10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– On the 28th September I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence whether the report of the Air Accidents Investigation Committee would be made available to honorable members, so that steps might be taken to prevent, as far as possible further loss of life. In reply the Prime Minister, for the Minister for Defence, stated that, after reviewing the reports, he would make them available for publication, except where it was considered undesirable in the public interest to do so. Will the Minister say when he proposes to take action in the direction indicated ?
– I shall ask for the desired information, and, if possible, lay it upon the table of the House as early as possible.
– When will the right honorable the Prime Minister make available the report of the commission of investigation that visited the New Hebrides in February last, for the purpose of inquiring into labour conditions there?
– The investigation was made on behalf of the Governments of Great Britain, New Zealand, and Australia, and at present it is not proposed to publish the report. However, I shall communicate with the representatives ofthe other Governments concerned, and ascertain their views on the matter.
Arrears of Pay
– Is it correct that arrears of pay created by the recent increases due to the classification of officers of the Taxation Department are being withheld until the passing of the Estimates? I understand that similar increases have been paid in other departments, and I urge that the Treasurer should take steps to have the arrears to which I refer paid without further delay.
– This morning the honorable member courteously indicated that he intended to ask his question, and I now have the information available. No arrangement exists whereby arrears of pay are withheld until the Estimates have been passed, such a procedure being unnecessary. The payments in all departments are made as soon as practicable; but delays occur, as considerable preparatory work is entailed. Those referred to by the honorable member will be. made as soon as is practicable.
– Is the Prime Minister yet in a position to reply to my question regarding certain coal dumps in my electorate?
– I have communicated with the Defence Department, and I am now able to say that it is proposed to proceed with the disposal of the coal immediately and to remove it from the property concerned.
– Will the Prime Minister communicate with the Governments of New South Wales and South Australia with a view to establishing an accelerated train service between Sydney and Terowie, and thus save overland passengers from Sydney to Perth a distance of 346 miles?
– The suggestion will be looked into.
– In view of the tact that no change has been made in the Seamen’s Compensation Act since it was first placed on the statute-book, and as, under the federal law, a seaman can claim only 30s. a week after he has been incapacitated for fourteen days, will the Government consider the advisability of introducing an amending bill to bring the act into conformity with the measures which at present are in force in the States,
– The suggestion will receive the consideration of the Government.
– In view of the unnecessarily long journey by way of Goulburn now imposed upon representatives travelling between the Federal Capital and places in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania, will consideration be given to the advisability of constructing a railway from Canberra to Yass ?
– The projected railway between Yassand Canberra was considered by the Public Works Committee, when, I think, the honorable member was a member of it. The report of that committee was not in favour of the work.
Despatch to the Solomon Islands.
– It has come to my notice, notably through the columns of the Daily Telegraph, that what is described as the first retaliatory attack of the punitive expedition, now in Malaita Island, in the Solomons, is to start tomorrow.. The expression is used, “the fight begins.” Is the right honorable the Prime Minister aware that a punitive expedition is said to be advancing against the natives of that island? If he is - remembering that an Australian warship is involved - does he approve of the “ shooting up “ generally of the natives, as indicated in the reports to which I have referred
– I very seriously deprecate the suggestion of the honorable member that there is any intention to do what he describes as “ shoot up “ natives. As he is well aware, certain unfortunate white persons were murdered by natives of Malaita, and the Commonwealth Government was asked by the British Government to send a cruiser there to assist in the maintenance of law and the protection of lives. I have already made it clear in this House that H.M.A.S. Adelaide is not to take part in any action that may be thought necessary to bring to justice those who took part in the commission of the murders. The cruiser is merely standing by in case of emergency. An expedition, entirely organized by the British Government, from its own police force in the area Affected, and from men who have been recruited for the purpose, has gone inland, and the Adelaide has landed a party to protect the base camp. Beyond that, the cruiser is taking no active part in the operations.
– Is the Commonwealth, through the Australian cruiser Adelaide, co-operating with the British
Government in the action that is being taken in connexion with these deplorable murders? If it is so co-operating, has the Government made representations or expressed an opinion as to the methods to be pursued in the treatment of the natives concerned?
– I repeat the information that I have already given to the House that the Adelaide is standing by near the base established for the expedition which is endeavouring to bring to justice those who are responsible for the murders. Beyond that, neither the cruiser nor any of its personnel will co-operate with the British Government without the consent of the Commonwealth Government, save under extreme circumstances, in which lives may be in peril. The Commonwealth Government has not attempted to dictate to the British Government as to the action to be taken in a territory where the latter is solely responsible for the protection of British subjects. Ministers have the utmost confidence in the British authorities, because of the unsullied record of British rule in all countries where Britian has had dependent natives under her control.
– In view of the probable dearth of fodder in the eastern States during the coming year, and the probable advance in Western Australia in the price of oats and chaff, will the Prime Minister seriously consider the suspension, or, better still, the repeal of the coasting provisions of the Navigation Act, so as to ensure something in the nature of freedom of interstate trade in fodder ?
– The provision of necessary fodder to the various States which have been subjected to a partial drought is a matter of national importance; but whether the remedy that the honorable member suggests is a prudent one I am not prepared at the moment to say. However, I shall give consideration to any suggestions he may have to offer for the solution of the problem.
– Some weeks ago I wrote to the Minister for Defence, on behalf of the League of Nations’ Union, asking to be furnished with a return of the annual payments connected with war expenditure. As that return has been compiled and supplied to me, I should like the information to be made available to honorable members generally. Therefore, I formally ask the Minister representing the Minister for Defence if he will supply those particulars to Parliament.
– I shall ascertain from the Minister for Defence what action he proposes to take in the matter.
– Has the Prime Minister noticed the statement of Mr. A. D. Howie, Chairman of the Dried Fruits Association, that the supply of dried fruits exceeds the demand, and that in his opinion the Australian growers should take a holiday so far as the planting of vines for the production of currants and sultanas for drying is concerned? In view of the fact that many of our returned soldiers are engaged in the industry, will the Ministev take steps to ensure a market for their product ?
– Efforts have been made to organize the market overseas for dried fruits through the Export Control Board, which is endowed with its powers by legislation of this Parliament. A close investigation of the problem has recently been undertaken by the Development aud Migration Commission, whose report,I understand, is now ready for presentation. The whole position of the industry - the supplies available from the areas now planted, and the market that is available in Australia and overseas - has been exhaustively examined, and I do not think that at the present time further useful action can be taken.
– When are honorable members likely to receive the report of the conference that took place last July between the “missionaries in New Guinea and the Administration there?
– I have just received and read the report, a copy of which I shall lay on the library table for the information of honorable members.
Mr. MACKAY, as chairman, presented the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, together with minutes of evidence, relating to the proposed establishment of an automatic telephone exchange at Oakleigh, Victoria.
Ordered to be printed.
– I draw the attention of the Minister for Works and Railways to a. paragraph published in the Melbourne Sun of Monday last. It reads -
Guard Killed-two Hurt.
Darwin, Sunday. - In a railway accident, 11 miles south of Katherine Waters, Jack Linehan, guard of the train, was killed, and Billy Sheehan, and a Greek labourer were seriously injured.
Can the Minister give any information as to the cause of the accident or as to the condition of the two injured persons? Further, is the Minister aware that breakdowns of rolling-stock in the Northern Territory have been frequent of late, with the result that construction work has been seriously delayed, and will he institute an independent inquiry into the condition of the rolling-stock there ?
– In the absence of the Minister for Works and Railways, who is at Hume Reservoir with the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Mr. Amery), I may inform the honorable member that information will be obtained through the department regarding the accident and the condition of the unfortunate victims, but I ask the honorable member to place the latter portion of his question on the notice paper.
asked the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
Has any report been furnished to the Minister or to the Chief Commonwealth Medical Officer concerning several health breakdowns in the New South Wales Branch of the War
Service Homes Commission, and, if so, will the Minister make the contents of the report available?
– Inquiries are being made, and the information will be furnished at a later date.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questionsare as follow : -
Rations and Clothing
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
With reference to the question asked by the honorable member forReid on the 19th October, 1927-
Is it a fact that inferior rations, costing the department 8s. per week, are supplied to soldiers, for which the sum of15s. per week is deducted from the soldiers’ pay?
Is it a fact that no allowances are made to married soldiers?
Is ita fact that the discharge purchase money has been increased by 100 per cent., and, if so, why?
Is it a fact that slop-made, shabby uniforms, salved from old Australian Imperial Force stock, for which high prices are charged, are supplied to the soldiers?
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Mr. Gepp’s Report on Western Queensland.
asked the Prinio Minister, upon notice -
– The Chairman of the Development and Migration Commission made a tour of Western Queensland and of certain portions of the Northern Territory during last August in connexion with fodder conservation and associated problems for the reason that fodder conservation was specifically mentioned by the Queensland Government in the case submitted by that Government to the Commonwealth Government in regard to the Dawson Valley irrigation. Incidentally advantage was taken of this trip to test out the applicability of the lighter types of six-wheeled motor trucks for transport in out-back country, with satisfactory results. After preliminary investigations in regard to the economics of fodder conservation, the Development and Migration Commission made inquiries from pastoralists concerning the economic possibilities of the utilization of fodder produced in the coastal areas, both for the purposes of feeding of stock during dry periods and as to supplementing food to stock during the less productive period of the year. Sir Graham Waddel and Mr. Fergus McMaster kindly consented to accompany Mr. Gepp to assist him with their expert knowledge of the industry. I personally discussed at considerable length with the three gentlemen mentioned the results of their observations, and the Government decided to pursue the matter f urther by the appointment of an expert committee of pastoralists and business men. I hope to be able to announce the personnel of this committee very shortly, and the terms of reference upon which they will be. asked to report. With reference to the honorable member’s question concerning railways connecting the Northern Territory with eastern States, this obviously is portion of the whole problem of the proper coordination of the pastoral industry with more closely settled and heavier rainfall areas of Australia. The honorable member’s inquiries cover many important questions of economic policy which are having the serious consideration of the Government.
Cost of Footpaths and Kerbing - Land Values - Garbage
asked the Ministerfor Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
– On the 27th October the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) asked me the following questions : -
I have now received the following information from the Federal Capital Commission : -
In view of the increase in population, the commission has reviewed this question, and regulations are being drafted under which householders will be required to use approved receptacles, and the collection will be made in vehicles of a special type, the whole system operating in a manner similar to those in force in the larger cities.
Report by North Australia Commission.
asked the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
Is it a fact that -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Daly Waters and a point on the Queensland border at or somewhat to the southward of Camooweal.
Atrial survey is now being carried out by the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner on behalf of the North Australian Commission from Daly Waters to a point on the Queensland border south of Camooweal. The survey crosses the Herbert (the Georgina) River not far from Austral Downs head station, where a good crossing point over the river has been located. 4. (a) No.
asked the Minister for Markets and Migration, upon notice -
– The Development and Migration Commission and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Search advise that the State viticultural experts have a close knowledge of methods of fighting frosts, and of the treatment of vines injured by frosts, and have, from timeto time, issued statements and recommendations in regard thereto. In order to possibly supplement this information inquiries have been and are still being made abroad by the Development and Migration Commission and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and it is proposed to embody the results of these inquiries and the views of the State experts as an appendix to the report on the dried fruits industry which will shortly be made available.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Force owing to crashes, in which some twelve lives have been lost?
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Aeronautical science is not yet developed to the point where accidents can be excluded, and a comparison with those of other air forces of the British Empire does not indicate that those of the Royal Australian Air Force have been excessive.
The present Officer-in-Command of the No. 1 Flying Training School, Point Cook, after attending the Staff College in England, specialized in training and went through the Flying Instructors Course in England and received the highest grading. The Second Officer-in-Command has just spent two years at training establishments of the Royal Air Force, and during that time paid his whole attention to the subject of training. Another officer recently graduated at the Staff College in England and is now specializing on training with Royal AirForce units. As a further step to ensure that everything possible is being done to meet training requirements, arrangements have been made with the Air Ministry for the loan of an officer of the Royal Air Force for duty as Director of Training at the Royal Australian Air Force head-quarters, and he is now en route to Australia. This officer has, during the last two years, been employed as the Chief Instructor at the Central Flying School in England, where flying instructors are trained.
Payments to States
– Following on the reply to the question on notice, addressed to the Minister for Works and
Railways by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) on the 28th Octo ber, I have pleasure in furnishing the following additional information : -
Alleged Difference with Captain Percival.
– On the 26th October the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) asked the following question : -
Will the Minister, representing the Minister for Defence, make at his earliest convenience, a statement regarding the differences which are alleged to have arisen between the Civil Aviation Branch and Captain Percival ?
I am now in a position toinform the honorable member that the only “differences” that have arisen between the Department and Captain Percival are in connexion with the maintenance of his aeroplane as affecting the safety of it for passenger-carrying. An examination of his aeroplane some months ago disclosed serious defects. Captain Percival was advised that the machine would not be certified airworthy until all serious defects were remedied. The machine was, however, flown by Captain Percival with passengers in defiance of the departmental prohibition. Further action is being taken.
– On the 14th ultimo the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) addressed the following question to the Minister for Works and Railways -
Whether he will supply particulars in respect of the public works reported on by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, which were completed during the year ending 30th June, 1927, as follows: -
Estimated cost as submitted to the committee?
Total completed cost in each case?
If estimates were exceeded in any instance, the reason for such increased cost?
The replies to the honorable member’s questions are -
– On the 14th October, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) asked the following question : -
What bounties have been paid during the past four years, and to whom?
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
The bounties paid during the past four years have been as follows: -
The names of the recipients, and the several amounts paid to each, are contained in a schedule which I have placed on the table of the library for the information of honorable members.
The following papers were presented : -
Northern Australia Act -
Central Australia - Ordinances of 1927-
No. 6 - Interpretation.
No. 7 - Mining.
North Australia - Ordinances of 1927 -
No. 6 - Interpretation.
No. 7 - Mining.
Northern Territory Acceptance Act and Northern Australia Act-
Central Australia - Ordinance of 1927 - No. 8 - Surveyors.
North Australia - Ordinance of 1927 - No. 8 - Surveyors.
Debate resumed from 26th October (vide page 733), on motion by Mr. Mark -
That the bill now be read a second time.
