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Friday, 3 November 1911

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I desire to say a few words, because, in my opinion, the VicePresident of the Executive Council kicked up so much dust that he got away from the real point, which has no bearing upon the principle of compulsory enrolment. Had not the honorable senator made the declaration that this proposed new section is necessary, I would have asked him to postpone its consideration for a week, or until the next sitting day. There will be no loss of dignity or disadvantage on his part in agreeing to a postponement. It will afford time for us to give maturer consideration to the real effects of the provision. Will the Minister agree to a postponement ?

Senator Findley - No.

Senator GARDINER - The clause simply provides that when a charge is made by an officer against a person, the absence of the latter shall be a proof of his guilt.

Senator McGregor - No ; it . provides that the absence of the man's name from the roll shall be a proof of his guilt.

Senator Rae - Or the averment of the officer.

Senator Millen - There is another thing which ought to be proved, not merely that the name is absent, but also that it ought to be there.

Senator GARDINER - In my opinion there is no occasion for the Government to say that they are being unfairly opposed by their own supporters. Notwithstanding all the officials at their command, the Government ask us to enact that their case shalL be taken as proved without establishing it in a Court of summary jurisdiction. We ask that if they have a complaint to make against a citizen, they shall prove their case to the satisfaction of the magistrate. Surely, that is not too much for us to ask ?

Senator McGregor - Is not the fact that the name of the man is not on the roll all the proof which is necessary?

Senator GARDINER - There may be a hundred reasons to account for the name not being on the roll. According to my reading of the clause, not only will it inflict a very great hardship upon men who live far from the Court, and to whom a charge of this sort may mean the loss of a week's work, but in many instances a man who has changed his address in a large city like Melbourne or Sydney may never know that a case against him is coming on in a Court, and, according to this clause, his absence is to be taken as proof of guilt. We simply want to provide, and I think that the Minister should agree to a provision, that when a charge is made against a man, the Department shall prove their case in a Court of summary jurisdiction, as the Department has to do in every other reasonable case. In my opinion, the Acts cited by the Minister furnish a strong ground for our not proceeding further on those lines. There is no good reason why any one should be deemed guilty until his guilt is proved. There is no good ground for getting away from the sound principle that a man is innocent until he is shown conclusively to be guilty.

Senator Findley - We have got away from that principle, and very far away indeed, in three or four Acts.

Senator GARDINER - I can assure the honorable senator that I have not got away from the principle, and I do not intend to get away from it now. But let us take the Minister's interjection. I retort that many an innocent man has had to bless the fact that even the worst criminal has the privilege of being considered innocent until he is proved guilty. The Minister said in an off-hand way that in three or four Acts we have got away from a sound principle. Well, that is, to my mind, a reason for getting back to the principle.

Senator Findley - That is not the only reason ; I have given others.

Senator GARDINER - I know that; but- one of the reasons which the honorabe senator gave was that in several Acts we have got away from that which has been proved through the ages to be a sound principle, namely, that a man shall be deemed innocent until his guilt is established. "If," the Minister tells us, " we take this step, weshall only get a little further away from that principle. If we have taken the step in two or three Acts, why should we not do so in the case of this measure?" If we take his advice in this instance, no doubt we shall be asked to do so in the case of another measure. We do not ask the Government to discontinue the prosecution of persons who commit breaches of the Electoral Act. We simply say that, when a breach of the law has been committed, proof should be adduced to the satisfaction of the Court by the officer making the charge. Proceedings may be taken against a shearer who is 400 or 500 miles away from his home. The case against him may be set down for hearing right in the middle of the shearing season, and, if he wishes to defend himself, he will have to lose the whole of his earnings. Senator McGregor made some reference to the people who were dead. I say that, if a person dies after a charge has been made against him, he must be found guilty, because he cannot prove his innocence. If the Minister will not consent to an amend ment, I ask him to consent to the postponement of the clause. Possibly the happenings of the last few weeks may cause the members of the Government to think that I am anxious to speak against them and to vote against them. Nothing is further from the truth. It is quite painful to me to find our Government introducing clauses of this kind, and it is quite painful to have to vote against them. If there is a reasonable chance of more mature consideration causing the Minister to alter his mind, he should agree to the postponement of the clause. He will suffer no loss of dignity by adopting that course. There is an honest difference of opinion amongst honorable senators, and I earnestly appeal to the Minister not to force on a division now. Some of the supporters of the Government will vote against the Government if that is done. If the clause were postponed, when it was again called on the Minister would be in as strong position as he is in now, or in even a stronger position, because he would have given honorable senators an opportunity of looking into the effect of the clause.

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