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Monday, 11 December 1905

Mr HUTCHISON (Hindmarsh) - I hope the honorable member for Boothby will ask for something more definite. We have had rather a bad experience in South Australia in connexion with objections to names on electoral rolls. I have attended Revision Courts, and have known several objections to be lodged by individuals connected with a certain conservative association. In one instance, a young man came up to me in the Revision Court, and told me that he was able to be present only with the greatest difficulty, because he was engaged upon very important correspondence, and his employer was very unwilling to let him get away. This man had been living for several years in the same house, and yet his name was objected to on. the ground that he had left the district, and he was unable to secure any reimbursement of the expenses to which he was put to substantiate his claim. I have known the assistant returning officer of the electorate of Boothby on one occasion to allow his expenses to an elector whose name had been objected to. Honorable members should remember that it is not merely an elector's tram fare that we have to consider, but the fact that they are very often put to very great inconvenience as- the result of objections lodged on very frivolous pretexts. Systematic attempts have been made in South Australia to strike names off rolls. S*me returning officers have told me that they had no sympathy whatever with what was being attempted, and that they were quite aware that in many cases the objections were not legitimate, but that they could not interfere. I disagree with the honorable member for North Sydney, who said that it ought to be easy to make objections. On the contrary, it ought to be made very difficult. It should not be forgotten that if any one votes who is not entitled to do so, he is subject to a penalty, and we can get at fraud in that way. Under this Bill electors who may have been illegally struck off the roll can appeal to a Court of summary jurisdiction, but we know what that means. There are a great many working women who will not go inside the door of a Court on any consideration. The* opponents of the working classes are aware of that, and take every advantage of it. I have myself left electoral claims in every house in a whole street, and the agent of the conservative association to which I have already referred went round subsequently and collected those claims. He made a selection of those likely to vote the conservative ticket, and destroyed all the other claims, or never sent them in. It is a very difficult matter to sheet that kind of thing home. The result of this man's action was that the .names of a number of women were left off the roll. I could give the State Parliament the name of the person responsible in that case, but I was asked why I did not prosecute. I could not prosecute without evidence, and I could get none of the women concerned to go to the Court to give evidence. I, therefore, say that we should1 make it extremely difficult to strike the name of an elector off a roll. Just as we impose a severe penalty upon a person voting who is not entitled to vote, so we should impose a heavy penalty upon any person who has procured the removal from the roll of the name of an elector who is entitled to vote. I hope the honorable member for Boothby will move an amendment to provide that where an elector's name is frivolously objected tobe shall be reimbursed for the expense and inconvenience to which he is put in defending his claim, up to an amount which, I hope, will be specified in the amendment.

Mr. DUGALDTHOMSON (North Sydney). - From the criticism of honorable members, one would think that there is no legitimate use for these provisions for objections.

Mr Hutchison - Yes, there is.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The plea has been put forward that people should be easily able to get their names on the rolL, and that it should be intensely difficult to have their names removed.

Mr Hutchison - Who has put forward such a contention ?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is the tendency of the remarks which have been made.

Mr King O'Malley - No man is dishonest - unless he happens to be a gaol bird - whose name appears on the roll.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I venture to say that names of persons who have no right to vote have been intentionally placed on the roll. I do not say that that practice has been resorted to by one party or the other, but I am quite satisfied that such a thing does occur. It is not, therefore, well to place too many difficulties in the way of the purification of the rolls.

Mr Hutchison - Is it not easy to ascertain before objecting whether a person is entitled to be on the roll ?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There are two distinct courses which may be followed. In the first place, we may make it so troublesome or dangerous to lodge an objection that no one will do so, whilst on the other hand we may provide a penalty for a frivolous objection which will act as a sufficient deterrent. I am favorable to provision being made for the imposition of a penalty for making a frivolous objection to enrolment, but I am not in favour of placing too many obstacles in the way of lodging an objection. Anything which assists to purify the rolls is in the interests of the community. . The present Bill will give facilities that do not exist under the Act for persons to secure enrolment without appearing before a Court. I naturally approve of the provisions to which I refer, because I had them inserted in a Bill for which I was responsible. The in- tention of these provisions is that when an objection is made against a name on the roll, or when a claim for enrolment is lodged, the officer before whom it comes will make inquiries. If an objection be made, he will have to communicate with the person objected to.

Mr Hutchison - But if the person objected to had removed from one end of the district to the other, the notice of objection would neverreach him.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In some cases it may not, but if a man leaves his addresson removing from one place to another, such notices must reach him. I have never advocated the placing of difficulties in the way of persons who desire to secure enrolment, but only to raising difficulties to objections being lodged against those who have been improperly enrolled. Under this Bill the officer with whom the objection is lodged will wait a given time for a reply to the notice that he sends out. The person concerned will not be called upon towait upon the officer ; he may submit a statement in writing, and the officer may then say to the objector. " I cannot strike this name off, because I have a statement from the person objected to which, if correct, shows that he ought to be on the roll." In that event, the objector will have to apply either to a Court of summary jurisdiction or to a special Revision Court, which will be called only when it is required. But if the officer did strike off the name improperly, the person concerned, on learning of this, would have only to apply to that officer in order to have his name once more placed on the roll. That is to say, if the notice sent out to him in the first instance did not reach him he could take this action on learning of what had occurred.

