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Friday, 15 December 1905

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member can debate the question of the third reading of the Bill, but he cannot move that motion.

Mr CAMERON - In the earlier portion of the sitting, sir, I desired to bring certain facts before honorable members with regard to the Bill, and in now rising to oppose its third reading, I des,ire to know exactly how I stand. I understood that any honorable member could move against the third reading of a Bill, and give his reasons for so doing. I desire to move an amendment which would not deal with the Bill itself, but which, if carried, might be accepted by the Ministry as an intimation of the views of a majority of honorable members. I understood that I should be perfectly in order in taking that course, and, perhaps, you will put me right if I am wrong in my impression.

Mr SPEAKER -I understood that the honorable member desired to have an opportunity to refer to certain matters of which he informed me. He has now that opportunity ; but as to the question whether or not any amendment he may desire to move is in order, I should need to be apprised of what it is before I could offer an opinion. _ Mr. Chanter. - On a point of order, sir, I desire to ask_ whether it will not be competent for the honorable member to move. as an amendment to the motion, that the Bill be read a third time on a future day ?

Mr SPEAKER -The honorable member for Wilmot informed me that he desired to make a speech on a certain aspect of the question, and I informed him that at this stage he could do that without the slightest hindrance, and without moving an amendment. Of course, if he desires to move that the Bill be read a third time on " this day six months," he is entitled to do so.

Mr CAMERON - I desire that honorable members should have an opportunity of considering whether they have not made a mistake in agreeing to certain clauses of this Bill, and the only way in which I can give practical effect to that desire is by taking this course. At an earlier period of the sitting two honorable members who have had practical experience of the trial of election petitions by the High Court expressed their views on the subject. Although they were successful candidates, still they have expressed the strongest objection to election petitions being decided by that tribunal. My position is that of an unsuccessful petitioner. I propose to submit certain facts, and honorable members will then understand that not only successful, but unsuccessful, . candidates are equally opposed to. petitions being heard in the future by the High Court. Nineteen months ago a general election was held, and in my candidature for the Denison seat I was defeated by twenty-eight votes. Finding that, in a number of instances, bribery had been used, I decided to petition against the .return of the successful candidate. I lodged my deposit of ,£50, and filed a petition df ten clauses, seven of which dealt distinctly with bribery, the remainder simply asking for a recount of the votes. After a considerable time the Chief Justice appointed a certain day on which it was to be heard. A short time before that day my opponent, through his solicitors, applied to the Chief Justice, in Chambers, in Sydney, to have seven clauses struck out of the petition, and His Honour gave me seven days in which to show cause why that should not be done. As it takes some days for the mail to reach Hobart, the result was that, when my counsel had to show cause, he found that he could not get his objections lodged in time. As a matter of fact, the written objections which were posted immediately after we received the notice, reached Sydney twentyfour hours after the Judge had ordered the clauses to be struck out. We found that it was impossible to get bur objections there in time, and we had to have recourse to the telegraph wire ; but I need hardly point out that it is impossible for an advocate to be instructed as to His case as fully by wire as in writing. Sir Samuel Griffith, who authorized the case to come before him in chambers, also heard the case.

Mr Conroy - Does the honorable memoer mean to say that only seven days were allowed to send across to Tasmania?

Mr CAMERON - Only seven days were allowed after the application.

Mr Conroy - Where were the objections filed?

Mr CAMERON - In Sydney. The day of trial arrived, and Sir Samuel Griffith came to Hobart to preside at the hearing. When the case was called, Mr. Lodge, my representative, rose to complain of the manner in which we had been treated, pointing out that sufficient time had not been afforded to prepare the case. To this Sir Samuel Griffith replied: "I do not know why those clauses were struck out; they ought not to have been." These were the words used by the very Judge who had himself ordered the clauses to be struck out. I can assure honorable members that every word I say is absolutely true.

Mr Carpenter - What did the honorable member's counsel say ?

