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Wednesday, 25 October 1905

Senator CROFT - I support the present amendment, because I know that in Western Australia justices of the peace have frequently been appointed because of the political support which they have lent to the. Government. Senator ~de Largie has mentioned that recently some representatives of Western Australia in this Parliament have been appointed to the commission of the peace. Whilst that step may have been taken from a desire to do honour to the "representatives of the State, I can remember a case where its Premier, Sir John Forrest, not only appointed his supporters to the commission of the peace, but in Parliament called upon them either to vote for him, or not to oppose him, saying, " I made the honorable member a justice of the peace, and why does he now oppose me?" Mr. J. J. Holmes, the member for East Fremantle, was the first lieutenant in the Opposition, and in consequence of that demand, he immediately resigned from the commission of the peace. If, in the opinion of Sir John Forrest, Mr. Holmes should have supported him and his political party, surely it is expected by certain political parties that the justices of the peace whom they have appointed shall support them; or do shady things on their behalf.

Senator Millen - Mr. Holmes' action gave the answer to the demand of Sir John Forrest.

Senator CROFT - Exactly; and that would be my answer in like circumstances. But how many storekeepers and frowsy old roads and bridges politicians in different parts of the State would be glad to 'go round and lick the boots of a man like Sir John Forrest? I am opposed to such persons, and I wish to see the elections to the Senate conducted in a clean manner. I am prepared, to be disqualified in regard to witnessing these applications, and I ask the Committee to consider the advisability of leaving out medical officers as well as justices of the peace.

Senator STANIFORTHSMITH (Western Australia). - In my opinion this is a most outrageous proposal. A man is appointed a1 justice of the peace for a certain locality in a State because he is entitled by his character, attainments, and honorable conduct to occupy a position of very considerable importance. He is accustomed to weigh evidence, 'and possesses a good general knowledge. He is called upon to adjudicate in cases in which, very often, considerable sums are involved. He has a large criminal jurisdiction. The liberty of the subject is a most valuable possession. Although a certain man is deemed to be good enough to adjudicate in cases in which the liberty of the subject is involved, still it is urged that he is not competent to impartially witness or give authority for the issue of certain electoral documents. Any person can go before a justice of the peace, and get him to witness the signature to documents relating to transfers of great value, and to various matters of the utmost importance. He can even issue a warrant for the arrest of a person who is alleged to be leaving the State in order to evade his creditors. Yet it is contended that he should not be authorized to witness a document which a policeman is permitted to witness. Who else is considered competent to perform this duty? Any Customs officer, whatever his status may be, is competent. The only reason which has been advanced for disqualifying a justice of the peace in this regard is that he might be a political partisan. At election time one man is just as strong a political partisan as another. Perhaps there are no stronger political partisans than policemen and civil servants. The latter take great interest in elections by reason of the fact that their positions may be jeopardized or advantaged by the success of a certain political party. One candidate may be advocating the cutting down of the Civil Service, while another candidate may be in favour of its extension. In that case a civil servant is far more partisan than any justice of the peace is likely to be. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that justices of the peace are generally appointed for political reasons. It does not follow that thev will be dishonest in carrying out their duties.

Senator Millen - Nor that they are necessarily unfit.

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