1st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Sir LANGDON BONYTHON presented a petition from the South Australian Chamber of Manufactures praying that there may be the same imposition of customs duty upon Government imports as upon the imports of citizens of the Commonwealth.
Petition received and read.
– I have received the Following reply from His Excellency the Governor-General to the resolutions adopted by this House on the last day of sitting: -
Iam deeply sensible of the high honour which your House has done me in passing the resolution which you have just handed to me, andI thank the Representatives for their expressions of appreciation of the manner in which I have discharged my duties as the King’s representative during the past eighteen months. The prospect of so shortly terminating my official connexion with the Commonwealth is very painful to me, and 1 earnestly pray for the prosperity and happiness of the people of Australia. (Signed) Hopeton, Governor-General, 1st July, 1902.
Royal assent to the following Bills re ported -
Supply Bill, No. 10.
– I wish to know from the Attorney-General if he will invite the Government of Queensland to supply copies of the correspondence, if any, that has passed between the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Queensland Government with respect to the consent of Queensland to alterations of the boundary of that State in pursuance of an Order in Council dated 19th May, 1898.
– If we have not already obtained the correspondence I shall be very glad to comply with the request.
– Some time before we adjourned last month I asked the Minister for Trade and Customs if he would consentto the payment by the States Governments of bonuses which had been voted prior to the date mentioned in the Constitution, which is, I think, the 30th June, 1898. Acting upon the advice of the Attorney-General he told me that that would be done ; but I am now informed by the Victorian Minister of Agriculture that, although he is anxious to make certain payments, he has failed toget the necessary consent from the Federal Government. I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs if there is any reason for withholding this consent any longer.
– The Victorian Minister for Agriculture has made an extraordinary mistake. The proper course to be taken in regard to these bonuses is to send an application to the Federal Government for the approval of their payment in a particular case, and we then either approve or disapprove of it. I had heard it suggested that these applications were being delayed, and on the 29th April I made inquiry as to whether it was a fact. In reply to an inquiry which I caused to be made at the office of the Victorian Minister for Agriculture, I received from him a letter which says, amongst other things-
In reply to your letter of the loth, asking for information relative to the payment of bonuses by this department, I have the honour to inform yon that at present there* ave no claims awaiting Federal approval.
Since then, one application for approval has been received in my office - on the 1st July - and the approval was given on the 5th.
– Was the Minister for Trade and Customs aware of the facts in the case of the Customs department against Stephen Rali before the information was laid ? If so, does he not think that it was a case in which the discretion not to prosecute vested in him should have been exercised %
– I was aware of the facts in connexion with the case of my friend, Mr. Stephen Rali, but I considered that under the circumstances I was not justified in withdrawing the proceedings.
– I suppose the Minister prosecuted Mr. Bali because he was his friend, in order to show his impartiality 1
– No, I think not; though he is good enough to say in a letter which I have in my hand that probably I was embarrassed by the fact that he is my friend.
– Has the Minister seen a report of the case, in which the presiding magistrate is made to state that he regretted that the court had no power to do other than inflict a £5 fine, and that, in view of the absurdity of it, he would grant no costs ? Does not the Minister think it advisable that more discretion as to a minimum fine should be given to the courts, and that the Act should be amended to allow that to be done 1
– I do not think so. The provision in the Customs Act which prohibits the importation of convict-made goods was copied from English legislation. That provision must either be a dead letter or it must be enforced. We propose to enforce it, without in the slightest degree suggesting any moral blame against the gentleman concerned in the case to which reference has been made.
– Does the Minister intend to prosecute, even when he knows beforehand that there is no moral blame attaching 1
– There is a legal blame . attaching to the importing of convictmade goods in direct defiance of the law.The goods which were imported were undoubtedly convict-made goods”, and had branded upon them the words, “Made in gaol at Calcutta,” or words to that effect. If the Government had permitted the introduction of such goods, it would have been unworthy of the privilege of administering an Act passed by this honorable House.
– Has the Minister representing the Prime Minister received any communication from the Imperial authorities with reference to the providing of Australian remounts for the British Army 1
– The honorable member called attention to a report that the War-office had entered into an arrangement with the Canadian Government for the supply of horses by that Government.. I have n*bw discovered that that statement, as I surmised at the time, was without foundation . Representations are being made to the War-office, through the Colonialoffice - whether by the Australian Premiers conjointly, I cannot say - in reference to the abundant possibilities in Australia for breeding serviceable horses.
– When is it proposed to issue a proclamation bringing the provisions of the Public Service Act into operation ?
– That will depend upon the length of time taken by the Commissioner in preparing his regulations. I should think it will, not be within a month.
– 1 wish to know whether the Minister for Home Affairs has arrived at a satisfactory settlement of the dispute which occurred some time ago between the public works officials in South Australia and his department regarding the 10 per cent. * charge made by the South Australian Government for supervision, and supplying equipment, plans, &c., in connexion with works carried out for the Commonwealth.
– I have not yet seen the explanation which, Ibelieve, has been forwarded to and received by my department.When I see that statement I shall be able to inform the honorable member as to my intentions.
– I notice that in his balance-sheet the Treasurer credits South Australia with having received a net revenue of £626,000 from customs and excise, whereas the Treasurer of South Australia says that the net amount received by that State was £605,000. I desire to know whether the Treasurer can account for the discrepancy, and whether it is the result of his having included the customs and excise received in the Northern Territory?
– Our figures, of course, embrace the whole of the receipts in South Australia, including those from the Northern Territory. I can only assume that the discrepancy has occurred owing to the fact that the Treasurer of South Australia has ‘not included in his statement the returns from the Northern Territory, which represent, I believe, £24,000 or £25,000.
– I desire to ask the Treasurer whether the Government are yet in a position to give honorable members information as to the heads under which the Customs revenue for the last financial year was collected ?
– An elaborate return is in course of preparation, because I think it is wise, on this occasion certainly, and perhaps next year, to give very full details for the information of honorable members. This return will show the receipts from each item in the Tariff for each month, comparing State with State. Unfortunately I am not able to complete the return yet, because I have not obtained all the necessary figures from Western Australia. These I hope to receive very shortly, and then I shall be able to lay the particulars before honorable members.
– I desire to know whether the Minister representing the Minister for Defence can answer the question I asked him some weeks ago as to how it is proposed to distribute the Defence retrenchment, amounting to £130,000, which was decided upon by this House? Can he state the proportions to be borne by the Naval and Military departments respectively ?
– I cannot give the honorable member any details, even roughly, at present, but I can tell him that approximately the naval expenditure will be reduced by £30,000, and the military expenditure by £100,000.
Telephon e Reg u lations.
– I desire to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent importance, namely, “The effect of the new regulations recently issued by the Government “ affecting the postal, telegraph, and telephone system.
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
– Some time ago the Government issued a regulation which provides that upon trunk telephone lines an extra charge shall be made for sending telephone messages. I now desire to ask what constitutes a trunk line. There is a telephone line between Queenstown and Gormanston on the west coast of Tasmania, the distance between the two places being 2½ to 3 miles. That line is classed as a trunk line for telephone purposes. The residents of Queenstown pay £6 per annum for the use of their telephones, and £1 extra for the privilege of sending telephone messages to Gormanston. Under the new regulation it is claimed that the line from Queenstown to Gormanston is a trunk line, and the Government have consequently issued orders to the Deputy Postmaster-General of Tasmania that the price charged for telephones at Queenstown and Gormanston should be reduced to £6 per annum, and that every time a resident of one town wants to communicate with a resident of the other he must go to the telegraph office and pay 6d. for the privilege of using the telephone for a few minutes. The result is that nearly all the people of Queenstown have ordered their telephones to be removed. Queenstown is a very compact settlement, and people can easily communicate with each other without the telephone, but the privilege of telephoning to Gormanston was highly valued. I communicated with the Postmaster-General, and after waiting several days I received a reply to the effect that no change could be made. The people of Queenstown then gave orders that their telephones should be taken down. This will involve the department in a loss of £700 per annum, which will not be recouped by means of the Telegraph department, because the business between the two towns will not warrant the expense of sending telegrams. I find that subscribers to the telephone system in Melbourne can communicate with the outlying suburbs, such as St. Kilda andWindsor, without any extra charge.
– The subscribers can telephone from Melbourne to Mordialloc, a distance of 16 miles.
– I protest against the revenue-destroying proclivities of the Government. I do not know how many telephones have actually been taken down in Queenstown, but the order went out that all should be removed, and twenty were taken away in one afternoon. Regulations suitable to a large city like Melbourne are not adapted to the circumstances of a mining town, because in the latter case the residents can communicate with each other without much difficulty, and can very well dispense with the telephone. I desire to enter my protest against such a foolish and bungling regulation. I have another cause of complaint. As a member of this Parliament I desired to communicate with the Postmaster-General upon a matter of public business, and instead of being allowed to send a telegram free of cost I had to put my hand in my pocket and pay for it.
-Why should not the honorable member ?
-Why should I? The regulations provide that members of the Commonwealth Parliament shall enjoy the same privileges as are accorded to members of the State Legislatures. Members of the State Legislatures can communicate with their Ministers upon public business without paying.
– Not in all cases.
SirWilliam Lyne. - In Tasmania they can, but it is not so in all the States.
– Cannot a member of the Victorian Parliament communicate with a member of the Victorian Ministry on public business without payment ?
– I never heard of it.
– I am afraid there are a good many things that the Minister has not heard of. A member of the Federal Parliament should not be called upon to pay for telegrams despatchedto the PostmasterGeneral or other Ministers upon public business. On the occasion referred to I was endeavouring to save the Commonwealth £700 per annum, and I should not have been compelled to put my hand in my own pocket. I am in a worse position as a member of the Commonwealth Parliament than is a member of the Tasmanian Legislature. In Canada, and in the United States, and other parts of the world, members of Parliament have the privilege of communicating free of cost with Ministers upon matters of public business. This applies even to cases in which the telegraph lines are held by private companies. The whole system of federation was based upon the idea of uniting the people and improving their means of communication, but the administration is working in an opposite direction. Unless the causes of complaint to which I have directed attention are removed, I shall strongly advocate the abolition of all franking and other privileges. One of the resultsof the present condition of affairs is that federal members are being ignored, and the electors are relying on the members of the local Legislatures to look after their interests. The Commonwealth member is merely a figurehead, and apparently possesses no privileges or rights whatever.
– I have not had the experience of the honorable member for Tasmania, Mr. O’Malley, in connexion with the use of what are known as “ main trunk lines;” neither am I concerned with the privileges enjoyed by members of this or of State Parliaments. But I wish to mention a very valid grievance of small centres in respect of the regulations to which the honorable member has directed attention. In New South Wales - and especially in the electorate which I have the honour to represent - there are a number of sparsely populated settlements. Some of these are mining settlements, and others have been created by making the land available for occupation. Of recent years telephonic communication has been one of the means adopted for bringing these settlements into closer touch with civilization. These facilities have been promoted in the districts to which I refer to such an extent that a large number of private persons have incurred the expense of connecting their residences by telephone with the nearest telegraph office. Indeed, some of the out-stations, which are situated. 15, 20, and even 30 miles from the head station, are regularly worked by this means. I think that the policy which formerly operated in New South Wales, and for which the honorable member for Parramatta is largely responsible, seeing that he introduced these uptodate methods of communicating with isolated settlements, is one which commends itself to the people, and certainly it is worthy of the consideration of the Federal postal authorities. Prior to the transfer of the Post and Telegraph department to the Commonwealth, I had placed before the head of that department in New South Wales applications for telephonic extension to several settlements. Some of these were approved, and others were under consideration when the transfer took place. The reply which I received to these applications was that the Postmaster-General was considering the question of uniform treatment in connexion with this matter. Within the past week I have obtained the resultof that uniform policy, and I wish to show that it practically prohibits the adoption of up-to-date methods of communication. I have in my hand one of the replies which I have received, and it will put before honorable members the present position more concisely than I can. It reads as follows : -
Adverting to your communication of the 18th October last, and my reply thereto of 24th idem, respecting an application made through you by Mr. T. Nash, Long Plain, Narromine, secretary to the Farrendale and W allan Billan Farmers’ and Settlers’ Association, for the establishment of telephonic communication with Wallan Billan, I have the honor to inform you that under the new regulations of this department, such communication can only be provided when funds are available (which is not the case at present) on the cash guarantee system, under which persons desiring the erection of a telegraph or telephone line are required to deposit with the PostmasterGeneral a sum equal to two-thirds of the cost of constructing the line and supplying the instruments, plus the cost of operating same for a period of five years, and subject to the following conditions, namely -
The amount so deposited to be placed to the credit of the Postmaster-General. in a Government savings bank, and the Postmaster-General to have power to withdraw at the end of each complete year a sum equal to the difference between (a) the telegraph (or telephone) revenue derived from such line during that year, and (b) one-fifth of two-thirds of the cost of constructing the line, plus the total costof operating for such year.
