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Friday, 8 December 1905

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In my opinion, it should be left wholly to the Administration to deal with it as it likes. If the change I suggest were made, I do not think that the Department of Home Affairs would suffer in importance. In the carrying out of its functions, the Commonwealth Government will be forced to make a larger use of its postal officials than was made by the Governments of the States, who have scattered through their territories public schools, lands offices, and police stations. The Commonwealth Government controls only one set of offices spread throughout its territory, and must take advantage of those offices for the purposes of administering other than postal business. As I said on a prior occasion, a firm which had branches in every State would not dream of creating separate establishments in each of those States to run any new agency it might take up. It would1 add the work of running that agency to the duties of its existing staff, and, if necessary, would employ more officers, while its employed would be delighted with the arrangement, because they would know that, with a larger turn-over, their positions would probably be improved. I do not know what is the Minister of Home Affairs' opinion on this subject, except so far as it has been indicated by his action in omitting my amendment from the Bill ; but I trust that he will be able to adopt the suggestion. in availing ourselves fully of the services of the postal officials, we should be creating a unique electoral staff. Those officials would be sufficiently in contact with electoral work to take up any of the duties imposed by the Act at any time, and would be in close touch with the people. At present, whenever we wish to purify our rolls, we make a new collection, and thus secure accuracy, so far as it can be secured under our present system. But, immediately, the rolls begin to drift again towards a state of disorder and chaos. There is no constant force acting to keep them even moderately correct, and the amendments not due to action by the electors themselves are very uncommon between elections. If an election should take place before there was time to make a new collection of names, the rolls which would be used would contain enormous errors. But if the various postmasters were intrusted with the duty of seeing that the rolls are kept accurate, they would be able to avail themselves of the information, which they could obtain daily from the letter-carriers, as to new removals, new arrivals, and so on.

Mr Bamford - Is not that done now? In most places the postmasters keep the rolls.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes ; but the officials acting under the postmasters are not bound to do work for the Electoral Department. In most cases they do not do it, and in many they have refused to do it.

Mr Page - Often the postmasters do not trouble themselves about the matter.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In many cases they have not been asked to do so. It is not right that the officers of the Postal Department should be controlled in any respect by another Department. I wish now to explain another proposal, which is not so important as that with which I have been dealing, but in regard to which I intend to move an amendment. I think that provision should be made for the establishment of polling-places outside the divisions' for which they are established. In country districts one polling-place might often be made to serve two or more divisions, if it were not for the fact that each polling-place must be within the division for which it is established. Then, in Sydney, the Circular Quay, which is separated from the northern suburbs by a narrow strip of water only, would be a convenient place for taking the votes of the thousands of passengers who are brought there by the many ferry steamers which ply from various parts of the harbor.

Mr Groom - In Queensland, Brisbane used to be made a polling-place for Carpentaria. Would not the adoption of the honorable member's suggestion get us back to the old system ?

Mr Batchelor - What the honorable, member for North Sydney suggests is less dangerous than the system of postal voting which we have adopted.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes. Moreover, it" is all a matter of administration. Why should it be necessary to provide polling places _ on each side of the border of two contiguous divisions, when one polling place would answer the purpose?

Mr Page - Could not that be provided for by regulation?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not now. But I think that the Minister should have the power to deal with the matter within certain limitations. In some places the physical conformation is such that it is more convenient for electors to cross the border into the neighbouring division for the purpose of recording their votes than to proceed to the nearest polling place in their own division. I know that in some of the country districts of New South Wales, owing to the physical features, electors frequently have to pass a polling place in an adjoining electorate in order to reach that at which they are required to record their votes in their own division. I do not see why polling places for a particular division should not be declared outside of that division. The next proposal relates, not, to an extension, but a limitation, of the present law. I notice that the Minister proposes to abolish the regulation form, by which any person can vote at any polling place in a State.

