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Wednesday, 2 November 1904

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EdenMonaro) - I can hardly understand the attitude of the honorable member for Maranoa in wishing to reduce the vote. I consider that a readjustment of the boundaries of the electoral divisions must soon take place. Some honorable members will have a vivid recollection of the references that were made upon a former occasion to gerrymandering in connexion with the electoral divisions. Those honorable members who supported the Deakin Government in maintaining the present divisional boundaries did not object to the proposed redistribution upon the score of the changes that would be made in the boundaries, but thought that the time was inopportune, on account of the drought having caused an abnormal movement of population for the time being from the inland districts towards the large centres of population on the coast. I think the wisest course for the Government to adopt would be to endeavour to bring the States and Federal Electoral Departments into line.

Mr Tudor - Does the honorable member suggest that our Department should be brought into line with the present Victorian system ?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I suggest that the electoral administration of the States and of the Commonwealth might very well be carried out by one set of officers. I understand that at the last general election, considerable jealousy existed between the officers of the Commonwealth

Electoral Department and those of the State Department in New South Wales, and, as a result, many difficulties were thrown in the way of the former.

Mr Mauger - The franchise is the same in both cases, is it not?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - No; but with very little difficulty the same officials could perform both the Federal and the State work.

Mr Mauger - I thought that adult suffrage obtained in New South Wales.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - But a difference prevails in respect of the residential qualification. In my opinion a good deal of the odium which has been cast upon the Commonwealth Electoral Department is undeserved. When, we recollect that an entirely new Act had to be administered by a new set of officers, and that the election was "rushed," the results must be regarded as very satisfactory indeed. We know that a little trouble occurred in the Melbourne and Riverina divisions, but, considering the vast area which the ' electorates embraced, and that the officers were unfamiliar with the provisions of the Act, I claim that very good service was rendered by them. Consequently, I think there is a great deal in the contention of the honorable member for Maranoa regarding the payment of these officials. I can quote a case similar to that which he has cited in connexion with my own electorate. It is admitted that the returning officer for Eden-Monaro - who is not a member of the Commonwealth Public Service - is a very excellent officer; indeed, he received great praise for the way in which he discharged his duties ; but when it came to paying him for his services, he expressed dissatisfaction. It was decided that for the conduct of the last election he would receive the sum of £20. The amount of £26 per annum had been fixed as payment for general work, and the authorities have deducted from the £20 the sum paid for so many weeks at 10s. per week, thus unfairly reducing the amount granted for conducting the election.

Mr Lee - No election was held in the Eden-Monaro electorate.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - There was a Senate election. The Returning Officer in question is an agent, and as honorable members are aware, agents make a livelihood by combining quite a number of lines. Yet, immediately this officer discovered that his remuneration had been fixed at £26 per annum, he stated that the amount was not sufficient for the work, and resigned his position. I maintain that the Government are acting wisely in appointing Commonwealth officials to perform electoral work as far as possible. Nevertheless, we ought to treat men who have performed good service in a reasonable way. We must recollect that a great deal of responsibility rests upon them. Had the returning, officer for the Riverina division been capable, the honorable member who now represents that constituency would have been spared the expense which he was obliged to incur in establishing his return, and also' the expenses of contesting a second election, which I hope he will be recouped. We ought to aim in bringing the Federal and State officials into line.

Mr Tudor - How would the honorable member accomplish that object, seeing that the franchise varies?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I am quite in accord with the honorable member in his desire to establish a uniform franchise throughout Australia, but at the same time, I hold that even though the Federal franchise may differ from that of a State, the sp me officers could undertake both Federal and State electoral work. My own experience is that the present system is not as satisfactory as was the old system under which the police collected the rolls.

Mr Tudor - Do not the police collect them in New South Wales?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Yes, but they regard the collection of Federal rolls as Commonwealth work; and State officials, when called upon to perform both State and Federal work are expected to give the former precedence over the latter. That is a state of things which we ought to remedy as early as possible. Some Commissioners will require to be appointed to undertake the work of redistributing the electoral boundaries in New South Wales, and it seems to me that whatever appointment is made, it must provoke a certain amount of dissatisfaction. We are bound to be very critical where our own interests are concerned. Nevertheless. I am of opinion that verv little difficulty will be experienced in securing the adoption of any reasonable re-adjustment. That re-adjustment, however, must be undertaken in a normal season. I am not prepared to support the abolition of the office of the Public Service Commissioner. Doubtless all honorable members have a grievance against him, because to a very great extent the Public

Service of the Commonwealth has been removed from political control. If it were possible, I should be inclined to penalize any attempt on the part of Members of Parliament to influence the Public Service Commissioner in any way. Now that the service has been freed from political influence, I should resent very strongly even a shadow of suspicion of social or club influence. I do not suggest that that has occurred in connexion: with the Commonwealth services ; but we know that it has in connexion with the States services. In my judgment, we are exceedingly fortunate in having secured the services of such a strong man as Mr. McLachlan, who, I am satisfied, is actuated only by a desire to do what is right. I feel sure that the sense of fair play on the part of the Minister of Home Affairs will cause him to recognise that it is only proper that the electoral officers to whom I have previously referred should be treated reasonably well. In New South Wales many men who were employed as presiding officers and poll clerks were not informed prior to their appointment of the amount of their remuneration. Naturally when asked to render their accounts they demanded the sum which they had been previously paid by the States, for the performance of similar work. Thereupon the Commonwealth Electoral Office protested that the claims were too high, and resisted them. To my mind, when an individual is appointed, either as a poll clerk or presiding officer, he should be informed of the remuneration which he is to receive. Had that been done, no difficulty would have been experienced. I say, " Let the public servants of the Commonwealth understand that no favoritism is to be exercised, but that seniority and merit, upon which the Commissioner lays such emphasis, will always count, other things being equal." Then, when a vacancy occurs, public servants will know that' they cannot be appointed to it unless the officer who is senior to them refuses to accept it. If that system were generally observed, there would be less warrant for public servants approaching Members of Parliament. I have received several letters from deserving officers of the Commonwealth, in which they affirm that vacancies in the service are practically filled before '.he advertisement inviting applications is published in the Gazette. If that be so, the present practice merely deludes them.

Mr Bamford - The Public Service Act compels the Commissioner to advertise.

The ACTING CHAIRMAN (Mr. McDonald). - I would remind the honorable member that the Public Service Commissioner's salary is included in the next vote.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - As I have practically concluded my remarks under that heading, I shall be saved the necessity of repeating then, when the next vote is under consideration.

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