At the expiration of the term of five years the amount of the deposit, with interest allowed thereon by the Government savings bank authorities, less any sum or sums deducted as above, to be returned to the guarantors.
The cash deposit required for a line between Wallan Ballan andNarromine, viâ Farrendale, would be about £6886s. 8d., namely £623 6s. 8d. - two-thirds of the estimated cost of the necessary line and instruments, and £65 - the cost of operating, if fixed at £13 per annum. If, however,Farrendale and Wallan Billan were connected with Dandaloo instead of Narromine, a cash deposit of about £631 13s. 4d. would be required, namely - £566 13s. 4d. - two-thirds of the estimated cost of the necessary line and instruments, and £65 - the cost of operating for five years. The amount of revenue likely to be derived from the proposed telephone line is estimated at £32 per annum.
have the honor to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
– It is something like 30 miles. I want to show how these regulations operate. To the west of Dandaloo is another settlement known as Lansdale, and whilst the honorable member for Parramatta was Postmaster-General of New South Wales I applied to him on behalf of the settlers there for telephonic communication with Dandaloo. An estimate was made, and only a simple guarantee was asked for. No arbitrary condition, such as the enforced payment of a sum of money into the bank to the credit of the Postmaster-General, was imposed. In connexion with that work, which involved the construction of 30 miles of line, all that was asked for was a guarantee of between £60 and £70. The settlers, however, were rather afraid to face such an obligation. I ascertained that the postal revenue derived from the settlement exceeded the cost of the mail service, andupon representations being made to him the Postmaster-General decided to place the surplus as a set-off against any loss incurred in connexion with the establishment of the telegraphic or telephonic service. The result of the adoption of this enlightened policy was that the settlers were required to give a guarantee of only£30, instead of £60, as originally suggested. This guarantee was readily forthcoming ; the line was constructed, and has proved to be revenueproducing from its inception. Indeed, the income from this source exceeded the anticipations of those who were interested in the carrying out of the work, so that the guarantors have never been called upon to pay anything. For the past five or six years that settlementhas enjoyed the advantages of this up-to-date means of communication. There is another little settlement in the same class ofcountry which has to contend with similar obstacles. Under the new regulations, its residents will be required to place a sum of £631 in the Savings Bank to the credit of the PostmasterGeneral as a guarantee that the department will not suffer loss by providing these facilities. This money will continue to lie in the bank for five years, even if the line prove a payable one. From my experience of these back-country settlements, I claim that it should be the aim of the Federal Government to afford them means of communication which will assist settlement and render the advantages of civilization accessible. It is lamentable to think that, should an accident occur in an isolated settlement where there are women and children, the only way of communicating with the nearest medical man, who is perhaps 30 or 40 miles distant, is by messenger on horseback. I unhesitatingly affirm that the policy adopted by New South Wales in this connexion was an enlightened one, whilst that of the Federal Government is a retrogressive one. The demands which are now being made upon the small settlement to which I have referred will absolutely prevent the settlers from securing the advantages which they have hitherto enjoyed. If this sort of thing does not make federation stink in the nostrils of the country people nothing will do so. I think that the Government will be acting wisely if they review the regulations and see whether it is not possible to frame them on the enlightened lines adopted by the postal authorities in New SouthWales prior to the transfer of that department to the Commonwealth. I have other communications of a similar character. I asked for a short extension from the telegraph station of Ungarie to a small settlement at Bena. That would have been carried out under the old system of a guarantee of something like £30, the distance,, being not nearly so large as in the case I have mentioned. Communications which I hold in my hand are similar to the one I have read, with the difference that in this case £2.51 13s. 4d, is required to be placed to the credit of the Postmaster-General. In the interests of the settlements I have mentioned I hope the Government will see their way to alter the regulations.
– It was inevitable that some such discussion as this must take place sooner or later. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the administration of the Postal department, the regulations not being what we were led to expect when a re-organization was entered upon. Much difficulty has been caused in my own constituency ; and I think that we suffer through not having in this House the Minister who supervises this important department. The only opportunity hitherto afforded in discussing these matters has been on the Estimates, and, under the circumstances, there has not been that criticism for which the administration calls. I am inclined to think that it would have been better had the motion taken a wider form, and had the whole question been fully ventilated. Under the regulations any 25 persons can, on application, obtain a telephone exchange ; but in Redfern, which is the most important centre in my district, there is no exchange, and when application was made, the answer given was that there was already a connexion with another exchange two or three miles away. The whole conduct of some of the exchanges shows an unwarrantable lack of administrative ability. Redfern is tacked on to a less important station at a distance, though the former is a business centre larger than Richmond in Victoria.
– There is no exchange at Richmond.
– The absence of an exchange in Redfern is not the only difficulty. There is no exchange in the whole of my electorate, which is one-fourth the size of the city of Sydney, the only communication being with other stations which are already congested with business. If the department had any business ability, they would consider the question of reorganizingthe exchanges and distributing the work. Another important point is that sufficient regard is not had to the object of making the department pay. I am perfectly certain that the_ want of communication will prevent the business paying as it would pay if iii the hands of business men. In. Redfern, Botany, Alexandra, Waterloo, all nourishing manufacturing districts in my electorate, people would make much more use of the telephone if an exchange were established in their midst. At present if a subscriber wishes to communicate with a man living, perhaps, only two blocks away, he has to ring up an’ exchange four or five miles distant. The department seems to require re-organization from top to bottom. In the first place, this House does not seem to have enough power of criticism in the absence of the Minister; secondly, there is no uniformity of system throughout the Commonwealth ; and thirdly, there is required some power of decentralization under which the local Deputy Postmasters-General will be able to deal with trumpery details, the settlement of which is at present postponed from time to time in order that they may be referred to head-quarters, where business appears to be congested. Only the other day I pointed out to the Deputy PostmasterGeneral of Sydney the disgracefully dirty condition of a certain post-office in Redfern. That office was so dirty that, had it been in the hands of private people, it would have been condemned by the local authorities : and I believe complaints on this score are also made in regard to the post-offices in Sydney and Melbourne. All such matters as these in connexion with local offices have to be referred to the Postmaster-General in Melbourne, even though only £50 may be required for repairs. There seems to be blunder after blunder. In my district the department shut up two offices which had been in existence for a number of years, and were paying, and it was only after strong representations that permission was given to continue the business at these offices pending an ultimate decision. All these matters should be dealt with in a business-like spirit. The more facilities, in reason, which are given, the more business there will be, and the more revenue will result. A deputation waited on the Deputy Postmaster-General in Sydney the other day, when this matter was referred to, and that gentleman was reported as having passed some reflections on the difficulties which were in the way. The Deputy Postmaster - General, however, was misreported ; what he said was that there was always a great deal of difficulty in referring matters to head - quarters. In any big private business details would be left to the local representative. The honorable member for Tasmania, Mr. O’Malley, is perfectly justified in bringing this matter before the House in order that the Government may know that throughout the length and breadth of the States there is a feeling of dissatisfaction, and a desire that the department should be reorganized on business-like lines. I understand that the Postmaster-General has been asked to make a business-like statement of the results of the administration under the Commonwealth : and, if he did so, the information given would prove a useful guide to this House, because we should, in all probability, be shown where revenue is lost through want of better management.
– Actual experience has disclosed a number of serious anomalies and absurdities in connexion with the regulations of the 5th June, 1902. We must, of course, give credit to the Postal authorities for the best of intentions in promulgating these new regulations. No doubt the variety of conditions which had to be dealt with account for some of the complaints which have been made. The honorable member for Tasmania, Mr. O’Malley, has drawn attention to an anomaly which requires some explanation. In the regulations there does not appear to bc a definition of what is to constitute a trunk line or long-distance telephone. The distance may be a mile or two, or 25 miles - there is no limit. Some effort should certainly be made to attain uniformity, and a definition given of what is to constitute a trunk line, on which these special charges are made. It does seem absurd that the line between Queenstown and Gormanston, which are only two and a half miles apart, should be treated as a trunk line, while the lines in other States between many towns which are five or six miles apart, come within anothercategory. I have no doubt that now attention has been drawn to the matter, steps will be taken to rectify the anomaly. I take the opportunity of reviving a question which was brought under the notice of the Postmaster-General a fortnight ago by a large deputation, representing the people of Bendigo, Ballarat, and Geelong, in regard so the time limit on trunk lines. Hitherto in Victoria the time limit lias been five minutes, and the charge between, say,’ Melbourne and Bendigo, ls. 6d. That five minutes has now been cut down to three minutes, and the view of the deputation was that the latter is utterly inadequate when it is desired to conduct important business transactions. The brokers of Bendigo and Ballarat, and the merchants of Geelong, pointed- out that in many cases it was utterly impossible to complete a conversation and make it effective within that time.
– The time limit on the trunk line between Newcastle and Sydney is three minutes, and there is a big business done.
– The limit is three minutes everywhere, except in Victoria.
– In Victoria the people have been trained, and are accustomed, to five minutes. I believe that in many cases it is difficult for a subscriber, say, in Melbourne, to get in communication with a subscriber in Ballarat. It may happen that the business man at Ballarat is in the exchange, and by the time he has been found and ‘ brought to the telephone, one or two of the minutes .have elapsed, with the result that the conversation is rendered abortive by its being cut off in the middle. I am aware that the PostmasterGeneral said that in other countries the limit is three minutes ; but, as a compromise, the deputation suggested a regulation to the- effect that a subscriber might have the option of extending the conversation for five minutes, on paying an extra proportionate charge. The Postmaster-General took a note of the suggestion, which he promised to consider.
– Does the honorable and learned member say that a subscriber is arbitrarily cut off at the end of ..three minutes, whether or not the conversation is finished ?
– Yes. There is no desire on the part of subscribers to monopolise the wire, and hence the suggestion to the Postmaster-General. In all probability three minutes will be sufficiently long in many cases ; but it is desired to have the option of extending the time to five minutes on the condition I have indicated. I hope the Attorney-General will support the view which I am now presenting, or, at any rate, bring it under the notice of the PostmasterGeneral. As a result of the reduced time limit, business on the long distance 4.1 u telephones has fallen off considerably. If the public demand increased time for the discharge of business and are prepared to pay for that time, their demand ought to be met, and if one line is not sufficient, another ought to be erected. There are many points in the regulations which require revision, and the Postmaster-General ought to welcome these observations and criticisms, which are intended to meet the requirements and the convenience of the public.
