ELECTORAL OFFENCES WHETHER SUPPLY OF REFRESHMENTS AT POLITICAL MEETING IS BRIBERY
COMMONWEALTH ELECTORAL ACT 1902-1909, ss. 175, 176
It has been stated that in connection with the referendum campaign in Tasmania, at certain meetings after the speeches were concluded, refreshments consisting of coffee, cake etc. were served to those present by ladies of the Liberal League. It is stated that this has been a regular practice with the Liberal League at Ross, and that the practice commenced at the last Federal elections.
The papers in connection with the matter have been forwarded by the Secretary to the Department of Home Affairs to me for advice on the following questions:
- Whether it is an offence under the provisions of Part XV of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902-1909 to supply refreshments at a political meeting after the receipt of the nominations for an election; and
- Whether it is an offence under the provisions of Part XV of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902-1909 to supply refreshments at a political meeting after the issue of a writ for a referendum.
In the papers there is a bill or poster relating to a meeting in connection with the recent referendum at the Town Hall, Ross, which has at its foot, in writing, the words: 'Tea and coffee supper after address'.
Sections 175 and 176 of the Electoral Act are as follows:
- Promises, or offers, or suggests any valuable consideration, advantage, recompense, reward, or benefit for or on account of, or to induce any candidature, or withdrawal of candidature, or any vote or omission to vote, or any support of, or opposition to, any candidate, or any promise of any such vote, omission, support, or opposition:
- Gives or takes any valuable consideration, advantage, recompense, reward, or benefit for, or on account of, any such candidature, withdrawal, vote, omission, support, or opposition, or promise thereof:
- Promises, offers, or suggests any valuable consideration, advantage, recompense, reward, or benefit, for bribery, or gives or takes any valuable consideration, advantage, recompense, reward, or benefit for bribery:
shall be guilty of bribery.
176. Without limiting the effect of the general words in the preceding section, 'bribery' particularly includes the supply of meat, drink, or entertainment after the nominations have been officially declared, or horse or carriage hire for any voter whilst going to or returning from the poll, with a view to influence the vote of an elector.
In the case of an election, it is bribery to supply, after the nominations have been officially declared, refreshment to an elector, with a view to influence his vote. The question whether the refreshments were supplied with a view to influence the vote of the.elector is a question of fact, and the answer would depend on the circumstances of the case.
I am of opinion that the supply of refreshments generally to the electors present at a political meeting, held after the nominations have been officially declared, would, prima facie, be an offence. But the mere fact that a glass of water or a cup of tea was supplied at an election meeting to one or more individual electors, would not, in my opinion, be sufficient. The circumstances would have to be such as would justify a jury in coming to a conclusion that the refreshments were supplied with a view to influence the votes of the electors present.
As there are no nominations in connection with a referendum, I am of opinion that the provisions of section 176, so far as they refer to the supply of refreshments to electors, are not applicable to a referendum.
Section 175 however does, in my opinion, apply to a referendum. Under this section it would, I think, be an offence to offer refreshment to an elector with intent to induce him to vote for or against any proposed law submitted at a referendum, or to induce him not to vote at all. Before a person could be convicted under the section, it would, I think, be necessary for the jury or court to find that the refreshment was offered with the direct object of inducing the elector to vote in a particular manner, or not to vote at all.
It is doubtful whether section 176 carries the matter much further than section 175, so the non-application of section 176 is of no great consequence.
In the case of the poster issued in connection with the Ross meeting, which has the words 'Tea and coffee supper after address', the offer of refreshment appears to me to have been made with the object of inducing electors to attend the meeting. If this is so, it may perhaps be a questionable practice, but I do not think it would be held to be an offence.
I am of opinion that the two questions should be answered as follows:
- No, not in itself, but it would be an offence if it were done with a view to influence votes;
- No, not in itself, but it would be an offence if it were done with intent to induce the elector to whom the refreshments were offered to vote in any particular manner, or not to vote at all.
[Vol. 8, p. 496]