Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 2 November 1904

Sir JOHN FORREST (Swan) - I should have thought that, in view of the report of the Select Committee upon the administration of the Electoral Act, the honorable member for Maranoa would not have moved this, amendment. I was the Minister in charge of the Department at the time of the last general elections, and was quite prepared to learn that many errors and omissions occurred. The elections were hurried on, and much difficulty was experienced in compiling and printing the. rolls in time to be of service. Everything was hurried so that the elections for the House of Representatives might be held at the same time as the Senate elections, and thus save ,£50,000. I am glad that a Select Committee has reported on the administration of the Department. I am sure that we are all agreed that if there were incompetence, negligence, or corruption in the administration of this or any other Department it should be closely investigated and removed. The Chief Electoral Officer was charged by some honorable members with incompetency, if not worse, and it is gratifying to me to find that the report of the Select Committee does not bear out what was said either against him or against his administration. Those who made tha statements in this Chamber should have been prepared to prove them before the Select Committee. Indefinite statements made against an absent man - unless those making them are prepared to give the facts on which they base their charges - are not creditable to those who make them. The members of the Committee, who were chosen from both parties, report that -

Though many causes of complaints were said to exist, with respect to the administration of the Electoral Act, your Committee cannot, upon the evidence submitted to them, find that their number or nature were such as to justify the adverse criticisms passed upon the Chief Electoral Office

With respect to the administration by the Chief Electoral Office, no complaints of a serious nature were sustained, and your Committee find that strenuous efforts were made by the officers to bring into due operation the Electoral Act, and to secure the efficient conduct of the general election.

The report, which is a very long one, seems to be very favorable to the Department, and even in the case in which it was proved that some omissions had taken place, in the Macquarie division, the " Committee find that-

In view of the immense amount of work that had to be done by this officer, this omission is possibly one of inadvertence only.

Finally, they place on record their recognition of the very valuable sendees rendered to them by the Secretary lo the Department of Home Affairs, and express their entire satisfaction with his administration.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Nothing was ever said against that officer.

Sir JOHN FORREST - As Secretary to the Department of Home Affairs he had a great deal to do in connexion with the administration of the Electoral Act. What was said against the Chief Electoral Officer, however, does not seem to have been borne out by the report of the Select Committee. I am very glad that he has been shown not to be incompetent. I know that while I, as Minister of Home Affairs, controlled the Electoral Office, he displayed great application, and I formed the opinion that his great desire was to conduct the affairs of his office in an independent and impartial manner. I think that it is as necessary that the Electoral Department should be free from political influence as that the officers of the Supreme Court should be so, because we all know that, wherever there is an opportunity to use influence, some one will avail himself of it. I hope that the Minister will now bc able to deal with the re-arrangement of the Commonwealth divisions. It is not easy to lay down rules to be followed, but those who are intrusted with the re-arrangement should upset existing arrangements as little as possible, because people have got accustomed to them. I know that the Commissioner who was appointed to re-arrange the Western Austraiian divisions, and who is a thoroughly competent and impartial man, in whom- I have the greatest confidence, altered one or two of the divisional boundaries when there was no need to alter them, because the number of electors -which they contained was- within the statutory limits. Of course, where a division contains more or fewer electors than the Act allows, it is necessary to alter it, but in making a new distribution the interests involved, and the avocations of the people concerned, should be taken into consideration. Wherever possible, two classes, with separate interests, the votes of one of which might nullify the votes of the other, should not be placed in the one division. When I arranged the Western Australian divisions in 1900 I used every care to provide that the people of the mining districts were kept apart from the people of the farming districts, and that the metropolitan districts were kept apart from the mining and country districts, and in that way I managed to give great satisfaction. I hope that the Minister will provide for a re-arrangement of divisions as soon as possible, so as to carry out the intentions of the Act ; but that there may be no greater interference than is necessary with' existing boundaries. I shall oppose the amendment.

Suggest corrections