– It is becoming more apparent every .day that it would bean advantage to honorable members here,, who more particularly represent localities, tohave the Postmaster-General’s departmentrepresented in this branch of the Legislature. I suppose, however, that the absence of” that Minister cannot be remedied untilanother Government is in -office; so that we may dismiss the matter, at any rate for a time. I think that the Postal department is taking the proper course in insisting upon a cash deposit of some kind from those who ask for these lines, because I know that, while in New South Wales a written guarantee to make good any probable deficiency was required, deficiencies occurred times without number, and in no case were the guarantors; asked to pay the money for the paymentof which they had rendered themselves-.. responsible.
– The honorable ‘member is wrongly informed. When I was Postmaster-General the department collected money from guarantors in some cases.
– The Deputy PostmasterGeneral assured me the other day that he did not remember an instance in which money so’ guaranteed had been collected, and I know of many instances in which it has not been collected. It is folly to pretend to place the administration of the department upon a business footing, and not takeordinary business precautions. But I havea letter here, which I have received from, the department in regard to a suggested telephone line, which seems to me to go tothe other extreme. The department ask,, in connexion with an application for a telephone line in my district, not only to be guaranteed the payment of two-thirds of the cost of construction, but also for the placing in the bank of a sum of motley to” cover the estimated cost of five years’ working of the line, although they admit in the letter itself that the estimated revenue should more than cover expenses. That is going to a ridiculous extreme. They have officers skilled in estimating the probable revenue from mining, pastoral, and agricultural districts, and their estimates are generally very conservative. Therefore, whenever it is considered that the revenue from a line is likely to more than cover its annual working expenses, the department ought not to ask for a guarantee in respect to the working expenses. But I have- a still more important matter to mention. Some weeks ago the Secretary to the Post Office informed me that a regulation, which would permit of the licensing for use in connexion with the Commonwealth services of lines erected in the cheapest manner possible by the people whom they were to serve, was under consideration. If that system is adopted,’ I am convinced that small populations ‘can be connected with the Commonwealth lines practically without cost to the Government, and without the need for the ordinary guarantees. In my district - and, I dare say, it is the same in other districts - the local squatters use their fences to carry telephone lines, the wires being taken over gateways and roads upon poles. I have spoken over such lines with- the greatest satisfaction, and on two occasions to places 40 miles distant. Monteagle is a township in my electorate ten miles distant from Young, but only- three or four miles from the nearest telegraph line, which runs along the railway. If the fences were used to carry, the wire the township could be connected with Young, irrespective of the cost of instruments, for, perhaps, £10 or £15 ; whereas the department ask for a guarantee of £173, which is’ not likely to be raised by so small a community. I trust, therefore, that the Minister will see the desirability of promptly proclaiming regulations which will permit of telephone extensions of the kind to which I refer. I am satisfied that in nearly every case that will get over the difficulty of guarantees, and that the lines will be found quite sufficient for ordinary business for the present, at all events. When the traffic increases to a certain point, it will be possible for the department to put up a permanent line, and to take over the whole work. In nearly every instance in which telephonic, connexion is asked for, the working expenses would be more than covered by the revenue received, and if the department is not asked to undertake the construction of an expensive line, J do not see that any guarantee need be 1 demanded. I trust that something will be done to amend, and to add .to, the regulations governing these matters, because they are in a most unsatisfactory state now.
– I desire to urge upon the Government, in the most friendly manner, the desirability of -revising the regulations under which telephones may be extended into, country districts. Under the New South Wales State system those living in country districts could obtain telephone connexions by simply guaranteeing the payment of interest upon the cost of construction-, and general maintenance, but now they are being called upon to deposit in cash two-thirds of the actual cost of constructing the line and supplying the instruments, plus the cost of operating the same for a period of five years, before the work will be undertaken at all.
– That is prohibitive.
– Yes. The people in the smaller districts are not able, to find the large amount of money which is generally necessary, although they would be willing to enter into a legal guarantee to become responsible for the interest on the cost of construction, and working expenses. I have here a letter from the department, dated 16th July, which deals with an application for an extension which is two or three years old. Before the department was taken over by the Commonwealth, I had prevailed upon the New South Wales authorities to practically agree to the erection of the line. If it had been erected then, the guarantors would have been called upon to find, speaking from memory, something like £2S a year, but they are now being asked by the department to pay £403 into the Savings Bank to the credit of the Postmaster-General. Such a request is absurd and outrageous. As the honorable member for Bland has suggested, if the Government cannot see their way to alter this regulation, they should allow people residing in distant parts of the country, to whom the telephone is the only adjunct of civilization which they enjoy, to undertake the construction of lines for themselves, to ultimately become the property of the Government. It is astonishing how telephone lines pay after they have been in existence for a few years : the facilities for sending messages always creates a desire to send messages. I trust 1 that the Postal department will not pursue fi policy which will render federation obnoxious to the people of the country. I have put other cases before the PostmasterGeneral, but without avail. There appears to be some cast-iron rule in the department from which it is impossible to get away, and advice, no matter how tendered, is practical^’ ignored. Whenever I have given advice to the department I have done so in a spirit of friendliness. I have not asked them to do anything unreasonable in view of the necessities of revenue, but have tried to prevail on them to do what will benefit the people of the country. But whatever I have put before the PostmasterGeneral has been quietly ignored, until I inn pretty well tired of it, and much resent it. I am ashamed to send this letter on to the people interested in the matter to which it refers, and I have in my pocket Another letter of the same tenor. I am sorry the Postmaster-General is not a member of this House, so that we could put these matters directly before him. The present state of affairs is giving serious dissatisfaction in New South Wales, and this dissatisfaction will increase if some alteration is not made.
– I, like other honorable members, have some postal grievances, and I think that it is time they were seriously looked into by the PostmasterGeneral, so that they may be remedied, because it is no pleasure to us to have to anthem so constantly. The new regulations which have been published are altogether of a retrograde character. Honorable members have been asking for uniformity, but the uniformity which has been obtained is all in the direction of retrogression. The honorable and learned member for Bendigo complains that the time limit on the line between Melbourne and Bendigo has been reduced from five to three minutes, upon the ground that three minutes is the limit elsewhere. I remember that when the first long-distance telephone was opened in New South Wales, the time limit was fixed at three minutes, because the officers of the department told me that that was the recognised limit elsewhere. The honorable and learned member was similarly informed that the time allowance was to be cut down to three minutes, because that was the rule elsewhere. Would it not be wise to err on the side of conferring additional advantages upon the public, rather than to limit the facilities afforded to them ? This is a purely business question, 41 e i and the greater facilities that can be extended to the public, the more we shall popularize the service, and the more profitable it will become. Too great a tendency is being shown to square accounts, but that is not the way in which the department can be made to pay. The balance may be squared very quickly, if that is the only object ; but if reasonable facilities are denied to the public, the balance will very soon be on the wrong side. When I proposed to reduce the telephone fees in Sydney, I was told by the officers of the department that we should incur a heavy loss, but during the twelve months immediately following the reduction in the charges, the business of the department was trebled, and it paid handsomely. The more business-like the administration, the greater the chance of success for the department. I do not agree with the honorable member for Bland that a, cash guarantee should be given. There ought to be no cash guarantee in connexion with these lines.
– If that system is not adopted, a number of places will have to go without telephone lines.
– All that should be required by the department is an assurance that a reasonable amount of business will be done.
– They say in some cases that the business is not sufficient.
– Then the line ought not to be constructed.
– If guarantees are required in connexion with’ telephone lines, why should not the same principle be extended to the building of post-offices?
– Precisely; one is just as much a public convenience as the other. The cash guarantees are being insisted upon, because under the old system of administration there was a little leakage. A few of the guarantees were not met.
– Hardly any of them were met.
– The amount involved by the guarantees would amount to a trifle compared with the advantages conferred upon the public as a whole by the facilities afforded. We can, however, have nothing perfect in this world, and our telephone system will not be extended or perfected under a system of cash guarantee - that will not give the public the business facilities necessary to insure the success of the system. What man would pay £600 into the Treasury, to lie there for years, in order to. secure the use of the telephone 1 The idea is absurd. It has been shown that in some cases a guarantee has been given amounting to only £30, and if one community can secure a telephone system for that amount, is it likely that others will risk £600 ? The only effect of any such system will be to render it absolutely impossible to carry on telephone business in the back country. It is this part of our territory that we should specialty consider in connexion with the telephone service, and I am sorry to see that one of the facilities which was granted under my administration of the Post and Telegraph department of New South Wales has been taken away. I allowed station owners to construct their own telephones, subject to our control at the connecting ‘ point. For that we charged them f i per annum, because we had to assume the responsibility where the lines crossed public roads. This proved of very great advantage, because it brought the people of the towns into direct communication with those on the outlying stations, and I regret exceedingly that any steps are being taken to deprive stationowners of the facilities hitherto enjoyed. Wo endeavoured to recover some of the guarantees, but in nearly all cases a very good reason was shown for their nonpayment. Perhaps only one or two out of four , or five guarantors could be called upon, because the others had left the district. This was the explanation in eight cases out of ten, and there is Jio justification for imposing such conditions as those now provided for. The case cited by the honorable member for Tasmania, Mr. O’Malley, is one in which the regulation regarding trunk lines is being pushed to an absurd extreme, and in which the rule is being administered without the slightest regard for common sense. These rules have to be made, but they should be administered with a full regard for the interests of the public. It is an anomaly that a charge should be made for telephone messages upon a line 2£ miles in length, whilst no fee is exacted on other lines 13 or 14 miles long. The case should only need to be stated in order to have the remedy applied by the PostmasterGeneral.
– - I wired to the PostmasterGeneral and asked him to suspend the regulation, but he would not do it.
– Has the honorable member seen the Minister since 1
– The honorable member ought to have seen the Minister, because I can scarcely believe that the Minister would justify the action taken. I admit, however, that the trend of the Post-office administration generally is to take from the people the facilities which they have hitherto enjoyed, and that the one idea of the authorities seems to bc to bring out a good balance-sheet. The public convenience is apparently the last consideration. That is not the way in which the Post and Telegraph department in a young community should be administered. Business administration should be introduced into the control of the services, which should not be choked for the purpose of bringing out a favorable balance - sheet. It is only by making the public convenience the first object that the ultimate success of the department can be assured.
– The position of Adelaide in regard to the new postal and telegraph regulations is, to say the least of it, peculiar. Much irritation exists there at the present moment, and this would have taken a more acute form but foi1 the curious fact that, although the regulations came into force on the first of the present month, they have not yet been published in South Australia.
Mr. L. E. GROOM (Darling Downs).I can sympathize with honorable members who wish to see telephonic communication extended in the country districts, but we must recognise the difficulties with which the Postmaster- General has to contend. I have presented to him several requests for the extension of telephone service, particularly to remote centres, and in some instances I felt that there was justice in his demand for proof that the service would yield a certain amount of revenue. We may disapprove of the stringency of the conditions, but it seems necessary that some stipulation should be made to guard the department against heavy loss. I think that a cash deposit should be made, but the PostmasterGeneral has erred on the side of stringency in requiring such a large guarantee. It must be remembered that the telephone is not established for the short period covered by the guarantee, but practically forall time, and unless the community to which telephone facilities are given is a progressive one, the department must ultimately become a heavy loser. The point to which I desire specially to refer is that mentioned by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, namely, the three minutes limit. Complaints have been made in Queensland, especially where longdistance telephones are in use. In the case of Warwick, which is about 169 miles from Brisbane, a fee of 2s. 6d. has to be paid for the privilege of conversing by telephone for three minutes. As a rule the telephone is used by merchants to settle the prices of goods which have been ordered by their customers.During these conversations, invoices have to be consulted perhaps, and before any conclusion can be arrived at, the persons conversing are rung off. Then a delay occurs, and they have to be reconnected in order that the business may be concluded, the charge made for the extended time bringing the total fee up to 5s. The people in Warwick think that it would be fair and reasonable if a reduced charge were made for the extension of the time beyond the first three minutes.
