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Tuesday, 12 December 1905

Mr MAHON (Coolgardie) - To my mind the amendment is a very reasonable one, and I hope that the Government will accept it. I am utterly unable to account for the assumption of the honorable and learned member for Werriwa that the mere fact of our requiring the publication of electioneering accounts will convey the inference that some honorable members are perjurers. Thatis the most far-fetched argument towhich I have ever listened, and, coming, as it does, from a lawyer, it is simply amazing. The law already provides that every candidate shall make a declaration as to his electoral expenses.

Mr Conroy - But the honorable member for Riverina said that his amendment was designed to prevent fraud.

Mr MAHON - Does not the honorable and learned member recognise that candidates who are never likely to be returned may offer themselves for election, and avail themselves of a means of advancing their candidature which is not allowed by the law ?

Mr Conroy - Such offences may be punished.

Mr MAHON - Under this Bill a man who makes a false declaration will be liable to punishment, and if he be returned his election may be declared void. The amendment will relate not only to honorable members, but to every candidate who goes to the poll.

Mr Henry Willis - Is it necessary to publish these accounts?

Mr MAHON - I think that it is. In the case of a contest between an extremely wealthy man and one in poor circumstances, there is always a temptation for the man of means to buy his way into Parliament, not, perhaps, by directly giving away money, but by paying extravagantly for services rendered him.

Mr Henry Willis - How would the amendment improve the position?

Mr MAHON - If a candidate complies with the provisions of the Act, it will be impossible for him to pay extravagant fees.

If he declares that he has not spent more than £100, when in truth he has exceeded that amount, he will be amenable to the criminal law.

Mr Henry Willis - But, say that he made a declaration that he had spent more than £100?

Mr MAHON - It would remain for the Attorney-General to take action. He would then be guilty of corrupt practices. I wish to point out that the expense involved in giving effect to this amendment will be comparatively trifling. The space occupied in the Government Gazette by a detailed account of a candidate's electioneering expenses should not exceed three or four inches. I hold that we should do our best to make that publication attractive, and that we have in it the nucleus of a very useful institution. Every government notice, every item of public interest which the Government finds it necessary to publish, should appear first of all in the Government Gazette.

Mr Conroy - Would an electioneering account be of interest to the public?

Mr MAHON - Most interesting. The deails would also be interesting to a candidate who might be able, by examining it, to obtain evidence showing that his opponent had been improperly returned. I see nothing wrong in this amendment; it is only the logical outcome of the provision we have already passed, that a candidate's electoral expenses shall not exceed a certain sum.

Mr McLean - Would it not be sufficient to provide that the accounts shall be accessible to any person?,

Mr Groom - That is the provision contained in the clause.

Mr MAHON - But the honorable member for Riverina took the view that many persons who might wish to obtain such information would find it inconvenient to attend at the central office to obtain it, and that itshould be published in the Government Gazette, so that it would be accessible to any one. Honorable members will find that, at the very outside, the total cost of giving effect to this amendment will not exceed £50 or £60 per annum, and that that expenditure might easily be reduced by cutting down the frill connected with all Government proclamations.

Mr Groom - We have shortened these notifications.

Mr MAHON - If a piece of land is needed for a post-office, about 12 in. of space is taken to describe it, and about £3 is spent on advertising, when the land itself is not worth more, perhaps, than 30s. The expense of the course proposed by the honorable member for Riverina could be saved a thousand times over by adopting rational methods in connexion with Government advertising. I cannot understand the opposition to it, and I hope that the Committee will agree to it.

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