Mr Groom - I think the honorable member is mistaken.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the honorable and learned gentleman will look at clause 39, I think he will find that it is proposed to abolish the regulation form, which allows votes to be recorded at any polling place within a State, and to retain the "Q" form, which permits of votes being recorded at any polling place within an electorate. When the Electoral Act was under consideration, I suggested that it should be possible to declare a polling place outside a division, and as the then Minister could not see how the object aimed at was to be accomplished by inserting a provision in the Bill, the matter was left to lx; dealt with by regulation ; and the regulation form was drafted accordingly.

Mr Groom - There is some misconception on the part of the honorable member, because the regulation form is still preserved.

Mr SPEAKER - I should like to direct the attention of the House at this stage to the fact "that it is almost impossible to discuss a Bill of this nature in the ordinary way upon the motion for the second reading. The second-reading debate should be addressed to the principles of the measure, and not to the discussion of details of clauses, which is not then allowable. As this debate proceeds, however!., it becomes more and more plain that it is almost impossible to discuss the Bill at all without going into details. I suggest, therefore, that the second-reading debate should be shortened as much as possible, in order that the details of the clauses mav be dealt with in Committee.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not intend to discuss details, but I was rather led away owing to the apparent misunderstanding that has arisen as to the intention of the Bill. I desire to direct attention to the danger attaching to this very elastic form of voting. I am entirely in accord with those: who would' extend the greatest facilities possible for the registration of votes, so long as there is no serious danger of fraud. I recognise, however., the great risk of fraud that is incurred in connexion with the present provision. If it should be discovered that frauds can be perpetrated, the regulation form of voting will be used by unscrupulous men of every party to stuff the ballot-boxes. I wish to avoid the scandal that would be created by resort to any such methods. We know that after a time all easy means of fraud' will be discovered, and1 that they .will be availed of by unscrupulous persons. It was thought that the electoral-right system adopted in New South Wales would prevent fraud, and it worked excellently for one or two years. It has been discovered, however, that that system can easily be, and has" been, worked in order to perpetrate fraud, and it is now proposed to abandon it. The facilities now offered to a man to go into any polling booth in a State and represent himself as - a certain elector, and to register a vote by the use of a regulation form, are so full of danger, and may be worked so readily by unscrupulous persons, that, as Minister) I could not see my way to recommend their continuance. It is so easy to obtain a list of persons who cannot, for various reasons, record their votes in certain constituencies where there may be close contests, and to poll the votes represented with the greatest ease and safety, though dishonestly, in other electorates all over the State. It is easy for a man or several men, to go into a number of polling places, and to poll the votes of electors, careless of whether or not such electors are likely to present themselves afterwards.

Mr Bamford - An elector can use the " (J " form only once in the same name.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The "Q" form is not so dangerous as the other. The mere signing of the declaration involves no risk, and the regulation forms could be used in any number by unscrupulous men. It is all a question of unscrupulousness and money. I am not reflecting on the electors generally, but it must be admitted that there are unscrupulous .persons who would sign, such a declaration.

Mr Batchelor - The same thing might be done in connexion with postal votes.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is some danger of it, I confess.

Mr Groom - There is no instance upon record in which the system to which the honorable member refers has been abused in Commonwealth elections.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I admit that there may be no cases of importance for an election or two-

Mr Page - I know of two cases in which false declarations were made upon regulation forms in Queensland.

Mr Groom - The objection of the honorable member would apply equally to the use of ",Q " forms.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, but the danger is less in the case of the " Q " forms.

Mr Chanter - In connexion with my election one of the forms was signed after the supposed voter was dead.

Mr Groom - If we are to secure absolute safety, we shall have to compel electors to vote only at the polling place for which thev are enrolled.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - T quite admit that. That was the principle underlying the Act in the first instance.

