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Friday, 8 December 1905


Mr PAGE (Maranoa) - I do not intend to delay the House long, for the reason that I think that the Bill is essentially one tobe dealt with in Committee. I wish, however, at this stage to make a few remarks which I may not have an opportunity to put before the Committee, because from information that I have obtained, I fear that it will be impossible to move certain amendments that have been suggested. The amendment relating to bribery, of which the honorable member for North Sydney has given notice, will, to my mind, prove a safeguard to members of both Houses, and I shall be very sorry if it be not inserted. I must say, in passing, that I listened with pleasure to the speech made this morning by that honorable member. It was one of the most instructive addresses on electoral matters that I have heard. The honorable member showed a thorough mastery of the facts, and put them before us in a clear and concise manner. He dealt with many matters that I should have put before the House, had he not preceded me.


Mr Wilson - Why did not the honorable member allow him to remain in office, so that he could introduce this Bill?


Mr PAGE - The honorable member is aware of the exigencies of the political situation. From my point of view, having regard to those with whom the honorable member for North Sydney is associated, it is better that he should be in opposition. But I wish him no ill. If we hod in vogue a system of elective Ministries, I am sure that the honorable member for North Sydney would be chosen by an overwhelming majority as a member of the Cabinet. I regard him as one of the most interesting speakers in the House. He invariably marshals his facts well, and the most implicit confidence can be reposed in any statement that he makes. His suggestion that the Postal Department should be charged with the administration of the electoral law is one of the wisest that has been made during the debate. _ During my peregrinations through Western Queensland, I have met with many postal officials who regard as peculiarly irksome the electoral duties thrust upon them, inasmuch' as they relate to another Department; but if those duties were made Fart and parcel of the work of the Postal Department, I am sure we should be able to secure a most effective service. The honorable member for North Sydney put the position well, when he said that under the present system a postmaster, acting as an electoral officer, when met by a rush of work, could not call in the assistance of any of his staff, although all of them might be idle ; as officers of the Postal Department, they would not be allowed to assist him in discharging outside duties. If the Postal Department were charged with the control of electoral matters, a postmaster would be able at any time to call upon his subordinates to assist him. As to the suggestion which we have heard that at the last general election some postmasters acting as returning officers rendered inefficient service, I may say that I know of many junior officers who assisted postmasters to carry out the elections, and that they entered upon the work with much enthusiasm, doing their very utmost to bring it to a successful issue. On the other hand, at the last moment men outside the service, who were appointed as assistant returning officers, and so forth, took up a " stand and deliver " attitude. Thev refused to do the work unless they received £10, or in some cases £20, whereas the Department was offering only £5. Owing to the peculiar circumstances the Electoral Office had to yield to their demand, and subsequently when assistant returning officers in other States learned that some of these men had received £20 for discharging duties in respect of which they had been paid only £5, trouble naturally arose. Another reason why the Postal Department should take over this service is that postmasters, and those associated with' them would have something to lose if they failed to satisfactorily discharge the duties of the electoral branch. They would be responsible to the Public Service Commissioner, and might oe punished for any neglect of duty. On the other hand, a man outside the service has nothing to lose, and by his neglect might invalidate an election. I know that I, tot one, was returned illegally, and through no fault of my own. If the Electoral Office be attached to the Department of the PostmasterGeneral, he will be able to control, not only the returning officers, assistant returning officers, or registrars, but to order the officers of the Department generally to assist them in carrying out their duties. Under the present state of affairs, these officers do not like to be asked to work for another Department; they naturally shirk such work, and undertake it with ill grace. They know that their position in the Postal Department is secure, and that the only result of any neglect shown by them in carrying out work relating to the Department of Home Affairs would be the taking of that work out of their hands. They would offer no objection to that being done. But if the Pos,tal Department took over the Electoral Office, it would be unnecessary to confine appointments as returning officers to postmasters. Such positions might be given to other officers who were willing to discharge the duties attaching to them. There are many junior officers who would gladly undertake such work.


Mr Tudor - And would prove efficient officers.


Mr PAGE - Undoubtedly they would. That is another reason why I should like that proposal to be adopted. In Queensland - and I refer to that State because I am more familiar with the conditions prevailing there than I am with those ruling in other parts of the Commonwealth - a postmaster appointed to act as returning officer in a country district would be familiar with the readiest means of communicating with outside polling booths. He would knowexactly how_ long it should take to communicate with the different polling places, and would be able without difficulty to select the men best suited to act as presiding officers. A postmaster in that State knows every one in the district in which he is stationed. No one has a better knowledge of the district. Every one has to call at the post-office for his letters, and in this way the postmaster becomes acquainted with practically every' one living there. Consequently, no one would be better able to attend to the purification of the rolls. A postmaster in a country district, as I have said, knows every one for miles around, whilst the postmaster in any of the large towns would be able to avail himself of the services, of the letter-carriers in keeping the rolls accurate and up to date. However,, in Committee we can deal with the various matters requiring consideration as they come up. But ever\ honorable member should interest himself in the Bill, because upon it will hinge our whole system of parliamentary representation. If we put our heads together, and deal with it as a non-party measure, we shall, no doubt, be able to frame one of the best Electoral Acts, not in Australia only, but in the world.







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