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Tuesday, 12 December 1905

Mr KING O'MALLEY (Darwin) - In the Darwin division at the last election my opponent demanded a recount, and the returning officer gave it to him, and I gained nine votes by it. Still, I agree that the provision should be mandatory. If a candidate desires a recount at a closelycontested election, he should be given it. If the returning officer for Riverina had given the honorable member for that division a recount, the Commonwealth would have been saved an expenditure of between £5,000 ar|d .^6,000, and the honorable member would not have had to waste hundreds of pounds in appealing to the High Court. No doubt the returning officers are honest and just, according to their lights, but they are unconsciously influenced by their environment, and lean towards those who are the opponents of the progress of the human race. Therefore, it might easily happen that, if there were a difference of only a few votes between a wealthy candidate and a working man's candidate, the returning officer might say to the poor man - " I see no reason for giving you a recount," and the latter would have to perhaps ruin himself if he wished to test the matter before the High Court. At the same time, I have no objection to the requirement of a penalty of, say, £5 to prevent frivolous requests. I had no objection to allowing a recount, although I was within 130 votes of ray opponent, and the position looked doubtful for me. I sha.ll always be in favour of a recount, because I do not wish to sit here, unless as the representative of a majority. I believe that other honorable members think with me in this matter. There will be none of the blood of Brian Bom in my veins if I ever consent to be returned on a "faked" count.

Mr. HENRYWILLIS (Robertson).I think we all desire to do full justice to every candidate, but I am afraid that the amendment will not accomplish the object of the honorable member for Riverina. If it is left to the returning officer to judge as to what are good and substantial reasons for a recount, he will still have full discretion to deal as he may think fit with any request, preferred to him. It would be better to strike out the words " may if he thinks fit " and substitute the word "shall." Then every candidate would have a right to ask for a recount.

Mr. GROOM.(Darling Downs - Minister of Home Affairs). - I would ask the honorable member for Riverina to consent to the retention of the words " may if he thinks fit," and to insert after the word " fit " the words " and shall on good and substantial reasons being given." That would leave discretionary power in the hands of a returning officer, and at the same time make it clear to him that on good and substantial reasons being given he should order a recount.

Mr. CHANTER(Riverina). - I prefer to strike out the words " may if he thinks fit," and substitute the word " shall." It has been urged that no candidate would without good reason apply for a recount, and I agree with that view. I have no objection to requiring a small deposit from the candidate asking for a recount of the votes.

Mr. GROOM(Darling Downs - Minister of Home Affairs). - If my suggestion were adopted, the returning officer would still have some discretionary power, and, at the same time, could not refuse to order a recount if good and reasonable grounds were shown.

Mr Watson - Would not the case be met if a deposit were insisted upon ?

Mr GROOM - That would be some safeguard ; but I do not think that is sufficient. We are all agreed that mere frivolous requests should not be entertained. We must give the Commonwealth Electoral Officer some discretion.

Mr. LONSDALE(New England).I quite agree with the Minister. At the first Federal election, at which I was defeated, I received telegrams from a number of my supporters who urged me to ask for a recount of the votes, because they felt certain that the returns were not correct. I satisfied myself, however, that there was nothing wrong. If I had acted upon the representations first made to me, and a recount had been made, considerable expense would have been incurred to no good purpose. It seldom occurs that a returning officer is unreasonable; whereas we know that defeated candidates might be disposed to ask for a recount on the off-chance that a mistake had been made. In view of the fact that it is intended to refer election disputes to a Committee of this House instead of to the High Court, I think we should give the returning officers full discretion.

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