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Tuesday, 19 December 1905

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) (Honor- ; ary Minister) . - I move -

That the amendment be agreed to.

Perhaps it will be convenient on this amendment to informthe Committee of the general scope of the amendments which have been made by the House of Representatives. Attached to the message there is a schedule in which are set out some fortyfive amendments, which the House of Representatives has made to the Bill as sent down by the Senate. The first amendment is to provide that, instead of the Minister for Home Affairs appearing in the original Act as the Minister administering the Act, reference shall be to the Minister " of State administering the Act." Honorable senators will remember that suggestions have been made at different times that some other Minister than the Minister of Home Affairs, such as the Postmaster- General, for instance, might possibly be charged with the administration of the Electoral Act. If any such suggestion were to be adopted at any time, if this amendment be agreed to, no further alteration of theAct will be necessary to give effect to it. When the Bill was before us, we made provision in several clauses for the express repeal of sections of the original Act, which had been framed with regard to the then existing conditions, in order that the preparation of the first rolls and the first elections might be held under the Act. The operation of those sections had become exhausted, and we provided accordingly in the amending Bill for the repeal of those sections. There were, however, some other sections of the original Act which we did not repeal, and the operation of which have become likewise exhausted - sections connected with disputed returns dealing with matters to be attended to until the establishment of the High Court. Those sections are repealed by some of the amendments passed in another place. Perhaps the most important amendment, or series of amendments, which the House of Representatives has made to the Bill is connected with the question of the distribution of the States into electorates. The original Act provided a scheme by which the States should be distributed, and that the scheme and plans of the distribution proposed should be laid before Parliament and approved before the distribution could have the effect of law. Amendments were made in this Bill when it was before the Senate to provide for. the appointment of three Commissioners to distribute the States into elec torates, and it was decided that their distribution should not be subject to ratification or disapproval by Parliament. The House of Representatives, in striking out the amendments made in the Senate, have, in fact, restored the Bill to its original shape in this regard. Honorable senators will remember that one of the ground's for the redistribution of the States into new electorates as provided by us was that one-third of the electorates in any State should be out of balance ; that is to say, that the number of electors in one-third of the electorates at least should be either in excess or below the quota by a certain proportion. The House of Representatives has altered that one-third of the electorates to one fourth. We provided in one clause in dealing with the matter of when a redistribution should take place, as a final case, whenever the Governor-General so directed. In order to make it perfectly clear that that should lie an entirely separate matter, the House of Representatives have inserted words which I think were suggested by Senator Millen in the Senate, providing that, notwithstanding anything in the preceding cases mentioned, a redistribution shall also take place when the Governor-General may direct. Provision was made in the Bill as it left the Senate by which the rolls might be used for State and Commonwealth purposes. There has been some redrafting of the provisions dealing with this matter.

Senator Millen - Has it been merelv redrafted?

Senator KEATING - I think so. I think that the amendments made do not alter the spirit of the clauses as they passed the Senate. There was some surplusage in the clauses as we agreed to them, and the redrafting has reduced their volume without, I think, in any way altering the principle. In connexion with the claim forms by which applications are made for registration as electors,, the House of Representatives has made an amendment, which dispenses with the necessity to witness a claim form, so that, as a matter of fact, under the Bill, as amended in another place, an applicant for a vote will be able to send in his claim as he would ordinarily send in a letter. Honorable senators are aware that the Bill when before the Senate contained important provisions dealing with the abolition of revision courts, and we provided that returning officers and other officials might lodge objections to the name of anv person being on the roll. The House of Representatives has made an amendment in connexion with that procedure, whereby it will be obligatory on officers making official objections in the way provided to make them in' writing and tq state the grounds. Under the original Act a minimum penalty of £5 was imposed on persons lodging frivolous objections. That provision in the original Act was made in connexion with the holding of revision courts, and was not included in the amending Bill, which provided for the abolition of those courts. But the House of Representatives has re-inserted the provision in this Bill, and asks the concurrence of the Senate. In the original Act there was a provision under which a person five miles away from his polling place on polling day, or who had reason to believe that he would be that distance away from the polling place on that day could obtain an absent voter's certificate and vote by post. When the amending Bill was, before us, we increased the distance to ten miles, and the House of Representatives has made an amendment which amounts, in fact, to a compromise, fixing the distance at seven miles. In discussing the clauses dealing with voting by post, frequent reference was made here to the fact that many applications for postal-vote certificates were made which were not in conformity with the spirit of the legislation providing for their issue. It was suggested that the provisions of the Act in this regard were open to grave abuse. The House of Representatives has made amendments under which these applications for postal-vote certificates, having 'been lodged with an official, would afterwards be open to public inspection, on application, until the time for an appeal against the election had elapsed. _ Considerable discussion arose concerning the classes of persons to be authorized witnesses in connexion with the postal-voting provisions. The House of Representatives, in amending the Bill as it left the Senate, has provided that they shall not be witnessed by persons in charge of post-offices unless they are permanent officials of the Commonwealth.

