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Thursday, 19 May 1904

Mr REID (East Sydney) - I have listened with attention to the speech just delivered by the honorable member for South Sydney, and I must confess that he has given us a number of valuable suggestions. But I really do not agree with him that it is necessary to send a Commissioner to the other end of the world to discover the nature of well-known mechanical contrivances used in connexion with elections. It is possible to secure information about all such systems without sending a man to personally examine and inquire into them.

Mr Fowler - An excellent mechanical contrivance has already been invented in the Commonwealth.

Mr REID - We can secure full information in regard to every mechanical con trivance associated with elections without appointing a Royal Commissioner.

Mr Fowler - The necessary contrivance can be produced in the Commonwealth ; it is unnecessary to go further.

Mr REID -That is quite possible. The matter is one which could be dealt with here. The general object which my honorable friend has in view happens to be provided for in the motion of which notice has been given by the honorable member for Canobolas, and which is next on the . list: That motion provides for the appointment of a Select Committee of this House, and would enable full inquiry to be made in the Commonwealth. I think that in this case a Select Committee would probably be less expensive than would a Royal Commission. I am anxious that we should not appoint too many Royal Commissions. One Commission has already been suggested by the Ministry to deal with a very large question, and I am extremely glad that the Government propose to take that step. It is a proposal that I favour, and, although it may be somewhat expensive, the money will be well spent. I do not think, however, that the same could be said of the appointment of a Royal Commissioner to deal with this matter. In my opinion we can secure all the information we require by means of a Select Committee.

Mr Maloney - Would that Select Committee be able to take evidence on oath ?

Mr REID - I am not quite certain of what the law provides in that respect.

Mr Maloney - It would be well if the Committee could do' so.

Mr REID - No doubt. Perhaps "the Attorney-General has looked up the matter, and can answer the honorable member's question.

Mr Higgins - If the right honorable gentleman puts a question on notice to me I shall answer it.

Mr REID - I have not considered the point, and I do not expect the AttorneyGeneral to answer it off-hand. Whether it is open to a Select Committee to take evidence on oath or not, it seems to me that we could not have a more competent body, because honorable members of this House must have a large knowledge of the conduct of elections, and of the electoral machinery. -

Mr Page - Rather.

Mr REID - I should think so. I do not wish, at this stage, to adopt language that might seem to pre- judge any matter; but I would point out that there are certain words in the motion next on the notice- paper, which deals with this question, to which exception might be taken. Doubtless I am out of order in discussing that notice of motion, and I shall, therefore, content myself with saying that I think some inquiry is absolutely expected by the people of the Commonwealth. I do not think there is one matter in regard to which the people of the Commonwealth evince greater anxiety than their desire that we should, by inquiry, and by effecting alterations in the system, prevent the possibility of the recurrence of such incidents as took place at the last elections. In that respect I believe I voice the sentiments of every honorable member. I hope, therefore, that inquiry in some form or another will be made. I do not wish to use one strong word in reference to the matter; I simply wish to sse some impartial investigation held.

Mr Watson - The Government has no objection to that; but this is not the stage at which to deal with the notice of motion standing in the name of the honorable member for Canobolas.

Mr REID - I understand, of course, that it would be premature for me to deal with it at the present moment. I trust, however, that the question will be considered quite apart from any charges of inefficiency. I am satisfied that it should be inquired into. If it turns out that there has been inefficiency in connexion with the elections, we shall have to make some improvement; while if, on the other hand, it transpires that there has been no inefficiency - that there has been nothing but mere pressure of misfortune, which no man could have avoided by the exercise of ordinary ability and discretion - I shall be the first to express regret for the remarks which I have made in reference to the Chief Electoral Officer. I should like the matter to be cleared up, as much in the interests of that officer as in the interests of any one who has criticised his ability. As we have but a short time in which to deal with private members' business, I would suggest to the honorable member for South Sydney that he should allow the motion standing in the name of the honorable member for Canobolas to come on for consideration, for I think that the object which he has in view is covered by that proposition.

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