4th Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether he has noticed recent revelations in connexion with life assurance, and, seeing that we have power under paragraph XIV. of section 51 of the Constitution to deal with “ Insurance other than State insurance ; also State insurance extending beyond the limits of the State concerned,” whether he will consider the advisability of introducing comprehensive, uniform insurance legislation to place life and fire insurance on a sound basis in the Commonwealth ?
– The Government have announced their intention of proceeding with legislation dealing with insurance and assurance of a general kind. As regards the allegations made against companies, that hardly affects their position, although it makes them feel that the matter is perhaps more urgent than they thought it was. The first occasion will be availed of to pass the measure.
– I wish to ask the Minister of Home Affairs whether, if an article be written exposing the fallaciousness of the reasoning in the article, in his “chaser,” or whatever he calls the publication, on the alleged withdrawal of capital from Australia, he will publish the articles side by side?
– I ask my honorable friend to submit the question to Mr. Knibbs. He is the Statistician, and I do not interfere with this information.
Uniforms - Home Rule Disturbances : Volunteer Force - Defaulting Cadets : Service of Summons
– Some time ago, representations were made to the Defence Department that the quality of the material supplied for the uniforms of cadets was unsuitable to the tropical parts of Australia, and a request was approved by the Department, I understand, that a lighter texture would be supplied. I should like to know from the Minister representing the Minister of Defence if any action has been taken in that direction?
– I am aware that the Minister has had the matter under consideration, but I do not know what conclusion he has arrived at. I shall submit the question to him, and obtain a reply for the honorable gentleman.
– I wish to ask the Minister representing the Minister of Defence whether he has any information concerning what appears to be likely to develop into a serious Empire disturbance; whether he has observed that, in connexion with the anti-Home Rule agitation, 40,000 people assembled at Enniskillen, and that people have been, drilling for months past; and whether, in the event of an Australian volunteer force being raised to go to those parts of the Empire to quell a possible disturbance, he will invite the honorable and gallant Colonel Ryrie to take charge?
– Order ! The honorable member’s question is distinctly out of order.
– I want to know, sir, whether, in the event of a volunteer force being raised, the Minister will pay attention to the complaints which have been made about the supply of uniforms, and whether he will have the volunteer force supplied with proper uniforms, with as much gold lace, frill, and feathers as they like, not forgetting the canes?
– The honorable member is out of order.
– The matter has not yet received Ministerial consideration. “Later
– I wish to ask the Minister representing the Minister of Defence whether, in the event of my receiving the commission to which reference has been made, he will allow the honorable member for Capricornia to accompany me, seeing that he would be very handy to bury the dead?
– Notwithstanding my admiration for the past services of the honorable member, I cannot hold out to him any hope of a future appointment, and I have not yet heard that there- have been any dead left in his wake.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice. -
Whether, under the recent Military Order, which provides that summonses shall be served on defaulting cadets by a member of the battalion or area staff, such member will be allowed to hire a horse or horse and vehicle to serve such summonses at the Department’s expense?
– Yes, if the circum-‘ stances of the case warrant it.
Wireless Stations - Sydney Telephone Attendants - Sydney General Post Office : Overtime - Accumulated Leave
– I desire to bring under the notice of the Postmaster-General the fact that, at a meeting of the Hobart Marine Board, Captain Evans is reported to have used words to this effect - that the wireless station at Hobart was not a success, as the operator could not communicate with steamers when they were only 300 or 400 miles from the port. and to ask if the wireless station is defective as alleged?
– The reply to the question is substantially, No. It is true that, should a steamer be close into the land and immediately behind Mr Wellington, difficulty is sometimes experienced in picking her up ; but the Hobart station is working satisfactorily. It is in communication every night with Melbourne, generally with Sydney, and frequently with Fremantle, and we have got as far as Fiji. The general conduct of the station is eminently satisfactory.
– I desire to ask the PostmasterGeneral whether he is aware that there are 7,000 telephones- in Sydney alone, and a further 35,000 in the metropolitan area, or a total of 42,000, and that these 42,000 telephones are attended to by only 200 girls? In these circumstances, does not a condition of sweating exist which ought to be removed?
– I am not aware of the exact number of telephones in Sydney and suburbs, but I am acquainted with the conditions which exist in the telephone exchange there ; and, as far as I am aware, the girl attendants are not sweated. They are not called upon, to attend to an unreasonable number of subscribers. If the honorable member is in possession of information to the contrary in any particular case, I will undertake to have it investigated.
– I desire to ask the Postmaster-General whether he will take steps to put an end to the overtime which is being, and has been, worked for years past in the Sydney General Post Office, and some branches of it, and whether he will see that the men who have had to do this work are paid for what they have done? Also will he take steps to alleviate the position in the future?
– Personally, . I am entirely opposed to overtime being worked. I prefer to see sufficient men employed to do the work which requires to be done. I have been urging the officials in Sydney to furnish me with a return, so that those who have worked overtime may be recompensed for it. In connexion with the case which was mentioned by the ‘honorable member for Parramatta the other day, I may say that the report which has been supplied to me is distinctly at variance with his statement in this House. I intend to have the matter further investigated.
– will the PostmasterGeneral lay that report upon the table ?
– I will let my. honorable friend see the report which I have received from the Sydney office in connexion with the statement which he previously made.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made, and the desired information will be furnished as early as possible.
Post and Telegraph Officers, South Australia - Transferred Officers
– I desire to ask the Postmaster-General whether he will submit the grievances of the South Australian postmasters, who were taken over by Federation, in relation to emoluments, increments, and age retirements, to arbitration, so that the question may be finally settled by equity? I asked this question a week ago and the honorable gentleman told me that in the course of a few days he would be able to give me an answer.
