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Thursday, 19 May 1904

Mr JOHNSON (Lang) - Having seconded the motion fro forma, I should like, if it is permissible for me so to do, to make a reservation with respect to the second paragraph, because I think that possibly, instead of selecting the gentlemen whose namesare mentioned therein, it might be considered advisable to select the members of the proposed Committee by ballot. The motion is one which must appeal to every honorable member who has had an unsatisfactory experience of the conduct of the recent general election. From facts which have come to my own knowledge, I believe I can safely say that there have been tens of thousands of persons in New South Wales who were entitled to be enrolled, who were left off the rolls.

Mr McCay - Does the honorable member say that he has personal knowledge of tens of thousands who were left off the rolls ?

Mr JOHNSON - No. I say that from facts which have come to my knowledge there must have been a large number in New South Wales, running into tens, of thousands, who were left off the rolls. Personally, I know of at least 2,000 electors whose names were left off the rolls, notwithstanding the fact that in very many instances those who found themselves unable to vote on the polling day had taken the trouble to inspect the lists to find out if their names were there. They had satisfied themselves that their names were on the lists which were exposed before the final revision of the rolls. In some cases persons who found that their names were omitted from the provisional lists went to the trouble of applying for enrolment, and, having done so, they naturally supposed that they would be enrolled. Honorable members can judge of their astonishment when on going to vote they found that, although they had complied with all the forms necessary to secure enrolment, their names had been left off the final rolls, and they were unable to vote. In my own electorate the residents of whole streets,includ . ing some of the main business thoroughfares, were left off the rolls, and people who had been resident voters in the district for forty years were deprived of the franchise. It also happened in many instances that members of the same family, living in the same house, found themselves distributed over eight different polling-places in various parts of the electorate. In some instances they had to pass three polling booths on the way to the one for which they had been set down in the lists. This was due to a new arrangement whereby voters were compelled to vote at a particular booth.

Mr Batchelor - That is a part of the scheme of the Act.

Mr JOHNSON - It may be; but in its administration one would naturally suppose that the members of one family, living in the same house, would be allotted to one polling booth. Instead of that, some considerable trouble appears to have been gone to, by those responsible, to distribute the members of one family over as wide an area as possible, and to secure that no two of them should have the chance of voting at the same booth.

Mr Batchelor - That must have been accidental.

Mr JOHNSON - That happened, not in one, but in many cases that have come under my personal observation. Many persons who went to vote, after having satisfied themselves that their names were on the roll. were informed, when applying for .their ballot-papers, that they were not on the roll. The roll was shown to them, and although at first sight it appeared that their names were not on the roll, this was subsequently proved to be due to the fact that the lists were not arranged in accurate alphabetical order. On the rolls, after names commencing with "At," names commencing with "B " were printed, and subsequently names commencing with "Ar" started again. People were -satisfied that the names for which they were looking were not included in the list according to alphabetical order, when if they had turned over two or three pages of the roll, they would have found that, after passing through "B" and " C," names beginning with "A" occurred again, for the same polling booth. This resulted in the disfranchisement of numbers of persons. It is a scandalous state of things, and the fact that it existed calls at least for inquiry. There is also this to be complained about, that, so far as Sydney is concerned, up to the date of the election, it was almost impossible for electors to obtain information which should be open to them. The most absolute secrecy was observed in connexion with matters which were of public concern, and it was impossible to obtain information from officers connected with the Sydney Electoral Office. Persons who sought information from them were curtly refused, or were referred to the Melbourne office, a circumlocutory method which will not, I trust, find sympathy with many members of this House. Every possible information should be open to every elector in connexion with so important a matter, and the fullest facilities should be offered to electors to obtain the information they require in order to exercise a right of citizenship. In speaking upon these "matters, I have no desire to cast any reflection upon the returning officers, presiding officers, and poll clerks who conducted the elections. They were placed in a very difficult position, and, so far as a great many . of them were concerned, in a novel position. I have every reason to believe that the gentlemen intrusted with this portion of the work did . their duty faithfully and well in the majority of cases. I know that I cannot too plainly, express my appreciation of the manner in which the officers appointed to do this work in my electorate performed their duty. I am sorry, however, to say that I cannot express equal appreciation of the manner in which their services have been rewarded by those who have had charge of their remuneration. The utmost parsimony has been exhibited in the payment . of these officers. Notwithstanding the enormous amount of work put upon them, and the fact that some of them actually became indisposed as the result of over-work, their services have not been adequately remunerated, and I understand that in some cases trivial accounts submitted by them are still outstanding. I represented this matter to the Minister previously in charge of the Department. I had his assurance that it would be attended to satisfactorily, but I have reason to believe that even up to the present time the claims made in some cases have not been met. I think sufficient has been said to warrant the appointment of some Committee of investigation into the administration of the Electoral Act during the last general election. I should like to have seen the scope of the motion so widened as to . include an inquiry as to the best means of remedying glaring defects in the Electoral Act.

Mr Batchelor - An amending Bill will be introduced, and the opportunity will then be given to discuss the matter.

Mr JOHNSON - I thought that probably the inquiry made by the proposed Select Committee might lead to some suggestions being offered in that connexion. As to the personnel of the proposed Committee, I do not agree with that part of the motion. I think it would be very much better if the Committee were selected by ballot.

Mr Fowler - The honorable member thinks that a matter of this kind should be left to blind chance.

Mr JOHNSON - If we took a ballot for the selection of the Committee, I do not think it would be left to blind chance. The motion, as it stands, commits the House to the selection of a certain number of honorable members, who are, no doubt, veryestimable gentlemen, but the various States should be fairly represented, and honorable members may prefer to see certain names substituted. It is for the House to decide whether there shall be a ballot. I have no desire to take- up further time, but I support the motion, and trust that the House will carry it.

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