4th Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Mail Serviceto Hobart. - Allowance Post Offices. - Senior Sorters. - Postmasters’ Forage Allowance
– Will the PostmasterGeneral kindly take into consideration the advisability of establishing a mail contract service between Hobart and Sydney instead of the existing poundage rate system?
– If the honorable member will put before me the facts regarding such a service I shall be pleased to give them consideration.
– When does the PostmasterGeneral propose to grant the increased allowance to allowance post offices, seeing that the money has been passed on the Estimates?
– My honorable friend is in error in stating that the amount has been passed. A sum is provided on the Estimates, and as soon as it is sanctioned by this Parliament payment will be made.
– Can the PostmasterGeneral inform the House whether he has yet decided to re-adjust the emoluments of the senior sorters who were overlooked in the concessions made by the Public Service. Commissioner, and who would like to know whether he has decided to remedy that discrepancy in the recommendations of that officer ?
– The general policy of the Government in regard to employes in the postal or other Departments for’ the future is that in regard to substantial alterations they will require an instruction from the Arbitration Court before they will make them.
– Some weeks ago I inquired whether the Postal Department has yet come to a decision regarding the forage allowance which is paid to postmasters. I was then assured that in one State there was great discontent in connexion with this matter, and that I would receive a reply forthwith. As I have not received that reply I wish to ask whether the Government have yet considered the question.
– The question of the amount of forage allowance which is paid to officers of the Department who have to keep horses to enable them to carry out their duties is now being investigated in all the States. When the result of that inquiry is made known a decision will be arrived at. I am unaware of any promise made to the honorable member that a reply to his question would be forthcoming immediately.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that the gentleman in charge of the mail traffic branch in Sydney has on more than one occasion intimated that the forage allowance to postmasters is inadequate, and does not represent a just return for the services which they render to the Commonwealth ?
– I am not personally conversant with the report of the manager of the mail traffic branch in Sydney to that effect. But it is true that on more than one occasion representations have been made by employes in the direction indicated by the honorable member. An inquiry is now proceeding with a, view to ascertaining whether those representations are correct.
– Will the Minister of External Affairs inform me what action he proposes to take in reference to the Land Ordinance for the Northern Territory which has been before this House?
– I intend to take into full consideration all the criticisms which have been made regarding the Land Ordinance, and an opportunity will be given to the House to vote on the present Ordinance before any leases are granted, or on a new Ordinance which may be brought down, embodying some of the objections of honorable members.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister and Treasurer whether he has received any further complaints about Ministers claiming travelling expenses, and also whether he has observed that the Leader of the Opposition has been away electioneering, and will probably draw his allowance in the ordinary way.
– Order. !
– I want to know from the Treasurer, sir, whether he proposes to deduct from the parliamentary allowance for the Leader of the Opposition such a sum as would be represented by the number of hours he was away last night electioneering at a meeting of the People’s Party ?
– Order !
– With great respect, sir, I think that that is a fair question. I am only anxious to elicit a little information, and to show how paradoxical we all are.
– Order !
– I am not able to grasp the point of the honorable member’s question.
– Will the Prime Minister and Treasurer set at rest the mind of the honorable member for Capricornia by telling the House whether the Leader of the Opposition does receive any parliamentary allowance or not.
– So far as I know he receives no parliamentary allowance.
– Or any travelling expenses ?
– Certainly not.
– I am sorry that the Prime Minister was unable to answer my question. May I say, in explanation, that section 48 of the Constitution provides that members of this Parliament shall receive an allowance which is fixed at £400 per annum, and which has since been raised to £600 per annum. I wish to know whether that allowance is not intended only to cover personal expenses, and is not to be regarded in the nature of a salary. If it be an allowance to cover expenses incurred in discharging our parliamentary duties, does the Prime Minister propose to deduct from the allowance of the Leader of the Opposition an amount proportionate to the period that he was absent from this chamber last night whilst engaged in addressing the People’s Party on electioneering matters?
– It was for only a quarter of an hour.
– In answer to the honorable member’s question - I think that I understand it now - I have neither the power nor the intention of deducting anything from the parliamentary allowance of the Leader of the Opposition.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. It has been suggested to me that my questions might be construed as a personal attack upon the Leader of the Opposition. In asking them I had no such intention. They were prompted by questions which have been asked from time to time of the Ministry with a view of suggesting that they had done something that they ought not to do.
– I desire to ask the Minister of External Affairs whether Colonel Miller has yet taken up his residence in the Federal Capital area, and also what stage has been reached in the preparation of plans in connexion with the city?
– Colonel Miller at present is in Perth, but all that can be done is being done to see that everything marches on smoothly.
Customs Tariff : Grading of Butter
– I wish to ask the Minister of Trade and Customs whether any cases have been brought under his notice where manufacturers have complained that they are not able to pay the increased wages which are sought through Arbitration Courts or Wages Boards, because they are receiving insufficient Protection?
– Such statements have been made. I have asked for proof, but I have not obtained it yet.
– Has the attention of the Minister of Trade and Customs been officially directed to the decision of the High Court in regard to the grading of butter, and is it his intention to establish the right of this Parliament to control grading operations by legislation?
– I have received from the High Court an injunction prohibiting the grading or grade marking of butter. Until an alteration of the law is made no butter will be graded or grade marking done except at the request of the people concerned.
– Does the Minister propose to introduce this session any legislation dealing with the grade marking of butter?
– If any legislation is introduced, due notice will be given.
MINISTERS laid upon the table the following papers : -
Panama Canal - Copy of telegram and despatch from the Secretary of State for the Colonies stating the views of His Majesty’s Government on the subject of tolls to be levied on vessels passing through the Panama Canal.
Ordered to be printed.
High Court of Australia - New South Wales Registry - The King and the AttorneyGeneral v. The Associated Northern Collieries and others - Judgment of Mr. Justice Isaacs, dated 22nd December, 191 1.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether his attention has been drawn to a very valuable memorandum by a practical farmer named J. English, which is published in the Rosedale Courier of the 29th August, and which deals with rural wages and conditions? Mr. English points out that.farmers can work their farms on the eight hours’ system and pay the wages being sought by the Rural Workers Union. Does not the Prime Minister think that such a document might be printed as a Government paper so that honorable members may have before them the valuable information which it contains?
– I have not seen the newspaper to which the honorable member refers, nor the views which Mr. English has expressed, but I am very glad to hear of their character. If he is a representative farmer it would not be a bad thing to circulate those views.
– I desire to ask the honorable member for Cook, through you, Mr. Speaker, whether he will inform the House what are the claims of Mr. English to be regarded as a practical farmer, and what is the class of farming in which he is engaged?
– Order. I would point out that it is not competent for an honorable member to ask a question of another honorable member unless the latter is in charge of some business before the House.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether he will consult the honorable member for Gippsland, who is personally acquainted with Mr. English, with a view to learning from him whether Mr. English is a practical agriculturist of good standing who is thoroughly qualified to express an opinion upon this question?
– The value of the views expressed by Mr. English depends upon the standing of their author as a farmer. His views carry their own reward.
– I wish to ask the Minister of Trade and Customs whether he has come to any decision in the direction of affording some relief to the cotton industry in Queensland?
– I would point out to the honorable member that I cannot come to a decision in regard to that matter. The granting of the bounty and the alteration of the existing duty are questions for the Government to consider, in the first instance, and, afterwards, for action by this Parliament.
– I desire to ask the Minister representing the Minister of Defence whether he has noticed in the press that the Naval Board are about to select from applicants for admission to the Naval College a number who are to be permitted to present themselves for examination. Ought not every applicant for admission to that College to be entitled to submithimself to examination in order to prove his mental and physical fitness? Why is the method of entering this institution so dissimilar from that adopted in the case of the Military College?
– One reason for the difference between the entry to the two colleges is that students entering the Military College must be sixteen years of age, whereas students may enter the Naval College practically before the age of thirteen years. I have seen the statement to which the honorable member refers, and I will have it brought under the notice of the Minister of Defence.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether he is prepared to inform the President of the Royal Agricultural Society that there are seventy-three members of this Chamber who did not receive an invitation to the luncheon which was held yesterday on the show ground, all of whom were prepared to speak at that function?
– I do not propose to do anything of the kind. If I made any such intimation no invitations would be forthcoming in the future.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether he has read a cable published in this morning’s Age, which is headed “ Australian Finances,” “ Critic of Federal Government,” “ Bleeding the Taxpayer,” and gives a resume of an article published by the Times from its Australian financial correspondent. Can the Prime Minister disclose the identity of this individual, and inform us whether he has political bias, and also whether it is a fact that “ the banks are trying to check the tendency to extravagance “ ?
– I do not know the identity of the writer in the London Times, and I would ask the honorable member to remember that it is unwise to accept as correct a brief cable notice of what has been written, even in the great Times.
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
In view of the fact that there are about 1,000 Commonwealth citizens residing on Flindersand Barren Islands, Bass’ Strait, and that such residents have no means of telegraphic communication with Tasmania or the Mainland, will the Minister take into consideration the advisability of erecting a wireless station at Flinders Island forthwith, so that these citizens of the Commonwealth may derive some of the benefits so bountifully bestowed on others?
– I am acquainted with the fact that Flinders and Barren Islands are not connected with the mainland of Australia by telegraph. I think it is improbable that during this financial year it will be possible for the Department to undertake the erection of a wireless station in that vicinity.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The Department has no information whatever on the matter, but inquiries are being made.
Bill read a third time.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
The purpose of the measure is to amend the Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Act 1 906-1910. During last session it was necessary in the interests of an honest ballot and clean elections to abolish postal voting, ‘ which was destructive to the secrecy of the ballot. Consequently, it is necessary now to apply the provisions of the Electoral Act of last session to the Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Act, so far as they are applicable. The idea is to harmonize the two Acts, so that we can apply them whenever it is necessary to take a referendum upon any question, and especially as it will be necessary to take a referendum on certain matters at the general elections next year. A provision is inserted in the Bill to permit of several referenda being printed on one slip of paper, instead of each question being printed on a separate slip, a course which will avoid confusion in the booths on the part of the electors and officials, and insure to the fullest extent practicable that every elector shall receive the whole of the ballot-papers which should be issued to him, and, after marking his votes, deposit the whole of them in the box. Each question will be separately and clearly set forth on the one slip. The Electoral Act was amended last session in the direction of : (1) abolishing postal voting, (2) extending absent voting, (3) imposing obligations on political organizations and on individuals to disclose expenditure incurred on behalf of or in the interests of a candidate or a political party in connexion with an election, (4) providing for the signing of articles commenting on candidates or on political issues submitted to the electors, and (5) in certain other directions. Honorable members will see that this is simply a plain little machinery Bill that is sent down to us from the Senate, and as there is very little in it, and it has already been discussed from all points of view, an elaborate exposition of its merits is unnecessary.
– The Bill does not merely cover the innocent little matters which the Minister of Home Affairs would lead us to believe, but is a continuation of the policy of the Electoral Bill that was introduced last session, the intention being to apply the principle of that Bill to matters in connexion with the taking of referenda. Anything which affects the franchise of the people, whether in respect of the election of members to this House to make laws, or with respect to an alteration of the Constitution, is not a trifling or unimportant matter. We are asked to-day to deal with a matter of transcendent importance. The Bill deals with the electoral laws as they apply to the taking of referenda, and a referendum is of supreme importance to Australia, because it affects (the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia and its States. It is, therefore, not a matter which we can dismiss in a few words, and the Bill demanded from the Minister in its justification a longer speech than he made, because it strikes at many fundamental rights of the electors. The principles of our Constitution are democratic. It was desired that, when the Constitution was sought to be altered, the democratic lines provided in that instrument should be followed. We desired that any alteration of it shouldbe made only in accordance with the will of the people as expressed in the manner provided by the Constitution through the ballotbox. This Bill purports to regulate the means by which the electors of Australia shall express their opinions upon alterations of the Constitution. It is vital and essential in the interests of Australia as a whole that every individual who is registered on our electoral rolls as an elector of the Commonwealth should have the opportunity of expressing his views upon any proposal to alter the Constitution. Any electoral machinery which makes that difficult, or puts obstacles in the way, or excludes any person from expressing his views upon the important question of the alteration of the Constitution under which he is governed, is a blot upon our legislation and a disgrace to the Parliament. Let us look at this Bill and see what position the Government are taking up with respect to the electors. There are four very important points which must be faced. The first of these is the abolition of postal voting, which raises, of course, a very important principle in connexion with the electoral law. The second is that whilst abolishing postal voting, and so precluding people residing in the back-blocks and various other parts of Australia from voting, save at the polling booths, on election day, provision is made for absent voting, which enables one section of the community to record their votes if they do not happen to be in the Commonwealth on the day of election. In the third place, we have certain fantastic legislation to regulate electoral expenses ; while, fourthly, we have an attempt to hinder the expression of public opinion in the press by requiring that certain articles and reports referring to the referendum shall be signed by the writer. There are in the Bill other provisions of a purely machinery character which are simply formal, but these are the four fundamental general principles to be discussed. As a matter of fact, they have already been discussed in connexion with a Bill relating to the election of members. But we are dealing now with a Bill relating not to the election of members, but to the right of the citizens of Australia to express their opinions regarding any proposed alteration of the Constitution. The fundamental principle which ought to be laid down is that every person who is registered as an elector of the Commonwealth should be given facilities to express his opinion upon the wisdom or unwisdom of a proposed alteration of the Commonwealth Constitution.
– Does the honorable member think there should be any distinction between this Bill and-
-I am dealing with the measure before the House, and I ask the honorable member, as a Democrat-
– The honorable member should appeal to the Democrats on his side of the House. All the Democrats, we are told, are over there.
– No; I have noticed distinct traces of Democracy even on the Government side of theHouse. What is the value of giving the franchise to a person, and failing to provide facilities for his exercise of that franchise?
– AskMr. Justice Chubb.
– Mr. Justice Chubb gave a definition of the law which extended the right of every citizen to have a voice in the management of the affairs of his country, and I applaud his action in that regard. His judgment was not only in accordance with the law, but consistent with the general feeling of the Australian community. The Minister has said that in the interests of an honest ballot and clean elections, postal voting had to be abolished. An honest ballot and a clean election forsooth ! Although the Minister has been administering the Commonwealth Electoral Act for three years, how many prosecutions has he initiated for breaches of the law?
– Not three years; only two and a quarter years.
