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Wednesday, 30 July 1902

Mr BROWN (Canobolas) - The experience of New South Wales in the earlier stages of its electoral legislation convinces me that there is need for the amendment submitted. Until great liberty was given under the law .in the direction indicated it was a common thing for electors - of whose identity there was no question - to be disfranchised because of some technical error in the spelling of their names, addresses, or occupation. I .have in my mind one case with which I was familiar where an elector happened to be absent from home when the police officer called to collect these particulars. It was customary for him to sign his name as "Patrick J. So-and-so." The inmates of the house supplied the officer with that name, but were informed that it was necessary for them to give the full Christian name. Accordingly they gave the elector's name as " Patrick John," when, as a matter of fact, it was "Patrick James." The result was that the nian was disfranchised, because, although his identity was completely established, his Christian name was wrongly given on the electoral roll as " Patrick John " instead of " Patrick James." The man had to go to the trouble of having his elector's right cancelled and a new one issued. It is to prevent electors from being disfranchised owing to technicalities of this character that the honorable member for Bland desires to make this amendment. The question of identity is the principal consideration. If a man establishes his identity with the person described on the roll, in whose name he claims to vote, he should not be disfranchised because of any technical error in the description of his name, occupation, or place of residence.' The original electoral laws of New South Wales were amended in the direction proposed by the honorable member for Bland, and, so far as I am aware, not one of the objectionable practices which the honorable member for Laanecoorie appears to apprehend, has resulted. I do not think there is any reason to view the amendment with suspicion. It will remove what has been found to lead to a great deal of trouble and injustice.

Mr. WATSON(Bland).- The case put forward by the honorable member for Laanecoorie is hardly a .fair illustration of the position. What we desire to do is to prevent any one of the various errors which have been mentioned from disfranchising an elector. It is not to be expected that if, as suggested by the honorable member for Laanecoorie, a man went before a returning officer and said, "My name is John Brown, and I claim that the entry in the roll, 'John Smith,' refers to me," his, claim would be allowed. A man's Christian name and surname, as well as his occupation might be correctly given on a roll, and yet under the Bill as it stands, if his address were wrongly described, he would be deprived of the right to vote. I contend that any one of these errors should not prevent a man from exercising the franchise. In the case of an error the returning officer would require a great deal of evidence to satisfy him of the identity of the claimant. I have k:7own objection to be raised against farmers' sons, who -were wrongly described on the rolls as "farmers" when they were really farm labourers, having no farms of their own. We must recollect that the rolls are compiled not alone from claims furnished by individuals, but from lists prepared by officials, who mayvery easily fall into errors in describing the occupation or address of an elector, especially when we -remember the jaw-breaking native names of districts, frequently puzzling to a stranger. As long as the identity of the elector is established, there need be no fear that the amendment will give rise to objectionable practices, and unless a presiding officer is satisfied that the error com-

J plained of is only a small one such as I have j suggested, he is not likely to allow the claim- ant to vote.

Mr. SALMON(Laanecoorie). - The amendment is not limited to one error in the description of an elector.

Mr Watson - It cannot be limited.

Mr SALMON - I should not care to see it limited. I have in my mind a case in which both the Christian and surname of an elector were wrongly spelled in a roll, but, as the person happened to be a postmaster in a country town, it was possible to obtain a full and sufficient identification, and the vote was allowed. I would point out to the honorable member for Canobolas, that a returning officer has no power to determine whether or not a man has the right to vote. All that he has to decide is whether a person who demands the right to vote is identical with the elector described on the roll, in whose name he claims to exercise the franchise. The identity has to be consonant with a particular person whose name appears on a particular roll. If every detail in a roll is to be altered - as might be done under the amendment - we shall lose all means of proper identification. The honorable member for Bland might well be satisfied with the clause as it stands. I do not know whether the honorable member has a personal knowledge of any case in which a farmer's son was disfranchised because he had been wrongly described as a farmer instead of a farm labourer ; but Iam sure that in Victoria that would be impossible.

Mr Watson - I say that the objection has been taken, and I believe that under this Bill it would be a valid one.

Mr SALMON - Surely not. I do not propose to discuss the matter further.

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