farce, the sooner we know it the better. The Minister has told us how many prosecutions have taken place in Victoria and in the other States, but he omitted to tell us that in one of these prosecutions, the Vice-President of the Women’s National League at Geelong was fined £5 for a most flagrant breach of the law. The attention of the officials had to be directed to her case by members of the public. As the honorable member for Calare has pointed out, whenever the Customs Department is informed that the Customs Act is being infringed, it at once takes action. It will investigate almost any complaint that is made to it. The Electoral Department should be conducted upon similar lines. Of course, I recognise that the proposal of the honorable member for Calare has no prospect of being carried. The numbers are up. But 1 do trust that the Minister will take action in all cases in which complaints are made as to breaches of the law.
– That is being done now, in the absence of this clause.
– Only in isolated cases.
– It is done by the Commonwealth Government quite as much as it is done by the States.
– But our Electoral Act is very different from the State Electoral Acts. The latter do not impose any limitation upon the expenditure which a Parliamentary candidate may incur. We profess to do so, but our profession is absolutely a sham. Under existing conditions a candidate may spend just what he likes. I do trust that the Minister will take some action in regard to this matter, irrespective of whether the proposed new clause is accepted or rejected.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
.- The purity of elections cannot be secured By the mere specification of offences, and the enactment of accompanying penalties; there must also be a vigorous administration of the electoral law. In regard to many electoral offences, it would be’ very difficult to get individuals to prosecute, or even to give the information necessary for the setting on foot of a prosecution. When a breach of the law is reported to the Electoral Department, as when a breach of the Customs Act is reported to the Customs Department, the police and detective force should be set to work to discover the guilty person, and to take steps to secure his conviction. Offences under the Electoral Act will not be punished if we throw on private individuals the onus of giving the necessary information, and thereby disclosing their identity. It has surprised me to hear it said during the debate that returns of expenditure by candidates are made which are not correct. If the provision which limits the expenditure of candidates to a certain sum is to be complied with, the Department must closely investigate all returns, and, where it thinks that untrue statements have been made, should prosecute the person making them, without regard to the fact that he is a successful or unsuccessful candidate. I see no objection to the amendment of the honorable member for Calare, but, as the Minister has declined to accept it, it will not be agreed to, because, although there are very few on the Ministerial side of the Chamber now, should the division bells be rung, Government supporters would troop in, and, without knowing the merits of the proposal, and caring less, would vote with the Minister against it. I hope that if the present Minister remains in power after the next election, as I suppose he will, steps’ will be taken to vigorously enforce the provisions of the law.
– I have had a good deal of experience in connexion with the enforcement of the electoral law, and spent a considerable sum on lawyers in fighting a case in Tasmania. By so doing, one only makes bad blood. Some persons do things during the excitement of an election which they would not do at other times, and think that when the contest is over, nothing should be said about them. Six years ago the returning officer at Penguin let fifty persons vote who were not on the roll. He claimed to have the right to read the Act upside down, and all those who so voted cast their votes against me.
– The Committee should allow us to pass the Bill quickly, so that there may be time before the next election to properly instruct all those concerned in the administration of the electoral law.
– By reason of the interlocking of the paramount power of the Commonwealth with the subordinate power of the States, the police have to see that the laws of the Commonwealth, as well as those of the States, are carried out. They are the police of the nation, not of any one State. When an individual breaks a law, he is, as a general rule, arrested by the police, without it being necessary for a private person to lay a complaint against him. Offenders against the electoral law, whether of the Commonwealth or of the State, should be similarly treated. Private individuals should not have to bear the expense of prosecuting offenders under it. To do so might cost hundreds of pounds, because once the law is set in motion there is no telling where the proceedings will end, so that the party concerned might lose his whole estate in lawyers’ fees. I agree with the honorable member for Gippsland that something should be done to secure the more vigorous enforcement of the electoral law, and, in my opinion, the amendment does what is necessary.
.- If the Government is earnest in its desire that the electoral law should be properly administered it will accept some such amendment as that proposed by the honorable member for Calare, which requires the Department to take action against offenders under it.
– The Department does so now.
– Only in certain cases.
– When bona fide cases are brought before it it sends them on to the Crown Law office. I gave instances in which that has been done, and convictions secured.
– But an informer has to prove a person guilty before the Department will move.
– That is the trouble. The complainant has practically to make out a prima facie case before the Department will move, whereas the onus of action should be on the Department. Whenever a complaint is lodged the Department should investigate it.
– The Department investigates every statement of facts put before it.
– In several cases mentioned by the honorable member for Calare that was not done, the Department referring the complainants to the Crown Law office. It is not in the interest of purity of elections that complainants should be required to practically prove their cases before the Department will take action. The Bill ought to provide that the Department must take action to setin motion its penal provisions whenever the law hasbeen broken. The Minister might well accept the amendment, or some similar provision for giving effect to the desire of the Committee. No party interest is concerned in this matter. What we wish is that the law shall be properly carried out. It is difficult, especially for poor persons, to substantiate charges sufficiently to get the Crown Law authorities to take action. The Department should have no option in this matter. Whenever an offence against the Act is committed it should, on its own initiative, proceed against the offender.
– Does the honorable member think that the Department should prosecute whenever a case is laid before it?
– It should investigate all cases, and take action where necessary.
– That has been done whenever there has been reasonable ground for doing so.
– I understand from what the honorable member for Calare said that in some cases the Department has alleged that it had not the power to proceed against offenders, or that the complaints ought to be laid before some other Department. I understand from the AttorneyGeneral that the Customs law contains no such provision as that which the honorable member for Calare wishes to insert ; but that is not a good reason for declining to put the onus of action in these cases on the Electoral Department. The proper conduct of elections is at the base of our democratic institutions. I ask the Minister, therefore, to try to meet the views of honorable members by inserting in the Bill a provision which will place the onus of action on the Department. No doubt the present Minister will do all in his power, to secure compliance with the law, but his successors may not view their obligations in the same light, and to provide against such a contingency, the law should require the Department to proceed in every case in which a complaint, has been made, and an investigation shows that an offence has been committed.
– The proposed amendment really directs the Electoral Department to do certain things, and is too wide to be adopted. Generally, when an offence against public order or some statute has been committed, and a prima facie case is made out, the Crown prosecutes; but it is difficult for a Department to discover every offence, especially under the electoral law. For instance, advertisements are published all over Australia, some of them without compliance with the provisions which require the publication of the name of the publisher; but it would be impossible for the Department to find out every such case. It has to wait until such offences are reported to it. Then there are technical offences in which it might not, perhaps, be advisable to prosecute^ I should be sorry to have to prosecute in all cases of mistakes honestly made under the Old-age Pensions Act, to which the same principle applies. Though technically there may be some breach, it would be positively cruel to prosecute; and it would be inadvisable to have the proposed specific instruction in the Bill. Under section 206c of the Electoral Act there is an offence connected with the defamation of candidates, and surely that is a private offence?
– Such an offence is not contemplated in the amendment.
– There are offences of that class, and I. think it would.be better if the Committee were content with the assurance that prosecution shall ensue in any bona fide case. I understand that the honorable member for Calare said that sometimes the States were consulted, or their co-operation sought in regard to prosecutions ?
– No; but the police and detective forces of the States are used by the Federal authorities.
– They are not used except an offence is committed, and then they are bound under the Constitution to help; but matters are only remitted to the States when the case, originally thought to be Federal, turns out to be a State one.
– If there are offences under the Act in which the police have to take action, surely the State Departments are available to the Commonwealth?
– But the State Departments are not asked to make investigations and prepare cases, and there is no Act which contains a provision of the kind. The Inter-State Commission Bill, now before the Senate, provides that, where a public body, like the Commission itself, finds that an offence has been committed, the Attorney-General shall prosecute, and there is a similar provision in the English Act, in regard to the offences within the cognisance of the Board of Trade; but there is no general provision that in all cases a prosecution must ensue.
– That is not sought in the amendment.
– But that is what the amendment practically amounts to. I am not attacking the wording of the proposal, but the principle, as giving a direction. At present the Department ought to prosecute where there is a prima facie case. I have looked into the matter, and I do not think there is any remissness on the part of the Electoral Department of the Commonwealth, as compared with similar Departments in the States.
– The plausible plea of the Attorney-General practically is, “ Please leave the administration to prosecute as it thinks fit,” and it mav be further refined into, “ Please leave the administration for the time being to prosecute its political enemies, and let its political friends go free.” We had an illustration yesterday that the law is not enforced if it be a question of “saving the face” of a political friend. We have had distinct breaches of the law in which the administration has been so peculiarly sympathetic that the culprits have escaped, and we do not want similar cases in the future. The Attorney-General knows that, in connexion with postal voting, corruption has taken place. Persons who are otherwise honest seem to lose all their honour at election time, and to do things which, in ordinary ‘life or business, they would view with scorn and horror. Some breaches of the law result from over-zealousness, too much enthusiasm, or strong party views; but we know that men of education, commercial knowledge, and ability do not hesitate to break the electoral law, and to secretly gloat over the fact that they are able to do so. The Attorney-General ought not to plead that the administration should be free to permit such offenders to escape.
– I never made any such plea.
– But that is what the plea of the Attorney-General practically amounts to. The amendment is sufficiently wide to leave the administration free not to take action unless it chooses. In the first place, there has to be a bond fide complaint ; in the second place, that complaint has to be thoroughly investigated without prejudice; and, thirdly, the Administration need not, unless the circumstances justify it, take further action. There is nothing mandatory in the clause - it does not say that any person committing a breach of the law by accident or otherwise shall necessarily be punished. Even if a case reaches the Court, no punishment may follow ; and, under the circumstances, there will be no harassing of electors, and no trivial inquiries. All will be done impartially. It is in connexion with the postal voting that we find most of these unfair and corrupt practices; andI think the Minister of Home Affairs will be well advised to accept, not necessarily a mandatory clause, but some provision that will operate as ?. check.
.- The position of the Minister is practically - “ There are certain offences in which we shall take action and prosecute ; but, first of all, we must be informed, not only what the offences are, but also who are the offenders, and if, with the evidence before us, we consider a case has been made out, we shall submit it to the Crown Law authorities, who, if they think there is a prima facie case, may place the matter in the hands of those whose duty it is to take action.” Apparently, the Electoral Department considers itself as merely a sort of machine for the purpose of registering complaints and passing them on to the Crown Law Department. It is no part of the duty of the Crown Law Department to discover either offences or offenders, but simply to deal with dry matters of law. and, on the evidence submitted, advise whether there should be a prosecution. It. is before that stage is reached that my amendment will operate, and place the Electoral Department in a position to arm itself with additional facts for the proper submission of a case to the Crown Law authorities. Under similar circumstances, the other Departments take action on their own initiative. In the Postal and other. Departments, if an offence is disclosed, the machinery at hand is used to discover who the offender is, and that having been done the papers are sent on to the Crown Law Office for advice. The Electoral authorities take up their present position because of an opinion expressed by a previous AttorneyGeneral - who is a member of the present Government - that there is nothing in the Act which places the onus of investigation on the Department. I again point out, however, that the other Departments do not require specific legislation to cause them to recognise their duty. I am not the only one who has made complaints, because there is also the honorable member for Herbert; and the Departmental reply that he received is practically identical with that sent to me. We may reasonably assume, therefore, that that reply discloses the principle and practice of the Department ; and, that being so, I now propose an amendment providing that it shall be part of the duty of the Department to institute investigations in bond fide cases. If, as I say, we are to assume that this is the general policy of the Department, has it to be applied only to certain members, and not to all ? If the Minister maintains that investigations are made, and prosecutions are instituted, by the Department, I desire to know why a line is drawn between myself and the honorable member for Herbert, on the one hand, and honorable members opposite, on the other ?
– I have done nothing of that sort. I have had no case before me to deal with.
– Probably not, but that seems to be the only alternative to the position taken up by those who previously controlled the Department. If the Minister does exercise this power in his administration, then he is doing something which a previous Attorney-General said did not devolve upon the Department, that opinion being taken by the Department as an excuse for not moving in the matter. The law on the subject is very clear. Section 180 lays it down that -
In addition to bribery and undue influence the following shall be illegal practices : -
Any publication of any electoral advertisement hand-bill or pamphlet or any issue of any electoral notice (other than the announcement by advertisement in a newspaper of the holding of a meeting) without at the end thereof the name and address of the person authorizing the same ;
Printing or publishing any printed electoral advertisement hand-bill or pamphlet (other than an advertisement in a newspaper) without the name and place of business of the printer being printed at the foot of it;
Under the table of electoral offences and punishments appears the following -
Distributing any advertisement, hand-bill or pamphlet published in contravention of section one hundred and eighty ; Penalty not exceeding Fifty pounds, or imprisonment not exceeding one month.
The intention of the Legislature, therefore, was that the Department should have complete authority to investigate any breaches of those sections, and that, if such investigation showed that there was a case for the Crown Law Department, it should be submitted to it, and a prosecution instituted against the guilty person if the advice of the Crown Law Officers favoured that course. That is the only way in which the Act could be vindicated. It is the only way in which every Act of this Parliament which provides for penalties and punishments for offences against it is vindicated. It is simply because the Department has taken up an attitude different from that of every other Department that I wish to have this clause inserted, placing upon the officers of the Department the obligation which, upon the authority of a previous AttorneyGeneral’s opinion, they deny rests upon them. If the present position of the Department is as the Minister states, what objection is there to carrying the clause? If, on the other hand, the Department propose to continue the policy which they have so far adopted, the clause is very necessary. It is wide, and in no way man datory. I trust the Minister will allow it, as it is a machinery proposal pure and simple, to be included in this machinery Bill. The only legitimate reason that he could have for objecting to it would be that he wanted to take up the position that has been occupied by the Department in refusing to exercise the obligations placed upon it by the law. I hope he will seriously consider the clause, and that, even if he will not accept it, the good sense of the Committee will stand By it.
.- I hardly think it necessary to say much more on the subject after the able way in which the honorable member for Calare has stated the case.
– I stated the other side as well as I could.
– There are two sides to the matter; and it appears to me that the Minister is standing upon very weak ground. The Minister claimed that he had the power.
– And have exercised it.
– Yes, after the Department had been urged on by some one pointing out the culprit.
– No; when they have had a ‘bond fide case brought before them.
– By whom?
– By anybody who likes to bring it along.
– What would the Department call a bond fide case on which to take action?
– Ask me something easy.
– Why does the Minister object to this proposal, which merely makesit obligatory on the Department to take action, as all other Departments do, where the law has been broken?
– Is there any such provision in the other laws ?
– The provisions of other laws have not been overruled by an opinion of the Attorney-General as in this case. The honorable member for Calare desires to remove an obstacle placed in the way of even-handed justice, by an opinion given by the Attorney-General in a previous Government.
– Does the honorable member object to the action of a Minister whom he was supporting?
– It is an old gag of the honorable member for North Svdney, and about the only unfair phase of his attitude in this Chamber, that, when he is lost for an argument, he turns round, and says, “ This was done by a Minister whom you supported,” as if we were responsible for every administrative act of a Minister whom we were supporting on his general policy and platform. I care not by what Minister, or in what Government, it was done. The House must see that the purport and intention of the .law is carried out, and not frustrated by the ipse dixit of any AttorneyGeneral. The Minister says that action has been taken, and cases have been heard.
– I quoted a number of cases in which convictions were secured.
– But how many cases which ought to have been dealt with by the Department have not been dealt with? In how many cases, where it was the duty of the Government to trace the culprit, did the Department refuse to act, unless some one else undertook that task? Such a practice means throwing the onus of the administration of the Act on the public, and not on the Department which is charged with it. It is not fair to make every man who feels that the law has been broken a spy or informer with regard to its- administration. That sort of thing is not in accordance with the principles of British justice, and why it should be imported into this branch of the law I cannot understand. But it seems useless to appeal to any Minister in this Government, no matter how important or far-reaching an amendment is, or how unjust to an individual or unfair to the people .the present state of things may be.
– I gave my reasons at length, but the honorable member was not here.
– The honorable member’s reasons are not adequate. He should be open to the reasons of others, as well as to those of his Department. The House has got into such a state that, no matter how important or far-reaching a measure may be, members on this side appeal in vain for reasonable consideration.
– The honorable member blocked a most important matter this morning.
– I simply did what the honorable member did last night. I have no apology to offer. No matter how eloquently, logically, or convincingly a member on this side may put a case affecting a great principle, he can get no redress from the Government at this stage of the history of the Federal Parliament. I have been here when great questions have been considered, and the Ministry of the day, no matter how wedded they were to their proposals, were always open to listen to the reasoning of men on the other side, who had no axe to grind, and whose only desire was to make the law as perfect as possible.
– I have no axe to grind in this matter.
– In this case we are bound by an opinion given by an AttorneyGeneral intervening since the original law was passed, and practically undermining the equities of that law. If Demosthenes himself, or the greatest man that the world has ever seen, were here - men who would shake ordinary men to their very foundations - their pleadings would have no effect on the Ministers who now take charge of measures in this House. - Parliamentary Government under present conditions, as illustrated by the treatment of this clause, is becoming practically a nightmare. Ministers evidently no longer recognise the responsibilities attached to the administration of laws. They, turn a deaf ear to the appeals of men who have had cases under their own observation, simply because those appeals are in opposition to the opinion of the Department. The officers of the Department admit that in the administration of this law they have no option but to wait until some one comes along with a culprit, saying, “ I have caught him in the act; prosecute him.” Apparently there is no duty on the part of the Government to seek out the wrong-doer; no obligation on the part of the Department to see that the law is fairly and squarely administered. No; that must be left to the public! If that were the position in regard to breaches of other laws, it would be unnecessary to employ policemen and detectives to maintain order and good government. Are offenders under this legislation to be free from the punishment which is meted out to persons who break other laws? Are we to make exemptions whereby certain individuals may be able to escape the result of their wrong-doing? Am I to understand that the Minister unwittingly aims at making the law so loose that a person who commits an offence under it may be permitted, because of political or other influence, to escape ?
– All this is mere imagination.
– I think that I have stated the true position. If the Minister, when it is pointed out to him that the law is so loose as to be ineffective, refuses to take cognisance of that warning, and prefers to be guided by the records of his Department, what are we to assume? A law is effective only when it is preventive. When a law is loose, men, knowing that there are loopholes of escape, take advantage of it. The fear of punishment is sufficient to deter the average man from breaking the law. As a matter of fact, most of our laws are more effective in the crimes that they prevent than in respect of the crimes that they punish. Many persons are kept in the path of rectitude because of the fear that if they depart from it they will be punished. We should see that there are as few loopholes as possible in our legislation. I can recall instances in which I have shown that a provision in a Bill to which the Minister in charge was wedded was not what it ought to be, and have successfully appealed to him to accept an amendment. I can recall other cases in which, where a Minister has failed to recognise the weakness of a proposal made by him, the Committee itself, being free to exercise its intelligence, has carried an amendment despite his opposition. I have sat in Parliaments in which men have been free to exercise the intelligence which Providence has given them, and to discriminate in important matters affecting the administration of the law.
– Especially after a speech by the honorable member !
– I have done more by a speech than the honorable member has ever done.
– I have never attempted to approach the honorable member’s achievements in that regard.
– If I chose, I could reply in caustic terms, and could humiliate the Minister, but I have no desire to do so.
– It is open to the honorable member to attempt to do so if he desires.
