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Thursday, 23 October 1913

Senator RAE (New South Wales) . - I move -

That leave be granted to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Electoral Act' so as to provide for the abolition of monetary deposits from parliamentary candidates, to make other provisions in lieu thereof, and for other purposes.

During the last Parliament I submitted a motion for the abolition of monetary deposits required from candidates for election to this Parliament which was carried in June, of 1910, without a division. Some honorable senators, at present occupying seats on the other side, including the present Leader of the Government in the' Senate, signified their approval of the motion. It was passed on the voices. On a subsequent occasion, during last session, I submitted a- similar motion adding that the Electoral Act should be amended to that effect, but other business intervening I had not an opportunity to proceed with the motion. I have heard the proposal opposed from what are considered practical points of view. There are many who think that there would be a tendency on the part of would-be candidates for Parliament to rush into the field, and become nominated if there were no pecuniary penalty to prevent them from doing so. Some critics of the proposal argue that, while in principle it is democratic and sound, for practical purposes it is necessary to require a monetary deposit with the nomination of each candidate. I think that, however much they may differ in their application, all parties in Australia are agreed that Australian politics should be based on democratic principles, and that all citizens should be equal before the law, and should have equal opportunities of exercising their rights of citizenship. I say that the monetary deposit required of candidates for Parliament is a denial of that principle, and really results in imposing a property qualification upon candidates. It may be said that the money is only temporarily deposited, since ft candidate, who secures one-fifth of the votes polled by the successful candidate, has his deposit returned to him.

Senator Ready - Candidates often " drop their sinker."

Senator RAE - Sometimes candidates do, but I point out that, in the case of a perso.i in comparatively poor circumstances, though he may obtain a sufficient number of votes to secure the return of his deposit, he is deprived of its use when it would be most serviceable in the prosecution of his election campaign. The objection that the proposal might lead to a rush of candidates is entirely undemocratic and unfair. We have no right to try to make Parliament a close preserve for ourselves. We have no right to resent the intrusion of other people into the field we at present occupy. Others have just as much right to submit them selves to the electors as have those who already occupy seats in Parliament.

Senator Bakhap - I do not think that any one disputes their right.

Senator RAE - It is not disputed in words, but the effect of requiring the monetary deposit is to prevent people nominating for election who otherwise would probably do so. Is is not what people say, so much as what they do, that counts in this world. If we have a right to impose a penalty of £25 for nomination we have just as good a right to impose a penalty of £100. A deposit of £25 does not cripple the resources of very many, but if a deposit of £100 were required it would certainly prevent many persons from becoming candidates, who might do so under, existing conditions. I am reminded that, in requiring a monetary deposit, we restrict to some extent the choice of the electors. On one occasion, in my own State, I reached the political depths by forfeiting my deposit, but that is npt the reason why I denounce the system under which a monetary deposit is required. Twenty -two years ago, when I first became a candidate for a seat in the New South Wales Parliament, a deposit of £40 was required from each candidate. Owing to organization, that did not prevent me from becoming a candidate, and a successful one. One of the planks of the Labour platform of that day was the abolition of monetary deposits. Two successive Governments held office in New South Wales within a few months after - that election, and each introduced an entirely new Electoral Bill. Both parties proposed the abolition of the monetary deposit, in deference to the generally expressed wish of the electors throughout the State. A measure abolishing the deposit in New South Wales was passed eventually in 1894, and it is therefore now nineteen years since any deposit was required from candidates for the State Parliament. Still, there has not been, as a general rule, any great rush of candidates for any of the seats. On occasions, when a seat appears to be a pretty open proposition, and to offer a fair field to any comer; there may be five or six candidates, but figures might be given to prove that then* has been no greater number of candidates for the various seats in that State than there was prior to 1894, when a monetary deposit was required, or than there has been for seats in the Federal Parliament in connexion with which a monetary deposit is required from each candidate.

Senator Bakhap - Have not nominations in recent years been practically controlled by political organizations?

Senator RAE - That applies to Federal as well as to State politics. Whether it should be so or not is quite immaterial, but in State and Federal politics to-day in Australia, party organization has reached a height which it never reached before, and, no doubt, that has tended very largely to eliminate what might be described as the "unnecessary " candidate. In Federal politics, the State which I have the honour to represent has been exceptional in the number of candidates who have come forward for the Senate. They have not been any very serious disturbing factor, but their influence in that direction is increasing. I suppose that the political organization in Australiawhich has the fewest direct adherents is the Socialist party.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Revolutionary Socialists.