.- The bill proposes to amend the existing act in certain respects, and is based upon the recommendations of the select committee appointed by this Parliament to inquire into electoral matters. It is chiefly a machinery measure, but it also affects two or three important principles. We should provide every facility for electors to record their votes, and also make breaches of the law as difficult as possible. Recently it has been stated, both by public men and in the public press, that the Commonwealth law has frequently been broken by duplicate voting and personation. The committee, after taking extensive evidence, made it quite clear that there is no foundation for those statements, and that is pleasing, indeed, particularly as it was suggested that the party to which I belong has alone been guilty of such breaches. We have constantly resented that allegation. Certainly I have never known of duplicate voting and personation in my electorate and those in its immediate vicinity. The committee’s finding reads: -
All evidence taken by the committee on the subject of impersonation and duplicate voting was to the effect that such misdemeanours are practically non-existent in connexion with Commonwealth elections. It was very gratifying to the committee to find that the allegations and rumours concerning the widespread practice of the above were absolutely without any foundation in fact, and it was established to its entire satisfaction that cases of impersonation and duplicate voting are practically negligible throughout Australia. There are quite a number of instances noted after each election for enquiry, but they areproved to be errors of ticking, &c., in all except a few cases, and, in these even, deliberate intention is practically absent. In view of the evidence obtained on this subject, the committee is of the opinion that the present safeguards against impersonation and duplicate voting are sufficient, and does not consider it necessary to suggest any further measures to strengthen them.
I am pleased indeed to be able to place that finding on record, and I hope that it will prevent any further unwarranted strictures upon the Labour party. The bill has two or three outstanding features, the first being clause 2, which relates to residential qualification. Section 41 of the act provides that a person who has lived in an electorate for one month is entitled to enrolment. It is now proposed to amend the section in a way which will affect persons who may constantly be shifting from one electorate to another. The new provision reads : -
Provided that an elector whose real place of living is not in the division in respect of which he is enrolled shall not be entitled to vote as an elector of the division unless his real place of living was at some time within three months immediately preceding polling day within that division. In this proviso the words “real place of living” include the place of living to which a person temporarily living elsewhere has a fixed intention of returning for the purpose of continuing to live thereat.
That provision has evidently been drafted by direction of the Government to meet a situation which the committee itself described. In its report the committee suggested that the residential qualification’ for a vo tei- should be made three months instead of one month. I disapprove of that proposal, and I am glad that the Government did not accept it; but the substitute’ it has put forward is also open to grave objection. It will have the effect of disfranchising very many electors ; and if there is one thing that we should avoid, it is that. I quite understand that the motive which prompted the drafting of the amendment is the desire to ‘prevent- the transference of bodies of electors from one division to another just prior to an election for the purpose of swinging the vote there in favour of a particular political party. But I point out that the Commonwealth Government does not,’ as a rule carry on large public works. Such work is done chiefly by the States. Therefore the principal difficulty that this provision seems designed to meet is not likely to arise. On the other hand, if it is placed: in the act, it may. cause many bona fide voters to be disfranchised for the reason that they cannot show definitely what is their “real place of living.” This country has a large nomadic population. Many working men may live in a division for a sufficient time to secure enrolment there, but after leaving it; and while still entitled residentially to vote in it, they may not be able to show that they intend to return to it. It would be interesting to know exactly how many persons might be deprived of their vote under such circumstances. Paragraph 24 of the committee’s report deals with men of this class. It reads as follows-: -
There is a class of electors known as ° seasonal workers, which presents a peculiarly difficult problem. These seasonal workers are found in every State of the Commonwealth, and consist of farm labourers, shearers, cane cutters, miners, and men in similar employment whose work is of such a nature that they are .compelled to travel from place to place in different electoral divisions, and sometimes in different States. Where a seasonal worker is married r.o difficulty occurs, as the residence of his wife and family is considered his own domicile. His name is retained upon the roll of the subdivision and division where they reside. A large proportion of. the seasonal workers, however-, consists of unmarried men who present a difficult problem to the Divisional Returning Officer. After they have been away from their last residence for a month it is impossible for the Divisional Returning Officer to ascertain whether or not their absence is temporary or permanent. In the great majority of cases such an elector finds his name has been removed from the roll. If lie remains a month in a subdivision he can, of course, become enrolled for the new subdivision, but in many instances a seasonal worker does not remain sufficiently long to be entitled to a new enrolment, and in any case would immediately lose his qualification when passing on to new work. In Que. ns1 and, as has been stated, the difficulty is met by allowing an elector to retain his name upon any roll he wishes, and his name is not removed until he enrols for another division. The dangers of this system have already been emphasized.
The insertion in the act of this suggested new provision will undoubtedly prevent many unmarried nomadic workers from recording their votes, for they will not be able to say definitely that they are domiciled in a particular place. Many of these men have no permanent home, but move from place to place in pursuit of employment.
– I do not think that this provision would prevent such men from recording their votes.
– I differ from the honorable member. It may not be intended to have that effect, but having given it careful consideration, I feel sure that it will. Quite recently I brought under- the notice of- the Government a case in which an amendment of the Maternity Allowance Act had quite a different effect from that which was intended.
– Does the report give any indication of the number of men who would be affected by this provision.
– It does not; it merely says, “a large number.”
– Men travel from Tasmania to Queensland to obtain work as cane-cutters.
– They travel all over Australia to secure different kinds of employment. The sting in this provision is in the final sentence of it. Unmarried men who travel through Australia to obtain employment as shearers, miners and timber-getters, to mention only a few seasonal occupations, really have no fixed place of abode. I know that it is difficult to meet their circumstances in drafting a measure of this description, but nevertheless we should attempt to do so, for thousands of electors are affected.
– Would not section 121 cover them,
– I do not think so.
– The electoral officials ask that this alteration should be made for purely departmental purposes.
– That may be so, but departmental suggestions which are incorporated in amending measures of this kind frequently cause a great deal of trouble. There is a provision in the Electoral Act at the present time which prevents men from being dumped into electorates at election time; but you cannot dump men into Federal electorates, and there is really no need for the provision at all. We do not want to disfranchise anyone. We want to give every facilitywe can to everyone who is entitled to vote. That can be done only by having the broadest possible franchise, andby abolishing all unnecessary restrictions. I think this provision will have the effect of disfranchising a large section of the people. The bill also provides for the extension of the provisions in regard to postal voting. I do not think any such extension is necessary. I can carry my mind back to the time when there were so many objections to postal voting that we found it necessary to eliminate it altogether. Subsequently Parliament decided again to allow postal voting. At that time we provided, not only for sick people to be able to vote by post, but also for electors who were living ten miles or more from a polling booth to do so. I would be the last to expect people to travel long distances to record their votes; but, if there is any opportunity for wrong practices to creep in it is provided by postal voting. To-day we have at every election an army of agents travelling through the electorates. It does not matter whether it is a State or Federal election ; the same thing happens. These people are well paid, and they go around the electorates interviewing the voters, many of whom take little or no interest in the elections. The electors are told which party to vote for, and are induced to vote in a certain way. That practice is to be deplored; but now we are setting out to increase it. We propose to reduce to five miles the radius beyond which people may vote by post. If ten miles was enough in the days of horses and buggies, surely it is not too much now when we have motor cars.
– What if the electors have not motor cars?
– The honorable member is behind the times if he does not get electors to the voting places by means of motor cars. The car plays an important part in present-day elections.
– What about the people’ who live where there are no good roads?
– In those cases there should be polling booths placed near them at which they can record their votes.
– In Western Australia I have known electors to travel 150 miles to record their votes.
– Well, under the present act they can vote by post if they are only ten miles away from a booth ; but now it is proposed to allow them to vote by post if they are only five miles away. This is opening the way for malpractice. I do not think it is difficult for anyone to travel ten miles now that there are motor cars. In many cases electors who are more than ten miles away from a polling booth can vote as absent voters in the next division. It is the duty of the Government to provide every facility for the people to record their votes: but under this measure tlie way is being opened for election agents to exercise their influence over thousands of voters in the more thinlysettled parts of the country. It is made still easier for malpractices to be indulged in, because in place of having an authorized witness, any elector can witness a postal vote. It is true, of course, that you must have an authorized witness to the signature of the postal vote. There are many members in this House who remember the things that happened in the past in connexion with postal voting. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) is one of them. The honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) will also have a vivid, recollection of what happened previously. The honorable member for Melbourne was defeated by means of postal votes, and when inquiries were made subsequently, it was found that the election had not been properly conducted. All opportunity for illegal voting should be eliminated, and that is why I am opposed to extending the provision for postal voting. I do not want it to be thought that I am opposed to providing facilities for sick people to exercise their votes. Nobody feels their position so keenly as do aged persons who are deprived of their votes. I was spoken to only a little while ago by a lady who is 89 years of age. She told me that she had been unable to record her vote at the last election, and that that was the first time she had missed doing so since women had obtained the franchise. I agree that we should make provision for people like that, but it is a different thing altogether when you allow thousands of able-bodied people to vote by post when they are only five miles distant from a polling booth. Another provision of “this bill deals with the signing of leading articles and reports of speeches. I do not know why the committee recommends that leading articles should not be signed, nor do I know what is the objection on the part of the writers of leading articles to signing their names. Some leading articles are very good. I do not suppose anybody reads more of such articles than I do, and sometimes one would like to know who the writers are. Sometimes the articles do credit to the writers of them; sometimes, on the other hand, are written about things concerning which the writers know nothing. The great body of journalists are capable men, who know their work. Considering the great influence which the press exercises in moulding public opinion, it is only proper that the public should know by whom the articles are written. The press wields a tremendous power in connexion with elections. In scattered areas where people do not attend public meetings, they take from the newspapers whatever brand of politics they are advised to accept. The power of suggestion is at work all the time. If one suggests a thing to a person often enough he begins to think it must be right. That applies to the people at election time. Why not’ let them know who writes the articles that they read? Why not let them know that an article is the work of one man? Otherwise they may think that the leading article is not the work of one person only, but of a number of persons. What is to prevent these articles from being signed? There have been times in our history when injustice has been done to particular men - not on any one side only, but on both sides - by articles published in newspapers. Let the articles, therefore, be signed, so that we many appraise them at their true value. Occasionally we may find that we known more about the subject dealt with than do the writers themselves. In regard to reports of speeches, it is said that if the report contains no comment by the reporter there is no need for him to sign his name. Perhaps some honorable members have had experiences similar to mine. I have seen reports of my speeches in which I did not recognize my own statements and which did not convey the true purport of the remarks made. Although the reporter made no comment the public was misled regarding what was said. Unless the reporter signs his name there is no means of knowing who is responsible. I do not know why we should take up the time of the House in preparing legislation to shelter men of this kind. I venture to say that no reporter -will object to sign his name to any report he may write. There is no reason . for not signing these reports. If the recommendation of the Electoral
Committee is adopted a man may be grossly injured and prejudiced in the eyes of the public, and his attacker may remain unknown. Surely the fair thing is that men should sign their names when writing such articles. I cast no reflection on journalists, as I consider that they are a fine body of men, but I see no reason why electoral articles should not be signed. There are only three proposals of importance in this bill, and the Government would have been well advised had it allowed the act to remain as it was in these matters. There are many problems of greater moment which could better have been dealt with in the short time that we have at our disposal between now and Christmas. We should make some provision whereby electors would be given the widest possible choice when selecting candidates for federal honours. Though this matter has been brought up in this House on numerous occasions, it is strange that no amendment covering the existing anomaly in this respect is included in this bill. There are many able men in our State Parliaments who, if they entered the federal sphere, would make a mark for themselves, but who are precluded from contesting federal vacancies because of their fear of losing their State seats. I have continually urged that there should be an amendment of the act to remove the embargo now placed on State members. When I contested the federal division I had to risk losing my State seat.In 1921 the act was amended by the insertion of section 70, which reads-
No person who
That provision should not be allowed to disgrace our electoral laws any longer, and I intend to move its elimination when we get into committee. It is admitted that we have a very fine staff of men to administer our electoral law, and it is pleasing to read the praise which the Joint Select Committee on Commonwealth Electoral matters gave our divisional returning officers. Whenever we have an election or a referendum those men are overwhelmed with work, and it is remarkable that they stand the strain so well. They sometimes work the round of the clock and have practically no rest for many weeks before and after elections. Yet the Government makes no effort to compensate them for the extra work which they perform on such occasions. Many times honorable members on this side of the House have urged that additional remuneration should be paid to these officers. On the 12th of March, 1926,I asked the Prime Minister what had been done regarding the payment of an allowance to divisional returning officers for additional work done during the election, and he replied that the matter was before the Public Service Board. On the 22nd March, 1926, I again urged him to finalize a decision in the matter On the 26th March, 1926, in reply to a further question of mine, the right honorable gentleman stated that the Government was considering the report of the Public Service Board. He stated that the board was under the misapprehension that the Public Service Arbitrator, in fixing the maximum salary of those officers, had taken into consideration the extra overtime involved under the compulsory voting system. The determination of the Public Service Arbitrator was made on the 6th February, 1924, whereas the Compulsory Voting Bill was introduced on the 5th July, 1924. The Prime Minister stated that he had referred the matter back to the board for reconsideration. Evidently the arbitrator, in fixing the rates, had no knowledge of the compulsory voting law. Later on I received a letter from the then Minister for Home and Territories (Senator Pearce) to the effect that, notwithstanding the additional information which had been obtained, the board re-affirmed its previous decision. The right honorable gentleman added that, as the matter had been placed by Parliament under the exclusive control of the Public Service Board, no further action could be taken. I again dealt with the matter on the Supply Bill, on the 23rd June, 1926, pointed out what a strenuous and nerveracking task these men had to perform during election time, and urged that the Government should make a special allowance to them. Nothing has yet beeu done. It is admitted by the Government that these men are entitled to consideration; that they do more work than they are paid for, and do it well. I know the right honorable the Prime Minister is in sympathy with them, and I feel confident he believes that they are entitled to additional remuneration. It may be urged that, in view of the fact that the Public Service Board is in control of these men, an amendment may not be in order, but I submit that Parliament has the right to direct that board in such matters, and I feel sure it would respect the decision of Parliament. I intend to move an amendment when we go into committee. I consider that in view of the arduous and responsible nature of their work, the recognition should be retrospective. I know that the divisional returning officer in my district is practically a nervous wreck after an election.
– My man broke down.
– I am not surprised at that, as their duties are exceedingly onerous. This is chiefly a machinery bill, and I hope that, when we go into committee, reasonable amendments will be accepted. I consider that a number of the proposals in the bill are unnecessary, and that they will, in some cases, merely facilitate wrong-doing. I urge honorable members not to regard this as a party question, but to endeavour to amend; the bill in such a way that it will assist to keep our elections as clean as is possible. .
