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Tuesday, 12 December 1905

Mr CONROY (Werriwa) - I suppose that these is never a case in which a defeated candidate does not think that he can show substantial reasons why the votes should be recounted, particularly if the polling happens to be close. I would point out to the honorable member for Riverina that his amendment is in the nature of a two-edged sword. I think it was Boss Croker who said, " Give me the counting of the votes, and I will rule the place." As a matter of fact, he did rule the place until the system which was then in vogue was altered. What we require to do is to cast the responsibility for a recount of the votes upon an officer who is under the control of the Executive. In my opinion, the Minister has gone quite as far as it is wise to go by inserting; in this clause the words "may if he thinks fit." If a returning officer is not capable of exercising judicial functions, he is unfit for his office. By inserting the words " good substantial reasons " we cannot make the provision any stronger than it is, because a competent officer would decide whether or not the reasons offered by a candidate were " good and substantial." On the other hand, if we leave it open to every candidate to demand a recount of the votes, it may involve the poorer candidate in a heavy loss. I presume that they would be recounted before witnesses.

Mr Chanter - In the presence of scrutineers.

Mr CONROY - That is just the point. Under such circumstances it might happen that a poor candidate might be compelled to incur the expense of a recount by the action of a wealthy opponent, who desired to subject him to all the trouble that he could. The clause in its present form goes quite far enough. If we amend it in the direction desired, we may make it a weapon of oppression against the poorer class of candidates. We must rely upon the returning officer in the exercise of ordinary common sense to prevent unjust acts being committed. The honorable member for Riverina desires that we should make it mandatory upon the returning officer to order a recount of the votes upon good substantial reasons for the adoption of that course being shown. The amendment might lead to the very result which the honorable member wishes to avoid. . If a defeated candidate for an electorate comprising the Northern Territory demanded a recount, he might prevent the elected candidate from taking his seat for three or four months.

Mr Chanter - Only two or three days would be occupied in making a recount

Mr CONROY - But the delay that would necessarily take place in. communicating with outlying places would practically prevent the elected candidate iron taking his seat for three or four months after the date of his return.

Mr Bamford - But these delays muni take place in any case.

Mr CONROY - It is proposed that the electoral officer shall not have the discretionary power which the Minister purposes to confer upon him.

Mr Chanter - In the case to which I have referred the returning officer had the power to order a recount, but he would not take action on the reasons which I submitted.

Mr CONROY - He held that the reasons were not good and sufficient.

Mr Chanter - Surely an allegation that a mistake had been made was a sound reason ?

Mr CONROY - Then why did the officer make the return that he did?

Mr Chanter - I cannot say.

Mr CONROY - If a returning officer gave me a certified return, but after an interview with another candidate made a different return. I should look with the greatest suspicion, on the second one, although it is true that he might have made a legitimate mistake in the first place. I should hold, however, that an officer who ecu Id make such a mistake should not be again nominated for the position.

Mr Chanter - The honorable and learned member is under a misapprehension. There is only one officer who has to hand in a sworn return in connexion with an election), and it was that officer who refused the recount.

Mr CONROY - Had he received the return from a particular polling booth?

Mr Chanter - He had to deal with every return. He was the divisional returning officer.

Mr CONROY - We must give these officers some discretion. We have control over them, but have none over candidates. If we are going to empower any defeated candidate to require a returning officer to make a recount, irrespective of whether or not he thinks a recount ought to be made, Ave shall create a serious position.

Mr Hutchison - But substantial grounds must be shown; the proposal is that the clause shall be mandatory if substantial grounds be given in support of a demand for a recount.

Mr CONROY - If the intention of the amendment is not to make the provision mandatory, it will carry us further than th° clause does as it stands. I presume that if the amendment be made, returning officers will construe this as a mandatory provision.

Mr Hutchison - But at present a returning officer may refuse to direct a recount, even if there be good grounds for a recount being made. If we pass this amendment, he will be afraid in such cases to refuse a recount.

Mr CONROY - My point is that I do not think we should make this clause mandatory. As it stands, it will require an officer to make a recount on good reason being shown.

Mr Chanter - My desire is that the clause shall be mandatory.

Mr CONROY - In that respect, a danger may arise. We cannot provide against want of fairness on the part of a returning officer. He occupies a judicial position, and if he is determined to act unfairly, it will be open to him to hold that any reason submitted to him in support of a demand for a recount is not good or substantial. We know that what may be regarded by a defeated candidate as substantial reasons for a recount may be viewed in a different light by others. It will be far better to leave the clause as it stands. I assume that its object is to give the returning officer a judicial discretion, and not to make the clause mandatory.

Mr Groom - The idea was that a returning officer should comply with the request for a recount on good reasons being shown.

Mr CONROY -Some officers have held that under the existing Act they cannot direct a recount.

Mr Groom - And we, therefore, wish to give returning officers the power, but the clause does not go as far as the honorable member for Riverina thinks necessary.

Mr CONROY - The honorable member wishes to make it mandatory.

Mr Groom - The use of the word " may " is mandatory in the sense that the returning officer must direct a recount if good and sufficient reasons be shown.

Mr CONROY - I think that the clause goes as far as is necessary, and that, by making it mandatory, we shall open the door to fresh trouble; a poor candidate, although he may be successful, may be forced to incur expense to which he ought not to be put.

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