Senator RAE - The majority of the members of the Labour party are Socialists, but I refer to the party whose political designation is the " Australian Socialist party." They have run candidates for the Senate since Federation was established. For the first Senate election they ran a full ticket of six, and for every subsequent election they have run a full ticket of three.

Senator Bakhap - There was a tremendous list of nominations for the Federal Convention.

Senator RAE - Yes. In New South Wales there were over sixty.

Senator Bakhap - And that resulted in 18 per cent. of informal votes.

Senator RAE - I am not dealing with that point. Honorable senators will remember that ten delegates were to be elected to the Convention, and it required only a few organizations to put forward a full ticket to account for a very large number of candidates. The number in New South Wales exceeded sixty, but that was due, not to the fact that no monetary deposit was required, but to the fact that rival political organizations each put forward a full ticket. That would not have been prevented if a monetary deposit had been required, because it would have amounted to a very small proportion of the total expense of running the candidates. Very few persons were at that time foolish enough to believe that they would have any chance of election single-handed, and the multiplicity of candidates for election to the Federal Convention was not due to individual ambition, but to the fact, as I have said, that a number of rival organizations each put forward a full ticket of ten candidates.

Senator Clemons - An organization would run a serious monetary risk if it risked the loss of ten times £25.

Senator RAE - Whilst the loss of £25 would be a serious matter for an individual, the loss of ten times £25, or £250, would not be a serious matter for a large organization hoping to influence a whole State by the return of a full ticket of ten candidates.

Senator Clemons - The honorable senator says £250 very readily, but it would be a serious sum to lose.

Senator RAE - It would not represent any considerable proportion of what the organization would require to spend to carry out an effective campaign. My point, however, was that the large number of candidates for election to the Federal Convention was not due to the fact that no monetary deposit was required, but to the fact that strong rival organizations each put forward a full ticket. I do not know what the law is in all the other States.

Senator Bakhap - The electoral law in most of the States requires a monetary deposit.

Senator RAE - In answer to those who argue that to abolish the deposit would probably lead to a rush of candidates, I am able to say that, although it has been abolished for nineteen years in New South Wales, a rush of nominations for election to the New South Wales Parliament has not been noticeable, and consequently the argument falls to the ground, so far as Australian politics are concerned, because it is not found to operate in that way. There are no more candidates for the average seat now - not half so many - than there were over twenty years ago, when the large deposit of £40 was required. The closer organization of to-day, the more distinct line of demarcation between rival candidates, has done infinitely more to eliminate what may be called the surplus candidate than the monetary deposit ever succeeded in doing. Let me put forward another feature. On every occasion, the organized political Socialist party, although numerically they are small, and, financially, very weak, have run candidates. They have put up the £75 required to nominate three candidates at every election which has taken place in New South Wales since the inception of Federation. I am not here pleading for them alone, hut simply using them in illustration of the fact that every political party had to have a beginning. Every party had to fight against overwhelming odds before it could secure the approval of a majority of the electors. No existing party has the right to assume that it possesses all the political knowledge which the world will ever attain, and that it, as a party, is the last word in politics. There should be just the same freedom for the electors to rally round any new party, and, if the aims, principles, and methods of that party meet with their approval, unrestricted political freedom to attain (o a majority, and assume, in time, the government of this country, working their way up as older parties have had to do. I maintain that those who now occupy public positions should be the last to use their power to restrict the choice of electors, or the growth of a new party. This motion, if carried, will allow of the introduction of a measure to make provision in lieu of the monetary deposit. There are a number of suggestions which have been made from time to time.

Senator Bakhap - Is there not an amending Electoral Bill on the stocks in another place ?

Senator RAE - I cannot have any official knowledge of what is before another place. But, so far as I have heard of the contents of a measure which, I believe, is before that Chamber, I do not think it touches this subject at all.

Senator Bakhap - It would admit of the insertion of an amendment.

Senator Clemons - So far as you have heard of the Electoral Bill, can you tell us anything about the time of its probable arrival here ?

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