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Thursday, 18 June 1903

Mr KIRWAN (Kalgoorlie) - I am very glad that the honorable member for Macquarie has brought this matter under the attention of the House. It is high time that we expressed our disapproval of the' delay which has occurred in making the necessary preparations for the forthcoming general election. I have in my hand a telegram from Western Australia which shows that, bad as may be the condition of electoral affairs in the eastern States, it is infinitely worse there, although I cannot submit figures- as the honorable member for Macquarie has done - to demonstrate the discrepancy that exists between the census returns and the electoral rolls. More than a week ago I received the following telegram from a member of this Parliament who is at present in Western Australia -

Cannot find any electoral officer for State.. Has any appointment been made ? No clerical staff has been appointed. Slow progress has been made in the preparation of list of names by the police and postal officials. It is estimated that Kalgoorlie list alone will take several months to complete. The State cannot be distributed into divisions till the lists are complete, and Parliament will not be able to consider the divisions before the elections, unless business isbustled. This will be a very serious position indeed.

That shows that the Department for HomeAffairs has been even more lax in the performance of its duties, so far as Western Australia is concerned, than it has been in the other States.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member knows that that statement is not correct, because I have told him so myself. He has no right to repeat the misstatement here.

Mr KIRWAN - I wish to correct theMinister. He is making a very great mistake, because I have had absolutely no conversation with him upon this matter.

Sir William Lyne - Nonsense; the honorable member's mind must be going.

Mr KIRWAN - I can assure him that it was not with me that he. had a conversation. I am absolutely certain that he is mistaken. I have never spoken to him upon the matter. Had I clone so, there would have been no occasion' for me tomake use of this telegram. I have been waiting for him to return from Tasmania in order that I might bring the matter forward. The Minister's accusation shows that it is his own mind which, is becomingweak. But the chaotic conditions of which I complain are not confined to Western Australia. In New South Wales thedifference between the census returns and the electoral rolls represents 90,000 namesof electors, and in Victoria, 40,000. In those two States, therefore, there are- 130,000 electors whose names are entitled to be placed upon the electoral rolls, butwhich do not appear there. I contend that any division of the electorates, either of Victoria or New South Wales, which is based upon' such rolls, will not be a just one. There has been a blundering and neglect which is not creditable to the Department for Home Affairs, or its Ministerial head-

Under the circumstances, only one of three courses call be adopted to rectify that blundering. It has been suggested that the elections for the House of Representatives might be postponed until its members retired by effluxion of time. I am sure that if anything of that kind is done, it will be against the wishes of seven out of eight of the members of this House. It would be contrary to the best interests of the Commonwealth if the. elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives did not take place simultaneously. The elections for the other Chamber must be held in December, and the people would be called upon to submit to unnecessary expense if those for the House of Representatives were not held at the same time. That suggestion, therefore, would not receive the support of a majority of honorable members of this House, and I am equally certain that it is opposed to the wishes of the great bulk of the people.

Mr Thomson - A correct roll is also needed for the Senate.

Mr KIRWAN - That is so. The same objections which have been urged to the present rolls of electors for the House of Representatives are equally applicable to the rolls for the Senate. There is another proposal which has been made in some quarters, namely, that the elections might be conducted upon the. divisions at present existing in the various States. If that course has to be adopted it will certainly be the fault of the Department for Home Affairs, and it will also be contrary to the desire of honorable members as expressed when the Act was passed.

Mr Thomson - It will be contrary to law.

Mr KIRWAN - As the honorable member reminds me, it would be necessary 'to pass an amending Act before such a step would be in accordance with' the law. There is only one other course which can be pursued, and that is to endeavour to have all the rolls ready in time to enable the elections for the two Houses of this Parliament to be held - as was originally intended - simultaneously. The elections for the other Chamber must take place prior to the 31st December. If the electorates are to be recast, the Department will have to make almost a -superhuman effort to have the rolls ready in time for the elections. I notice that in the press this morning a time-table is published regarding the fixtures for the elections so far as Victoria is concerned. That tableis very much behind the time when compared with the fixtures for the other States. If it were possible for all the divisions of the States to be completed by the 1st July there would be the greatest doubt whether all the necessary work could be accomplished before the elections should takeplace. The time-table to which I haw referred reads -

July 1. - Division of States possibly completed.

July 31. - Plans will have been exhibited for 30 days iri accordance with the -Act.

August 4.- Plans laid before Parliament.

August 1 8. - -Resolutions passed by both Houses, approving of divisions in all the States.

August 21. - Proclamation of the polling places.

August 21 to September 21. - The assignment of electors to polling places, and the preparation and printing of the lists, containing about l,7S0,00O names.

September 22. - Exhibition of the lists, and notice of the special courts of revision.

October 22.- The lists wiil have been exhibited for 30 days.

November 2 to November 12. - Special courtsof revision.

Arrangements cannot be made in a shorter time, and if the writs for the elections are issued on 31st October it will mean that the rolls cannot be printed or made available for candidates or electors in sufficient time for the necessary arrangements to be made for the elections. Then, supposing that this Parliament objects to the division of any of the electorates, and sends back the report to the Commissioner for a redistribution, the new divisions cannot be fixed in time for the next election. Under the circumstances the Government are undoubtedly at fault for not having made J;he necessary preparations beforehand. The Electoral Act was assented to on the 10th October, or nearly eight months ago, and yet the Commissioners were not appointed, nor any effort made to prepare for the elections, until many months subsequently.

Sir William Lyne - That is another misstatement. I shall give the dates presently, and I think I shall make the honorable member rather ashamed of himself.

Mr KIRWAN - A start should have been made at the beginning of October, but nothing was done ; and I shall beglad indeed if the Minister can show that what I am saying is not in accordance with fact. I am sure that none of us are desirous of making out a case against the Government unless their action justifies it. But the impression I have is that which any outsider might receive, and the Minister, if he has a good case, ought to be glad that the matter has been brought forward, and an opportunity afforded him to justify himself in the opinion of honorable members, and also in the opinion of the country. As already pointed out, there is a deficiency in two States alone of 130,000 names, and that is a matter an explanation of which is due from the Minister. The Minister would have been far better employed in administering his Department than in gallivanting around Tasmania, telling the people of that State how much he has been attending to the wants of the community. I . wish it to be clearly understood that I am not in any way averse to Ministers delivering political speeches so long as the work of their Departments is attended to ; that is their first duty, and political speeches might be left for their leisure. It is in the interests of the country that Ministers should travel about the Commonwealth, but it is not in the public interest that, in thus travelling about and delivering speeches, they should neglect their work.

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