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Friday, 17 November 1911

Senator McCOLL (Victoria) .- When I entered the chamber this morning, 1 had not the least idea that there would be any delay in passing this clause. Senator Millen, however, took exception to the clause, and pointed out the gravity of it. I do not think that any one of us had realized that fact before he spoke. His remarks were very calm. He put the matter very fairly, and asked the reasons for proposing the change. The Minister answered very hotly in a speech of considerable length. He took occasion to abuse the Opposition. He said that they were hollow, insincere, and so on. He was indorsed by the Government Whip, who made a speech which was calculated to arouse very bad feeling indeed, and which was absolutely unnecessary, as it gave the Committee no enlightenment. The more one considers the matter, the more he wonders that such a clause should have been inserted in the Bill. The greatest possible care should be exercised with respect to all matters connected with an election. Every one will admit that many matters of detail which are not material, and would not affect the issues, might possibly be left to departmental regulations; but in the nominationform we are dealing with the basis of an election, and its alteration at any time should not be left to the will of an official. The Minister says that he will guarantee that it will not be altered within, a certain period before an election, but he is not in charge of the Department concerned. If he were, his guarantee might be of some value; but" as matters stand, the Minister in charge of the Department might, at the request of the officials, propose an alteration in the nomination-form which might never be seen, even by the Cabinet. If Parliament were sitting an opportunitywould be afforded, within fourteen days after the regulation had been gazetted, of reviewing it, and objecting to it, if neces sary; but if Parliament were not sitting it would become law as soon as gazetted. Suppose a man, who intended to be a candidate at an election, desired to go to the Old Country. He might take the precaution, as has been done several times before in similar circumstances, of leaving his nomination-paper, properly signed, behind him in the belief that the form would not be liable to change. He might discover later on that, owing to a regulation altering the form of the nomination-paper, his nomination would not be received, and he would be left out of the field. When Senator Findley says that he would not have so much objection to criticism if honorable senators on this side were all as fair-minded as Senator Clemons, he overlooks the fact that we are taking exception to this clause in the public interest. When it is objected to by Senator Keating, who is riot a violent man, and Senator O' Keefe, as well as by Senator Clemons, the Government should see that there must be something in the objection taken to this provision. We have been given a reason for it, and it is 'that the departmental officials desire that such a provision should be inserted in the Bill. Who is to rule in the matter? Parliament, and not the departmental officials, should have the settlement of a matter of this kind, which is the basis of an election, especially in view of the fact that a' slight error in the nominationform may be taken advantage of to put one man out and another in. We cannot shirk our responsibilities in connexion with such a matter. When a man makes up his mind to stand for Parliament he turns at once to the Electoral Act and expects that it will guide him in every step he should take. He will never dream of asking for regulations. He will send to the Government Printer, and not to the Home Affairs Department, for a copy of the Act, and the Government Printer will never dream of sending him the regulations if he asks only for a copy of the Act. It should be patent to Ministers that the objections to this clause are substantial, and deserve to be very seriously considered. When we are told that this proposal is made because the departmental officers have asked for it, I say we have a right to know why they have asked for it. It is an important change in the law that is proposed. If it were a matter of detail intended to simplify the working of the Act, or to secure economy of administration, we could understand it. But this proposal strikes at the root of the matter, and we should know what are the reasons governing the departmental officials in making this recommendation to the Minister. If the Minister has agreed to make this change merely because they have said they desire it, he has fallen short of his duty. He had a right to ask them the question we have asked to-day, and should have received an answer to it. I trust that the strong representations which have been made by honorable senators on this side, and also by Senator O'Keefe, will have weight with the Government. Senator O'Keefe is a Ministerial supporter, occupying a judicial position in the Senate. He is essentially a fair-minded man, and the last thing he would desire to do would be to take exception to a Government proposal if he had not very strong reasons for doing so. Honorable senators on this side, who Senator Findley himself admits are fair-minded men, also object to this clause, and we have a right to expect that consideration will be given to the views expressed by these honorable senators.

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