– That is done in New South Wales.
– It is not so in Queensland. It has been represented to me by the Chamber of Commerce and by the municipal authorities in Warwick either that the charge should be reduced, or that a reduced charge of, say,1s. 3d. should be made for the extra minutes required to carry on long conversations. An increase of the facilities in this way would undoubtedly lead to an enlarged business and an improvement in the revenue.
Mr.WATKINS (Newcastle).- I desire to complain of the new regulations. There is no more reason for demanding a cash guarantee in connexion with the construction of a telephone line than in the case of the erection of post-offices, or the carrying out of any other works for the public convenience. Officers are employed by the Post and Telegraph department to ascertain whether certain lines will pay, and I do not know of any cases in which a telephone service has been extended without a fair assurance of Sufficient revenue. In several cases where the reports showed that the lines would yield a substantial return over and above the working expenses, the department have absolutely refused to provide a service.
In connexion with certain long-distance telephones the authorities have absolutely declined to establish a double service, even though the returns show that the construction of a second line would pay handsomely. Another hardship to which I would direct attention consists in compelling a private subscriber, who desires to speak from his place of business to another centre over a trunk line, to pay threepence for connecting him with such line. That practice has never previously been adopted.
– The authorities wish to make the lines pay.
-If that be their desire, they are pursuing a wrong course. If they intend to harass people instead of assisting them the result must be disastrous to the department. Moreover, business people very frequently find it impossible to finish a conversation upon an important subject within the three minutes prescribed by the regulations, and in such circumstances it is only reasonable that they should be allowed an additional two minutes at a reduced rate.
– I regret the absence of my honorable colleague, Sir Philip Fysh, who is better informed upon this subject than I am, although upon a debate of this character the intention of honorable members is rather to make suggestions than to engage in any final discussion upon the merits or demerits of specific practices. In its essence the question is the old one, as to the extent to which the State is justified in providing telephonic facilities with a view to increasing not only the public convenience but the public revenue. It is difficult to determine the exact point at which we should declare - “ Beyond this the advantages conferred upon the public will not be commensurate with the loss imposed upon the taxpayer.” Exactly where that line should be drawn will always be a matter of contention. The views of honorable members will be influenced by the practice ‘ which formerly existed in their respective States, and by the density of population in the districts from which they come. Liberal as the honorable member for Parramatta may have been, when he was Postmaster-General of New South Wales, he established precedents which would apply only in that great State. He would have needed an additional measure of caution if the precedents which he established were to be applied to portions of Australia as different as are Western Australia and Tasmania from New South Wales and Queensland. My honorable colleague, the Postmaster-General and his advisers, were thus placed in a delicate position. ‘ Different practices existed in the six different States, and we had to adopt that one, or some amendment of it, which seemed likely to apply fairly in an average way throughout the Commonwealth. I have listened in vain to-day for either some protest or approbation from representatives of those States which are receiving enhanced benefits as compared with those which they formerly enjoyed. There are many such benefits. The rates which are now charged are lower than they were previously in these States, and the time during which the public can engage in telephonic conversation has been extended. Of course we hear nothing of these advantages. But from those States in which reduced facilities are now given we naturally hear a cry of alarm. It has to be discounted by the fact that it is inevitable in the initial stages of establishing a uniform system throughout Australia. The honorable member who moved the adjournment comes from a State in which the people have been treated most liberally in telephonic matters. Consequently there need be no surprise at the tentative discontent which is engendered in bringing that State up to the Australian standard. The particular matter which aroused thehonorable member’s wrath has met with its due reward. Instructions have been given which will enable the two great centres of the West Coast to communicate with each other directly without the necessity for sending their messages over a main trunk line.
-Why is this special privilege given in one case ?
– If honorable members will turn to the regulation referred to by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo they will find that no minimum distance was fixed below which a line would cease to be a trunk line. The words used are “ 25 miles in length or under.” Therefore a line a foot long might be termed a trunk line. It was the endeavor of the Postmaster-General to decentralize that led to the curious anomaly in Tasmania. The Deputy Postmasters-General were allowed to determine what, according to the practice of their respective
States, were trunk lines. The complaint which the honorable member has made is due to the fact that the Tasmanian authorities denominated this particular line on the west coast of that State a trunk line. Instructions have now been given that where two small settlements are concerned no line under five miles in length is to be regarded as a trunk line, whilst in the case of cities the minimum has been extended to ten miles. The honorable member for Parramatta was in error when he declared that the three minutes limit was not of universal application. So far as the postal authorities are aware there is not a line outside of Victoria where three minutes is not the ordinary limit.
– But in nearly every country people are allowed to use the telephone for more than three minutes.
– The three minutes limit is universal because 70 or 80 per cent. of the conversations in which business people engage consist merely of a question and a reply. That period is also fixed with a view to preventing a monopoly of the line. Otherwise it would be sometimes possible for a few men to get possession of a telephone line , to the exclusion of their rivals. The Postmaster-General has been impressed with the good case made out by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo and others in favour of an extension of the three minutes limit to five minutes, at a reduced charge for the last two minutes. That appears to be a reasonable suggestion, and I have every reason for believing that he will shortly make a concession in that direction. The other series of complaints by honorable members had reference to the deposits required in connexion with the construction of certain telephone lines. Apparently honorable members have assumed that this new condition is to apply to the construction of all such lines. But it is not so. It is to be applied only in cases where the estimated revenue is not considered sufficient to justify the erection of a line.
Mr.JosephCook. - It is not the guarantee of which we complain, but the cash deposit.
– It is very desirable in the public interest that we should obtain a cash deposit in cases where the revenue is doubtful, if we can do so without unduly hampering those concerned. The point at which we should say - “ We require something more than our expectations in this case to induce us to construct the line “ is very difficult to determine. But, unless some such restriction is imposed, many deserving localities will be denied proper facilities for communication. There must necessarily be discrimination, in justice to the various communities interested ; and the communities which offer the best results have the first claim to be heard, and must be first considered by the Postmaster-General. The honorable member for Bland appears to have received some very proper encouragement in submitting his proposal.
– It is not my proposal ; I think it came from some one in the department.
– The proposal to which the honorable member has referred appears to meet with approval in the department and to offer a satisfactory means of escape for those in the back-country, with whose conditions it is most difficult to deal. There, in many cases, those concerned will be satisfied with simpler appliances, which the Government simply dare not erect as their own, and expedients may be devised to work well for some time. The people will take advantage of natural conditions and circumstances to obtain short cuts so as to reduce expenditure, and thus, with the assent and assistance of the depart^ ment, obtain the privileges which they desire to enjoy without imposing any burden on the public purse. This plan seems to offer great opportunities for development, and I trust that amongst the amendments made in the regulations will be included some for promoting and encouraging self-help in this connexion throughout Australia. But I do not say, even apart from this matter, that it ought to be necessary to insist on so large a deposit in the great bulk of the instances which come before the Post-office authorities. The proposed guarantee, however, was a very good basis on which to start - on which to lay down in a business-like cash fashion a principle which would have the effect of bringing home to the public what their responsibilities were. I have not the least doubt that the representations made by the honorable member for Cowper and other honorable members will have due effect, and will not be passed over, as that honorable member appears to think they have been. We have as a basis these regulations framed with the best knowledge and judgment the department possesses, but not proposed as representing the completed regulations which must ultimately be evolved. Honorable members, Australian born as many are, and all Australian residents, have yet but a very imperfect conception of the enormous area of this great continent, of the immense diversity of its conditions, or the absolute contradistinctions which obtain. There is but superficial appreciation of the difficulty of moving the people of the different States out of the grooves into which they have grown in regard to expenditures of public money.
– If the AttorneyGeneral sits down we shall all apologize for speaking.
– The only excuse I have for speaking is that honorable members have given me such good material. I shall’ have great pleasure in submitting the several representations which have been made. As to some of these representations, I know that they will be accepted, and as to the others I am sure they will be considered. With the assistance of the House I hope we shall obtain, if not entirely satisfactory regulations - that is beyond the dream of the most ambitious politician - just and workable provisions, fair to the people of Australia as a whole. The -task of framing regulations so minute as these must necessarily be, capable of meeting the needs of 4,000,000 of people spread over the whole of this enormous continent, is one in the performance of which difficulties must be discovered. Defects may readily be forgiven by members of this House, who are to some extent, at all events, acquainted with the innumerable and almost insuperable difficulties tobe encountered in Federal administration and legislation.
– I think we have good reason to believe that this discussion has come rather as a surprise to the Attorney-General.
– Hear, hear.
– With other honorable members I am hopeful that what has been said to-day will have due effect in inducing the Postmaster-General to remedy the defects which have been described, and to apply up-to-date regulations, more in accordance with a progressive policy. The AttorneyGeneral referred to Tasmania as the State in which there were the most liberal telephone regulations. In the smallest State of the group - a State sparsely populated, and with less advantages than those possessed by many other parts of the Commonwealth - there were the most liberal conditions connected with the telephone service; and yet the postal and telegraphic service, when handed over, was producing a surplus revenue amounting to £16,000 a year. That ought to prove to the AttorneyGeneral, that if, instead of a retrogressive policy, there had been adopted the policy of Tasmania, the revenue from the telephonic service throughout the Commonwealth wouldbe beyond the present expectations of the Government. There is an intense feeling of disappointment in Tasmania in regard to these regulations, and I hope they will be speedily altered. In the House and in the press it is constantly said that the desire is to encourage our primary industries. On the banks of the Huon the only industry is that of growing fruit, which I am sure every honorable member desires to encourage. Yet in isolated parts of that district, perhaps 30 miles from Hobart, the telephone facilities previously enjoyed have been seriously curtailed. Formerly the producers could communicate with their agents in Hobart and get their produce shipped at considerable advantage, but under the new regulations these fruitgrowers have to meet an expenditure of £20, and storekeepers an expenditure of £50, in order to comply with the demands of the department. Altogether a backward and mean policy has been adopted. In Tasmania for years farmers, squatters, and others had, at the expense of £1 a year, the privilege of fixing letter-boxes on their front gates, which are, perhaps, 2 or 3 miles from the homestead. Under the regulations the charge for that privilege has been raised to £2 a year in order that the great Commonwealth of Australia may get more revenue. No doubt some of the squatters and others are extremely wealthy, but a great number of those concerned in this convenience are poor, and it is the poorest who should be considered in such a connexion. The Commonwealth could surely do without this small accession of revenue. Now that the subject has been so fully debated, I think we may rely for some good results on the practical adaptability of the Attorney-General.
Mr. O’MALLEY (Tasmania),in reply. - I feel grateful to honorable members for the interest they have shown in this debate. Tasmania is not the only State which is suffering fromgreat wrongs under these regulations. I am glad to hear that the central Government was not responsible for the miserable bungle on the West Coast. The people of Queenstown met, and sent to the Deputy Postmaster-General a telegram placing the case before him, and he sent a reply stating that there would be no alteration - that the regulations were final. Yet the whole of the odium was placed on the Postmaster-General, and the people of the West Coast denounced the Commonwealth. It would seem, after the observations of the Attorney-General, that some officials are better fitted for the New Norfolk lunatic asylum than for running a postoffice. It is time that the responsibility was put on the right shoulders ; and I am glad the Government have withdrawn from all these infamies, because they are nothing less. Wherever a Government refuses to grant redress for wrong done, that Government is on the brink of a political volcano, ten times more dangerous than Mont Pelee.
Question resolved in the negative.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 20th June, vide page 14012).
Clause 100 agreed to.