– Has the honorable member discovered any breaches of the law ? Has he directed any prosecutions ?
– There is a big list, which I have laid on the table.
– The honorable member knows that the number is only trifling. In the Electoral Act we had a scheme of postal voting so carefully developed as to prevent all the irregularities said to take place in connexion with the use of the system. The system was completely safeguarded, and not one member of the Liberal or the Labour party who had administered the Department of Home Affairs could suggest any further improvement. There has been no evidence put before the House that that system has been abused. The only evidence we have had is that at the last general election over 30,000 electors exercised the franchise by means of the postal vote, and that by an unfortunate coincidence the large majority happened to be Liberals, and voted for the Liberal party. Had the majority cast their votes for the Labour party the question of whether or not the system should be abolished would have been held to require different consideration. Some honorable members opposite, who are advocates of womanhood suffrage, should remember that the postal voting system was mostly used by the women folk. It is singularthat when the Bill providing for postal voting was introduced into this Parliament it had the’ support of certain leading members of the Labour party, who recognised very properly that voting by post is the natural corollary of a universal franchise. Senator McGregor, speaking of the system as proposed to be safeguarded by us, said -
I have always been in favour of giving every facility to the voter, but I am very jealous of the secrecy of the ballot. This provision is the most effective attempt at postal voting of which I have any knowledge.
Senator McGregor was referring to the provision which has since been repealed. Then the present Prime Minister, speaking in this House in 1905, said -
I am sorry to hear so many of my friends attacking the Postal vote provisions of the Electoral Act. I regard those provisions as the necessary corollary to a universal franchise. I have a very lively recollection of the time when you, sir, and I spent a great deal of our time in endeavouring to educate the people of Queensland up to an appreciation of the justice of universal suffrage, and of the wisdom of offering special facilities to those engaged in nomadic pursuits to record their votes. Nothing has since occurred to cause me to alter my opinions in that connexion. Because certain persons may have misused the privileges conferred by an Act of Parliament, we ought not to deprive even one eligible voter of the opportunity to exercise the franchise.
The right honorable gentleman uttered words of wisdom on that occasion. It is perfectly true, as he, . in effect, said, that it is a mockery to confer a universal franchise whilst” at the same time providing in the very Act by which it is conferred a means by which its exercise can be blocked. Then, again, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, the present Postmaster-General, said -
If in this community a number of people are so unfortunate as not to be located in a great city, or at a convenient point for recording a vote at the ballot-box, it is only reasonable that special facilities should be provided for them. People in the back-blocks who do not enjoy the conveniences afforded to those living in the centres of population deserve special consideration from Parliament.
I think the people in the back-blocks should he considered. The most extraordinary feature of the proposal is - as I shall point out presently - that while residents of the back-blocks are not to have these special facilities, such a provision is made tor another class. I certainly welcome that provision. But it is not right to exclude others. The honorable member went on -
The honorable member for Hindmarsh represents a constituency which embraces a port, and «s. it is very likely that a number of seamen on the roll for that constituency may be out of the district on the day of an election, I am surprised that the honorable member should be willing to accept the provision made for a complete elimination of this proposal.
Who are the people whom the Government are going to exclude from the exercise of the franchise and from expressing an opinion on the important question of altering the Constitution? In the first place all the facilities provided for women in a certain condition voting are altogether excluded from the provisions of this measure. What have these Australian women done that they should be so treated ? What crime have they committed ? On the one hand the Government propose to give them a maternity allowance of £5, and the next moment they deprive them of the opportunity of expressing an opinion on the alteration of the Constitution under which the young citizens will have to live. This is a mockery and a farce. If I judge the Australian women rightly they prefer their rights as citizens to any maternity grant, although they will appreciate both. These honorable members pose as the champions of womenkind but, at the same time, they exclude the women from the opportunity of exercising the rights of citizenship. Next they exclude all those persons who are prevented by illness or infirmity from going to the poll. What crime has a man committed who, in following his avocation as a citizen, meets with an accident that causes him to be laid up in a hospital and prevents him going to the polling booth on election day? It is a most serious defect in this measure that such persons are to be excluded from exercising their franchise. There are hundreds of people who are set aside through illness or accident and so prevented from going to the poll, but who. nevertheless, are entitled to express their opinion. The third class excluded are all those persons who reside at considerable distance from a polling booth. When we consider Australian conditions of life in the back country, we must recognise that there are hundreds of settlers residing at remote distances who cannot leave their homes and go to the poll. That fact was referred to by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie in the speech which I have quoted. He pointed out that in this community a number of people are so unfortunate as not to be located in the great cities, and, therefore, have no opportunity of recording their votes. Yet these men and women who are doing the pioneering work of Australia, who are fighting on the outposts, are to be excluded from expressing their opinions. Surely a serious wrong is done to them. Of course, theoretically, all people in this country enjoy the franchise, and should be able to exercise it. But we are not discussing ideal theories, we are dealing with the practical working of affairs. Under this measure hundreds of electors who could have exercised the franchise under the postal provisions will be excluded. This is a policy for which honorable members opposite will have to answer when they go before the electors next year. The Government are also excluding hundreds of shearers and workers in the bush. I know myself of many shearers who took advantage of the postal voting provisions.
– A number of people “ took advantage “ of them all right !
– That is the worst of it.
– Honorable members opposite seem to think that they have answered a question when they cast a slur on any class of the community.
– There ought to be no classes in this country.
– That remark sounds peculiar from an honorable member who told us the other day that no man can be a Christian who is not a member of the Labour party. He assumes almost a Divine power of exclusion. I do not question that the Minister is right in saying that there ought to be no class or section in the eyes of the law, but it is to be regretted that he is a member of a Government that has shown by almost every Act that it has passed more class prejudice than has been exhibited by any other Government that has held office in Australia.
– We believe in only one class, and that is first class.
– Whilst the Government exclude the persons whom I have enumerated, they have a provision, with which I find no fault, which enables a particular class to vote under special circumstances. Section 139 of the Electoral Act passed last year, and which is included in this Bill, provides that-»-
An elector who has reason to believe that he will riot on polling day be within any Commonwealth electoral division may, subject to the regulations, be permitted to vote at any time after the issue of the writ and before polling day if he attends before any prescribed Commonwealth electoral registrar and makes a declaration in accordance with the prescribed form.
The object of that is to enable seamen, whose avocation carries them outside Australia on polling day, to record their votes.
– It applies to any class.
– But it is particularly meant for seamen.
– And the aristocratic passengers.
– I presume that the Minister refers to the aristocratic, privileged class that keeps him in power. I find no fault with the section. I should like to see a provision, not exactly in the same words but following the same method, granting equal facilities for women and those who live in distant parts of the country, and to those who by reason of accident or ill-health are not able to go to the poll on election day. If that were done we should carry out the principles of Democracy. We confer the franchise on the people, but it is a mockery unless we enable them to express their opinion on great .questions affecting the destiny of Australia. Other parts of the Bill introduce fantastic provisions with regard to election expenses. These details are only asked for out of idle curiosity.: There is no value in obtaining them. No election is set aside on account of them, and no referendum would be invalidated by reason of the transgression of any of the provisions to which I refer. This provision looks more like a mere idle boast, so that if the Labour party be defeated they may be able to say, perhaps, that the Liberal party spent ,£190,000, while they themselves spent only £164,000. There is no policy, public purpose, aim, or intention behind the clause. The fourth point is more important, namely, the attempt to shackle the Australian press by requiring signed articles. Are those who saw the conduct of the Werriwa election satisfied with the present conditions? I speak as a person from outside the State of New South Wales j and I can say that the Australian public were eager to obtain information as to the progress of that contest. The consequence of the present law, however, was that we heard very little of what was going on ; and that was especially the case with those who were dependent on telegraphic information. We did not even know what issues were at stake ; anr? this shows that the Labour party achieved their purpose of preventing free and open criticism in the press. The position is an absurd one. In towns in Queensland, miles away from Werriwa, this information was withheld, simply owing to a” fear by newspaper proprietors lest, through some act of inadvertence, they might be prosecuted. What effect could the publication of such information have had on the conduct of the election in Werriwa? The only effect was, as I have said, to achieve the purpose of the Labour .party, namely, to suppress criticism and keep’ everything back, in the expectation that by such means they may be able to carry proposals which they favour. This is contrary to the whole principle of Democracy. The Labour party professes to act for the Democracy; but if we critically examine their legislation and administration we find them in every instance resorting to the methods adopted by the tyrants of old to keep themselves in place and power. Those tyrants maintained themselves in office by giving places of profit to their supporters, and by suppressing criticism; and. we find their methods adopted by the present Government, even to the institution of the Star Chamber, in the shape of Royal Commissions, with the same powers. Human nature is very persistent. The Labour parly talk about high ideals and high purposes ; and yet, in practice, they resort to the same old pernicious expedients of the tyrants of ages past. All we can say is that the Labour party present a remarkable illustration of the persistency of human nature.
– The honorable member supported the Labour party at one time.
– Never in this class of legislation. I have supported the Labour and any other party whenever they attempted to carry into practice the true principles of Democracy; at least, I did not support them, but they have held views similar to our own on the legislation which we presented.. Democratic legislation is not the exclusive possession of any party, and on every side strong democratic sentiments were expressed. What we are experiencing now is not Democracy, but purely class legislation for class purposes. I deeply regret that the Minister cannot see his way to modify this Bill in order to provide machinery to enable every elector to express an opinion on a proposed alteration of the Constitution.
.- I cannot congratulate the Minister of Home Affairs on the manner in which he has placed this measure before us. He occupied five minutes or less, and evidently regards this as a very trifling proposal, the consequences of which are of little moment. On the whole, the honorable gentleman appears to treat the measure as if it were not deserving of serious consideration by this House.
– It is only a little machinery Bill.
– Let us see what vital principles it affects in the political life of Australia. In the first place, it will probably prevent a considerable section of the people from exercising the franchise in determining what alteration, if any, shall be made in the Constitution, and, then, a vital . principle is touched in the amendment relating to postal voting. I think I see some reason why it is the desire of the Labour party to do away with this method of voting. If we look at’ the results of the last general election we shall probably come to the conclusion that it is to the advantage of honorable members opposite to have no voting by post, because there were about 9,000 more postal votes recorded for Liberal candidates than for Labour candidates.
– And a significant fact is that that was so even where the Liberals were beaten.
– I do not see that that proves anything.
– It may not prove anything, but it is significant evidence of a certain thing.
– It only proves that there were more absent Liberals than absent Labour supporters. The elections may take place at holiday time when a number of people from the country are in the city, and it all depends on the nature of the amusements or sports provided as to whether the . majority of those thus absent are Labour supporters or Liberals. Then, again, I am reminded that a drought would, perhaps, affect the Liberals to a greater degree than the other side. We may take it that most of the people who are in what is called a better position - those interested in stock and farming pursuits, be they squatter or anything else - are more likely to be absent from their homes at such a time than are supporters of the Labour party. Graziers might be away with stock in the mountains.
– But they have to take their hired help with them.
– That may be ; at any rate, I do not think there is any point in the interjection that there was more postal voting on the part of the Liberals even where Liberal candidates were beaten. I was one of those unfortunates who in the general debacle of the Liberal party went down. I was fighting at Werriwa, though, perhaps, I should not use the word “ unfortunate,” seeing that otherwise I should not be in my present snug position. Although I was defeated I got 200 more postal votes than did my opponent, Mr. David Hall. I did not believe that any of the postal votes recorded for me were wrongfully recorded, or that any pressure was brought to bear on those who recorded them. The fact was that my campaign was conducted on business lines by an excellent secretary, who took care to find out all the electors who were absent from the electorate at the time, and to see that an opportunity was given them to vote by post. I do not believe there has been swindling to secure postal votes for theLiberal party any more than for the other side.
– We have heard a great deal of it, but no definite charge has ever been made.
– That is so. Honorable members opposite have said that pressure has been brought to bear upon unfortunate working men by those employing them, to induce them to vote by post in the way their employers desired.
– Hear, hear !
– I say that that is all moonshine, and, further, it is an insult to the working men of Australia. Do honorable members opposite mean to tell me that the working men of Australia to-day are such crawlers that they would sign a votingpaper in the presence of an employer, and vote for a Liberal when they themselves are Labourites and unionists? We are told, again, that the mistress of a house used to bring pressure to bear upon her unfortunate servant girl, make her sign a postal ballot-paper, and then posted it herself. That is all so much rubbish. It is not the “ unfortunate servant girl “ to-day, but rather the “ unfortunate mistress,” who is afraid to say a word to a girl, because if she left her service she could not get another. The servant is the mistress of the situation to-day, and it is only so much “ tommy rot “ to say that her mis tress could force her to sign a postal ballotpaper.
– The votes of old-age pensioners and the people in asylums were also utilized.
– I think that the Labour party could rely upon the votes of about ten to one of people in asylums. I was surprised to hear the Minister of Home Affairs say that we are all one class to-day. Universal brotherhood “may be an ideal of the honorable gentleman, but I do not care to be classed with some individuals. I do not think honorable members opposite do either. I recently enumerated a long string of persons with whom I should not like to be classed - criminals, habitual drunkards, toughs, the “ pinky “ drinkers of Adelaide, and such people. I should not care to call those people my brothers. There are respectable individuals, and those who are not respectable. There are honest people and rogues; those who will work and those who will loaf ; and it is a mistake to say that today we are all one class. I may refer honorable members to the results of the last two elections for Werriwa. At the last election the present honorable member for Werriwa defeated Mr. Conroy, and at the election previous to that I was defeated by Mr. David Hall. I have said that I scored 200 more postal votes than did Mr. Hall. At the last election there was no postal voting. If there had been I believe that Mr. Conroy would have scored two to one of the postal votes, as I did, and that would very nearly have given him the seat. It should be remembered, also, that there was no booth for the Werriwa electorate in Sydney at the last election, and if there had been, and postal voting had been allowed, I believe the Liberal would have won the seat. Honorable members opposite claim to be good Democrats, and to desire that every man and woman in the community should have the franchise, but where they consider it will serve their own party interests to do so they deny the exercise of the franchise to a large section of the community. I cannot understand why a polling booth was not granted in Sydney if it was not that it was known that a great many of the well-to-do people of the Werriwa district were visiting Sydney in connexion with the celebrations of the King’s birthday. They had to leave Goulburn on the Friday night to get down to Sydney for the Saturday and Monday.
