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Tuesday, 12 December 1905

Mr CONROY (Werriwa) - In my opinion the principal Act goes quite far enough. It imposes a limit upon the expenses whichcandidates may incur, and it also provides that a return of those expenses shall be filed with the Electoral Office. When candidates are travelling over the various electorates, it frequently happens that they can only tell what their expenditure has been by a reference to the cheques which they have drawn. Scores of them do not obtain receipts for every little item. I certainly do not. I merely know that I keep within the limit prescribed by law, and that the returns which I forward to the Electoral Office contain all the particulars that it is within my power to furnish.

Mr Maloney - But if the honorable and learned member's cheques were payable to order, would they not institute receipts?

Mr CONROY - The honorable member must recollect that I am allowed so much for travelling expenses. In my opinion, this clause goes a great deal too far. It presupposes that every candidate - certainly every successful one - is dishonest. If that be so, this Parliament is not worth very much.

Mr Mahon - Could not a similar thing be said of all law?

Mr CONROY - It might ; but, unfortunately, we shall presently be confronted with an anti-trust Bill, which presumes that the Minister of Trade and Customs for the time being is above suspicion.

Mr Chanter - This provision will apply to every candidate.

Mr CONROY - Then it will apply to every member of this Committee, and it is a distinct reproach to them. A great many honorable members may need the imposition of all these safeguards. God help the country if they do. In canvassing my electorate, I know how much I expend, and I keep within the limit prescribed by law. Now, however, I am asked not only to submit for the inspection of an electoral officer a declaration of my expenses, but to allow him to publish it to the world.

Mr Chanter - Surely the honorable and learned member is not ashamed of it ?

Mr CONROY - I am not. At the same time, I do not desire everybody to know my business.

Mr Spence - It is the business of the public.

Mr CONROY -It is not. It ceases to be the business of the public when I keep within the limits prescribed by law. By adopting this amendment we shall be lowering our own standard of honour.

Mr Chanter - At the present time the electoral officer simply accepts the statements of candidates. He does not examine them.

Mr CONROY - It is perfectly within his powerto examine them.

Mr Maloney - Under what section is that power given?

Mr CONROY - Under the existing Act a candidate has to declare his expenses.

Mr Batchelor - But there is no power of examination.

Mr CONROY - Why do we have an Attorney-General if he is not to take cognisance of these matters? It is idle to attempt to fight against this proposition if honorable members take up the line of argument that we have no character to lose.

Mr Maloney - Who has put forward such a contention?

Mr CONROY - That seems to be the position taken up by the framers of the Bill. The clause goes too far. All that we should do is to take care that the amount of the expenses which a candidate is allowed to incur under the Act is not exceeded ; there is certainly no occasion to require that the details of a candidate's electioneering expenses shall be published. If this amendment be carried, most of us two or three days later will awake to the fact that in agreeing to it we have practically said: "There are such a lot of perjurers in this House that we cannot rely upon their oaths. We know that whenever the opportunity offers they will perjure themselves." As a rule, I do not like the idea of taking an oath, because I think that my word is sufficient; but when I do take one, I like to be scrupulously accurate in my statements. The bulk of honorable members seem to be suggesting that they take up a different position.

Mr Storrer - That is an insult to the Committee.

Mr CONROY - If that be the honorable member's view, he will not support this amendment. If the Chief Electoral Officer has reason to suspect fraud, he may institute a prosecution ; but the argument of some honorable members appears to be that we are such a dishonest body of men that it is necessary to publish to the country all the items of our electioneering expenses.

Mr Thomas - If they be accurate, there can be no harm in publishing them.

Mr CONROY - There might be no harm in the honorable member owing £1 for a pair of boots which he purchased yesterday ; but he would not like that fact to be published. I have entered my protest against a proposal which, to my mind, will lower the dignity of the House, and I trust that it will not be accepted.

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