Mr Page - But we cannot do that in the case of a nomadic population.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not advocating that we should. I merely say that we should have to do it to secure absolute safety. I contend, however, that we ought to remove the greater risks, at any rate. Under no electoral law in the world does a similar provision exist. If elections can be safely conducted under the wide power conferred by the use of the regulation form, why not dispense with threefourths of our electoral provisions by erecting polling booths throughout the States and allowing a man to enter them and say, " I am an elector of such-and-such a district, and desire to record mv vote for that division"? By doing so, we should rid ourselves of half the complications which now exist.

Mr Batchelor - If we did that. I do not believe that we should have any more cases of fraud than exist at present.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If elections can be safely conducted at the present time, when we allow every unscrupulous individual to take advantage of the regulation form, it logically follows that we may reasonably extend the same privilege to every scrupulous man in the community and allow him to vote at any polling place in a State as an elector of a certain division, after signing a declaration. If we adopted that system we should at once get rid of many of the difficulties of administration. Whatever may be the opinion of honorable members in regard to .the safety of that provision, they must admit that I have accurately stated the position. There is another matter connected with our electoral law upon which I know some honorable members will not be disposed to agree with me. I refer to the electoral expenses which a candidate is permitted to incur. I am not one of those who would sanction a large expenditure by candidates in the conduct of elections. Indeed, I would do everything possible to restrict such expenditure to thoroughly legitimate items, and to confine it to reasonable limits.

Mr Chanter - We thought that we were doing that, but we did not succeed.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have always held the opinion that laws which are so rigid that under certain circumstances they cannot be complied with will be evaded. I have no desire to see the £100 limit exceeded in the conduct of some elections. I am perfectly prepared to adhere to that limit in the case of my own constituency. At the same time I >have no desire to see a system of fraud initiated in connexion with this matter. If we do not permit a candidate to expend more than ^100 in the case of elections for the House of Representatives, and if we impose a limit of .£250 in the case of Senate elections, it is quite impossible to expect that the first-named sum will be sufficient to defray the expenses of a candidate who is compelled to canvass a constituency 'which is infinitely larger than Tasmania.

Mr Page - My own electorate is as large as New South Wales. Yet a candidate for the Senate is allowed to expend ,£250, whilst I am limited to an outlay of ^100.

Mr McCay - If a lot of voluntary work were not done for the honorable member, he could not conduct his campaign for an expenditure of £100

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - When we demand that something shall be done which cannot be done, breaches of the law will occur. I do not wish to see men occupying seats in this .Parliament who will spend ^500 or £r..000 in securing their return, and who will make a declaration that they have expended only £roo.

Mr Chanter - The punishment for such offences should be made more swift and sure than it is..

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We ought to recognise that all elections cannot be conducted for the same outlay. In some constituencies, if a candidate were to limit his expenses to £100, he would deprive many of the electors of the opportunity of knowing his views. He has a right to disseminate his opinions amongst them. To adopt a hard-and-fast rule, under which candidates for the representation of electorates which are far larger than at least one of the States, will be limited to the same expenditure as those who contest constituencies like East Sydney or West Sydney, which one' can traverse from end to end in half an hour, is. to make our legislation ridiculous. Under the operation of such a provision the tendency will be to secure the return of men who spend £1,000 in an election, and declare £100, and to exclude those who confine their expenditure to the limit imposed by the Statute. I know that this legislation is designed to benefit those who cannot afford to spend a large amount. In my opinion, we ought to fix a minimum, and also a reasonable maximum, and I intend to submit a proposal which will allow the electoral officer - having regard to certain prescribed conditions - to decide the limit which shall be imposed for each electorate.

Mr Page - Does not the honorable member think that that would be allowing him too much power?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am quite willing that the limit should be fixed by the Executive through the GovernorGeneral in Council.

Mr Groom - It would be utterly impossible to prescribe different amounts for various constituencies in the States.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am quite certain that any intelligent officer would be equal to the task. I am sure that members of this House could fix a reasonable limit. They know the means of communication that exist in their electorates, and also the areas which they embrace.

Mr Page - My election cost me . £27.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then the honorable member was well within his limit.

