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Friday, 17 November 1911

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - It must be becoming almost painfully evident that the Government are wrecking their own Bill. It is almost equally evident that the Bill is helping to wreck the Government, and, to continue this form of expression, they are quite reckless in refusing to accept the plainest and most sensible suggestion from this side. 0 No attempt has been made to give an intelligible reason why the form of nomination-paper should not be retained in the Act. The Government seem to have forgotten the elementary principles of elections. Two essential elements of an election are the submission of a candidate to the electors, without which an election cannot take place, and the choice by the electors from the candidates submitted. The whole of our electoral machinery is founded on those two principles, and as the Act prescribes the form to give effect to one essential element, namely, the ballot-paper, on which the elector expresses his choice, it should in the same way provide the form to give effect to the other essential element of an election. Might I ask the Minister to display sufficient intelligence and courage to resist being tied hard and fast to the provisions -5 of this Bill by the officials of the Electoral Office? Why is the form of the ballotpaper set out in the Electoral Act? It is in order that the elector may be properly ;guided in indicating his choice.

Senator Vardon - Why not prescribe the ballot-paper by regulation?

Senator ST LEDGER - That is just my point. Unless a candidate were submitted to the electors, there would be no need for a ballot-paper, and, therefore, the nomination element of an election should be given effect in the same way as that provided for giving effect to the choice of the electors. No Government would have the audacity to suggest that the form of the ballot-paper should be as prescribed by regulation, and yet the nomination-form is equally essential. It is all very well to say that the law will be more elastic if the nomination form may be prescribed by regulation. There are things which Parliament may safely leave to regulations, but the nominationform is as essential as the ballot-paper in an election, and it should not, any more than the ballot-paper, be left to regulation.

Senator Vardon - Let us have an interview with the officers of the Department. We might be able to convince them.

Senator ST LEDGER - It is about time that Ministers listened to advice from this side. .Senator Findley should display some courage, and endeavour to release himself from the cast-iron bonds of his officials. No attempt has been made on the other side to give a single reason for this proposal. It may be that honorable senators opposite dare not get up . and give reasons for it, or it may be that there are no reasons. If we were in possession of the benches opposite, and proposed to alter the form of the ballotpaper by regulation, we should be condemned and denounced throughout Australia as desiring to manipulate the elections. 1 do not know that any Government would have the audacity to make such a proposal, but for just the same reasons the nomination-paper should be treated in the same way as the ballot-paper, and its form set out in the Act. ' We may be told that this will be left to trusted and experienced officials, who will frame the nominationpaper properly, but it is within .my experience that some regulations issued under the Electoral Act have been utterly stupid, and some have been actually illegal.

Senator McGregor - What does the honorable senator know about law ?

Senator ST LEDGER - I have a knowledge of something more than the law. I know something about the Vice-President of the Executive Council. In connexion with the Federal election in Brisbane, the attention of the Department was called to certain regulations, which were inapplicable to some of the divisions in Queensland. It took a long time to convince the Department, and letter after letter was, no doubt, thrown into the waste-paper basket. On a very important point, a reference was made to Melbourne, and a ruling was received. The election was upon us, and we had the unpleasant duty of informing the Department that their regulations were ultra vires, and we pointed out the section of the Act upon which we based our communication. Acting upon legal advice, the regulations were flouted by the Committee in charge of the elections. They were set on one side, and we acted, so to speak, upon our own regulations. It was subsequently found that we were right and the departmental officials were wrong, and I believe the regulations to which we took exception were altered. This goes' to show that the officers of the Department may sometimes be without sufficient intelligence or knowledge of the law to frame regulations properly. So essential an element in an election as the nomination-paper should not be left to any such chance. The form should, as in all our previous Acts, and as, I believe, in all the English Acts and the Acts of other portions of the Empire, be set out in the Act itself. I remind honorable senators that regulations may be issued at a time when Parliament is not sitting, and they will have the effect of law. We know that, from time to time, regulations and statutory rules are tabled in the Senate, and honorable senators never look at them. I think that sometimes even the Minister who lays them on the table does not know what they are. It is easily conceivable that a regulation under this Bill may be issued when Parliament is not sitting, and no one but the officials may be aware of an alteration proposed in the nomination-form. We should guard candidates from the possibility of any mistake due, it may be, to the ignorance or stupidity of officials of the Electoral Office. I hope that the Committee will strenuously resist the clause, because it permits of the nomination- form being made a variable one. I trust that the Honorary Minister, in view of the debate which has taken place, will recognise the wisdom of allowing that form to be clearly set out in the schedule of the Act.

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