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Thursday, 26 October 1911

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Yes, I shall come to that - and it means leading articles and matter fit to read. written probably in the office of the Fusion party in Melbourne -

And again, it means a cable service of our own within a measurable distance of time.

This should be interesting to Senator ^Pearce -

This association is at the bottom of the Senate Special Committee Inquiry, the evidence before which is doubtless interesting to you.

This, then, is the body that moved Senator Pearce to inquire into the operations of the Cable Combine, and the honorable senator should now say whether he belongs to this association with £400,000,000 of capital. The circular continues -

Has not the time gone when the politics of Australia are " made in Melbourne " in the editorials of the Age and Argus f

I should be very glad to hear from you, and to have any suggestions. They will be treated as confidential, and I know you will extend the like courtesy to me. Why not take an occasional service from us and send copies of your journal regularly for filing? We send out a list of topics of immediate interest at 3s. to 5s. per article. These articles are read, and read with interest, by big advertisers here, and that spells business and advertising contracts.

Yours faithfully,

H.   D. Newby.

Senator Findley - Is he alive or dead now ?

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - He is still alive. Many of these country newspapers would be glad to accept this advertising matter, but they would like to acknowledge the source of the articles and advertisements. They ought not to be compelled, as they are compelled to-day, to sell their columns to enable the Fusion party and similar political parties to circulate misrepresentations throughout the State. I am very glad that one Melbourne newspaper takes no exception to these provisions of the Bill. I refer to the Age, and it is to its credit that it does not object. It says that it may be a little inconvenient, but it is willing to make all the returns required under this Bill. Senator Millen, when speaking as the champion of the newspapers of Australia, must surely have forgotten to have a previous interview with the proprietors of the Age.

Senator Millen - I did not say a .word to suggest that they cared twopence about the matter. I said the Government have simply made us laugh over the thing.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - The honorable senator said that he spoke in the name of the whole of the press ; and how he could speak for twenty minutes on the subject without feeling that his party's interest was being injured, I could not comprehend. I support these proposals, but I hope that, in Committee, they will be stiffened so as to make them effective. In many cases the newspapers deliberately, and even maliciously, slander the members of this Parliament, and they have misrepresented political opinions too long. If we are going to continue to tolerate such misrepresentation, it will be, not because we do not desire to check it, but because we lack the courage to pass a law to deal with this kind of criticism. I come now to the question of postal voting. As I indicated in an earlier part of my speech, the aim of a Democracy, such as is represented in this Parliament, should be to afford every possible facility to electors, well or ill to record their votes. But there is thisqualification to be understood. If we find that a scheme devised for the purpose is ineffective, or tends to corruption, we should undoubtedly abolish it. The records of Hansard will show that I am probably the last member of the Labourparty in the Senate to favour the abolitionof postal voting.

Senator St Ledger - The honorable senator has got to do it now.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Why ? Is the honorable senator ashamed of his interjection ?

Senator St Ledger - If I did the honorable senator an injustice, I withdraw the statement.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - The honorable senator does himself an injustice. It shows that he has no effective control over his thoughts or he would not make such a; statement. On the last occasion when this matter was before the Senate, every member of the Labour party, with the sole exception of myself, voted for the abolitionof postal voting. I honestly believed at that time that the system was good and necessary, and that it was possible to safeguard it from corruption and enable people who could not otherwise do so to record their votes. I regret to say that I wasmistaken. The electoral officials have not been able to devise sufficient safeguards to prevent corruption under the postal voting, system. I shall tell honorable senatorswhy. We have in all the States justices of the peace. What I propose to say may not apply to every justice of the peace, but it certainly applies to a great many of them. I restrict my observation to this State, and I say that from the inceptionof Government in Victoria very few persons have been appointed justices of thepeace who have not been in full sympathy with the Ministry of the day. As wehave never had a Labour Government inpower in Victoria, we have had no Labour justices of the peace.

Senator O'Keefe - The same thing applies in all the States.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I believe that is so. But I speak of what I know and can prove. Our justices of the peace in Victoria have been appointed because they have been the political partisans of, and in full political sympathy with, those who appointed them. These men are permitted to act as authorized witnesses of applications for postal votes. In not one or two, but in a great many, instances, they have failed to maintain the judicial balance of their office, and have actually become partisans and canvassers for a political party in asking people to vote by post. It is sometimes said that we cannot bring forward any proof of this kind of thing. I have investigated many cases of the kind personally, and I have been satisfied that on many occasions corrupt practices have been carried on. But it is one thing to believe that corrupt practices have been carried on, and it is quite another thing to prove it. To-day, we have this proof from the Hamilton district of a case tried at the Hamilton Court. I have here a report headed " Federal Electoral Offences : Breaches of Postal Clauses : Charges against a Justice." Now what were the charges?