Nominations may be in the form I or J in the schedules applicable to the case, and shall -
Name the candidate, his place of residence and occupation, and
Be signed by not less than six persons entitled to vote at the election.
Mr. BAMFORD (Herbert).- I understand that the Attorney-General impliedly consented to reconsider clause 99 before proceeding with the other clauses.
– If clause 99 is amended by the omission of any reference to a money deposit, it will be proper to consider whether the nomination of six persons should be accepted as sufficient. I suggest that it would be wise to postpone clause 101, or, in the event of clause 99 being altered, to consent to the recommittal of the clause now before the committee.
– I shall certainly consent to that course under the circum- stances.
Mr. BATCHELOR (South Australia).What is the object of providing that the nomination shall be signed by not less than six persons ? I believe that in some of the other States two electors are sufficient for the purpose.
– The condition to which the honorable member for South Australia refers is in the nature of a safeguard, and is to be found in the State legislation. In New South Wales, the nomination papers must be signed by six electors.
– In Victoria they must be signed by ten.
– Surely there would be no difficulty in obtaining six signatures. Two signatures would not give the same strength to the nomination.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 102 agreed to.
Clause 103 (Time for receipt).
Mr. WATSON (Bland). - Has the Minister made any provision for validating a nomination to which consent may have been obtained prior to the issue of the writ ? In New South Wales it has happened once or twice that a candidate has been temporarily awa)’ from the State at the date of the nomination, and could give his consent only before the issue of the writ. I think that technically such consent was invalid, but in no case were the opponents of men so elected ungenerous enough to test ‘the question. It seems to me, however, that we should make provision to deal with such a case.
– I think that the case to which the honorable member refers has been provided for. I agree with him that we should prevent the possibility of a nomination being declared invalid because the consent to it was given by a candidate prior to the date of the issue of the writ.
– Has the Attorney-General come to any decision as to whether this Parliament has power to fix the time and place for the election of senators, which the Constitution provides shall be determined by the laws of the States ? The provision in the Constitution was designedly inserted, because it was considered that the elections for the Senate were, to a large extent, incidental to the State rather than to the Commonwealth functions.
– I have already looked into the matter, but I intend to consider it further.
Mr. L. E. GROOM (Darling Downs).It seems to me that in the case of a State like Queensland a candidate for the Senate should not be compelled to send his nomination to the electoral officer for the State. In Queensland, that officer would reside.in Brisbane, and it might be very inconvenient for a candidate residing in the northern part of the State to have to send his nomination as far as Brisbane. When the last general elections were held, any returning officer in the State had power to receive nominations.
– The point raised by the honorable and learned member for South Australia, Mr. Glynn, is worthy of careful consideration. It would be very unfortunate if we inserted in this Bill a provision out of harmony with the design of the Constitution. The Constitution contemplates that the writs for the election of senators shall be issued by the States Governors, who must necessarily issue them to States officers. The question then arises, has the Commonwealth Parliament authority to appoint returning officers for the Senate ? It would appear to me to be open to very strong argument that the returning officers for the Senate must be States officers.
– How could States officers use our rolls and other machinery?
– That would have to be arranged for as a matter of administration. The times and places for the election of senators must also be fixed by the States. It would therefore seem that from the time of the issue to the time of the return of the writs, the procedure in regard to the election of senators is a matter for the States, because the senators represent the States as political entities.
– The method of election mav be determined by this Parliament.
– That is merely the method of recording the votes polled. I should like the Attorney-General to consider the matter carefully.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 104. - (Formal defects). Mr. GLYNN (South Australia).- It seems to me that too great power is given to the returning officer under this clause, and under clause 100, in the matter of determining what nominations shall be received. Clause 100 allows him to receive a nomination the validity” of which may not be made complete until after the date of the nomination. Such a thing may be most inconvenient.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 105 to 107 agreed to.
Clause 108. - (Proceedings on nomination day).
Mr. GLYNN (South Australia). - This clause provides that if more candidates are nominated than are required to be elected, the proceedings shall stand adjourned to the polling day, and that if no greater number are nominated the returning officer shall declare those nominated to be duly elected. But no provision is made to meet the case where a smaller number are nominated than are required to be elected. Such an occurrence is extremely unlikely, but a similar case occurred in Victoria many years ago, for which no provision had been made by the electoral law, and the matter had to be referred to Parliament. Another case of the kind also occurred in reference to the nominations to the University Senate recently.
Mr. BAMFORD (Herbert). - In the event of one of the candidates dying between the date of nomination and that of election, must there be an election, or would the surviving candidates be elected ?
– It is no doubt extremely unlikely that fewer candidates will ever be nominated than are required to be elected; but it may happen that three out of eight nominations will be invalid, in which case there will be fewer valid nominations than persons to be elected. If that occurred, the clause is mandatory that “ the proceedings shall stand adjourned to polling day.” To my mind, it is best to provide for even the most unlikely contingencies.
– No provision has been made in the States Acts tomeet this case, because it is such an unlikely one, but as the question has been raised, I shall have the matter investigated. I think it is best to meet all cases of the kind, where possible.
– I have prepared an amendment which will meet the case.
– I shall be glad to consider it.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 109 -
Any elector -
– I move-
That the word “ Any,” line1 , be omitted.
I do this with a view to test the question whether voting by post is acceptable to the committee. I have a very strong objection to voting by post. It is desirable that the fullest possible facilities should be given to voters, but this should always be consistent with a minimum of influence being exercised upon the voter. Under the old system of open voting, we know that very few votes were recorded without undue influence. Voting by ballot, which was designed to overcome this difficulty, first saw the light in South Australia, and it has proved very effective, because it leaves the decision of the voter absolutely secret. Notwithstanding its obvious advantages in some instances, voting by post makes an attack, although not with an evil intention, upon the system of voting by ballot, because the elector has to record his vote in the presence of certain people.
– We can liberalize that.
– I do not know that that would affect the objection I have to any great extent.
– There is no disclosure made.
– The honorable member evidently has in mind the system in force in Victoria, but that does not apply everywhere. I am given to understand that in some places the system of voting by post has not been a great success, because a considerable number of persons have been induced to disclose the name of the candidate for whom they were voting, because of the knowledge on the part of the employer that a certificate entitling them to vote by post had been obtained.
– Has the honorable member evidence of that?
– Not such evidence, perhaps, as would be accepted in a court of law. I am informed that what I describe has taken place in South Australia.
– I do not think it has occurred in Victoria.
– The opportunity did not occur in Victoria, because the franchise was not extented to women in that State. I am told that a great amount of influence was exercised on young women, particularly domestic servants, who were induced to obtain these postal certificates, and to vote in the presence, and practically under the control of the individual employing them, or of a parent, or some other person.
– But that is forbidden under the Bill.
– That is not possible under the South Australian law.
– I am informed that it has been extensively practised in South Australia, and it may occur under this Bill. It is provided that any elector who has received a postal ballot-paper shall “ in the presence of a postmaster, officer, police stipendiary magistrate, or head-master of a State school,” record his vote. Now, I know of several instances in New South Wales where the postmaster is a squatter.
An Honorable Member. - That is a bogey.
– The honorable member may say that it is a bogey, but I know of some squatters who use their influence in that way. In one case, in my own electorate, a squatter, who was acting as presiding officer, when he found that I was obtaining a majority of votes, kicked the ballot-box to pieces. Still, I was returned, and that squatter discharged every man employed on his station the very next day. It is unfair to subject any man to the temptation to which he would be exposed if he had an opportunity of witnessing the votes of the persons employed by him, and over whom he might exercise a great deal of influence. The only way to effectively protect the secrecy of the ballot is by insuring that the electors shall exercise their votes only in the polling booth under the supervision of the officials appointed for the purpose, and free from any influence as faras outsiders are concerned. I have suggested a provision in lieu of voting by post, under which an elector would be enabled to vote at any polling booth, whether in or out of his electorate. If an elector were 100 miles away from his electorate on polling day, he would be able to go to the nearest pollingbooth and record his vote. The only objection to that plan is that it would involve in some cases a delay of a few days, perhaps in the declaration of the poll. Therefore, we have to weigh the desirability of relieving a number of candidates from a state of uncertainty against the advantage of offering additional facilities to the voters and, at the same time, preserving the secrecy of the ballot. In Tasmania, the voter who finds himself outside of the district in which he is registered can go to the nearest pollingbooth and make a declaration stating that he is on the roll, and that he has not previously voted. This declaration is made subject to penalties. This plan is similar to that proposed by the Minister for Home Affairs for meeting the case of a man who finds himself unable to vote at the particular booth at which he is registered. I ask that this principle should be extended. In Tasmania the voter presents himself and signs the declaration, and his voting paper is placed in an envelope andforwarded to the returning officer for the division in which he has a vote. Later on the returning officer ascertains whether the voter is entitled to have his vote recorded, and if he is satisfied he includes the vote in his return. The delay of a day or two thus involved is of very small moment compared with the necessity of keeping the ballot free from any suspicion of undue influence on the part of interested individuals.
– How would that affect paragraph (c) ?
– There will always be a certain percentage of voters who cannot go to the poll on account of ill-health, but I do not see why we should imperil an election on that account. It is desirable to place beyond all considerations the free exercise of the voter’s will at the ballot-box, and it is because I fear that voting by post will be used improperly to influence elections that I regard its disadvantages as outweighing the importance of extending voting facilities to the small percentage of persons who are unable to attend the polling booth.
– I am sorry that the honorable member has moved his amendment, because if there is one democratic principle in the Bill it is that which is embodied in the provisions for the extension of voting facilities.
– The principle of voting by post has worked well wherever it has been tried.
– So far as I can gather it has worked well, and I inserted the provision in the Bill with a view to affording all electors an opportunity of voting, whether they were able to attend the polling booth or not. It is all very well for the honorable member for Bland to refer to Tasmania, as an example, but it must be remembered that that State is not so large as some of the electorates in other parts of the Commonwealth, and that therefore provisions which would be workable in Tasmania would be utterly unsuitable for other States. The honorable member’s proposal is to enable an elector to vote at any booth in the Commonwealth, and I would ask how it would be possible to check attempts at fraud, or impersonation ?
– There is no more difficulty in regard to that than in connexion with the provisions under which the Minister proposes to enable electors to vote at any polling booth in the electorate to which they belong.
– Yes, there is : because in the case of an electorate which is sub-divided there are facilities for communicating from one point to another. But in the outlying parts of Queensland, the north of South Australia, the northwest of Western Australia, and the back portions of New South Wales, it would be impossible to ascertain within a reasonable time what electors had recorded their votes at different polling places. The amendment of the honorable member is absolutely impracticable. He declares that the provision in the Bill is liable to abuse. That argument, however, could be applied with equal force to any other provision. Under his proposal, persons who reside a hundred miles from polling places would be denied an opportunity of recording their votes. I am sure that in South Australia, Western Australia, and Queensland, there are post-offices which are separated from each other by a hundred miles. I have in my hand a voter’s postal certificate, which will show honorable members how it is proposed to carry out the provisions of the Bill. If they will look at it they will see that it practically insures the secrecy of the ballot. Of course if an elector chooses to tell another person how he intends to vote, no one can prevent him from so doing. As the honorable member for Gippsland has pointed out, wherever this system has been tried, no serious injury has arisen. The honorable member for Bland declares that under its operation undue influence will be brought to bear upon certain voters. But I would point out that in clause 112 special provision has been made to meet such cases as he has described.
– Where does the elector who has to vote by post get the information that all the provisions of clause 112 must be complied with?
