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Friday, 8 December 1905

Mr JOHNSON (Lang) - No doubt the Government will have the hearty support of honorable members generally in its effort to improve our electoral law, though many of the provisions of the Bill must inevitably be altered in Committee, I hope with the result of making them more satisfactory. I congratulate the Minister of Home Affairs on the explanatory memorandum which he has submitted, and I think that his example in this respect might be followed with advantage by other Ministers in connexion with other Bills. This memorandum will be of great assistance to honorable members in helping them to understand the effect of the proposed amendments, and any alteration of them that may be suggested. I shall not criticise the Bill at length, because it is a measure which can be more effectively dealt with in Committee than at the second-reading stage; but I wish to remind the Minister of one important omission. Although the miscellaneous provisions of Part XVII. disqualify persons convicted of bribery or undue influence, it seems to me that they do not go far enough. Thev apply to candidates for election, and not to sitting members.

Mr Groom - The Bill, like the original Act, deals only with persons who are being elected to Parliament ; the disqualification of sitting members is provided for by the Constitution. I doubt if what the honorable member proposes would come within the scope of the Bill, though I am in accord with his views on the subject.

Mr JOHNSON - I hope that some means will be found for doing what I think should be done.

Mr Groom - Under the Constitution, if a member is convicted of bribery, his seat is declared void.

Mr JOHNSON - Acts of bribery punishable in a candidate should be equallypunishable in a member.

Mr Groom - A member convicted of bribery, at common law, would lose his seat.

Mr JOHNSON - I do not think that that provision meets the cases which I have in view, which are those in which a Member of Parliament gives monetary gifts to electors or bodies of electors, such as sporting and recreation clubs and other associations of electors.

Mr Groom - I do not think that we can prevent that, though it would be a great relief to honorable members if it could be done.

Mr JOHNSON - I look upon gifts of this kind as bribery of the worst form. Furthermore, when persons approach a Member of Parliament for donations which they would not ask for from him as a private individual, they are committing what in some circumstances might be construable as an act of coercion, although they may not realize the fact. I think that means should be adopted for checking the prevalence of this sort of thing. If we do not prevent it,, we give the wealthiest and very often the least capable, and most unscrupulous, the best chances of maintaining the seats in some constituencies. Under the present system, a member who cannot afford to be as liberal as he might like to be often gets the reputation of being mean and stingy. In my own case I received upwards of 800 written applications for subscriptions and . donations in the one year, apart from verbal requests. I call the attention of the Minister to the matter in the hope that in Committee means may be found to put an end to this state of things, which has grown already to the dimensions of a very grave abuse.

Mr. JOSEPHCOOK (Parramatta).I think we might very well take the second reading of the Bill now, and then adjourn. If that understanding is arrived at, I shall be willing to forego my right to speak. I certainly feel quite unfit to continue the discussion on this Bill, which is, in some respects, the most important that we have had submitted to us this session. Having regard to the sheaves of amendments which have already been prepared, we shall not be able to do the measure simple justice within less than a fortnight.

Mr Groom - Let us pass the motion for the second reading now, and commit the Bill pro forma.

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