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Thursday, 26 October 1911

Senator READY - I thought that it was punishable. During the last referendum Tasmania was flooded -with election literature which did not bear any authorization. Some of the publications came into my hands. I feel greatly interested in this matter, because, so far as Tasmania is concerned, the party with which I am identified did not issue any pamphlet without an authorization, but dozens of pamphlets were circulated throughout the State bearing only the printer's name, and no statement as to who issued them. Here is a typical sample, which is a disgrace to the political party on whose behalf it was distributed, because it is not only without an authorization, but contains a tissue of deliberate, unfair, and uncharitable misrepresentations. When I was touring the southern part of the island I often saw this precious document posted on gates and other conspicuous places -

To the Free Workers of Tasmania. (Whether or not Members of Trade Unions.)

On April 26th you will be called to decide by your votes whether you will hold to the liberties which you have, or resign the freedom for which your forefathers shed their blood.

An amendment of the Constitution is proposed which will enable the Federal Parliament to say when and how each person may work.

As at present constituted Parliament is controlled bv the Labour' Party, which in its turn is dominated by the Political Trades Unions. Have you the slighest doubt that the first use which Parliament will make of its new power will be - to legislate for compulsory preference to Unionists ?

Nor is it likely to stop at that. The implement makers of Melbourne are out on strike to assert the principle that none but Unionists must be employed. The Prime Minister of Australia and one of his colleagues subscribed to the strike fund and encouraged the men to remain out.

An affirmative vote at the Referendum will enable the Federal Government to translate that sympathy into legislative action.

By voting " Yes " you stand to lose your industrial and political rights.

You will not be allowed to work unless you join a union, and you will not be allowed to remain in the union unless you subscribe to the funds of the Labour Party, and give open and direct support to its candidates.

Even the secrecy of the ballot is threatened.

You will not be allowed to belong to a trades union for purposes of mutual protection and the advancement of the interests of the workers unless you will accept the political creeds of its officials.

The A.M.E.A. is one of the strongest unions in Australia, and yet the President stated that not one-fourth of the miners belong to it. The same thing applies still more to other unions. That' is because most men refuse to surrender their political rights.

If you vote " Yes " at the Referendum you will put yourselves into the power of. a few who control unions, representing a small minority of the workers.

What mercy you may expect you may gather from the recent declaration of one of the leaders, which was received with cheers, and has not only not been disavowed, but has been indorsed by the Leader of the Victorian Labour Party. " They must know no morality -except that which led to success."

Are you prepared to put yourselves into such hands ? " They must make the life of a non-unionist a hell upon earth," said Mr. Hyett, Secretary of the Railway Employees' Union, and no one with authority has disavowed him.

Will you give complete power of control over your work, your lives, and your political opinions to men' who boast that they know 'no morality ?

If not, vote " NO " on April 26th.

Will you stand for your rights and your liberties?

If so, vote "NO" on April 26th.

All the rights of freedom which make life worth living . depend, on a solid vote of "NO" on April 26th.'

The political party which issued this document ought to be ashamed of it, and no wonder that they did not authorize its circulation.

Senator O'Keefe - They were proud of it.

Senator READY - It was an insult to the intelligence of the electors, and a good many of them thought so. But that is not the point. The question is that this defamatory document was issued without authorization.

Senator O'Keefe - And got a lot of. votes, too.

Senator READY - I suppose that it influenced some weak-minded persons. One would think that under paragraph a of section 180 of the Act the persons responsible for the circulation of this document could be punished. I brought under the notice of the Minister of Home Affairs, not only this leaflet, but others.

Senator Findley - You ought to have found out who the printer was.

Senator READY - It was printed in the Mercury office. I also drew the attention of the Minister of Home Affairs to the fact that advertisements were being published in Tasmanian newspapers without authorization. He promptly set in motion the machinery of the Electoral Office, and promised that my complaint should be attended to. After making a thorough investigation he referred the whole question to the Attorney-General's Department for its opinion, and it replied that under the present Act no action can be taken against the circulation of these unauthorized documents.

