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Thursday, 27 October 1904

Mr SPENCE (Darling) - I listened with seme surprise to one of the statements made by the Treasurer. He indicated that he did not approve of the action of his predecessor in office in placing a sum upon the Estimates to reimburse former honorable members who had been called upon to refund allowances drawn by them prior to their seats having been declared vacant by the High Court. We shall occupy a somewhat extraordinary position if it is held that honorable members who have been paid their allowances by the Treasury officials whilst sitting as members of this House shall be called upon to refund such payments in the event of their seats being declared vacant. If an honorable member is declared elected and sworn in, and takes part in the deliberations of this House, he is surely entitled to be paid. According to the decision given by the Attorney-General, however, be cannot be regarded as a member of this House.

Sir George Turner - Two AttorneysGeneral gave that opinion.

Mr SPENCE - In effect, it has been declared that the two gentlemen named obtained money wrongfully, and they were, upon that supposition, called upon to refund it. All sorts of complications might arise under such a decision, and I think that further inquiries should be made in order that honorable members may feel more secure than is possible under present conditions. The only safe course to adopt in order to prevent cases of a similar character arising is to refrain from paying honorable members their allowances until the time has expired for the lodging of petitions against their election. I support the contention of the honorable member for Bland, and I think that we are entitled to ask for some expression of opinion from the Government. Our electoral law is based upon demo cratic principles, and is intended to give equal opportunities to every qualified person to become a member of this House, thereby giving the widest choice to the electors. When we inserted in the Act the provision limiting the amount to be spent by a candidate at an election, we sought to render it impossible for a wealthy man to bribe a constituency, or to place a poorer candidate at an overwhelming disadvantage. Unless candidates are to be safeguarded against being mulcted in heavy costs through some informality in connexion with their elections, no man will be able to offer himself as a candidate for Parliament without exposing himself to the risk of ruin. Where a seat is declared void, owing to some negligence on the part of the electoral officials, it is only right that the candidates who are thus put to unnecessary expense should be compensated for their outlay. A private employer is held responsible for the laches of any of his servants, and we, as the employers of the officials who conduct elections, should shoulder the responsibility of any default on their part. I should not have directed attention to this matter but for the remarks of the Treasurer, which seemed to' indicate that he would not, if he remained in power, make any provision for reimbursements in cases such as I have referred to. I trust that the Committee will express its opinion without hesitation, and that the Government will declare its views. Not only should the item now on the Estimates be passed, but we should make provision for recompensing all candidates who have been involved in loss through no neglect of their own. It seems to me that this action will be necessary in order to fulfil the purposes of the Electoral Act, which is intended to give fair play to rich and poor alike. Many mistakes were made during the recent elections, and many honorable members who are now sitting here might have been unseated if any one had chosen to present petitions against them.

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