– Why should there not be a polling booth in Sydney for every other electorate of New South Wales?
– At a general election there is always a booth in the city. In the last amendment of the electoral law, provision is made for a booth for absent voters.
– But that is for a general election.
– Honorable members opposite held it out as an argument for doing away with the postal vote. At a byelection there can always be a booth granted in the city.
– Why in the city and not elsewhere ?
– There is no power.
– I take it that, wherever it is represented that there will be a certain number of electors on polling day, they can get a booth.
– Do you not think that an elector ofWerriwa, who happens to be in Brisbane on the day of election, has as much right to vote as has an elector of Werriwa who happens to be in Sydney on that day?
– Give him back his postal vote and he could do it.
– Under the electoral law which the Government desire to apply to the taking of a referendum on proposed alterations of the Constitution, a large section of the community will be debarred from voting. Invalids, for instance, if they cannot get to the booth, will have to go without voting, because there is no way in which an invalid can vote unless he can be carried to a booth. Again, many men who happen to meet with an accident prior to polling day will be debarred from exercising the franchise, which should be dear to them all. A great many women, too, will be prevented from voting. Although honorable members opposite boast that they have given the franchise to the women, they are prepared to disfranchise thousands and thousands of them. It is reprehensible that they should do such a thing. Some provisions contained in this measure require returns to be made by the proprietors of newspapers. Proposed section 36 reads as follows -
The proprietor or publisher of a newspaper published in the Commonwealth shall, in accordance with this section, make or cause to be made a return setting out the amount of matter in connexion with any referendum inserted in his newpaper in respect of which payment was or is to be made, the space occupied by such matter, the amount of money paid or owing to him in re- . spect of such matter, and the names and ad dresses of the trades unions, registered or unregistered, organizations, associations, leagues, bodies of persons, or persons authorizing the insertion thereof.
Penalty (on proprietor) : Five hundred pounds.
The publisher or editor of a newspaper’ must make a return showing the amount of payment which has been made for the insertion of matter in the newspaper. 1 wish to point out the unfairness of this provision as it affects the Liberals. They have no organ which they can term their own; they have no organ controlled by a Liberal association; but the Labour party have the Worker newspaper, which can. publish any amount of electioneering matter, and the Labour party can say, “We have not paid anything for the publication of this matter.”
– That newspaper is not controlled by the politicians.
– It is absolutely controlled by the trade unions.
– By one trade union.
-It is controlled by the Australian Workers Union, I suppose?
– It is a great Christian organization.
– It may be a great Christion organization, but, at the same time, it is an organization which is able to publish any amount of matter at election time, and to say, “ We have not been paid for its publication by the politicians.” The Worker is paid for it, however, by subsidies which people are forced to pay. That is how the money is obtained. What honorable members say is a subterfuge. We cannot get at the Labour party for paying for matter printed in the Worker at election times. The money is provided by a voluntary contribution from every member of the Australian Workers Union who is a subscriber to the newspaper.
– That is not true.
– I know that it is correct.
– It is incorrect, because the members have not to subscribe to the Worker.
– On the Liberal side we have no journal which we absolutely control to which we subscribe, and in which we can have electioneering matter published without making a payment. When our advertisements, addresses, and so on are published we shall have to pay for the publication, and the proprietors of the newspapers will have to make a return. The abolition of the postal vote has penalized a large section of the community, especially women, Honorable members on the other side profess to have given the franchise to the women, but with the other hand they took it away, because they found that when facilities were afforded for voting by post the majority of those who exercised that privilege voted for the Liberal party and not for the Labour party. Then they said, “ That is no good to us; we will knock out the provision,” and so they did.
.- It was rather amusing to hear the honorable member for North Sydney expressing - I will not say some of these views of his, because I do not think that they are his - what he thinks is good enough to have on record for people outside to read. He has put a startling proposition before the House. He has said that the Labour party has great press organs at its disposal and command whilst the Liberal party is absolutely devoid of any such assistance. We all know that the Herald and the Telegraph of Sydney, and the great Liberal newspapers owned by the wealthy in the other States, are entirely at the disposal of the Liberal party for the purpose of fighting their joint battles. The Liberal party is fighting for the wealthy in the community, and the owners of the newspapers are the wealthy in the community, so that their interests are identical. As a matter of fact, we cannot separate the two. We have known the proprietors of that mighty organ, the Sydney Daily Telegraph, to get out a special issue and post a copy to every elector in the State.
– And in it is included “ The Case for Labour,” by W. M. Hughes. What chance have the Liberals of getting the Case for the Liberals published in the Worker?
Mr.J. H. CATTS.- The Daily Telegraph has been so violently partisan for a large number of years that it is considered to be good policy to get a statement from the Attorney-General once a week in order to try to rehabilitate itself with the workers of the community. It is done out of no kindness for the working classes, but as a purely commercial transaction. The AttorneyGeneral, of course, is very glad to have his views given publicity to. He gives a column and a half or two columns on Saturday, but what occurs during the rest of the week? This powerful organ, which comes out with sixteen pages of eight columns each on ordinary, and twenty-four or thirty-two pages on Saturday, churns out anti-Labour material on five days of the week, and gives one small article from the Attorney-General on Saturday, and in those circumstances, you think that you have some kind of a fair balance. I do not say that these articles are paid for by the Liberal party. But they are published as part of a general scheme of anti-Labour propaganda. There is no comparison between what can be done by the Liberals in that respect and what can be done by the Labour party. If one visits the Worker office in Sydney, he will find a very good Hoe press installed there, but if he calls at the offices of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Telegraph, he will find installed there half-a-dozen of the best machines that science and invention can supply. To talk about the press representation of the Labour party being equal to that of the Liberal party is to talk so much nonsense, as the honorable member for North Sydney knows perfectly well.
There is one evil, however, which must be provided against, and in this connexion I may be pardoned for recalling an incident which occurred in my own electorate. In that electorate some time ago a little newspaper was started, which declared in its opening editorial announcement that, whilst giving publicity to views of all descriptions, it intended to support the Labour party generally. I had some advertising notices inserted in that journal, notifying where Labour meetings would be held, and naturally I was very much amazed to find in an issue just prior to the election one of the most vitriolic articles which it is possible to conceive in the nature of an editorial. I called upon the editor, and said, “ The publication of this article israther peculiar, in view of your preliminary announcement.” His reply was, “Oh, well, that article was supplied by the Liberal party, and was paid for.” I then said, “ Do not you think it would be a fair thing to insert a notice that it was paid for by the Liberal party?” To which he replied, “The representatives of that party came here and offered me three times my ordinary advertising rates to insert it. I am a poor man, and as I cannot afford to quarrel with my bread and butter,I published it.”
– Would not the honorable member allow him to make a few pounds?
– When the Liberal party practically bribe the press in this way, it is only fair that the amounts so expended should be included in the returns of their candidates’ electioneering expenses. I do not blame the editor of the journal in question. , He may have been in necessitous circumstances, and may have needed the money. But we ought to know the extent to which political parties resort to tactics of this kind, and the expenditure thus incurred should be included in the returns of electioneering expenses. Recently, too, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company published a whole page in various newspapers, and paid for it at so much an inch, although it purported to be an ordinary letter to the editor.
– The Age did not publish it.
– I am very glad that the Age refused to publish it.
– The company were not allowed to put their views before a partisan Commission. Surely, therefore, they ought to be permitted to put them before the people of Australia.
– The honorable member knows perfectly well that the whole question at issue was the right of the manager of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company to “ boss “ the Commission.
– Order ! The honorable member must not discuss that matter.
– It is a shocking slander to say that the Commission is a partisan one. It is taking a mean advantage of the privileges of Parliament.
– Such statements as that made by the honorable member for Illawarra proceed, we know, from partisan sources.
Not only do I agree with the provision that newspapers should be compelled to supply returns of money received by them for the publication of electioneering matter, but I should like to hear from the Minister of Home Affairs the result of his investigation into the conduct of the recent Werriwa election. This provision was in operation during that byelection. The law provides that newspapers, and all kinds of political organizations, shall furnish returns of moneys expended during an election campaign. What was the result of the operation of that provision in the case of the Werriwa election? It has been admitted that up to £3,000 was spent in that election on behalf of the Liberal party.
– The Conservative party.
– Whatever the honable member may choose to call it.
– Call it a gelatinous compound.
-It is a very good definition of it.
– It is its own definition, or, rather, the definition of the brainiest member of it.
– I should like to know whether the returns in connexion with the Werriwa election have yet been received, and, if so, what result they disclose of the operation of the provision to which I have referred. I know that in nearly every town one entered in that electorate one found the most centrally situated premises occupied by the Liberal Association, whilst its paid organizer was engaged in canvassing the surrounding district.
– The position of the Labour party in Goulburn, Crook well, and elsewhere, was exactly the same.
– The honorable member knows that it was not.
– I know that it was.
– If it is so, I should like to have the returns supplied. I should like to know something about the £3,000 which was expended in the district.
– By whom?
– By the Liberal party. Who paid the organizer who was in the Cootamundra district, the organizer who canvassed the Crookwell district, the organizer who had charge of the Goulburn district, the organizer who travelled the Yass district, and the organizer who was employed in the Harden district?
– There were organizers on both sides.
– I do not know of any paid organizer of the Labour party who took part in that election.
– I met any number of them.
– I ask the honorable member to tell me the name of any one of them. I give the lie direct to the statement that a single organizer of the Labour party, outside of the members of the Parliamentary Labour party, took part in the Werriwa election. Honorable members opposite cannot give me a single instance in support of the honorable member’s statement.
– We do not know them personally, but we sawthem all over the place.
– The honorable member is merely interjecting for electioneering purposes.
– I am merely stating what I saw.
– It is all very well to insert this pious declaration in an Act of Parliament. The provision is only so much waste paper unless it is going to be carried out. We have had a test of it in the Werriwa by-election, and we want some evidence as to how it has worked. I should like to ask the Minister of Home Affairs whether the election returns for the Liberal party in the Werriwa by-election have yet been sent in. If so, will they be available for public inspection, so that we may see whether the expenses of some of the persons that we knew were being paid as canvassers in the election have been included?
– And the returns from the other side as well.
– The returns from the other side are in. The honorable member for North Sydney, referring to the abolition of the postal vote, said that, of course, everybody had the right to vote, and insinuated that the votes of the electors of Australia could be manipulated by anybody. We have had the example of Queensland in this matter. There a Commission of Inquiry was appointed to investigate the operation of the postal-voting provisions. They were found to be so rotten and corrupt that members on both sides of the Queensland Parliament voted almost unanimously to abolish them.
– How many successful prosecutions were there?
– How many are there likely to be ? Two witnesses against one !
– That is the point. The honorable member for Gippsland, whose memory is better than mine on matters of this kind, is perfectly correct. It is almost impossible to get evidence. There are people in the community who take little or no interest in politics, and very often a little inducement enables the votes of those people, who would not go to the poll, to be secured.
– Does the honorable member suggest political corruption?
– I say that in Queensland political corruption was proved, and as a result the postal-voting provisions relating to State elections were abolished.
Honorable members interjecting -
– The number of interjections that are being made makes it im possible for the honorablemember to proceed with his speech. I ask that they should cease.
– He is touching the Opposition on the raw. They do not like it.
– I rise to order. The honorable member for Cook was making distinct charges of political corruption through the misuse of the postal vote. ‘ The Honorary Minister has now interjected that he was touching members of the Opposition on the raw. I wish to ask your ruling as to whether the Honorary Minister is in order in imputing corruption to members of the Opposition, and whether it would not be better that a full inquiry should be made into this question by the Ministry in order to prove the entire want of foundation of such charges.
– If the Honorary Minister imputed corruption to honorable members on the other side he was distinctly out of order; but I did not understand him to do so.
– Was it a guilty conscience ?
– I again rise to order. The Minister has now pointed home to me individually the charge which he recently made against every member of the Opposition. He has now said that I have a guilty conscience in this connexion.
– He said - “Was it a guilty conscience ? ‘ ‘
– He simply used the words “ guilty conscience,” and no amount of police court cleverness can get over that fact.
– Order ! The honorable member is distinctly out of order.
– I wish to know whether the Honorary Minister is in order in imputing corruption to me personally in regard to the manipulation of the postal vote? I have never in my political career personally arranged for the casting of a postal vote.
– If the Honorary Minister made a personal charge against the honorable member, as indicated by the honorable member, he was distinctly out of order. I did not hear any such statement made. If it was made the Honorary Minister must withdraw it.
– I did not make it. If you desire me to explain the situation, so far as I understand it, I am perfectly agreeable to do so. When I referred a few moments ago to the Opposition being touched on the raw, it was because of the remarks made by the honorable member for Cook. The honorable member for Went- worth appeared to construe those remarks into a charge of corruption against himself and other members of the Opposition.
– Order ; is the honorable member making a personal explanation ?
– Yes; I thought you wanted me to do so, sir.
– The Speaker asked the honorable member to withdraw the words.
– I did not hear you ask me to withdraw anything, sir. The allegations of the honorable member for Wentworth are not what I said in the House, and consequently there is nothing for me to withdraw.
.- This Bill is,I suppose, inevitable, because it is the adoption of the principle of the Electoral Act 191 1 for the purpose of the referendum. I did not speak on the Electoral Bill last session, although I shared the opinion expressed by a good many honorable members as to the inexpediency of abolishing the facilities afforded to the electors by postal voting. The postal voting provisions of the principal Act were, I think, adopted from the South Australian Act, and have been in force for many years there, and I am not aware that any objection was taken to the continuance of the privilege on the ground of the facilities being abused. We ought, by every means in our power, to afford reasonable facilities for voting to those who cannot, through illness or through distance from a convenient polling place, discharge the ordinary obligation of an elector on polling day, but I have not heard any valid reason advanced why these privileges should be abolished. The whole thing seems to come back to this : that if we allow postal voting some pressure will be brought to bear by one elector on the judgment of another, so that the secrecy of the ballot will be affected.But is not the whole principle of our political life one of persuasion ? Is there not an attempt to influence the judgment of one another right up to the taking of the poll itself? A man must shut his eyes if he does not see that, until you get within the actual limits prescribed by some Acts within which touting has to stop, there is one continuous attempt to affect the judgment of persons in order that they may cast their votes for particular candidates. Why, then, for fear that there might be some abuse of the postal vote by too much pressure being brought to bear upon the judgment of some person or another, should we deny what is an acknowledged convenience to some 30,000 or 35,000 persons on the occasion of a general election? It is somewhat significant that after the last general election, at which the number of postal votes recorded was fairly large, this privilege should be taken away by Act of Parliament. In some European centres voting is conducted altogether by post. Switzerland, I think, has adopted postal voting either as optional or as the only method of exercising the franchise. Voting by post largely prevailed at one time, if it does not at present prevail, in connexion with some of the Belgian elections, and I cannot see how the public are in any way the worse off because of “the use of the system. Why should we be so particular about the secrecy of the ballot ? Our deliberations here are not secret.