– It is printed upon his certificate. The objection taken by the honorable member for Bland is that in some parts of the States the postmaster may be a squatter, selector, or storekeeper, and we all know that these individuals exercise considerable influence. That was pointed out to me, and thereupon I had the provision which appears in clause 112 inserted, with a view to giving the Government power to appoint some one outside of the individuals mentioned to receive the votes. The honorable member declares that this portionof the Bill constitutes an attack upon the system of voting by ballot. I cannot agree with him. What I propose is to confer upon those who are situated in remote country districts an opportunity of voting, which will otherwise be denied them. If we allow a man or woman to record his or her vote at any polling place, we shall have confusion worse confounded, and be unable to prevent impersonation and abuses against which we have fought for many years. I trust the committee will assist me in making this Bill the most liberal measure of the kind.
– I am afraid that if the proposal of the honorable member for Bland be carried he will injure the very men whom he desires to serve. The mere fact of giving an elector the right to vote at any polling booth does not by any means insure to every elector an opportunity of voting. The system of voting by post, however, will - if property administered - confer that opportunity upon every elector. Many years ago I advocated the adoption of that system in connexion with the shearers in the back-blocks. Even if they had the right to vote at any polling booth in the State, many would be unable to do so because they might be scores of miles distant upon polling day. Under the system of voting by post there may be abuses, but . I venture to say that for every one that occurs facilities will be given to twenty electors to exercise the franchise. In the district which I represented in the South Australian Parliament there were no less than 38 polling places, and yet there are scores of men there who have never had an opportunity of voting. Unless some more valid reason be given for expunging the clause I shall certainly vote for its retention. I have heard that abuses occur in South Australia, but I certainly have heard no proof of those abuses.
– Men have voted a dozen times at an election in New South Wales, but the offence could never be proved.
– But the very men whom the honorable member for Bland wishes to vote will not be able to do so, unless this clause be included in the Bill, and they are a class who have to put up with considerable hardship as compared with dwellers in centres of civilization. I regard this clause as an advance in electoral reform ; and any reference to alleged abuse in South Australia does not justify us in abandoning the principle of voting by post.
– In South Australia the law was altered to prevent abuses.
– This clause ought to be retained if only in the interests of the large body of women who have now been given the franchise, and who should have an opportunity of voting without going to the polling booth.
– It is no worse for a woman than for a man to go to the polling booth.
– My experience of female suffrage, which has been the law in South Australia from 1.896, is that when in health the great bulk of the women go to the poll ; but a greater percentage of women than of men are frequently prevented by sickness from leaving their homes. I am not wedded to’ the particular wording of the clause, and would support any amendment to give it a wider scope. I do not see how there could be any evasion of the secrecy of the ballot.
– If a postmaster happened to be an employer of labour he might insist on one of the employes showing him his vote.
– I do not think the few cases there may be of that kind are any justification for our rejecting this clause.
Mr. L. E. GROOM (Darling Downs).I am sorry the honorable member for Bland feels it incumbent upon him to oppose the clause, because I regard this part of the Bill, as exceedingly liberal. What we all desire to get is the expressed will of the people, and it is only by such a provision as that now before the committee that we can really get the expressed will of the whole of the electors. When I stood at the byelection for this House, many of the electors of Darling Downs experienced serious difficulty, and I have several letters in my possession from shearers expressing regret that on the polling day they . would be working at too great a distance to record their votes. Had these men been ordinary loafers about the city they could have voted, but because they were doing work which society requires shall be done, they were absolutely disfranchised, and they asked me to do what I could in the Federal Parliament to remove the injustice. It is utterly impossible to predict at what particular place in an electorate these vast bodies of shearers may be. The polling place may be fixed at one station, and at the very next election the men who had been working there are pursuing their avocation miles away. The seamen on the vessels along the coast are many of them absolutely out of their electorate on the polling day, and surely they ought to receive some consideration. It is a matter of history that in Brisbane men engaged in shipping were on election day ordered down the river to do lighterage work and thus pi-evented from voting, it being known by those, who -had control over them how their votes were likely to be recorded.
– An elector must be more than 5 miles away from a polling place.
– These men of Brisbane were more than 5 miles away. Every facility for voting should be given to persons whose business requires them to move from place to place. Then we have to consider the female voters. I recently visited my electorate, and I can see that if we have not some such clause as this, nearly half the women there will not be able to record their votes.
– Nonsense! Mr. L. E. GROOM. - Of course, I may be wrong; but the selectors in my constituency are scattered over the Downs, a large number more than 5 miles from any polling place, and it would be utterly impossible for both husband and wife to leave home at the same time. The honorable member for Bland and myself are at one in the desire that every person who has the franchise shall vote, but we differ as to how to bring about that result. The honorable member for Bland objects that undue influence is likely to be exerted, and the same charge was made in Queensland in regard to small polling places. It was said that by reason of the small number of ballot-papers being opened after the voting, secrecy could be, and had been, violated ; but all that is prevented by the Bill. Practically, the charge made by the honorable member for Bland is that a squatter may require men in his employ to hand their ballot-papers to him so that he may see how they vote, but that would be a very audacious act on the part of any man, and I am glad to see that in the Bill there is a stern provision to punish any person guilty of such an act, so that danger in that connexion, I think, is rather exaggerated. I understand that the honorable member’ for Bland is speaking with a certain amount of knowledge, and I do not want to minimize his opinion. I hope the Minister may see his way to adopt a suggestion to allow the vote to be attested in the pre-. sence of two electors or extend the provision in some way. Another charge made is that this clause is practically a violation of the ballot system. The object of the ballot is simply to place the ballot-paper in a box so that no one can see how the vote is given ; and this clause is certainly no violation of the system per se, though the secrecy rather than the system may be “invaded if a person insists on opening a ballotpaper. I do not think, however, that there is any very serious danger ; in any case, the danger is small as compared with the vast extension of utility given to the voting power in the Commonwealth. We had voting by post at the last election in Queensland, and I believe it worked well, *md it is in operation elsewhere with beneficial results. We have extended the franchise to the fullest limit, and the voting system should be practically as wide as the voting power.
– The honorable and learned member for Darling
Downs says that what we desire to obtain is the exercise of the will of the people. That is exactly what the honorable member for Bland desires : but it should be the will of the people and not the will of a person or a few persons. I myself am a martyr to the system of voting by post in South Australia. The danger lies in circumstances where a clever employer, with perhaps 40 or 50 or 200 workmen, asks the latter whether they have voted, and asks them’ to send their votes from his place. We all know that employers do exercise more or less power over the men who, directly or indirectly, are dependent on them for a living, and it is wrong for us to put such a temptation in the way of any justice of the peace, or similar official. The objections of the honorable member for Bland are thoroughly reasonable. Nothing could be simpler for a man than to walk into a polling booth, and break the law in the way suggested. My experience in South Australia leads me to feel that the adoption of the system provided for in the Bill will give the death blow to democracy. We talk about giving every man a chance, and providing equality of opportunity. The way to do that is to adopt the system now in vogue in Tasmania. There a man can go into any polling booth and say - “ My name is on the roll for suchandsuch a division.” He signs a declaration to- that effect, and records his vote, which is then despatched to his own district. No man will run the risk of being imprisoned for perjury by wrongfully signing such a declaration. I look upon the system provided for in the- Bill as vicious, pernicious, and damnable in its effects.
Mr. BATCHELOR (South Australia).I support the proposal of the honorable member for Bland. We have had considerable experience of the absent voter system in South Australia. I think it was adopted in that State before it was adopted in any of the other States. Our first Absent Voters’ Act was passed in 1891 or 1892; another in 1893; and another in 1896, when, owing to the abuses which had occurred, the privileges given by the system were considerably curtailed. The South Australian system is not so wide as that provided for in the Bill. While it is our desire and our duty to extend the opportunities for voting, so that every person in the community may avail himself of them, it is still more important that we should give all who vote an opportunity to record their votes without fear of influence. It is more important, indeed, that the votes recorded should be recorded without undue influence than that here and there some elector should be unable to vote. In South Australia the provisions of the Absent Voters’ Act have not been taken advantage of by employes to anything like the same extent as by employers, because of the suspicion which has been aroused that the system allows influence, to be brought to bear on employes who avail themselves of it. In a case which occurred since 1896,a postmaster allowed himself to be taken round the country by members of a political organization.
– Was he not punished ?
– No; because there was nothing in the Act preventing him from doing what he did, and there is nothing in this Bill to prevent an officer acting in the same way. That is a serious blot upon the measure. The question is, how can we hedge round this privilege with sufficient safeguards? There are so many officials empowered to witness signatures that it will be quite impossible to define the places at which the witnessing may be done, and therefore difficulties will occur. The head master of a State school may be present at a friend’s house, and the domestic servants may be called up, and told - “ Mr. Smith is here to-night. It will save you a lot of trouble if you record your vote now.”
– But before voting they must obtain their certificates.
– Yes, from the returning officer ; but there is no difficulty about that. Justices of the peace have been takenround to enable electors to make declarations.
– A justice of the peace could not issue a certificate.
– No, but a justice of the peace can witness the declarations of applicants for certificates. Under the South Australian system, application for a certificate must be made direct to the returning officer, and it must be witnessed by a justice of the peace. Is there anything in the Bill which prevents the roundingup of employés in the presence of a postmaster, the head-master of a State school, or some other officer, under such circumstances as would really amount to an attempt to coerce them ? The possibility of such coercion has been very quickly recognised by a very large number of the employés of South Australia, and if honorable members think that the system will be largely availed of by those whose avocations make it difficult for them to record their votes at proclaimed polling places, they will find that they are making a mistake.
– That has not been the case in Victoria.
-In Tasmania they have passed an Act adopting this system.
– I do not doubt that; but, taking it all round, I am convinced that the system cannot be hedged about with sufficient safeguards to prevent the suspicion of coercion in the minds of electors to such an extent as to make it practically inoperative;
– In South Australia both sides worked the system very well.
– The only cases of abuse suggested there were all on the one side.We never heard of an employer being coerced, or being afraid to exercise his vote. I admit that there are some advantages in the system, but in my opinion they are not sufficient to justify a practice which meets with so much disfavour from those whom it is intended to convenience.
– I think that none of us wish to give facilities for the abuse of the electoral system. To my mind, it seems that the Bill contains sufficient safeguards to prevent abuse ; but, if there are not enough, I am prepared to assist in adding to them. I hope, however, that there will be no serious opposition to the system of voting by post; because, under proper safeguards, it can bemade as secret as the ordinary system of recording votes in the polling booths, and it is of enormous convenience to people in country districts. Those who live in the city are likely to overlook the disabilities of country electors, who are very glad to have the opportunity of voting by post. The system has saved me the trouble of riding a distance of more than 130 miles to record my vote, and I have known many others to be similarly circumstanced. I have not heard of any case of abuse in Victoria. A Government of which I was Premier introduced the system in Victoria, in the interests of the scattered electors of the country districts, and, although a large number of city representatives opposed it, it was only because they were not familiar with the hardships under which country electors labour.
I venture to say that they would not be prepared to oppose it any longer. I should be very glad to help the honorable member for Bland to give the additional facilities he proposes, but I am afraid it is not practicable. If electors were allowed to vote at any polling booth in the State there would still be large numbers who would be so far removed from polling booths that they would be unable to exercise the franchise. It is these people to whom we should give some thought. All electors are not so favorably situated as are those who reside in the cities. I am surprised that the amendment should come from the professed representatives of labour. The whole of the labour is not centred in the cities, and the best men we have are those who are able to do without luxuries, and who devote their energies to developing the resources of the country districts. I am prepared to go as far as any one in preventing abuses and in providing safeguards, but what has been possible in Victoria may very well be extended to the other States. I have always voted for the extension of the franchise to every man and woman in the Commonwealth, and I am very glad that we have given the franchise to women. I now wish to afford every possible facility for electors to record their votes, and I should like to even go so far as to impose a penalty on those who neglect to exercise their privilege. I hope honorable members will consider those electors who are many miles away from the nearest polling booth. The honorable member for Bland said that it was preferable that a few persons should be prevented from voting rather than that opportunities should be presented for the exercise of undue influence upon a large scale. The cases of improper influence, however, will be very few and far between, whereas of the 50 per cent of the voters in the country districts who refrain from recording their votes, many are absolutely unable to reach the polling booth. Every facility should be afforded to electors to record their votes so that our legislation may be a true reflex, of the opinion of the whole of the people, instead of that of a section residing in .the centres of population.
