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Friday, 26 June 1914

Senator O'KEEFE (Tasmania) . - In common with quite a number of members of this Parliament, I have come to the conclusion that the fight which has been waged here for some time past is now finished, and that' the contest should be transferred with as little delay as possible to the constituencies. I am one of those who fully subscribe to the statement made by a prominent member of our party in another place, that the Constitution has been butchered. In my opinion, the action of the Cook Government, and His Excellency the GovernorGeneral's acceptance of the advice which they tendered him, butchered not only the Constitution, but also the Senate. This Chamber has been -practically gib- betted, just as in the old days the corpses of criminals used to be hung at the crossroads as a deterrent to others who were likely to do wrong. But in the case of this Chamber there is a sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection. When the fight is transferred to another arena, in view of what has been "done to strip this Chamber of almost every shred of its power, I am convinced that the action of the Government, coupled with their sins of omission and commission, will result in a glorious resurrection for the Senate.

Senator Keating - TEe Senate committed suicide.

Senator O'KEEFE - It did not commit suicide - the Government murdered it. The Senate exercised its right to make a small amendment in one Bill, and for so doing it has been executed. But, after all, it may prove that this Chamber is only in a state of suspended animation. I believe that the approaching election will result- in a majority of votes being recorded in favour of the Labour party in every State. It is rather significant that one of the newspapers in Tasmania which support the political party with which Senator Keating is associated recently published a leading article in which it urged the Liberal electors to exact a pledge from all Liberal candidates that whenever the interests of the Liberal parliamentary party conflict with those of Tasmania, the latter will be regarded as of paramount importance.

Senator Keating - Quite right.

Senator O'KEEFE - I mention this circumstance to show that the Liberal press of 'Tasmania realizes the danger which is to be apprehended from the present position. If that position is upheld by the people in the small States - if they return a majority of Liberal senators there - it will mean that they acquiesce in the decision of the Government and of the Governor-General.

Senator Guthrie - And in the remarks of the Attorney-General.

Senator O'KEEFE - Yes. The Hobart Mercury recognises the position to such an extent that it has advised the electors to exact from Liberal candidates for the Senate a pledge that they will regard the interests of that State as of paramount importance whenever those interests conflict with the interests of the Liberal parliamentary party. I believe that His Excellency the. Governor-General in the recent crisis was placed in a most unfortunate position; but, while we may sympathize with him in that he was called upon to give such a crucial decision within a few hours of his landing in Australia, we can feel nothing but contempt for the Government, which, we believe, wrongly advised him as to the actual facts of the situation. That is the opinion which will find expression in every State at the coming election. I now wish to say a few words upon the question of the electoral rolls and of the danger which exists that they will not be in a thoroughly complete state when the approaching election has to be decided. Since last May, the efforts of the Government have been directed towards one end. They have professed themselves desirous of securing clean rolls, and clean rolls in their view evidently mean taking off the rolls the name of any man or woman about whose right to enrolment there is the slightest doubt. Their aim has not been to insure that every elector whose name has a right to be on the rolls shall be there. There is an old axiom in connexion with British justice which affirms that it is better that ninety-nine guilty men should escape the consequences of their guilt than that one innocent person should be punished. The Government have not acted upon that axiom in connexion with our electoral rolls. They should have declared that it is better that ninety-nine names should be duplicated on the rolls than that the name of one elector who has a right tff vote should not be there. Where is the grave danger which arises from the duplication which has been alleged? What harm could result from the duplication which was alleged to have occurred at the last elections ? If an elector votes twice, he risks the penalty which is prescribed by law. From Sydney, yesterday, news was re- "ceived, which was published in last night's Melbourne Herald - most significant news - in view of all the allegations that have been made concerning the enormous number of duplications at the last election. The telegram in question states -

Sydney, Thursday.

The charges that there are wholesale duplications on the Federal electoral rolls and that the rolls were stuffed for the last elections are not accepted by the police.

No more exhaustive scrutiny of the old enrolments is possible than that which the police have conducted in order to provide the electoral office with information for the compilation of the new rolls. House-to-house visits have been made, and the facts thus obtained first-hand have been used for comparison with the old enrolments. The work in the North Sydney and Parramatta electorates has been finished as far as the police are concerned. In two subdivisions of North Sydney, covering 1.6,000 enrolments, only eight duplications were discovered, and the collectors state that this would be a fair average for the whole division. Even in those cases the addresses varied. In two subdivisions of the Parramatta division there were ten duplications in 5,000. There was one grave instance, in which a man was enrolled three times, his name being spelt with one letter different each time.

That is a direct answer to the statements which have been made in this Chamber over and over again by the Vice-President of the Executive Council, that the action of the Government has been rendered necessary because of the enormous number of duplications on the rolls. If there be any truth in the paragraph which I have just quoted, it absolutely disproves the charge that an enormous number of duplications occurred. According to their own admissions, the object of the Government has been to cleanse the rolls, and their idea of effecting their purpose has been to remove from them the names of all persons concerning whose bona fides there existed the slightest doubt. Even if duplications did occur, they constitute no danger to the electoral purity of Australia, because there is not one person in 10,000 who would risk the penalty imposed by the law by voting twice. In spite of the work of detectives appointed by the Ministry for the purpose, -how many cases of dual voting have been traced to their source? There is just one other matter upon which I wish to make a few observations - a matter of very grave importance to the Stats of Tasmania. It will be recollected that last year, when a contract was being entered into for the conveyance of mails between Tasmania and the mainland, the matter was the subject of considerable discussion in this Chamber. A good many of us, who do not pose as prophets, then declared our belief that in a very short time the Shipping Combine which controls that service would make a request to the PostmasterGeneral that it should be allowed to charge increased fares and freights. According to this morning's papers that request has been made to the PostmasterGeneral.

Senator Keating - When?

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