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Thursday, 17 March 1904

Mr CAMERON (Wilmot) - I rise principally to express my deep appreciation of the kindly manner in which honorable members received me yesterday on my return to this -House. - It was extremely -gratifying to :me to know that after having been in the House for the greater part of three years no ill-feeling had been engendered. I was particularly pleased at the greeting I received from the Prime Minister. He was the first honorable member whom I met on entering the Chamber, and I almost fancied from the warmth of his welcome that .he recognised in me either a kindred spirit,- a long lost brother, or a new PostmasterGeneral.

Mr Deakin - Did I not tell the honorable member that the letter written by the honorable member for Darwin to the Launceston Examiner had secured his election?

Mr CAMERON - The Prime Minister must- have been suffering from temporary aberration of intellect when he made the statement. I desire to reply to some of the remarks made yesterday by the honorable member for Herbert. He referred particularly to Tasmania as an example of the way in which a State might decay if a comparatively few men held the greater portion of the land within it. He instituted a comparison between New Zealand and Tasmania, and spoke of the manner in which New Zealand had advanced under the socialistic legislation passed by the Seddon Government. I do not think that it is fair to draw a comparison between a very small State like Tasmania and a Colony like New Zealand. The honorable member should have compared two States of as nearly as possible equal area, the one governed by a socialistic Government and the other by a conservative Government. . I have taken considerable trouble to find outwhether the statements made by the honorable member could be borne out by facts. I find that a comparison between Tasmaniaand New Zealand is, after all, fairly favorable to the former. New Zealand has about four times the area of Tasmania, but one really needs to inquire whether or not New Zealand is the more fertile? According to the idea of the honorable member, the progress of Tasmania is being retarded by the fact that the greater part of the land is held by very few persons. Naturally these land-owners would desire to make the best use of their properties, and if they thought sheep were better than men they would make their land carry as many as possible. Tasmania, which, as-. I have already explained, has only, aboutonefourth the area of New Zealand, carries- 1,700,000, whereas New Zealand possesses 20,000,000 sheep. It is, therefore^ evident' that, from whatever point it may be viewed, Tasmania is a very poor country com-, pared with New Zealand.

Mr Fowler - There may be something in the extent to which farming is carried on.

Mr CAMERON - I shall deal with that point presently. Although New Zealand has been for some years under the radicalgovernment of Mr. Seddon and his party,it still carries 20,000,000 sheep, whilst Tasmania, under a conservative' government, possesses only 1,750,000. Let us go a little further, and ascertain how many persons are engaged in agriculture in Tasmania and New Zealand. New Zealand has a population of nearly 800,000, whilst Tasmania has only 177,000. Yet we find that New Zealand has only 67,000 men engaged in agriculture, whilst Tasmania has 20,000. According to the line of argument adopted by the honorable member for Herbert, New Zealand should have 80,000. agriculturists, instead of 67,000. In the production of minerals, Tasmania occupies the second place on the list. Western Australia stands first, and Queensland occupies third or fourth position. The honorable member for Herbert made a great point of the fact that the population of Tasmania, instead of increasing was decreasing. Before the honorable member made such an observation he should have looked at home. Last year Tasmania lost 98 persons by theexcess of emigration over immigration.; but Queensland, whose population all told is only 512,000, lost nearly 4,000 in the same way. In view of these facts, I think that before selecting Tasmania for the purposes of comparison and holding it up to ridicule, the honorable member for Herbert should have made himself acquainted with the facts. If ' the owners of land in Tasmania are not willing to sell their properties they can be forced to dispose of them, because, as in the other States, the Government has power to resume land for the benefit of the people upon paying the ordinary valuation, plus io per cent, for forced sale. Therefore the remedy lies in the hands of the people of Tasmania, and is a matter of no concern to the honorable member for Herbert or any one else. I desire to make a few remarks with regard to the Electoral Act. The present Ministers are as responsible as were the former occupants of the Ministerial benches for that measure. The Government is practically the same as during the last Parliament. The tail may have been cut off, or the head removed, but the rest of the dog is there. I say emphatically that the Electoral Act is a disgrace to a Government which embraced four members of the legal profession. I do not know whether I shall have the support of the House in this matter, but I intend to spare no effort to secure an amendment of the Act. Honorable members have plainly indicated their desire to secure purity of election. When the Bill was introduced by the Prime Minister that was one of the points upon which he laid the greatest emphasis. Under the present law,- however, it would be perfectly possible for any man, by the lavish expenditure of money, to secure his return to Parliament - always provided the electors were amenable to the influences of bribery. We should either let it ,be clearly understood that the longest purse shall be permitted to win by means of bribery, or take means to insure absolute purity of election. It is provided in .the Electoral Act that a candidate for election to this House shall spend only £100 upon his election. Instead of adding, " And if he exceeds that amount he shall be unseated," the Government made no provision for a penalty. It is little to the credit of the four members, of the legal profession among Ministers that they had not sufficient brains to understand that a provision of that kind, which carried no punishment, would be inoperative. I venture to say that I could buy a seat at any time if I were prepared to do so. Having declared that we desired that elections should be pure, the severest penalty should have been imposed for a breach of the Act. Then those who were returned could have honestly said - "I represent those who elected me; I have not bought- my seat." .

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