– I shall, at some other time. At present I am not concerned with the honorable member’s view of the way in which I address myself to any public question, but I may say that, in conducting a case before a Court, I have won more approbation than the honorable member, despite his legal training, has ever won. Surely the Minister is not to be allowed to play these little tiddlywinking tricks because of the prejudice against Labour men, or the solid phalanx behind him. In all deliberativeassemblies men should be free to use their intelligence. If that were the position in this Committee, this amendment would not be defeated. Important proposals have been submitted from this side by honorable members quite as intelligent and as clever in reasoning as the Minister is, but they have been rejected by honorable members opposite. Honorable members of the Opposition appeal again and again to honorable members opposite to consider important amendments, but they might as well talk to the walls. The ears of honorable members opposite are deaf to our entreaties. They are not open to conviction. They have sealed up their powers of observation and discrimination, and are absolutely clogged by the machine that is unfortunately governing politics in this Parliament to-day.
– Order ! Can the honorable member connect these remarks with the question before the Chair ?
– I can. I say that the attitude of the Department is part of the machine. If the Department will not administer the law and make it effective - if it allows certain offenders to escape - it is a party to the crime. It is not merely conniving at, but encouraging, a breach of the law. I hope that this proposed new clause will be pressed to a division, because it is founded upon what the honorable member for Calare believes to be just and equitable and in the best interests of the Department. I shall leave the Minister to be guided by the Attorney-General, who, when attacked just now, left the Chamber, and has not returned to reply I leave him to be guided also by the opinions of previous Attorneys-General, and by the dry and musty records of his Department. Having gathered knowledge from those sources, he may use his own judgment in determining whether or not electors shall be compelled to prosecute persons for violating an Act which he, in his present position, ought to have the courage to administer.
.- I am surprised that the Minister of Home Affairs should oppose this proposed new clause. It is usual for the responsible Department to bring to justice those who break the law. Why should we make an exception in the case of offences under the Electoral Act ?
– Does not the Chief Electoral Officer investigate complaints at the present time?
– He makes only a partial investigation. I understand from those who have been personally interested in cases such as have been brought before the Minister during this debate that the Department throws upon the complainant the responsibility of discovering the offender. That is not a proper attitude for it to adopt. Where there is prima facie evidence that the law has been broken, surely the Crown Law Department should endeavour to trace the offenders and have them punished? That is such a reasonable proposition that I am unable to understand why the Minister is not prepared to indorse it. If we declare that in respect of offences under the Electoral Act there shall be vested in private individuals an authority which under other laws is exercised by the Crown Law Department, we shall institute an entirely new set of conditions. Why should a person who violates the Electoral Act, and so, perhaps, corrupts an election, be allowed to escape punishment? The Minister must have very strong reasons to justify his determination to withhold the assistance of the Crown Law Department from those who desire that offenders under the Electoral Act shall be brought to book. I thought that the wisdom of this proposed new clause would commend itself to honorable members opposite, notwithstanding that it was submitted by a member of the Opposition.
– Did the honorable member really believe that?
Mr.F RAZER. - I thought that in certain circumstances even the antipathy exhibited by honorable members opposite towards the Opposition would not be allowed to run away with their judgment. I do not know whether the Minister will be supported by his colleagues in his opposition to this proposed new clause.
– Let us go to a division, and see.
– I hope for his sake that we shall not have last night’s degrading spectacle repeated, he being on one side and all his colleagues onthe other. If the Government think that persons who break the law should be allowed to go unscathed, it is for them to say so.
– That is not our opinion.
– What objection can there be to the insertion of a provision which will require the Crown Law Department to prosecute whenever a prima facie case of an infraction of the law has been brought before it?
– Ministers object because it is the “ wowsers” who always break the law.
– Does the honorable member propose to give us a definition of the word “ wowsers “ ?
– I should be called to order by the Chairman were I to attempt to do so; but there are members of the Committee who are generally recognised as “ wowsers,” and yet, in my opinion, are the biggest sinners. I did not hear the Minister’s statement of his objection to the proposal. Every other Statute contains a provision of this kind.
– At any rate, the Crown Law officers always accept the responsibility of prosecuting when breaches of any but the electoral law occur. At the present time such an investigation is taking place under the Australian Industries Preservation Act. I admit that the investigation which is proceeding is very slow, and that the discoveries are not what would be made were itmore energetic. According to the honorable members for Calare and Herbert, however, the Department, when informed of breaches of the electoral law, have replied that the responsibility for finding the offenders rests with those laying the complaints.
– That was not under the present Government.
– Does the honorable member take the view that this pure Government will remove all defects of administration ?
– The honorable member has contended that the administration remains always the same.
– The recent alteration has been for the worse. We have no chance of getting from this Government improvements which we could not get from previous Governments. Unless Ministers are prepared to be branded as friends of those who break the law, they must support this provision for the punishment of those who break it.
.- I have had some experience of breaches of the electoral law, though perhaps the less said about it the better. On one occasion, although the sworn declarations relating to electoral offences made a big pile, it was difficult to get the Department to act. One of the chief officers concerned, when the matter was being discussed was running about his room, followed by his son, imploring him to be firm, that is, firm in allowing the Act to be broken. I have brought offences under the notice of officers on polling day itself, gross violations of the law, but, unfortunately, there seems to be no provision for the taking of immediate action. It is requiring too much of a citizen to ask him to proceed against offenders. We all wish justice to reign supreme, and though sometimes she may be swayed by technical objections, in the main she does so. Citizens shouldhave the right to go to the officer in charge of a subdivision, or to some other officer, to make complaints, and should these be in writing, the Government should take action. Were citizens to take the law into their own hands, we should get back to the procedure of duelling, and other anachronisms which civilization has swept away. If the Minister will not accept the amendment, I ask him to ponder over the matter with a view to determining whether it is fair to place upon citizens the onus of prosecuting offenders under the electoral law. This Parliament is the highest Court we have, and in the sacred name of justice the Government shouldsee that all wrongs against the purity of elections are punished, taking upon itself the onus and expense of the necessary prosecutions.
Question - That the proposed new clause be inserted (Mr. Thomas Brown’s amendment) - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 14
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause negatived.
– I move -
That the following new clause be inserted : - 31 A. After section one hundred and eightytwo DD of the Principal Act the following section is inserted : - “182E. (1) Any person who at any public meeting to which this section applies acts in a disorderly manner for the purpose of preventing the transaction of the business fur which the meeting is held shall be guilty of an offence against this Act.
Penalty : Five pounds or one month’s imprisonment.
This section applies to any lawful public political meeting held in relation to any election of members of the Parliament, between the date of the issue of the writ for the election and the date of the return of the writ.
The reasons I ask the Minister to accept this amendment are very simple. This is a constitutional Commonwealth, regulated by law, resting on reason, and guided, more or less, by publicopinion. In order to ascertain public opinion, every candidateis entitled to be heard, and the public are entitled to hear every candidate. In a nation where the people are the governors and the governed, if a few - and these representing a sort of organized hoodlumism - can prevent a candidate from speaking, the whole community is deprived of hearing that candidate. If there is one thing dear to the heart of the true Australian, it is the right of free speech - that priceless jewel of progressive Democracy ! - and those who would destroy free speech are savages, whether they belong to one side or the other. When a candidate takes a hall and advertises a meeting, he becomes a host who has invited the public to be his guests for a couple of hours. If the guests are not satisfied with the bill of fare put before them, they ought to put their hats on and go home, or to a “pub,” where they can enjoy themselves at theirown expense. It seems extraordinary that guests should, as i were, come to a man’s home, and, because they are not satisfied with the entertainment, try to wreck the house or prevent other guests from enjoying themselves. A few men, who are not voters, and have no interest whatever in the contest, except that arising from the fact that they are organized as a gang to break up a meeting, can do no end of mischief, and the two great; political parties are blamed for that over which they have no control.
– Would the honorable member apply the amendment to Parliament ?
– I am perfectly willing to do so. Unless we have some provision under which the chairman of a public meeting is empowered to compel disturbers to leave, or to have them arrested, free speech will become a thing of the past in some parts of Australia. I have no desire to see people imprisoned, as the suffragettes are in England, and fed through the nostrils with tubes - that is savagery - but we do desire to hold our public meetings where and when we will, without their being broken up by certain persons simply .because they do not like the views of the candidates addressing them.
– The honorable member “for Darwin was good enough to intimate to me that he intended to submil this amendment, and it has been drafted in its present form by the AttorneyGeneral. “Honorable, members, I am sure, indorse the remarks of the honorable member as to the right of the people to hear candidates, and of candidates to put their views before the public. We are all in favour of free speech ; and, under the circumstances, I have pleasure in supporting the amendment.
.- I am quite in favour of the amendment ; but the question occurs to me whether we have power to enforce such a law. The Commonwealth has no control over the police, who would, of course, have to be called upon in the last resort. In Victoria, and in some of the other States, there are similar laws in operation ; and those, I suggest, might meet the case. I should like to hear what the AttorneyGeneral has to say on the point I have raised, because there is a possibility that the amendment, if carried, would remain a dead letter. Personally, I am very reluctant to have any one removed from my meetings, because I would rather be a martyr myself than make any one else a martyr. As a matter of fact, little disturbances of the kind suit me, because I usually find that those who raise them end by voting for me. The disturbers are mostly unreasonable men, and, indeed, sometimes women, because at the last election I was followed about by a shrill- voiced old lady, who gave me much annoyance.
– The police of the States, under the Constitution, may be called upon to enforce the Commonwealth laws.
– In that case, my objection falls to the ground.
– I regret that the Minister has decided to accept this amendment. I realize that it is not of much use debating the matter, because the decision of the Minister practically settles the question. My experience is that the majority at a public meeting may be very well trusted to take care of themselves. If we hope to make politics more interesting and intelligible by holding public meetings on the plan of a Dorcas society we are making a great mistake.
– A candidate is entitled to be heard, surely?
– Quite so; but at the present time, the chairman of a public meeting has full power to quell any disturbance.
– In one place the control of my meeting was taken from me and I was thrown off the platform.
– Probably that is why the honorable member is here now, because it is such conduct that creates resentment against the disturbers and gains support for the ill-used candidate. The amendment will not result in free speech being any better preserved than it is now; but we may find that a man who proposes to vote against the party in office is, on the charge of creating a disturbance, placed in gaol over election day.
– Not if he behaves himself.
– It all depends on what the honorable member means by “ behaves himself.”
– I certainly do not mean disturbing public meetings.
– It is not to be expected that in times of political excitement everybody will keep quiet; and, if the matter be left to the determination of some chairmen we have known, or to some policemen we have known, it will be found that ideas of good behaviour vary very materially.
– What about the throwing of rotten eggs?
– Under the present law I have known a man arrested and punished for throwing eggs at a candidate. In my opinion, the amendment will only place a further weapon in the hands of the party in power, with the result that, if it be used or abused, the number of electors may be slightly reduced. Honorable members may laugh, but in a country town, my supporters were enthusiastic enough to collect 35s. on an election day in order to release a man from gaol, so that he might vote for me. That is the kind of enthusiasm that has sent me here; and I rejoice at the fact. The greatest difficulty we have in obtaining an intelligent judgment on public questions, is that fifty out of every hundred people never trouble to attend public meetings.
– Because of the organized rowdyism.
– Perhaps the honorable member has suffered a good deal, but my experience of Victoria leads me to the conclusion that electors who indulge in rowdyism do the worst service for their own candidate. I do not blame the Minister for accepting such amendments if there are honorable members on this side prepared to submit proposals in the interests of the party opposite. Who is to be the judge of what constitutes a, disturbance? Is it suggested that everybody who goes to a meeting ought to sit perfectly quiet? I admit that there is a limit to everything, and if this clause suggested a legitimate limit, it might not be fraught with so much danger. Some honorable members think that the test of a disturbance is preventing a candidate from being heard. No amendment is necessary to meet that sort of thing, because it is already provided against, and can be effectually stopped under the present law.
Colonel Foxton. - In some States.
– In all States the police can put a man out for conduct of that sort.
– Can we have too many precautions ?
– It is many policemen, and not many precautions, that are wanted in a time of trouble of that kind. This clause does not propose to create a single extra policeman for meetings, attended by the unruly crowd to which the honorable member refers, but it strikes at public meetings in a way that surprises me. Does it apply to open-air meetings?
Colonel Foxton.- To all political meetings.
– Then I do not hesitate to say that it is a scandal that it shouldbe supported. Evidently, in future we shall be able to stop a band from playing down a street because a candidate is holding a meeting at one corner, or to have the local Salvation Army thrown into gaol because they are disturbing a political meeting.
– It would be monstrous to do that.
– Yes ; but does this clause enable it to be done?
– No; it does not stop bands, but if a man is trying to speak, and two bands start opposite to him, I think they would have to be shut up.
– It simply means that in future we shall give one man the street. When I see that my opponent is going to speak at one corner of a street, all that I shall have to do will be to get a balcony on the opposite corner and start first, and then have him arrested for disturbing my meeting. We have not been supplied with copies of the clause, but I have now secured a copy, which I shall read. It says, “ Any person who acts in a disorderly manner.” Is playing a band disorderly?
Colonel Foxton. - It may or may not be. That is a matter of fact.
– Would it be disorderly for the Salvation Army to play on the corner of the street opposite to where I am holding a meeting ?
Colonel Foxton. - If they did it with the intention of disturbing the honorable member’s meeting.
– Does the intention make the difference?
Colonel Foxton. - So the clause says.
– I shall merely record my protest against the proposal, for nothing that can be said will make any difference. I extend my sympathy to those hot-house plants who are so likely to be chilled by the fresh air of a little disturbance of the kind that they see at public meetings. I’ have always thought that anything that takes from the interest of an election is a bad thing for the country. The powers that now exist are sufficient for the purpose, and this clause will not do anything to stop that organized opposition to which we all properly object. It will merely be a weapon in the hands of the party in power to coerce an occasional few into silence, and to prevent a reasonable amount of that public discussion which in the past has been of such great service to the community. I do not want to descant at length upon the rights of public meetings, but the listeners as well as those whe are speaking have rights. Their rights are not con- fined merely to sitting dumbly with their eyes and ears open and their mouths shut.
– What do they go there for?
– Anybody who asked the honorable member a question that put him in a corner would be regarded by him as a disorderly person. We have had experience in this House as to when a man becomes disorderly. So long as he is cheering the Ministry, or his interjections are of a character that the speaker on the Ministerial side likes, all is well, but let him ask questions that give trouble, and he becomes disorderly, and must be fired out, and in the circumstances contemplated by this clause he would be fined a five-pound note. I propose to move for the reduction of the fine to one pound, and of the term of imprisonment to a week. I therefore move -
That the proposed new clause be amended by leaving out the word “ Five “ with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ One.”
– Ihave been asked a question regarding the question of jurisdiction. A good deal of care was taken in drafting the clause, with a view to keep within our powers. It deals only with meetings called for electoral purposes. There is an English Act on the point much more drastic than this, because it deals not only withpolitical, but with all public, meetings.
– So it ought.
– I do not take quite the extreme views of some honorable members on the point. Perhaps the honorable member for Werriwa placed a little too much emphasis on his remarks, but there is something to be said for the right of people to indulge in a certain amount of free interjecting, and that has been borne in mind in drafting the clause. If honorable members will look at the amendments of which notice was given, they will see that they involved a far greater limitation upon the power of interjecting or manifesting discontent with a speaker than this clause does, because, unless there is a deliberate attempt to stop the transaction of the business of the meeting, such as was contemplated by some of the English Acts, no conviction is possible under the terms of this clause. But if people go to a public meeting with a view to preventing it being carried on and stopping that free discussion of opinion which is the very essence of electoral freedom
– Cannot they be put out under the law as it stands ?
– I think they can, but we do not want tobe altogether dependent on the States in these matters. ‘ Honorable members are always speaking about protecting the Federal Acts and enforcing prosecutions under them, and this proposal is a lest of the soundness of their professions. At present we are at the mercy of the States, first as regards the character of their legislation, and secondly as regards its enforcement.
– We shall be now; we have no policemen.
– In section 5 of the Constitution it is provided that our laws are binding not only on the States, but on every individual in the Commonwealth. Policemen or no policemen, we have a right to call upon even a member of Parliament to assist in the enforcement of the Commonwealth law. Similarly, under the Judiciary Act there is provision under the powers conferred upon us by the Constitution casting upon State Courts the duty of helping to administer our laws, and also imposing; obligations upon the States under section 120 of the Constitution to make provision for the punishment of offenders against our laws. I have no doubt that if the offence is established we shall find means to mete out the punishment, but it ought to be within our control to say what the character of legislation should be, and whether prosecutions should be initiated or not. It is evident that we are not autonomous if we depend at every point on the character of State legislation and the degree to which if is administered by the State authorities. For that reason, although there is legislation in some of the States, and probably in all, under which far more drastic provisions than these might be enforced as regards public meetings, there ought to be no objection to a clause like this, which requires evidence of a deliberate attempt to prevent the transaction of the business of a meeting. It is not an attempt to prevent people hissing now and then, or indulging in free interjections, and having a little emeute that really does not mean more than a temporary check to the eloquence of the speaker, for it would be tyrannous to step in and prevent men indulging with fair latitude in what may be called “physical remonstrance” against the observations of a speaker.
.. - I agree with the honorable member for Darwin that public meetings should be conducted in a proper and orderly manner, and that anything like concerted action for the purpose of breaking up a meeting or preventing those who convene it or those who attend it from transacting the business in a proper way should be a punishable offence. It is an offence which is punishable in all the States now so far as my knowledge goes. It is in the power of the chairman or the conveners of a meeting to call in the police and order the immediate arrest of persons guilty of conduct of that character. But whilst I agree with the honorable member to that extent, something more is being aimed at by a number of those who are supporting his proposal. I object to candidates for this’ House being given rights and privileges that are denied to the general community. They should not, simply because they happen to be members or wish to become members of this Parliament, be put upon a pedestal and given autocratic powers in the conduct of meetings which are denied to the rest of the community. I do not know that my experience has been exceptional, but I have been in State and Federal politics for fifteen or sixteen years, and during that time have fought election contests as hard as have fallen to the lot of any man. Whilst I have met with interruptions at public meetings, however, I have never yet been subjected to interruptions to which I could take exception to the extent of appealing to the law.
Colonel Foxton. - Could the honorable member’s opponents say the same?
– I am not prepared to say, but my experience is that candidates themselves are largely responsible for interruptions at their meetings.
– That is nonsense.
– It is not; some candidates sometimes speak so egotistically and present statements so wide of the actual facts that self-respecting people who like to hear matters fairly stated from the public platform allow their feelings of resentment to find expression in a manner which constitutes an interruption. In such cases it is not the audience, but the speaker who causes the interruption.
– On one occasion, before I had uttered a word, my meeting was taken from me, the platform was rushed, and I was put outside.
– I have had no such experience. Many interruptions at election meetings are in the nature of questions designed to elicit information or else they are denials of statements made by the candidate.
– Such interruptions would not come underthe proposed new clause.
– They would constitute an interruption of a public meeting.
Colonel Foxton. - But not in a disorderly manner.
– A magistrate might rule that a man who interjected a denial of a statement made by a candidate at an election meeting was guilty of interrupting in a disorderly manner. Such an interruption in a church would be treated as disorderly, and, apparently, the supporters of this proposed new clause would put all political meetings on the same level as a church meeting.
– They should be regarded as even more sacred than a church meeting.
– The honorable member is claiming for politicians a status which I cannot indorse. A politician who is not prepared to stand his ground should not be protected by such a provision as this, and placed in a position superior to that of a clergyman in a pulpit.
– Candidates desire to be able to stand their ground, but many organized obstructionists and ruffians will not allow them to do so.