– The ballot is worth nothing unless it is secret.
– That is only a statement.
– But there can be no doubt about its correctness.
– Men who are quite as prominent as either the honorable member or myself took the opposite view during the debates in the House of Commons some forty years ago on the question of whether the time had not come for the adoption of the ballot. No doubt capital, landlordism, and all those forces, which are being shorn, perhaps, of some of their objectionable strength, had then very great power over those who wished to record their opinions. In my time at Home one would see the landlord on one side of the scrutineers and poll clerks, and the cleric on the other, advising the people how to vote. Very often the casting of a vote in a particular direction meant notice to quit being given next day. But that sort of thing does not hold now.
– Very often, even nowadays, a man’s political opinions mean a notice to quit.
– I am speaking, not of political opinions but of something touching the actual registration of a vote. Surely the honorable gentleman does not think that men nowadays have to be silent throughout the course of an election campaign and to refrain from saying towards whom their preference lies. It is childish to assert that because a very small percentage of persons may break the obligations of secrecy, which are statute-made, we should take away the facilities that afford a good many thousands opportunities to register their votes. We complain time after time of the comparatively small number of persons entitled to vote who actually cast their votes at a general election. At some elections not more than 52 per cent. of those on the rolls have voted.
– At the first election at which this system operated, the percentage of persons voting was higher than that in connexion with any , previous election. I refer to the by-election at Werriwa.
– That higher percentage was due to special circumstances. There was a very interesting fight. For a long time it was doubtful what would happen, and a great deal of energy was thrown into the campaign. The unfortunate effect of this Bill is that it will take away inducements to vote on the part of the public themselves. We ought by every means in our power to endeavour to secure the cooperation of the public in connexion with our elections, but what we seem to be doing by our legislation is to regard parties as alone to be considered: If there is a slight advantage given to one party or the other by a particular provision of our electoral law, down come the Ministry, as was the case last year, with a Bill to amend it. That is what has taken place in connexion with the abolition of the postal voting provisions. It seems to be somewhat inconsistent for us, whilst abolishing voting by post, to retain the right to cast an absent vote, and to vote in a division in respect of which the voter is not registered. What is the object of the provisions in regard to the signing of newspaper articles? Are a man’s opinions a little more potent or a little less effective when expressed in a signed article than they are when they appear in an anonymous article?
– Why should a man not sign that which he writes in the press?
– Why compel him to do so?
– So that his opinions shall have no more weight than they would carry as an individual expression of opinion.
– Then the weight of every expression of opinion in the press is to be tested by the reader’s knowledge of the writer? Probably not one writer in 10,000 would be known to the reader. There, again, it is simply a question of whether it is for the benefit of a particular party or not that the writer of an article in the press should sign his name to it. But beyond this conflict of party interests lie the general interests of the public, which make for the free expression of opinion.
– Would the mere fact that a man had to sign his name to an article interfere with the free expression of his opinion ?
– What good will be derived from this provision ?
– What harm will it do? The honorable member hasto accept the responsibility for his utterances.
– It is a matter of inevitable necessity, unless the press are excluded from the galleries, that a member’s speeches shall be known to the public. Perhaps the honorable member will excuse me if, on this question of treating the public as children so far as the free expression of opinion is concerned, I quote a few lines from Milton in regard to the liberty of the press -
What advantage is it to be a man over it is. to be a boy at school, if we have only scapt the ferular, to come under the fescu of an Imprimatur? if serious and elaborat writings, as if they were no more than the theam of a Grammar lad under his Pedagogue must not be uttr’d without the cursory eyes of a temporizing and extemporizing licencer. He who is not trusted with his own actions, his drift not being known to be evill, and standing to the hazard of law and penalty, has no great argument to think himself reputed in the Commonwealth wherein he was born, for other than a fool or a foreiner. When a man writes to the world, he summons up all his reason and deliberation to assist him ; he searches, meditats, is industrious, and likely consults and conferrs with his judicious friends; after all which done he takes himself to be inform’d in what he writes, as well as any that writ before him ; if in this the most consummat act of his fidelity and ripenesse no years, no industry, no former proof of his abilities can bring him to that state of maturity, as not to be still mistrusted and suspected, unlesse he carry all his considerat diligence, all his midnight watchings, and expence of Palladian oyl, to the hasty view of an unleasur’d licencer, perhaps much his younger, perhaps far his inferiour in judgement, perhaps one who never knew the labour of book-writing, and if he be not repulst, or slighted, must appear in Print like a punic with his guardian, and his censor’s hand on the back of his title to be his bayl and surety, that he is no idiot, or seducer, it cannot be but a dishonour and derogation to the author, to the book, to the priviledge and dignity of Learning.
The very principle that at one time required every book to be licensed now induces us, under the electoral law, to compel every man who expresses an opinion in the press to sign his name to that expression of opinion, so that the merit or want of merit of his article may be judged, not by what he writes, but by his character.
The writer would probably not be known to one in ten thousand. I regret that we are pushing these punitive provisions of our law into regions to which they have no application. We have the law of libel to protect any man who is maligned. I would remind honorable members that, if it were not for the excesses of the Radical, or, shall I say, the Liberal, press in the Old Country, we should never secure the slightest reform. Men have to speak strongly, and, at times, even intemperately,. in order to attract public attention. That, perhaps, is the basis of some of the excesses of the suffragettes. You have to speak loudly, and sometimes with a certain amount of violence, which, perhaps, is irritating to those opposed to you, to attract public attention, and, if the great Reform press of the Old Country had been conducted on the lines which seem to be responsible for this policy of compelling persons to sign articles, the greatest reforms of the last fifty or sixty years would have been effectively blocked. I regret that it is now proposed, without any reason, as it seems to me, to take away privileges which were given to persons to vote at a general election, and the removal of which will result in a smaller poll than would otherwise be possible at the general elections next year.
Mr. W. ELLIOT JOHNSON (Lang) [12.20J. - This Bill is another illustration of the tendency of the Labour party towards placing undue restrictions upon personal liberty. It is also, in my opinion, a grinning satire on Democracy that it should have been left for the alleged direct representatives of Democracy to bring in a measure which has for its object the limitation of the rights of the people to the free expression of their political will at the ballotbox. The winning of a broadened franchise has taken many centuries to accomplish. In the beginning this broadening process was initiated by a party which grew up in protest against the limitations imposed by the Tories of the Old Country upon popular rights. Owing to those limitations .and restrictions, and to encroachments upon the public press by the dominating party in British politics in those days, the Liberal party had its origin; and one of the primary reasons which led to its growth was the desire to give to the people greater powers than they then enjoyed. As the result of aspirations which were shared by those who had what were in those times considered to be Liberal leanings, and, as a consequence of their efforts, we secured the first broadening of the franchise and extension of political power to the general public. Through a series of generations since we have witnessed the same agency ever exerted towards a continual liberalizing of the franchise, until we, in Australia, inherited from our Liberal forefathers in the Old Country a generous heritage of political, industrial, and social freedom as a free gift from those who had to suffer severe reverses, financial and otherwise, in the battle for liberty. This grand principle of giving the people greater freedom and further opportunities for exercising a ‘personal voice in the political affairs of the nation has been extended more and more through Liberal influences in Australia. We might reasonably have hoped that the Labour party when’ they came into power would jealously guard those liberties and extensions of political power without which they themselves would never have been a political entity in this or any other country. It is due to Liberal legislation, and its continually broadening processes, that we owe the existence of the Labour party in the Federal Parliament to-day. Had it not been for the constant and successful efforts of Liberals in State Legislatures, and particularly in the Legislature of New South Wales, which I am glad to say has taken the lead in Liberal legislation, there could never have been a Labour party in this Parliament. Yet the very first time we have this party in office how do they use their powers and opportunities? They use them for the purpose of trying to prevent the people from exercising those liberties which have been won for them by the efforts of our predecessors in Parliament. The people had secured a wider and greater power in the legislative affairs of the country than they ever had before. It has always been the desire of the Liberal party to trust the people and to give them the fullest measure of power in connexion with the framing of legislation which they are called upon to obey. The records of history can show no attempt on the part of any Liberal Administration to tamper with one jot of liberty which has been won, or to minimize in any way the effect of the franchise. But now we have a party in possession’ of the Treasury bench which boasts of its “ pure merino “ Democracy. Honorable members opposite boast that they are Radicals of Radicals, that they are ultra-Democrats, that they are the only true representatives of the people. Yet they come down to this Parliament with an amendment of a liberal law, with the object of disfranchising thousands of electors, simply because they were suspected of differing, in their political opinions from those who are now in office. This Bill is a further extension of that limitation of the rights of the people at the ballot-box embodied in the Labour party’s amended Electoral Act of last session, the purpose of which is to stifle the voice of the people. We shall probably next have proposals emanating from this party to do away with the secrecy of the ballot. I must say that I am very much disappointed with the Labour party in this matter. I have always claimed to be a Democrat. All my political actions in Parliament and outside indicate that I am one. I have never given a vote which could be challenged from a Democratic stand-point.
– The honorable member is too extreme for the Ministerial party.
– 1 am afraid that I am too democratic for them. My natural sympathies are with the genuine labour movement. I claim to be a better Labour man than any honorable member sitting on the Ministerial benches. I have never done anything that could injure labour. Few honorable members opposite can make such a claim. I have never done anything which would destroy the right of any labour man to exercise his franchise in the fullest possible manner. All my votes and speeches in this House, all my writings in the press and deliverances on the public platform, have invariably been in favour of trusting the people, and of giving into their hands the largest possible v share in the government of the country. * ‘ All my sympathies are, naturally, with the genuine and legitimate politicial aspirations of labour; and it is a great disappointment to me to find proposals of this kind emanating from a party which professes to directly represent labour. It is a retrograde step; and some time or other the proposal is bound to recoil on the heads of those responsible for it. From a return presented in another place I find that the postal vote ballot-papers issued for the last general election were - in New South Wales, 8,437 ; in Victoria, 17,171 ; in Queensland, 4,910 ; in South Australia, 2,383 ; in Western Aus- . tralia, 2,443 > and in Tasmania, 1,476, or a total of 36,820. Judging from these figures something like 37,000 people are to be deprived of the right of voting.
– Does the honorable member really think that all these persons will be deprived of the power to vote?
– For what other reason is the postal vote to be abolished? It is certainly not in order to provide voting facilities. And there has been a great addition to the population since the figures were published. Some 30,000 of the papers issued were used, and it is reasonable to assume that there will be a much larger proportion of people affected by the abolition of postal voting at the next election. We have no right to deprive one man or woman of any existing facility for voting.
– Two-thirds of those people could have gone to the poll.
– The honorable- member cannot prove that. It is easy enough to make a general statement of that kind ; there is no means whatever of ascertaining its correctness or otherwise. All the applications for postal ballot-papers have to be witnessed ; and we have no right to assume that the persons who witnessed them were conniving with the persons using them for the purpose- of evading attendance at the polling booth.
– There is no need to assume - the fact can be proved.
– People were paid £5 a day to go round and sign the ballot-papers.
– If what the honorable member says did occur, and he can cite instances, it was his duty to report the fact to the Minister or to the Electoral Officer. If the honorable member says the fact can be proved, why have no steps been taken by him or others to do so?
– There was a woman of the National League fined a “ fiver “ at Geelong.
– One woman was punished and expiated her offence at Geelong, and, because of that, 30,000 other people are to be deprived of the right to vote ! The proposal before us savours more of revenge than anything else. I am just informed that the lady at Geelong was fined for an irregularity committed in the polling booth - an irregularity which did not affect the postal voting at all.
– Who is the honorable member’s authority?
– The honorable member for Wimmera has just so informed me. The Minister of Trade and Customs is a Victorian, and this happened in Victoria. I can understand that such irregularities are more likely to happen in Victoria than in New South Wales.
– That is because the honorable member’s party is stronger in Victoria than anywhere else.
– I wish it were. In New South Wales we endeavour to conduct our elections in accordance with the spirit of the Act, at any rate so far as the party with which I am associated is concerned. It is very interesting to contrast the attitude of the Ministry and their supporters with their attitude when the original Electoral Bill was introduced and the postal voting provision was inserted. Then one Labour member after another, both in this House and another place, including the Prime Minister and other Ministers, supported that provision; and we find that those who are now prominent in denouncing the postal -voting system, and are responsible for its abolition under the amending Bill, were the loudest in insisting that it was an essential corollary of Democratic Government - that the greatest possible facilities should be given to everybody to vote, and that postal voting was a necessary portion of a measure of this kind in order to secure that very desirable result. An honorable member has already quoted the utterances of some of those honorable members, and I could quote a few more if I did not desire to be brief. I have only recently looked up those speeches; and it is very amusing, in the light of the present attitude of. honorable members opposite, to find how warm their advocacy of postal voting then was, and how equally warm is their denunciation of the system now. Their excuse for the change of front is that abuses have crept in ; and statements to that effect have been made over and over again. If any Minister or member knows of instances of abuse - and I do not say instances may not have occurred - it is the business of the Department, under instruction from the Minister of Home Affairs, or even without such instruction, to take proceedings. It is not right that thousands of innocent persons should be penalized because there have been some cases of abuse. It might as well be argued that because abuses have occurred in the polling booths, the whole system of the ballot box should be abolished. “ But where have those cases occurred We have applied in vain to Ministers to give us authenticated instances ; and they are the persons who should be in possession of such information, if they have any. legitimate ground for the proposal now before us. However, so far as my memory serves me, we have never been able to obtain from the Ministers a single case of grave abuse, and the same may be said of their supporters, who over and over again have declared that abuses have occurred, but have not given any instances. Unless it can be proved that there have been serious abuses - that prosecutions have revealed systematic violation of the law - and that the ordinary processes cannot effectively deal with them, there is no justification whatever for attempting to abolish the postal vote.
– Was not the majority of postal votes recorded against the Labour party ?