– As the mover of the original motion in this House which brought about the appointment of the Joint Select Committee on Commonwealth Electoral Law andProcedure - a motion which I subsequently amended at the request of the Government - I naturally take a very great interest in the recommendations of that committee. As a member of the committee, I travelled all over Australia, and listened to the great bulk of evidence tendered to it by some hundreds of witnesses. The report states -
The committee held64 sittings and examined witnesses in all the States of the Commonwealth. These witnesses included members nf Parliament, electoral officials both Commonwealth and State, representatives of political organizations of all parties, professional men, journalists, government printers, postal and police officials and individual members of the public, who gave evidence voluntarily and by request.
The enquiry was most exhaustive, and although half of the members of. the committee found it necessary to resign before the investigation had been completed, the committee carried on with new members, and all threw themselves wholeheartedly into the work. The report, therefore, should excite more than ordinary interest in the House. The bill is not, as the Leader of the Opposition has suggested, merely of a machinery character.
– Are all the salient recommendations embodied in the bill?
– No. Some important and possibly far-reaching recommendations were made by the committee, and I was rather disappointed, not to say disgusted, at the cursory manner in which the Government treated the report in certain vital particulars. After the committee had spent about twelve months in visiting all the capital cities and many outlying centres, examining at great pains hundreds of witnesses, including practically all the leading electoral officials of Australia, the Cabinet decided in, I think; rather an off-hand manner to disregard certain of its recommendations without giving it an opportunity to justify them except on the floor of the House. I realize that it would be difficult for Ministers personally to study such a bulk of evidence as that contained in the report; but it is not fair to the country or to the members of the committee that such a report should be dealt with behind the backs of the committee on the ex parte reports of Commonwealth electoral officials. The committee had carefully studied those officials and their view-points, and in most cases rejected their opinions because it thought that they were mostly suffering from the same complaint. They were bound round with red tape, and were disinclined to admit that the system 1.1 neier which they had been working was capable of improvement. Some of them, at least, seemed to resent the inquiry by the committee. We had to give them to understand that this Parliament considered that the Electoral Act could be profitably amended, and that we were going on with our work notwithstanding their hostility. Nearly every suggestion by the committee, even those on minor points, was scouted by the officials.
– Even with respect to the card system.
– Yes. We had an appalling fight to induce them to admit that a change was necessary there. We took a vast amount of evidence ou that matter alone, and secured specimen cards specially designed for us by divisional returning officers who did not share thu viewpoint of their chiefs. We had an. opportunity of observing the divisional officers, and came to the conclusion that with few exceptions they, were highly qualified to speak of the operation of the act. We found that they took the keenest possible interest in their work. Many of our recommendations were based on the opinions they expressed. To show how completely they were at variance with their chiefs I may mention that when it was suggested that it would be a good idea if, say, once in twelve months - certainly after every election - ‘ the divisional officers were called together in conference to suggest improvements that could be incorporated in the act or the electoral regulations, the chief officials were very cold about the matter. We also found that it had not been the practice to ascertain the opinions of the divisional returning officers, or to act upon their suggestions.
– The receipt of their suggestions, in some instances, was not even acknowledged.
– That is so. Officials of the more enterprising type made that statement to the committee. It is necessary, therefore, for honorable members to take a most definite stand in dealing with this subject, which is vital to Parliamentary life. The chief electoral officials are not concerned with the practical working of the act, and the committee based its report largely on the opinions expressed by the divisional returning officers in opposition to those of their chiefs; but in justice to the latter I must admit that they assisted us in every possible way. ‘ For many hours we had them before us, and they were mostpatient in answering our questions and! supplying us with a mass of detailed information. Most of the members of thecommittee, however, formed the impression that they regarded the inquiry as= almost unnecessary. No doubt the Commonwealth Electoral Act is a highly efficient instrument. We made inquiries; into the various State systems, and ©ranthe State officials admitted that the Commonwealth method was the more satisfactory. In some of the States therolls are not re-printed, except, on theeve of an election, and in numerous caseswe found that elections had been held with rolls that had not been re-print edi for two or three years. The election before last in New South Wales took placewith out-of-date rolls that contained thenames of fully 100,000 persons who could! not be traced by the Commonwealth electoral officials. It was admitted by the State officers that an enormous quantity of “dead wood” appeared on therolls, and that this could be excised only by more frequent printing. At the election before last in Queensland the names - of fi0,000 persons who could not be traced, were found on the rolls. No such defects have come under notice regarding the federal rolls.
– But the Commonwealth system entails a lot of work foithe officials.
– It is operating so smoothly that it rather reduces thequantity of work. Each divisional1 officer has an office, a general assistant, and a typist, and when the elections arepending, he is allowed extra assistance.. But with all the existing machinerymore could reasonably be added. The - opinion expressed by a number of theofficers was that they were entitled to an.i additional clerk. The object of the committee in framing its recommendations was to avoid extra expense, if possible, although it aimed at increasing the efficiency of the system. Although it is expensive, we should not balk at expense in matters of vital importance to the political life of the country. We should lack a due sense of proportion if we were parsimonious regarding electoral improvements. If the Parliament enormously increased the cost of the electoral system, the expenditure would be more than- justified if improved results were obtained. When the committee handed in its report it discovered that, despite the fact that it had disregarded the viewpoint of the chief electoral officials, the Government had, in consultation with those officers, decided to reject some of the committee’s recommendations, simply because the officials had reiterated the opinions that the committee had rejected. That was not fair to the committee. I do not say that its every recommendation should have been adopted by the Government.
– This House should be the final arbiter.
– This House should be the judge of whether the committee’s recommendations were sound, and I think that the committee was treated cavalierly when the Government ignored its recommendations and was guided by ex parte statements to Ministers. The Government adopted some of the more important recommendations, but I hope that when other committees are appointed it will be definitely understood that their recommendations shall come before the House for determination. Several of the electoral committee’s recommendations were not embodied in the Electoral Bill submitted to another place. The Minister who was then in charge of electoral affairs was Senator Pearce, Minister for Home and Territories, and it is unfortunate that although the proposal for the appointment of a select committee originated in thin chamber, the legislation founded on the committee’s report was introduced in another place, where it was hacked to pieces by men who had no knowledge of what they were doing, and were not nearly so concerned with the recommendations as are members of the House of Representatives. It is regrettable that this amending electoral bill should appear before us in a form which was not even approved originally by the Government. I trust, however, that before the measure leaves this chamber, all the amendments that were so ruthlessly rejected in another place will be reinstated, and that members of this chamber will have sufficient backbone to stand firmly in defence of such alterations. Although some of the committee’s recommendations were not. adopted by the Government, others that were included in the bill were rejected in another place. Several of the recommendations referred to by the Leader of the Opposition are worthy of the fullest consideration of the House. The honorable gentleman took very great exception to the clause altering the period of residence qualification. It appeared to me that he did not thoroughly grasp the significance of that amendment. It does not necessarily involve the alteration of the residence qualification from one month to three months, but in committee I shall propose an amendment to that effect.
– I stated that a mau may be enrolled after he has been in a division for one month, but unmarried nomads may be unable to prove that their home is in that division.
– The select committee inquired carefully into the electoral provisions as they affect the nomadic population, and was surprised to discover that 50 per cent, of the voting population of Australia is migratory. I quote from the report of the committee : -
One of the problems which this committee has had to consider in the light of the evidence, is the best means of effecting further improvements in the Commonwealth continuous system. The Chief Electoral Officer and some other officials contend that the Commonwealth electoral machinery is now nearly 100 per cent, perfect. While not accepting this comprehensive estimate, the committee is of the opinion that the machinery is the most efficient electoral machinery in the Commonwealth.. The difficulty of evolving an entirely satisfactory system is rendered more acute by the peculiar population conditions of Australia. With half the population in the six capital cities, and the remainder scattered over an area of 3,00Q,000 square miles, the task of keeping in continual contact with electors who, on the evidence obtained in the various States, are migratory to the extent of about SO per cent, each year, is extremely difficult, and requires the most ample machinery and the most continuous supervision to enable successful results to be obtained. This necessity for better machinery has given the committee considerable concern in its inquiry. It is clear that compulsory voting entails a greater volume of work on the Electoral Department all the year round ; but it enables the department to keep its rolls and card index system more up to date. Knowing that they are under a penalty for not voting, many electors now make a more serious effort to become enrolled, and take advantage of any facilities for voting when not enrolled, as under the provisions of sections 91a, 115 (3), 121, and 121a, known as sectional voting. The great difficulty, however, is in keeping contact with the moving section of the community. On the figures supplied, this migratory movement is greater in the metropolitan constituencies than in the rural. The general average is about 50 per cent., but in some metropolitan electorates the percentage of alterations in a year approximates 80 per cent..
In some industrial areas we found that the alterations in one year affected 80 per cent, of the roll, and that in most divisions work equivalent to the compilation of an entirely new roll had to be done in the course of three years. The migratory habit of the Australian population constitutes the chief obstacle to the creation of a wholly efficient electoral system. The committee realized the seriousness of the problem confronting the electoral officers, but was of opinion that, as so many difficulties had been overcome, and the Commonwealth system, which applies to all Australia and concerns the whole migratory population, was already so efficient in comparison withthe State systems a further increase of efficiency by eliminating the troubles arising from the continuous alteration of electoral enrolments is possible. Accepting the fact that at least 50 per cent, of the electors on the roll change their addresses each year, the electoral system must adjust itself to meet that situation. It is the business of Parliament and of the Government to keep the -electoral officials up to their obligations. Efficient and trustworthy though they are, if they are not periodically roused out of their groove by amending legislation, they are inclined to become conservative and nervous lest suggested alterations may involve the complete destruction of the electoral system. The recommendations of the committee were made with a full appreciation of the difficulties which the electoral officials have to face, and the fact that the committee was unanimous in making some of the recommendations, especially those involving details of voting, should have some weight with honorable members when they are considering the amendments that will be put forward. The Leader of the Opposition was mainly concerned with the proposed alteration of the residence qualification, and I propose to explain the reasons which actuated the committee in recommending that the period of residence be altered from one month to three months. As the honorable member said, an amendment ‘of the electoral law should not be regarded in a partisan spirit; but unfortunately party considerations will intrude, particularly when dealing with the residence qualification. The desire of the committee was to discourage the reprehensible practice of packing electorates just before an election. In this regard there is no need to mince matters. Honorable members on both sides of the House know very well that within the last few years it has become an almost settled part of political practice in the States to use the month’s residence qualification as an eleventh- hour method of winning an election.
– That is not done in Commonwealth elections.
– If honorable members opposite deny the existence of this evil, why do they object to an alteration of the residence qualification?
– The Commonwealth law will not alter State practice.
– Unless the opposing parties can fight elections honestly, the politics of Australia will become increasingly corrupt, and eventually a government that is sufficiently unscrupulous to pack the rolls and gerrymander the electorates will be able to remain in office for all time, even though it may not represent the opinions of the majority of the people. Those practices were resorted to in the last State elections in New South “Wales. It is quite possible for State Governments, using these vicious methods, to pack the federal rolls also. I know that prior to the last elections in New South Wales hundreds of navvies were transferred to employment in places where they could easily secure enrolment on the supplementary list.
– They were sent to works that were authorized months and even years before.
– It is significant that those works were deferred until the eveof a momentous election. I am told by a member representing “Western Australia that the same practice was used very effectively in connexion with the last State elections in that State.
– Does the honorable member wish to prevent the navvies from voting?
– No. But we do not approve of their being dumped into a district so that they can swing the decision of the electorate in opposition to the settled opinion of the resident population. That has been done consistently in Queensland for many years; indeed it is a joke in that State that certain electorates are swayed by the Government through the month’s residence qualification, and that the election generally is thereby wrongfully influenced.
– The honorable member does not know Queensland or he would not make that statement.
-I travelled in Queensland with the select committee, and heard a great deal of evidence about these practices. Moreover, honorable members are sufficiently familiar with Queensland politics to know that What I am saying is true. The only way to stopthis iniquitous practice which is corrupting Australian politics is to have a three months’ residential qualification.
– Is it a recent practice?
– It is not of recent years, but it has developed and is becoming a part of the Australian political system. If we are not careful, it will be introduced into the Commonwealth system. It is possible for it to be introduced into Commonwealth elections by State Governments. What is to stop any State Government from sending 300 or 400 individuals into a Commonwealth electorate when only 100 or 200 votes are needed to decide an issue? The fact that honorable members opposite are perturbed shows that there is a good reason for this proposal.
– It has been stated that the Victorian Country party gerrymandered the seats at the last State election.
– I have heard nothing of the packing of electorates in Victoria similar to that carried out in Queensland at the last State elections, and tomy own knowledge in New South Wales only afew weeks ago. Now is the time for the Commonwealth to give a lead to the States, because they look to it for their good traditions and best ideas. If the Commonwealth Parliament fails to set an example, then God help the politics of Australia in a few years’ time. It will mean that an unscrupulous government will be able to rig electorates for all time, and defy the will of the people. I do not think that any honorable member, even of the Opposition, favours such a practice. I know that it has not been adopted by the political parties that I support.
– It has existed in parliamentary government from the beginning.
– It has not previously existed on such a scientific basis as it exists in Australia to-day.
– It is time that the practice was stopped.
– That is so. I feel certain that if this Parliament adopts the three months’ residential qualification, the majority of the States will follow its lead, because the three months’ residential qualification is certainly an effective obstacle to the packing of electorates. It is easy for governments to provide the money necessary to shift, say, a thousand voters into an electorate under the one, month’s residential qualification, but it . would be quite a different proposition to find sufficient money for that purpose if the residential qualification were three months. If we do not take a stand while we have the opportunity, we shall be fools, and sorry for our lack of action later. The only valid objection to this proposal was raised by the electoral officials, who again do not want it. I am sorry to say that those gentlemen do not seem to want anything at all that is different from the ordinary practice.
– That does not apply to the divisional returning officers themselves.
