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Friday, 3 November 1911

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) - I was very pleased to hear the remarks of Senator O'keefe, who evidently has a clear grasp of the situation. Let me point out the difficulties that may occur. Say that there are a dozen Sullivans, or a dozen Joneses on an electoral roll. One Sullivan may get a notice that is intended for another. The man whose name is struck off the roll by the electoral officers in Brisbane mav be the Sullivan whose name ought to have been retained, whilst another who has left the district may be left upon the roll. Senator Givens is well acquainted with hundreds of men who are constantly on the move throughout Queensland. How many of these men will remember that they have to notify the Electoral Office whenever they move from' one place to another? Yet if a man neglects to do so, he may be fined on the mere averment of an electoral officer. Take the western country of Queensland, around Cloncurry. There are men there who remain in isolated parts of the country from year's end to year's end. It is questionable whether many of them will receive copies of the regulations, even if they are posted. Many men do not get letters and newspapers for months together. Yet such a man, for failure to enroll, may, on the mere averment of an electoral officer, be fined. Surely the officer ought to prove that a person charged has received a notice and refused to enroll. We do not know what the regulations are to be like. We have not seen them. I have in_ mind a case in which an elector under this provision might be served with a notice that he was on the roll, and later with a summons for having failed to enroll his name. The notice and summons would be directed to the post-office at Charters Towers, while the man might be at Cloncurry, Croydon, or Gympie. He would never receive either notice or summons, and an officer of the Department, in his absence, by a mere averment that he had failed to enroll his name, would secure a conviction against him, and he would be fined. It might be twelve months later before the man would be discovered and the fine levied upon him. I admit that people should take more interest in these matters than they do, but we all know that many people do not take much interest in them. The hardest cases may occur under this provision in vast territories like Western Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland, where there are very many people who seldom come near a town. If they want flour they very often go to the nearest station. Such people would never get their summonses under this Bill, and yet they would be fined. I can understand the desire of the Minister to adhere, as far as possible, to the strict letter of a Bill he introduces, but there can be no doubt that this provision will give rise to many very harsh cases. I think the officer of the Department should be called upon in Court to prove his case to the satisfaction of the Bench. He should certainly give evidence in support of the charge, and then if there are extenuating circumstances the Bench may impose a small fine, or perhaps dismiss the charge. An elector should not be called upon to bear the expense of perhaps having to travel 200 or 300 miles to attend a Court to answer one of these charges, even though he may have received a summons; and in any case he should be assured that he will not be convicted without evidence. I have never believed in the French system of assuming that a man is guilty of an offence unless he proves his innocence. We have, for strong reasons, a similar provision in the Customs Act, but I confess I do not like it, even in that Act. Why should not the Department, with all its machinery, be called upon to prove a man guilty of an offence with which he is charged? I believe that every man should in the eye of the law be deemed innocent until, in accordance with the law, he is proved to be guilty.

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