Senator Dobson - Why have justices, of the peace been cut out?

Senator KEATING - I am not in a position to say; but some honorable senators, when we were discussing the matter, intimated that some justices of the peace, in many instances, had not performed their duties in this regard with the scrupulousness and care which might have been expected from them. The House of Representatives has removed justices of the peace and medical practitioners from the list of authorized witnesses.

Senator Lt Col NEILD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Col. Gould. - It . would be very useful in certain places if medical practitioners were authorized as witnesses.

Senator KEATING - I indicated that when the matter was under discussion in the Senate, and an honorable senator who had moved the omission of medical practitioners thereupon withdrew his amendment. An amendment has. been made in another place, providing that where an official votes for a blind person, he shall do so only in the presence >of a witness. That, I think, is a very desirable provision. We agreed that public notifications in connexion with elections should bear the name of the persons authorizing their publication ; and the House of Representatives has made an amendment eliminating from the provision ordinary advertisements announcing merely the holding of meetings. There was considerable discussion in the Senate in connexion with the practice of canvassing at, or near, a polling booth. The Bill, as introduced, prohibited canvassing within a radius of twenty-five yards of the polling booth, but that provision was struck out. The House of Representatives has on this matter suggested what may be considered a compromise, and we are asked to agree to an amendment providing that canvassing shall not be permitted at the entrance to, or within a polling booth.

Senator Staniforth Smith - Does that mean a yard from the entrance?

Senator KEATING - That would depend upon the circumstances in each case.

Senator de Largie - The matter is left in a very loose form.

Senator KEATING - It is a very difficult matter to deal with. In the Senate, I asked honorable senators to agree to prohibit canvassing within a radius of twentyfive yards of the booth, but it was urged that it would be impossible to tie canvassers down under such a provision, unless we chalked out a line.

Senator Dobson - The compromise suggested by another place means nothing.

Senator KEATING - As the clause left the Senate, we prohibited canvassing at the entrance to a polling booth, and the Committee, I regret to say, did not adopt a definite radius. These are, in the main, the amendments properly so-called - that is, alterations of the provisions in the Bill as it left the Senate'. There are some minor alterations which are merely verbal and of no consequence so far as substance is concerned. In addition to asking us to consent to those alterations, " the other House asks us to insert some new clauses. One of them provides that it shall be competent for a person who has been nominated for an election to consent to the withdrawal of his nomination up to the last hour for receiving nominations. Another new clause provides that in the event of a, person having been nominated for election dying before polling day his deposit may be returned to his personal representative. Another new clause provides that if a claim to vote has been given to a person, with the intention that he shall send it in to be attended to, and he has failed to do so, he shall be liable to a penalty, unless he can prove that his omission was purely bond fide. I 'believe that, under certain circumstances,,, persons have got claimants to hand to them claims to vote, and said that they would be sent along in due course, and that the claimants would be enrolled as electors; but, finding that their views were of the wrong colour, they have omitted to transmit the claims, and consequently when the claimants have gone to vote, they have found that they had not been enrolled. To prevent a practice of that kind from being pursued., it is provided that a penalty shall attach to any sucH omission, unless the receiver of the claim can show that it should not attach. Another new clause provides that, if necessary, employers shall allow to their employes a certain time off, not to exceed two hours, for the purpose of attending the polling place and voting, and that it shall be allowed without any disproportionate reduction of the men's wages. A further new clause provides that the Court of Disputed Returns, in dealing with any matter, mav report to the Minister the occurrence of any illegal practices in connexion with an election. Then the House of Representatives provides that in connexion with the Court, counsel or solicitors shall not be engaged on behalf of a party, unless with the consent of both parties. There is not even provision made that the Court itself may grant leave for the employment of counsel or solicitors.

