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Thursday, 19 May 1904

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not agree with the last speaker that the appointment of a Committee is unnecessary. I think that the experience of honorable members generally points to the need for a searching investigation of the past administration of the Electoral Department, with a view to the suggestion of such reforms as will make the machinery of that Department work more satisfactorily in the future. No doubt legislative action is necessary to bring about a better state of things. But, apart from that, inquiry into the working of the Department is needful. I speak on this subject without the slightest personal feeling, though perhaps the case has been prejudiced hitherto by the personalities which have been introduced from time to time. I am very gratified at the complete change of front shown by the right honorable member for Swan. When he sat upon the Ministerial" side of the Chamber he stoutly defended' the administration of the Electoral Department, and resisted to the uttermost all proposals for an inquiry such as is now sought for. However, a change of position appears to have brought about some modification of his opinions, and we have heard him say this afternoon that he considers the appointment of the proposed Commit- tee advisable. I understand that Ministers are favorable to an investigation by a Committee; but I wish to say a word or two as a guide to those who may be chosen to serve upon it, because, no doubt, they will read the. report of our debates upon electoral administration in order to gather up matter for an investigation. One subject which I would suggest is this - When the proposed re-distribution of seats was being fiercely discussed in this Chamber, the Minister then in charge of the Electoral Department brought down a new set of figures almost every day, and at the bottom of them were some mysterious initials which none of us recognised. I challenged him time and again to give us figures certified to by the Chief Electoral Officer, and countersigned by the electoral officer in Sydney who was responsible for their collection. I could not get such figures, though under any proper system of administration the two officers would work harmoniously, and it would be possible to get figures for which both of them would be ready to vouch, and as to which there could be no cavilling. The Committee might therefore find out what are the relations between the State office and the head office in Melbourne. It should be the duty of the State office to collect the rolls, and of the Federal office to make them up for Federal purposes.

Mr Fisher - That is another argument for a Commonwealth Statistical. Department. '

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No doubt such a Department will in time be brought into existence, but it is impossible now. So long as the State officials collect our rolls there should be the most complete harmony between them and the Federal officials. The present administration of the Department, as of all the -Departments, is being 'hampered and fettered by the centralization which obtains. One cannot get sixpence spent anywhere within the Commonwealth without first receiving the authority of an officer in Melbourne. Such a system is absurd. We might as well do without branch Offices in the States if the officials there are to have no power, because they serve no practical purpose. At the present time if we go to them for information we cannot obtain it. In this connexion I should again liketo refer to a case which I mentioned yesterday. A man erected polling booths at Windsor and Richmond, in my electorate, and he has not yet been paid for' his work, although his claim has been certified to as correct by the presiding officer for the elec torate. The whole matter has been hung up in Melbourne for months past. I saw the Chief Electoral Officer two months ago about it, and he told me in a letter which I afterwards received from him that authority for payment would be sent immediately. I thought that everything was settled, until later on I received a letter from the man himself, saying that he had not been paid his money. Then I saw the Minister, but nothing was done for another three weeks. Now I learn that the case is settled, and that authority has been sent to Sydney for the payment of the money. My first impulse was to go to the Sydney office for information, but the officials there looked blankly at me, and said that they knew nothing about these matters. I might mention that the authority to pay is directed to the cashier at the General Post Office in Sydney. What he has to do with the matter I do not know, though the arrangement which makes him paymaster may be a wise one. All these matters, however, should filter through the Sydney Electoral Office, and should be dealt with on the spot by responsible officers. The Committee will do well to inquire whether the present system of centralization cannot be changed for a direct and' more efficient control. I do not propose to say anything with regard to the actual conduct of the elections, because I should probably have to repeat what has been already said by others. I shall content myself by proposing to alter the personnel of the Committee. The honorable member for Canobolas has, in perfect good faith, proposed names of honorable members whom he thought would fairly represent all the States, and any one knowing the honorable member will acquit him of any intention to. appoint a partisan Committee. There is no reason, however, why the usual course should not be followed, and why States and parties also should not be fairly represented. I move -

That the names of Mr. Poynton, Mr. Dugald Thomson, and Mr. Maloney be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the names of Sir William Lyne, Mr. McLean,' Mr. Kelly, and Mr. Cameron.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable mem ber for Melbourne has seen me, and has indicated that he wishes to withdraw his amendment. Is it the desire of honorable members that the amendment should be withdrawn?

Honorable Members. - Hear, hear.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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