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Thursday, 24 July 1902

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - When I submitted my amendment last evening there was scarcely time to point out the reason why something should be done in the way of altering this clause in the direction indicated. It was contended by the Minister for Home Affairs that by the inclusion of the words, " or in the interests of any candidate" in clause 175, he had covered the whole ground which my amendment is intended to embrace. I hold, however, that it would do ' no harm to express it more definitely here. If honorable members will turn to clause 185, which deals with the penalties to be imposed, they will observe that, under paragraph (c), any contravention by a candidate of the provisions of this portion of the Bill renders him liable to prosecution. But there is no provision in that clause for punishing any person other than the candidate himself. Consequently, even if this amendment be carried - and I hold that it is necessary to give expression to the evident intention of the Bill - there ought to be an addition to the clause imposing a penalty, in order to make sure that those who spend money on behalf of a candidate or in his interests may be reached. It is of no use limiting the amount of money a candidate may spend if we do not at the same time impose a limit on the amount which may be spent by organizations in his interest. If organizations ave left free to spend money, in order to secure the return of a candidate, the law may be evaded by the candidate subscribing to those associations. That is evident from our knowledge of human nature, and our past experience in politics. I am not now dealing with- the question whether it is right or politic to try to limit the expenses of a candidate. Such an attempt seems to me to be a triumph of hope over experience ; but if it can be done we ought to do it. The Bill may be an effort in that direction ; but the effort must be complete, or the clause should be dropped. In clauses 174 and 175 there is some confusion. Clause 174 defines in a negative way what " electoral expenses " may be incurred, and clause 175 dennes those expenses in another way. But if we amend clause 173 we shall be able to strike out clause 175, and leave clause 174 as the only defining clause. If the expenses are limited to those set out in the sub-clauses of clause 174, all expenses outside of those will be illegal ; and, going further, we might insert a sub-clause in the punitive clause 185 dealing with those, other than candidates, who spend money in contravention of clause 174. I move my amendment in the present clause to test the sense of the committee as to whether we should make a legitimate attempt to restrict the expenses at elections. There is a good deal in the argument of the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. V. L. Solomon, that we cannot expect a candidate to adequately place his views before a large constituency at the expense of so small an amount as £100. At the same time, we have legislated in many directions in order to secure that the wealthy man shall enjoy no privilege or power over others less fortunately placed. If we allow the expenses to be larger than are absolutely necessary, the wealthier man is given a better chance by reason of the fact that he can place his views before a larger number of electors, and thus be more likely to. secure a majority of votes. If £100 is not enough to allow, we can make the amount larger, still limiting it. But if we limit the amount in respect of candidates, we are only playing with the question if we do not also impose a limit in respect of others who may pay money .on the candidate's behalf or in his interest. The returns of expenses are to be made within eight weeks of the result of the election ; but I do not think that will work ' well, because many expenses might be paid subsequently. A candidate must spend money in order to place his views before the public by means of addresses and advertisements : but it is not necessary for anybody to incur expense on his account. It would bv better if we went so far as to make it equally illegal for anybody to spend money in promoting any candidature. It may be said that this is a limitation of the rights of the people ; but the rights of some persons are limited only by their wealth, which gives a larger political influence to its possessor than can be exercised by others.

For these reasons I intend to press the amendment, and if it does not accord with certain provisions in the Bill, it is the Minister's duty to .alter those provisions in order to bring them into uniformity.

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