Senator Dobson - Is the Minister going to ask the Committee to accept that amendment ?

Senator KEATING - If the honorable senator will move that the Court have power to authorize the employment of counsel, I shall be very pleased to support him.

Senator Dobson - When a man is accused of having been guilty of bribery. ano illegal practices;.., surely he ought to be able to have legal advice ! It is a most shameful provision to suggest, I think.

Senator KEATING - There is also a new clause limiting the generosity of candidates. It provides that within a certain period prior to the elections candidates shall not give donations or prizes to clubs or other associations.

Senator Findley - For what period ?

Senator KEATING - The clause reads as follows: -

Any person who having announced himself within three months before the day of election as a candidate for election to the Parliament shall before the poll for the election is closet offer promise or give directly or indirectly to a for any club or other association, any gift, dona tion or prize, shall be guilty of an offence agains this section.

Senator Millen - I think that the provision ought to be general, and not limited to three months

Senator KEATING - Another new clause proposes to restrict the defamation of a candidate. It reads: -

(1)   Any person who makes or publishes any false and defamatory statement in relation to the personal character or conduct of a candidate shall be guilty of an offence against this Act, and shall be liable on conviction to a penalty of one hundred pounds or six months' imprisonment.

Provided always that it shall be a defence to a prosecution for an offence against this subsection if the defendant proves that he had reasonable ground for believing and did in fact believe the statement made or published by him to be true.

Provision is also made to enable a man to restrain by injunction the repetition of such an offence.

Senator Millen - Are not the circumstances sufficiently covered by the ordinary slander and libel laws?

Senator KEATING - The only difference is that under this new clause proceedings could be taken before a Court of summary jurisdiction.

Senator Dobson - That is all covered by the criminal libel provisions.

Senator KEATING - No. The honorable senator knows that if a candidate were to take advantage of those provisions, it would mean that the other person would have to be prosecuted on information or indictment, but under this new clause he could be punished summarily by a Court of summary jurisdiction acting under the Judiciary Act. We are asked by the other House to insert a. new clause, providing for a reduced rate in connexion with telegrams containing matter relative to an election, so long as they contain only - the names of divisions, names of candidates, and the numbers of votes polled for each candidate, and lodged for transmission on the day of or before noon on the day after the day of election may, subject to regulations, be transmitted on payment of the rates prescribed in the Second Part of the Second Schedule to the Post and Telegraph Kates Act 1902."

That js to say, at press rates. There is also a new clause to provide a reduced rate for posting election addresses. It would enable a candidate to put in the post a number of election addresses, and send them at the rates provided for the conveyance of ordinary newspapers.

Senator MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is that rate lower than what would be charged for conveying ordinary business circulars ?

Senator KEATING - Yes. In the case of business circulars, the rate is, I think, one halfpenny each, but in the case of newspapers the rate is, I think, id. for every 20 ozs. As honorable senators know, the publishers put their newspapers up in large bundles, and the weight is charged for at the rate of id. for 20 ozs.

Senator Millen - In the case of the rates for telegrams, what is the difference?

Senator KEATING - The difference is considerable. The rates for press telegrams are as follow: -



Senator Walker - Does the new clause relating to the posting of election addresses mean that they can go post free?

Senator KEATING - No. A candidate will be able to envelope and direct 1,000 addresses to be weighed at the postoffice, and to be transmitted at the same rate as is charged for" the transmission of newspapers, that is to say -

On all newspapers posted for delivery within the Commonwealth (without condition as to the number contained in each addressed wrapper), by registered newpaper proprietors, or by. newsvendors, or returned by an agent or news-vendor to the publishing office, one penny per twenty ounces on the aggregate weight of newspapers so posted by any one person at any one time.

Senator Lt Col Gould - Do I understand that for the sum of1d. a separate circular would be sent and delivered?

Senator KEATING - (Yes.

Senator Walker - Suppose that a candidate happened to be contesting a Senate seat for New South Wales, with its 600,000 electors, and sent through the post 600,000 addresses ?

Senator KEATING - If the addresses were not too heavy, they would go through the post at a very low rate. These are all the alterations which are of any importance. I thought it was better on the first amendment to indicate the general scope and purport of the amendments of the other House.

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