– That is so, and they are in actual contact with the electoral system. In many respects the officials support the committee’s recommendations, but the objection taken to the three months’ residential qualification was that it would enormously complicate enrolment by electoral officers, and that they would have to issue two rolls, one for the Commonwealth and one for the State. I have carefully investigated that objection, and can see no reason for it. The point has been taken that a three months’ residential qualification will militate against the adoption of joint rolls by the Commonwealth and States. We have joint rolls already in three of the States. Queensland has always been antagonistic to a joint roll, and shows no disposition to alter its viewpoint. We can understand that, because it does not suit the government of that State to have a joint roll. At any rate, in three States the Commonwealth officials have been able to adopt satisfactorily the new system of joint rolls, despite the lack of conformity in the boundaries of Commonwealth and State electorates and subdivisions. In that case the one month’s residential qualification applies, and although the officials say that a three months’ residental qualification is impracticable, I hold a contrary view. The States do not print general rolls regularly. They print them when they are forced to, but under the Commonwealth system’ rolls are printed at intervals^ of twelve months, eighteen months, and sometimes two years. On the eve of elections both Commonwealth and State supplementary rolls are issued, and these give every person who is qualified by residence an opportunity to vote. It is quite -possible that a Commonwealth election may precede ‘ a State election by three months, therefore the ‘contention of the electoral officials that it would be impracticable to have a three months’ residential qualification under a joint roll system is entirely disposed of; If the States printed their rolls regularly, say once in twelve months, the new system could be simplified by fixing the date of closing the general roll, say, at the end of the year, and announcing that persons with a three months’ residental qualification may be enrolled for the Commonwealth, and persons with one month’s residential qualification may be enrolled for the State. The public would soon become accustomed to that system, and the electoral officials would need only to scrutinize the cards, and to separate them according to residental qualifications. A majority of the applicants for enrolment would be qualified to vote for both the Commonwealth and the State, and a. minority, probably not more than about 10 per- cent., would be qualified to vote for the State only. There is nothing to stop the electoral officials from printing a joint Commonwealth and State roll, and adding an addendum to each subdivisional roll, indicating the persons who are qualified to vote only at the State election. There is certainly no need for two rolls, and the objection of the electoral officials to this proposal simply shows that they will not adapt themselves to new conditions unless they are forced to do so. At present persons who are on the general roll when it is printed become duly qualified voters. Persons who apply for enrolment after the due date remain off the rolls until they are again printed, and persons who are not on the rolls are not qualified to vote until the next elections.
– I thought that section 121 covered those persons who were not on the roll.
– That section is most unsatisfactory. The States may print their rolls once in twelve months or once in three years; it all depends on the electoral administration. The committee recognized that the basis of an efficient and up-to-date system* is the regular printing of rolls so as to facilitate the tracing of the migratory population. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) suggests that persons who were qualified to vote but were not on the rolls could vote under section 121. That is the case during an election; but I wish to emphasize that the supplementary rolls that are issued on the eve of elections for both Commonwealth and State cover the whole position, because persons who have been left off the roll on any ground whatever can obtain a vote under the residential qualification, whether it be one month or three months. That is an effective answer to the objection raised by the electoral officials that the system would be too complicated, and would lessen the opportunity of having a joint roll agreement with the States. If the Commonwealth adopts a residential qualification of three months, New South Wales will probably follow its lead, because that State has every inducement to adopt that qualification. South Australia and some of the other Slates might also fall into line with us. I wish to refer to the signing of articles, as I was mainly responsible for its inclusion in the scope of the committee’s inquiry. We took an enormous amount of evidence, and although honorable members opposite say that the committee’s recommendation is an attack on their cherished political principle that the identity of political writers should be disclosed, the fact remains that the leading Labour journalists who gave evidence were opposed to it.
– Not all of them.
– Practically all of them. Representatives of the Daily Guardian, Smith’s Weekly, and one or two other newspapers supported the signing of articles, but the principal Labour journalists, including Mr. Curtin, of Fremantle, Mr. Lauritz Jefferson, of Cairns, the secretary of the Australian Journalists’ Association, the editor of Hie Labour Daily, and representatives of similar newspapers, all said that the provision relating to signed articles had failed to achieve the object of its authors. About 90 per cent, of the evidence was opposed to the signing of articles. I have been a journalist all my life, and I know that that provision as far as leading articles is concerned has been ineffective, because every newspaper has evaded it. I am not in favour of allowing reports and other political matter to be published unsigned. The committee specifically recommended that all newspaper reports and paragraphs which contained comment, other than those which appeared in leading columns, should be signed with the true name and address of the author. Articles appearing in the leading columns were excluded from this recommendation for the sound reason that generally speaking the opinions expressed in them are the opinions of the newspaper itself to a far greater extent than those of the person who expresses them. It can be quite understood that such newspapers as the Sydney Morning Herald, the Sydney Daily Telegraph, and the
Melbourne Age, which have been established for many years, have behind then; certain traditions which have grown with them. Usually such journals are controlled by a board of directors, and on their literary side are managed by an editor-in-chief and a number of associate sub and news editors. The leaderwriters on such newspapers usually write from instructions, and it is not fair to them, or to their newspapers, that the views that they express should bear their personal signatures. The weight of the evidence which we obtained from journalists of the highest standing, as well as from newspaper proprietors throughout Australia, was that leading articles were almost invariably written from instructions after consultation. It. is true that in most cases the writers endorsed the views which they expressed, but we discovered that it was not invariably .so. We received evidence from a number of journalists who hold Labour views to the effect that they were obliged, in’ order to make a living, to work on conservative newspapers, and to give expression, to conservative sentiments, and in consequence of having to sign their names to such articles they were brought into disrepute with persons of their own political convictions. In some cases they incurred ridicule and hatred, and in others they were actually victimized. It was on these grounds that the committee recommended that while articles and paragraphs which contained comment should be signed, articles which appeared in the leading columns of the newspapers should not be signed. The committee suggested that headlines containing comment should also be signed; but I am not sure that the bill provides for that to be done. It is well known that newspaper headlines have “ killed “ candidates. Reports which in themselves are quite fair and above board, are sometimes published under headlines which are entirely unfair.
– As a rule, newspaper headlines are read extensively.
– Very often the headlines are read, and the reports are not read. I trust that honorable members will assist me to have included in the bill a provision that all headlines which contain comment must be signed. It is entirely unfair to permit biased journalists on the editorial staffs of newspapers to ridicule candidates, and distort their views by publishing reports under unfair headlines. In addition to the amendment which I have already indicated, I propose also to invite honorable members to express their views on an amendment which I shall move to overcome the practice of certain newspapers of refusing to publish letters which members of Parliament and political candidates write in reply to attacks that are made upon them through the press.
– What important recommendations of the committee have been omitted from the bill?
– A provision relating to donations and gifts by members of Parliament was deleted when the bill was before another place.. The Government approved of our proposal in this regard, but honorable senators deleted it from the bill. I trust that we shall restore it. The committee recommended that provision should be made to limit the use of motor cars in election campaigns. Apparently the Government did not approve of that. In my opinion it is mischievous and dangerous to allow wealthy parties or personal interests in a communty to monopolize the motor cars that are available in certain towns and districts on election days. The committee attempted to meet this practice by recommending that vehicles should not be permitted to approach within 50 feet of a polling booth except for the purpose of putting down or picking up incapacitated electors. I trust that honorable members will agree to a provision of that kind being inserted in the bill. Cabinet also disapproved of our proposal to close polling booths at 7 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. I am entirely opposed to the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition that members of State Parliaments should be allowed to stand as candidates for federal divisions without first resigning their seats. The honorable gentleman advanced no argument whatever to support his proposal for the amendment of the existing law in that regard. It would be foolish for us to allow State members to contest federal seats. The practice would result in some grotesque situations arising. It does not require a vivid imagina tion to foresee that if such a custom were established members of State Parliaments would freely contest federal seats, for they would know that they had nothing to lose by a defeat and everything to gain by a victory. If members opposite lend themselves to the insertion of such a provision I am quite satisfied that many of them will find themselves minus their seats after the next election. Another important recommendation of the committee which was not adopted by the Government was that in order to secure a more efficient electoral system a certain number of officers of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department should be made officers of the Electoral Department. The Director of Postal Services, Mr. H. P. Brown, saw no difficulty in doing this. It was quite apparent from the inquiries which the committee made that one great weakness in our electoral system lies in the fact that we have no thoroughly reliable means of gathering information for enrolment purposes. Where the postal officials concerned are smart men, the work is well done; but where lazy or incompetent officers are employed the results are quite unsatisfactory. It was clearly pointed out to us that some of the postal officers considered that the payment which they received for the work they did for the Electoral Department was insufficient, and for that reason they neglected to discharge the duties which were placed upon them. It is essential to the building up of a satisfactory electoral system that the Electoral Department should have a number of properly accredited permanent representatives in the Postmaster-General’s Department, and I trust that the bill will be amended to provide for this.
.- I regret that the Government saw fit to introduce this bill in another place, for although honorable senators no doubt debated it sincerely and honestly, they were not nearly so well qualified as honorable members of this chamber to deal with it effectively. The nature of the campaigns through which members of the House of Representatives have to pass equips them in a much better way to deal with a bill of this kind than does the experience of senators. The tenure of office and the constituency of honorable members of the other chamber are so different from those of honorable members of this chamber that they could not be expected to deal satisfactorily with the bill. I should like to know the reason that actuated the Government in introducing the measure in the Senate. I do not cast any reflection upon the integrity of honorable members of the other place, but I merely say that they are not so well qualified as honorable members of this chamber to deal with the measure. One of the most important points that we shall have to consider in connexion with this bill has relation to the qualifications for enrolment. The last speaker, the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) has, I understand, announced his intention to move for a qualification of three months. I think it would be a wrong thing to limit, in any way, the qualifications of the franchise. The honorable member’s reason for advocating a three months’ residence is to prevent certain electorates from being packed prior, and close to, an election. I am subject to correction if I am not quoting the honorable member correctly. On the fact of it, the proposal is *n absurdity, particularly in view of our electoral machinery, and the work of our permanent officers. The Commonwealth very wisely made that a full-time occupation for electoral officers, and not a job that could be taken up three or four weeks prior to an election. It involves the constant compilation and correction of the rolls. Personally, I cannot see how the people would benefit ‘if the returning officers ceased to function three months prior to an election. It is quite wrong to restrict the franchise, or to restrict the qualifications for the franchise, and when the honorable gentleman moves his amendment I shall certainly oppose it. In passing, he mentioned the alleged gerrymandering or packing of electorates in New South Wales. If any packing recently took place in New South Wales I have yet to learn by what means. The honorable member for New England stated that the last Government in New South Wales strained every effort to put on 300 or 400 men as roadmakers in doubtful electorates ; yet, after all, that Government was defeated. As a matter of fact, if the last New South “!Vales Government had spent the money which was available, and had taken advantage of the federal grant, there would have been three times as much road work going on in that State, and it would have been of a perfectly bona fide nature. The honorable member and his friends cannot have it both ways. They cannot blame the late Labour Government for not spending money in making roads, and, at the same time, say that the electorates were packed with roadmakers. The honorable member belongs to a party the representatives of which in Victoria support a gerrymandering scheme of the worst kind. In that State it takes only 5,000 voters to elect one anti-Labour representative, but it requires 45,000 or 46,000 to elect one Labour representative. If the honorable member wants an instance of electorate packing and gerrymandering of seats, I commend him to the conduct of the Country party and the Nationalist party of Victoria, which have successfully carried out that system. Then gerrymandering was carried out by the present Government, or rather by its predecessor, the Nationalist Government. I recall to the recollection of honorable members that there were two very strong Labour electorates in western New South Wales, the Darling and the Barrier. By gerrymandering the redistribution, it was seen to be possible to cut out one of them. Notwithstanding that the people of Mungundi had nothing in common with the fruitgrowers of Wentworth and Pomona, and the miners of Broken Hill nothing in common with the pastoralists of Walgett, by gerrymandering Labour was done out of one seat.
– That was done by an independent commission.
– The honorable member knows how commissions are composed, and he has had a fair amount of experience as to how they function. I do not think it necessary to elaborate the point. The fact remains that Labour lost one out of these two seats. Now let me deal with what I think is a more glaring instance. In order to keep the coal-miners and industrial voters within a certain area, a strip was taken round Newcastle, and called Newcastle. A strip was then taken around that electorate and called the Hunter Division. Then, to make the world safe for democracy, and nationalism and the honorable member for Robertson, another strip was taken practically round Hunter and thrown into that division.
– They were preserving the community of interest.
-Yes, but not so much that of the people as of the Nationalist Government. I would remind the honorable member for New England, when he is talking about gerrymandering and electoral packing, of these two incidents following on the 1920 census. It has been stated by the honorable member for New England that this is a non-party bill, and the honorable member delivered a non-party speech, in which, however, he made certain charges and certain strong statements which ought to be answered. Apart from the matter introduced by the honorable member for New England, this is. in my opinion, a machinery measure, in which honorable members are vitally interested. I commend the committee for its recommendation to increase the number of persons qualified to act as authorized witnesses.I only regret that the committee did not go further. In such electorates as Darling, Maranoa, Grey, and Kalgoorlie, where men are employed, not on stations or railway work, but on road construction, there are no authorized witnesses of the kind mentioned in the act. I will take the opportunity later, unless I am assured by the Minister in charge of the bill that those men are covered, to move that road foremen and road gangers upon road construction and maintenance work shall be authorized witnesses within the meaning of the act.
– There should be no objection to that.
– I do not think there ought to be any objection. There is also the case of railway construction workers to be provided for. While overseers and permanent-way engineers are authorized witnesses on railway work, there is no provision in the section for men employed exclusively on railway construction work.
– There would be a polling booth provided.
– That would depend upon the number of men employed.
I will suggest later that engineers, paymasters, and gangers on railway construction work should be included amongst those qualified to act as authorized witnesses. Another matter which has been discussed, and to which many honorable t members have given consideration, is the treatment accorded for many years to that very efficient set of officers - the divisional returning officers of the Commonwealth. I have a case in mind of an officer who works up to 450 hours overtime during the three or four months preceding every election. These officers must be efficient, or they will not be employed in the Commonwealth Electoral Department, yet for all the hard work they have to do, particularly at election time, they receive no consideration from the Government. I am pleased that the Leader of the Opposition has given notice of his intention to move that suitable recognition be given these officers as far as overtime is concerned. The fact has been established by the committee that the average alterations to the roll amount to 50 per cent., and in some instances they have been as high as 70 per cent. and 80 per cent. That shows the enormous amount of work carried out by the divisional returning officers and their assistants during the period between elections. In a speech which he stated was quite free from party bias, the honorable member for New England supported the Government’s policy as expressed in this bill for abolishing the provision making it compulsory to sign leading articles published in newspapers during an election campaign. He used arguments which have been used ever since the signing of articles came into force, namely, that there grew up traditions of newspaper policy which had been carried on for many years, and which were expressed in the leading articles. He stated that the matter contained in the leading article was not the product of the writer’s brain, but that the article was merely expressive of the policy and tradition which had grown up with the newspaper. While that might be true of such papers as the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and the Argus in Melbourne, and of one or two other newspapers in Australia, there is, generally speaking, no justification for the state- ment that leading articles are expressions of traditional policy rather than the product of the brain and pen of some one individual. One cannot say that leading articles are the product of the directorate, or truly representative of the interests and aims of the individual shareholders of the company. Some one must necessarily be held responsible, and it is useless attempting to make a corporation responsible. The responsibility must be cast upon an individual. When a concern is sued the onus of responsibility falls upon the manager or some other specified individual.