– The honorable member has hit the nail on the head. That is the real explanation of the Government proposal for the abolition of postal votes. A close scrutiny of the voting at the last Federal elections and at the Referenda shows that a majority of the postal votes was cast on the side opposed to the present occupants of the Ministerial benches. The abolition of postal voting has not been proposed because there is any real need for electoral reform in that direction owing to any abuse of the system, but in order to deprive Liberal electors of an opportunity to. express their views at the ballot-box. In the absence of any intelligible reason for this proposal from the other side we are justified in coming to the conclusion that honorable members opposite, in order to “ get home,” to use a popular phrase, on their opponents, propose to deprive them of the power to record their opinions at the ballot-box. If it is to be’ ‘ recognised as a rule that every Government on assuming office may amend the electoral law in such a way as to benefit only their own side, I can only say that it will mean the institution of a most objectionable system - one which should be discouraged in this House, or in any Parliament of free men representing a free people. We have to put up with our political reverses, and it is no part of our duty as legislators to punish people, merely because they do not agree with our political views, by depriving them of the right to express their own. I hope that, irrespective of party considerations, honorable members generally will not countenance that kind of thing. It is singular that honorable members claiming to ^represent Democracy should justify such an invasion of popular voting rights as is proposed in this Bill, and which has already been enacted in the amendment by the Labour Government of the Electoral Act. I enter my very strong protest against these proposals. The Minister of Home Affairs, in introducing the Bill, made no reference to this particular aspect of the matter, and led the House to believe that it was purely a machinery Bill. A Bill of so far-reaching a character should have received a little more consideration from the Minister, and the House was entitled to a very much fuller explanation as to its scope and intention and the motives underlying its introduction. If an opportunity presents itself, I shall have no hesitation in recording my vote against this Bill.
.- I understand that the object of this Bill is merely to alter the law relating to the taking of referenda in the same way as we last year altered the electoral law. That being so, it is merely wasting time to discuss the matter at length to-day. Everything that has been said on this Bill in regard to postal voting and the signing of newspaper articles was said last year, when these questions were thoroughly threshed out. Unless new arguments can be submitted, all that honorable members who do not agree with these proposals are justified in doing is to record their protest against the provisions to which they object by proceeding to a vote. So far as the signing of newspaper articles is concerned, I voted against that proposal last year, for reasons which I gave at the time. I was actuated more by- consideration for newspaper writers than by anything else. So far as postal voting is concerned, I opposed it in dealing with the Electoral Bill last year, and I unhesitatingly oppose it again now. What I am surprised at is that none of the objections raised to postal voting during the discussion last year has been answered by any honorable member who has spoken on this Bill. I do not wish to have to repeat what I said last year when the Electoral Bill was under consideration. I then stated at length my objections to the system. I regret that the Minister of Home Affairs did not submit a tabulated statement showing the number of applications for postal votes that were based on the fact that the applicant would possibly be five miles from a polling-place in the electorate on the day of election, the number of women who claimed to vote by post on. the ground that they were in a delicate ^ condition of health, and the number of people who claimed to be allowed to vote by post on the ground of sickness. Such a statement would have afforded the House very valuable information. Apart from what took place in Queensland, which in itself spoke volumes, one thing pointed out last year when honorable members were referring to the use of the postal vote in the Commonwealth has so far not been answered by any honorable member on the other side, unless it be by the reply to an interjection I made when- the honorable member for North Sydney was speaking. At the 1910 election there were used 29,249 postal ballot-papers, of which 14,049 were used in Victoria - the smallest State on the mainland. When I said that this pointed to something very peculiar, the honorable member for North Sydney - and, I think that he is the first representative of New South Wales who has ever said such a thing - said that it was because we in Victoria were more intelligent. I have no doubt that he must have erred when he made that remark.
– I did not understand it.
– I am glad that I have given the -honorable member an opportunity of rectifying the mistake. It is a remarkable thing that nearly one-half of the total number issued at the last general election were used in Victoria. That has not been explained in this debate by any honorable member on the other side. As I asked on the last occasion, could anybody imagine for a moment that more people were likely to be five miles from the polling place on election day in Victoria than in the other big States ?
– I think that it only shows how remiss we were in the other States.
– This has to be considered in connexion with another matter. When I was speaking on the subject last year, the Minister of Home Affairs interjected that 52 pet cent, pf the postal votes were used in the cities. Then the 5-miles question did not come into consideration at all, and we were thrown back upon the fact that there was an infinitely greater number of sick people in Victoria than in the’ other States. I have not heard a Victorian say that that was so, or that there was a. greater proportion of women- in a delicate condition of health in Victoria than in any of the other States. There is not one of them prepared to get up and say that. It points to the fact that in Victoria there was a gross misuse of the postal ballot-paper. There is no getting away from that.
– Ought not the Minister to be able to prove that?
– Yes ; detailed returns would supply a lot of valuable information on the subject. It was these figures which satisfied me that the postal-voting system was abused in Victoria, and impelled me to vote for its abolition. I know perfectly well that we shall prevent persons who are sick from recording their vote; but until the postal-voting system was introduced such persons never had a chance of voting, and now people who become sick a few days before the polling day have no chance of doing so. There always will be some persons unable to record their votes on polling day. What we have to provide is that our system shall be such that it will not permit of being abused, that it will do the least harm and deprive the smallest possible number of persons of the opportunity to record their votes. I was rather surprised to hear the honorable member for Angas repeat a remark which was made by another honorable member during the debate last year, and that was that there was nothing very great in the secrecy of the ballot. It appears to me that one of the greatest innovations for which Australia can claim credit is the introduction of the ballot system.. I thought it was so important that when I spoke last year I gave the history of the introduction of the Australian ballot, and, therefore, I shall not repeat it. But, much as I value the right to vote, I hold that that right is worth nothing if anything can come between the voter and his ballot-paper and the ballotbox. If it is not a secret vote it is of no value. Why has it been adopted throughout the English-speaking portions of the world? Because it provided an opportunity for a person to record his vote without fear. As was said in the lines which were published in Melbourne at the time of the first election under the ballot -
Clear and sharp are the scratches we make,
Without an emotion of sorrow,
And we steadfastly gaze on the names we erase,
And cheerfully think of the morrow.
Many a man and many a woman could not do that if it was to becomeknown how they marked the ballot-paper. It is all very well to ask why there were no prosecutions. A qualified witness and a canvasser go to a person to get the ballot-paper filled up. I suppose that he or she says, “ They saw how I voted.” If men are going to do an illegal act, they are prepared to back up that act by perjury in the witness box. What show has the other person if he or she prosecutes? None, because there will be two witnesses against the elector. The thing is ridiculous. The simple fact that 52 per cent. of these ballot-papers were used in the cities, and that 14,049 - that is, nearly half the total number - were used in Victoria, is sufficient justification for this House to put a stop to the postal ballot. Now, the postal ballot is not in the interests of the country people at all. We give them the opportunity of voting at any polling booth, and the Government are increasing the number of polling booths all over Australia. The result is that only those who are ill and absolutely unable to travel, and women who are in that state of health in which they do not care to go to a polling booth, will be debarred from voting. I know of no system that we could devise which would prevent a smaller number of persons from recording their votes than will the one we have at the present time.
.- The honorable member for Gippsland suggested that this discussion involves a waste of time because of the recent debate on the amendment of the Electoral law. I think it is the duty of those who object to any of these proposals to take every reasonable opportunity, if they think fit, of repeating their objections on the floor of this House as well as on various platforms and through the press of the country.
– Oh,yes,you can do it there.
– Because it is surprising how frequently people interested in the rush and tear of life and deeply concerned in business forget the gradual innovations upon their individual liberty in the shape of legislation. I think this House is the proper place to debate and raise objections and, if necessary, repeat objections over and over again, so as to develop and maintain a lively political opinion, and to remind people of the great network of limitations and restrictions on their electoral freedom in connexion with recent legislation. I, therefore, desire to avail myself ‘of my right, in common with other honorable members on. this side, to place on record a protest against the amendments of the electoral law proposed to be grafted on to the procedure embodied in the Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Act. Some of these alterations may be shortly stated as the abolition of postal voting, the application of the absent voting procedure to the Referendum, the adoption of the Saturday polling day, a return of expenses by trade unions and other political organizations, and the restriction of the publication of articles, reports, and comments of every shape or kind which do not bear the signatures of the writers. I propose to summarize some of the arguments in connexion with the proposed amendments in the order in which I have mentioned them,
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.1 j p.m.
– I object to the abolition of the postal vote because I consider it may result in the disfranchisement of three groups of electors. Section 109 of the Electoral Act of 1909 provided that three classes of persons might vote by post, namely, those who had reason to believe that they would not during the hours of polling on polling day be within five miles of any polling place for the division ; women who, on account of ill-health, were unable to attend the polling place on polling day ; and men and women who were prevented by serious illness or infirmity from attending the polling place on polling day. These were three comprehensive groups of electors to whom postal voting was intended to apply. Experience demonstrated that these facilities were justified on Liberal and Democratic grounds. It is desirable that we should afford every facility to electors to record their votes, and that we should remove all possible excuses for not voting. Unfortunately in this country, as in many other Democratic countries, there are persons who are careless and indifferent, and who will avail themselves of frivolous excuses for failing to go to the poll. These provisions were designed to remove those objections, and experience proved that they were largely, availed of. I believe that the more frequently the procedure had been utilized the more it would have become popularized and extended.
– That is the reason why. such a large percentage of postal votes was cast in Victoria.
– At first there was considerable misunderstanding as to the methods which had to be adopted in order to obtain the right to vote by post. For a long time many educated, electors were in the dark as to what they were required to do in order that they might be permitted to exercise the postal vote. But the more the method was understood the more it would have been extended.
– Then why not do away entirely with the necessity for electors going to the poll ?
– I would not do that, but I would limit the postal vote to electors who could not attend the polling booth for the reasons assigned in the section which I have quoted. In the course of his remarks the honorable member for Gippsland stated that postal voting facilities had been grossly abused in Victoria. In support of his statement, he pointed to the fact that whilst the total number of postal votes cast in the Commonwealth at the last elections was 29,249, no less than 14,000 were registered in Victoria. I fail to see how the fact that a large proportion of postal votes was registered in this State affords any justification for casting a slur upon the honesty of its electors. It may show that the people of Victoria possessed a greater knowledge of the subject. There may have been a better system of political organization here, and there may have been better facilities for the exercise of that vote than obtained in other States. But the circumstance to which the honorable member pointed does not prove that the large proportion of postal votes registered in Victoria was due to any violation of the law. It is quite obvious that a person cannot vote by post without submitting to some inconvenience, because the system has been surrounded with so many safeguards that the exercise of this vote in any part of the Commonwealth involves labour, trouble, and sometimes expense’. I would also point out that voting by post can be more generally exercised in a comparatively small territory like Victoria than it can be in a large territory like New South Wales, Queensland, or Western Australia. We must recollect that in respect of every such vote certain formalities have to be complied with, and the attendance of an officer at least twice upon the voter is requisite. He must attend the voter in the first instance to witness his application for a postal ballotpaper, and he must attend him again to witness his actual recording of the vote. This involves the travelling of the officer from his place of residence to the place of residence of the voter if the latter be sick, or to the place where the voter is to be found if he be not sick. It naturally follows that in a territory such as Victoria, which is much smaller than New South Wales or Queensland, the officers would not have to travel such long distances in order to discharge their duties in this connexion. The travelling or the conveyance of an officer in a State like Victoria or Tasmania would not be so expensive as it would be in a larger State-
– Does the honorable member say that the officers got paid for their attendance ?
– I say that probably they would have to be conveyed to the place of residence of the voter, and that would involve expense on their part. I do not think it can be suggested as a reflection on the political honesty of the people of Victoria that in respect of postal voting they may have had a better knowledge of the system or a better form of political organization than obtained in the other States. If it be true - as has been alleged by the honorable member for Gippsland - that there was a gross abuse of the postal vote in Victoria, why is he not prepared to vouchsafe some particulars regarding the nature of that abuse? He has not suggested that it arose either from impersonation on the part of the voters or from malfeasance on the part of the officers. It would be easy enough to point to cases - if there were any - of personation on the part of electors, or of improper conduct on the part of the officers. Of course the whole system rested first upon proper steps being taken to prevent impersonation and, secondly, on seeing that the legal formalities and safeguards were complied with. I should like to compare the strong safeguards provided by the old Act against personation in connexion with the system of postal voting with the flimsy, slipshod, haphazard methods provided in connexion with absent voting in the Electoral Act, and proposed to be applied to the Referendum Act. In connexion with postal voting, the authorized witness was required, not merely as a matter of form to witness every signature which he was asked to witness, but was required, by the mandate of the Statute itself, first to satisfy himself as to the identity of the applicant with the person named on the roil. He had to see that the applicant signed the application in his own handwriting, and to be personally acquainted with the facts, or satisfy himself by inquiry from the applicant that the statements contained in the application were true ; but the dominant factor of that section was that he must be personally acquainted with the applicant. In that lay the great safeguard against personation, and it is impossible to conceive that any of the long list of officials intrusted with this statutory duty would wilfully witness any application of a fraudulent and deceitful character. There was another safeguard in connexion with the actual record of the vote. There, the officer had to examine the signature on the application, compare it with the signature on the vote, and refuse to allow it unless he was satisfied as to the identity of the applicant with the voter. The honorable member for Gippsland said to-day that the objections he raised here last year had not been answered. His objection was simply the arithmetical proportion of the votes recorded in Victoria, and from that he asks us to draw the deduction that there has been a violation of the law. He must mean a violation of the law, or he means nothing. What, then, is its nature? Does he say that any of these officers have refused to perform the statutory duty of personally satisfying themselves as to the identity of the applicant? If any charge of that kind could be sustained, the evidence would no doubt be forthcoming in time. Many cases of personation could not go by without being found out and brought into the light of day. The real voter would afterwards turn up and demand his vote, and if informed that somebody had personated him he would soon complain, the case would get to the ears of the authorities, and a prosecution would follow. Yet we have not one case put forward by the Home Affairs Department, which administers the Electoral Act, to show that there has been personation in the matter of applications for postal votes. In fact, there is greater security in connexion with applications for postal votes even than in the case of a man voting at the poll in the ordinary way. Every voter casting his vote at the booth is asked his name and residence and occupation. The poll clerk turns up his name on the roll, and no one is called upon to satisfy himself personally as to the identity of the voter, in the mandatory terms laid down in the case of a postal vote. Consequently the preliminary steps in securing a postal vote are surrounded by safeguards which do not apply in the case of ordinary voting. Can it be proved that there has been anything in the shape of the wholesale corruption or undue influence alleged in connexion with the exercise of the postal vote? It is easy to make a suggestion of that kind, but the proof has not been forthcoming. If any applicants for postal votes had been deceived, or misled, or coerced in any way by the officials, no doubt they would have made complaints, and prosecutions would have followed. We ought to guard ourselves against confusing ordinary canvassing to secure votes - which all parties are legitimately entitled to employ - with anything like undue influence. Undue influence, or pressure, or false statements ought, of course, to be punished, but merely canvassing a person to exercise a postal or any other form of vote is not a criminal offence, and should not be regarded as such. In these days of political instruction, and enlightenment, and independence, very few people in this country would venture to secure postal or any other, form of votes by any method of intimidation, pressure, corruption, or undue influence. People are getting too enlightened. They may be convinced by reasonable argument, but it is very hard to get votes in these modern days, by any such tactics as those.
