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Wednesday, 25 October 1905

Senator TURLEY (Queensland) - I am not quite sure that the tribunal which is now dealing with this question is altogether unbiased. I understand that quite a number of honorable senators are justices of the peace, and as interested parties I am not sure that they are entitled to record a vote against the amendment. The Committee has already decided to allow a large number of people who distribute a few letters once or twice a week to witness these application forms. For quite a number of years in Queensland we tried to prevent justices of the peace having anything to do with electoral matters. We were satisfied from our experience that thebest thing we could do was to give them no hand whatever in the administration of the electoral law. As has already been pointed out, most of them were appointed because they were strong political partisans. In many instances they have advanced the most paltry reasons for refusing to witness signatures to electoral claims. In Queensland a person desiring to have his name placed on an electoral roll had to have his application attested by a magistrate, and I have known dozens of instances in which magistrates have advanced all sorts of excuses for refusing to attest these applications. I remember that I filled in a claim for an elector to have his name placed on an electoral roll. When hebrought his application form to the house of a magistrate, who was an officer in the volunteers, he met that gentleman coming out of his house in uniform, on the way, I suppose, to some drill. When he asked him to attest his claim the magistrate advanced the preposterous reason that because he happened to be in uniform it would be altogether illegal for him to do such a thing. I have known magistrates in some cases, I think deliberately, to render electoral claims informal, believing, as strong partisans, that it was their duty to some extent to prevent certain people from getting their names on the rolls. It is not wise to have justices of the peace mixed up with this business at all. Senator Millen has said that we have already decided that magistrates shall take part in dealing with appeals, but it should not be forgotten that the whole of the magistrates of Australia will not be eligible for the performance of those duties. They will be performed only by such persons as are specially gazetted by the Governor-General in Council. Again, this work is not intrusted to one justice of the peace, but to two, I suppose because it is recognised that, from the nature of their appointment and their general capabilities, they are not competent to carry out such duties satisfactorily. In the State from which I come it was a common practice some years ago for magistrates to pack the bench at a Revision Court. Men who had sent in properly attested claims were summoned to appear before packed benches to show their bona fides, and that they were entitled to have their names on a roll. I recognise that the appointments made to the magistracy in Queensland at that time were altogether one-sided, and that since then more care may have been exercised in the selection of men for appointment. But the system of appointing justices of the peace is such that they ought not to be mixed up with the administration of the electoral law. I shall vote for the amendment.

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