– Why not apply the principal of this proposal to this House?
– What would be the position if it were applied? Very often interruptions at a public meeting are not the outcome of a preconcerted movement. In many cases the promoter of such interruptions is not actually present. A man who desires to have a meeting broken up may gather a few men together in a neighbouring publichouse, ply them with liquor until they become muddled, and then send them off to the meeting, with the result that interruptions take place.
Colonel Foxton. - That is the strongest possible argument in support of this proposed new clause.
– I do not think it is. Under this provision the person actually responsible for such an interruption would not be punished. I am afraid that it will be put into operation in a very partial way. If a man who is strongly opposed to a candidate makes his presence felt, at a public meeting, to only an infinitesimal degree, as compared with that of others, he will be singled out for punishment. This proposed new clause will be used for party purposes in a vindictive manner, not to preserve free speech, but to vent the spleen of some candidate or politician on a strong opponent. I shall support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Werriwa, because I think that the punishment for which the clause as it stands provides would be too drastic, and should be limited to a reasonable degree.
Question - That the word “ Five” proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed new clause - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 19
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment of the proposed new clause negatived.
Amendment (by Mr. Hall) proposed -
That the proposed new clause be amended by leaving out the word “ month’s “ with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ week’s.”
.- Surely the Minister does not take the view that because a man interjects and thus creates a disturbance at a meeting-
Colonel Foxton. - We object to disorderly conduct at a public meeting.
– Very often the honorable gentleman has not to go far from this Chamber for an exhibition of disorderly conduct.
Honorable Members. - Hear ! hear !
– I am glad that honorable members opposite regard that as a fair interpretation of their conduct. Apparently, they desire to compel audiences to listen to statements which they may know to be untrue.
Colonel Foxton. - Audiences are not compelled to listen ; they can leave.
– The speaker on the platform is not the only person at a political meeting who is entitled to consideration. The man in the audience may hear a speaker whom he knows to have repudiated his election pledges try to mislead his constituents to obtain a new lease of political life, but should he express disapprobation by stamping his feet or interjecting, he may be tossed out of the hall, and fined £5, or be imprisoned for a month.
– That is the maximum penalty.
– Then, apparently, the Courts are to determine the heinousness of the offence. Why is not a fixed penalty to be provided? Are honorable members afraid to go before their constituents under the conditions which now apply to political meetings? I have no sympathy with the breaking up of meetings by organized conspiracy, nor has any one on this side of the Chamber. On only one occasion have I known it to be done. It happened once in Kalgoorlie, when a man who had deliberately broken his pledges began his speech by insulting his constituents, and continued to do so while he was allowed to proceed. The supporters of the amendment would prosecute an audience for resenting such conduct, and Would fine those who are guilty of it £5 each, or imprison them for a month. Of course, an audience can always walk out; but men who are being publicly insulted do not feel inclined to do that. Honorable members opposite have guilty consciences. They know that they have broken nearly every pledge on which they were returned. Therefore, they grasp at this provision.
– It has been put forward by a member of the Labour party.
– But it is being enthusiastically supported by honorable members opposite.
– The honorable member seems to have a nice opinion of his colleague, the honorable member for Darwin.
– A public man who has acted fairly bv his constituents does not require protection of this kind. Are we to be treated as hot-house plants, and carefully guarded from the breath of criticism ? Would the Minister agree to imprisonment for a week as a maximum penalty?
– Possibly the Minister would like to have the penalty increased to six months?
– That was the original proposal of the honorable member for Darwin.
– -Would the Honorable member support it?
– I did not expect the Government to accept the proposal of the honorable member for Darwin.
– They like to please the caucus sometimes.
– The proposal now being discussed is not that originally put forward.
– It has been altered by the reduction of the maximum penalty from a fine of ^10 to a fine of. £$, and reduction of the term of imprisonment from six months to one month. Is there anything peculiar in a political meeting that special legislation is needed in regard to it? Is not the ordinary law sufficient to’ protect public men? Are we afraid to address the public under the protection of the common law? Do honorable members shrink from appearing before the citizens who sent them here unless they have protection against interruptions?
– This is only an assertion of the right of the man who has hired a hall to speak in it.
– The common law protects every person who holds a public meeting, many of which are as important as political meetings. I have not yet met a man who was afraid of a little bit of fun at a public meeting. Generally such meetings are ‘too dull. Are persons to be imprisoned for challenging the statements of speakers who are wilfully and deliberately reflecting on. the honour and integrity of their parents, wives, and families?
– No. The provision is directed against organized larrikinism.
– I have been interrupted by “ wowsers “ more than once.
– The proposal before us provides a penalty for the interruption of political meetings which is not now known to the criminal law. I thought it at first one of those amusing suggestions whichthe honorable member for Darwin sometimes brings forward.
– This is rather severe on a follower !
– It is not at all severe. Besides, the honorable member for Darwin can take care of himself. He sometimes entertains us with extraordinary propositions, which he supports quite sincerely ; but I cannot see what reason there is for imposing special penalties for interfering with a political meeting. Organized, deliberate, and wilful disturbance can be punished under the existing law. I do not know what the law of the other States may be; that of Queensland gives the chairman of a public meeting as much right to eject unruly persons as Mr. Speaker or the President of the Senate possesses.
– We do not want to depend on the State law.
– Does the honorable member say that we should have a criminal law of our own ? In the State of Queensland those who interrupt public meetings can be ejected and taken before the Courts.
– Does the honorable member consider it a disturbance to use a motor horn at a public meeting?
– To use any instrument of the kind would constitute a disturbance. Apparently, some of those flash gentlemen who own motors are in the habit of disturbing meetings by using motor horns. The common ‘law is sufficient for the regulation of political meetings. A provision of this kind will humiliate Parliament, as some of the previous proposals of the Government have done. It is proposed to use an exceptionally heavy hammer to crush what I might call the ordinary political flea. If we pass this amendment it will not reflect much, credit on the intelligence of the Federal Parliament ; indeed, it will bring us into ridicule amongst the more stalwart, hard-thinking men of the country, who know what politics are. They know that we must have militant, determined citizens ready to investigate every political question ; and that unless liberty is allowed, we shall reach the time when the worst kind of political corruption will be found both within and without this Parliament.
.- After listening to the eloquence of the honorable member for Wide Bay for some time, I came to the conclusion that the amendment must have been altered in some way without my knowledge since I saw it yesterday. The amendment before the Chair cannot, by the utmost stretch of the most disordered imagination, give any ground whatever for the extraordinary statements to which we have listened. One might think that any interjector or searcher after truth at a public meeting would be immediately hauled off to gaol if he endeavoured to express dissent or disapprobation in regard to a statement made by a candidate. The public meetings referred to in the proposed amendment are limited, and the words which follow provide that punishment shall fall upon any person - who acts in a disorderly manner for the purpose of preventing the transaction of the business for which the meeting is held…..
– Who is to discriminate as to the disorder?
– The honorable member knows that any case would be tried in the ordinary way.
– Why should a man be haled up at Court?
– If my honorable friends opposite have any regard whatever for the institutions by which we hold our places here, they will endeavour to see that the electors, at that grave period of our existence when they are absolute masters, shall know exactly what they are doing; and the only way to insure that is that they shall hear the candidates in public meetings. Some such amendment as this is absolutely essential if we are to maintain the liberty to hold public meetings in some portions of Australia. I do not object to one or two, or, perhaps, half-a-dozen, or a tram-load of interjectors, being sent out by special tram, with fares paid, to attend my meetings, for I find that the most disorderly elements at my meetings are from over the borders, from other constituencies. I do not object to persons endeavouring by interjection to let my constituents see a different point of view from that which I present; but I do object to combined and organized disorderly opposition such as is aimed at in this amendment. What I mean is an opposition which at the mere sight of the candidate will begin to sing a chorus, or, if the meeting be held in a hall, will spill vile-smelling chemicals on the floor. It. is just as well that the Leader of the Opposition, by so heatedly opposing this amendment, has shown who it is that is behind this system of organized obstruction; but I am glad that one member opposite - if only one - has seen the evil of this state of things.
– The whole reason for the amendment is that boodleiers organized obstruction at a meeting in Tasmania.
– If boodleiers can copy the methods sometimes adopted by my honorable friends, that should make every member of the Committee support the amendment. I am glad that the honorable member for Darwin has it in him to stand up forthe liberty of public meeting. I sincerely hope that the party which is led by the honorable member for Wide Bay will yet give a few recruits to this new movement for securing the purity of our elections, and that we shall be done with all the canting hypocrisy to which we listened just before I rose. It is nonsense to suggest that any honorable member who supports this amendment is afraid of public meetings - the boot is on the other foot. If honorable gentlemen opposite are afraid to have free speech on the platforms of Australia, let them vote against this amendment ; but if they are not afraid of full political discussion, let them support it, as I shall do with the utmost pleasure.
.- The honorable member for Wentworth should be an authority on obstruction at public meetings, because the students at the University, which I believe he attended, are adepts at the game. When the Leader of the English Labour party went to Oxford, the students there spilled vile-smelling chemicals on the floor, and made noises to prevent him from being heard.
– Then the honorable member ought to support this amendment.
– There is hardly a University commemoration at which we do not find these educated larrikins-
– What has this to do with the amendment?
– I shall show the honorable member presently. It would appear that there is not to be free speech either in this House or outside.
– Not if the honorable member can help it.
– The honorable member cannot say that, so far as I am concerned. He is making a statement absolutely incorrect, and, what is more, he knows it to be incorrect. Some candidates, have gone about with the express purpose of setting audiences against themselves. One gentleman in Victoria commenced his address : “Electors of Ballarat, and savages of Bungaree.” Would any honorable member, had he been an elector of that constituency, have sat down quietly under such an insult ? Yet, under the amendment, every one of those who were called “ savages of Bungaree “ would have gone to gaol had they protested. It will be possible for a candidate, if the amendment be carried; to be as offensive as he likes to the electors, while they are denied the right to retort. In Victoria slanderous statements, known to be false, have been made on the public platform regarding the Labour party. We were said to be in favour of weakening the marriage tie.
– I ask the honorable member not to go into details regarding that phase of the question.
– It was admitted by the President of the Women’s National League that this statement was a lie; but she said it was a good “cry,” and that they intended to stick to it. Such statements may be made under this amendment, and any member of the Labour party who interjects a denial will be in danger of gaol.
– There is a similar law in operation in Victoria.
– Quite so; but, at the same time, with the exception, perhaps, of New South Wales, we have had here the most lively meetings held in Australia. The honorable member for Batman last ‘ week related his experience of public meetings; but, personally, I never knew of organized obstruction at any gathering of the kind. I have read in newspapers of people being sent to public meetings for the purpose of kicking up a row, but I have never been able to ascertain whether such was the truth.
– Did the honorable member never hear of a brass band being engaged to play outside a meeting hall?
– I have not ; and I think the honorable member for Maribyrnong will bear me out when I say that that has never occurred in Victoria.
– Has the honorable member never heard of cab loads of men going from one suburb to another, in order to obstruct political meetings?
– I have not.
– It was my experience at the last election.
– I have known of a fire brigade being called out in order to break up a meeting.
– I have never heard of such a thing.
– Has the honorable member never heard of the chairs being thrown about at a public meeting?
– I have not; though 1 have read in the newspapers of such doings. No doubt a public man has the right to be heard ; but, if this amendment be carried, I guarantee that the average bench of justices of the peace in Victoria would send any interjector to gaol if his interjections were directed against a candidate of the Fusion party. Time after time, I have advised my supporters not to interject, or interrupt in any way, the meetings of my opponents > and, as a matter of fact, people have refused to attend my meetings because they are so quiet and orderly. If the amendment be carried, I trust the penalty will » made as light as possible. I fear that it will operate only against men who dare to interject in opposition to statements made at meetings by candidates belonging to the other side.
– To show how mild the honorable member for Darwin, acting upon an almost instinctive sensitiveness on points of interference with public liberty, has suggested that the clause should be made, let me point out that the penalty is. much less than the English law provides. The English section on that point draws a distinction between public meetings which are not political, and those which are. The provision as regards public meetings, using the same terms as appear in this clause, is that the person is guilty of an illegal practice -
– What Act is that?
– The Act of last year. I think it was panic legislation, but we are not following in their footsteps in the matter. The Act was passed to prevent the disturbance of public meetings.
– That was the Suffragette business.
– I think “it was, but it deals with more rhan that. It provides, following the part that is analogous to this- provision of the honorable member for Darwin, that the person so offending shall be guilty of an illegal practice within the meaning of the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act, 1883, and the penalty for an illegal practice under that Act is a fine not exceeding£100 and incapacity, for five years from the date of the conviction, of being registered as an elector or voting at any election, whether it be a Parliamentary election or an election for a public office, held for or within the county or borough in which the illegal practice has been committed.
– Could not the honorable gentleman embody the sections from the Russian penal code?
– I am pointing out that we have not done it. The penalty is very mild, seeing that £5 is the maximum, and that even under the State law at present much milder disorder at a public meeting, which is a public place, is subject to a penalty of £2, or one month’s imprisonment. The disorderly conduct under this clause must be with a view to preventing the transaction of business, but under the State law a few interjections at a public meeting, if they have a tendency to disturb the peace of the meeting, are punishable in the way I have stated. Under the South Australian Act, even the mild offence of a few insulting expressions-
– No action has ever taken place under that.
– But it is on the statutebook. -
– That refers to any public meeting.
– And any public place. There was - it is, perhaps, jocularly said - a case in England under a similar provision. A man went to a theatre, and was the only member of the public who assembled there. He insisted upon the performance being carried out, as he had a perfect right to do, but after a time, when he disapproved of the company’s method of acting, he began to hiss, and was put out for disturbing the audience.
.- Every time the Attorney-General speaks he shows more plainly that there is no necessity for the clause, because ample provisions already exist in the State laws. Apparently the Government desire to create a new form of crime. They seem to regard this as a new chance ofstowing away objectionable electors who may vote the wrong way. I am sorry to have to oppose the honorable member for Darwin, who is generally on the right track, but he has addressed more meetings in more varied places than any other honorable member, and it is only in some little out of the way place in Tasmania that he has had trouble at a public meeting.
– I had it in South Australia with Tucker’s gang.
– The honorable member has had only one or two cases of the kind. Disturbances of public meetings are becoming extremely rare, and an exaggerated idea of those that do happen is generally given by the press reports. I have had trouble at only one meeting in all my experience. That was in a little place near Mount Gambier, and, curiously enough, among farmers, as the honorable member for Darwin’s experience was. One of the leaders of the anti-socialist party came to the door of the meeting pretty well drunk, and, with one or two larrikins or boys that he had picked up, made a disturbance. As a general rule any interruption that does occur at meetings is nothing more than is forgivable. Any man would sooner address a live meeting than a lot of men who are so apathetic or dead that he does not know how they feel. There has been a considerable improvement in the conduct of elections and behaviour at political meetings generally in recent years. There was a time when there was a good deal more noise and disturbance. The cases that occur to-day are so few that I appeal to the Government whether it is worth while to embody in this Bill such a drastic provision. Any person who really obstructs can be dealt with under State laws. Why should we duplicate the law on the subject? I am astonished at the AttorneyGeneral being a party to it It does not improve matters to have two or three laws doing the same thing, and the AttorneyGeneral will agree that the more we secure uniformity of law the better. It is important that there should be no check upon those who want to put bond fide questions to candidates or raise a justifiable objection to inaccurate statements. In this chamber we are not allowed by the Standing Orders to interject, but there is hardly a member who does not interject when some one makes a statement that he considers inaccurate and he does it at the moment because he does not want the statement to go any further. Surely at public meetings electors have the right to do the same thing. Many disturb- ances are brought on by the candidate himself. I do not deny that there may have been organized obstruction at some meetings, and I have seen cases where there has been a chorus of singing, which is an effective way of preventing a speaker from being heard. We read of that being done in Melbourne recently in a great Church Assembly, where a speaker’s voice was drowned by the singing of a hymn. It is not uncommon at Salvation Army meetings to announce a hymn if the speaker is too longwinded. We are asked to create a new offence under the law, and interfere with tolerance and freedom in political meetings. But if it is justifiable to do that, surely the Government must go further and put a stop to Presbyterian Assemblies interfering with the free speech of any man who has the floor, by singing hymns or psalms. I should like to hear the Attorney -General on the point as to whether this clause is to apply to this Parliament, because we have experienced considerable interference with free speech here. The honorable member for Darwin must have had that in his mind, because I see that he originally proposed a penalty of six months’ imprisonment. Under this provision a candidate would only have to provoke a few men to! create a little disturbance in order to have them run in, and the friendly justices of the peace on the bench would promptly give them a month’s imprisonment, which would probably carry them beyond the date of the election, so that they could not vote. It is a new way to get into Parliament to “gaol” all the fellows who are opposed to you. As the honorable member for Yarra has well put it, with the class of justices of the peace that we have, very little consideration will be given to a Labour elector if he interjects at an anti-Socialist meeting. He would be run in for the full term; in fact the justices of the peace would rejoice in their action and think they were doing a really good thing for the country.
– We do not want our men to break up their meetings any more than we want theirs to break up ours.
– Nobody’s meetings will be broken up. Cases of interference sufficient to complain about are so extremely rare that this great National Parliament would be making itself ridiculous by legislating for them, especially as they are already provided for under State Acts. I have not heard any honorable member tell of any great trouble that he has had at public meetings. There are cases of interruptions which one has to put up with for perhaps five minutes, but the trouble is all squared up afterwards, and frequently it is caused by some one with too much liquor on board. He has to be put out, but he is only one out of an audience, perhaps, of five hundred or a thousand. He is often given drink to go to the meeting and disturb it, but this provision will not get at the man behind him. The Judges act on the wellknown principle of making the penalties more severe if there is an increase in any particular kind of crime, but in this case the disturbance of public meetings is a disappearing factor all over Australia, and, therefore, there is no need to provide for extra punishment. There are some candidates who cannot tolerate anything being said to them at all, but if they make wild and ridiculous statements at a meeting the audience is not justified in standing such conduct. There are among the public a number of strong active politicians who vote intelligently, because they take a keen interest in politics, but if this clause is passed they will still go to meetings and refuse to allow candidates to make statements which they know to be untrue. They will challenge them there and then and take the risk of a month’s imprisonment. It is men of that kind who have the courage to take risks in upholding the truth, that have made the world what it is to-day. Candidates have no right to be put behind a hedge where they cannot be challenged for statements that they make. Are we to make a law that will give them full freedom to mislead electors, and get into Parliament under . false pretences ? We ought to give the fullest liberty, not only to the speakers, but to the electors present at public meetings. In some cases people who attend political meetings go beyond the line of reasonable interruption, but such incidents are inevitable. Every man has not full self-control. Some men are more readily excited than others, and we must deal with men as we find them. Surely we are not going to say that a man who interjects on the spur of the moment at a public meeting shall be punished? We are supposed to be specially selected, because of our ability to legislate for Australia, and if we cannot keep within our Standing Orders relating to interjections and disorderly conduct, surely we ought not to say that an elector who becomes excited and interjects, because of an unjust statement made by a candidate at a public meeting, shall be liable to a fine of £5 or one month’s imprisonment. We are told that it will be necessary to prove wilful intent. The legal minds of the Committee will agree, however, that it is dangerous to leave to magistrates the determination of mere matters of opinion. The justice meted out in such cases depends on whether or not there is any bias on the part of the adjudicating magistrates. It should not be left to a magistrate to determine whether or not disorderly conduct is wilful. What is a “disturbance?” That question under the proposed new clause is to be determined by Justices of the Peace, and it is quite possible to conceive of some magistrates declaring that a man should be imprisoned for a month for daring to say “Boo!” at a political meeting. The proposed new clause is altogether too vague, and there is no necessity for it. I am sorry that the Government have accepted it, and I sincerely hope that it will be rejected.