– How does the honorable member know that?
– If there were any truth in the statements, the whole country would soon ring with complaints against oro denunciation of persons who were resorting to unfair methods.
– Is a sick person at home, waited on by a justice of the peace, ready or able to receive arguments as to which way she shall vote?
– Those surrounding or protecting the sick person would not allow any strangers to have access to her bedside, or -to trouble her about voting, unless she was in a reasonably fit state, or wanted, to be bothered. It is a very unworthy suggestion that sick persons, or even healthy persons, have been unfairly or improperly influenced by the postal-voting system. I pass on to the new method of voting introduced by the principal Act and finding a place in this Bill, and that is the system known as absent yoting. T. should like to compare it and its slipshod methods of procedure, and lack of securities and guarantees, with the postal-voting system. I remember that, when the matter was debated in the House on the last occasion I, and others, drew attention to the grave possibility of this general system of absent voting being abused or misused, and offering every opportunity and facility for personation in its worst and most dangerous forms. I wish to point out the gradual and insidious way in which the method of absent voting has grown. It has advanced stage by stage, and step by step, until now it seems to be almost universally applicable. It began with an apparently harmless provision that any person might vote at any polling place within the electorate for which he or she was originally registered. That was the first innocent invasion of the old principle that everybody had to vote where he was enrolled. There might not be so many serious objections to a person voting at any polling place within his own electorate, as to a person voting at any polling place in any division within his own State. The second stage, however, was introduced as an extension of the principle of voting within one’s own electorate.
– Was not that second stage carried at the instance of the Government of which the honorable member was a member ?
– Upon the urgent solicitation of the Labour party, of which the honorable member was a member. Many serious objections were raised at the time to the extension of the system to the whole of a State, on the ground that it might offer facilities tor undiscovered cases of personation through people recording their votes at polling places which might be hundreds of miles away from where they lived. A man voting wrongly within his own electorate would know there was a reasonable chance of being found out, because of the number of people knowing him in the comparatively small area of ah electorate. , But when you extend the principle to the whole of a State you reduce the guarantees against, and increase the opportunities for, personation. A man may go where he is not known and record his vote with less risk of discovery, and if later on the personation is discovered, he may be able to escape punishment because he cannot be identified as the offender. The Government are now going to the third stage, and extending this principle of absent voting throughout the length and breadth of Australia. The more we extend this principle from the place of residence of the voter the greater must be the danger of personation and of the offender escaping punishment. Doubtless if proper safeguards were introduced, the opportunities for this criminal offence might be reduced. When this alteration was made in the Electoral law the House was promised that regulations would be framed safeguarding the exercise of the absent voters’ privilege. The promise was given that every precaution would be taken to prevent any one unlawfully exercising the right in some part of the Commonwealth far distant from the electorate in respect of which the vote was cast. On looking at the regulations that have since been passed, and which are to be read in conjunction with this Bill, I find that there are very few improvements upon the old system in force in relation to absent voters who vote within their own States.
– Were those regulations in force at the last general election?
– They were framed in connexion with the amended Act passed recently.
– Are they the same as those used at the last general election ?
– I believe that they are nearly the same. There has been no increase of the safeguards, and no better securities against personation have been introduced in connexion with Commonwealth or Intra- State absent voting.
– Then the honorable member, as a member of the last Ministry, must take his share of the responsibility.
– My point is that where these facilities are extended and applied to the whole Commonwealth as against a single electorate greater precautions ought to be exercised, and that although we were promised that increased safeguards would be provided that promise has not been fulfilled. For instance, under these regulations a man residing temporarily in Western Australia who claimed to be on the rolls in respect of the electorate of Yarra would simply have to go to the presiding officer and say, “I am the person enrolled as So and So,” and give his surname and Christian name, his place of living, occupation, the subdivision of the electoral division in which he was enrolled, and declare that he had not voted, and that if permitted to vote as an absent voter he would not again vote at that election. On giving that undertaking he would be allowed to vote.
– What is the penalty for misrepresentation?
– No doubt there is a heavy penalty, but the whole difficulty is in relation to proof.
– The signature of every elector is in the Electoral office.
– But a man so claiming to vote might forge some one else’s signature. My objection to this procedure is that a person claiming to vote under this system is not required to prove his identity with the person on the roll in whose name he claims to vote. Let us compare the form of application to which I have just referred with the duty which was imposed upon the presiding officers when granting an application for a postal vote. It was provided that -
An authorized witness shall not witness the signature of any elector to an application for a postal vote certificate and postal ballot-paper unless -
he has satisfied himself as to the identity of the applicant…..
Why was not that provision applied to applications to vote as absent voters? It was promised, but the promise has not been carried out. The right to exercise the franchise in this way may be secured without the presiding officer beingrequired as a matter of law to satisfy himself as to the identity of the applicant with the person enrolled.
– The signature of the applicant must correspond with that of the rater in whose name he claims to vote.
– But what is the good of the signature after the man has left the place?
– But the vote would not be counted unless the signature of the person voting compared with that of the person in whose name he claimed the right to vote.
– The point is that an offender might escape punishment. He might elude the vigilance of the authorities, and that proof of identity which would lead to his prosecution might possibly not be secured. A fraudulent person would forge a signature, and, having voted, would be able, under this system, to escape. There is no provision for following and identifying the applicant. He is not even required when claiming the right to vote to state exactly where he resides in the district in respect of which he claims to exercise his vote. He is not to produce before the officer a witness to prove his identity, nor is the officer required to exercise his own knowledge.
– Does the honorable member say that the absent voting system should be done away with?
– I say that in its present shape it is imperfect and dangerous. The presiding officer is not to demand proof of the identity of the applicant before he accepts his application. Hereagain, is a singular precaution, if it can be called a precaution, that the presiding officer is required to take. It shows what a hollow sham the whole thing is. It is provided that the presiding officer before he hands the ballot-paper to the absent voter may, if necessary for the purposes of identification, “ request the elector to again state his name.” He is not to ask the elector to produce some proof of his identity with the person in whose name he claims the right to vote, but the presiding officer is to rely upon the honesty of the applicant, dispensing altogether with any precaution to insure the bona fides of the voter. That is the kind of system that is to be substituted for voting by post, and I think that a fair and reasonable comparison will convince every man who reflects that this absent voting system is not surrounded with the same safeguards that even voting by post possessed.
– The honorable member does not seem to be inclined to say that he would do away with absent voting.
– I have never advocated its abolition where there was reasonable chance of an offender being identified. But when the system is extended all over Australia regardless of the distance of the residence of the applicant from the place where he demands the right to vote, there must be a tendency to attack the purity of the ballot, and to lead to fraudulent voting. Another form of voting has been introduced for the convenience of people who on the day of polling are likely to be absent from Australia altogether. That is to say, absence is to be a qualification for voting, whilst at the same time a person who is within the Commonwealth but is unable to go to the poll on account of illness or accident is to be disqualified. Does it not seem an unfair thing to allow an absentee to have the opportunity of voting and yet refuse the privilege to those who remain at home, but who are sick or infirm? There is no justification whatever for such an extraordinary contrast and for the interference with established facilities. There are grave reasons for believing that, if it were not the result of experience in connexion with the last general election that the majority of postal votes were cast against the Labour party, the abolition of the system would not have been proposed. No doubt it would have been represented as being a very wise, just, humane, and democratic system if the Labour party had secured a majority of the postal votes. But as they did not it is denounced as a corrupt system. It is said that postal voting was abused, and led to corruption and to violation of the law. But there is no proof that it was abused in the manner suggested. If it were, the duty of the authorities was to institute prosecutions and bring the offenders to book. The number of prosecutions for infringements of the electoral law was comparatively trifling. To suggest that the system was abused in Victoria is a gross slander on the people of this State, unworthy of the representative of a Victorian electorate.
– I say that the system was abused.
– It is easy to say so ; but the Minister of Trade and Customs lacks proof. I have already referred to the growing network of restrictions upon our electoral system. Undoubtedly they are once more reproduced and stereotyped in this Bill affecting referenda. We have limitations upon the press, limitations upon those who wish to help to bring voters to the poll, limitations upon those who take part in a referendum campaign. One would think that Parliament would offer every facility for the legitimate development of public opinion and for the circulation of views through the press, and by means of public meetings. Yet some honorable members opposite seem to view every endeavour to extend political knowledge and information about referendum questions with disfavour. In the Electoral Act of 191 1, section I 8IAA provides that -
On and after the date of issue and before the return of any writ for the election of a member for the’ Senate, or for the House of Representatives, or for the taking of any referendum vote, every article, report, letter, or other matter commenting upon any candidate or political party, or the issues being submitted to the electors, printed and published in any newspaper, circular, pamphlet, or “dodger,” shall be signed by the author and authors, giving his or their true name or address or names and addresses at the end of the said article, report, letter, or other matter.
What is the reason for extending that limitation on electoral freedom to referenda campaigns? The original justification is alleged to be to prevent abusive letters, libels, or slanders against candidates or persons engaged in electoral campaigns being published. Whatever arguments might be applied in that direction cannot apply to referenda propositions, which are abstract, no candidate having any personal interest. A candidate need not necessarily take part in a referendum campaign, though he probably would do so. Why should the Government wish to apply that restriction - irksome, embarrassing, and oppressive - to referenda matters? They cannot justify it on the ground that it is for the protection of persons. It is said that the provision is for the protection of public men.
– Why should a person be ashamed to use his name when he is abusing other people?
– I do not know that any one is ashamed to use his name. Suppose a working man wants to publish a letter in a newspaper, criticising the actions of any public man, why should he be called upon to come out in the open?
– Most decidedly he should.
– He may be able to write a fair criticism on the public acts, of a public man whom he may wish to handle sharply. Why should he be required, as a condition precedent to the exercise of his literary freedom, to sign his name? This restriction cuts all round. It will not’ cut down the freedom of those on our side without affecting the liberty of those who support honorable members opposite. There is no justification for such a harsh condition. If a newspaper publishes a libellous communication it is liable, and has upon its shoulders the burden of sustaining an action for libel or defamation of character. A public man has every protection against defamation. He can proceed against those who print and publish. That protection is quite strong enough without forcing the writer of every article, and of every little paragraph in a country newspaper, to sign his name. There is another absurd requirement, namely, that the name of every reporter shall be published at the foot of his reports of public meetings, just as if he were signing his name to his last will and testament, lt is an absurd limitation. The name of the newspaper is quite sufficient without requiring the reporter to sign his name. Do not honorable members see that they are hereby limiting their own opportunities for securing publicity for their own meetings? Very often public men and candidates, when travelling through a scattered portion of an electorate, are asked by newspaper editors to send in brief reports of their meetings. As a rule those reports are published. Now the candidate who sends in a report will either have to sign his own name, or his secretary will have to sign his- name, to any little paragraph that is furnished respecting a country meeting. It is an absurd limitation on freedom. It is legislation run mad. There is no justification whatever for it. It is an abuse of parliamentary authority. It seems to me to be an extraordinary spectacle for a party like the Labour party, which is so strong, to resort to these little pettifogging methods of asserting their authority. All this tends in the direction of limiting the freedom of the press and of individuals, and will do no good to any party, candidate, or cause; and, in course of time, I venture to say, the people will rise in rebellion against such infringements upon their liberty. Then it is required that newspapers shall send in returns showing the cost of the advertisements inserted with reference to referenda matters. There is a distinct limitation of expenditure on the part of candidates for the Senate or House of Representatives, and there might be some justification for taking steps to secure particulars in their case ; but, seeing that there is no limitation in connexion with referenda campaigns, it is altogether absurd and oppressive on newspapers to require them to send in returns.
– It will enable us to see whether trusts and combines are fighting referenda questions.
– Nothing can be gained by such returns.
– The honorable member’s speech would seem to show that there ought to be a limitation of expenditure.
– I do not see how any limitation could possibly be justified, because all information in regard to referenda is for the benefit of no particular party, or, at any rate, of no particular candidate; and party organizations, and groups of citizens, ought to be encouraged in propagating knowledge and furthering public discussion on constitutional questions. The Constitution belongs to the whole peo]) le; and it is most desirable that they should be educated and their minds disciplined for a proper exercise of the vote. This cannot be done without an energetic campaign, both on the platform and through the press.
– When we get the Labour daily newspaper in Sydney the education will start !
– I am now arguing against the harsh requirements made in the case of newspapers, whether they be Labour, Liberal, or of any other brand of politics ; I am not dealing with elections for the Senate or the House of Representatives, but showing the absurdity of extending the election regulations to a referendum. The more money that is spent in advertising and in spreading knowledge on constitutional matters, the greater is the benefit and advantage to the public, and the more likely we are to stir up and develop a healthy public opinion and prepare the people for the exercise of a great and important function. On these grounds we are justified in entering our strong protest against the various amendments proposed. Some of these amendments infringe personal rights and liberties, while some impose disabilities, and others take away facilities which have worked very well and have been proved to be of a character quite consistent with our democratic institutions. When the people wake up and realize the unfortunate drift of some legislation passed under the driving force of the present dominant majority, they will not only be surprised, but will take steps to secure its repeal.