– The newspaper accepts the responsibility and, of course, is liable.
– But the newspaper does not write and bring into being its leading articles.
– The position is similar to that which obtains in regard to libel articles.
– I am not speaking of libel actions; I am speaking of comments on the attitudes of individuals or of parties. When a newspaper criticizes a candidate, that criticism is not made by a company, but by a person in the employ and pay of a company.
– That is exactly what happens when a libel is published by a newspaper. . The newspaper itself does not write it.
– But the. newspaper is responsible. If the signing of leading articles is not required, the newspaper will be allowed to evade its responsibility.
– Any writer would be indemnified by the newspaper concerned.
– The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) stated that men have been attacked, humiliated, and victimized, because of their writings. The honorable member would have been far more convincing had he quoted specific instances.
– I said that the committee heard evidence from Labour journalists that they had been victimized. Those occurrences are instanced in the report of the committee.
– Were there specific cases of victimization?
– Statements alleging victimization were made in evidence before the committee.
– It would have been infinitely better had the honorable member quoted concrete examples of journalists being victimized because of their articles. I want something more than the mere giving of evidence before a select committee. I should be surprised if the honorable member were able : o cite specific cases of victimization. A considerable uproar ensues if there is the slightest semblance of victimization when the matter affects trade unions. The average journalist is a very strong trade unionist, and any newspaper attempting to victimize one would not escape without incurring much fuss and bother. I am opposed to the suggested elimination of the provision for the signing of leading articles, and will endeavour to have the proposal negatived when we go into committee. I hope that the arrangements as . to the compilation of a joint roll, recently entered into between the Commonwealth and the States of Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, and Western Australia, will be followed by Queensland and New South Wales.
– Queensland will not countenance such a proposal.
– Possibly they have their reasons. I strongly urge that, until the creation of a joint roll is arranged with all the States, the Commonwealth should co-operate with Queensland and New South Wales in an effort to make the rolls as complete and clean as possible, by utilizing the services of the State police.
– Instead of the Federal postal authorities?
– I would use both. Every possible method should be utilized to bring about an efficient and clean roll. I oppose the proposal of the honorable member for New England, in which he seeks to close the rolls three months before election time. In the past, various parties have adopted the method of handing out “ How to Vote “ cards, at the same time asking the elector concerned whether he would like to know his roll number. That was usually successful as a method of introduction. I have always opposed the handing out of roll numbers through the medium of “How to Vote” cards. I have had a very long and varied experience of outside canvassing, poll clerk’s work, scrutinizing, and last, but not least, I have been a candidate. At the 1925 elections I carried out an experiment at BrokenHill, and arranged for the abolition of the use of rolls outside of polling booths. That obviated the time usually wasted in supplying numbers, which cannot be regarded as accurate by the presiding officers. Instead of handing out numbers, we gave electors instruction as to how they should correctly register their votes. I do not claim that the high degree of informality at polling booths is entirely due to the distribution of “ How to Vote “ cards, but it is certainly influenced by that practice. The following table shows the result of an analysis of the informal votes registered at Broken Hill for the 1922 and 1925 elections : -
The placing of the electors number on the “How to Vote” cards was discarded in the 1925 elections. I consider that more than half the present informality percentage could be eliminated if electors were properly educated in the methods of voting. The supplying of a roll number does not in any way lessen the work of the returning officer, and it very often confuses matters. An elector may give his name to a canvasser, and the canvasser may be unable to find his name on the roll. He is informed that his name is not on the roll, and probably subjects himself to the imposition of a fine, because he has failed to record his vote. The Eederal Electoral Act contains an excellent provision to the effect that a person whose name does not appear on the roll may register his vote, an investigation being made into the matter when the poll is completed. Everything possible should be done to assist an elector to record his vote.
– It is proposed to make it an offence to tell any person that his name is not on the roll. The elector must receive that information only from the electoral officer.
– I am afraid the honorable member would have some difficulty in carrying out that idea, but I cannot see any alternative. Our electoral machinery is created for the purpose of having all votes registered, and the individual most capable to assist electors is the electoral officer. The work done by outsiders is confusing, and frequently mischievous. Under the intensive party system which prevails to-day, it is quite unnecessary for a canvasser to obtain an introduction to an elector. He may be approached by any canvasser, handed a “ How to Vote “ card, and instructed how to register his vote.
– Is the honorable member referring to canvassing generally. That is where the danger lies.
– No. There is no danger in a canvasser asking an elector to vote for Brown or White; but no good purpose is served by giving him a number. Time is often wasted by the necessary inspection of the roll, and the elector is often given a different number before he enters the booth.
– The number is given mainly for the purpose of influencing the elector outside the polling booth.
– That originated, I think, as a kind of introduction to the canvasser, ostensibly to help the elector, although in many cases it was merely an excuse to enable the canvasser to get into conversation with him, and supply him with a “ how to vote “ card. The necessity for the introduction has disappeared, and, personally, I am convinced that the reduction of informalities at Broken Hill was due to the fact that no numbers were given. I shall deal with other matters in the committee stage, when I shall submit several amendments.
.- I regret that the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) has questioned the integrity of the members of the Redistribution Commission for the State of New South Wales. Many complaints of the gerrymandering of the State electorates by various parties and persons have been heard, but this Parliament has endeavoured to prevent charges of that description being made against those responsible for periodical adjustments of divisional boundaries of the Commonwealth and for that purpose it has made certain restrictions regarding the appointment of commissioners. Section 16 of the Electoral Act provides -
For the purpose of the distribution of a State into divisions in accordance with this act the Governor-General may appoint three Distribution Commissioners, of whom one shall be the Chief Electoral Officer or an officer having similar qualifications, and, if his services are obtainable, one shall be the SurveyorGeneral of the State or an officer having similar qualifications.
For the last distribution in New South Wales the commissioners were appointed in accordance with those terms. The Chief Electoral Officer for the State, then Mr. Irwin, and the Surveyor General of New South Wales were appointed, and the third member was, I think, the State Government Statistician, Mr. Smith. One quite understands that these distributions do not meet with the approval of all honorable members.
– Can the honorable member give me one instance in which the Nationalist party was adversely affected by the last distribution?
– Yes, in Reid.
– The Nationalists have never held that seat.
– In that case a new Labour seat was provided.
– Where did Nationalism lose a seat, because of that distribution?
– There is the case of the electorate of Barton when Mr. Lamond was defeated, but the question is not so much whether a party loses a seat as whether the commissioners carried out their duties in a fair and bona fide manner, independent of Government influence. I regret that the gentlemen who act on such commissions, and who, after all, undertake the work at the request of the Government - two of them in this case were State officers and were not bound to accept the task - should have their integrity questioned. The two electorates to which the honorable member has referred were below the numerical quota, and one of them had to go in order that the quota might in some measure be maintained.
– No. It was a matter of building up two electorates instead of making one large one.
– My only comment is that I regret that the attack was a personal one, and directed against the members of the commission. Whatever the honorable member for Darling may think of the result of their deliberations, the majority of honorable members will give them credit for doing the best they could in the circumstances. The Leader of the Opposition spoke of what I think was one of the main reasons for the appointment of the joint select committee. I refer to personation and duplicate voting. So far as the federal electorates, at any rate, are concerned, this feature is practically non-existent, according to the evidence that came before the committee. A few somewhat humorous cases of personation came under our notice. For instance, one man had voted three times. On the third occasion he had an epileptic fit and had to be carried to a hospital. In one of the isolated bona fide instances that came under our notice, an elector in South Australia boasted that he had voted three or four times at one election; but he was caught and fined £20. He was a shoe-black, and I do not think that he will repeat the offence. A man who was drunk went back to the same polling booth and to the same table as that at which he had already received a ballotpaper, and the returning officer simply gave him in charge. Many instances of duplicate voting came under our notice ; but in practically every case a mistake had been made by the presiding officer in taking the name, or the poll clerk had made a slip in ticking it off. The Leader of the Opposition opposes the reduction of the distance at which an elector must be from a polling booth to entitle him to record a postal vote from ten to five miles. In country districts, particularly in the larger States, complaint was constantly made that the tenmile limit is altogether too great. Timber-cutters, for instance, in the southwest of Western Australia, and settlers in the northern part of Queensland, the north-west of Tasmania, and in the outlying portions of the electorates of Grey, in South Australia, are affected by that provision. Divisional returning officers and other witnesses expressed the opinion that a five-miles limit is sufficient. The case was quoted of a woman who, at the last election, wheeled her baby in a perambulator for seven or eight miles in order to record her vote, and in other instances persons were threatened with fines for failing to vote, although they resided six or seven miles from a. polling booth. In all the circumstances the recommendation of the committee that the limit be reduced from ten to five miles should receive the endorsement of the House. The other alteration which the committee recommended, and which the Government accepted, was that an application for a postal vote might be signed by any elector. The provision that the signature to the postal vote itself should be witnessed by an authorized person was retained. Cases were mentioned in which nien had to travel 30, 40, and sometimes 50 miles in order to record postal votes. Some of them were surveyors and railway workers, fettlers and gangers, in outlying districts, such as the back country of Western Australia and Queensland. Under the present law they have to make a double journey to obtain authorized witnesses, first to their application form, and again to the ballot paper itself. Certain cases will not be met even by the new provision. I refer to those electors residing on Flinders Island a nd some of the islands along the coast of North Queensland. Nevertheless the proposal will provide a large measure of relief to many electors far removed from the amenities of civilization. The department is opposed to the proposal. The officials consider that having two different classes of witnesses, one for the application and another for the vote, will lead to confusion, and that the elector after getting his postal vote may ask another elector to sign it instead of seeking out an authorized witness. I do not think there is much danger of that. The postal ballot-paper bears instructions as to who are eligible as attesting witnesses, and the balance of convenience is in favour of the suggestion made by the committee and adopted by the Government.
– It will be too great a convenience for the gerrymanderer.
– There is not much danger, because the actual voting is wrapt round with the usual precautions. We heard evidence of the undesirability of taking an outside witness twice into a sick room to affix his signature. It was thought that if the application for the postal vote were witnessed by the wife or husband of the invalid or some elector in the house and an authorized person were brought in to witness the actual vote, that would be better than bringing a stranger into the sick room twice. In regard to the signed article provision, very few of any political party were in favour of the retention of the ‘present law, so far as editorials and reports of meetings are concerned. In Brisbane, we heard the evidence of Mr. Quillinan, past president of the Queensland District Australian Journalists’ Association. He was a Labour supporter and his evidence was corroborated in every State of the Commonwealth. Only three or four witnesses were in favour of requiring the editorials and reports to be signed.
– I could have brought dozens.
– The honorable member did not do so. In South Australia , neither the newspaper editors nor the Journalists’ Association responded to the invitation to give evidence ; but, with that exception, the evidence throughout the Commonwealth was overwhelmingly in favour of an amendment of the law in the manner recommended by the committee. Mr. Quillinan’s evidence was -
The Australian Journalists’ Association as an organization is opposed to the compulsory signing of newspaper articles during election and referendum campaigns. We urge that the law be repealed in so far as it affects the signing of reports and paragraphs notifying the holding of political meetings. We strongly object to journalists being called upon to sign their names to political reports, because sometimes this renders them liable to pinpricks and other disabilities, and they suffer in employment. I cite the case of one journalist who was employed on an anti-Labour country newspaper and at the same time was acting as correspondent of a Labour paper in another town. In this capacity he had to sign his name to a number of political reports. Subsequently he obtained employment on a newspaper published in the same town as the Labour newspaper, and when the editor had had his attention directed to the fact that this man had been correspondent of the Labour newspaper, he informed the reporter that his services would be no longer required. Not long ago another man who obtained casual employment on a certain newspaper was compelled to attach his signature to a report of a speech given by a Labour candidate. Subsequently he obtained employment on another newspaper that was opposed to the Labour party in politics, and he was informed that as he had signed his name to a report in a Labour newspaper he could no longer receive employment on the anti-Labour paper. I can furnish the names of the journalists and the papers referred to, but it is not desirable that they should be made public. I have suffered myself in the same way. .
In the face of frequent corroborative evidence of that kind, the committee would have been recreant to its trust if it had not reported as it did.
– How many witnesses did the committee examine in regard to the signed article provision?
– I should think between 30 and 40, and they were the most representative men I could summon. It is hardly correct to s:tr’ that the Queensland authorities are opposed to a joint roll for Commonwealth and State. Queensland electoral officials are in favour of it, and so also are the politicians^ provided that the joint roll is prepared by the State, and that the State system of enrolment is adopted.
– What is the difference between the Commonwealth and State systems?
– It is very easy for an elector to get on the Queensland State roll; but it is very difficult for him to get off. The three causes of removal are death, enrolment in another division, and removal from the State. That is the system that the Queensland politicians would like the Commonwealth to adopt in the preparation of a joint roll. The evidence of representative bodies - Nationalist, .Labour, and Country parties - was almost unanimously to the effect that the federal roll is the purest. Mr. Harkness, Chief Electoral Officer of New South Wales, expressed the opinion that at the time of its collection the State roll was the purer, but in the five or six months that elapsed after collection of the names before the roll became effective, a great deal of deadwood accumulated, with the result tha’t the roll was probably not as clean as the Commonwealth roll. Except a few State electoral officials, witnesses agreed that the federal roll, being continuously under revision, was the best.
In Western Australia there was an evident desire on the part of federal and State officials to have a joint roll, and I expect that in New South Wales a joint roll will be agreed upon before long. If so, Queensland will be the only State that persists in maintaining a separate roll for State elections. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes’) referred by interjection to sectional voting. We learned of many instances in which electors were told by the presiding officer that their names were not on the roll, and they were accordingly given a sectional vote. Subsequently their names were discovered to be on the roll.
– What became of the sectional votes?
– The AttorneyGeneral declared that they were invalid, because the sectional vote could be exercised only by a person whose name was not on the roll.
– That was an injustice to the electors.