Mr Page - But would it be reasonable to fix a maximum of , £100 in that case? " The other fellow " would not be able to contest the seat for such an outlay.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I quite agree that another candidate for the electorate which the honorable member represents might have to spend more than £100.

Mr Page - The position is that I have behind me an organization that provides me with scrutineers and so forth, whereas an opponent of mine would not possess those advantages, and would have to spend more than £200.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If he spent £200, and said that he had spent only £100, he would be one of those who would be prepared to spend £1,000 if rich enough, and to declare £100.

Mr Page - I am merely pointing out the difficulties in the way of forming an estimate of what is a fair amount to allow.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We could decide the relative cost, not so much by the number of scrutineers, halls, and so forth, to be engaged, but by the area to be covered, and by the other considerations in the amendment.

Mr Groom - But the area test is not a reliable one.

Mr Page - There are 200 polling booths in my electorate, and if a candidate had to provide a scrutineer at each of those places, that alone would mean an outlay of £200.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But does the honorable member think that it is reasonable to fix a maximum to apply equally to the expenses of a candidate for a city electorate, which one could cross in halfanhour, and to those of a candidate for a country electorate which is larger than Tasmania ?

Mr McWilliams - The expenses of contesting a city electorate are often greater than are those attaching to a contest for a large country electorate.


Mr Groom - There is, for example, the cost of holding public meetings.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In a city electorate where a hall capable of holding 1, 000 or 2,000 persons can be secured, the expense in that regard should not be anything like as great as that which must be incurred in connexion with holding meetings in a large country electorate. The Minister cannot justify the proposition that there should be a maximum allowance for election expenses applying equally to city and country electorates irrespective of their size. In moving the second rending of this Bill, the Minister of Home Affairs referred to the introduction by the Senate of a clause providing that the work of redistribution should be left to three Commissioners in each State.He said that the same proposition was rejected when the original Bill was before the Parliament.

Mr Groom - I do not think I said that. At all events, I did not intend to convey that impression.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not wish to suggest that the Minister intended to mislead the House, but I wish to correct the impression that might be formed from his remarks that this proposal was dealt with by the first Parliament. The proposal that there shall be three Commissioners in each State to carry out the work of redistribution, and that the form which the redistribution shall take shall be left to their decision, meets with my approval. That proposed, when, the existing Act was before us. was that three Commissioners should be appointed to carry out a redistribution, but that the Parliament should have the right to reject or accept their schemes. We came to the conclusion that there was no necessity for the appointment of three Commissioners for each State in those circumstances, but if we are to abide by the decision of the Commissioners we ought to have three, as proposed.

Mr McWilliams - But we should not need three, for instance, in Tasmania.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The proposal is not a new one. I think that it has been adopted in New Zealand, and that other States by special Acts have appointed certain officers to delimit electoral districts for the local Legislatures. I am strongly in favour of the amendment proposed in the Bill, because the system of giving Parliament the power to deal finally with a redistribution scheme has never, to my knowledge, resulted satisfactorily; I have never known a Parliament to make an alteration in the boundaries of an electorate.

Mr McCay - That has been done by the Victorian Parliament.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That may be so, but I have not known it to be done in the Parliaments of which I have been a member. I have seen a scheme delayed because for some reason or other honorable members did not feel inclined to support it. Very often personal considerations are responsible for these delays. Honorable members think, perhaps, that a district has been wrongly added or cut off from an electorate, and considerations such as these must operate when honorable members are the judges in matters relating to themselves. I have known no good to result from conferring on a Parliament the power to affirm or alter a redistribution. On the contrary, I have known equal representation to have been indefinitely delayed. In this, as in all other matters affecting each member's interest, we cannot be the best judges. The proposal now embodied in the Bill is that three Commissioners shall be appointed in each State to divide it into electoral divisions. The Governor-General in Council is given power to appoint others; but the official position of these Commissioners is recognised. They are to be men whose official duties must necessarily make them familiar with the features of the various divisions of the State for which they are appointed, and who ought, therefore, to be in a far better position than are members of Parliament to judge generally what is the best distribution.