Senator Findley - Under this Bill any person who incurs any expense, or does any printing, will be called upon to furnish a return.

Senator READY - That is not the point. In the Bill I see no provision which will prohibit the distribution of such documents throughout the country.

Senator St Ledger - You want the man punished as well.

Senator READY - I do. I want the law enforced. What is the good of a provision, if no action can be taken? I have the permission of the Minister of Home Affairs to read the following minute which he wrote on the subject to the AttorneyGeneral's Department -

The attached schedules are submitted for the Minister's consideration : -

2.   The newspapers in question inserted advertisements or notices in relation to the Referendum taken on the 26th April in contravention of section 180(a) of the Electoral Act, which provides that it shall be an illegal practice to publish any electoral advertisement (other than the announcement by advertisement in a newspaper of the holding of a meeting) without at the end therof the name and address of the persons authorizing same.

3.   The persons responsible for the issue of cards, hand-bills, leaflets, and posters have contravened section 180 of the Electoral Act inasmuch as they have not inserted the names and addresses of the persons authorizing the same, and in several cases there are no imprints as required by law.

4.   A question arises as to whether or not action should be taken against the proprietors of the newspapers, and the other persons concerned.

In reply, the Attorney-General gave an opinion which reads as follows: -

As regards newspapers, I am of opinion that articles, even though advocating any particular side, cartoons, and news items are not electoral advertisements or notices within the meaning of section180 of the Electoral Act. Advertisements and notifications relating to elections, which to the ordinary mind would not fall within articles or news items, would, in my opinion, come within the section. Of the cuttings submitted, a certain number are articles, cartoons, or news items, and would not fall within the section, a certain number are on the border line, and should be given the benefit of the doubt, and a certain number are infringements of the law.

Nearly all the hand-bills are infringements of section 180, assuming of course that they were published, as to which there is probably no question.

The question whether prosecutions should be instituted is a question for the Department of Home Affairs to decide. Apparently there is nothing to gain by failure to comply with the law, and the failure appears to have arisen because newspaper proprietors and political organizations failed to realize that section 180 applied to the Referendums. Under the circumstances, and also because the reasons for the provisions are not as strong in the case of a Referendum as they are in the case of an election, I think that no good end would be obtained by instituting prosecutions.

W.   M. Hughes,

Attorney-General. 12th July,1911.

If our laws are to be framed in such a way that a coach-and-pair can be driven through them, what is the use of spending our time and trouble in passing them? It should be made absolutely impossible, I contend, for such breaches of the Act to take place. I commend the matter to the consideration of the Minister, and I hope that a clause will be drafted which will prevent a repetition of this offence. I also desire to bring before the Senate the question of what constitutes bribery under the Act. One would think that section 176 distinctly prohibits the feeding or treating of electors at any particular time from being indulged in by any person. It provides -

Without limiting the effect of the general words in the preceding section, " bribery " particularly includes the supply of meat, drink, or entertainment after the nominations have been officially declared, or horse or carriage hire for any voter whilst going to or returning from the poll, with a view to influence the vote of an elector.

It appears to be a direct offence against the Act for a person to provide any kind of refreshment to electors with a view to influencing their votes.

Senator O'Keefe - It is a good job, too. It saves a lot of shouting.

Senator READY - Yes. Apart from any question of political parties, it is a good thing that we are not compelled to go into hotels and shout all round. It means a saving to our pockets, and I believe that it conduces to the purity of elections. During the last Federal elections in Tasmania, I found that it was usual in some parts to provide refreshments after political meetings. A political meeting was held, and then the ladies-

Senator St Ledger - Would give a cup of tea.

Senator READY - Ladies, who otherwise would not be seen in the same street as some of the persons to whom they gave cups of tea, who otherwise would not be seen speaking to them at all, who otherwise would not bother their heads as to whether they lived or not, would provide refreshments. Just about election time these ladies discover an ardent love for electors.

Senator Findley - They are anxious about the babies.

