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Friday, 17 November 1911

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . - I am surprised that the Government should want to do away with the prescribed nomination form. The Minister has not' attempted to show us in what respect the present form is inconvenient or defective. I have heard honorable senators sitting be-' hind the Government, when they were in Opposition, denouncing the Government of' the day for trying to administer by regulation instead of by law. There must be something wrong when honorable senators* opposite change their attitude with regard to regulations in such a remarkable manner. I do not trust the Electoral Office so fully as the Minister seems disposed to do. I have known instructions to be issued to a Returning Officer to omit certain polling -places from the list. The omission was not discovered until two or three days before the election. Then when the Electoral Office, after seeing the advertisements which appeared in the newspapers, noticed the ^omission, -they sent a telegram to the District Electoral Officer to know why he had omitted these polling- places. The telegram was couched in the most mandatory terms, such as would make a nervous person shake in his shoes. When the officer referred the officials to their own instruction, they made no apology for being such blunderers, and the Returning Officer, at the last moment, had to send men on horseback 70 or 80 miles to put the thing right. The cost ought to have been charged against the gentleman who issued the instructions, not against the Commonwealth taxpayer whose money had 'to be spent to cover up these blunders. We do not want to put more power into the hands of the Electoral Officers. I do not say that any mistakes that have occurred have been wilfully made, but I have no hesitation in saying that blunders have been perpetrated, and I can prove my statement. Is a man, or is a constituency, to be practically disfranchised because the Electoral Officers make a blunder?, The Government want the Committee to strike out the present form, without offering a single reason for its deletion. I am sure that if any defect in the form can be 'shown, no one will be more anxious than honorable senators on this side to provide a. remedy. Our desire is that the nomination form shall be embodied in the Act, and shall not be left to be prescribed by the Department. It should be remembered by the Government that the friends of every candidate for a seat in this Parliament do not reside in Melbourne. It is only right that they should enjoy equal facilities with those who do reside here. Senator Findley experiences no trouble in this matter, simply because he happens to reside on the spot. But persons living in distant parts of the Commonwealth, who desire to nominate a friend as a candidate, will not be aw.are pf the requirements of the form unless it is prescribed in the Act. If they are in Queensland, they will have to write to the Electoral Officer at Brisbane, and wait a week, or perhaps ten days, for a reply; and' perhaps they may have to communicate with the Electoral Branch of the Home Affairs Department in Melbourne. This is the provision which we think it is very requisite to have in "the Act -

The candidate's consent to the nomination may be on a separate paper and in any form, but if given on the nomination paper in the above form its sufficiency is not to be questioned.

We are acting in the interests of the other side as well as in our own interests. A day may come when honorable senators opposite may have occasion to thank us for getting the form of the nomination paper embodied in the law. Our desire is to secure fair play for candidates generally, so that no Minister or Department shall be able to suddenly produce a form which may cause a lot of trouble, and perhaps result in a party not being represented in Parliament. If the Department has any objection to the existing form, let the objection be stated ; or if it has a form ready to take the place of the existing form, let it be produced and embodied in the Bill. Why should a vital matter be left to the discretion of the Department? In country districts, if. is not easy to find men who are well versed in the provisions of the Electoral Act, and who can prepare a form without a hitch. Unless the form is embodied in the Act, it may happen that, after polling the largest number of votes, a man may find himself left out in the cold by reason of something over which he had no control. I believe that the Department has a form ready, and I dare say that the Minister has seen it. If, however, the Department has no form ready to be prescribed by regulation, it has not done its duty, and I -think very little of its methods. I really cannot understand why the Government will not state what is objectionable in the existing form. The advantage of the footnote to Form I in the schedule to the Act is that it safeguards the interests of a man, no matter what intrigues may be brought against him. Whether the Department or the Minister is favorable to him or not, no one can cavil if a candidate signs the nomination form. I can assure the Minister that I have no desire to delay the transaction of business; but, unless we are told how the existing form is wrong, and supplied with the form which is intended to take its place, I shall continue to protest as long as I can, not in my interest alone, but in the interest of honorable senators on both sides. Should the