– I quite agree that we should even rediscuss these items if necessary; but some very peculiar arguments have been advanced by honorable members opposite, just as there were when the previous proposals were before us. The honorable member for Bendigo says that the people, when they realize what the dominant majority is doing, will resent this legislation, and show their resentment by their votes. I can assure honorable members, however, that it is in regard to electoral legislation that we have the least fear in meeting the people in any of the States. The people realize that a greater attempt is being made now than ever before in any Parliament I know of, to make our elections as pure as possible.
– By taking the votes away from the people !
– I presume that honorable members opposite speak very much in the interests of those likely to vote with them.
– We never ask how they vote.
– No doubt the honorable member for Lang would never dream of doing that; his exceptional modesty and extraordinary purity would prevent him. I venture to point out, however, that the class of voters who will be most affected by the abolition of the postal vote belong to the class who generally range themselves solidly behind the Labour members.
– Is that the reason for abolishing the postal vote?
– No; but members, like the honorable member for Darling Downs, contend that ours is merely a political object, and that we are not acting in the interests of purity of elections. Honorable members, however, will agree with me that the larger families are to be found amongst the working people of Australia a? of all other countries, and we know that one of the reasons advanced for women not exercising the vote is that they are often in what is known as an “ interesting condition “ when elections come round. It cannot be doubted that the greater number of such women are to be found amongst the working classes who support the Labour party.
– We have some good specimens on this side !
– I am sorry I had not an earlier opportunity to congratulate the honorable member for Kooyong; and .1 must say that I think he is entitled to the King’s bounty, or some consideration of the sort. It is said that we simply have a political object in view ; but it must be seen that by abolishing the postal vote we are really penalizing a class most likely to vote for us.
– Is the Government justified in penalizing that class?
– No, but I think 1 am entitled to take the sting out of the argument of honorable members opposite; and it cannot be doubted that the great majority of women unable to personally vote will be found amongst the working classes. As to the honorable member for Bendigo, it seems to me that he has answered himself. He asked why there have been no prosecutions if there has been an abuse of the system. The honorable member, like the honorable member for Gippsland, is a lawyer, and he knows that, unless a client has absolute proof, he is usually advised not to go into Court. When he was speaking of absent voting he was reminded by interjection from this side that if the signature does not compare with that in the Electoral Office a vote is disallowed.
– But the offender escapes.
– The honorable member said just now that it is difficult to prove these things, and we say the same of malpractices in connexion with the postal voting system. I can give the House some quotations to show how another Parliament in Australia dealt with the system. I was surprised beyond measure to hear the honorable member for Angas ask whether there was any real sacredness about the secrecy of the ballot. I thought that every Britisher regarded the secrecy of the ballot as one of the finest features of our electoral system. I am against postal voting, amongst other reasons because I am opposed to anything which may disclose the way in which the votes of particular individuals have been cast. The honorable member for Angas did not pursue his argument very far, and I have no wish to do him any injustice.
Most honorable members are too young to remember the time when open voting was the practice in Australia, but I have often been told by some of the old pioneers that when a man came into a tent on election day to record his vote, any person looking over his shoulder could see what name he struck out on the ballotpaper. A graphic description was given me on one occasion of what happened to one man. A number of people were anxious to know what name he would strike out. He was followed into the booth, and when it was found that he struck out the wrong name, according to the view of some people, as soon as he came out of the tent one man made a hit at him ; he was chased by a mob, and was ultimately left very nearly dead. That happened at Kilmore.
– Is that the way they “ deal it out “ in Victoria to people who do not agree with them ?
– I can inform the honorable member for Lang that voting by secret ballot was given to the world by Victoria.
– By the Liberals.
– No; they were Radicals, and not Liberals or Fusionists in those days.
– Why do not the Labour party claim it?
– When I consider the early history of this State, I am reminded of men who, if they were alive to-day, would be sitting on this side in politics - men like Graham Berry and James Macpherson Grant, who stand out boldly in the political history of this State, and who gave to Victoria and Australia some of the best legislation we have. They will find their counterparts in the members of the Labour party to-day. One thing has specially characterized the political fights of the past, and will characterize those of the future. I refer to the fight of the privileged few against the great masses of the people. It will be resumed at the next Federal elections and at the referenda, for which we are now legislating. I have no doubt as to the way in which the people of Australia will decide the questions put to them. I had an opportunity a few weeks ago of reading a letter sent from the Employers Federation of Victoria to an employer, to this effect, “ You are earnestly requested to contribute as liberally as possible to the election fund we are endeavouring to establish in order to fight the coming Federal elections.” It was stated as a reason why liberal contributions should be made that “during the Queensland elections, this association forwarded to Queensland no less a sum than , £3,000, and it was found very useful in the conduct of the Queensland election.” That is a typical example of the letters that are being sent out by the party opposite.
– Who signed the letter referred to?
– Nevermind who signed it.
– That is a trifle compared with what is done by the Australian Workers Union.
– So the honorable member says. The honorable member who has just resumed his seat has gloried in the fact that money is spent right and left at election time for the purpose of educating the people. I contend that this lavish and unlimited expenditure of money serves to debauch the people more than anything else I know. Where does this money come from ? Honorable members opposite know very well. It comes from some of the “ Captains of Industry,” the Employers Federation, and the squatters of Australia. What sympathy have the squatters of Australia everhad for the farmers or small settlers ? If they could have had their way they would never have allowed a single settler to establish himself.
– The honorable member’s party spend more than we do.
– The honorable member for Fawkner knows very well what goes on. I have seen his signature to some, documents as an executive officer in connexion with a certain organization, and also the signature of a member of one of the big legal firms of this State, that has more to do with squatting properties than any other firm I know. When we find such firms asking for contributions for the conduct of elections, we know in whose interests the money is to be expended.
– I wish we could make the honorable member prove his words.
– We know that all the trusts are in this business, and honorable members opposite are, for my part, welcome to their friends. I shall have no hesitation in telling the people whom I shall have an opportunity of addressing what I think of the political position in very plain language. There are thousands of people who to-day express their regret that they did not, on the last occasion, support the referenda proposals.
– Is that why the honorable member left us ?
– I never belonged to the .same political party as the right honorable member for Swan. I have been a Radical, or Labour man, since I have understood politics, and there is a very great deal of difference between the Radicals we used to find in all of the States and the present-day Fusionists.
– They had the same policy.
– Every member of the Opposition has a different policy. There is no cohesion in the party. Even in this House we find one member of the Opposition getting up and denying what another has said. Does the honorable member for Wimmera believe for a moment that the people of Australia will intrust their destinies to men who do not know their own minds as members of a party ? I do not care to mention names, although the gentleman who occupies the leading position in Victorian State politics to-day would probably have no objection to the mention of his name. On the day the vote on the last referenda was being taken, I said to him, “ Old man, you are spilling the money all right,” and he replied, “It is being spilled. It will be spilled this time, and on every other occasion.” That was the testimony of one of the leading Fusionists of Australia. It is just as well to remind honorable members exactly where we are in this matter. In connexion with absent voting, the Electoral Branch of the Home Affairs Department have instituted a reform which will be of exceptional value in preventing personation. By the introduction of the card system the signature of every elector in each State has been obtained. If a man claims to record an absent voter’s vote at a polling booth in Perth, for a Victorian electorate, his signature to his application for a vote at Perth can be compared with the signature on his card in the Electoral Office at Melbourne. That is one way of detecting personation, and although you might not be able to do as the honorable member for Bendigo said - detect a man and punish him for having committed an offence - you would be able to thwart him in the desire he had to support a particular candidate; that is to say, his vote would not be counted on the side on which it was cast.
– How are you going to prove that?
– There will be an opportunity to make a comparison of the signatures. It is something to have the signature of a man or woman.
– Who is going to say that it is not his signature? Again, what about the poor back-blockers?
– I intend to quote some figures to the honorable member about the back-blockers
– There are more back-blockers in my State than there are in Victoria.
– I do not know* that the honorable member ever lived in a backblock in his life, except when he was engaged upon exploring work. So far as being domiciled is concerned, it is very questionable whether he has ever lived in the back-blocks of Australia.
– What nonsense !
– The right honorable member does not deny it. Most of us on this side are real back-blockers, because we come from up-country parts.
– This is a very small State.
– I intend to point out what they did in this small State.
– I would like to know about the back-blockers in the big States.
– How much has the right honorable member lived in the backblocks? I agree with the honorable member for Gippsland that it is sometimes very difficult to bring a man to book for an offence which he has committed. The honorable member for Lang said that not one single case had been given ; the honorable member for Wimmera, by way of interjection, said the same thing; and so, I believe, did several other honorable members on the opposite side. Here is a very glaring case which took place in Victoria -
Louis Lesser, a J. P., and a wealthy storekeeper at Coleraine, was recently fined at Hamilton for offences against the Electoral Act. He was tried in the police court, before Mr. Williams, P.M., charged on several informations with having committed breaches of the Federal Electoral Act in regard to postal ballot-papers in his capacity as an authorized witness. The first case taken was that in regard to Selina Campbell, a married woman, of Coleraine, whose name appeared as an elector on the roll. In relation to this, three charges were preferred against the defendant, namely : -
That on April 22 last he witnessed her signature on an application for a postalcertificate without being personally acquainted with the facts stated, and not having ascertained by inquiry that the statements made by her were true ;
It may be only one case, but sometimes a single straw will show which way the wind is blowing.
– What about the cases in South Australia ?
– The honorable member means to imply by his interjection that, because I belong to a certain party, and a member of that party commits an offence, I should not be favorable to him being made amenable to the law. I say that everybody should be prosecuted and punished. Whenever a man - or a woman either - cornmits an offence, whatever their political colour may be, he or she should be prosecuted. We are going to try to make our electoral system as pure as possible. We shall endeavour to prosecute all offenders, and punish them in the most severe fashion, for committing breaches of the law.
– That is not the general course.
– The right honorable member is unfair.
– No; I know that it is not.
– The quotation continues -
To my mind, one of the biggest crimes of which a man could be guilty is that of using his position as a public or semi-public man, and as a witness to a signature to a votingpaper, to persuade a woman how she shall record her vote. The quotation continues -
After hearing evidence the Bench imposed the following penalties : Campbell’s case, first charge, £5, with £5 5s. costs; Bird’s case, £2, with £5 5s. costs; James’ case, £2, without costs; the other charges in these cases dismissed.
– Does not that show the effectiveness of the law?
– To an extent, yes; but I quite agree with what the honorable member said about absent voting, and with what the honorable member for Gippsland said about postal voting, and that is, that it is very difficult to prove a charge against a man. In each case there are generally two persons concerned on one side, and one on the other. If two witnesses appear on the side of the accused person as against one witness on the other side, the case must always be lost, so that the odds are against the Department every time that it tries to carry out a prosecution of this kind. If men or women will commit a breach of the Electoral Act in order to fraudulently obtain a vote, they will cover up their tracks, even by committing perjury - by swearing that they did not commit the offence, and agreeing one with the other. In such circumstances, it is very difficult indeed to prove a case against offenders. I wish now to refer to the abnormal record of postal votes in Victoria. The honorable member for Bendigo said that the reason why more postal votes were recorded here than in any other State is an evidence of the fact that Victoria is better organized than is any other State. We have often been told here that, politically, South Australia is the best organized State. If South Australia is the best organized State, and organization is the reason why more postal votes have been recorded in Victoria, it appears to me that the former should very easily top the poll, comparatively speaking. But what do the figures disclose? I propose to quote the number of voters on the roll in each State at the 1 910 election, and the number of postal votes which were recorded then. In New
South Wales, with 834,662 voters on the roll, only 6,219 voted by post. tn Victoria, wilh 703,699 voters on the roll, 14,049 persons voted by post. Although Victoria had 130,000 fewer voters than had New South Wales, nearly two and a half times as many persons voted by post in the former as in the latter. In Queensland, with 279,031 voters on the roll, 4,020 voted by post. In South Australia, which I say unhesitatingly is the best organized State in the Union, there were 207,655 voters on the roll, and only 1,751 voted by post. If voting by post is the result of more perfect organization, then South Australia ought to have polled more than 1,751 postal votes out of an enrolment of considerably over 200,000 names. In Western Australia, with 134,979 electors on the roll, only 1,977 voted by post; while in Tasmania, with 98,456 voters on the roll, 1,233 voted by post. Out of a total enrolment of 2,258,482 voters for the whole of the Commonwealth, 29,249 voted by post, and 14,049 of these - that is, almost half - were located in the most thickly-populated State in the Union, little Victoria, where polling booths and voting facilities are, I think I can safely say, better than are to be found in any other State.
– What is the suggestion of the honorable member - that Victoria is a greater manipulator than is any other State?
– At the general election of 1 9 10 and the referenda of 191 1, the figures were very similar. It seems a peculiar1 thing that practically half the postal votes recorded in Australia were registered in Victoria, where such facilities exist for the exercise of the franchise. Evidently, a large proportion of those 14,000 votes could have been recorded at the polling booths in this State.
– How many electors who voted by post voted for the honorable member’s party?
– I polled 100 more postal votes than did my opponent, so that, from a narrow personal stand-point, I should be in favour of the system. If postal voting were in vogue to-day, I think that I would do as well under it as would any other candidate. So that the political element which honorable members opposite wish to impart to this measure is non-existent.
– When the honorable member says that he can poll more than his opponent, we all believe him.
– It is somewhat of a novelty to find the honorable member agreeing with anything that I say. At the referenda in 191 1, 2,554 postal votes were recorded in New South Wales, 13,338 in Victoria, 4,129 in Queensland, 2,646 in South Australia, 647 in Western Australia, and 1,483 in Tasmania, or a total of 24,797. Of these, it will be seen that Victoria contributed more than half.
– Is not the reason for that to be found in the fact that the electors of Victoria were accustomed to vote by post in connexion with State elections?
– No. Voting by post is also in vogue in Western Australia. Queensland, too, has had a sad experience of that system.
– But it is much more troublesome to vote by post in Western Australia.
– All these excuses cannot wipe away the figures which I have quoted.
– The two systems are quite different.
– Municipal elections were recently held in Victoria, where there has been incorporated in our Local Government Act the system of voting by post. Only the other day, I met a defeated candidate, who belongs to the opposite side of politics to myself, and he said, “ I thought of you in connexion with the postal vote when I found myself behind. The postal vote and the absent votes defeated me.” He added that he was seriously considering whether the postal voting system, even in connexion with municipal elections, was the correct thing. My own experience of postal voting - speaking from a narrow personal stand-point - has been exceptionally satisfactory. But, in considering this question, I wish to eliminate the personal element. One of the chief reasons which impels me to resist the reintroduction of the postal voting system is that in a very large number of cases it led to the secrecy of the ballot being entirely abrogated. Honorable members opposite are very fond of quoting the experience of other countries, and from that experience we are frequently able to get a guide as to the way in which we should proceed. Now we all know that the postal voting system was tried in Queensland. If honorable members wish to know how it worked there, they have only to refer to the Queensland Hansard, for August, 1907, volume 49.