Senator READY - Yes. They say, at election time, " Dear Mrs. So-and-so, we ought to get into closer touch with one another." In the cases I refer to, these refreshments were given, but I did not take any action. It next occurred in connexion with the referendum. Grown bold because they had not been checked, these persons not only dispensed refreshments, but posted a notification that at the close of Mr. Soandso's address light refreshments would be served by the ladies.

Senator ST LEDGER (QUEENSLAND) - What on earth is wrong about extending a little hospitality?

Senator READY - Is my honorable friend serious? There is a good deal of wrong about it. If persons are allowed to feed electors and give them cups of tea, there is nothing to prevent them from giving a half-guinea-a-head banquet, because the principle is just the same. If we allow persons to give a shilling meal or light refreshments, surely we can allow them to give a banquet.

Senator St Ledger - What harm can the giving of a cup of tea do?

Senator READY - It will generally be found that those who give the refreshments represent my honorable friend's party, and, as I said before, they do not bother electors with cups of tea apart from elections. I brought the matter before the Minister, furnishing him with proof. I expected some result to follow. But what happened? The Minister had to state that he was unable to recommend a prosecution, because of an adverse opinion from the Attorney-General.

Senator St Ledger - It is quite a common thing in Queensland to have a drink all round after a political meeting, and nobody thinks there is anything wrong in it.

Senator READY - Oh! Is it?

Senator O'Keefe - Who provides the drinks ?

Senator St Ledger - Sometimes we do ; sometimes our opponents.

Senator READY - I am rather sorry for the honorable senator's political morality ; it is to be deplored. I wish now to read the Minister's letter to me containing a statement of the AttorneyGeneral's opinion. I may say that the Minister has incurred a certain amount of odium in this connexion, both from this side of the Senate, and, I believe, in one instance, from the other side, in consequence of his refusal to prosecute. The question has been asked, " What is the use of having a law, if we cannot get the Minister to carry it out?"

Senator St Ledger - The Minister had common sense.

Senator READY - I can assure the honorable senator that the Minister would have prosecuted had he not been advised by the Attorney-General that he had no jurisdiction. The following is the letter which he sent to me: - 20th June,1911.

Dear Senator Ready,

I have now received an opinion from the Attorney-General's Department on the points raised in your communication dated the 3rd ult., viz., whether it is an offence in itself to supply refreshments -

(a)   at a political meeting after the receipt of nominations for an election ; or

(b)   after the issue of a writ for a referendum.

The Law Authorities are of opinion that it is not in itself an offence to supply refreshments under such conditions, but that it would only be regarded as an offence if it were done under circumstances which would justify a jury in coming to a conclusion that the refreshments were supplied with the object of influencing the electors present at the meeting to vote in a particular manner or not to vote at all.

The fact that a poster was issued in connexion with the Ross meeting to the effect that a tea and coffee supper would be provided after the address would, it is thought, be construed into an offer of refreshments with the object of inducing the electors to attend the meeting, and would not be held to be an offence.

Yours faithfully, (Sgd.) King O'malley.

We ought not to be satisfied so long as such a loophole as this exists in our Electoral Act. I do not expect any support from honorable senators opposite; but I do expect assistance from Ministers and from honorable senators on my own side, wim the object of remedying such a state of affairs.

Senator St Ledger - Do not get angry about a cup of tea.

Senator READY - Cups of tea have done a great deal for the honorable senator and his party. We can offer, better inducements to the electors to vote for us than to go round " smoodging " for votes with offers of drinks. I hope that it will be provided in the amending Bill that such breaches of the law shall not be permitted. I have given notice of an amendment, which, I believe^ the Government will be prepared to accept, with the object of stopping this kind of thing. I shall be found voting for any provision that will militate against fraud, imposition, or corruption at the polls. There have, been cases m which the electoral machinery has been prostituted. I, therefore, trust that the amended law will make it much more difficult for electors to be bamboozled, and to make it dangerous for any political party to induce them to vote by improper mean;..

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