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Thursday, 19 May 1904

Mr STORRER (Bass) - I shall oppose the motion, because I see that it means the expenditure of money. The proposal is that a Commissioner should be sent travelling round the world to obtain information as to methods of voting; but, surely, that information can be obtained in other ways. If machines for the registering and counting of votes are brought into use, Parliament will be prevented from adopting the Hare system, which, I think, is the only fair method of obtaining the expression of the people's will where a large number of candidates come forward. I am further opposed to the motion because I think that we cannot be too careful about committing ourselves to expenditure. The general cry is that we are spending money too fast, and before we commit ourselves to the appointment of a Commission, we should see whether the information sought for cannot be obtained without expense from the Electoral Department. In Tasmania the House of Assembly has decided to adopt for the State .elections the districts used for the Federal elections, in order that the same rolls may be used for both. No doubt that example will be followed in other States, and thus the expense of collecting two sets of rolls will be saved. A good deal of blame has been cast upon the Department for its administration of the Act during the recent elections ; but much of the trouble which occurred was due to the fact that men new to the work were appointed to responsible positions. In many cases officers were appointed who had had no previous experience in the conduct of elections- In my district a Commonwealth officer was at the head of affairs who had never before had to do with the conduct of elections, but he posted himself up in the provisions of the Act, and took others into his confidence, and was thus able to carry through the election without a hitch. I think that when the next general election occurs, the officers will have become acquainted with their duties, and we shall be satisfied with the manner in which the Act is administered.

Mr. G.B. EDWARDS (South Sydney). - I am pleased that the Minister has not objected to the motion. He is in sympathy with it, though he is not prepared to send a Commissioner abroad to obtain information. The motion, however, expressly declares that the information may be secured by a Commissioner " or otherwise." But although the sending of an officer abroad to make inquiries is not insisted upon, a great deal is to be said in favour of that course, since it is not so easy to obtain the necessary information through the medium of the post-office. Often one writes for information, and obtains what purports to be a full reply, but the answer given is not always full, and one being ignorant of what there is to be known on the subject, is often left almost in a worse position than he would have been in without any information at all. It is only from a man who has seen machinery in operation that one is able to obtain full information regarding it. I am fortified in this attitude by a remark of Professor Sidgewick, who has written largely on political science. He has studied more than most writers the operation of the Constitutions of the various European countries, both by investigating those Constitutions where they are written, and by devoting himself to the study of their, historical development. His book upon the Development of European Polity has been published since his death, but it was his intention to proceed to the various countries of which he writes, and to live in' each of them for a lengthy period, in order to obtain a thorough grasp of the operation of their- Constitutions at the present day. He said truly, that it is not in the written document of a Constitution, or in the history of its development which is to be gained from the books in libraries that you can obtain a true grip of its real operation to-day. If that is true of facts in regard to which most of us think the fullest information is to be obtained from the books in- our libraries, it is still more true of the operation of intricate and complicated mechanical appliances and administrative forms for the conduct of an election. There is always an outcry against expenditure, but there may be truer economy in spending money in a wise , undertaking than in objecting to such expenditure. The inquiry which I suggest can be conducted by a capable officer for a few hundred's of pounds, in addition to his ordinary salary, and the money would be well spent. However, I am prepared to stand by the motion, and to leave it to the Government to say whether they will send a Commissioner abroad. A private business man, if he wished to obtain reliable information upon the working of any machinery or system connected with an office or factory, would not content himself with writing abroad for a description, however full and elaborate; he would adopt the more sensible plan of picking out a man, and sending him abroad to make inquiries on the spot, so that upon his return he could learn every detail. It has been said that we should be able to obtain all needful information from our electoral officers. That is an absurd objection to my proposal. If the present electoral system is not working well, it is not to those in charge of it that Ave should apply for methods of improvement. Officials are always inclined to become case-hardened, and to move in a rut. I.t is natural for them to take the view that the methods in existence are under all circumstances the best possible. I do not say that the Minister could not obtain a smart, up-to-date, official, who would satisfactorily act as a Commissioner to make inquiry abroad, but if he relies wholly on his Department for information and advice in regard to necessary or desirable reforms, he will be relying upon a very weak reed. If we rely exclusively upon those who areworking in the Department to keep everything up to date, our system will probably become thoroughly rotten, and develop all the diseases of bureaucracy. The best course to adopt is to select an intelligent man who can inquire into the whole question, and make recommendations as to the best methods to adopt.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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