– It is interesting to observe ‘the sweet simplicity of the honorable member for Darling, and the general concern manifested by honorable members opposite in regard to the proposed new clause is certainly very significant. The honorable member for Yarra spoke of a case in which a public meeting had been disturbed by university students, and the honorable member for Darwin intimated a few days ago that his chief reason for submitting this proposal was that meetings held by him had been disturbed by rich “ boodleiers.” Disturbances by university students, rich “boodleiers,” or any one else ought not to be tolerated. This proposed new clause will be one of the best features of the Bill. It is, to a large extent, nonsense to say that a political meeting is rarely disturbed. Some strange things have been done at public meetings with the object of preventing freedom of speech.
– The honorable memberknows that my statement is correct.
– I do not; where have these incidents happened?
– In many places.
– I have not met with such occurrences.
– If my honorable friends imagine for one moment that the public will not know how to appreciate their apparent simplicity in desiring to secure the rejection of the proposed new clause, they are greatly mistaken. It seems as if they fear that it will aim an effective blow at political campaigns of a certain character. Honorable members opposite have said that if this proposed new clause be carried, it will not be safe for a man to interject at a political meeting. They must know that that is nonsense. The Leader of the Opposition said that it would destroy public interest in political questions. We know that it will do nothing of the kind. It will secure to the people one of the most cherished principles of Democracy - the principle of freedom of speech.
– This is something new.
– It is not. The honorable member knows that in the city from which he comes organized bands have been sent from meeting to meeting, not to interject, but to obstruct and disturb candidates to whom they were opposed.
– I have never known such a thing to take place.
– I have. The matter has been referred to in the public press. The press has castigated larrikins who have disturbed public meetings and those responsible for their actions.
– I challenge the honorable ‘member to give an instance of the kind.
– Such incidents have taken place in Adelaide.
– In different places, but the honorable member is not going to draw me out. If honorable members opposite do not think that the proposed new clause will put an end to a good deal of organized opposition in connexion with election meetings, why are they so much concerned about it? I rose specially to call public attention to the fact that they are exclusively concerned about this healthy and necessary provision to regulate the conduct of political meetings.
– Exclusively ? The proposed new clause was submitted by a member of the Labour party.
– Then I shall qualify my statement and say that when we proceed to a division honorable members opposite will alone be found voting against the proposed new clause.
– I am in favour of freedom of speech.
– The honorable member is in favour of freedom of anything when it suits him.
– This proposition is in favour of our own side; we must have freedom of speech.
– Freedom of speech ought to be” encouraged and protected by every party. We are proposing now to enact what is the law in England, and also, 1 believe, in the United States of America.
– And in Russia.
– The honorable member, I believe, has derived most of his education from Russian ideals.
– The honorable member’s party will soon be able to educate Russia in the art of suppression.
– The party to which I .belong in South Australia do not, as a rule, attend meetings of Labour candidates, because they cannot obtain fair play there.
– The trouble is that they cannot stand the truth.
– That is not so. I have attended many political meetings, and have wished, for the reputation of those speaking at them, that they were npt so afraid of the truth as they appeared to be. The trouble in this case is that my honorable friends opposite are hit under the ribs by this proposed new clause, and they do not like it. I hope that the Minister will not consent to an amendment to reduce the penalty.
– Why not hang people who dare to interject at a political meeting ?
– I have no doubt that if my honorable friend had his way he would hang a good many people without trial by judge or jury. The proposed new claude is not aimed at intelligent decent men who take a proper interest in political affairs. It is aimed rather at political larrikins and hoodlums who are made the tools of others who ought to know better.
– The honorable member knows that the position is quite the reverse.
– I know that I am speaking the truth, and that this proposed -new clause is a very sore point with my honorable friend. It is because it is getting between the joints of his harness that he does not like it. I am glad that a member of the Labour party is to have the honour of having initiated this proposal, and am sure that it will be approved by the general public. It will afford proper protection, not only te candidates, but to those who attend political meetings, and who have as much right to enjoy the protection of the’ law as have the candidates themselves. If my honorable friends opposite believe in that most cherished principle of Democracy - freedom of speech - and favour the proper conduct of election meetings, they will vote for the proposed new clause.
:- The honorable member for Wakefield has referred to organized obstruction in connexion with election meetings in Adelaide, but only a moment or two ago the AttorneyGeneral, who is a representative of a South Australian electorate, said to me, “ So far as, South Australia is concerned there is no need for legislation of this kind. We have never had anything there that callsfor it.”
– He said publicly that similar legislation. had been passed by the South Australian Parliament.
– There is in operation a Slate law relating to all public meetings, and with that general law in operation no one on this side of the Committee has cause to complain.
– Because it is not at meetings of Labour candidates that disturbances take place.
– The honorable member desires to show that there is some special reason why the law relating to public meetings generally should be departed from in the case of political meetings ?
– No, I have never attended a meeting of a Labour candidate at which a disturbance has taken place.
– Well, I have. If the honorable member thinks that those who disturb public meetings are exclusively supporters of the Labour party, he makes a very great mistake.
– I do not say that they are exclusively.
– That was the insinuation. No other meaning could be attached to the interjection. As a matter of fact, interruption comes as much from one party as from another. Surely honorable members opposite are not suffering from swelled heads. They are fortunate enough to be able to stop criticism from ‘this side of the Chamber by applying the “ gag,” and seem to think that, being able to ride rough shod over the minority here, they can do the same thing in regard to the people at large.
– Most people outside will hail this proposition with delight.
– Not at all. They do not desire that Parliamentary candidates shall be put into glass cases. Those who address public meetings should be able to take their gruel.
– It is not so much the gruel as the rotten eggs that arc objected to.
– This provision will not prevent the throwing of eggs. It is simply the extension of the “gag” to the whole community.
– The party to which the honorable member belongs originated the “ gag,” and therefore should not object to its extension.
– I was one of those who voted, for the standing order which created the “gag,” but not one member of the Labour party, although we formed part of a very large majority, ever moved for its application to the honorable member, notwithstanding that, when in Opposition, he persistently obstructed the conduct of business, and amply justified that course.
– -Is the honorable member speaking to the question?
– No doubt my remarks hit very hard.
– This is an absolute waste of time.
– The question is whether the proposed term of imprisonment should be reduced from one month to ohe week.
– I am discussing the proposal that persons interjecting at a public meeting shall be liable to a month’s imprisonment.
– That is not the proposal.
– The provision before the Chair speaks of disorderly conduct, of which there is no definition.
– It must be for the purpose of preventing the transaction of business.
– The provision as it stands means nothing, and must be left wholly to the interpretation of the justices before whom offenders will be brought. They may have political bias, such as has been shown in Victoria, and the law may be strained to secure the punishment of political opponents. Offences under this provision will not be tried by trained lawyers, but by justices who may be thoroughly biased.
– If so, while some justices may be biased in one direction, others may be” biased in the contrary direction.
– Most of those who show political bias belong to a very narrowminded bigoted party. Which party that is I leave the honorable member to ascertain for himself. I never expected to see the time arrive when such an . occurrence as that of yesterday would happen - an unparalleled act of political corruption.
– Nor such a thing as happened this morning.
– I supported the Minister this morning.
– He will get more of that physic.
– I desire to see an amendment moved which will influence my vote, namely, the insertion after the word “ imprisonment “ of the words - in some house of detention more than seven miles from the polling place for the division for which he is enrolled.
That will prevent the provision from being used as an engine for political disfranchisement. I solemnly believe, from what I have seen of the conduct of honorable members- opposite during the past few months, that they are capable of disfranchising wholesale those who do not vote for them.
– The honorable member does not believe that.
-1 absolutely believe it. I can come to no other conclusion from the actions of honorable members who temporarily are In the majority, and are so afraid that their power will pass from them that they wish to impose all kinds, of oppressive measures upon the people.
– The honorable member’s amendment would not necessarily give offenders under this provision the opportunity to vote.
– The wording can he altered if necessary. Those who are imprisoned for interrupting a public meeting should not be deprived of the right *o vote.
– But, according to the honorable member’s showing, they would be supporters of the present Government.
– I do not wish the Government to be deprived of that support. My proposal is absolutely in the interests of fair play. We do not desire that those who make awkward interjections at public meetings shall become marked men, to be disfranchised. Politicians do not need the protection which is being asked for. The Treasurer’s pluck in addressing public meetings when the gold-fields trouble was on, when almost every man present was opposed to him, and almost ready to join in rioting, earned him admiration all over Australia. He did not ask for special protection then, nor try to place his opponents in gaol.
– He had the power in those days.
– He could have passed through Parliament repressive measures such as that now proposed, but did not do so. He faced the electors, and explained the position to them as well as he could. He did not lose by it. I ask him to show now the pluck of his eai Her days, and not surround himself with privileges of the kind proposed. He does not need this protection.
– We are not thinking of ourselves always.
– All persons who address public meetings must be in the same position, and liable to occasional heckling, but 5f they are able to interest their hearers, they can overcome any kind of obstruction, whether organized or not. I have known candidates who found it difficult to secure a hearing on the first attempt, by reason of organized obstruction, eventually obtain the attention of their audiences, and hold them spellbound. That has been done by men with whose political views I have not had any sympathy. If we are able to take the position of leaders of public thought, to which we aspire, we do not need this protection : our ability to interest the public is sufficient. I hope the proposal will be utterly scouted.
– Those who address political meetings are given a great deal of latitude, the law protecting them, to a great extent, in what they say. Much latitude is also given to those who attend such meetings. The Committee has resolved that persons who disturb public meetings shall be liable to a fine of £5. We cannot go back on that decision, but it would be monstrous to make the alternative imprisonment for a month.
– That is the maximum.
– The proposal now is to reduce it to a week, which is sufficient. I shall support the amendment.
.- As one experienced in addressing public meetings of all kinds, I should support the amendment if I were influenced by the manner in which I think it will operate. In my judgement, no provision could do more to assist the Labour party than that now under discussion, not because it would protect them in the way intended by the mover, but because of the effect which must follow its application. If the amendment were put into force at an anti-Labour election meeting under ordinary circumstances, and one or two electors were sent to gaol, that, more than anything, would lead to the return of the Labour candidate.
– Then let the amendment pass.
– I am not one who favours legislation simply because it is advantageous to one side or the other. I take it we are here to legislate in conformity with the principles of British justice, free speech, and fair discussion. I hold that the people have a right to correct any public speaker, who is misleading them or misrepresenting the position,’ and also the right to resent any insult, without being in danger of the police or gaol. Never in my public career have I countenanced any action against an opponent that I should myself object to ; and one of my first injunctions at an election is that there shall be free speech on both sides. I have never had any trouble at meetings, beyond, of course, an interjection now and again; and my experience is that a public man, who goes on the platform to speak the truth fearlessly, will not meet with anything like organized opposition. But in the amendment I see a danger that, probably, the Minister has overlooked, namely, the possibility of unscrupulous underground engineers, such as I have met with during my thirty years in political warfare, paying one or two men to upset a public meeting with the express purpose of bringing this law into operation, and thereby throwing discredit on sections of the community who are perfectly innocent. The common law which has hitherto governed these matters, is absolutely sufficient. I am proud. to think that there is no necessity here for such an Act as we are told was passed by the British Legislature some twelve months ago. We have to remember that we have womanhood suffrage here, and that, therefore, we are in no danger of the methods, which I do not altogether agree with, resorted to by the suffragettes at Home. It appears to me that the action of these women, wrongly directed, is at the bottom of the British legislation referred to, and that there is some justification for it.
– I have been told by one of the New South Wales members that he has had blue metal thrown at him.
– That must have been at Booroowa, in New South Wales, where, years ago, just before the annual race meeting, certain people could be found gathering up little heaps of blue metal at the side of the racecourse for the use of those who “ dropped “ their money,
– I am told that it occurred in Marrickville.
– I have never known it ; and I have addressed many public meetings there, and have fought the hardest of fights’ against organized opposition, though not of the violent type. 1 never knew a place with which I have had so little fault to find on that score
– The honorable member for Lang informed me.
– I am sure that if such a provision as this had been in operation years ago, when the honorable member for Lang was a red-hot Socialist, he would have paid the penalty. Of course, that honorable member is now one of the oppressors, and not one of the oppressed, and is quite prepared to pass a law of this kind. However, as I say, the common law, in my opinion, is sufficient to meet the position; and I am surprised that the honorable member for Darwin should submit this amendment, even in its watered down form. I always thought that the honorable member was a man of courage, who, in the face of all odds, would fight the battle of right; but this amendment almost indicates the white feather. It would seem as though the honorable member were afraid of the people; and when that is so, it is time a man left public life. I regret that the Minister has decided to accept the amendment; but I warn him that, if it be carried, it will return like a boomerang against its supporters within the next twelve months.
.- If the honorable member for Gwydir, as he says, believes in fair play, and in every one being heard, he ought to have no objection to the amendment, because only those who create a disturbance will be liable to prosecution. We who .believe in liberty of speech ought to adopt some such measure as that proposed. Personally, I have never had trouble, and do not anticipate any in the future; but, about three years ago, a meeting of Senate candidates in Launceston was disturbed during a .whole evening. For this the Labour party were blamed, by the press and others ; but, as a matter of fact, it was not members of the Labour party, but a number of larrikins who were responsible. Whether larrikins belong to one side or the other, or are not electors at all, they should be punished for such conduct. Objection has been raised to the maximum penalty ; but we know that the maximum provided is seldom inflicted. Reflections have been cast on justices of the peace ; but I can say that, in Tasmania, there are a large number who devote a great deal of time to their duties, without ;any remuneration, and with very little thanks. I believe that they always do justice; and I have never heard them accused of acting unfairly, either to the working man or the master.
– They ought to have halos.
– Perhaps we ought to have halm, if we took ourselves at our own estimate. It is necessary, in the public interest, to maintain order at public meetings ; and I further suggest that it would not be amiss if we maintained a little better order amongst ourselves in this House. It is scarcely creditable to hear one section of the House calling another “ garrotters,” and raising accusations of political corruption; and, perhaps, it would be well to have a penalty for the use of such language. Surely we can have differences of opinion without branding each other with such names, which would not be tolerated in the streets or anywhere outside Parliament. I hope that the amendment will be carried, and thus insure that liberty of speech which is the boast of all Britishers.
.- This clause ought to be branded as denoting the decadence of Australian politicians. Apparently there are honorable members who desire to go to their constituencies in glass cases, and fight their battles with kid gloves on. That is a ridiculous position to take up. I do not challenge the motives of the honorable member for Darwin. He is certainly acting within his rights, and no doubt believes that he is justified, but I think he iswrong. The proposal is a slur on the public of Australia, and is quite consistent with the coercive measures adopted by this Government. They desire, not only to stifle the people’s representatives inside this House, in order to prevent criticism of themselves and their actions, but also to stifle the criticism of themselves by the public outside. It is undiluted Conservatism, and seems to indicate that honorable gentlemen on the Ministerial side, who have thrown their pledges to the public overboard, are afraid to meet the public face to face without putting some shackles upon them to silence ordinary criticism. Whilst only certain offences may be punishable under this clause, it will be used by the Conservatives of Australia to intimidate public meetings into the belief that ordinary interjections and legitimate criticism of public men are punishable by fine and imprisonment. Under some magistrates those who interject will actually be liable to such punishment. When politics are getting hot, and there is strong feeling, is not the time when there is calmness of mind among candidates and their supporters, and it would be easy in such circumstances to magnify an unpremeditated interruption into some kind of organized opposition. If, in the heat of an election, a candidate charged certain persons with interrupting his meeting, just fancy what kind of evidence would be obtained from his supporters, especially if there was a chance of convicting some one who had made himself politically obnoxious to them. I have been in an electorate where it has been almost impossible, when an election has been proceeding, to get justice, and where the paid bullies of wealthy Conservatives would come up to you and spit in your face, and if you took any action against them the whole of the resources of the district would be pitted against you. That is just what we shall have again. The honorable member forCalare knows the district that I am talking about.
– Did the honorable member ever know that to occur?
– I know it as a positive fact. Honorable members opposite talk about the obstruction and interruption which they have experienced at public meetings, but I have had as much of it of all kinds as any man in the House. Are we going to be like a lot of grammar school girls, or namby-pamby individuals, afraid to meet men in open public meetings, and discuss politics with them? It seems to me to be proposed to reduce political discussion to an absolute farce. The proposal is a restriction of public discussion, and nothing has been put forward to justify it. Fancy a candidate addressing an audience consisting of 1,000 people like the honorable member for Wakefield, with his extreme excitability ! He stood up this afternoon, and in a few moments worked himself into a state of excitement which showed that if 1,000 men of his type were at a public meeting they would be altogether uncontrollable, and under this clause would render themselves liable to fine and imprisonment. As much offence can be created by a person speaking against the audience as by the audience against the speaker. Very often that is the way in which trouble begins. A man has an obnoxious method of addressing a meeting, or a vindictive personal way of replying to innocent criticism and interjection, and so brings down upon himself the wrath of the audience, causing them, perhaps, to break out in disturbance. There are some public men, or those who have attempted to become public men, who by their insulting methods would sting almost any audience into open revolt. Yet under this clause the law would step in and protect the candidates, while punishing the innocent persons whom he had provoked. As the honorable member for Hindmarsh says, the present Minister of Defence can scarcely rise in this House without exciting the strongest feeling of resentment in the breasts of his opponents, and one could easily understand a. gentleman of his type rousing an audience at a public meeting into the greatest hostility.
– There would not be a conviction in those circumstances.
– Oh, no, but who is going to fight it? Shall we not have some poor wretch in the street dragged up before the magistrates, and the affluence of the Conservative party in Australia pitted against him?
– Honorable members opposite are the wealthy ones.
– There is not as much wealth in the whole Labour movement in Australia as is centred in the right honorable member. He could spend more money on a political contest than the whole of the political Labour organizations of Australia could afford to spend, and come up smiling afterwards. We are degrading ourselves as public men’ by admitting for a moment that it is necessary for us to protect ourselves from the public of Australia in meeting assembled. Quite sufficient protection is offered under the present law. If all those diabolical atrocities are perpetrated which we have heard complained about to-day by honorable members opposite, surely the common law and the police of the States will protect them? But we know that it is not so. In no State in the Commonwealth is rioting allowed in the public streets, and there is no public meeting held anywhere at which the police are not present to see that order is maintained. If this clause were to apply only to halls hired by public men, the same objection could not be taken to it, because a man can do what he likes with a hall when he hires it. But it should not be applied to all sorts of public meetings. A politician might stand up in a busy thoroughfare and begin to abuse an innocent and unoffending crowd. Then, because they turned round and retaliated on the man who intruded upon their peace and harmony, the law would step in and brand them as criminals. It would be very convenient to many candidates to have a person who has some influence with his fellow men in a district put into gaol for a month, or until the election was over.
– How would the honorable member do it?