– It was, but a repetition of it will be prevented by a provision in the bill that if the presiding officer makes such a mistake in the issue of the sectional vote the divisional returning officer may admit such a vote at the scrutiny.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– Reverting to the subject of signed articles, Mr. C. B. Fletcher, the editor-in-chief of the Sydney Morning Herald, when giving evidence before the committee, put fairly and logically the case against signed articles from the point of view of the larger metropolitan- newspapers. He also pointed out the extreme difficulty occasioned to the press under this provision. He considered that in regard to the byelection for Monaro hundreds of newspapers throughout Australia, through inadvertence, did not obey the law, inasmuch as they published unsigned reports of proceedings of this House, and honorable members will realize that any matter discussed here would be a question involved in the election. Consequently all such reports should have been signed. The case on the other side was stated by Mr. Molesworth, the representative of The Daily Guardian, and by Mr. Boote, of
The Australian. Worker. The editor of The Labour Daily did not favour signed articles as a general newspaper principle. His evidence appears on page106 of the report, and portion of it reads: -
We have been told that when a journalist is obliged to sign his articles he is less likely to make statements which, although not libellous, are distinctly unfair. Do you agree with that? - I do not think the signing of articles makes the slightest difference to what a journalist writes in the political arena. So far as I can see, the political articles are exactly the same now as they were ten or fifteen years ago, when they did not have to be signed.
The Chief Electoral Officer of Queensland, when giving evidence, pointed out that there were between 10,000 and 20,000. more names on the Queensland State than on the Queensland Federal roll. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) seemed to be very much concerned about the proposed proviso under section 39, but I do not think that it will bear the interpretation that he wishes to place on it. As I read the amendment, a man is not entitled to vote for the division in which he formerly lived if he has been more than three months absent from it. The first proviso which it is proposed to omit from the act practically provides for a similar period. A person has the right to enroll after residing one month in a division, and, in addition, has three weeks during which to enroll, making seven weeks altogether. The proviso reads : -
Provided that an elector, whose real place of living is not in the division in respect of which he is enrolled shall not be entitled to vote as an elector of that division if, since he secured that enrolment, he has at any time before the commencement of the period of 21 days before the issue of the writ for the election, become entitled to be enrolled in respect of another division.
The period between the issue of the writ and the polling day is generally from five to six weeks, and therefore, the residential qualification is from twelveto thirteen weeks.
– How does the proposed proviso affect the transitory worker ?
– It does not affect him so far as enrolment is concerned. He is at liberty to enroll if he has been living in an electorate for one month.
– He cannot vote.
– He can enrol and vote. If he has not enrolled in the electorate in which he lives, he can vote in the electorate in which he resided previously, provided that he was there within the preceding three months.
– In that case a great many nomadic workers would be disqualified.
– I think that the proposed proviso is in favour of the nomadic worker, because it gives the elector a double privilege. He can enrol after being one month in an electorate, and if he does not avail himself of that privilege, he can vote in his previous electorate, provided that he resided there within the preceding three months. So far as I can gather, the only reason for altering and re-wording section 39 is to simplify the question that is put by the presiding officer to the elector at the time of voting.
– In the proposed proviso these words appear -
In this proviso the words “ real place of living “ include the place of living to which a person temporarily living elsewhere has a fixed intention of returning for the purpose of continuing to live thereat.
Under that definition a single nomadic worker would have no real place of abode, and would, therefore, be disfranchised.
– There is nothing included under this proposed proviso which is not contained in the existing section.
– What is the reason for the alteration in the wording?
– It simplifies the question put by the presiding officer to the elector. The committee also recommended that the distance from a polling booth at which canvassing shall be allowed, be increased from 20 feet to 50 feet. That recommendation has not been adopted by the Government. To make plainer the intention of the act, the Government should include in it some definition of the entrance to a polling booth. At every election a dispute arises whether the entrance to the polling booth is the door of the booth or the front gate of the property on which the booth is situated. I think that the entrance should be the front gate.
– There may be no front gate.
– It should be the entrance to the property. I suggest to the
Minister that there should be some uniform definition of the entrance to a polling booth. Mr. Farrar and his electoral officers gave the committee every assistance. I take no exception to the attitude of the heads of the various electoral offices who consider that their system is 100 per cent, efficient. It is all the more credit to them if they think that they have done their work well. The divisional returning officers are a .fine class of men who have the confidence of the public and of all political parties.
– They are not paid sufficiently for their services.
– I understand that there is some difficulty about payment for overtime to those in charge of the head offices, but I consider that in any case bonuses should be given to them for their services during elections.
– Did the committee make any important recommendations that are not embodied in the bill?
– Several recommendations have not been adopted, although the principal ones have been embodied in the bill, with the exception of that mentioned by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson). It is proposed as soon as this legislation operates to adopt the suggestion of the committee to simplify the enrolment card by placing all printed matter on one side, one signature only being required: Another recommendation of the committee that has not been adopted by the Government is that any postal ballot-paper that is posted on or before the date of polling, shall be accepted by the divisional returning officer if it reaches him within seven days of the poll. The difficulty is, of course, to prove the date of postage. Mr. Brown, of the Postal Department, in his evidence said that the department was installing new cancelling machines which would give a clear date stamp. In place of that recommendation the Government has substituted a clause providing that if the postal ballot-paper is handed or sent to any divisional returning officer and received by him before the closing of the poll it shall be accepted.
– Why not to a subdivisional returning officer?
– It was suggested that arrangements might be made for the issue of postal ballot-papers by sub divisional registrars. For instance, the subdivisional registrars at Thursday Island, Cairns, or Geraldton might be entitled to issue postal votes. But I think the departmental objection to that proposal is that,, while in the head offices of certain subdivisions there may be thoroughly reliable men, in other head offices of subdivisions the department is obliged toaccept the services of whatever men it can get, and these are not always as reliable as they might be.
– Subdivisional officers not always reliable!
– Yes; some of them are second rate. At any rate, that is the department’s objection. A further recommendation made by the select committee, and worthy of consideration, isthat the work of the subdivisional returning officers should be made part of the duties of postal officials. The present practice is for the Electoral Department to approach a postmaster, cap in hand, and ask him to do certain things. The postmaster can say “ No, I cannot do it, but one of my assistants can, although, if he does it, he must do it after hours; he cannot do it in post office time.” Many of theofficers of the Postal Department do electoral work in their own time after office hours, but the -committee thinks that electoral work should be recognized as part of postal officers’ official duties, and that these officers should be regarded as the representatives of the Electoral Department for the performance of these duties. If the postmasters are required to do electoral work as part of their ordinary duties, we shall then have subdivisional returning officers upon whom we can depend, and to whom Ave can give the right to issue postal ballot-papers.
– Is it proposed to pay these officers extra remuneration?
– The suggestion of the committee is that payment for the service should be a matter of arrangement between the Postal Department and the Electoral Department. Mr. Brown said originally that he did not think there would be any objection to the committee’s proposal, but when he conferred with the Chief Electoral Officer, the two of them sent in a report that it would not work, and that it would be very undesirable to carry the proposal into effect.
– When before the committee they did not say that it would not work.
– No ; but it is only fair to say that Mr. Brown expressed the desire to have a consultation with the Chief Electoral Officer before giving a definite opinion on the matter. It was to suit the convenience of the committee that the evidence of Mr. Brown and the Chief Electoral Officer on this point was supplied in the form of a report rather than that the committee should make another visit to Melbourne to take their evidence.
– In the evidence they gave before the committee, neither officer could give a substantial reason why the proposal should not be carried out.
– And, further than, that, Mr. Brown thought that it could be done until he had talked it over with the head of the Electoral Department.
– Has the honorable member spoken of the committee’s recommendation about the hiring of motor cars by candidates?
– There was a recommendation about that, and a recommendation regarding donations and gifts by members or candidates. I think I have mentioned all the important recommendations of the committee that have not been embodied in this bill.
– I do not think that the bill embodies much that calls for criticism. I am more inclined to criticise what it omits rather than what it contains. I thought that when a committee set out to hold an exhaustive inquiry info the conduct of elections and electoral procedure generally, one of the first subjects for investigation would be the practice of house-to-house canvassing at elections. I think it is very undesirable that this practice should be permitted. In fact, I would make itan offence. I am not referring to the ordinary distribution of literature that will’ educate the elector and instruct him how he should vote. It should always be permissible for a party to issue its election literature; but it is in the housetohouse canvass that candidates are de famed in a most shameful manner. The law should prevent canvassers of either sex from poisoning the minds of electors by most outrageous statements, such as are often made concerning the probity of even, the most honest man on the face of the earth.
– -Female canvassers are the worst offenders.
– I do not want to place the blame on one sex more than on another; but candidates representing all parties have suffered from those individuals who go from house to house telling the most awful lies of the most defamatory character.
– Some women canvassers will say anything.
– And they are paid very well to say it. The material is often provided for them, and they just retail it as they go from house-to-house.
– Extensive evidence was taken about canvassing, and the committee found that a great majority were in favour of it.
– I do not know what evidence the committee obtained on the point, but if . it had recommended the abolition of canvassing it would have met with the hearty endorsement of this House, An amendment will probably be framed to give honorable members an opportunity to express their opinions on the practice of canvassing during election campaigns. I have not the slightest objection to a proposal to afford to the members of a State Parliament the opportunity to contest a Commonwealth election. Some honorable members contend that if we allow State members to continue to draw their salaries while contesting a Federal election, or give them the right- to resume their State seats should they not succeed in being elected to this Parliament, there should be some reciprocity in the matter; that if a Federal member chooses to leave the Federal sphere and contest a State election he should have conferred upon him by the State Parliaments the right which is now proposed to be conferred upon State members. In all political parties in the ranks of State legislators there are 1ighly qualified nien who would be willing to contest Federal seats if. they knew that they would retain their State seats in the event of being unsuccessful in their. venture in the Federal arena.
– Why should the State member play with a double-headed penny ?
– This Parliament should not hedge itself around with such restrictions, lt should broaden the opportunity for men to enter its portals. If there is any Parliament in Australia where we should have the best political intelligence available, it is this.
– The honorable member takes a broad view.
– I do; and I should like the State members to have an opportunity to contest Federal elections without undue risk to themselves. The Tasmanian legislature passed -a bill which enabled members of the State Parliament to contest Federal scats, and, if unsuccessful, to return to their own seats.
– But the Commonwealth Parliament passed a bill to render that impossible.’
– The proportional system of voting as adopted in Tasmania precludes a Federal member from contesting a State seat.
– I admit that reciprocity is not possible unless the State electoral systems are brought into line with the Federal system. There are men in State politics - some of them, have been Ministers - whom the electors should have the opportunity to send to this Parliament. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) has pointed out that this Parliament has rendered that impossible, and there are men already in this House who were compelled to resign their State seats before contesting a Federal seat; but that is no reason why we should not make a departure in this respect. I shall support the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) to give to a member of a State Parliament an opportunity to contest a Federal election without risking his seat in the State Parliament. Some reference has been made to certain tactics that have been employed to win elections. Whether evidence was tendered to the select committee in this regard, or whether the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) was simply speaking from hearsay, I do not know; but he belongs to a section of a party which has not too good a record in regard to gerrymandering constituencies and the conduct of elections. Honorable members will recollect how the electors in Western Australia rose in indignation and sent to the right-about the Wilson Government, which had, just prior to a general election, gerrymandered the constituencies. We have recently had a similar experience in Victoria. Where there is a composite government in office, there is always a considerable sacrifice of principle. There are many people in Victoria who say, “ While we are not able to dot the i ‘ or cross the ‘ t ‘ so far as the Labour platform is concerned, we were certainly very glad to get rid of the composite Government.”
– How does the honorable member propose to connect his remarks with the bill?
– By inference the party to which I belong has been accused of doing certain, things in State politics, and I am endeavouring to show that other political parties have resorted to practices which are certainly not compatible with clean politics. The composite Government in Victoria which had iniquitously gerrymandered the constituencies was put in its place, and my point is that parties which are prepared to gerrymander constituencies, as was done in Western Australia and Victoria, are equally prepared to do other undesirable things. The Commonwealth Government, whether it is acting on the advice of the select committee or not, is taking a very undesirable step in reducing from 10 to 5 miles the distance from a polling booth which entitles a voter to vote by post. The first amendment of the electoral law made by the Labour party when it came into office in 1910 was to remove the postal voting provisions from the act. I do not intend to enumerate particular instances in which the postal vote has been abused, but I could do so. We all know that every act of Parliament is abused. It is not possible for us to cover every conceivable situation in the legislation that we pass. We can only endeavour to do the greatest good for the greatest number. “I am sure that no honorable member who knows of the trafficking in postal votes that occurred prior to and at the 1910 election would be enthusiastic in his endeavour to make it easy to record a postal vote.
– At any rate, our party has never been guilty of such trafficking.
– If the honorablemember thinks that way, we shall mak-3 it our business to give him a few specific instances to show that the old Liberal party, which was led by Mr. Alfred Deakin, and which is the Nationalist party of to-day,- was not guiltless. I do not suggest for a moment that Mr. Deakin ever lent himself to that kind of thing. I do not believe that he would have tolerated it. But unquestionably abuses crept into the organization of the old so-called Liberal party. The situation, as the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) could show, became so bad that the Labour party thought it wise to abolish the system. But at the same time, it established hundreds of additional polling booths throughout the country to make it easier for people to record their votes.
– Is the honorable member favorable to postal voting with proper safeguards?
– The system needs the most careful administration. In the light of what has happened, I should be apprehensive of reintroducing it. In the Victorian election before last, a party organizer, who, by the way, was a justice of the peace, was guilty of such questionable conduct in obtaining postal votes that he was almost deprived of his commission. Had I been in authority, he certainly would have lost it. It cannot be controverted that the postal vote in the hands of unscrupulous parties or partisans may be misused in such a way as to become a scandal. The gentleman to whom I have referred was made such an example of that I do not think he would under any circumstances repeat his conduct. Under the postal voting system it is possible, if unscrupulous persons are able to obtain the men, the motor cars, and the money, to do the most iniquitous things within 5 miles of a polling booth. I wish to refer briefly to the vexed question of signed newspaper articles at election time. The honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowden) stated that the 30 odd newspaper proprietors and journalists who gave evidence before the select committee, were almost unanimous in declaring against signed articles. I cannot see any sound reason why a journalist could object to put his name to the articles that he writes. In my young days, when I was quite a greenhorn, I took charge of a small journal and I contributed my first article to it in the first person. My concluding sentence was “I do not expect to please everybody, nor am I going to try.” I did not use the almighty “we,” I shall not say that I maintained that policy. It is a common practice to sign press articles. I invite honorable members to refer to the following magazines, which may be found on the tables in the Library : - Everybody’s, Life, Current History, Scribner’s, Review of Reviews, Cornhill, The World Today, Quest, The American Review, The Century, Harper’s, Chambers’ Journal, The Forum, Munsey’s, and The New Nation. They will discover that the articles in all those publications are signed.
– But do they not deal principally with non-political subjects?
