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Wednesday, 24 June 1914

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) . - The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said that Senator Rae's remarks are the usual fulmination. They may be a fulmination, but, if so, that fulmination is warranted. I intend to bring before Senator McColl the nature of our complaint against the Government. There is a procedure laid down in the Electoral Act under which names that are improperly on the rolls can be removed. The Electoral Registrars can have access to the statistics kept by the Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages for the purpose of removing the names of persons who are dead. As regards persons who have left Australia, the Registrars can remove names if they have documentary evidence to that effect. Private individuals - not officials - who wish to lodge objections to a name on the roll are required to deposit the sum of 5s. with each objection. That is intended as a guarantee of good faith. If an objection is found to be frivolous, the 5s. is forfeited. That provision was inserted in the law because, in the good old days, when my honorable friends opposite were predominant, they used their organizations to get the names of persons who were entitled to vote off the rolls. Every difficulty was placed in the way of persons getting their names on the rolls, and every opportunity was afforded these organizations to get names off the rolls. The deposit of 5s. was insisted upon to prevent these organizations shooting at electors for the purpose of getting their names off the rolls, merely because of their political opinions. Ministers are sworn to administer that law, including the provision regarding the lodging of a deposit. Yet we find the Attorney-General admitting that he has invited political organizations - that is, party organizations - to assist the Government in purifying the rolls.

Senator McDougall - He asked only one side.

Senator PEARCE - I do not think it is correct to say that he asked only one side. But he invited political organizations to assist the officials to purify the rolls. He said that, with that end in view, the Government would be prepared to receive names from these organizations, and would not insist upon the 5s. deposit being lodged, adding that the objections would be lodged by the Electoral Registrars.

Senator Millen - Not necessarily.

Senator PEARCE - I am referring to the statement of the Attorney-General. Now what is being done? This invitation having gone out to the world, the organizations representing my honorable friends opposite have seen a glorious opportunity of getting back to the practice which obtained years ago. They are firing in hundreds of names - which are not objections in the strict legal sense of the word - and they are not being required to deposit the 5s. fee with each of them. They are sending to the Electoral Registrars the names of hundreds of persons whom they believe are not entitled to vote. Senator McGregor has in his possession the original letter sent by the Electoral Registrar from his office, and signed by him - not a letter, as Senator Millen endeavoured to insinuate this afternoon, which was written by somebody else. It is a letter which was written by the Registrar, on official notepaper, and it states that the Liberal Union organizer supplied the information upon which an elector's name had been objected to. That Liberal Union organizer has accepted, and is acting upon, the AttorneyGeneral's invitation, and the Electoral Registrar is acting as the AttorneyGeneral said he would act. The Electoral Registrar knew nothing about the elector to whose name exception was taken, because that officer does not live in the district in which the elector resides. He knew nothing about the facts, and had no means of doing so. But the Liberal Union organizer wrote to him and supplied him with information - without depositing the 5s. The Electoral Registrar, who knew nothing of the facts, afterwards coolly said to the elector, " Now that you have established your claim, your name may remain on the roll." But suppose that the voter had been apathetic, or that he had not received the notice of objection which was forwarded to him. In that case, he would have known nothing whatever about the matter, and would have been disfranchised. The position, therefore, is like that of a man shooting at a flock of ducks. He does not need to take aim at a particular duck. He needs only to shoot into the mob.

Senator McColl - The honorable senator is ignoring the fact that the Registrar will not lodge any objection to an elector's name appearing on the roll until he has made inquiry and satisfied himself.

Senator PEARCE - Did my honorable friend deal with the Electoral Registrar who lodged the objection?

Senator McColl - No, he did not.

Senator PEARCE - He did:

Senator Millen - He wrote to tell the man that he need not make a claim as his name was already on the roll.

Senator PEARCE - After he got the notice that his name had been objected to. This man, in order to meet the objection, sent in a fresh claim. The Minister of Defence is not quite seized of the fact that this was the second interchange between the Registrar and the man. First, the. elector got a notice that his name had been objected to, though he did not know by whom; then he filled in a claim and sent it in; afterwards he wanted to know who had objected, and then he received that reply from the Electoral Registrar. That is what we object to. The only way to get back to honesty in this matter, we contend, is for the Government to say to the organizers for the Liberal Union, " If you have legitimate objections to any names on the rolls; if you have discovered that any persons are improperly on the rolls, we wish you to object to the names," and we, on this side, invite them to do so in accordance with the law; that is to say, we ask them to put up the fee of 5s. with each objection, and if the claim is established, the money will be returned to them. If, however, these persons are simply using the provision in the Act blindly - very much like a man shooting blindly at a number of ducks - and hoping to disfranchise some electors, it is time that the Government put a stop to the proceeding. That the section is being construed in a vicious manner is shown by the letter read by Senator Newland. There we find the secretary of the Liberal Union of South Australia sending out a circular to the secretary of every branch, asking him to take objection to the names of all Labour voters - and the expression " Labour voters " is underlined - who are not possessed of the necessary qualification or who may have left the district. If this was an honest desire to purify the rolls, was there any need for that specific reference to Labour voters in the circular ? If it was merely a desire to have a pure roll, surely the secretary at Adelaide would have sent round to each branch secretary an intimation in this form - " Please lodge objections to the names of all persons appearing on the rolls who, to your knowledge, are not qualified for enrolment/' But when the words " Labour voters ' ' are used in the circular, the smallest intelligence can easily read between the lines. To every recipient of a circular the message is in effect - " Use the facilities which have been placed at our disposal by the Government to get Labour voters off the roll, qualified or unqualified." This is getting back to the old order of things. When Sir John Forrest was Premier of Western Australia, I had an experience of appearing at the Revision Court for four consecutive months. I lived in one house, and for that period I had to go to every Revision Court to establish my claim. No sooner would I put my name on the roll than it would be removed, and for four consecutive Courts I had to lose a halfday's work and go up to establish my claim, although I had lived in the same house all the time. That was a common practice in those days, especially towards those who made themselves objectionable. Here is an invitation to reestablish the practice. The only stumbling block in the way is the fee of 5s. with each objection. It is idle for the Prime Minister to say, " The Act is that of our predecessors." That statement is true; but the administration of the Act is not that of their predecessors. It is their own administration. They are administering the Act neither in the spirit nor in the letter. They are deliberately evading and getting round the provision for the deposit of 5s. with an objection, and whilst that is done, we shall not have honesty or pure rolls, but a number of persons will be left off the rolls who are in every way qualified to vote at the coming elections.

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