– If he went to a public meeting and made some kind of interjection, the candidate might proceed against him. I have seen numbers of Conservative candidates who would magnify interjections into organized interruption. It is easy, in the heat of a political contest, for people to have exaggerated ideas, and on evidence of that kind a man might be convicted of a criminal offence. If this is a good proposal, why not offer the same protection to public meetings all the year round? The clause is only to apply after the issue of the writs, when the excitement begins, and when people are more likely to fall into unpremeditated interruptions than deliberately and coolly to organize opposition. Now that honorable members opposite have secured a provision in the law to include halls in their election expenses, why; cannot they hire halls and have admission by ticket, so that they may have audiences only of their own particular friends? The proposal not only shows a decadence in the politicians of Australia, but it is also most objectionable legislation, which will be exercised at a time when there may be exaggerated ideas of what really are offences. The honorable member for Darwin spoke the other day of the decadence of the British race, but he has now gone to the other extreme. He wants to have the kid gloves on, and to talk to an audience from behind barricades. This is simply a barricade put up between the candidate and the public. We are asked to let the candidate talk with his head over the fence, and a wall all round him to protect him. Honorable members opposite say, “ Save usfrom the public.” It is not only branding the public of Australia in a way in which they should not be branded, but it is anadmission of incompetence on the. na rt of public men to conduct public meetings, and of a lack of self-reliance on their own abilities to face their fellow men. It is a Conservative, reactionary, proposal, such as we might expect from the party now in power, and is perfectly consistent with the coercive methods which the Government have adopted in passing legislation without allowing a reasonable discussion of it. I am sorry to think that if such a clause is carried it will be on the initiation of the honorable member for Darwin. I have an idea that this proposed new clause must have been suggested to the honorable member by some one on the Government side of the House; that in an unsuspecting moment he succumbed to the blandishments of the other side and became its author. It will be very convenient for the Government who wish to pass such legislation to be able to say, “ It was proposed by a member of the Labour party, and we accepted it.”
– The honorable member for Lang has already made that statement.
– I am not surprised that he has done so. The Government and those behind them desire legislation to protect them from the criticism of their opponents in Parliament, and another class of legislation to save them from the criticism of the public when they go before the electors. This provision is so reactionary, and such an exhibition of bad taste, that by approving of it we should stamp ourselves in the eyes of the public - as being absolutely incompetent to take the public platform, or to justify the faith within us without stirring the public to disorder and riot.
– The proposed new clause has been discussed at great length, and for some time nothing new has been said in regard to it. It has been described as “an extension of the gag,” as “creating a new crime,” as “devising a new means of getting into Parliament,” as” a sign of the decadence of Australian politicians,” and in various other terms. I hope that the Committee will shortly go to a division on the question, and for very special reasons. This Bill was introduced as an absolutely nonparty measure. It is a purely machinery Bill to insure the proper conduct of elections.
– Why did not the honorable member stand by it as a purely machinery Bill-?
– I have done so, as far as possible.
– The honorable member is accepting this proposed new clause.
– Various proposals are put forward, and they have to be dealt with. I appeal to the Committee to deal with this question promptly, because it is necessary in the interests of the proper conduct of the next election that the Bill should be passed at the earliest possible moment. Returning officers from all parts of Australia have to be called together in the several States by the Chief Electoral officer and instructed in the rules and procedure that will have to be drawn up under this Bill as an amendment of the principal Act. Those officers on returning to their various divisions, will have to call together their assistant returning officers and instruct them. All that work cannot be done in a week or a month.
– I point out to the Minister that he is departing from the question immediately before the Chair, and that if I permit him to open up a new subject, I shall have to allow other honorable members to follow him on the same lines.
– Quite so. I was merely making an appeal to honorable members to assist me in carrying this Bill into law as soon as possible.
– I am quite willing to accept the suggestion that the punishment for which this proposed new clause provides shall be reduced from one month to one week. I desire to explain that I was led to submit this proposition because of my own experiences. What should be done with a man who, at a meeting attended by 300 or 400 men, women and children, raises the cry of “ fire”? Again, what would honorable members do with men who create a panic in a public meeting by ringing a lire bell ? In one case, a fire bell was rung by eight or ten hoodlums, not voters, for the purpose of disturbing a political meeting.
– By Labour men?
– They belonged not to the Labour party, but to our opponents. The maintenance of free speech is the hope of the Labour party, because our opponents have the great daily newspapers with them, whereas we have not. Large propertyowners do not as a rule attend public meetings ; they are convinced that their mission is to go forth to vote for their property. Consequently the Labour party will be the chief gainers from the passing of a provision to secure good order at political meetings, where the other side can be converted. We desire to induce our opponents to attend our meetings, and to be able to send them home converts to the cause of Labour. We cannot do that if they fear that they will be broken up by gangsof hoodlums when attending our meetings. The honorable member for Bass has referred to a great meeting in a town in Tasmania which was broken up by a gang of larrikins, with the result that we could not preach the gospel of labour to the people, although we had paid for the hall and had a magnificent attendance. I desire that this proposed new clause shall be passed for the protection of the people themselves. I do not think that there is any decadence on the part of politicians. A politician is never so great as when he is a fighting man. John Bull wants a fight and an umpire. I desire to have the law as the umpire in my case, for I know that I shall then have a fair fight.
– I desire to express my disapproval of this proposed new clause. As to the statements made by the honorable member for Darwin, I would remind him that the law now provides for the punishment of those who create a disturbance at a public meeting.
– I could not obtain a conviction under it in Tasmania.
– If the law already deals with those who disturb public meetings, then there must be some object in view in proposing to go further. I have seen persons ejected from political meetings for no sufficient cause. Although I have had at times lively meetings, I have never spoken at a meeting at which exception could be taken to the conduct of any one present.
– They were all held by the honorable member.
– The worst public meeting I ever attended was in Victoria.
– I refer to a State election meeting held in Prahran. It was a little lively, yet a splendid meeting. There is, after all, nothing worse than a spiritless meeting. The honorable member for Wakefield has said that he has attended meetings in South Australia at which there has been organized obstruction.
– I said not that I had attended such meetings, but that they had taken place.
– I have never heard of such meetings.
– The honorable member’s own party can tell him of them.
– I deny the statement. I have attended many meetings held by the Labour party, and have allowed a political opponent to use a hall in which I was speaking. The man to whom I refer was unable to secure an audience of his own, and I allowed him to address mine. There was no disturbance of any kind. I have spoken from the same platform with some of my political opponents, notably Mr. J. Langdon Parsons, and Mr. Samuel Tompkinson, and at such meetings there has been no disturbance whatever. I have also attended political meetings held by the opponents of our party, and have seen no disturbance there. If we carry this provision, justices of the peace will be able to punish men who have committed no offence. Undoubtedly this means an extension of the “gag-“ If public meetings are so often disturbed as some honorable members would have us believe, it is strange that it did not occur to the Minister or one of his supporters to submit such a provision as that now before us.
– I had a clause dealing with the matter, but we compromised.
– If there had been any substantial cause for the complaint, such a provision as this would have been in the Bill as introduced.
– It was introduced as a purely machinery Bill.
– Why did not the Minister insist upon it being kept a purely machinery Bill ?
– This is a machinery provision.
– It has nothing to do with the working of the principal Act, but I am not surprised at the Treasurer supporting it. The Government and their supporters have seized upon this proposition because it has been submitted by a member of the Labour party, and they think that they will score on it. I shall tell my electors, however, that we have in power a Government which is prepared to apply to them ‘ worse laws than prevail in Russia. I am glad that no member of the Opposition, besides the honorable member for Darwin, is supporting the proposal. Perhaps the Government thought we would all support it. No doubt they would be glad to introduce the German system, so that a policeman could be placed at the door of every public meeting, with power to say at any time, “ This meeting must now end.” They would not allow any elector to open his mouth. At any rate, that is the view I take of the position, and I shall ask my constituents to take the same view of it. The proposal is outrageous. I shall support an amendment which the honorable member for Boothby subsequently intends to move, so that if persons are sent to gaol they shall be detained at some place more than 7 miles from the polling booth for which they are enrolled, and may thus take advantage of the postal voting provision. No doubt the Government willoppose that proposal.
– Does the honorable member think that the Government wish to put into gaol those who vote against them?
– I do not know what they would do. Electors should not be put into gaol for interjecting at public meetings. Are they to hear outrageous statements from candidates without expressing their feelings? It will be an ill day for the country when its people are prepared to do that.
Question - That the word “month’s” proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed new clause (Mr. Hall’s amendment of Mr. King O’Malley’s proposed new clause) - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 14
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment of the proposed new clause negatived.
.- I move -
That the proposed new clause be amended by inserting after the word “ imprisonment “ the words “ in some house of detention more than seven miles from the polling place for the division for which he is enrolled.”
My object is to prevent the disfranchisement of electors who may be imprisoned under the proposed new clause. If they are sent to places more than 7 miles from the subdivision for which they are enrolled, they will be able to make use of the postal voting provisions. I am inclined to think that the proposed new clause, if used at all, will be used largely to suppress leading political personages, against whom the accusation of obstructing a public meeting will be brought.
– Does the honorable member seriously think that?
– Yes. I do not know any other reason why honorable members opposite should unanimously support the proposed new clause. They did not need the protection which it affords.
– We have to meet new tactics.
– The only new party which has recently come into existence is the Fusion party, and the only new tactics are those of that party. The tactics of the Labour party are unchanged. The Fusion party are trying to suppress in every way those who disagree with their policy, and who attempt to express their disagreement either by criticising its measures in this House or interjecting during public meetings, or even addressing them.
– Throughout the last election campaign, and since, the right honorable member for East Sydney could not get a hearing in certain parts of the metropolis of his State, because of the organized obstruction with which he was met.
– He can get a hearing whenever he desires one. Besides, if a public man is prevented from expressing his views, he obtains the sympathy of the public, and usually their votes. He gains more than his opponent.
– A leading politician requires opportunities to express his views. He counts for more than one candidate.
– No public man in Australia has ever been prevented from putting his views. I ask the Committee whether they will allow a provision intended to suppress disorderly conduct at meetings to be used to prevent inconvenient opponents from exercising the franchise. Those who are sent to prison will be prevented from canvassing and working in the interests of candidates, but they should not be deprived of the right to vote. They will be political prisoners who have committed no crime. In the ordinary sense of the term, they will not be disorderly persons.
– Having consulted with the Attorney-General, I see no objection to the amendment.
Amendment of the proposed new clause agreed to.
– I regret that the proposal of the honorable member for Darwin has been accepted by the Government. I do not desire disorder at public meetings, and have never taken part in creating it, but the proposal before the Chair is too stringent.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.45 p.m.
– I think there ought to be a quorum, Mr. Chairman. [Quorum formed.] I cannot see that this amendment in any way improves the Bill ; indeed . as it stands, instead of preventing disorder it is more likely to create it. If persons desire to disturb a meeting, it is likely that, in view of the fact that one or two would be easy of arrest, a great number would participate, and thus the very evil it is sought to abolish wouldbe intensified. The clause, with the amendment which the Minister has accepted, is quite farcical ; and I shall vote against it.
.-] understand that this is a special law to deal with Federal elections ; and we have to ask ourselves what will the public think of us if we require such a provision as that before us, as distinguished from candidates for the State Parliaments? The position is ridiculous and humiliating. I am entirely against any disturbance at public meetings, hut those who take part in them are not half so bad as the people who whisper villainous lies about candidates. We can fight an open enemy, even if he is howling like a dingo - we know the best and the worst of him - but what can we do with people who, possibly depending on their cunning and not upon their ability for their living, circulate slanderous statements?
– Give them six months.
– But they are too cunning to allow themselves to be caught ; they belong to that branch of the human race which, at an earlier stage of civilization, when cannibalism prevailed, would have been adepts at laying traps for their victims. In my opinion, the Minister, in accepting this amendment, has made a great mistake, but it is his mistake, and not mine. I detest people who attend public meetings for the purpose of breaking them up, but, at the same time, I like people to be heard if they think injustice is being done.
– Heard by creating a disturbance !
– Not necessarily, and the right honorable member has no right to say so. Under the State laws the chairman of any public meeting can call the police in to quell a disturbance; and, again, I say that it is ridiculous and humiliating to have this special provision for Federal elections.
Question - That the proposed new clause as amended be inserted - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 16
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Proposed new clause, as amended, agreed to.
– I move -
That the following new clause be inserted : - “ 128A. Separate polling booths or compart ments may be provided for women voters in all cities, towns and boroughs.”
In times of great excitement it might be very unpleasant for women to use the same voting compartment as men. In the olden days at Ballarat I have known men fight at the booths until the coats were torn off their backs - a very unpleasant scene. We all admit that, since the women have had votes, the elections have been carried on in a very quiet and seemly manner. At the last election in Victoria I visited the polling booth in the Town Hall, Brighton. There was a rail down the centre of the hall, on the left-hand side of which the women voted, and on the right-hand side the men. It was a capital arrangement, and I thought it better to make provision for it in the Bill, so that it might be optional for the Department to have separate places for women if thought necessary.
-In the same booth ?
– Yes, or separate booths, if so desired.
– I understand the honorable member for Balaclava to propose that the separate compartments may be in the same polling booth. I see no objec- tion to that, but I cannot consent to having separate polling booths.
– I am prepared to strike that part out.
– If the honorable member is prepared to omit separate polling booths, I see no objection to his proposal.
– I am quite willing to accept that amendment. It would be better to make the clause read -
Separate compartments at polling booths may be provided for women voters.
Amendment amended accordingly.
.- I do not think there is any marked request from the women voters for this clause
– It leaves it optional with the Department.
– That is true; but it would not be desirable to have the practice adopted by one returning officer and not by another. I have never found, at the roughest polling booth, anything but the greatest respect paid to the women who went there to vote. This kind of tinkering with a matter of such importance does not help to provide the necessary facilities for women to register their votes. More notice would be taken of the fact that the women were put into one part of the polling booth and the men into another. Such an arrangement would cast a reflection on one party or the other, because, after all, no two persons can be in the polling compartment at the same time, so that privacy is already entirely secured. I do not feel so strongly against the proposition as to vote against it, but there is no real demand for it, and it may lead to anomalies.
– If the need arose, it could be provided for.
– I think so, but it is not wise to put the provision in the Act. The Minister evidently wishes to accept it, so it is of no use to discuss it further. I would much prefer, for the sake of uniformity, that we should allow the old system to obtain for at least another election. After all, the honorable member for Balaclava intended to go much further, and have separate polling places, his fear being that women would not be properly treated in the presence of men. That is an unnecessary and undeserved reflection on the men of Australia, and the Minister has made an error in accepting the amendment.
.- The Leader of the
Opposition is hardly correct in saying that I have accepted the amendment. I was anxious to ascertain exactly what the proposal was. In all the reports which I have received regarding the conduct of elections throughout Australia, no complaint has been made as to the way in which the women voters have been treated. The police are always present, and the records show that the greatest decorum and order prevails. I take it that the object of the honorable member for Balaclava is that in very large centres further accommodation should be provided for women voters, but in view of the facts which I have stated I hope he will see that there is no necessity for placing the amendment in the Bill.
– I do not want to press the amendment against the wish of the Minister. My idea was to have it optional in the Act, so that if in times of great excitement it was necessary the provision could be availed of. I have seen cases where it would be very unpleasant to women to have to go near a polling booth. I understood that the Minister was going to accept the amendment, but if he does not wish to do so I shall withdraw it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
– I move -
That the following new clause be inserted : - “ All approaches to polling booths shall as far as practicable be kept clear from obstruction, and no person shall be permitted to canvass or in any way interfere with persons of either sex in the vicinity of polling booths or the approaches thereto.”
– The Act already provides that there shall be no canvassing within 50yards of a polling booth.
– After studying it very carefully, I have not been able to find that particular provision in the Act. Section182a prohibits canvassing at the entrance to or within a polling booth, but I wish to protect the approaches to the booths from obstruction on the part of canvassers or barrackers for either side to the annoyance of people who want to record their votes.
– Where does the approach begin?
– The approach is the place leading up to the booth. As a matter of fact, there ought to be no canvassing anywhere on polling day. If honorable members so desire, I will make the limit100 yards, but my amendment will sufficiently meet the case. The fear of interference at present accounts for the loss of a great number of votes. Many of the opposite sex hesitate to go to the poll because they do not like to be jostled or bailed up by canvassers. My idea is to keep the approaches and the vicinity of the polling booths, as well as the booth itself, absolutely . clear from anything of that kind. Another reason is that in the busy hours of the polling it is often almost impossible for even a strong man to force his way into a polling booth in crowded centres. Owing to this” difficulty at the last general election some people were unable to record their votes.
– Is not the difficulty met by section 177 of the principal Act?
– This matter does not affect me personally, but I am dealing with it from a public stand-point, and think that this additional safeguard should be provided.
– It is rather difficult to deal with amendments on short notice, but I would point out that the term “ approaches “ is a very wide one. For instance, the Athenaeum Hall, which is the principal, polling booth for the division of Melbourne, abuts on Collins-street, and the whole of Collins-street might be described as ari approach to it. It seems to me that to legislate in this way would be to interfere with the State rights of people with regard to the use o? public thoroughfares. I would remind the Committee that when the Bill of 1905 was under consideration it was proposed that the approaches to polling booths, for a distance of 50 yards, should be kept clear, but that proposition was rejected. It might be said that the running of a tram-car along Collins-street constituted an obstruction to the Athenaeum Hall when used as a polling place. I hope that the Committee will not accept the amendment.
.- I am glad that the Minister has taken up this attitude, and trust that he will adopt it in regard to all other proposed new clauses. Honorable members on this side of the Committee have constantly appealed, to the Minister to stand by the Bill as introduced.
– The honorable member for Darwin was successful in securing the insertion of a new clause.
– I do not think that it. will improve the Bill, nor do I think the Government will improve their position by accepting, without due consideration, numberless small amendments calculated to interfere with the policy of the Electoral Act. The honorable member for Lang appears to be afraid of the next general’ election. Evidently the Rev. Mr. Crawford is getting on his nerves.
– If the honorable member were sure of obtaining the majority that I secured at the last general election he would be very happy.
– The honorable member can see that majority vanishing into thin air.
– Will the honorable member confine himself to the question.
– The honorable member did not object to persons congregating on his behalf at the approaches to. polling booths at the last general election, but he now seems to think that he has a very precarious hold upon his majority. The Minister of Home Affairs has done well in pointing out that a clause of this kind would impinge upon the rights of the States. It may even grow into a particular grievance against the “ Ma “ State.
– Why this insulting, reference to the honorable member’s own State ?
– If any remark ofmine is piercing the rhinoceros-like political hide of the honorable member I should feel that I had accomplished something. I am sure, however, that nothing I could say would pierce his wellseasoned political skin. We have jurisdiction inside a polling booth under the principal Act, but surely it will not be contended that we have jurisdiction in respect of the “ vicinity “ of a polling booth, or that we can order a street on which a polling booth abuts to be cleared. This is a ridiculous and unnecessary proposal. As a matter of fact the Act provides that the entrances to polling booths shall be kept free from obstruction, and we know that the authorities carry out the law in that regard. To propose that the Commonwealth authorities shall practically follow a crowd in a street, in the vicinity of a polling booth, or at the approaches thereto - whatever those indefinable terms may. mean - is to propose to carry the law to a farcical extent. The honorable member is resorting only to another means of “ stonewalling ‘ ‘ and wasting time on behalf of the Government and their supporters.
.- I suggest that the honorable member for Lang should not press his amendment.
– I shall.
– It seems to me to be useless to press an amendment when there is no chance of carrying it. I regretted to hear the honorable member for Cook make a contemptuous reference to the State from which he comes.
– I ask the honorable member to confine himself to the question.
– I propose to do so. I propose to show that neither the rights of New South Wales, to which the honorable member for ‘Cook contemptuously referred as the “ Ma State,” nor those of any other State would be affected by this proposed new clause.