Mr Hutchison - In scores of cases these notices never reach the persons objected to, although they have removed only from one street to another in the same district.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Every man has to see that his name is on the roll. Owing to an error, my name has been omitted from a roll, and if I had not made inquiries I should have been disfranchised. I do not think it is wise - although I recognise that the Committee is against me. and therefore shall not press my objection - to require that a deposit of 5s. shall be made with every objection lodged. If we provide for a penalty in the case of a frivolous objection, that should be sufficient.

Mr Groom - The difficulty is that if a man of straw were put up, it would be impossible to recover against him.


Mr Groom - Where the system has been worked to any great extent, that has been the method adopted.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - New South Wales is not free from the manipulation of electoral matters, but in the report of the Commissioners who were appointed to inquire into the electoral law, it is stated that owing to a deposit of1s. being required in connexion with the lodging of an objection, practically no objections have been made by the public. That report was issued within the last twelve months, but I do not know whether the Minister has seen it.

Mr Groom - I have not.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not think that many frivolous objections would be lodged if we provided a penalty in such cases.

Mr Mahon - Two thousand objections were recently lodged in Fremantle.

Mr Groom - The divisional returning officer did not accept them, because the ob jectors would not make themselves responsible for the objections.

Mr Mahon - The only reason wasthat they were not prepared to put up the money.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think that there was a further reason.

Mr Groom - That was one reason ; and another was that the objectors could not give a guarantee that the persons concerned had not the necessary qualification.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The officers also claimed that, in their opinion, a number of those to whom objection was taken had the requisite qualification.

Mr Groom - That is so,and the returning officer would not take action unless the objectors gave a guarantee in respect of the whole costs.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Under this Bill, an inquiry will be made by an officer before anything is done. The only cases in which that provision will be insufficient are these in which the notices do not reach the parties concerned.

Mr Hutchison - That is the rule rather than the exception.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Where the addresses of the persons objectedto were not known, that would be the position, but with the precautions I have indicated, and with the provision of a penalty for frivolous objections, I see no reasons for fear in this regard.

Mr.FRAZER (Kalgoorlie). - I heartily agree with those who have said that a responsibility should be cast upon a man who, for the time being, appoints himself a professional objector. The clause provides that the returning officer shall post a notice to the last known place of abode of the person objected to, but, notwithstanding this provision, hundreds of men, more particularly in mining communities, might easily be disfranchised. It is well known that miners, in an endeavour to better their position, shift from one camp to another, and often from one part of a campto another, so that notices of objection, although sent out as required by this clause, might never reach their destination, with the result that at the instance of a professional objector, a great many men might be improperly struck off the roll. If an elector be put to the- expense of attending before the returning officer, or before a Revision Court, to substantiate his claim, and is successful, the objector should be responsible for the costs, and should also be called upon to pay reasonable compensation for the inconvenience to which the elector is put. That is practically the effect of the proposal made by the honorable member for Boothby, and it has my cordial support.

Mr. CHANTER(Riverina). - I move-

That after the word " to," line 23, the following words be inserted : - " And publish a list of the names of allpersons objected to in a local newspaper."

There are thousands of persons whose occupations are such that they are compelled to move from place to place, with the result that notices sent out in accordance with the provisions of the clause as it stands would never reach them. But if it were also the duty of the returning officer to publish in a local newspaper the names of those objected to, the chances are that they would obtain the information necessary to enable them to protect their interests. I know of a large number of men who, under the electoral law of New South Wales, were supposed to receive notice, as provided for in this clause, but whose names were struck off the State roll, although they absolutely declared later on that they had never received any notice of objection.

Mr Groom - Theyhad fixed abodes?

Mr CHANTER - Yes. Notice of objection should have been forwarded to them, but it certainly was not, and their names were struck off the roll. Subsequently, upon representations being made to the State electoral officer, their names were reinserted. The only objection that can be urged against my proposal is that it would prove costly in operation. The objections would probably be few, and the space occupied by an advertisement in a local newspaper would be correspondingly small.

Mr Batchelor - Are local newspapers ever read ?

Mr CHANTER - They are read for local news, and, naturally, prominence would be given to an advertisement of this sort. I urge the Committee to accept the amendment. The cost of giving effect to it would be very slight.

