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Friday, 20 October 1905

Senator O'KEEFE (Tasmania) - Will the Minister tell us why this amendment as to the officials is made, not only in this clause, but in clause 20?

Senator KEATING(Tasmania- Honorary Minister). - It has been found necessary to include under the term " electoral registrar " a divisional returning officer, whenever the latter is acting as registrar, and provision has been made in the interpretation clause accordingly. The work referred to in section 57 of the main Act is the work done by the divisional returning officer in his capacity as registrar, and the two are merged in the one comprehensive title.

Senator GUTHRIE(South Australia). - The main Act provides that if a claim "is in order" the returning officer shall proceed to do certain things, but in this clause the words are used " and the Electoral Registrar is satisfied that the claimant is entitled to be enrolled " he shall take the necessary steps to that end. Why the departure in language? It would be a terrible job to satisfy some electoral officers that certain individuals were entitled to be enrolled. If an illegal claim be made, the claimant may be punished, and I do not see why the returning officer should have to. be satisfied in the manner laid down. These officials may be drafted from any section of the community, and if they hold strong political opinions all the arguments in the world will not satisfy them that those of opposite opinions ought to be placed on the roll.

Senator KEATING(Tasmania- Honorary Minister). - This is an alteration by design to meet a class of cases which came under the notice of the Select Committee. Under the original Act there is no obligation thrown on the registrar to satisfy himself.

Senator de Largie - The Revision Court has to be satisfied.

Senator KEATING - Under this Bill, the application will come to the registrar, and he will have to satisfy himself, because the proposal of this Bill is that the registrar shall take the place of the Revision Courts under the existing Act. If honorable senators will look at the report of the Select Committee of the House of Representatives that dealt with the Electoral Act, they will find that, at page 10 of their report, they say -

The evidence discloses that under theexisting law roll-stuffing may be resorted to. It would appear that the Registrar is bound to receive any claim signed by a claimant. Instances were cited of persons who had been resident for less than one week in a division having been induced by an agent to sign claims. Subsequent investigation proved that these persons were enrolled elsewhere, and were not entitled to vote in the division for which they had submitted claims for enrolment. It is recommended that each claim should be witnessed by an elector for the division, and that it be. made an offence to witness any such claim without due inquiry on the part of the witness as to the qualifications of the elector. The proposal of the conference of electoral officers to permit applications to transfer to be sent to Electoral Registrars as well as to Returning Officers is approved, but these applications should continue to be signed in the presence of a witness.

Honorable senators will see that a serious defect in the present law was disclosed during the inquiry made by the Committee. Very great opportunities are afforded under it for roll-stuffing, inasmuch as when a claim which is in order is received by the registrar, he has automatically to put the name on the roll, and must wait for the Revision Court to deal with it if an objection should be lodged against the claim.

Senator O'Keefe - Is it not giving too much power to an electoral registrar to say that he shall be satisfied in this matter?

Senator KEATING - The honorable senator will see that we are doing away with the Revision Courts, and we are giving the claimant a right of appeal if his name is not put on the roll. He can go before two justices at any time to appeal against any refusal by the registrar to put his name on the roll.

Senator O'Keefe - That all means expense.

Senator KEATING - It will not be nearly so costly as proceedings under the present law, whilst it will be more expeditious and more safe. Honorable senators must see that the present law is very defective. The Select Committee of the House of Representatives has recommended that we should depart from it, and enact some provision which will afford a check on the roll-stuffing which was resorted to in the first Federal election under the present law.

Senator DELARGIE (Western Australia). - I believe that too much power is beingplaced in the hands of these officials, and we know that there will be less revision of the rolls under this Bill than under the existing law. I agree that persons who are not entitled to a vote should not have their names on the roll, but I would prefer that there should be a duplication of names on the roll than that the name of any one who is entitled to vote should be left off it. In Western Australia there was a great deal of duplication of names, but I have yet to learn that there was any hint from any political side that anything like personation took place at the elections. I cannot agree to put so much power into the hands of these officials as is proposed by this clause .

Clause agreed to.

Clause 20 -

Section 60 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting the words " Returning Officer for the division," and inserting in lieu thereof the words " Electoral Registrar keeping the polling-place or subdivision roll."

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