– Does the honorable member maintain that the Queensland system was the same as was the Commonwealth system?
– The principle was the same. If abuses could creep in under the former, they could creep in under the latter.
– We can get all that information from our own Hansard. lt has been quoted here before.
– When the honorable member for Bendigo was reminded that there was no necessity to discuss this Bill, inasmuch as we had had a full-dress debate upon its main provisions when the Electoral Act of last year was under consideration, he replied that the matter required to be discussed, and discussed, and discussed again. I intend to follow his example.
– My remark was prompted by the fact that our own Hansard is available to honorable members, whereas the Queensland Hansard is not.
– It was what is generally termed a “ Liberal “ Government which repealed the postal voting system in Queensland. Mr. Hawthorne, the Home Secretary, in explaining the measure which effected this, said -
The next feature of the Bill is the proposed abolition of the postal vote. It has been found in practice that the provisions for the postal vote are of such a nature that fraud is made easy.
If that was the result of the system in Queensland, we have no desire to perpetuate it here, even although our own Electoral Act may be surrounded with greater safeguards. The longer I remain in politics, the more I am impressed with the fact that the persons who conduct election campaigns grow more clever as the years pass by. To-day the very ablest brains in the community are brought into play for the purpose of securing the success of particular candidates at the poll. Notwithstanding the severe penalties which attached to breaches of the Queensland Act, many persons committed offences under it. Numerous reports were voluntarily forwarded to the Government in regard to such offences. Mr. James McGill, Returning Officer at Ipswich, said -
As soon as the applications began to come in I noticed that electors who were residents in Ipswich signed to have the postal certificates sent to another address than the address specified at the top of the application. I interviewed the Hon. A. H. Barlow on the matter, and it was found that in that respect nothing could be done to prevent such a course. Scores of postal certificates went to one address, and were taken out to the several electors by the justice of the peace, collected and posted by him.
It has been hinted that nothing of that sort could occur under our own Electoral Act. But, in connexion with the last referenda, we know that advertisements were published in the daily newspapers, and circulars were distributed broadcast over the land, intimating that a certain justice of the peace would attend at a certain office at a particular time to witness the signatures to postal votes. He was a party man, who abused his office as a justice of the peace, and he was only one of many. Medical men were also called into requisition. These things were done under our own Act, and will be done again, and the same practice was followed in Queensland. Mr. McGill also stated -
In examining the ballot-papers, myself, assistant, and scrutineers were satisfied that in a very large number of cases the voters did not write the names, because whilst there was the usual want of similarity in the signatures on the postal certificate, the writing on the ballotpapers was exceedingly good, and of a similar character. I am of opinion that the postal voting in a great number of cases was not a secret ballot, and that it is open to very great abuse.
The Returning Officer for Sandgate reported -
The proportion of irregularities rapidly fell from quite 50 per cent, in the beginning to about 5 per cent, towards the end of the election. This was due to the fact that the canvassing was carried on chiefly by about six justices of the peace, who quickly learned how to fill in the forms.
Mr. Thomas Mowbray, P.M., Returning Officer for Toowoomba, made the following statement -
The general tendency of the voting by post certainly impairs the secrecy of the ballot in more ways than one. It is within my knowledge that at the last election the handwriting of the voter on the postal vote could be identified bv officials engaged in counting at the close of the poll. The freedom of the elector is forestalled, and the too generous use of the postal vote may cause an election to be decided before polling day.
I was in Tasmania recently, where the postal voting system is in force. I arrived in Hobart to assist in the State election campaign, about ten days before the election took place, and I was told even then that the other side had enough votes in the bag to make a quota secure.
– What proof have you of these things? It is time you brought some proof.
– The honorable member for Illawarra, and others, have over and over again said, regarding things that have occurred, “ I know this to be absolutely so, but I cannot prove it.”
– The honorable member never heard me say a thing unless I had proof of it. It is high time that the Minister produced proof of these practices.
– The Minister and his officers, as well as the police, have great difficulty in securing evidence. It is of little use to prosecute these people unless the Department can prove its case up to the hilt, so as to be able to penalize them for the offences they commit. The honorable member knows that two people must play a part in the breaking of the law - the person who votes and he who witnesses the vote - and in every case you have two witnesses, and perhaps more, against you. How, then, are you going to prove your case ?
– Any one would think that these things were never done by your side.
– No matter by which side offences against the Electoral Act are committed, I want to see them stopped. I want a clean board for elections, and I am convinced that doing away with the postal vote will help us considerably in that direction. It has been abused in connexion with Commonwealth referenda and Commonwealth elections. It has been abused in State elections, and is being abused even now in municipal elections. It is my firm belief that, while a few people may be deprived of their votes, the people who are going to suffer most by the abolition of the postal vote will be those who vote on the Labour side. In spite of this, we are going to see if we cannot purify our elections. Mr. Mowbray, P.M., also wrote -
The fact that the votes of 243 male electors given under the postal system were recorded for candidates at the May election, I think, indicates that the declaration these voters made - that they would be absent from the district on polling day - in order to obtain such a right, was not always in accordance with actual conditions.
The reform made last session will lead to the better conduct of our elections, and anything that will conduce to that, and make them purer, is a good thing to adopt. Before the Labour party came into power, when a discussion took place on postal voting in this House in 1909, men on both sides of the House - but particularly those belonging to the Labour party - indicated that postal voting was not the pure thing many of its advocates claimed that it was. The records of Hansard for 1909 will show that when the Electoral Bill was under discussion in this House, several Labour mem bers protested against postal voting, and several from Queensland indicated the practices that were carried on there. I am strongly convinced that postal voting is not desirable in connexion with Commonwealth elections or the taking of referenda, and my voice and vote will always be given against postal voting facilities being extended, because they lead to people carrying out practices that are distinctly against the provisions of our Electoral Act.
.- The statement of the honorable member for Maribyrnong with regard to the opposition of Labour members to postal voting in the early stages of this Parliament must have been made by him without a knowledge of what was said by the present Prime Minister, the present Postmaster-General, Senator McGregor, and other prominent members of the party. These were absolutely the strongest advocates in this House of the postal voting system.
– I referred to the discussion in 1909.
– In 1909 we all opposed postal voting.
– The honorable member for Maribyrnong can look up the speeches that were made when the matter was introduced into the House. If he does, he will find that what I say is absolutely correct. The gentlemen I have named were absolutely the strongest advocates of giving these facilities to people in the back-blocks, to women who happened to be in a condition which has been referred to to-day, and to others, in order to give effect to the democratic principle that every one who has the right to a vote should also have the fullest and freest opportunity of exercising it. The honorable member for Maribyrnong is labouring under another delusion. I do not wish to take away from Victoria all the credit that is due to her in connexion with different matters, but I have found it necessary at different times to point out to Victorian representatives that they are not entitled to take credit for a large number of things which they claim that Victoria has originated. A large number of Victorian members, for instance, thought that Victoria started the butter factory system in Australia, until I pointed out that it was started in New South Wales. The honorable member for Maribyrnong said to-day that Victoria started the ballot system in connexion with elections. Let me at once disabuse his mind of that idea, and remind him, and other Australian
Democrats, that, while we are proud of our Australian system of ballot, it is not an Australian idea at all. An article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which is right up to date in this matter, states -
In Great Britain the ballot was suggested for use in Parliament by a political tract of the time of Charles II. It was actually used by the Scots Parliament of 1662 in proceeding on the Billeting Act, a measure proposed by Middleton to secure the ostracism of Lauderdale and other political opponents who were “by secret vote declared incapable of public office.
Coming to the political agitation in Great Britain, it is pointed out that -
It was in the agitations for parliamentary reform at the beginning of the 19th century that the demand for the ballot in parliamentary elections was first seriously made. The Benthamites advocated the system in 1817. At the so-called Peterloo Massacre (1819) several banners were inscribed with the ballot. O’Connell introduced a Bill on the subject in 1830; and the original draft of Lord John Russell’s Reform Bill, probably on the suggestion of Lords Durham and Duncannon, provided for its introduction. Later on the historian Grote became its chief supporter in the House of Commons; and from 1833 to 1839, in spite of the ridicule cast by Sydney Smith on the “ mousetrap,” and on G rote’s “ dagger-box in which you stab the card of your favourite candidate with a dagger,” the minority for the ballot increased from 106 to 217.
Then we have the statement -
Meanwhile in Australia the ballot had been introduced by the Constitution Act of South Australia (1856), and in other Colonies at the same date.
Even if Victoria had been responsible for the introduction of the system, I should not have been at all envious, but it is just as well that we should know the truth in this regard.
– Who contributed that article ?
– The honorable member may look up the information for himself.
– Now give us the division on the postal ballot question in 1909.
– The honorable member will have an opportunity to read it to the House.
– Every Labour member voted against it.
– Every member of the Labour party strongly advocated the postal vote when it was first proposed.
– But the honorable member was speaking of what happened in 1909.
– No, the honorable member put the words “ 1909 “ into my mouth. I was speaking of the occasion when postal voting was first proposed in this Parliament. I referred to statements made by the present Prime Minister, the Postmaster-General, Senator McGregor, and several other members of the Labour party who were then among the strongest advocates of postal voting in this Parliament. But because something like -29,000 postal votes were recorded at the last general election, the majority of them being, in favour of Liberal candidates, these sturdy Democrats have taken away from our womenfolk and all electors who, by reason of accident or sickness, are unable to attend at the polling booth, the tight tr> exercise one of our dearest privileges - the exercise of a voice in determining who shall make the laws of the Commonwealth. Then again, surely every man and woman in the community should have the right to exercise in the freest possible manner .a voice in determining whether the Constitution should be amended in the direction proposed by the Government. The right to vote by post, however, is to be denied them. The honorable member for Maribyrnong said that this was the fight of the privileged few against the masses. He insinuated that the Opposition were fighting for the privileged few, whilst he and other honorable members opposite were fighting for the masses. I should like to ask him who was responsible for the Liberal legislation in regard to the extension of the franchise and other matters that has given him and other members of his party an opportunity to occupy a seat in this Parliament. The Liberals of Australia brought about this and other great reforms before the honorable member was old enough to take any interest whatever in politics. Statements such as’ he has made are all very well on the public platform. They are all very well when made to an audience consisting of men and women who are deeply immersed in their daily business, and have no opportunity to verify them for themselves ; but when made in this House, where there are men who know something of the history of Liberalism, they are calculated to earn for the honorable member the ridicule and contempt of his fellow parliamentarians. Such statements will not bear a moment’s .inspection. The honorable member knows, if he has any knowledge of the history of Australian politics, that what I say is perfectly correct.
– We had some good Radicals in the old days. No doubt the honorable member would support Liberal legislation, but he is now with bad political associates. He is associated with the Tories in Federal politics, and is bound by their chains.
– I unhesitatingly assert that the Labour party are the Tories in Federal politics. Their legislation proves that my statement is correct, and their own supporters boast that they legislate in the interests of only one section in the community. In the old Tory days of England that was the very thing to which the Liberals objected. They complained that legislation was passed in the interests of only one section of the community - that only the rich and the aristocrats were considered. In consequence of the efforts of the Liberals that sort of thing has been largely done away with in the Old Country, but the aristocrats in Federal politics to-day are the men who occupy the Government benches. The speech made to-day by the honorable member for Gippsland occasioned me a great deal of surprise. I have often admired the strong fights that he has put up in this House for his own State. When I held office as Minister of Home Affairs I felt his strength as a debater when he was fighting me on the floor of the. House. But I was astounded to hear him to-day accuse his fellow-citizens of Melbourne in particular, and Victoria generally, of having acted corruptly in connexion with postal voting.
– There was absolute corruption in the Melbourne electorate.
– Prove it.
– It has been proved in a Court of law.
– Let the honorable member prove his statement. The Minister of Home Affairs, who has been administering the electoral laws of the Commonwealth for the last two and a half years, has been challenged to produce cases to support the statements made by the honorable member for Maribyrnong, the honorable member for Melbourne, and other members of his party. If they can bring evidence to prove the correctness of their statements, I shall readily . acknowledge that I have made a mistake.
– Sir Malcolm McEacharn was unseated because of what took place.
– There were only a few informal votes in question.
– That was years ago, and I would point out that the statements made by the honorable member for Gipps land, the honorable member for Maribyrnong, and other honorable members opposite related to what, took place at the last general election. I am just as anxious as any honorable member that our elections shall be kept as pure as possible, and surely if these frauds have taken place - surely if therehave been these attempts at personation, of which we have heard, in connexion with postal voting - the Minister of Home Affairs should be able to produce evidence to justify the assertions of members of his party. . I challenge the Minister to produce instances to justify the Government in taking away the postal vote from our women, our invalids, and others, who are unable to go to the poll. It is a scandal on Democracy, and without any evidence to justify it. Whilst honorable members opposite pose as being the friends of the women, and will give them a “fiver” for producing a baby, they will take away their votes from them. Think of it - a “ fiver” for a baby but no vote when the woman is ill ! What is more, whilst they will take away the vote from respectable people, criminals who have been out of gaol long enough to get on the roll are so much in favour with honorable members that they are to have the privilege of voting.
– Is a man to be treated as a criminal for ever?
Mr.FULLER.- No; but why give the vote to a man who has probably been engaged in criminal acts during the greater part of his life, whilst taking the franchise away from unfortunate people, who may have been injured in the pursuit of their ordinary avocations? Surely such people are more entitled to vote than a man who has spent a good part of his life in the prisons of this country? I hope that my voice may be sufficiently strong, though I am but an humble member of Parliament, to be heard throughout the Commonwealth in denunciation of this policy. I believe that the people to whom I am referring will do their’ utmost at the polls, within the next few months, to resent such treatment, and will show honorable members what they think of them. I am satisfied that a good many more votes will be polled against the party opposite in consequence of their action in regard to postal voting than they are aware of. As we have now reached the usual hour for adjournment, I ask leave to continue my remarks at the next sitting.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
House adjourned at 4 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 6 September 1912, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1912/19120906_reps_4_66/>.