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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (5:14 AM) . - I move -

That the following new clause be inserted in the bill:- " 13b. Section one hundred and forty-five of the principal Act is amended -

(a)   by omitting from paragraph (a) the words Five hundred pounds ' and inserting in theirstead the words ' Seven hundred and fifty pounds '; and

(b)   by omitting from paragraph (b) the words Two hundred and fifty pounds ' and inserting in their stead the words Five hundred pounds'."

The effect of the proposed new clause would be to increase by £250 the permissible electoral expenses of a candidate for either House. The present supposition is that candidates for the House of Representatives shall not incur or authorize electoral expenses exceeding £250 all told. Electoral expenses include all expenses incurred by or on behalf or in the interests of any candidate at or in connexion with any election except his electoral rolls and his living expenses. All other expenditures that he authorizes or incurs are electoral expenses and he breaks the law if he does not confine those expenses within £250.I have no doubt that if I were to assert that there are candidates for this House who have in fact spent more than £250 on electoral expenses the Minister would say that he knows nothing about that matter. He would say that he had never heard such an allegation. He would say that none of his officers has ever had such an allegation brought to his notice. I do not want to reflect on those officers, but the state of innocence in this chamber during the 20 hours or so that we have been sitting is such that it is with real apprehension that I suggest that there are cases where the law in this regard has been broken. I would not expect the Minister to acknowledge that.

Mr Aston - This is sheer hypocrisy.

Mr WHITLAM - Of course it is. Most candidates spend much more than £250 on their elections. They are faced with this choice. They must either spend more than £250 and thereby break the law, or they must make a sworn return to the Electoral Office stating that they have not spent more than £250. I have never met nor heard of a candidate belonging to any of the major parties with any prospects of winning an election who has spentonly £250.

Mr Kelly - Oh!

Mr WHITLAM - Electoral expenses mean expenses that you have incurred or authorized. If the honorable member for Wakefield reads the form that he is sent he will see that he has incurred authorized expenses in excess of £250.

In a large electorate with many polling booths and a great number of voters on the rolls, or a considerable number of newspapers circulating within the electorate, it is impossible to print the necessary notices of meetings and how-to-vote cards for less than £250. I know that I have never been able to do it. I have never been able to get that printing work done for twice that amount.

Mr Pearce - But you sign the form.

Mr WHITLAM - No, I do not. My principal opponent in recent elections has always had as many how-to-vote cards, as many advertisements, as many hall meetings and as many loudspeakers as I have had. Unless he obtains those facilities cheaper than I obtain mine he must have broken the law similarly. Honorable gentlemen are solicitous enough to ask me what I do. Under this act I do nothing. I refuse to make a forsworn statement. That is, I will not break that law. I break the law, as the electoral officer knows, and as my opponents do, by spending more than £250. An honorable member opposite asked, did I claim the £250? I suppose he was referring to an income tax claim.

Mr Jeff Bate - I said exactly that.

Mr WHITLAM - I claim as a deduction from my taxable income for the year in which the election falls the amount that I spend, which has always been more than £250. That claim has always been allowed, and I daresay every other honorable member is in the same position.

Mr Jeff Bate - This is incriminating.

Mr WHITLAM - It is not. The Commissioner of Taxation does not reveal to any other persons or authorities what one earns or what one deducts from one's earnings.

It is with no very great conviction that an increase of £250 will cover the expenses of most candidates that I have moved the amendment. I suggest that in frankness we all have to devote our attention to this matter. Everybody knows that the amounts which were fixed in 1946 have not covered the election expenses of any member of this chamber or of the principal opponent of any member at either the last genera! elec tion or any other election contested for many years past. Therefore, to test the sincerity of honorable members in this matter, 1 have moved the amendment foreshadowed by my leader.

Mr. FREETH(Forrest- Minister for the Interior [5.21 a.m.]. - I suppose that whatever amount has been fixed at any time as the limit for election expenses has seemed inadequate in the eyes of candidates. One of the interesting thoughts that occurs to me is that if the Government had suggested that we should face the situation frankly and remove all limits on expenses, there would immediately have been an outcry by honorable members opposite that we were trying to make election to this Parliament a prerogative of the wealthy man, although, in plain truth, the party organizations and other large bodies can finance election campaigns to limits far in excess of the means of any individual.

The argument that we have heard on this matter is only quibbling. At this stage, the change suggested is really not worth while. The amounts suggested by the Opposition might give a little relief to some people, but I suggest that if they were adopted the provisions of the act would be broken to almost the same extent as at present. I see no way out of the difficulty short of abolishing altogether limits on election expenses, and the Government does not wish to do that.

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