– -Is it contemptuous to address one’s mother as “ Ma”?
– Everything depends upon the tone of voice in which such a remark is made. I rose only to urge that we should discuss this proposition apart from all questions of State or Commonwealth rights. This is a Commnowealth Bill, and if we desire to conserve the rights and privileges of States we should treat them with respect and civility.
– I think that we are all agreed that the entrance to a polling booth ought not to be obstructed by canvassers or others. At the last general election some of those in charge acted as if the Commonwealth Act provided that the approach to a polling booth for a distance of 50 yards from the entrance should be kept clear. In some cases those who had rolls on tables outside the polling places to enable the electors to ascertain their numbers on the rolls were compelled to remove beyond that limit. Tn some instances they were kept on the far side of the street. In Dubbo the authorities acted as if such a limit were actually prescribed. The entrance door of the polling booth there is some distance from- the footpath, but it was held that the front gate constituted the entrance, and for a distance of 50 yards therefrom the approaches were kept dear. I certainly support the view that the entrances to polling booths ought not to be obstructed ; but I am glad that the Minister has refused to accept this ridiculous proposal that not only the approaches but the vicinity should be kept clear. In large country electorates it might be said that a road some miles long leading to a polling booth was an approach, and that it must be kept clear of canvassers and others. I suggest that the desire of the honorable member might be met by the Minister issuing instructions to the deputy returning officers as to what is actually meant by the direction that the entrance to a polling booth shall be kept clear. Where a polling place abuts on a footpath it would be very difficult to keep the entrance clear, but uniform instructions should be issued. There was plenty of room for every one at Dubbo, and the regulation, or instruction, issued, worked very well, although there was an attempt now and then, on the part of a canvasser, to accompany to the door of the polling booth an elector who was thought to be in some doubt as to how he should vote. Where there is plenty of room about a polling place the idea that the approaches should be kept clear for a distance of 50 yards is not a bad one. If a clear space is maintained round the doors of a polling booth, candidates and those acting for them are able to keep an eye on any one who is suspected of a desire to do wrong. On one occasion we actually had to turn out of a town hall used as a polling booth a man who insisted upon standing at the foot of the staircase, and who claimed his right to stay there because he was a councillor. Such instances cause annoyance and suspicion. No doubt at election time all parties put up the best fight that they can, and do everything possible to obtain votes. The difficulty of keeping the approaches to polling booths clear can, I think, be met by instructing the presiding officers that that is to be done. On one occasion the tables I speak of were on a verandah, and no complaints were made. But at the last election they were outside the gate of the enclosure surrounding the courthouse, perhaps a better arrangement, because it enabled those who were seated at them to keep a keener eye on what was going on. It would be a mistake to insist upon any definite area being kept clear, because what might be a reasonable area in one place would be unreasonable in another. It would be impossible, for instance, to insist on a space being kept clear in front of the Melbourne Athenaeum. The matter must be left largely to the discretion of the presiding officers, acting in compliance with general instructions.
Mr. RICHARD FOSTER (Wakefield)
Darling has suggested is part of the law of South Australia, which prohibits persons from congregating on polling day within fifty yards of the approaches of a polling-booth. This provision has been applied to the conduct of Federal as well as to the conduct of State elections, and its advantages have been highly appreciated. Its enforcement does not necessitate any interruption of traffic. In the city persons may pass up and down, in front of a polling booth in the ordinary course of business, but they are not allowed to congregate within 50 yards of it. The Department could, I think, give effect to this reform by regulation. I do not know what objection there can be to the adoption of a practice which has resulted in a distinct improvement in the conduct of elections. There has been no interference with the rights of municipal authorities.
.- I trust that the amendment will not be adopted. Every polling place in my electorate comes up to the street frontage, the main door opening upon the footpath. It would be impossible to keep a clear space within fifty yards of these polling booths. As the honorable member for Darling has pointed out, what may suit a small town where the polling booth is in a courthouse, situated within an enclosure, would not suit a large city. The Athenaeum, in Collins-street, is a polling booth. Persons could not be prevented from congregating within fifty yards of it, because there are places of business quite near to it.
– The police will not allow persons to loiter in the vicinity of a polling booth.
– They do sometimes.
– I do not know what has happened in the Lang division in the past, but I hope that something different, politically speaking, will happen at the next election. The Minister has done the right thing in refusing to accept the amendment, but will he carry his colleagues with him? Probably, as it will not mean the loss of a seat to a member of the Ministerial party, they will be solid on this occasion, and allow the Department administering the Electoral Act to make the necessary provisions for the proper conduct of elections.
.- It seems to me that if we agree to this proposal the ordinary elector may hi afraid to. approach a polling booth lest he should get into trouble, though, as a matter of fact, Australians are as well behaved as any set of people in the world. Most of those who vote are quite content to go to the booths, mark their ballotpapers, and go away again. The more regulations we make for the conduct of elections the more likely is it that the law will be broken. In discussing all these proposals for the amendment of the existing Act we are wasting very valuable time, which we shall need badly later on.
.- I should have preferred to move an amendment of the provision in the original Act, but as I could not do that, I have moved the insertion of a new section. I think, however, that it would be better to leave out the words “ and approaches thereto.”
– What is meant by the “vicinity” of a polling booth?
– The word is one ordinarily understood, which it is unnecessary to define. I have been specially asked by a number of ladies, including several from the Cook electorate, to bring forward a proposal of this kind. They complain that they were unable to record their votes at the last election because the “ pushes “ congregated at the approach of the polling booth made it impossible for them to enter. They did not wish to go to the honorable member who represented the electorate, because they thought that he would not understand them, or would not secure the reform which they need; and, therefore, came to me. With the permission of the Committee, I shall amend the. proposal by leaving out the words I have mentioned.
– It seems to me that we should make this provision perfect, and, therefore, I intend to move that each female elector shall be accompanied to the polling booth by two members of the Young Men’s Christian Association, and each male by two members of the Women’s Christian Association. If we are going to make a farce of the law, let us do so completely. If this legislation cannot be seriously discussed, let us at least provide amusement in connexion with it.
.- I do not know why the honorable member for Lang has moved the proposed new clause. None will know what is meant by “vicinity.” One returning officer may feel it incumbent on him to keep clear approaches to his polling booth for a distance of 5 yards, another for a distance of 50 yards, and a third, perhaps, for a distance of 500 yards. If the distance of 50 yards were fixed, and a chalk mark run across the pavement, we should find the crowd congregating there, and the block would be as inconvenient as if it occurred at the door. I have not heard any satisfactory reason for the provision. The honorable member for Lang says that certain ladies have been unable to get through a crowd. Evidently in that case the police were not doing their duty by keeping the street clear. My experience is that if ladies wish to vote they can get through a crowd as well as men can. At shows, auction sales, and other places of the kind, ladies are as well able to fight their way as men. To say that ladies have not been able to record their votes because of the crowd round a polling booth is a reflection on the men of Australia. I have not before heard of anything of the kind happening. The Committee ought now to decide the matter, and get on with other business.
– I hope that the honorable member for Lang will not press the amendment. The least I can expect from my own party is that a proposal of this kind will not be sprung on me without notice. To me the amendment appears ridiculous. How can the Commonwealth interfere with persons passing backwards and forwards before a polling booth ? The honorable member for Lang desires that the approaches to polling booths shall be kept clear, but could the electoral authorities keep a whole street clear?
– Electors cannot record their votes if they are obstructed by crowds at the entrances to the polling booths?
– The police laws prohibit persons from obstructing traffic. No doubt the honorable member has himself been requested at times to move on. These laws are sufficient to prevent the blocking of the entrances to polling booths. I hope that the Committee will not vote for the amendment.
– If the Minister wishes me to withdraw the amendment he is going the wrong way to work. I shall not accept lectures from him, nor any one else.
– The honorable member for Lang says that the suggestion for this clause came from my electorate and I am glad to hear the Minister, whom he supports, characterize it as ridiculous. It shows that a ridiculous suggestion from my electorate has been palmed off on the honorable member. If the electors of my constituency, no matter on which side they may be, have a sensible suggestion to make, it will be put forward on their behalf. No doubt my opponent at the next election has suggested this amendment.
-The honorable member must confine himself to the question before the Chair.
– This ridiculous suggestion, I think, has very likely come from the Grand Master of the. Orange Lodge, who has been selected as my opponent at the next general election.
-The honorable member must confine himself to the question.
– Ihave no doubt that the honorable member for Lang, who sat on a crocodile and thought it was a log, had this clause suggested to him, and in his innocence believed it worthy of a place on the statute-book.
.- I have to thankthe Minister for his lecturette, and to say, in passing, that he must be very gratified at the applause he is receiving from those who are always opposed to him - applause that, in itself, ought to be sufficient indication that this is an amendment of a proper character. If I did not go fully into the matter it was because I desired to save time. At the last election numbers of women could not record their votes, because the approaches to the polling booths were blocked up by numbers of men, who refused to let them through. I called the attention of a couple of constables to the position, and asked them if they could not keep a path clear, so that ladies and others might not be jostled and subjected to insult ; and they told me that they had no power to prevent the people congregating on the footpath, their instructions being simply to keep the entrance to the booth clear. I do not agree with the Minister that this is a ridiculous proposal, and I am surprised that he should have used such an expression to one of his own supporters, or anybody else, who honestly puts forward a reasonable proposition for the public good. I resent very strongly the tone he has thought fit to adopt, which is certainly not warranted by either the nature of the amendment, or the friendly intention behind it. If the Minister takes exception to the proposal because I did not acquaint him with the fact that I intended to submit it, 1 can only tell him that I thought it a self-evident improvement, and that he would accept it without question. I propose to press the amendment to a division, seeing that the Minister has not gone the right way to induce me to withdraw it, though I ask leave to amend it in the way I have indicated.
.- 1 think the difficulty could be met by administration. I was in the Home Affairs Office at the time of the last election, and quite a number of complaints reached me; and I urge the Minister to seek the cooperation of the municipal authorities in keeping the roadways and pathways clear. No honorable member desires that any elector shall be prevented from recording his vote. I am sure that the Minister is just as anxious as is the Honorable member for Lang to accomplish the desired object, and I think that an assurance from the honorable gentleman to the effect I have indicated, would meet the case.
.- The honorable member for Maribyrnong, who has had experience in the Department of Home Affairs, suggests that the matter could be met by regulation and co-operation with the State authorities; and if I am in office during the next election I shall do everything I possibly can to meet the difficulty in the way suggested. I hope the honorable member for Lang will excuse my speaking with a little heat ; but if he had been sitting here as long as I have, and had amendments of this nature suddenly sprung on him, he would probably be as irritable as I am afraid I am. I am sorry if I showed any heat in replying to him. However, I still see no necessity for the amendment, and I shall oppose it.
.- I now recognise what I did not, perhaps, recognise before - that the Minister has been subjected to a nervous strain, and under its influence has given way, as we are all liable to do, to a little irritation. In view of the Minister’s further explanation, 1 ask leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
.- I move-
That the following new clause be inserted : - Section 07 is amended by the addition of the following words : - “ In lieu of the deposit provided for in the last preceding sub-section, it shall suffice if any such person lodge a special nomination paper in the prescribed form, signed by 200 electors in the case of a candidate for the House of Representatives or 1,000 electors in the case of a candidate for the Senate.”
Without raising an academic discussion on the whole question, I submit that we must recognise the rights of minorities - that all reforms were at one time advocated only by small minorities. It seems very unfair to penalize men merely because they happen to be in a small minority, seeing that they may some time grow to a majority. The utmost we have a right to do is to protect the Commonwealth-
– From adventurers.
– Not only from adventurers, but from half-witted individuals, or bogus candidates, who are nominated for a joke. We ought not to have sane men faced with opponents on the verge of insanity.
– That is nothing, when one is used to it!
– I have not got used to it yet. Because 9,000 or 10,000 electors wish to record their votes, not necessarily for the Labour party or for the party opposite, a candidate for their suffrages is called upon to pay £25. Because we happen to-day to be in a majority we deliberately penalize the minority.
– If a candidate did not poll 200 votes, what would he forfeit?
– I suggest that he should not forfeit anything. Some very excellent men, at some stage in their career, have not received more than 200 votes. All great causes have, at one stage, been advocated by an insignificant minority. It is very unfair to insist that a man, because he is in a minority, should have to pay £25 for the privilege of running for Parliament. At present the law does not prevent minorities from being heard, or from endeavouring to have representation, because a man who is really in earnest will raise the necessary £25 ; we do not block him, but merely penalize him in an unfair way. This amendment will enable to stand for Parliament without making the deposit those who have sufficient supporters to show that they are obviously intelligent men.
– I point out that the amendment as presented would hardly work, because, in the case of the House of Representatives, the words “ of the division “ are required after the word “electors,” and “of the State” in the case of the Senate. However, I am entirely opposed to the amendment. The honorable member has told us that our duty is to protect the Commonwealth from bogus candidates, and that is the very object of providing for a deposit. At the first Senate election in New South Wales, where no deposit was required, some fifty candidates came out, and the result was that no less than 38,000 informal votes were cast, or 20 per cent, of the total votes polled. That is not a desirable state- of affairs. Our object is to see that the electors get the fullest and best opportunity of declaring their will through the ballot-box, but when the result of so many candidates coming out, many of them merely for the sake of advertising themselves, is what I have indicated, I think the safeguard proposed by the honorable member for Werriwa is not at all sufficient. Any crank could get a hundred signatures in a constituency. There are always a certain number of people willing to sign anything of that sort in order to have a candidate in the field in opposition to the sitting member, or to get as much fun as possible out of an election. I invite the Committee, in order to safeguard elections against bogus candidates, . and to prevent the ‘recurrence of what happened in New South Wales at the time to which I have referred, to retain the £25 deposit.
.- I support the proposal of the honorable member for Werriwa. I have always opposed the provision requiring candidates to put down a deposit. My own experience is that we do not need any such protection. Of course, it is in the interests of sitting members. There is no such provision in South Australia, yet there are no more bogus candidates there than in other parts of Australia.
– They have had a few in the past, and elections have been held which would otherwise have been avoided.
– In one notorious case, where the late Mr. Kingston and myself were candidates for West Adelaide, another gentleman, whose name I will not mention, also stood. He had been temporarily released from the Parkside Asylum, and was back there again before election day. I may add that only a gentleman in his condition would have opposed us on that occasion. He was persuaded to stand by a number of larkish sharebrokers on the Stock Exchange, and if a deposit of ^25 had been necessary they would readily have found it in order to put him up, and make an election. They found a good deal ‘ more than that for his expenses. I do not believe the deposit has any important effect in preventing bogus candidatures. Such candidatures very rarely take place now, since the organization of parties. In recent elections there has scarcely been a candidate who was not run by one of the leading organizations, or who had not a reasonable expectation of getting more than one-fifth of the votes. In South Australia we have scarcely had an instance in recent years of any candidate who has not received more than that proportion. Judging by the South Australian experience, the existing provision is not necessary, and it certainly is undemocratic. It ought to be the right of everybody, irrespective of his financial position, to stand for the suffrages of the people. We ought not to hedge ourselves round in this way. The abolition of the deposit might pei haps entail a little extra cost on some occasions, but we would do better to stick to the good Democratic principle of giving every one who wishes to do so an equal opportunity to stand for Parliament.
– 1 have always opposed the principle of the deposit. It is undemocratic, and an embargo upon deserving persons standing for Parliament. It means the penalizing of the poor. A poor man ought to have just as good a right’ as the most wealthy to nominate. He cannot force himself upon the electors, because they have the final right to choose. The deposit has been defended on the ground that it prevents bogus nominations, but there is not much in that objection, and in view of the way in which the electors are being organized into well-defined political parties, there is less likelihood than there used to be of bogus candidates offering themselves. Many years ago in New South Wales there was no deposit for State elections, but on one occasion a well-known politician and barrister nominated for a constituency at a byelection. He claimed that he would have had a walk-over but for the fact that a few business people, mainly publicans, clubbed together and nominated a man in order that there might be a contest, and money spent. That was in the good old days when the franchise was limited and money interests were the important factor in determining an election. After that gentleman’s return he proposed and carried a Bill providing for a deposit of £50, and that measure was afterwards found a great stumblingblock in the way of the nomination, not of bogus candidates, but of men who desired to represent the working classes, and who afterwards did represent them. The abolition of the deposit was one of the big reforms put before the electors in the early nineties as the result of the movement which brought the Labour party actively into politics, lt succeeded, and ever since then no deposit has been required in that State. Consequently, in the first Federal election, conducted under State management, a deposit was not necessary. I am not aware that any strong reasons have been discovered that would lead the New South Wales Parliament to go back to the ob- noxious monetary qualification as a condition of nomination. There have been instances of men nominating who polled only a small number of votes, but that is no justification for imposing this penalty. It does not always follow, because a man polls a small number of votes, that he is incompetent or even unacceptable. In New South Wales one candidate for a city constituency received a very small vote, and if a deposit had been required he would have forfeited it, but he was then a young and untried man, and that was his first experience. He stood again at the next election, was returned after a hot contest, and has remained the very popular representative of the constituency for a number of years. His rejection in the first case was the outcome of the peculiar conditions that obtained at the time, and did not at all prove that he was undesirable or incompetent. I opposed the monetary qualification when originally introduced in the New South Wales Parliament, and have opposed it ever since. I oppose it now in regard to the Commonwealth Parliament. Nothing is gained by it. It is an embargo that operates harshly in the case of poor, but deserving, men. The question of whether such an embargo should be placed upon them may well be left to the electors. One of the reasons urged for its existence is that in its absence contests which would not otherwise take place occur, and that both the Government and the retiring member are put to unnecessary expense. That may have happened in the past, but there is no likelihood of its recurrence. At every election a well-defined issue is put before the electors, and wherever there is a division of opinion there is sure to be a contest. The embargo is undemocratic, inasmuch as it does not recognise the principle of adult suffrage. It attaches to that principle a qualification sufficient to make it difficult for a very poor man to nominate. It is for that reason, and because I believe a deposit to be undemocratic, and that it would be a blot on the Commonwealth electoral law, that I support the proposed new clause.
– This is a somewhat academic discussion, but I do not think that time will be wasted by devoting a few minutes to the consideration of the question. The principle of one man one vote and of one vote one value will not be complete until all men have an opportunity to offer themselves as candidates for the Federal Parliament. I shall not, however, vote in favour of the abolition of the provision that a candidate shall lodge a deposit of .£25, because I know that bogus candidates are sometimes put up for no other purpose than to cause a contested election. In many cases the Government are thus put to unnecessary expense. I can see coming, however, a time when we shall have proportional voting, and with such a system in force there could be no longer any reason for requiring a candidate to lodge a deposit of £25. I agree with the Minister, that at present the embargo ought not to be removed. If it were, a man having no chance of election might be nominated, and his nomination might lead to the return of a candidate representing only a minority of the elec- tors. Cases have occurred in which bogus candidates have secured more votes than it was thought they would obtain. The honorable member for Calare has referred to the nomination of a gentleman who proved that he had more in him than was imagined. That is by no means an uncommon experience. It is not uncommon for a man to prove after his nomination that he has a good platform style and other qualifications. The instincts of a public man may be so strongly imbued in him that he will be accepted by the electors, and may ultimately climb to the top of the tree. SucK cases have occurred in Europe and in the Australian States. This discussion will show that we have not lost sight of the fact that every man should have equalrights and opportunities. There are times; when even a member of Parliament may find it difficult to put up a deposit of” £2$. .The life of a public man is very expensive, and unless he has independent means is a great drain upon his resources.
