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Tuesday, 29 July 1902

Mr WINTER COOKE (Wannon) - The honorable member forNorth Sydney has spoken with his usual force and ability; but he does not seem to havegiven any very weighty reason for his change of views. As I understand,his only reason is that in. England the court has proved very costly. It may surprise the honorable member to learn, if he does not already know, that the heavy costs incurred before the old Elections and Qualifications Committee supplied the chief reason for the House of Commons handing over the decision of these questions to a law court, another reason being the scandals which had arisen. I am amazed tohear honorable members say that theyhave never heard of cases, or rumours of cases, -in which members ofan Elections and Qualifications Committeehave given decisions in accordance with their political views.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) -That is not quite the allegation; what is said is that there have never been eases in which substantial justice has not been done.

Mr.WINTER COOKE. - I did not understand that to be the argument. The public have alwaystaken the view that anElections and Qualifications Committee formed a tribunal that could not do justice - that the members of thecommitteewere notoriously partisan. It may be the fact that substantial justice has always been done, but the people outside have always considered that a parliamentary committee was influenced by considerable bias. It has been urged that some honorable members of the House, whose delicacy of feeling is very finely strung, would probably rather vote for their politicalenemythan otherwise.Surely that is a strongargument why this House should not decide such questions ?

Mr Fowler - I do not say that honorable members would do that, but they might be inclined to.

Mr WINTER COOKE - Butif honorablemembers arelikely to be actuated by such feelings, that is a strong reason why another tribunal should be provided. I hope the committee will follow the lines adopted by the House of Commons. If the present system in England had been found excessively expensive, doubtless some honorable member of the House of Commons would have taken action, but we find not a whisper of discontent. As to our being a new Parliament, it is better to act on the precedent of an old Parliament rather than incur the risk of scandals. I shall vote for the retention of the clause.

Mr. L.E. GROOM (Darling Downs).I intend to support the provisions of this Bill for the purpose of having election petitions tried by a court. My reason is that I do not think that this House is in any sense fitted to be a judicial body. In out Constitution a distinction, which we should strictly observe, is drawn between judicial and legislative functions ; and if the House is to try election petitions, it must assume to itself functions which are strictly judicial. Another reason why I think we should have a court constituted as provided for in the Bill - with certain modifications which I will afterwards mention - is that this court is to try election petitions for the whole of Australia. Honorable members must not forget that if these petitions were tried by an elections and qualifications committee, it would be absolutely necessary to have all the witnesses brought to Melbourne, or wherever the seat of government might be, for the purpose of having the matter adjudicated upon. This would be especially inconvenient and expensive in the case of such States as Western Australia and Queensland. It is not an uncommon thing, when there is a big election petition to be tried, for there to be 30 or 40 witnesses. I can mention a case where there were between 40 and 50 witnesses. It would be impossible to bring so great a number of witnesses from the remotest parts of Australia to the seat of government for the purpose of examining them. Such a thing would not be necessary in the case of a court of disputed returns, as provided for in the Bill, because the measure enables arrangements to be made for relegating the issue to be tried to the State courts. The provision to which I allude enables an application to be made for what is poetically known as a change of venue, so that the case may be heard where the witnesses reside.

Mr Isaacs - Not after the High Court is established ?

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