– They deal with all kinds of subjects. In some instances they take strong political views, and bitterly criticize the foreign policies of other countries. I have no doubt that the names of many other magazines could be added to the list. I invite honorable members also to refer to publications of a different character, such as The Nation, The Spectator, The Saturday Review, The New Statesman, and The Outlook. They will discover that the articles in these also are signed. In my opinion it would be an excellent thing if every article which appears in the daily press, as well as those which appear in periodical publications, was signed.
– The journalists who gave evidence before the committee did not think so.
– Why should any journalist object to putting his name to his work?
– The secretary of the Australian Journalists’ Association, who gave evidence .on behalf of the members of his organization, was adverse to the compulsory signing of articles.
– That may he so, but I refer honorable members to the example of Mr. Henry Boote, the editor of the Australian Worker. He signs everything that he writes.
– And he writes the most bitterly partisan articles in Australia.
– He is a very able man.
– But the fact that he signs his work does not prevent him from being partizan.
– I have been criticized in many newspapers, and some times most unfairly, but I am quite prepared to take the good with the bad. I believe in the freedom of the subject - in the press, on the platform, and in politics.
– Was not Mr. Boote recently singled out for specially bitter criticism by the Australian Labour party in consequence of the articles which he had written?
– The Australian Labour party knew whom to attack.
– And it pilloried him.
– It was something to know the man it had to pillory. There is no justification for the use of the almighty “ we “ in journalism. In the great majority of cases the leading articles are written by one man, and are the opinions of one man.
– Does the honorable member desire articles to be signed so that he may be vindictive ?
– I do not. It is not the first time that Mr. Boote has been attacked, and I have no doubt that he gives as good, as he gets.
– The committee recommended that all political articles and paragraphs which contain comments should be signed, except those which appear in the leading columns of the newspapers.
– My reply is that the most biased articles of all may appear as leading articles. Is any person in the community more despised than he who contributes anonymous letters to the press? I know that the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) regards the writers of anonymous letters as cowards. If he were attacked anonymously in the press he would ignore the attack or call upon the person responsible for it to come out into the open. Honorable and honest journalists should have no objection to signing their work. I have perused some of the evidence taken by the committee ou this subject, and find that the majority of those associated with journalism who gave evidence were the editors and sub-editors of city and provincial newspapers. The secretary of the Australian Journalists’ Association also tendered evidence on behalf of the members of that organization, and Mr. Shakespeare, the representative of the provincial press of New South Wales, expressed opinions on behalf of from SOO to 1,000 country newspapers in that State. I do not, however, think that he consulted the proprietors of all those journals. The bulk of the evidence tendered on’ this subject was, as I have said, by the editors and sub-editors of newspapers, and, generally speaking, was to the effect that they wished to get back into the old groove, so that the identity of the -writers of political articles should not be disclosed. But that is no reason why (his Parliament should not insist upon the signatures being attached, which would not be unjust to journalists individually or to newspaper proprietors. The splendid example set by the leading writers of the world should be followed by the press, particularly at election time. According to the report of the- committee, a journalist should be allowed to write a political report without attaching his signature.
– If it does npt contain comment.
– That provides many loopholes. Is it fair for a reporter to send in a garbled account of a political speech of the honorable member for New England -without attaching his signature? Journalists may send in honest reports - I believe most of them do - but after they have been through the hands of a sub-editor they cannot be recognized by their authors.
– Does the honorable member think that the signing of an article makes any difference?
– -The public should know- who is responsible for a report. A sub-editor should not be allowed to add or delete words from a reliable report supplied by a journalist.
– The honorable member does not suggest that the person whose signature appears at the end of an article is its author.
– It should be. A journalist should be responsible for the report he sends to his employers.
– Journalists submit reports of meetings, but in most cases they do not sign them.
– That is not right. Whilst our political bias may rise to a high point, and we may display a certain degree of heat during an election campaign the electors are entitled to a fair report of a candidate’s opinions. There are many pressing electoral reforms which should have been considered by the committee, and every honorable member who believes that elections should be conducted fairly will admit that canvassing should be abolished.
.- This is a machinery measure, inasmuch as it provides for simplifying the work of the Electoral Department, and does not embody any important electoral reforms. I wish to refer more particularly to the new provision in relation to postal voting. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) said that certain happenings in the past in relation to postal voting were disgraceful. As voting is now compulsory, and compulsory voting is said to be the natural corollary of compulsory enrolment - an opinion with which I do not agree - we should make it as easy as possible for every elector to vote. Compulsory enrolment is necessary for clean rolls. The punishment for abuses mentioned by the honorable member for Maribyrnong should be made to fit the crime.
– The crime of refraining from voting?
– No, of impersonation or the misuse of a postal ballotpaper. In certain parts of Australia, such as some of those in the electorate of Herbert, it is impossible for an elector to return a postal ballot-paper to the district, returning officer before the closing of the poll. Under the proposal embodied in this bill postal ballot-papers must be in the hands of the district returning officer on or before polling day. In the northern portion of Flinders
Island there are some electors who are 20 miles from, the nearest polling booth, and who have to send their applications for ballot-papers to the divisional returning officer in Launceston. The weather in Bass Strait is at times severe and it frequently happens that the vessel serving Flinders Island is able to make only one trip a month. Only two months ago this craft was weather-hound at King Island for over a fortnight, and passengers were compelled to wait in Launceston for nearly a month before they could return to Flinders Island. I cannot understand why provision has not been made in the bill for a postal ballot-paper to be valid if it is received by a subdivisional returning officer or any officer in charge of the polling booth. These officers handle hundreds of absentees’ ballotpapers, but under this measure they are not authorized to receive postal ballotpapers. Is there any difference between a . postal ballot-paper and an absentee ballot-paper both of which have to be sealed and witnessed? One of my constituents on Flinders Island - Mr. Boyes, who is 75 years of age - has been disfranchised at the last three elections because he has had to apply to the district returning” officer at Launceston for a ballot-paper and he has not been able to return it before the closing of the poll. Unless this hill is amended in the direction I suggest he will still be disfranchised. I wired this gentleman to make sure of the facts, and I have here his telegram stating that for three elections he has not been able to record a vote, even though he had the ballotpapers.
– Why does he not vote as an absentee voter?
– He lives 20 miles from the polling booth, and as provision is being made to meet the convenience of persons living 5 miles from the booth, surely consideration should be given to persons who live 20 miles away and, through circumstances over which they have no control, are. deprived of voting. The provisions for postal vote applications have been extended, and it is now proposed that electors may apply to a divisional returning officer in another electorate. I do not know whether the Minister is familiar with Australian geography ; but let us take Birdsville, which is in the Maranoa’ electorate, Queensland, as an illustration. Letters to other parts of Queensland have to go via South Australia, and this does not mean quick service. It is, therefore, still possible that voters, will bc disfranchised owing to failure to deliver postal papers to the divisional returning officer. Many electors go to a good deal of trouble to get their ballot-papers, but if they cannot be returned to a divisional returning officer before the closing of the poll, the votes are valueless. I submit that the electors on “Flinders Island and others so situated have a right to vote in common with other electors. It should be possible for ballotpapers to be despatched immediately the nominations are closed, so that they may be returned within proper time. I understand preferential voting was first introduced in 3918 as a result of the election to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Lord Forrest. When the preferential voting bill was before Parliament I was under the impression that it was designed to dispense with pre-selection and a reference to Hansard will show that that idea was in the minds of some honorable members. When the measure was under discussion the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) asked the Minister in charge of the bill (Mr. Glynn) if the Government’s proposal was likely to do away with preselection. The Minister replied “ Not necessarily; but I think it the duty of the legislature to afford adequate opportunities for the purpose.” That was nine years ago, yet to-day we still have the pre-selection system in operation. It is a cruel thing that in politics to-day good men are in many cases practically denied tha right to stand for Parliament. A democratic country like Australia should not stand for such a. system. Every person should have the unfettered right, if he chooses, to nominate for Parliament.
– He can stand now if lie likes.
– Of course he can, but he cannot fight the machine. The two political machines in Australia to-day are composed of a very small minority of the electors.
– We have had examples recently of independent candidates beating the machine.
– And there would be more who would beat the machine if every man had the unfettered right to nominate at an election. Of course the abolition of pre-selection does not suit the party machine, but that is only a greater reason why it should be abolished. The machine warns the electors who are not definitely attached to any party not to vote for the independent candidate and so they follow the party lead. If we want to get politics on to a higher plane than they are to-day we must get rid of preselection. The necessity for one roll impresses us more and more every day, as also does the necessity for one system of voting. When the first electoral bill was introduced in this House in 1902, Mr. Glynn said -
I look forward to a time when, through a delegation of power, solicited by the federation and granted by the States, we shall have, both in the Commonwealth and the States, one electoral act, and one principle of division, involving as there will, one suffrage, one set of officers, one roll, one mode of election, aud one code to secure the purity of elections.
That is a sentiment which should appeal to every one. Some of the clauses in the Electoral Act have been inserted with the idea of preserving the purity of elections. Take the equitable system of electorates in the federal system, and compare them with the gerrymandered electorates of which the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) made so much. He referred to the gerrymandering in Western Australia under the Wilson Government. If I remember rightly, that was a Liberal Government. That gerrymandering is still going on in Western Australia,- and whatever ‘the Honorable Mr. Wilson might have done pales into insignificance beside what has been allowed to happen in that State by the present Labour Premier. Take one of the goldfields electorates, for instance, where there are under 300 voters on the rolls, and yet at Leederville, down near Perth, there are something like 19,000 electors on the roll. Much the same thing occurs in all the other States; they are all as bad, or in some cases worse. In New South Wales, so far as numbers are concerned, the distribution is fairly equitable. Concerning the division of electorates, I am not acquainted with the position, and would’ not like to pronounce an opinion. However, the time has arrived when we should get much nearer to the principle of one vote one value in Australia than we are at the present time. The State of Queensland provides an illuminating example of things which can be done in State politics, but which cannot be done in federal politics. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) is, I think, the only Labour member who has won a seat there since 1917. I have always stood for a joint roll, and we cannot get a clean roll until the Commonwealth and the States use the same one. I regret that there is no provision in this bill for proportional representation in the Senate elections. If ever the time was ripe for the introduction of that system, it is ripe to-day. The present system was brought in to prevent the splitting of the party vote. Under the old block system it was ridiculous to run more candidates for election than there were seats to be filled. A measure was brought down providing an opportunity for a party to run as many candidates as it chose without endangering the splitting of the party vote. It is unworthy for us in Australia, where we pride ourselves on our democratic principles, to allow a minority of electors, amounting to 47 or 48 per cent., to be unrepresented in the Senate. Honorable members on my side of the House may say that there is nothing wrong with the principle while we happen to be in power ; but let me remind them that in 1910 labour swept the elections, and had eighteen of their candidates elected to the Senate, while in 1917 the Nationalist party did the same thing. At the present time, we have the Nationalist party, representing 52 or 53 per cent, of the electors, holding nearly all the representation.
– “Well, is that not all right ?
– No, it is not all right. The honorable member would not say that if he were sitting in opposition, and he knows it. The Senate was intended by those who framed the Consti tution to act as a safeguard for the small States. I am not in favour of the abolition of the Senate, nor of having it shorn of any of the privileges that it may confer on the small States.
– It fell down on its job over the per capita bill. The States were opposed to the principle of that measure.
– That is a matter of opinion. The States are satisfied now that the Government did the right thing in connexion with the per capita payments. In regard to the electoral bill of 1919, Mr. Tudor said “it was the worst mongrel ever introduced into this Parliament,” and I am of much the same opinion as the late respected Leader of the Labour party. I was impressed by two statements made by Mr. Glynn. He said -
The true democratic principle is to give to every party that share of representation in the Senate to which its numbers as expressed at the poll entitles it.
And this after he had said, in reference to the block system, “It will give majority representation, and exclude minority representation.” The present act was an improvement in only one respect: it did what it was intended to do, to prevent the splitting of the party vote. Mr. Hill, the Minister for Works and Railways, moved for proportional representation to be included in the bill. His motion was voted out by 23 votes to 10. During that debate Mr. Mcwilliams, the then member for Franklin, said - lt will to some extent break down that abominable machine that * has gripped both parties by the throat
We find to-day that because we have not proportional representation for the Senate, and have not abolished preselection, the system still grips both parties by the throat. In Tasmania in 1917, when the federal act still provided for the block system, Mr. Goodluck was standing as fourth candidate. Speaking at the Albert. Hall in Launceston, Mr. Hughes gave a promise that, if Mr. Goodluck withdrew from the election, he would endeavour to bring about the system of proportional representation. However, nothing was done, except that in 1922 the present Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) moved for the inclusion of a clause in the Electoral Bill providing for proportional representation in Senate elections.
– When was that?
– In 1917. I do not want to do the right honorable gentleman an injustice; but Mr. Goodluck assured me that he was given a promise that if he withdrew the right honorable gentleman would endeavour to bring about proportional representation. When Dr. Earle Page moved in 1922 for the inclusion of the proportional representation system the voting was - Ayes 20, noes 29. The honorable members in the present House who voted for the proposal were Messrs Atkinson, Bell, Bowden, Brennan, Hunter, Page, Prowse, Scullin, Watt, and myself. The pairs “ for “ were Messrs. Cook, Gibson, Hill, Pratten, and Stewart. They are the members of the present House who supported proportional representation. Included in that number there are four present Ministers, and four ex-Ministers. I want to know why the Government has failed to provide an opportunity for this House to give some consideration to a measure for proportional representation. Perhaps the Minister will give, in committee, some reason why this has not been dealt with. The system should be tried, if only for the reason that it might help the Senate to function as it was intended to function, and for th, good effect it would have on legislation if there were proper minority representation in the Senate. I hope that, in committee, some honorable member will move to provide for proportional representation. Should I then be present, I shall certainly do so.
– Does the honorable member still believe in proportional representation ?
– Yes, but only for the Senate. It may be contended that the experience of New South Wales and Tasmania has shown the system to be a failure. So far as Tasmania is concerned the system is an equitable one.
– Did the honorable member speak of it as “ proportional representation .”
– Yes; although I know that by some it is called distortional representation. Seeing that voting is compulsory, everything should be done to make it easy for electors, particularly those in out-back places, to record their votes. Although the Minister has assured me that he has a complete answer to my remarks about Flinders Island, I appeal to him to consider the proposal that postal ballot papers should be valid if delivered to any sub-divisional returning officer, even if he is not’ prepared to go further and make them valid if delivered to any officer in charge of a polling booth.