Mr Chanter - Do they not, as a rule, favour the following of mechanical lines, rather than the recognition of community of interest?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But we give them instructions to consider community of interest.

Mr BATCHELOR (BOOTHBY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - They do not always do that. Unfortunately, Commissioners are sometimes swayed by party bias.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not think we shall have anything to fear in that regard if we provide that three Commissioners shall be appointed, and that, as proposed, one of these shall be a Judge. In any event, the divisions must be framed by them. At the present time Parliament does not carry out the work of redistribution. That work must be done by a Commissioner in each State so that the objection raised by the honorable member to the new scheme would apply equally to the present system. Parliament cannot alter a redistribution ; all that it can do is to reject or affirm a scheme.

Mr Batchelor - It may reject a scheme and indicate its reason's for doing so.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is all. When that is done another redistribution has to be made either by the Commissioner who made the first, or by some one else.

Mr Chanter - The Parliament can consider objections to which the Commissioner has refused to listen.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But we cannot alter the boundaries of a proposed division.

Mr Chanter - Having considered objections to it, we might give directions to the Commissioner.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But all that would mean delay.

Mr Bamford - It is better to have delay than injustice.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We have been suffering an injustice for several years. The inequalities in relation to our electorates are so great that thev cannot be defended by any one who believes in equality of representation.

Mr Bamford - I grant that.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That state of affairs has been perpetuated because honorable members for various reasons could not see their way to accept the first scheme submitted to us. I fail to see how any harm could result from allowing the whole work to be done by the Commissioners. I quite admit that their decisions might adversely affect some honorable members. But as a rule that is the result of any redistribution made. In most cases, a redistribution leads to a disturbance which members do not relish. We know our present electorates; we know that we have supporters, and perhaps organizations in various parts of them, and we are therefore dissatisfied when any disturbance or alteration in the boundaries takes place. That, however, affords no reason for delaying the work of redistribution. It has been proved, not only in this Parliament, but in others, that delay must result when these considerations are allowed to sway those who are acting as judges in matters affecting themselves. The proper course to pursue is to refer the whole question to Commissioners. I do not care how the Commissioners are appointed as long as they are fairly selected, and consist of men who have no other interest to serve than that of securing a fair distribution.

Mr Bamford - The objection is to making their decision final.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In any case, the decision of the Commissioners in the end becomes final bbecause Parliament, even though it may not be enamoured of them, is ashamed to go on rejecting scheme after scheme. We could never hope to have a majority of honorable members enamoured of any scheme.

Mr Bamford - There is no objection, so far as I know, to the present redistribution.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have heard of objections, although, owing to the length of time that has elapsed since the first distribution was made., it may be accepted. Owing to the non-acceptance of one scheme, we have endured for a long time a very unequal state of representation. Such a position is far more injurious to the people of the Commonwealth than would be the excision from two or three electorates of small portions that ought not to be cut off or the making of additions that ought not to be made. The most important consideration, so far as the Commonwealth is concerned, is that the people shall have that equal representation for which the law provides. If that be denied them for any length of time, owing to the natural objection of some honorable members to a redistribution scheme far more evils and scandals must arise than would otherwise occur. For these reasons I shall support the proposal now in the Bill. I am sorry that this measure has been introduced so late in the session, when it cannot get the consideration which it should receive, unless honorable members are prepared to sit here at hours during which they should not be asked to sit. I should have liked to see the Bill submitted earlier in the session, but, late as it is, I hope that honorable members will give it the consideration which it is entitled to receive ; and, in dealing with it, will not be governed in any way by party considerations. The Minister has attempted to improve the existing law, and the Bill will improve it in many respects. But I hope that the Committee will be able to improve it still further, and that the result of our labours will be to establish in Australia the best electoral system iin the world.

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