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Thursday, 23 November 1911

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I listened carefully to the major portion of the statement made by the Honorary Minister, and I submit that he assigned no substantial reason for the change which is proposed in the law. I would remind him that for some years a Commonwealth Electoral Act has been operative throughout Australia. During all that period the officials have been gaining experience, and yet this clause has hitherto been absent from our electoral laws. Within a period of ten years the officials ought to have gained sufficient experience to have enabled them to assign definite reasons for the amendment which is now proposed. The Minister might reasonably have supplied us with the specific instances which have prompted the Department to adopt the course that has been taken. The honorable gentleman has said that the clause is a desirable one because some of the electoral offences are of a very serious character. But I would point out that it not only lengthens the period during which a charge against a man may be launched, but it also groups together indictable offences against the Act and offences which are of a trivial character. In what they have done the Government have not met the requirements of every class of case. There ought not to be a threeyears' limit in either case. I venture to say that if a prosecution were instituted for some of these offences no magistrate would deal with them. I would suggest to the Minister that he should consent to the elimination of serious offences from the Bill, and that, in regard to ordinary offences, a six months' limit should apply. In my judgment, we might very well leave things as they stand to-day. That result will be secured if we agree to delete the clause. The Department will then be able to launch a prosecution at any time for a serious offence, but for trivial offences against the regulations the prosecution must be initiated within six months of the commission of the offence. It seems to me ridiculous to say that three years after an offence has been committed, a prosecution may be launched carrying with it the imp'osition of a paltry fine. It is proposed that indictable offences against the law and minor offences against the regulations shall be brought under this arbitrary provision. My first suggestion is that the Minister should agree to the elimination of the clause. But if he will not consent to adopt that course, he ought at least to agree to separate the offences against the Act which are serious, from those against the regulations which are trivial.

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