Mr CAMERON - What could my counsel say, except that the clauses had been struck out against his will ? Then Sir Samuel Griffith added, as an afterthought, that our Sydney representative had consented to that course; and my counsel retorted that if that were so, our- representative had done so contrary to our express instructions, but that it could not be believed that he had so acted. Honorable members who paid some attention to the election petitions heard at that time may remember that Sir Samuel Griffith said that he had no power to deal with cases of bribery. When our case was proceeding, he told my counsel and myself that, although he had no power to deal with a single case of bribery, if many cases of bribery occurred, and could be proved, he had power to deal with them, and would do so. What was my position? The Judge had struck out the seven clauses on which I relied to prove my case, and then he coolly turned round and said that he had no power to deal with bribery. When it was originally proposed that the High Court should be the tribunal to hear election petitions I supported the idea, and in this connexion I would like to remind honorable members of a certain provision in the original Electoral Act to the effect that any evidence, even if not strictly legal, which, was likely to lead to substantial justice being done, should be admitted. Sir Samuel Griffith, being a man of legal mind, absolutely refused to allow us to take advantage of that section. Just before the luncheon hour arrived on one day during the trial, my counsel placed Mr. Sei;gar in the witness-box, and proposed to examine him, but Sir Samuel Griffith would not allow that to be done. When the Court met after lunch, the Chief Justice decided that if we could connect Seagar, who was the officer in charge of the Invalid Station, near Hobart, with the bribery, &c, he might be examined. This, it must be remembered, was after the Judge had refused point blank to allow us to examine Mr. Seagar, although he was one of my most important witnesses in connexion with the case then being investigated. My counsel must take responsibility for the fact that, although my principal witness had been present in Court from 10 o'clock in the morning until the adjournment for lunch, he had disappeared when the Court resumed. Thereupon, Sir Samuel Griffith said : " I will give you an hour to find the witness, and if you can find him within that time, and can connect Mr. Seagar with the bribery, I shall allow you to crossexamine him.'" I have no hesitation in saying, that if the investigation had been conducted by a Committee of this House, an adjournment would have been granted for a reasonable time, in order to enable us to find the witness, and compel him to give evidence, under the section to which I have referred. Hobart is a town of some 36.000 inhabitants, and of fairly large area ; and, although we searched carefully, the witness could not be found within the hour which had been allowed. I ask honorable members to put themselves in my position, which may be theirs fourteen months hence. I am sure we all desire that substantial justice shall be done; and. if I can convince honorable members that justice was not done in my case, I think I may fairly ask them to reconsider the position. Then, we desired to investigate a large number of postal votes. The Chief Justice, however, declined to allow us to examine the flaps attached to them, to see whether the signatures corresponded, and therefore it was idle to proceed with the inspection. Judgment was entered against me, and I was saddled with costs. A little later, I left to attend to my parliamentary duties here, and immediately upon my arrival, feeling that I had been badly treated, I gave notice of a motion in favour of the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into all matters connected with the Denison petition. I did not for a moment entertain the idea that I could unseat the honorable member for Denison, but I desired to bring the subject before the Committee, so that Parliament might subsequently be afforded an opportunity to decide whether or not we ought to revert to the old system of referring all disputed elections to a parliamentary tribunal. I asked my barrister to forward the telegram and the letter of instructions to which I have referred, in order that I might be in a position to prove my case. He ignored my request. In the short space of three months I wrote to him upon six occasions, and per sonally saw him once. The only answer I got from him was that he was feeling unwell, arid intended to leave for a holiday. He promised that upon his, return he would attend to the matter, but he failed to do so. I was, therefore, compelled to renew my notice of motion in regard to a parliamentary inquiry from time to time. It remained upon the business-paper for the whole of that session, and was renewed again this session. The election petition was heard on 18th April, 1903, and from the next day till 7th October, 1905, I was not asked to pay a single penny of my opponent's expenses. But a short time ago, in view of the large amount of Government business upon the paper, the Prime Minister moved that private members' business be set on one side for the remainder of the session. Only three or four days after that notice of motion appeared, I received the following telegram: -

Have just received documents which you better peruse. Shall I post to Bentley or Melbourne? Wire reply.

The wire was signed by F. Lodge, who acted as my counsel. That telegram was followed within a few days by the following letter, which is dated Hobart, 9th October,^ 1905 -

Dear Sir, - The document as to which we telegraphed you was the long delayed bill of costs of Sir Philip Fysh of the Denison election petition. We now post it you herewith for your perusal and observation. The total amount is j£i85 gs. Please return the bill by Thursday morning next, as the taxation is adjourned to that day.

