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Wednesday, 25 October 1905

Senator BEST (Victoria) - It is rather late in the day to consider the advisableness of omitting justices of the peace from the performance of responsible duties under our electoral law. Quite a subordinate duty is assigned to them by this clause, whereas in the principal Act, and in portions of it which are to remain in operation, they are appointed to exercise jurisdiction, particularly in regard to special Revision Courts. The duties relating to those courts are of infinitely greater consequence than the more or less nominal duties assigned to them by this clause.

Senator Turley - This Bill does away with Revision Courts and the functions cf justices of the peace in that respect.

Senator BEST - The Committee will be aware that it has been the policy of Parliament in innumerable Acts of Parliament to assign responsible duties to justices of the peace. It is quite obvious that where any large body of men are appointed to exercise judicial functions there will be miscarriages of justice, and perhaps much to object to. But speak-, ing generally, the system of appointing justices of the peace for such purposes has been successful. .They have, as a rule, discharged their duties conscientiously and well ; they have added greatly to the effective working of the general machinery of justice, as well as to its cheap administration. It is a fact we cannot ignore that, as a rule, ' the more important and prominent inhabitants of townships are justices of the peace. They are looked up to.

Senator Givens - Many of them are looked down upon.

Senator BEST - There may be individual justices of the peace who are unworthy of the position they occupy. But in the higher courts of justice you will also occasionally find men who are incompetent, biased, and totally unfit for the duties they discharge.

Senator Givens - What is the qualification of a justice of the peace?

Senator BEST - The chief qualification is to do justice.

Senator Givens - To have money is the only qua filiation.

Senator BEST - I think my honorable friend is rather ungenerous. .

Senator Givens - Many of them cannot write their names, but they are appointed because they have money.

Senator BEST - My honorable friend casts a stigma upon a body of reputable men.

Senator Turley - They are principally appointed for political purposes.

Senator BEST - Many have been appointed for political purposes, but the very large percentage of appointments are of men who, when they go on the Bench, forget the manner of their appointment, forget their political bias, and behave as reputable and honorable men. The Senate is not justified in casting such a serious reflection upon them as would be done by suggesting for a moment that they are incapable of carrying out the functions assigned to them by tha provision under discussion.

Senator HENDERSON(Western Australia). - I have decided to vote against the amendment. We have decided to intrust the functions conferred by this clause to any little two-penny half-penny storekeeper who may be doing work for the post-office in any part of the country. Now, we are asked to remove from the scope of the

Bill a large body of men, most of whom,. I think, have been chosen honestly, and. because of their integrity as citizens.

Senator Givens - Two-penny half-penny justices of the peace !

Senator HENDERSON - They are, as a rule, men who hold a good position inthe community.

Senator Givens - They hold money.

Senator HENDERSON - I know of hundreds of justices Of the peace who have no more money than I have. But they are men of principle, men of integrity, who certainly would not risk the loss of their honour, and the consequences that would follow from being discovered in any shady transaction connected with signatures to applications for voters' certificates. Something has been said respecting the appointment of members of this Parliament as justices of the peace in Western Australia. Like my fellow members, I was appointed to that honorable position. I do not regard the appointment as being by any means conferred for reasons of partisanship. I certainly think that the Government of Western Australia made a very wise and judicious selection in appointing members of the Senate to the commission of the peace. In the sparsely populated parts of Australia justices of the peace are more accessible than are any other people provided for in this Bill. Consequently their usefulness in this direction should be great. In fact, I am inclined to move an amendment for the purpose of including the whole of the clergy of every denomination. Then we should very nearly have reached the climax in the extension of postal voting facilities. I cannot support the amendment, in view of the fact that the Committee has inserted a provision including men, and possibly women, of whom we are not nearly so certain as we are in including justices of the peace.

Senator MILLEN(New South Wales).I have to admit that it is somewhat difficult to adduce arguments against this amendment, in view of the personal testimony we have had concerning the characteristics of justices of the peace from members of that distinguished fraternity. It appears to me that it is just possible that the honorable senators to whom I allude have been committing the not uncommon error of drawing general conclusions from particular cases. I cannot share their views. When I look to this Bill, I am struck with this anomaly - or what would be an anomaly if we adopted the amendment - that while honorable senators would refuse to allow a justice of the peace to witness a simple application for a postal vote, they have already decided by passing the previous clause that' if any person wrongfully witnesses a signature these same justices of the peace can sentence him to one month's imprisonment. Where is the logic of that? If certain honorable members could have had their way they would have authorized an ordinary justice of the peace to sentence an offender to six months' imprisonment, whilst at the same time they would .decline; to allow that same justice to witness the document' himself. The logic of such a position does not appeal to me. Senator Croft stated that one of the reasons for eliminating justices of the peace was the fact disclosed by the report of the Select Committee that they had been guilty of negligence, Or, possibly of some action deserving of a harsher term. If that argument is to be pushed to extremes, there is quite a list of people who may be debarred from taking any part in electoral work. One or two officials, according to the evidence given before :he Select Committee, had acted in a way 'hat was certainly highly improper.. A' presiding officer, who had allowed certain electors to vote, and found out afterwards that they were not on the roll, had their names placed on the supplementary roll, although the election was over, and induced the registrar to treat them as if they had been entered at an earlier date. Are we, therefore, to debar every one belonging to the same class of life as that man?

Senator Turley - He was not entitled to witness an application.

Senator MILLEN - He was entitled to perform the much more responsible duty of recording votes. As to the capacity of justices of the peace, we must not forget that we have already approved of their constituting a court of appeal. It has also been argued that justices of the peace should be debarred because their appointments are political, and they are invariably partisans. But the same statement might be made against the great majority of our Judges, and no one ever questions their capacity or impartiality after appointment. Quite recently a gentleman who was a party man in every sense of the word, was appointed to one of the highest judicial positions in the Commonwealth but does any one question his impartiality? It does not follow that a man who, in private life, is a political partisan, allows his partyfeelings to sway him in the discharge of a responsible public duty. One argument used by Senator Henderson ought to appeal to all honorable senators. The purpose of the provision is to extend, as far as possible, facilities for voting to electors who, under ordinary circumstances, would not be able to Teach the poll on the day of election. Quite a number of people in the humbler ranks of life, who are in receipt of small pittances for looking after country post-offices;, have been 'included amongst the authorized witnesses, and we know that in a great many cases these people were appointed by the same political forces and influences which surround the appointment of justices of the peace. Having made that provision, is it logical or common sense on our part to strike out the more numerous body of those who are on the commission of the peace?

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