Mr. GROOM(Darling Downs- Minister of Home Affairs). - I trust that the honorable member will not press his amendment, because I scarcely think that he realizes the extent of the burden which it might impose upon the Commonwealth. The idea underlying the clause is that every divisional returning officer shall be a sort of continuous Court of Revision, whose duty it will be to keep the rolls complete and up-to-date. Honorable members know that changes in respect of 33 per cent. of the electors take place each year. It will thus be seen that the Commonwealth might very easily be landed in a heavy expenditure if it were compelled to advertise their names throughout the length and breadth of Australia. I quite agree that every person against whom an objection is lodged should have a reasonable chance of appearing before the proper tribunal to establish his claim. In the case to which the honorable member referred, there must have been a very gross miscarriage of justice. No elector's name should be struck off the roll unless the officer responsible for its excision has evidence before him that the letter notifying him that the objection which' has been lodged has been properly despatched in accordance with the terms of the Act. If the electors mentioned by the honorable member for Riverina had fixed places of abode. I cannot understand why the communications didnot reach them. If they had no fixed places of abode, it was the duty of the electoral officer to send the letters inquestion to their last addresses upon the roll. The honorable member must recognise that, in the case of a person without a fixed place of abode, the " local newspaper" would be the journal circulating in the district in which the voter was last located. That being so, the probability is that the elector would have quitted that particular division, and consequently the advertisement would not reach him. I fear that the adoption of the amendment might land the Commonwealth in a very heavy expenditure. A similar provision was operative in Queensland for some time, but I think that it has been repealed. It was the means of providing a very nice subsidy to the newspapers just prior to an election.

Mr Fisher - In Queensland the advertisement was only inserted annually.

Mr GROOM - Under the proposal of the honorable member for Riverina, advertisements would require to be inserted constantly, and we must recollect that, even if only one name were advertised!, the introductory matter would probably occupy an inch of space. I will promise the honorable member to consider the question carefully. I should not like to commit myself to his amendment at the present stage.

Mr. LONSDALE(New England).- My experience impels me to conclude that the amendment would prove useless, as well as expensive, in operation. As a parliamentary candidate, I have found that when I have advertised in a local newspaper the time and place at which I should address the electors, nobody has seen the advertisement. Indeed, it is (a waste of money to attempt to reach the electors by that means. In the outlying portions of the country, it is far better for a candidate to advertise his meetings in the Sydney newpapers. Most of us are aware that the great bulk of the cost of contesting an election consists of advertising expenses ; consequently, it is easy to see that the adoption of the amendment under consideration would impose a. heavy burden on the Commonwealth.

Mr. BATCHELOR(Boothby).- In my opinion;, the amendment would largely add to the cost of administering the Act, and that without conferring any commensurate advantages. But my chief objection to the proposal is that it would provide a subsidy to provincial newspapers. When subscriptions to the local " thunderer " began to fail, it would be easy for its proprietor to raise funds by securing the lodgment of objections to a long list of persons, whose names appeared upon the roll.. I suggest to the honorable member for Riverina that* he would secure all the publicity that he desires if he provided that lists of the persons against whose enrolment objection had been lodged, should be exhibited at every post-office.

Mr. DUGALDTHOMSON (North Sydney). - I think that the objections which will be lodged under this clause will be' very few indeed, seeing that it requires an objector to pay a fee of 5s. In this connexion, I should like to quote .from the report of the Royal Commission, which inquired into the New South Wales electoral law and its administration. It says under the heading of " Objections to names on the roll " -

Any person may object to the name of any other person being retained on any general or supplementary general list if, before or on the 20th November, he sign and deliver, or cause to be delivered, to the Registrar for the division, and also to the person objected to, notice of such objection, with a statement of the grounds upon which the objection is made, the notice to the Registrar to be accompanied by a fee of is. Experience, however, has shown that the public do not object to names on the list. Whether it is that the is. fee is an obstacle in the way, or that the cause is apathy on the part of Hie public, it is a fact that up to the present no objection of the kind mentioned has been received at any time by a Registrar. The only objections taken have been those made by Registrars themselves, who may object to the name of any person on the list, provided notice be given to such person.

During the whole period that that Act had then been in force - some ten years, I think - no objection had been lodged by the public, against any person whose name appeared on the roll, although the fee demanded of the objector was only is. I am satisfied that if a fee of 5s. be provided, the objections which the honorable member for Riverina wishes to advertise will be. verv few indeed.

Mr. CHANTER(Riverina).- When moving mv amendment, I said that the only objection which could be raised against it was on the score of cost, and that is the only objection which has been raised against it.

Mr Bamford - Except that it is useless.

Mr CHANTER - The honorable member appears not to look upon the local newspapers as valuable advertising mediums, but there I differ from him. In many parts of the Commonwealth, the residents get all their information of what is going on in the world from their local newspapers, and, while I recognise that the practice which I suggest would be a very costly one, I think that it would secure my object, which is to obtain the fullest publicity for attempts to alter the rolls. But the Minister could provide, by regulation, or in any other way, that all claims and names objected to should be posted at conspicuous places, such as the post-offices in an electorate. No doubt the local newspapers would publish for the information of their readers the lists so posted.

Mr Groom - I will make a note of the suggestion, and see if I can meet the honorable member in any way.

Mr CHANTER - It seems to me that there should be no difficulty. Certain obligations are imposed on the divisional returning officers by law, but they receive instructions from the Department as to the details of their duty. Surely, then, the Department could instruct them to post these notices in certain specified places?

Mr Groom - I dare say that that could be done.

Mr CHANTER - I think so. As advertising in the local newspapers is objected to on the score of cost, I ask leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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