Mr King O'Malley - Does that .£185 represent an amount in addition to what the honorable member had to pay himself?


Mr Thomas - How much did the honorable member pay himself?

Mr CAMERON - Close upon £200. Besides, I wish to direct special attention to the fact that whilst my motion in favour of the appointment of .1 Select Committee remained upon the business-paper the bill of costs was never presented. But just about the time it had to disappear from the business-paper, the bill of costs was presented.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member has called attention to the fact that he has a notice of motion upon the businesspaper relating to this very question. In spite of that fact, he is entitled to make a general reference to the cost of a disputed1 election, which was heard by the High'

Court, but I do not think he is in order in discussing in detail the matters to which he refers.

Mr CAMERON - I should like to point out that I am not now asking for the appointment of a Select Committee. I desire to impress upon honorable members the point that substantial justice cannot be done as long as election petitions are dealt with by the High Court as a Court of Disputed Returns, instead of being referred to an Elections and Qualifications Committee. I am bringing forward facts.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member will be quite in order in speaking on those lines. Even his notice of motion would not preclude him from doing so; but I fail to see what relation the point as to the date on which a bill of costs was rendered, as well as the other matters to which the honorable member was referring when I interrupted him, cam have to the question.

Mr CAMERON - But if I can connect them?

Mr SPEAKER - If the honorable member can do so, I shall have no more it say.

Mr CAMERON - I wish to show honorable members what a petition cost me, so that they may h'ave an idea of the costs to which they may be subjected should they be concerned in an election dispute.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member will be perfectly in order in doing so; but that matter has no relation to the date when a certain bill of costs was delivered.

Mr CAMERON - The bill of costs was not rendered for a year [and eight months. It was then taxed, and within twenty-four hours I received notice that ,if it were not immediately paid proceedings 'would be taken for its recovery. I wish to show honorable members that there is something very suspicious in connexion with the case. I am actuated only by one feeling. I have been through the mill, and have suffered. Two other honorable members have also been through the mill, and, notwithstanding that they have been successful, they agree with me that is is undesirable that election petitions should in future be dealt with by the High 'Court as a Court of Disputed Returns. That is the point that I wish to strongly impress upon honorable members. The Ministry, and particularly the Minister of Home Affairs, bave taken up an attitude towards me that Is scarcely fair. The Minister in charge of the Bill did everything in his power to prevent me, at an earlier stage in the proceedings, from dealing with this question. I shall not say' that his action was due to the fact that he is a lawyer, or was prompted by any desire to prevent a slur 'being past upon the High Court; but if honorable members desire substantial justice to be done them in connexion with any election dispute with which they may be concerned - if they desire to see the law, which is designed to secure purity of elections, carried out as it should be - they will decline to allow electoral petitions to be dealt with by the High Court.

Mr King O'Malley - It means ruination to any but a wealthy man.

Mr CAMERON - T am not so much concerned with the effect which this system may have upon a man's pocket ; I am actuated by a far higher motive. I think that honorable members are desirous that the will of the electors shall be carried out, and that the intention of the law shall be observed. That being so, they should see that, when a petition is lodged on the ground that the law has been violated, the petitioner shall have fair play.

Mr Maloney - And we never had it.

Mr CAMERON - I can say honestly that I did not have fair play. The only three honorable members capable of expressing an opinion on this question are unanimously against the continuation of the present system. I have endeavoured, as well as I can, to lay the matter before the House, and have no desire to trespass further upon its indulgence. Only one election petition was dealt with by the Elections and Qualifications Committee appointed by the first Parliament, and I believe that that tribunal did substantial justice. I favour the appointment of an Elections and Qualifications Committee, and do not care how it may be constituted; my sole desire is to endeavour to benefit my fellow members. If I succeed in doing so, I shall feel that I have done something for the parliamentary institutions of Australia. I had proposed to move that the Bill be not read a third time until to-morrow, and to suggest that if the motion were agreed to, the Government should regard it as an intimation that the majority of the House were against the High Court being the Court of Disputed Returns. But as I understand that a satisfactory promise has been made in regard to this matter, I shall refrain from submitting such a motion.

Question resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a third time.

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