Department have no form ready, the Government have no right to ask the Committee to strike the existing form out of the Act. In any case, we should be taken into their confidence. I object to government by regulations. Parliament is created for a certain purpose, and its members are elected to see that as much as can be put in a measure is put in. I am always willing to givethe Government power to deal by regulations with non-essentials and matters which may have escaped the attention of Parliament; but I do protest against this practice of bringing down Bills in skeleton form, and leaving very many things to be dealt with by regulations. We shall not do our duty if we assent to this method of legislating. No matter what Government has been in power, I have always entered a protest against it. On this occasion, not one protest comes from the supporters of the Government, no matter how much is being left to be done by regulations. Thepresent Government is worse than any previous Government in this respect.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - We cannot forget that the Bill has been before the Senate for five weeks.

Senator Chataway - We cannot forget that the Government put the Bill at the bottom of the notice-paper.

Senator SAYERS - That is not our fault. All we want is fair play.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -To "stone- , wall."

Senator SAYERS - The honorable senator may think that this is " stone-walling."

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - What else is it?

Senator SAYERS - Surely we have a right to get an answer to a reasonable request? Are we expected to come here and to be dumb all the time? The honorable senator says that we are " stone- walling." I am not reading paragraphs from papers, but dealing strictly with the clause before the Committee. We are merely told that this change is being made for departmental purposes; but we decline to accept that answer as a satisfactory one. I do not think that any candidate has asked for a change. I certainly have not heard a candidate cavil at the existing form.

Senator de Largie - There are twentythree senators on this side who support this proposal.

Senator SAYERS - I would remind the honorable senator that when a previous Government wanted to leave certain matters to be dealt with by regulation, membersof the Labour party, who sat behind that Government, and whose action I approved, although I was supposed to be supporting the Government, entered a vigorous protest. They said, " if that is to be the law, why not put it in the Act itself ? Why leave it to be prescribed by regulation?" I do not hear any honorable senator on the other side saying now that it iswrong to leave the nomination form to be fixed by regulation.

Senator de Largie - Less than two years ago you supported Senator Millen in doing the very thing which we are doing now.

Senator SAYERS - We are also asked to strike out Form J, which relates to the nomination of representatives. We have asked why its deletion is sought, but we have not yet received a reply from the Minister. The form reads -

Commonwealth of Australia.

State of (here insert name of State).

Division of (here insert name of Division).

Nomination of a Member of the House of

Representatives. ,

To the Returning Officer for the Electoral Division of (here insert name of Division).

We, the undersigned electors on the Electoral Roll for the Electoral Division of (here insert name of Division),' in the State of (here insert the name of State), do hereby nominate(Christian name, surname, residence, and occupation of person nominated) as a member of the House of Representatives for the aboveDivision.

Has the Minister any objection to thar language? In the next portion of the formit is necessary to give the date', thesignatures of the nominators, the place of living, polling place, and number on the roll. Is there anything wrong in that portion ? Hasthe Department objected to that? The form continues -

I, of consent to the above nomination, and to act if elected.

Witness - (Signature of candidate) - Address -

N.B. - The candidate's consent to the nomination may be on a separate paper and in any form, but if given on the nomination-paper in the above form its sufficiency is not to be questioned.

Will any honorable senator opposite saywhat there is wrong about that form?

Senator Barker - Nothing.

Senator SAYERS - Then why strike itout ? Surely Parliament has a right to know what forms are to be substituted for those now in the Act. I am surprised thatwe should be asked todo away with these forms merely for the convenience of the Department. Is the convenience of Parliament or of the electors not to be considered? If the objections which have been raised to this clause are not met, I am afraid that I shall have to ask these questions again before the Bill goes through.

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