– I do not think that the provision for voting by post has been abused in South Australia. I was rather inclined to think at first that, perhaps, the person who could afford to employ the greatest number of canvassers, and who could thus secure the largest number of votes by post would be placed at an advantage, but I am somewhat doubtful upon that point. I looked up the election returns with a view to satisfying my mind, but I was unable to conclude my examination. The fact that a candidate procures a voter’s certificate for an elector does not, but is apt to be considered by some to place him or her under a moral obligation to vote for such candidate. If any influence of that kind is exerted the same objection would apply to all classes of canvassers, because there is not one person in five who is not approached in some way or other regarding his vote. The only coercion exercised under the system of voting by post is upon those who are foolish enough to think that because the)7 are being helped to obtain a voter’s certificate they are under an obligation to vote for the person who obtains it. We know that the expediency of voting by post maybe pointed out to certain voters by the friends of some particular candidate, .and that the voter may think that he is under some obligation, but I do not see that any other coercion could be brought to bear to influence the judgment of an elector. I have never heard of any case in which there has been any breach of the secrecy of the ballot.
– I cannot speak as to that, but I know of cases in which influence has been exerted.
– All that has to be feared is the activity of particular candidates. On the whole, a very small proportion of electors take advantage of the facilities offered for voting through the post. The system of voting by post was strongly advocated in South Australia in the interests of sailors, and any abuses to which the system may have been subject at the outset have now been provided against by amendments of the law. The alternative suggested by the honorable member for Bland is open to many objections, the principal being that it would involve great delay in the declaration of the poll. An elector entitled to a vote in Sydney might be in Western Australia upon the day of election, and might record his vote in that State.
– Why should he be prevented from doing so ?
– Because far greater inconvenience would be involved in permitting him to do so than’ in preventing him. In the case of a South Australian elector who was absent in the Northern Territory, and who chose, to record his vote there, the declaration of the poll for a South Australian constituency mightbe delayed for perhaps six weeks or two months. I do not see anything in the proposal to justify a delay of that kind. Voting by post affords a simple method of achieving the object aimed at, and it would involve no such delay as would be incurred under the alternative suggested by the honorable member for Bland.
– The honorable and learned member for South Australia, Mr. Glynn, has pointed out the only objection that could be urged against the provision in the Bill, namely, that the candidate who secured the greater number of applications for voters’ certificates would reap an undue advantage. I can, however, assure the honorable andlearned member that the danger is not so great as might be supposed. We have had some experience of the system in Victoria, and during the election of representatives to this House a number of applications were made for voters’ certificates. In one case a candidate applied, through his canvassers, for 80 certificates, but as the candidate did not receive more than 50 votes, and the balance went to hisopponents, it is clear that it does not follow that those who. provide the certificates necessarily secure the votes. I would urge the honorable member for Bland to withdraw his amendment, because the clause as it stands will afford facilities to a large number of people who have recently been admitted to the franchise, and who will probably not register their votes if they are required to attend the polling booth. We are told that in New Zealand and South Australia a large number of women go to the poll, but in Victoria our experience in municipal elections is that only by exerting the strongest influence can they be induced to record their votes.
– The circumstances are different where all the women have votes.
– Perhaps so. I agree with those who approved of the principle of universal suffrage, and I am glad that we have provided for it. I ask honorable members to give this additional facility to a class which, it is asserted, requires to be educated in connexionwith the importance of the exercise of a political privilege.
In conclusion,. I can assure the committee that during the period in which the system of voting by post has operated in Victoria, the results obtained have exceeded the anticipations of its most sanguine advocates, and I have never heard a single complaint as to the secrecy of the ballot being in any way violated.
– I am in sympathy with those who wish to extend the facilities for exercising the franchise ; but, at the same time, I wish to guard against possible abuses. Our experience in New South Wales shows the necessity for care in this direction. The honorable member for Bland cited an instance which occurred inthe electorate in which the presiding officer went; to the extreme of kicking the ballot-box to pieces, because the votes were not recorded in the direction which he desired. I have had a somewhat similar experience. At one station in my electorate, the manager ascertained the direction in which the men intended to vote, and when polling day arrived, he sent out to the back of the run those who would have voted in opposition to his desire, so that they could not exercise the franchise, whilst the others were brought in to the home station. These illustrations serve to show the extent to which feeling is sometimes carried. In other instances, a number of men have been discharged from their work after ah election. Their employers have said to them - “ You voted for So-and-so ; go to him for a job.” Like the honorable member for Bland, I fear that if the Government proposalbe carried, it will lead to the exercise of a great deal of undue influence. I recognise, however, that additional facilities for the exercise of the franchise must be given. In every centre of any importance in New South Wales pollingplaces exist. . In many districts, indeed, it is much easier to go to the polling booth than to find a justice of the peace to witness one’s signature. I should like to see the polling booths thrown open to every elector.
SirW illiam Lyne. - It is impossible to do that.
– I do not think so. When we elected our representatives to the Federal Convention, we required each elector to possess an elector’s right, and he was thus enabled to vote at whatever polling booth he chose. A similar provision could he inserted in this Bill. No person who is not compelled by circumstances to be absent from his own district will go to another districtto vote from merelove of the change.
– The difficulty is with those wholive miles away from any polling places.
– One of thegreat obstacles with which people who live in the remote country districts haveto contend is that of obtaining the necessary form. Having obtained it, electorsare required to communicate withthe returning officer, whomaybe a couple of hundred miles away. Possibly their means of communication consists of a weekly, or fortnightly, post. The returning officer may be inundated with applications of this character, with the result, that he is unable to reply immediately, and thus the necessary authority isobtainedtoo, late for the elector to exercise his vote.I do not see that the Government proposal will overcome that difficulty. If this provisionbecomes operative, it willbemadean excuse for closing a large number of polling booths in New South Wales. Thus the facilities for voting will be decreased, whilst the difficulty which exists in obtaining, forms from the returning officer who may be some hundreds of miles distant, will practically disfranchise alarge number. For these reasons I shall support the amendment.
Mr. WATSON. (Bland).- The Minister for Home Affairs has urged that under my proposal there would be a difficulty in identifying electors who present themselves at polling booths and wish to vote upon signinga declaration. I shouldlike to direct attention to the fact that under his own scheme, people who present themselves at a polling booth in a division which is not the one for which they are enrolled, will be allowedto vote upon, signing a declaration. Does he mean to say that a man who resides some hundreds of miles from the place at which he desires to record his vote is more easily identifiable, because he happens to be in a certain division, than is the man who is permitted to vote anywhere? Moreover, what chance would there be of obtaining a reply upon polling day to a wire sent for the purpose of ascertaining whether any individual was registered or not? Like the honorable member for Gippsland, I am anxious to give every possible facility to country electors. I amglad to hear the eulogy that he passed upon the country voter, because I represent a rural constituency, and I owethe electors adebt of gratitude for the manner in which they have repeatedly returned meto Parliament. Under the Government proposal there is a risk of influence being brought to bear upon individual voters - not by ordinary election canvassers - but by others who wield influence on account of the position which they occupy. Thehonorable member for South Australia, Mr. Glynn, says he cannot conceive of anything beyond canvassing, butI know, andit is strangethatheasan old politician does not know, of frequent instances in which employers have made it clearly understood that unless a certain man were returned, there would not bemuchwork a little later on. When an employer will go tothat extent to enforce his opinions on his employés, he will use means such as are presented by the clause to find out how theyvote.
– How would he do it? mr. WATSON. - Supposinga postmaster were on employer of labour, as many are, he could ask his men who went to him to register how they were voting. It may have been at his suggestion that the men obtained the certificates, and therewould be no one else in the room when the vote was. being exercised.
Mr.G. B. Edwards. - Penalize him.
– Does the honorable membernotknow that inNew SouthWales, before electoral rights were introduced, there were several well authenticated instances in which men were driven from polling booth to polling booth and voted in each ? In 1891, in West.Sydney, a mantoldme he had voted. six different times under as many different names in different compartments at one booth. When we know that these things were done in defiance of extreme penalties, there is not much encouragementfor the hope that offences under a system of voting by post can he prevented, and the best course is not to give people the opportunity to personate. If the clause could be safe-guardedI should regard it as a good provision, and if Iwere not in extreme doubt on that point I should not be found submitting the present amendment. I see, however, that the committee are not favorable to my proposal, but are anxious to give a trial to voting by post, and, as I indicated two or three months ago on the second reading that I was prepared to accept this Bill in order to have a measure applying to all Australia, I shall ask leave to withdraw the amendment. These postal certificates can be obtained only between the issue of the writ and the day of polling, and the minimum period of fourteen days is very short in country districts, where the mails are infrequent.
-When I was elected I found that some of the postal votes came too late.
– If this minimum period be availed of in every instance, it will, in many cases, be impossible to get votes through in time. In my own district there are places with a mail only once a week or once a fortnight. I regret the committee are not in sympathy with the amendment, but I reserve to myself the right later to agitate for an alteration if my views are borne out by experience. In any case, there is necessity for a considerable number of alterations with a view to safeguard, not so much the application for a certificate, as the exercise of a vote. The conditions under which the vote is exercised are such as to make it necessary to provide that no undue influence shall be brought to bear, and that the receiving of the votes shall be restricted to some official person. The place should be confined to the office of the official, though I am not certain whether the class of postmaster before whom the vote must be exercised is clearly provided.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
– I am glad the amendment is withdrawn. In the Victorian Parliament I opposed a measure providing for voting by post, which was introduced by the McLean Government, and I and those associated with me were so successful, that we compelled the Government to change the Bill into a measure such as this is becoming, namely, a Voting Before Officials Bill. Voting by post means that the elector sends his vote by post from himself to the returning officer. Subject to small modifications, which are on the lines of those suggested by the honorable member for Bland, I think the committee may safely adopt the proposed system of voting before officials. We opposed the Bill introduced by the McLean Government for the very reasons mentioned by the honorable member for Bland. As that measure was brought down, any person could vote of his own free will, anywhere, in the presence of anybody.
But we knew how an employer might collect the votes of his workmen, and we also knew the constraint which is felt when the person who wants the vote is present and the elector is not sure whether the candidate may not see the vote in some way before it reaches the returning officer. That would be like a return to the old system of open voting, of which I had some experience in the old country. I have seen a farmer have to mount a table, and in the presence of his landlord and agent say for whom he voted : and the country never got a proper representation until that sort of thing had terminated. The system proposed in the Bill will achieve an object we all desire, namely, that every person shall have an opportunity to vote. During the last election, I was called to see a man suffering from rheumatic fever who could not attend the polling booth, and who asked me how he could exercise his vote. By the Bill such a man is given a vote, but I do not see any provision as to how he is to exercise it. Clause109 confers the vote, and clause 112 says that such a man may make his mark in the presence of the official! named, and that he is to hand the vote to the postmaster or post it at the post-office. But how is such a man to find a postmaster or to go to a post-office ? Then there should be some provision, as in the Victorian Act, that the vote shall be handed only to the officer in whose presence it has been signed, and that he shall then become responsible to. the State for dealing with it. The idea is that an official, with a State office, will be anxious to do his duty, in order not to fall under the censure of his superiors. If that officer is to be trusted with having the vote exercised in his presence, he may also be trusted with the duty of forwarding it to the returning officer.