– Does not the honorable member think that the alternative suggested is a good one?
– I believe that I could induce 200 men to sign a nomination paper for no other reason than that they were asked to do so. There are many men who would be prepared to sign any nomination paper in order to get rid of their interviewer. I believe that all men should have equal’ opportunities, but until we have proportional voting I do not think that this embargo ought to be removed.
.-I shall vote to abolish the money test. Some of my friends have had a bitter experience of losing their deposits in circumstances absolutely unjust. The requirement that a candidate for election to this Parliament shall put up a deposit of £25 is a remnant of the absurd and barbarous system of conducting elections that is in existence in England to-day. There a man cannot vote because he is a human being. He obtains the right to vote only by the direct or indirect ownership of property. Even now, a candidate there must be prepared to put down a large money deposit. In Chiity’s Statutes, vol. 8, page 246, there is a statement showing that this system is a lineal descendant of the absurd and antiquated system of conducting elections in the Old Country. The statement is as follows -
If the number of electors on the register does not exceed 2,000, the maximum amount shall be£350.
Exceeds 2,000,£380, and an additional£30 for every complete 1,000 electors above 2,000.
Provided that in Ireland if the number of electors on the register does not exceed 500 the maximum amount shall be£200.
Exceeds 500, but does not exceed 1,000, £250.
Exceeds 1,000, but does not exceed 1,500, £275.
If the number of electors on the register does not exceed 2,000, the maximum amount shall be £650 in England and Scotland, and £500 in Ireland.
Exceeds 2,000, £710 in England and Scotland, and£540 in Ireland ; and an additional £60 in England and Scotland, and£40 in Ireland, for every complete 1,000 electors above 2,000.
A poor man might have the combined ability of a Disraeli and a Gladstone, yet he could not hope to contest an election in Great Britain in such circumstances. In Victoria a candidate for the Victorian Legislative Assembly has to provide a deposit of £50, while a candidate for the Federal Parliament has to lodge a deposit of £25. The alternative suggestion that where a candidate for the House of Representatives is able to get his nomination paper signed by 200 electors, and that where a candidate for a Senate has his nomination paper signed by 1,000 electors, no deposit shall be necessary, is a good one. Such a provision would be an improvement upon that requiring a money deposit to be lodged. We ought to permit a citizen of Australia, privileged by right of his manhood to vote, to say to his fellow citizens, “ These are my views. If you believe in them, then I ask you to return me to Parliament to fight for legislation to give effect to them.” I was assured by a member of the House of Commons that although he was privileged to be elected without a contest he had to pay an English officer£25 to declare that he was duly elected.. The late James Munro told me that when in England he was given an opportunity to contest an election for a seat in the House of Commons, with the support of the great Liberal party, but that he found that the expenses would run into four figures. What we need to eliminate from our Australian Democracy is the power of property to control and manipulate our electoral system. The adoption of the suggestion made by the honorable member who has moved this proposed new clause would be preferable to the existing system. The only objection to it that needs to be combated is the contention that it might not suit some business people to attach their signatures to a nomination paper. The requirement that a nomination paper shall be signed by at least 200 electors would not be so harsh in connexion with our large Commonwealth constituencies as it would be in the case of a State constituency, containing only a few hundred voters. I think the Treasurer was once returned to the State Parliament of Western Australia by something like eightyfive votes.I f the Minister cannotsee his way to accept either the proposed new clause or an alternative suggestion, I hope that during the recess the wisdom of such a provision will appeal to him, and that he will endeavour later on to give effect to it. No candidate for the Parliament of any one of the twenty-two cantons of the Swiss Confederation, or for the Federal Parliament of that country, which the economic writers of the world call “ the school-house of Europe,” is required to pay a deposit. However, if the Minister has made up his mind, no argument of mine, or of any other honorable member, -will change his attitude. But though we fail to-night, we shall try again.
.- I am glad that the Minister refuses to adopt this amendment. It is sought to make it appear that by the existing Act a serious disability is put upon certain individuals, who, but for the statutory requirement that a candidate for election to this House shall lodge a deposit of £25, would offer themselves for election.
– Unquestionably there is.
– I venture to differ from the honorable member.
– I have experienced such a disability in times gone bv.
– I hold that in connexion with a Federal election every man is a bogus candidate who has not behind him a considerable section of the community. Any man having behind him a considerable section of the community would not experience the least difficulty in inducing that section to back him -to the extent of
– That means cadging £25.
– That is a very unfortunate expression. If a man, however poor he may be, shows ability and qualifications for representing his fellow citizens in Parliament, he will have a considerable following in this country. To say that those who admire such a man will not be prepared to put down the sum of £25 to enable him to be nominated is ridiculous. It is unfortunate that members should pose before the public over a matter of this sort. To require a deposit is not to place any candidate under a disability, but it will keep out of the field men who have no prospect of being returned.
– I am surprised to hear the honorable member for Echuca say that the £25 deposit prevents persons who have no chance from being nominated, because there are numer ous cases in which deposits have been forfeited. In some of these cases the loss of the money is nothing to those concerned. Many persons are willing to risk £25 on the chance of getting into Parliament, or do so because they are misled or mis-read the public. Such persons are hardly fitted for political life. At the same time there are candidates who enter for an election not expecting to be returned. Candidates on the Labour side sometimes do that with a view to the future. A deposit of £50 would not prevent the nomination of persons who had no chance at all. Our object should be to give the electors the widest choice, and to prevent any bar being raised against the return of a capable man. Most of those in public life are there at some sacrifice of personal interest. Very few men in Australia can afford to leave their businesses to be managed by others, and, no matter what his avocation, a man is made poorer by the devotion of his time to public affairs. Those who are willing to make this sacrifice .of interest are, however, better qualified for public life than those who would not do so. Why should they be required to ask their friends to subscribe money to permit of their nomination? It seems to me that the honorable member for Werriwa has put forward a good alternative, in suggesting that, instead of depositing £25, a candidate may be required to obtain a certain number of signatures in support of his candidature. In the old days, when the expenditure on elections was greater, it sometimes suited certain persons to. subscribe £25 to put up a candidate to prevent a walkover, but that is not often done now. Labour candidates, however, are poor men, and find it difficult to obtain £25 to pay their deposits, in addition to getting money to defray the cost of their candidature. The honorable member for Echuca would make it harder for them. In some of the States no deposit is required.
– That is the case in New South Wales.
– Personally, I do not think , that anything is gained by requiring a deposit. In these days of party organization, there is not much chance for other than selected candidates. Not much harm would be done by abolishing the deposit provision.1 But,) as an alternative, we might adopt the proposal of the honorable member for Werriwa. It is not easy for poor men to find friends who can sub- scribe£25 to pay their deposits, and, of course, such helpers generally expect to have the money refunded to them. Why put this obstacle in the way of a man who has brains, but not means? It should be open to every one to stand for Parliament, so that the electors may have a wider choice.
Question - That the proposed new clause be inserted - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 17
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause negatived.
.- I move -
That the following new clause be inserted : -
“PART III. - ELECTORAL DIVISIONS.
“3A. Part III. of the Principal Act as amended -
by repealing sections thirteen and fourteen and substituting in lieu thereof the following sections : -
– (1) The Governor-General may appoint three persons in each State to be Commissioners for the purpose of distributing the State into division’s in accor dance with this Act, and may appoint one of them to be chairman. (2.) The Commissioners shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor-General.
At all meetings of the Commissioners the chairman, if present, shall preside, and in his absence the Commissioners present shall appoint one of their number to preside, and at all such meetings two Commissioners shall be a quorum and shall have full power to act, and in the event of an equality of votes the chairman or presiding Commissioner shall have a casting vote in addition to his original vote;
by omitting from sections sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, and twentytwo the word ‘ Commissioner ‘ whereever that word occurs, and inserting in lieu thereof the word’ Commissioners ‘ ;
by omitting from sections eighteen and nineteen the word ‘ his ‘ and inserting in lieu thereof the word ‘ their ‘ ; and
by omitting from section nineteen the word ‘ him ‘ and inserting in lieu thereof the word ‘ them.’ “
The amendment looks rather formidable, but it simply means that, instead of one Commissioner, there shall be three.
– What about the expense?
– The expense will be only nominal. I understand that at present the cost is about£100 for each re- division.
– The Commissioner in Western Australia was paid £75.
– It is very seldom the Commissioner has to act ; and, if the present cost be £100 for each redivision, the amendment will mean only£200 more. The question of cost, however, is one on which the Minister will be able to give us accurate information. It is, of course, an important question ; and if the cost should prove to be very great, I should not be in favour of a change. I should really like to see the whole principle changed, and a really representative extra-parliamentary Commissioner appointed. But this is no time to introduce a large question of principle, and, therefore, I confine myself to the proposed change in the machinery. We all know that two heads, and, certainly, three, are better than one. Recently we had before us a case in which the findings of a Commissioner gave anything but satisfaction; and I feel sure that, especially in the large States, one man cannot be expected to master all the numerous details. If the Commissioners were the SurveyorGeneral, the head Electoral Officer, and a Police Magistrate, I think we should have, at a very slightly increased cost, recommendations which would give satisfaction on all sides of the House. Of course, we cannot expect everybody to be satisfied ; but the report of three Commissioners would, doubtless, carry great weight. Honorable members yesterday referred to the re-adjustment of electoral boundaries as a matter of great concern, affecting the Constitution and the rights of electors ; and I appeal to the Minister to favorably consider the proposed new clause.
– This is purely a machinery amendment, which properly comes within the scope of the Bill ; and I may say that, personally, I have always been in favour of three Commissioners. The honorable member for Fawkner is anxious to be given some idea of the extra expense that would be involved in the change; and I am able to inform him that the payments in the past have been ,£100 in the case of New South Wales; £100, Queensland; £100, Victoria ; .£50, Tasmania ; and ^75 each for Western Australia and South Australia ; so that if there were three Commissioners for each re-distribution the cost would be a little under or above ,£1,000. The question is whether three Commissioners are likely to give name satisfaction to the Parliament and the public; and I unhesitatingly express myself in favour of the stronger tribunal. I have already intimated to the honorable member for Fawkner that I am prepared to accept his amendment if after the word “ Commissioners,” where it first occurs, there ‘be inserted the words “ one of whom shall be the Surveyor-General, or an officer holding a similar position in a State.” It appears to me that one necessary qualification for a Commissioner is that he shall be acquainted with the physical formation of the State; and we could not have a better man from that point of view than the Surveyor-General, or an equivalent official.
– Suppose a State will not allow the Surveyor-General to act, or the Surveyor-General himself will not act?
– We have not found any difficulty in regard to such services in the past. The suggestion I have made may be more properly worded ; but I put it forward as an alternative, so that in the event of the Surveyor-General not being able to act, an officer occupying a similar position in the same State, or in another State where there is not a Surveyor-General, may be one of the Commissioners. It is very de sirable that these re- distributions shall be carried out in such a .way as to earn the confidence of Parliament and the public; and, in view of the small extra cost involved, I am prepared to accept the proposed new clause with the amendment I have suggested.
– I am quite prepared to accept the suggested amendment.
– I oppose the amendment, because I have always objected to Boards, and because the duties of the Commissioner are clearly set down in the Act. He has to consider community or diversity, of interest, means of communication, physical features, and existing boundaries and divisions ; and that is quite sufficient to enable a single Commissioner to discover what is required. My experience is that where the reports of Boards of three or more are not satisfactory, we are unable to sheet home the blame. But if one Commissioner whose duties are clearly denned departs from them, it is a simple matter to get another Commissioner who will do the work properly. I object to the multiplication of positions. Every Bill brought before the House now seems to aim at the creation of fresh positions. The taxpayers* are suffering enough at present, and” are getting about tired of it. The Minister has not shown in what way we are likely to get a better report from three Commissioners than from one. I do net believe that three could have done the work recently before us a whit better than it was done by the Western Australian Commissioner, to whose report the Minister stated no valid objection. A mere general statement that there will be more confidence in the work of three is of no value. It would give me no more confidence. I shall oppose the amendment.
– Strong reasons ought to be advanced before the Committee are asked to make the radical change proposed. The first division in. the State of New South Wales was made by three Commissioners. Under the Federal Act there has been one Commissioner, and it is only fair to assume that that principle was adopted as the result of State experience. I see no advantage in having three, and the Minister’s arguments are not convincing. The fact that the report of a certain Commissioner was rejected the other day has no bearing on the question.
– His report has been rejected twice out of three times.
– The recommendation of three Commissioners would have been rejected in similar circumstances. The only way to get over that difficulty is to take the matter entirely but of the hands of Parliament.
– Is the honorable member prepared to do that? I am in favour of it.
– I am prepared to consider it, but this proposal would not bring it about. It will simply substitute three Commissioners for one, still leaving the final decision to Parliament. Under the present arrangement, one Commissioner fits the bill, and Parliament is the final judge. This proposal will simply add cost to the Department, without adding efficiency to it, and for that reason I shall oppose it.
.- I cannot see why it should be proposed to substitute three Commissioners for one. In Victoria we started with three Public Service Commissioners, and got down to one. At one time we had three Railway Commissioners, and afterwards had one, although we have since reverted to three. We have also only one Public Service Commissioner for the Commonwealth. It is proposed that two shall form a quorum, and that the Chairman shall give a casting vote in the event of a tie, so that in the end the work of the three may devolve upon and be carried out by one. I agree with the honorable member for Calare that the mere fact of a scheme being drawn up by three Commissioners instead of one would not prevent it being discarded by a majority of the House if they thought fit. If a scheme distasteful to a strong majority in the House were drawn up by any number of Commissioners, it would be rejected. The proposal means an unnecessary increase of expense, and will bring about no better results. Even if three Commissioners are appointed, the work of drafting the report will probably be left to one, and whether it was checked to any extent would depend entirely upon the amount of trouble which the other two devoted to it. The proposal will not give any greater finality to the report, or secure its acceptance by the House more readily, than in the case of one Commissioner, while it will treble the expense.
– I take it that the amendment has been approved by the Minister, and that he has looked into the matter, and recommends that three Commissioners shall be appointed. In that case I shall support it.
– The amendment of the amendment which I now suggest would make it read as follows: -
The Governor-General may appoint three persons in each State to be Commissioners, one of whom if his services are obtainable shall be the Surveyor-General or an officer of his Department or an officer having similar qualifications.
Amendment amended accordingly.
– It does not seem that we shall get much out of the proposal, or that it matters a great deal one way or the other.
– It will cost one thousand pounds.
– Ido not particularly quarrel with the expenditure of£1,000 by this great, rich Commonwealth, but we are justified in seeing whether we are to get value for it, or whether it is necessary. Where one Commissioner is appointed, the best man with the greatest knowledge is selected, and he obtains the opinions and views of all and sundry before he finally decides. Three Commissioners would get no more information. If there is a division of opinion among the three, one man settles the question, and if there is no difference of opinion among them, it shows that any one of the three would have arrived at the same conclusion. If we had seven Commissioners, very much the same results would be obtained. I do not deny that, in a generay way, there may be more confidence in the report of three men, but when that feeling is analyzed, I do not think there is much ground for it. When the report comes before the House, the members for the particular State, who have a general knowledge of that State and its interests, use their judgment, and the House is largely guided by their advice. We have already provided for a month’s criticism of the Commissioner’s report by the whole of the public. There are many organizations whose business it is to watch . political affairs, and the Commissioner has the advantage of their suggestions. Just as honorable members have the advantage of the opinions of their constituents, and of organizations within their electorates as to suggested alterations of electoral boundaries, so the Commissioner is able to obtain such opinions when maps indicating the proposed alterations are exhibited. I do not think that I should agree to take out of the hands of Parliament the power to review redistribution schemes. Such a change is not contemplated, but the alteration actually proposed would not, in my opinion, give us such an improvement as would justify the increased expenditure that it would involve.
.-I should like the Minister to explain what he means by the words “an officer of his Department.” That is a fairly wide proposition, and if it could be limited in some way or other, I think it would be desirable to do so.
– I propose the insertion of the words which I have read, because in certain circumstances the services of the Surveyor-General of a State ‘might not be available. The Surveyor-General might be ill, or from some other cause might be unable to act. To meet such a difficulty I have added the words “or an officer of his Department.” They refer, of course, to an officer of the Surveyor-General’s Department. Whilst such an officer might not have so complete a knowledge of the country as the Surveyor-General would have, it would be reasonable to assume from his presence in the office that he had a very fair knowledge of the contour of the State.
– Why is it necessary to have a surveyor?
– We must secure the services of a man having a full knowledge of the physical features of the State.
Question - That the proposed new clause is amended be inserted - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … 8
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
.- I move -
That the following new clause be inserted : - “ 31A. After section two hundred and six c the following section is inserted : - 206CC Every political article appearing in a newspaper three months prior to a general election shall be signed by the writer thereof.’ “
My object in submitting this proposition is to enable the public to ascertain the names of newspaper critics of candidates for election to the Federal Parliament. In Sydney there are published a morning newspaper having a daily circulation of over 100,000 ; another daily, with a circulation nearly as large, and two evening newspapers. In Melbourne we have the Age, with a daily circulation of over 110,000 - possibly the largest circulation of any daily newspaper in Australia - and the Argus, which has also a very large circulation. No one knows who writes the articles appearing in those newspapers. Many articles - articles which sting and are written unfairly - are published. They are written by men who are really engaged in sniping, and if their names were attached to every article they wrote, those whom they criticised would be able to face them and to fight them fairly. Members of Parliament and others seeking election are maligned most cruelly and terribly. Lies of the vilest type are published in respect of them - lies which the writer would not dare to utter in their presence. Such lving articles are read by thousands of people, and the persons attacked have no means of defence. Time after time a splendid series of articles is published in the daily press, and if it were the law that the names of the writers should be attached to them, many newspaper men would rise to a higher position than they now occupy. There is no country in Europe where literary men are so well-paid as they are in France, and there, all newspaper articles are signed. Why should a newspaper have the power to injure a man by the publication of articles written by one individual? The use of the word “ we,” which really only royalty has a right to apply to itself, has a wonderful effect. Were my proposal carried, honorable members would face their constituents knowing that those who criticised them in the press would have to sign their names to their articles.
– What does it matter who writes such articles?
– It may not matter much to the honorable member, but for twenty years I have been criticised - at times cruelly. Occasionally my actions have been strongly criticised with justification, but at other times I have been unfairly treated by the writers of unsigned articles. I wish to provide that every leading article published within three months of an election »shall be signed. If that were done, those who read them, would know that they expressed merely the opinions of individuals, with whom, perhaps, they might be acquainted.
– We know now the writers of many articles.
– On one occasion I was maligned by a man who paraded as a personal friend, and did not suspect it until I heard it from his own lips. I told him that I would have cut off my hand rather than treat any one so. His articles appeared under a nom de plume, and he would not have dared to write them had he had to sign his own name to them. Time «nd again members have been maligned, as they would not have been had those who libelled them been required to sign their articles. The man who has the courage of his opinions should be prepared to sign what he writes. This practice is not unknown in other countries. A man who writes, perhaps, the most stinging articles, not hesitating to attack the highest or the lowest, puts his name to what he writes. Those who are attacked ought to know who are attacking them. Would any honorable member consider that he acted honorably if he attacked another under a nom de plume? I do not think one of us would do anything so contemptible. No doubt what I am saying will not influence votes. I have not yet known a Parliamentary speech to change a vote.
– Except when the whip is cracked.
