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Tuesday, 18 October 1949

Mr JOHNSON (Kalgoorlie) (Minister for the Interior) . - in reply - There was not a great deal in the observations of honorable members opposite that justifies a reply. In the manner which is characterstic of members of the legal profession the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) attempted to convey the impression that the proposals embodied in the bill now before us represent something new and that the Government had introduced it in order to impose a restriction that had not applied during earlier election campaigns. That is a complete misrepresentation of the facts. This bill does not contain any provision affecting the size of electoral posters. The size of such posters was determined in the first instance by National Security Regulation.

Mr Holt - In order to save paper.

Mr JOHNSON - That is so, but because the restriction was acceptable to the people of this country it was embodied in the Commonwealth Electoral Act by an amending bill which was passed through this House in five minutes in 1946 without opposition.

Mr Menzies - During the course of an all-night sitting.

Mr JOHNSON - I did not interject while the Leader of the Opposition was speaking to this measure. I ask him to extend similar courtesy to me. All that the Leader of the Opposition had to say on that occasion - and no other member of the Opposition spoke on the bill - was expressed in a few words. The Hansard report of his speech on this aspect of the amending bill reads - . The Government proposes as a matter of law on the statute-book, as opposed to regulations, that no candidate shall .post up a poster -with a greater area than 60 square inches. So, in future, the virtues of candidates will be disclosed to the electors in an area of 6 inches by 10 inches instead of 6 feet by 10 feet. This undoubtedly is due to the unexpected modesty of the Government and as modesty on the part of the Government is rare, I am not at all sure that I should not welcome it. . . .

In view of those statements by the Leader of the Opposition it is difficult to understand the opposition to this bill. Is it prompted by the fact that we are in an election year or is it because our proceedings are now being broadcast to the people? I can think of no other reasons for the hostility of honorable members opposite to this bill. The attempt that has been made by the Leader of the Opposition and his supporters to convince the people that this measure contains a provision which has never previously existed in relation to the size of electoral posters will fail. When the restriction on the size of such posters was embodied in permanent form in the legislation no objection was taken by honorable members opposite. Why then should they attack the bill now before us ? The size of electoral posters is not at present under discussion. All that this measure seeks to do is to ensure that the law as it is enacted shall be given effect. The Leader of the Opposition said, in effect, " If the posters exhibited by the Liberal party in Brisbane be illegal, why not take the matter to court ? ". We do not intend to take the matter to the court because if we did so the legal advisers of the Liberal party would immediately apply for an injunction and by that means delay a final decision on the case until the general election had been held. We thought that the simplest way to give effect to the intention of the Parliament was to make the wording of the provision so simple that even Liberals would be able to understand it.

Mr Menzies - The Minister admits, then, that this measure is aimed at the Liberal party?

Mr JOHNSON - Nothing of the sort. It is not aimed at any political party. Its provisions will affect all political parties alike. It was introduced solely because of a decision that had been given by Mr. Stewart, who has since been superannuated. During the twelve months preceding his retirement, Mr. Stewart had not enjoyed the best of health. Mr. Stewart said to some member of the Liberal party that, in his opinion, the posters did not contravene the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. After Mr. Stewart's retirement the Chief Electoral officer went to some pains to explain the provisions of the law to the Liberal party and asked the party to remove the posters. The reply received by him from Mr. Charles Porter, an official of the Liberal party in Queensland, was as follows : -

I acknowledge your letter of the 19th September, for which I thank you. The advice given is being considered.

In reply to honorable gentlemen opposite, I say that the existing legislation, which has been in force for almost eight years, has proved to be effective and fair to all political parties. If it has done nothing else for the people of Australia, it has prevented the erection throughout the country of unsightly hoardings that blot out the view of the countryside. The lull to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act by inserting a provision relating to the size of posters was passed by this House in five minutes, but honorable gentlemen opposite now suggest that the Government is doing something drastic. They are trying to persuade the people of this country to believe that, just before a general election, the Government is introducing something new, whereas the provision to which they have referred has been in existence for eight years. I commend the bill to the House.

Question put -

That the bill be now read a second time.

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