– Is the honorable and learned member referring to what is to be done with the ballot-paper?
– I was asking just now how a sick person who cannot leave his house is to hand a ballot paper to the postmaster, or post it at a post-office, and suggesting that some amendment was necessary. A postmaster cannot go round collecting votes.
– That is what is said to have been done in South Australia.
Mr. BATCHELOR (South Australia).I think it would be well to strike out paragraph (a), because there is no necessity for-
– To my mind, a man living more than 5 miles from a polling place should be entitled by that very fact to an absent voter’s certificate. I think it is unnecessary to require such a man to declare that he anticipates being more than 5 miles from the polling place on the day of the poll. Paragraph (b) is necessary to meet the case of the elector who resideswithin 5 miles of a polling place, but believes that on the day of the poll he will be away.
Mr. BATCHELOR (South Australia).The only reason for allowing voting by post is to convenience men who cannot attend a polling place on the day of the poll ; a man’s place of residence has nothing to do with the question. Paragraph (a) does not convenience anybody who is not provided for by paragraph (b), and it is therefore unnecessary. But it offers encouragement to all who live 5 miles from a polling place to vote by post, a practice which it is better to discourage, because it adds so greatly to the difficulties of conducting elections. Where men cannot attend at the polling places to vote, let us give them the opportunity to vote by post ; but do not let us give them the right to vote by post simply because they live 5 miles, or any other distance, from a polling place. Apart from the population in the townships, nearly all the electors of South Australia reside 5 miles from the polling places.
– There is a good deal in the contention of the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor. The South Australian Absent Voters Act provides only for the case of electors who have reason to believe that upon polling days they will be at a certain distance from a polling place. But paragraph (a) offers an inducement to all who live 5 miles from a polling place to vote by post. The system of postal voting may be a good one for the convenience of people who are ill, or are otherwise unable to attend at the polling booths, but it would be a very bad one if it were to be generally availed of. The South Australian
– I do not think there is much reason for retaining paragraph (a). I find that in Victoria one arbitrary limit has been fixed, and in South Australia another. I am not quite sure that 5 miles is not too short a distance. Of course it is not intended to induce people to keep away from the polling booth, but the object is to afford voting facilities to those who cannot reasonably get there. There cannot be any harm in striking out paragraph (a).
Amendment (by Sir William Lyne) agreed to -
That the following words be omitted : - “ (a) who resides morethan 5 miles from the polling place at which he is entitled to vote; or.”
Amendment (by Mr. Batchelor) proposed -
That the word “five,” line6, be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ten.”
– The 5-mile limit was recently adopted by the Victorian Legislature, and, as it has worked very well, I do not see why we should extend it to 10 miles as suggested. In many families it will be impossible for both husband and wife to get away to vote, and a 10-mile limit would, therefore, be unnecessarily long.
Clause further verbally amended, and agreed to.
Clauses 110 and 111 agreed to.
Any elector who has received a postal ballotpaper shall in the presence of a postmaster officer police stipendiary special magistrate or head master of a State school and of no other person record his vote as follows : - (i.) By exhibiting the ballot-paper unmarked and in the condition in which it was issued : (ii.) By marking his vote on the ballot-paper, but so that the postmaster officer magistrate or head master shall not see the vote : (iv.) By presenting the ballot-paper, folded up, to be witnessed : (v.) By enclosing the ballot-paper with the counterfoil attached us witnessed, together with the postal-vote certificate in the envelope, addressed to the returning officer, and having closed the envelope, by handing it to a postmaster for posting, or posting it at a post-office.
– Either the word “ postmaster “ ought to be omitted or some qualification should be inserted. In many country districts large employers of labour act also as non-official postmasters. They receive a salary, but are not civil servants, and they are therefore subject to all those throes of partisanship which would influence ordinary electors. We could easily conceive of undue influence being exerted by such persons in recording postal votes. I have no objection to postmasters who are civil servants acting in the capacity provided for in the clause, and I move -
That the words “beinga classified public officer,” be inserted after the word “postmaster,” line30.
– The amendment would considerably limit the usefulness of the provision. A number of postoffices in the country districts are conducted under what is known as the contract system, and the postmasters or postmistresses in such cases would not come within the scope of the honorable member’s amendment. These persons are not employers of labour, and they are not open to the same objection as are storekeepers who also act as postmasters. I know of a number of ladies who carry on post-offices in country districts, and perform their duties exceedingly well, and who would not be open to any objection so far as the purposes of this Bill are concerned. The contract system under which these ladies and others carryon their work is largely resorted to in Victoria, and as it is favoured by the department, the probability is that it will be availed of to a much larger extent in the future. I cannot see any objection to allowing postmasters or postmistresses, who follow no other occupation, from acting as provided for in connexion with postal ballot-papers.
– I suggest that police officers should be included among those who are empowered to deal with postal ballot-papers under this clause. At the same time, I am opposed to ladies who act as postmistresses being allowed to discharge any such functions. At my second election in South Australia, one of the postmistresses in my electorate was taken round in a buggy day after day with a view to securing votes for my opponent, with the result that I was ousted, and obliged to go away to Tasmania. I am not quite sure that even civil servants would be proof against the allurements of a drive round the electorate under the care of an electioneering agent. I do not regard civil servants as being entirely above suspicion, because my experience shows that they are not always entirely free from prejudice.
– There is some force in the contention of the honorable member for Grampians The object of this clause is to extend certain privileges to electors residing in remote districts ; but if only postmasters who are classified public servants can deal with postal ballot-papers in the manner provided for, its operation will be limited to the more populous districts. I admit that there is a grave objection to squatters, who are also postmasters, being allowed to act ; but in the State of New South Wales there are a number of non-official postmasters, who performthe duties of deputy registrars with very satisfactory results. If these officers are to be debarred from dealing with postal ballotpapers, the electors in the outlying districts will be placed at a disadvantage. I prefer that the persons charged with the performance of this duty should be appointed by the Electoral department. I am not prepared to go to the extent of limiting its performance to official postmasters to the exclusion of all other suitable persons. The Government proposal will do a grave injustice to a large number of electors.
Mr. BATCHELOR (South Australia).I really do not see what objection there can be to limiting the discharge of this duty to officials. In my judgment it would be a great mistake to extend this provision to country postmasters who are not servants of the Commonwealth. If there is no official postmaster at some remote settlement, the State still has the head-master of the public school, the special magistrate, or the police or stipendiary magistrate to fall back upon. Surely amongst all these individuals we can secure some official before whom the absent voter may exercise his franchise? I ask the honorable member for Bland to temporarily withdraw his amendment to enable me to move a prior one. To my mind it would be a mistake to multiply the places at which absent votes may be recorded. Let us limit the duty of receiving such votes to officials, and let the work be done at their usual office. I admit that under my proposal the sick would be disfranchised, but if we attempt to legislate for every possible case, we shall immediately open the door to all sorts of abuses. I am extremely anxious to avoid even the suspicion that undue influence may be brought to bear upon absent voters by the person charged with the duty of receiving their votes. One of the chief reasons which led to the extreme disfavour with which the Electoral Act was viewed in South Australia was that at one election a certain postmaster was carted round by members of a political organization for the purpose of securing votes for its candidates. There is nothing in this Bill to prevent a repetition of such and occurrence. I do not think that it is worth our while to risk spoiling the whole measure by attempting to attain the ideal. It is far better for us to confine our attention to providing reasonable facilities for the exercise of the franchise.
– Before the amendment is withdrawn, I submit that the honorable member who moved it has scarcely kept in view one class of case which must arise, and in which it would be absolute cruelty to ask electors to go to an office. These are the cases referred to in sub-clause (c), and there ire other cases of sickness and infirmity, in which to enforce the amendment would mean practical disfranchisement.
– Is the officer to go to the residence of the sick person ?
– Why not? If we arrange that persons who are away from the electorate, perhaps for slight cause, shall have this cumbrous machinery created to enable them to vote, why should we not also provide for persons, who, on account of illness, cannot leave their homes ? There would not be much harm in asking an officer to go to the house, since we are committing ourselves to this somewhat dangerous principle in the Bill. A’ man’s house is surely as safe a place as anywhere else for the exercise of a vote under these conditions.
– My amendment would prevent great abuses, as such occurred in South Australia.
– But such abuses have only to occur once to be quickly put down.
– The law in South Australia has not been altered.
– The whole question is a most difficult one. For instance, I see that the Federal Franchise Act gives the franchise to any elector whose name is on the roll, whereas this Bill seems to contemplate that unless a person lives in the division for which he is enrolled, he shall not be entitled to vote. That is in contradiction to the Federal Franchise Act in which there’ is no such qualification.
– The assumption is that the electors were living there before they got on the roll.
– But the Act does not say so.
– The provision was deliberately struck out of the Franchise Bill in order to be put into this Bill.
– That was a most inconsistent thing to do. A man looks at the Franchise Act to see the terms upon which he is entitled to vote, and now it appears that that Act does not express what the franchise is, and that there is another condition in another Bill.
– It was the committee who were inconsistent.
– It is contrary to the principles of legislation that there should be such a contradiction.
– I feel very much impressed with the complaints made by members who have had experience of the working of the South Australian Act. It appears that under that Act some of the officials authorized to witness the marking of the ballot-paper have been hawked about the country in the interests of certain candidates.
– That was before the Act was altered.
– I do notknow why the South Australian Government permitted this to be done, because noState officer should be utilized by electioneering agents or other interested persons.
– The practice was stopped on soon as it was discovered.
– It couldhave been stopped by the fiat of theGovernment.It wouldbe as well to insert a few words in this clause in the direction aimed at by the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, with a view of preventing Federal or State officers doing work of the kind, because we know thatlabourers and servant girls might, to some extent, beimproperly influenced by such a process. At the same time, the words proposed by the honorable member arerather too limited, and I suggest anamendment to provide for cases of serious illnessand infirmity in which the visiting of officers shall not be prohibited. If a man, owing to serious illness, cannot go to the polling-booth, he certainly cannot go to an officeforthe purpose of marking aballot-paper.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment (by Mr.Batchelor) proposed -
That after the word “ of,” line 2, the words “ and at the usual office of” be inserted.
Sir JOHN QUICK (Bendigo).- I suggest that the amendment be amended so as to read “and except in cases of serious illness or infirmity, at the usual office, place of business, or residence of.”
Mr. BATCHELOR (South Australia).I admit the difficulty, but from my point of view it would be better not to agree to the suggestion of the honorable and learned member for Bendigo. It would bea mistake to spoil the whole system in order to reach persons who may be prevented from going to the polling booth by illness or infirmity. But while personally opposed to the suggestion of thehonorable and learned member, I am prepared to accept it, because I see that the majority of the committee art: opposed to my amendment. The main object of these special provisions can best be obtained by limiting the number of places at which the witnessing can be done.
– Why is the honorable member so much afraid of giving people a vote?
– I am not afraid of giving people a vote under the ballot system, but the amendment, as amended, isa departure from that system, and every departure -I view with disfavour and suspicion. The voting under the absent voters system in South Australia, is not of the same character as the voting in the ballotbox ; there is a marked difference in the character of the votes cast.
– How is it ascertained thatthe voting is of a different character?
– The. aggregate voting under the absent voters system is published separately, and it can be seen for whom the votes have been cast. Our chief object is to safeguard this clause, and we do notattain that object if we accept the suggestion of the honorable and learned member for Bendigo. However, I am prepared to meet the evident desire of the committee.
Amendment amended accordingly.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 July 1902, viewed 7 November 2016, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1902/19020722_reps_1_11/>.