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Wednesday, 18 June 1902

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I cannot agree with those who think that we have all that we require in this Bill. In my opinion, it fails to fulfil the expectations of those who anticipated that the Commonwealth Electoral Act would be vastly superior to any State Electoral Act. At the same time I recognise the difficulties of the question, and the limited time which Ministers have had to prepare this Bill. I also realize the exigencies of the situation, which compel us to pass a Commonwealth Electoral Act this session. To my mind it is a matter for regret - as has been pointed out by the previous speaker - that this House is not to be allowed an opportunity of discussing the great principle of proportional representation. It seems to me that those honorable members who declare that they cannot, understand that principle, and that nothing can be urged in its favour, cannot have given the matter any consideration, because the principle itself should be intelligible to any one who can understand the multiplication tables. It has the indorsement of some of the greatest thinkers of this and the preceding age, and with the amendments which have since been made, it is as perfect a system as we can hope to adopt. The only way in which a democratic form of government can be carried out, is by giving the largest possible effect to every man's vote. The Bill is full of defects. Nevertheless something must be done, and done this session. At the same time I hope that I this Bill will not continue in operation for 1 more than three years. I trust that before the expiry of that period we shall secure a much more perfect measure. I earnestly recommend the Government in the interim to consent to the appointment of a commission to obtain information from other sources - information which would guide us in the framing of a more permanent measure. Very many improvements that we might easily adopt have been made in the electoral laws upon the other side of the world, but it is very difficult to secure details in connexion with them. Amongst other improvements which I know have been effected are mechanical aids in the collection and registration of votes. To my mind, it is quite clear that from outside sources we could derive assistance which would facilitate the registration and collection of votes, and prevent a lot of the informalities which now occur. It would be a wise thing if the House insisted upon this information being collected as a guide to us for afuture occasion. In the work of preparation of the rolls, it seems to me there should be some cooperation between the Federal and States Governments. If the Commonwealth is to prepare rolls for the entire community, and the States are to undertake a similar work for themselves, whilst the municipalities also compile ratepayers' rolls, it seems to me that much expense will be incurred which might well be avoided if we adopted some automatic way of getting the electoral rolls collected and cleansed. I believe that we might take the census returns as the basis of our rolls and adopt some automatic method of adding to them the names of those who attain their majority between the date of one census being taken and that of another, andof removing the names of those who die. In these respects many improvements might be made. At the same time it is essential that we should pass an Electoral Act in some form this session, and therefore I shall not offer much objection to what I regard as the defects of the measure, although, had the opportunity been available, I should have liked to secure a thorough discussion of the principle of proportional representation. I trust that the Bill will pass through committee without many vital amendments, because it is necessary that it should become law at an early date to meet any emergency that may occur between the present time and the elections for the next Parliament.

Question so resolved in the' affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Mr. G. B. Edwards.

In Committee :

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 -

In this Act, unless the contrary intention appears, "candidate" means any person who, within three months before the day of election, offers himself for election as a member of the Seriate or the House of Representatives. " Division " means an Electoral Division for the election of a member of the House of Representatives.....

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