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Tuesday, 29 July 1902

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In the last sentence of the Attorney-General is the crux of the question. The honorable gentleman referred to the system under which Judges administer justice ; but I take it that in appointing an Elections and Qualifications Committee we desire to keep outside system of any kind. It is admitted that mistakes are made in the law courts owing to their systematized procedure, which we all know causes the decisions to run in grooves. That is what we wish to avoid.

Mr Deakin - And that is got rid of by the Bill.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If we were setting up a law court in which the procedure had to run in grooves so as to govern all cases which might arise, we should appoint a Judge to interpretthe rules and apply them.

Mr Deakin - I suppose the honorable member has read clause 204 ?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We do not want to establish a system ; to decide on the simple merits and justiceof apetition needs no expert lawyers. The obligation is on those who want the change to make out a case. It is said that a law court will be more expeditious than a committee. But the general experience of law courts is that they are anything but expeditious. So far from cases going through speedily, they very often drag on for an unconscionable length of time. In an Elections and Qualifications Committee we have the means for celerity at our disposal. The committee are here within the control of theHouse, with practically nothing else to do whileParliament is sitting, but to press investigations through to completion. The costs in a law court would, I am afraid, be enormous as compared with those incurred before an Elections and Qualifications Committee.

Mr Watson - Why should the costs in a court be more than those incurred before an Elections and Qualifications Committee ?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not think a Judge will sweep away technicalities in quite the same way as does a committee. Had the case of the honorable member for Tasmania, Mr. Hartnoll, been tried before a Judge, and argued by two lawyers, it would have occupied weeks. There were all the possibilities of along investigation there, and it was an advantage to all concerned that only one lawyer was engaged, and that the decision lay with the committee. The honorable member for Tasmania, Mr. Hartnoll, pleaded his own case, and I am bound to say he did it well - he simply " knocked " the lawyer "a-cock." At any rate, the honorable member so satisfied the committee of the substantial justice of his case that a decision was very soon arrived at.

Mr Watson - That was a case in which partisanship did not arise.

Mr.V. L. Solomon. - But there were technicalities in the case which would have occupied lawyers for weeks.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member for Bland talks about cases in which partizanship arises.

Mr Watson - And thehonorable member has seen such cases in New South Wales.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I challenge the honorable member to show one case where, in spite of any exhibition of partisanship, substantial justice was not done.

Mr Watson - I can show that.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I cannot for the moment think of any such case. We may have our little tiffs and party squabbles, but in the end, somehow or other, we generally find ourselves taking the course which makes for substantial justice. I see no reasons for a change ; on the contrary, if we make a change we write down our own system as a bad one which can no longer be trusted. I am not prepared to say that this Parliament is not competent to try the cases of its own members, and give them all the justice that is possible on this sublunary sphere. I believe there are enough men in Parliament of sound common sense and good judgment - which after all is the main thing - to do justice to their fellow members. We should do well to stick to an old course of procedure which has done well for us in the past, in spite of all the criticism that may be brought to bear. Any court may be criticized, and in New South Wales the Arbitration Court is already the subject of criticism. The Judge of that court, like other mortals, is not a perfect man, and in the opinion of some of the applicants, he is making mistakes precisely in the same way as mistakes are said to be made by an Elections and Qualifications Committee. We cannot have perfection, but we must not condemn a court because it does not please everybody. Until some need for change is shown, we ought to stand by an old institution which has done good work in the past, and will do good work in the future. If thecommittees are chosen on a partisan basis, that is entirely the fault of Parliament. As a rule they are chosen before the cases come up for consideration, and before the partisan element can enter.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Elections and Qualifications Committee is generally selected from all parts of the House.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The appointment of the committee is one of the first acts of the session, before it is even known there is any appeal or petition. The partisan element cannot enter into the selection, because it is made by the one man in the Chamber who is supposed to be a non-partisan. How could we have a selection bearing on the face of it more clearly the stamp of non-partisanship than that made by the highest officer in the House - the man who sits coldly apart from all our conflicting parties, and does his best to appoint a committee which will represent the temper and the fair mind of the Chamber? By the appointment of this committee we exhaust all the means, at our disposal to, get a competent tribunal ; andto bring into this Chamber the circumlocution and techniqueof a law court willnot help us to a better solution of the questions which arise.

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