– That does not change conscientious opinions. If writers were compelled to attach their names to their articles, they would in some cases enjoy greater credit than they do now. If a man were known to write in the leading columns of the daily press constantly, and the literary merits of his work were recognised, he would build himself up a reputation, and our newspapers would be multiplied as happens in France, where men of means support such writers. In this way many writers would have more power than they have now.
– But such a writer comd do more damage than he does now.
– The honorable member is welcome to his little joke. I object to pens that can sting and stab while no one knows who wields them. The Argus once had high ideals, so far as Free Trade was concerned, and I wish the Atwell because it was the creator of the Protective policy in Victoria. But primarily all newspapers are run to make profits, and their proprietors regard chiefly the advertisement columns. I shall press my proposal to a division, preferring to stand alone when I know that I am in the right, to being with the big battalions and in the wrong. My proposal would not injure any writer or any newspaper, but would protect those who seek the suffrages of their fellow citizens. Some of those who will vote against the proposal are now favoured by the press, but when the day comes when they will be m the shadow instead of in the sunshine, tl.ey will regret their action.
– I agree with much that has been said by the honorable member for Melbourne. No wrong would be done to newspaper writers if they were compelled to sign their articles. But we have nothing to do now with what appears in the press relating to the policy or character of candidates. Moreover, a proposal of this sort goes beyond the powers of this Committee. The Attorney-General confirms my view that the provision, if adopted, would be ultra vires.
– Surely not if it applied only to political articles relating to Commonwealth elections.
– I am advised by the Attorney-General that legislation in regard to this matter is entirely within the power it the States. That being so, I hope that the honorable member will withdraw his proposal. If he should not see fit to do so, I shall be compelled to oppose it.
.- I thank the Minister for the courtesy of his reply, and do not doubt his legal (knowledge or that of the Attorney-General. It seems to me, however, that if I amended my proposal to make it read “every political article appertaining to a Common1 wealth election,” it would get over the difficulty. Should we carry such a provision, the States would follow our example in their legislation.
– How would the honorable member meet the case of a dissolution where a general election followed within less than three months ?
– If you cannot get a loaf, but can get a bun, you had better take the bun. Of course, it would be impossible to make the proposal retrospective. I believe my proposal to be a right and just one, and, if I press it to a division, I am sure that the Minister will not think I am insensible of his courtesy.
– I do not like to be cocksure in expressing an opinion as to our powers; but I do not think that the suggested alteration by the honorable member will make any difference. The High Court, in the case of D’Emden v. Pedder, decided that, if there is a doubt as to the scope of our powers, there is always a presumption that our legislation is intended to be within those powers; that is, if it bears two constructions - one that a provision is within our powers, and the other that it is not - the construction will be to keep it within our powers. Therefore I think thatit would be held that we do not intend to go beyond our powers; hut the question is whether we have this power, and I do not believe that we have. I do not think that the matter altogether falls within the province of the States. We are now dealing, not with policy, but with electoral machinery ; and I question whether Parliament has power to say that an expression of opinion shall not be published unless it bears the signature of the writer. I do not think that such a provision is incidental to electoral matters.
– It is very pertinent to the candidate who is affected.
– We are now dealing with machinery, which has nothing to do with political parties.
– Will the Attorney-General define what a political article is?
– I do not think I shall attempt that. My belief is that such a clause would he beld to be outside our powers, as incidental to this legislation. At the same time, I recognise that there is much in what the honorable member has drawn attention to; and, assuming that we have the power, we might be called upon to exercise it. The suggestion contained in the amendment has been adopted by some of the leading journals in England, notably some of the reviews, although, at one time, anonymity of the writers was supposed to be sacred.
– I ask leave to insert, after the word “newspaper,” the words “pertaining to a Federal election.”
Proposed new clause amended accordingly.
Mr.WEBSTER (Gwydir) [10.49]. - I am rather surprised at the indefinite way in which the Attorney-General has given his advice to the honorable member for Melbourne. In my opinion, the Government have lost a great opportunity to allay the suspicion that they are working hand in glove with the metropolitan newspapers. Had the Government a desire to “ score,” they would have taken the opportunity to dispel any idea that they were sheltering behind the anonymity of the press. We know that the members of the press, like other persons, do just what the law allows, and the law allows them to abuse members of Parliament at election time. If those irresponsible writers could be drawn into the light, and their character made known, the effect would be that the men whom they oppose would be returned. But writers of this kind shoot from behind the hedge, and I am sure that in such circumstances there is no one here who would refuse to protect his fellow member. I thought the Attorney-General would have taken more trouble to assist the honorable member for Melbourne. Personally I have nothing to complain of, seeing that I owe my position here to the fact that the press continually abuse me. As a matter of fact, I owe the press a debt of gratitude; but there are other men who do not fare so well, and I should like to afford them protection. Since the Attorney-General, who is one of our constitutional luminaries, fails to find a way out of the difficulty, and the Minister of Home Affairs does not think it wise to interfere with the law just before an election, I am prepared to stand another contest under the fire of the press.
Question - That the proposed new clause be inserted - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 15
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause negatived.
– I move -
That the following new clause be inserted : - “ Sections twenty-one and twenty-two of the Principal Act are repealed.”
This amendment is designed to give proper effect to the new clause proposed by the honorable member for Fawkner, and accepted by the Minister. When I addressed myself to the proposal of the honorable member for Fawkner, I said that it would have something to recommend it, and would be logical, if it provided that the entire business should be left in the hands of the Commissioners. What I propose is to eliminate sections 21 and 22, so as to leave the whole redistribution of the boundaries under the control of the new Board of Commissioners.
– Taking it out of the hands of Parliament altogether?
– Yes. Under sections 21 and 22 of the principal Act the work of the Commission is wholly subject to the approval of Parliament, and now that we have strengthened the Com mission, the logical conclusion is that we should arm it with the fullest powers and remove it entirely from the arena of party politics. Under my proposal politicians will have the same rights as other citizens to place their views before the Commission.
– I do not agree with the proposition of the honorable member for Calare.
– Then why did the honorable member accept an amendment increasing the number of Commissioners to three?
– So as to increase the expense.
– The honorable member may put on my action any construction he likes, but I accepted the proposal because I havealways been in favour of three Commissioners, believing that more confidence would be placed in a strong body of that kind when their report came before. Parliament. I did not, however, contemplate taking the consideration of the report out of the hands of Parliament. It would not affect the present Parliament one way or the other, because no further reports of the kind will come before it for consideration.
.- It is about time that progress was reported. We have been here now for twelve hours, and will meet again in less than twelve hours. The proposal now before us is most important. An amendment has already been carried to considerably increase the cost of re-arranging the electorates. Last night I heard the Treasurer state that he would support the appointment of a tribunal to take that business out of the hands of Parliament altogether.
– Order ! The honorable member must not discuss what took place last night.
– Have I not correctly stated the view of the Treasurer, who is apparently going to oppose the new clause ? The Government may repeat the performance of last night if the proposal goes to a division.
– I cannot accept an amendment which is sprung on us like this, and which we have never considered.
– Then what is the objection to reporting progress until the Government have considered it? The experience of the last twenty-four hours must prove to any reasonable man that there is a necessity for some alteration of the present system. There is no doubt in the minds of 98 per cent. of the members of this House that there were political reasons behind a certain action taken yesterday.
– Order ! If I permitted the honorable member to discuss what took place yesterday, the whole of that question could be now re-opened.
– Although I cannot canvass the merits or demerits of the matter decided yesterday, I think it is a fair argument in favour of an independent tribunal to quote some of the resultsof the present system.
– The honorable member can do that without referring to the debate of yesterday.
– I do not desire to retraverse that matter, but I take a most serious view of the state of things under which two constituencies in a State have only 21,000 electors each, while ‘another has 41,000. Some independent tribunal must be appointed to prevent the gerrymandering that takes place on nearly every occasion when re-distribution schemes are placed before us, but I do not think that the body of Commissioners accepted by the Minister is the sort of tribunal that ought to be superior to Parliament. I therefore cannot support the proposal of the honorable member for Calare, even after the disgraceful exhibition of yesterday.
– Order ! The honorable member must withdraw that statement.
– I withdraw it. The Treasurer may mutter, but he knows that I am making truthful statements. Whilst there is a necessity to alter the present system, I am not prepared to hand the power now vested in this Parliament to such a tribunal as the one accepted by the Minister at the suggestion of one of his own supporters.
– Fancy trusting this Ministry with it !
– Yes; or the Commission that they will appoint. This is a fail question for reconsideration by the Government.
– It is a fair thing to ask the Committee to put through a machinery Bill which the officers are anxiously waiting for. If they do not get it soon, I do not know how the next elections will be carried out..
– The honorable member had not much anxiety last night about the next elections. I am anxious also to see the best thing done, but, of course, the Government know that they will get sufficient supporters to troop in who have not heard any of the debate, but who will vote behind them, whatever attitude they take up. Therefore all argument is useless.
Proposed new clause negatived.
– I move -
That the following new clause be inserted : - “ 28B. After section one hundred and eighty of the Principal Act the following section is inserted : - “ 180A. Any person claiming from any candi date a sum larger than his usual charge for services or the use of halls shall be guilty of an electoral offence.
Penalty : Ten pounds or seven days.”
Perhaps the Minister will accept my proposal without discussion.
– I regret that I cannot accept it.
– Many municipal councils, mechanics’ institute committees, and other public bodies have varying rates for the use of their halls, and differentiate between ordinary public and election meetings. In some cases they charge, say, 5s. for the use of their hall for an ordinary public meeting and £2 for its use for an election meeting. It is scandalous that this extortion should be practised upon a candidate for election to this Parliament. Then, again, newspaper proprietors who ordinarily charge 3s. per inch for’ an advertisement, increase that charge from 25 per cent. to100 per cent. in respect of electoral advertisements. This extortion is deliberately practised by men who seem to think that it is reasonable to “ get at “ a candidate for Parliament. If the Minister will not accept the proposed new clause I shall not pressit to a division, but I think that by refusing to accept it he is countenancing an extortion that is deliberately practised by a lot of public bodies and newspapers upon candidates for Parliament. The Minister seems, however, to be unprepared now to accept any proposed new clause unless the Committee is overwhelmingly in favour of it.
.- I regret that I cannot accept the proposed new clause. I do not think that candidates are mere children. It has been said during the dis- cussion on this Bill that they should not be made hot-house plants, and I do not think they usually come within that description. They are fairly well able to look after themselves. There is no doubt a tendency in certain quarters to “get at “ candidates, but I doubt very much whether this proposed new clause comes, strictly speaking, within the scope of an Electoral Bill. We all know that there is a scale of charges fixed for the use of halls for different purposes. There is usually one charge for the use of a hall for a theatrical entertainment, another for its use for a public meeting, and a specially low charge for its use for a charitable entertainment. Another point is that it is difficult to say who could determine what is the usual charge for a hall. I do not think that the proposed new clause would be workable.
– I am not enamoured of this proposition, but do not think’ it more extraordinary than some which the Ministry have accepted. The new clause penalizing any one who interjects at an election meeting was quite as undesirable as this is. I agree with the Minister that the discussion seems to indicate that every candidate for the suffrages of the people ought, in the opinion of some honorable members, to have a dry nurse with him to look after him. It suggests that candidates are incapable of transacting business dealt with by ordinary business men. What right has a candidate to dictate the terms on which a hall shall be leased to him? The proprietor of a hall may not desire to let it for the purpose of an election meeting.
– The proposed new clause would not compel a man to let his hall. It simply provides that if he does let it for an election meeting he shall not exact more than the usual charge for it.
– The owner of a hall might decline to allow a political meeting to take place in it.
– This would be an interference with public enterprise.
– Undoubtedly. We need only to go a step further and to provide that all halls shall be free to candidates who desire to hold meetings, and that the owners shall provide refreshments for the chairmen. The whole situation is becoming ridiculous. I shall certainly ‘oppose the proposed new clause.
Mr. THOMAS BROWN (Calare) should be made by a bright and shining light of the anti-Socialist movement. We often find that anti-Socialists believe in anti- Socialism for everybody else and in Socialism for themselves. This is a case in point, and the honorable member for Corio, who professes to believe in antiSocialism, wants a little Socialism of a particularly objectionable kind for himself. I hope the Government will not accept the amendment.
.- As the Minister has raised an important Constitutional objection to the amendment, it is necessary that I should consult authorities on the subject. Perhaps the honorable gentleman will agree to report progress in order that I may have an opportunity to do so? I object to the statementof the honorable member for Wide Bay that honorable members on this side are being dry nursed, and in reply state that honorable members on the other side were brought up on the bottle. I ask leave to withdraw my amendment.
.- I object to the withdrawal of the amendment. The honorable member for Corio seeks to prevent the owners of halls from making an extra charge for their use for political meetings. I shall vote for the amendment. The difficulty is one which does not affect me very much, because unfortunately there is only one large hall in my district - the Melbourne Town Hall. As I have never had enough money to take that hall for a political meeting, I am not very well acquainted with the charges made for it, but I am informed that the charge for the use of that hall for one night is £15, and that a guarantee to the extent of £10 is demanded to provide against damage. I know of no moral or other reason justifying municipal and other local authorities charging more for the use of their halls for political than for other public meetings. The school rooms are not under our control, but the Federal Government have control of the drill halls throughout Australia,and they might agree to let candidates have the use of them at a minimum charge or for one night free. I was given the use of a drill hall on one occasion, but was afterwards refused it, and could not move the powers that be. I think the honorable member for Corio would be prepared to accept a proposal that drill halls should be given free for one night to each candidate at an election.
– The objection is that more is charged for the use of halls for election meetings than for ordinary public meetings.
– My objection is that the authorities will not permit the use of drill halls for election meetings.
– I think the honorable member for Corio is to be congratulated upon the amendment he has moved. I do not see why a candidate for Parliament should be charged more than any one else for the use of a hall. There are many persons who find it difficult to meet the expense of contesting an election.
– Why should a candidate for Parliament be considered fair game for every one who wishes to make a little money ?
– It is because I object to that that I shall vote for the amendment.
.- It is extraordinary that an anti-Socialist member should submit a proposal which involves a distinct interference with private enterprise, and that one who prates about his objection to confiscation should propose to confiscate a portion of the rent due to the owners of halls, lt is well known that an extra charge is made for the use of halls for political meetings, because they are subjected to greater wear and tear at such meetings than at ordinary public meetings. Again, elections do not occur every three months, and the owners of halls have a right to expect slightly increased rents from candidates during the election season. Honorable members are aware that the keepers of boarding-houses at tourist resorts expect to get a little more from tourists than from local residents. If honorable members do not care to pay the rent asked for halls they can address the electors in the open air. I agree with the Minister that candidates for Parliament must be a very simple people if they require legislative protection against public criticism, and that we should under the electoral law of the Commonwealth finance their election contests in the way now proposed. This is making our proceedings farcical.
.- I do not agree with the honorable member for Cook. I intend to support the amendment. I had experience of one district in the country where the charges made for halls were higher for meetings held by the Labour party than for meet ings held by any other political party. I believe that the charge should be the same for all political parties, and for all kinds of meetings, with the exception perhaps of meetings held for charitable purposes. The suggestion made by the honorable member for Melbourne is one which the Minister of Defence might take into consideration. I think that drill halls might very well be placed at the disposal of candidates for Parliament.
– There are no seats in drill halls.
– I intended to mention that. Drill halls are usually very large, and the cost of providing seats would perhaps amount to the charge which would be made for the use of an ordinary hall, lt would be possible to get a larger number into a drill hall than into any other public building. In one division the Electoral Department has decided to use a drill hall for a polling-booth, because it is the largest hall available. I shall vote for the amendment, because I do not think that any person should charge more tor the hire of a building for a political than for any other meeting, or differentiate in the manner which is objected to.
.- I listened to the amendment with some degree nf consternation. The honorable member for Corio strongly avers his intention to obtain free for candidates for election to the Federal Parliament halls subsidized by a State.
– I did not move that provision.
– The amendment was drafted by the honorable’ member, and has been printed. How can this Parliament enact that halls subsidized bv the State shall be used in that way? It is surprising that we have not had a little homily from the Attorney-General to the effect that such a provision would be unconstitutional, and would make us a laughing stock. Furthermore, how can we say to any individual that it shall .be an offence under the Electoral law to charge £1 is. for services on polling day when he usually charges only half a guinea. It seems to me monstrous that persons should not be permitted to charge extra if they like.
– The Collingwood Council charges more for the use of its hall for a political meeting than for an ordinary meeting. Why should that be? I think the honorable member’s proposal is very good.
– That the honorable member agrees for once with the honorable member for Corio is a matter for mutual congratulation.
– What takes place now is often absolute blackmailing.
– The Labour party has thousands of supporters who cheerfully give their services without charge, and if there are others seeking election who cannot obtain free services, but to secure support must buy it, they can pay the price.
– What about the action of the newspapers in charging double rates for election advertisements?
– They charge exorbitantly, but many of us do not use them, and get along as well as if we did. I hope the Committee will not prevent political hirelings from reaping a harvest at election time. I do not know whether it gives them much satisfaction to find that some of those whom they have blackmailed get into Parliament. If candidates are prepared to be blackmailed, why should we interfere ?
.- The honorable member for Corio proposes that any person claiming from a candidate more than his usual charge for services or use of halls shall be guilty of an electoral offence.
– He wishes to withdraw the amendment.
– Is he going to back down ? I intended to support him. I did not expect this. I am in favour of anything that will prevent extortion (it election times. I have known a bellman charge £1 when, under ordinary circumstances, the charge would be 4s. ; and it is not unusual for the price for the hire of halls to be raised 400 or 500 per cent. I shall vote for the proposed new clause, though I must admit it will be a great strain to support the mover.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Schedule agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
I congratulate honorable members on the way in which they have stonewalled a purely machinery Bill.
.- It is clear that the Prime Minister is not pre sent, for, whatever he might do, he certainly would not move the adjournment of the House in such insulting and incorrect terms as those used by the Minister of Defence, who has done his best during the evening to excite honorable members on this side. A statement which goes into the pages of Hansard, congratulating in ironical terms honorable members on this side on wasting the time of the House, when’ the honorable gentleman knows full well that not one moment has been wasted by those on this side, is contemptible in the extreme, and cannot be permitted to pass without notice,
. -If the Minister of Defence has the information, he might let the House know when ii is proposed by the Government to close the session. Statements have appeared in the press lately, and have been going the round of the House. It is not fair that those in the confidence of the Government should know when the session is going to close, and so be able to make their private arrangements, while those not in the know are at a disadvantage in arranging their affairs for Christmas’. The Minister referred to the conduct of business to-day. If anything of the sort indicated does happen, one of the contributory causes would be the conduct of the Government themselves under ordinary circumstances. I have a strong objection to supporting motions such as I did support in the House to-day; but I tell the Minister that if other honorable members on this side are prepared to join in taking some such step as was taken this morning to emphasize our strong disgust at the action of the Government in unjustifiably forcing measures through by means of the gag without allowing reasonable discussion, we shall take it. The only way to emphasize our objection is simply to make it impossible for a Minister to make ari important speech when he desires to do so.
– The Minister of Defence.
– Do you give the call to the Minister?
– I called the Minister of Defence because he addressed the Chair. Does the honorable member wish t’o speak?
– I have the call.
– And will close the debate. In the most contemptible fashion the Minister is finishing a contemptible day.
.- All I have to say in reply to the honorable member for Cook is that I shall be glad to consult with him as to the closing of the session.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.59 P’m’
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 24 November 1909, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1909/19091124_reps_3_54/>.