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Tuesday, 12 December 1905

Mr CROUCH (Corio) - I am afraid that the honorable member for Riverina is defeating the purpose that he has in view. I quite agree with his intention, and when the original Electoral Bill was before us I submitted an amendment that would have given effect to it. But if it be provided that the returning officer shall, at the request of a candidate, direct a recount on good and substantial grounds being shown, the officer will still have the right to determine whether those reasons are such as should induce him to comply with the request, and he may refuse to take action upon them. I recognise the desirableness of not giving a candidate power to require a recount for any frivolous reason. I would submit to the Minister an amendment which I putbef ore the Committee when the first Electoral Bill was under consideration. It provided that -

The Chief Electoral Officer may, upon the written request of any candidate, accompanied with a deposit of Five pounds, recount the votes at any election at a day to be fixed by him, of which he shall give notice to all other candidates who may be present at such recount. If such recount shall have the same result as the result of the poll previously declared by the Returning Officer, the deposit shall be forfeited, and applied in such manner as the Chief Electoral Officer shall direct.

If we give the returning officer no discretionary power, but leave it open to any candidate to demand a recount without lodging a deposit with his written request, we shall have nearly every defeated candidate availing himself of this provision. If, for instance, I were defeated by 200 votes, I might think it worth while to take my chances of discovering irregularities by means of a recount.

Mr Chanter - We are not asking for a scrutiny.

Mr CROUCH - If a recount were made, all the candidates would have a right to see the ballot-papers, and would be able to determine whether the crosses were inside or outside the squares on the ballot-papers.

Mr Groom - But the honorable and learned member would not require a deposit to accompany a request for arecount if the returning officer were given a reasonable discretion.

Mr CROUCH - When a recount takes place, to all intents and purposes a scrutiny must also take place. A candidate who was defeated by, say, 200 votes, would take care to have a recount, unless a penalty were provided as a deterrent against frivolous objections. I have known different decisions to be given, riot only at different polling booths, but at different tables in the same polling booth upon the question of whether or not the crosses placed on certain ballot-papers complied with the law. That position arose in connexion with the elections for Riverina and Melbourne. We want to be able to compel the returning officers to order recounts whenever candidates think that there is reason for them. It must be remembered that the returning officers are drawn from a class, which is not democratic, and no discretion should be left in their hands in this matter. Therefore, I want to amend the amendment so as to provide that a returning officer shall order a recount when requested by a candidate to do so. If necessary, in. order to prevent frivolous requests for recounts, we can require candidates asking for recounts to deposit a small amount ; but we should not leave it to the discretion of the returning officers to order recounts, because, what might be considered good and substantial reasons in the case of a request by a candidate of the Employers' Federation class, might not be considered good and substantial reasons ifgiven by a labour or democratic candidate.

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