That, on the 22nd April, he witnessed the signature of Selina Cameron to an application for a postal certificate without being personally acquainted with the facts stated and not having ascertained by inquiry that the statements made by her were true.

2.   That he induced her to make a false statement to the effect that she was ill and would be unable to attend the booth on polling day.

3.   That he attempted to influence her vote.

The justice of the peace referred to was Mr. L. Lesser, of Coleraine. Could he exercise influence in this case?

Senator Millen - What happened in connexion with the three charges referred to?

Senator Blakey - He was fined on each.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - He was fined on the charge of not making full inquiry into the facts.

Senator Millen - That was all ; there was no case found against him on the other charges.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - This Mr. Lesser, who is a justice of the peace, is one of the biggest money-lenders in the district of Coleraine. There are scores of farmers in that district Over whom he holds bonds.

Senator Findley - He is the man who farms the farmer.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - -What is the position? He goes to an elector who is under a legal obligation to him, and owes him money, and being doubtful about his vote, asks him, as he asked this woman, whether he would not like to vote by post.

Senator Millen - There were justices of the peace on the other side doing the same thing at the last Federal election.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I want to put a stop to it. In this State a member of Parliament has had to pay for a trivial error. This shows that the administration of the law has been clean, and free from party influence. This man Lesser, in tra: veiling around the district, does not meet farmers and farmers'" wives, sons or daughters, who are free, but in very many cases persons who owe him money. I ask honorable senators whether they think that those persons have a free choice to vote by post. The possibilities are that in hundreds of cases of this kind the system has been open to corruption, and I do not believe that any man who is anxious to preserve the purity of elections can supportit any longer.

Senator St Ledger - Then if a mortgagor speaks to his mortgagee it is an evidence of corruption.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I hope the honorable senator does not desire to apologize for this case. It is bad.

Senator St Ledger - I do not. I have not much to apologize for.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - A Mr. Silvester, a local solicitor of Coleraine, and an open political opponent of the Labour party, appeared in this case for the defendant Lesser, and what plea did he make? Let honorable senators listen to it. He said -

No doubt hundreds and thousands of the same sort of things are occurring in Victoria.

Senator Pearce - Hence 14,000 postal votes.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Mr. Silvestermay have exaggerated in that statement, but he has a suspicion, and believes that this kind of thing is going on. Suppose, as Senator Millen says, that Labour justices of the peace are doing the same thing, let me say that I am as anxious to prevent them doing it as to prevent any one else. I object to this practice, whichever side is guilty of it. If it is possible for a justice of the peace, whether he be a Labour man or an anti-Labour man, to do this kind of thing, Senator Millen ought to be with me in trying to prevent it.

Senator Millen - Then the honorable senator would abolish the ballot because it is possible to commit fraud in connexion with it?

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Not to the same extent.

Senator Millen - Now the honorable senator comes to a question of degree.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Mr. Silvesterwent on to say -

So far as the public are concerned it is sufficiently marked by this transaction, and the humiliation and anxiety he must have suffered was sufficient punishment for him without any other penalty. I. would like to ask your worships to exercise your jurisdiction under section 191 of the Justices Act, and dismiss the case.

I regard an offence of this kind as one of the most serious crimes that could be committed -in this country. I might be considered despotic, but if I had my own way, I should abolish fines under the electoral law, and send to gaol any individual, rich or poor, who deliberately offended against its provisions with intent to make our politics impure.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator should communicate with Mr. Holman, who relieved the secretaries of political labour leagues of fines they had incurred for similar offences.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - According to one of my colleagues, Senator Millen's speech on this Bill occupied three hours and twenty minutes. I am sorry if, in the course of it, he lost an opportunity, but he does not lose many opportunities, of scoring

Senator Millen - I do not want to lose this one.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - The report from which I am quoting goes on to say - Mr. Morley pointed out that there were at least a dozen other charges pending against the defendant.

And therefore I suppose he should be let off with a light fine. Mr. Morley said -

I think the defendant must also pay a penalty. It is a serious matter. The offence is happening all over Victoria, and there have been prosecutions in and around Melbourne. What the Department feels is that it must avoid suspicion and put this sort of thing down.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator has not mentioned what the fines were.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - The defendant was fined on each charge of not having made proper inquiry.

Senator Millen - But the more serious charges were dismissed.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I feel sure that Senator Millen does not desire that I should say why I think they were dismissed.

Senator -Millen.- The statement was made that a fine was imposed on all three charges.

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