.- It would appear that the Government, recognizing the insecurity of its position, has framed this bill to suit its own purposes. We are told that the measure before us contains a number of the recommendations made by the joint committee on Electoral Law and Procedure, and also a number of amendments made in another place, as well as other clauses for which the Government is responsible. One can understand the Government’s intervention in a measure of this kind, because of its desire to remain in power. I have always advocated that the Commonwealth rolls should also be the rolls used for State and municipal elections. The machinery necessary to provide such rolls should not be elaborate. I regard an election as an important event, seeing that it provides electors with an opportunity to express their opinion on matters of public interest. In my electorate there is one polling place, which I am unable to visit frequently for the reason that it would take me five weeks to get there.. Lord Howe Island, which is in the East Sydney electorate, is 450 miles from Sydney. Communication with Lord Howe Island is not frequent; and there is no opportunity for the people to record their votes; but after every election I send to my constituents there newspapers containing the results. Generally the vessel conveying the news arrives on a Sunday morning. After perusing the reports a meeting is held, at which the. people render thanks for my return. There is a good deal of difference of opinion with respect to some of the clauses of this bill. I hope that the provision requiring a three months’ residential qualification for voters will not be agreed to. In my constituency and the four adjoining electorates, which embrace a large portion of the city of Sydney and its suburbs, a large proportion of the people are continually on the move. Under the proposed clause they would be disfranchised. I have heard no serious complaints about the existing residential qualification, although there have been complaints with respect to electors in temporary construction camps. No candidate belonging to the Labour party gains any advantage from the votes of sick persons, for the reason that he cannot afford to pay canvassers to interview patients iu hospitals and elsewhere. In my electorate there are some large hospitals, including the Sydney Hospital, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital, th* Maternity Hospital, and twelve private hospitals. Doctors and nurses naturally do not desire that patients should be worried by canvassers. The condition of some patients prevents them from casting an intelligent vote. In such cases the vote cast in their name is really that of the canvasser. I do not wish that sick persons should be deprived of their votes, and I therefore suggest that, instead of canvassers, officers of the Electoral Department should visit them in the hospitals and residences to secure their votes. I have the highest admiration for the manner in which our electoral officers perform their duties, and this work could safely be entrusted to them. The present legislation dealing with signed articles has worked well, and I see no reason for altering it. Our libel laws are not a sufficient protection against wrong statements, because any case in which a successful candidate was charged with libel would be dismissed as a rule, while an unsuccessful candidate’ uSually cannot afford to take legal action. Many people have no objection to seeing their names in print; indeed, it would appear that they rather enjoy it.
A good many years ago, I attended a meeting of a labour council, which dealt with the question of adult suffrage. Next morning the newspapers reported my speech, but failed to report the speeches of two of my colleagues, much to their disgust. They expressed their disgust by throwing the newspapers on the floor and jumping on them, because their names did not appear in them. Re- porters have a very strenuous time during election campaigns, a man sometimes having as many as five or six meetings to attend during one evening. I make a practice of writing a precis of my speech and handing it to the reporter. That little courtesy is greatly appreciated, and enables the reporter to reproduce my speech in a .concise manner. Should his sub-editor object to the report, he is able to refer that gentleman to me as its author. Speaking of ballotpapers, I submitted to the committee a plan of a ballot-paper providing for the presentation of the names of the candidates in groups, one labour, one nationalist, and one comprising independents and others. Such a ballotpaper would make it clear to thy elector for whom he was about to vote. Personally, I consider that there should be only two parties - that honorable members should follow either the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition, and that they should not come here merely to serve vested interests, or some party outside of the electors of Australia. I shall support any move tending to simplify matters in that direction, and know that my action will have the support of the people of Australia. One has only to look at our representation in the Senate to realize how unfair are the present methods of election. The difference in the aggregate of voters separating the two parties was not 45,000, yet 28 senators were returned for the Nationalist party and only six for the Labour party. The system that brings about such a state of affairs is most unfair. Every honorable member should represent a majority of the people in his electorate, and I consider the committee should have gone more thoroughly into that matter. It “is most difficult to make electors understand the parties to which candidates belong. No matter how they are informed, they somehow lose their balance when election day arrives. Certainly there are many things which cloud the issue. At the election before last in the Richmond division, there were three Greens; .the present member, Mr. R. Green, the retiring member now Senator “W. M. Greene and another Green. One Green urged the electors not to vote for the fellow who had the “ e “ behind his name. The next moment another Green came along and urged his claims, and, when the third man spoke, the electors were so thoroughly confused that they did not know how to record their votes. Each man represented a different interest, one the Labour party, one the Country party, and one the Nationalist party. Can anyone claim that the result of that ballot truly reflected the desires of the voters? My father and my grandfather inculcated into me the idea that the man who secures the greatest number of votes is the man who should represent the people in Parliament. I know of no better system to serve the true needs of the people.
I trust that honorable members will give attention to the subject of the postal vote. To me it is abhorrent that the sick folk in hospitals should be harassed by canvassers at election time. One of my canvassers informed me that he was about to go through the hospitals to secure the votes of the inmates.I said, “ Leave them alone. IfWest cannot get in for East Sydney without worrying people in sick beds he will stay out of Parliament.” Votes recorded under such conditions, frequently, do not represent the true wishes of the electors. The business could be better managed if left to the electoral officers, and I have no ulterior motive in view when I express that opinion. I contend that canvassers should not be permitted to visit hospitals for the purpose of securing votes. A little while ago I was present at a dinner given to an American visitor who occupies a high position in his own country. I asked him how they managed their electoral laws, and he said, “I do not know what you do hero, but we take charge of the ballot, and count the votes. We don’t care much about the law then.” The more complicated we make our act the less beneficial it will be, and if any honorable member can put forward an amendment to make it more simple and perfect, he will be doing a good act to all concerned. I hold the simple and straightforward view that when a politician is returned, he should represent the true desires of the electors, and that the government of the day should represent a majority of the people. While this party fails to secure such a majority, I shall be content to represent His Majesty’s Opposition, and to do my best to criticize the Government. I object to this bill which represents a ludicrous combination of the efforts of the Government, the Senate, and the select committee, each body seeking to forward its own interests. I trust that when the bill has passed through its committee stages it will be a more perfect electoral machine than it is at present.
– I desire, in the debate on this bill, to direct the attention of honorable members to an anomaly in the Northern Territory Representation Act which is applicable to the Commonwealth Electoral Act. Section 7 of that act states -
Subject to this act, the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918-1922 shall apply, with such exceptions and subject to such modifications and adaptations as are prescribed in the Northern Territory in like manner as if -
The Northern Territory were an electoral division.
Sub-section 5 of section 89 of the act reads as follows : -
No aboriginal native of Australia, Asia, Africa, or the islands of the Pacific (except New Zealand) shall be entitled to have his name placed on or retained on any roll or to vote at any Senate election or House of Representatives election, unless -
I direct attention to this anomaly, and wish to have inserted in the bill a clear definition of the term “ aboriginal native.” This is vital so far as the Northern Territory is concerned. The Aboriginals Ordinance 1918-1925 provides in clause 3 -
In this ordinance, unless the contrary intention appears - “ Aboriginal “ means any person who is -
an aboriginal native of Australia or of any of the islands adjacent or belonging thereto;or
a half-caste who lives with an aboriginal native as wife or husband ; or
a half-caste who, otherwise than as the wife or husband of such an aboriginal native, habitually lives or associates with such aboriginal natives ; or
a half-caste male child whose age does not apparently exceed 21 years ; or
a female half-caste not legally married to a person who is substantially of European origin or descent and living with her husband.
This definition was further amended by inserting after sub-paragraph e the folfollowing sub-paragraph : - or (f) a male half-caste whose age exceeds 21 years, and who, in the opinion of the Chief Protector, is incapable of managing his own affairs and is declared by the Chief Protector to be subject to this ordinance.
Personally, I have no objection whatever to half-castes being allowed to vote, provided they are capable of understanding what they are doing. To all intents and purposes they are aboriginal natives within the meaning of the Northern Territory ordinance which I have just quoted. As a matter of fact, the halfcastes in the Northern Territory do not exercise the franchise. The squatter who employs them asa rule secures their enrolment and sees that they vote according to his direction, because, as I have stated, they do not understand what is required of them. The Minister should insert in the definition clause in this bill a provision that any half-caste applicant, before securing enrolment, shall be certified as eligible by the Chief Protector of Aborigines. This would overcome the anomaly to which I have referred: Some years ago, when Senator Pearce, who was then Minister for Home and Territories, visited the Northern Territory, he came in touch with a number of my constituents, including some half-castes. There had just been an election, and these men had voted; but they had no idea what they had done. As many of them have not English names they take the name of the station on which they are working. Unless they thoroughly understand the meaning of the franchise they should not be enrolled. I trust that the 3Iinister will make a note of what I have said, and insert a provision in the bill to overcome the difficulty which I have mentioned. Only in this way will it be possible to protect bona fide electors in the Northern Territory.
.- There have been a number of suggestions from honorable members as to what should be done to improve the working of our electoral machinery. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) appears to take exception to the provision in the law allowing sick persons to vote. I can speak feelingly ou this matter, because, had it not been for a similar provision in the State law, I should not have been able to vote at the last State election, because at that time I was in a hospital. I know also that the other inmates were very keen about recording their votes, so that honorable members need not shed crocodile tears about patients being worried at election time. They may rest assured that doctors and matrons of hospitals will not allow any person who is seriously ill to be harassed b y electoral agents. I cannot agree with the honorable member’s suggestion that immediately prior to an election the electoral officers should be required to collect votes from electors who are ill, because immediately before every election all electoral officials are exceedingly busy sending out ballot-papers and ballotboxes and in attending to all the other details in connexion with an election. If, in addition to their regular duties, they were required also to collect the votes of sick electors, patients in hospitals would be very much harassed. I do not approve of the use of application forms for postal votes. Under the State law, any person may obtain absent voting forms from any post office or returning officer, and these, if attested by duly accredited witnesses, are accepted as valid votes. The signature of the voter may be verified from the claim card. Reference has also been made during the debate to justices of the peace acting as witnesses. I am a justice of the peace myself, but I would not approve of justices of the peace being accepted as authorized witnesses. Very often a justice of the peace is the nominee of some political friend. In many cases the honour is conferred upon him for work done at some particular time. In South Australia, although justices of the peace are appointed by the Attorney-General, such persons are not included in the list of authorized witnesses for the postal or absent vote. The list of authorized witnesses is limited. It includes doctors, ministers of religion, postal officials, and very few others. Under the Commonwealth Act there is a multiplicity of persons eligible as witnesses for postal votes. It was a blot on our legislation that postal vote privileges were withdrawn some years ago because of certain breaches of the act. I am glad thata subsequent government restored them. The persons responsible should have been punished. A grave injustice was done to many people, especially in the case of women who were about to make, for duty’s sake, the greatest sacrifice that a woman, is called upon to undergo. It was a scandal, and I am glad that subsequently the postal vote was restored. I have no apprehension that it will be used for any ulterior motive. Wrong-doers should be punished, but electors generally should not be disfranchised. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) referred to the signing of newspaper articles. I have not previously attached importance to this matter, nor do I imagine that the public generally has been much impressed by the fact that at the bottom of leading articles one reads in the minutest type that the articles have been written after consultation with this, that, and the other person, to express the views of particular journals. The names convey nothing to the average reader. But when the honorable member suggested that these writers should be made to suffer if they wrote anything in opposition to candidates, I took a more serious view of the matter. I presume that they could be made to suffer under the law of libel if they had done wrong. A newspaper is responsible for the articles published by it, and the names of its writers are well known to it. When I tackled the honorable member by way of interjection as to how they could be made to suffer, he switched off the subject. I imagine that some persons desire to have the names of the writers of poli tical articles attached to those articles so that, if they write things that may be perfectly true, but unpalatable, they may be punished by other means. If that is the object of the honorable member, I hope that we shall not insist on the signing of any articles. I have had a good deal of experience of canvassing at elections, and it seems to me that it would bc a retrograde step to do away with all canvassing. It would mean that one would have to close one’s lips, even when in the trams, for fear of being accused of canvassing for a vote. Many persons connected with the political organization to which I belong have spent a great deal of time in voluntary canvassing, and their only reward is the knowledge that they have done that which, in their opinion, advances the cause of good government. It is not democratic to say that those persons should be debarred from that duty, which is discharged from the highest motives, merely because one party or another considers that it may suffer as the result of the voluntary canvassing system. So far as my party is concerned, we have great difficulty in obtaining sufficient money even for postage stamps, and if we had to rely on paid workers, it might be impossible to obtain candidates. The bill has my support. I agree with a great deal of what was said by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Jackson) regarding the method of voting for the Senate. It is. a great improvement on the old method, by which a minority group could be returned; but I should be the last to advocate the abolition of the Senate. That branch of the legislature has a high duty to perform in safeguarding the rights of the smaller States.
– Does the honorable member think that it does that?
– I do. Reference was made by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde), to the abolition of the per capita payments. All the States have agreed to the revision of the financial arrangements, and they are satisfied that they will be in a better position under the new system than they formerly were.
– They were all bitterly opposed to the change.
– Because honorable members opposite tried to suggest to the country and to the State Governments that the Commonwealth Government was not honest in its intentions. However, it has shown in this matter, as in others, that it carries out its promises. I should like to see the application for the postal vote dispensed with. That would overcome the difficulty mentioned by the honorable member forBass. A minor matter is that of the proper entrance to a polling booth. I know one in a church hall behind a church building. The gate is about 70 or 80 feet from the entrance, and at every election a consultation takes place between the returning officer and those representing various parties as to the point at which canvassing can be done. Different interpretations of the law are made at various polling booths and the mattershould be cleared up. Thereis no need for apprehension on the part of honorable members opposite concerning the postal vote.Rather than whittle away the right to vote thus given to persons, who, owing to sickness would otherwise be unable to exercise their franchise, we should make it as broad as possible.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Forde) adjourned.
Visit of Secretary of State for the Dominions.
.- I move-
That the House do now adjourn.
For the information of honorable members, I desire to intimate that the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, Mr. Amery, will arrive in Canberra tomorrow morning. It is proposed that a parliamentary dinner shall be tendered to him to-morrow night, and the Government suggests that the House should adjourn at 5.45 p.m., so as to give honorable members sufficient time to attend that dinner. Subsequently a meeting of the. members of both Houses will be held in private, in this chamber, to enable Mr. Amery to deliver to honorable members and honorable senators an address dealing with matters that are of interest to this Parliament, and also to provide an’ opportunity, for which a desire has been expressed by some honorable members, to address questions to the Dominions Secretary.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.13 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 2 November 1927, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1927/19271102_reps_10_116/>.