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Thursday, 27 October 1904

Mr WATSON (Bland) - The facts relating to this item may be brieflv explained. These two gentlemen were declared duly elected to this House by the returning officers appointed by the Government, but had nothing to do with that declaration. They offered themselves as candidates, did their best to secure election, and, on being declared elected by the proper authorities, naturally assumedthat they were legally entitled to sit in this House.

Sir George Turner - But the election in each case was declared void.

Mr WATSON - Although the elections were declared void, the two gentlemen in question served as members of this House. The mere fact that they have not asked for a refund of the money has nothing whatever to do with the principle at issue. The principle is that Government officials were responsible for the voiding of the two elections - they were responsible for the actions which led up to the Court proceedings - and therefore the Government itself is responsible. I put it to the Committee and the country whether it is proper that a man who offers himself as a candidate should be made to suffer for the faults of Government officials. A man might be declared duly elected, and go to the expense of bringing his wife and family from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Melbourne, only to be unseated shortly afterwards ; and should he, in such circumstances, be refused the paltry honorarium which the Constitution allows to members of Parliament? It would be monstrous to decide that nothing, even by way of the ordinary allowance, should be paid to gentlemen who have been formally declared elected. When the question came under my notice the solicitor for Sir Malcolm McEacharn demurred to the Law Department's reading of the law. In his view, the law was that the sitting member for the time being was entitled to the allowance provided for by the Constitution. I obtained the opinion of the Attorney-General on that question, and found that it did not coincide with that given by Sir Malcolm McEacharn's solicitor, and without any request from either of the two gentlemen concerned, I decided to place these amounts on the Estimates. There is a further point involved, to which 1 would like to invite the attention of the Government. I did not have time to deal with the question, as to the position of all the other candidates at the two elections which were voided, but it was clear that two gentlemen were returned to this House who, through no fault of their own, were put to enormous expense owing to the actions of Government officials. They had to pass through the ordeal of a second election in consequence of this neglect, and whilst I do not say that the whole of the legal expenses attaching to the fighting of the two cases should be borne by the Commonwealth, I do say that some allowance should be made for the loss which these gentlemen sustained owing to the delinquencies of Commonwealth officers. In New South Wales, in several cases, where it was clearly shown that there had been no wrongdoing on the part of the candidates, both the successful and the unsuccessful candidates were reimbursed their expenses in respect of elections declared void. In the case of the Commonwealth, the election expenses which a candidate may incur are limited, and, consequently, the sums in:volved could not be so large as they might have been under the law of New South Wales. It seems to me that the Government should take some financial responsibility for the actions of their officers, otherwise every candidate for election to this Parliament will be called upon to run the risk of financial ruin.

Sir John Forrest - But the person concerned ought to apply for a refund, if he desires it.

Mr WATSON - That is another question. When this matter was brought under my notice, in the way I have mentioned, I thought it was only, fair to give the Committee an opportunity to pronounce an opinion upon it. So far as the equities are concerned, I think -that all those gentlemen who were put to considerable expense through no fault of their own should be fairly treated, and that the Commonwealth has a right to rectify, so far as is reasonable, the faults of omission or of commission of which its officials have been guilty.

Mr. MCDONALD(Kennedy). - I was familiar with the facts explained by the Treasurer, and rose to speak, because I fully agreed with the action taken by the honorable member for Bland. It is outrageous that honorable members should be put to enormous expense owing to the negligence of the Electoral Department, and I think that the Government' should reimburse not only Sir Malcolm McEeacharn and Mr. Blackwood, but others who incurred expense in the same way, owing to the fault of Government officials. Otherwise, it seems to me that no honorable member is safe. If an honorable member were returned by a majority of three or four votes, and the defeated candidate then took proceedings to have the election declared void, on the ground that some mistake had been committed by the Electoral Department, he would be put to very serious expense. He sits in this Chamber. Then the election is upset on some technicality, and he has either to contest it again or lose his seat. The honorable members who now represent Riverina and Melbourne, through no fault of their own, were plunged into enormous expense in the maintenance of their rights. In the first instance, two other candidates were elected' for those constituencies, and they sat in this House for some time, receiving the remuneration provided for by the Constitution. That money they have been compelled to refund, and a sum has been put on the Estimates to pay it to them again. I see no objection to that, because undoubtedly while they sat here they did the work required of them by the electors, and were therefore entitled to the statutory remuneration. I think, however, that a sum should also be placed on the Estimates to recompense the two sitting members for the great expense they were put to, through the fault of the Government officials, to obtain their rights. I understand that it is impossible to increase the amount of an item.

Mr Fisher - It can be done.

Mr MCDONALD - If so, it is contrary to all my experience in dealing with Estimates. I urge the Treasurer, however, to take the matter into his serious consideration, and hope that he will give us an assurance that he will propose the reimbursement to the honorable members for Riverina and Melbourne of the sums which they lost, not through their fault, but through the fault of the Government officials.

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