– Following upon the honorable member’s question of a week ago, and the speeches delivered yesterday afternoon by the honorable member for Boothby, and others, I did intend last night to take an opportunity, if it had been at all convenient, to make a few remarks, but I may say now that I have looked into the question. It is a difficult and involved proposition, which has been dealt with by several of my predecessors. The Crown Law Department has been asked on several occasions to tender advice, and I am now in a position to say that the Attorney-General has advised that, in his opinion, the case involved in the South Australian position may be presented to the Arbitration Court, and, consequently, no difficulty will be put in the way of the officers submitting their case to that tribunal and getting -a decision.
– I wish to ask the Postmaster-General whether he sees any objection to representatives of the transferred officers in South Australia approaching the Public Service Commissioner, and if not, whether he will facilitate them having an interview with that officer in reference to their claims?
– Personally, I shall place no objection in the way of these officers having an interview with the Public Service Commissioner, but I would remind my honorable friend that the negotiations between the officers, the Commissioner, and several Governments have been proceeding since 1904. A most comprehensive statement of the case of the employes has been presented in documentary form, and, I think, issued to every member of Parliament. It is now available. But if they think that they can present a stronger or better case to the Commissioner, I shall not object to them doing so.
– Arising out of the reply of the Postmaster-General, I wish to ask the Attorney-General whether, in indicating that these officers can apply to the Arbitration Court he feels that the jurisdiction of that Court will meet the case, that it will be able to deal with a case of this character which is retrospective mainly in its incidence?
– I am unable to give an answer to the honorable gentleman’s query, unless I am in possession of the particular facts which it is proposed to arbitrate upon or submit for settlement. The matter has been the subject of some consideration, and a good deal of negotiation has taken place. I have seen one deputation from South Australia, and given an opinion to them as to their position. I told them that, so far as their rights were concerned under the law, their position appeared to be an untenable one, and that as to arbitration the only matters which can be the subject of arbitration are those which the law does not preclude from being settled in that way, and possibly, too, such as do not fall within the scope of the Public Service Arbitration Act. If the honorable member will submit to me particular questions on behalf of the employes I will endeavour to give them a categorical answer.
– I desire to ask the Postmaster-General whether, in view of the fact that the post and telegraph officials of South Australia have been legally advised that no decision of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court can be retrospective of the date of any claim made by them, he considers it reasonable that these officers should be asked to appeal to that Court?
– In the first place, I am not aware that the post and telegraph officials of South Australia have been legally advised in that direction.
– I stated it officially yesterday.
– Even if they have been so advised, I am not prepared to express an opinion upon that advice. I have given the view of the Attorney-General as the. legal adviser of the Government, which is to the effect that the questions which have been submitted to me by the officers in their official communications may be referred to the Arbitration Court. Further, the Government will facilitate action in that direction.
– I wish to ask the Postmaster-General whether it is not a fact that though the Court has not power to make an award retrospective in such cases, both parties can agree to that course being adopted. If the post and telegraph officials of South Australia obtain a judgment against the Commonwealth, will he agree to pay them retrospectively?
– I am not prepared to answer a. question of that description without first giving it due consideration.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether he has seen a statement in this morning’s newspapers by Mr. Blackwood, the president of the Employers Federation, to the effect that overtures have been made by members of the Labour party to members of the Opposition, with a view to forming some kind of political coalition, and whether he has any knowledge of such overtures having been made?
– I have not read the statement in question, but I understand that friend Blackwood intends going away to another part of the world, and, therefore, we ought not to take what he says too seriously.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether he ‘has observed a cable, which is published in this morning’s newspapers, to the effect that Mr. G. E. Foster, Canadian Minister of Commerce, has consummated an agreement with Sir Edward Grey, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, whereby the whole of the British Consular service will be placed at Canada’s disposal. Will he take steps to have a similar arrangement made on behalf of Australia?
– I have not seen the cable to which the honorable member refers, but the crux of the whole question is what will be the benefit of the British Consular service to Canada? Until we know what that is, I am not in a position to express an opinion.
– Is it not a fact that we have enjoyed those privileges from time immemorial ?
– It may be. I did not live in those days.
Electoral Officers’ Allowances - Federal Capital : Designs for Public Buildings - Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta Railway: Supply of Sleepers
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
Whether, in view of the probable extra work involved in the Federal Elections next year, the
Minister will consider the advisableness of making all Electoral Officers engaged by the Commonwealth a more liberal allowance for their important services?
– The matter is already under consideration.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
Whether all designs for public buildings in the Federal Capital will be open to public competition throughout the Commonwealth; and, if so, by whom and from what source will the assessors be selected?
– I am in favour of the designs for the principal public buildings in the Federal Capital being open to public competition; but the details, such as appointment of assessors, have not yet been settled.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is - 1 and 2. With the exception of a few required at the first for some sidings, and for which quotations were obtained, public tenders were invited for all the sleepers purchased for the Kalgoorlie-Port Augusta Railway. The tenders were advertised in the Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart, and Launceston newspapers, as well as the Commonwealth Gazette, and the timber people in each State had equal opportunities of competing for the supply.
In Committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message):
Motion (by Mr. Fisher) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act relating to Maternity Allowances.
Resolution reported, and adopted.
That Mr. Fisher and Mr. Hughes do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– In moving -
That the second reading of the Bill be an Order of the Day for Tuesday next,
I wish to intimate that we shall then go right on with the Bill until its consideration is completed.
- Mr. Speaker-
– Order ! The honorable member cannot debate this question.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 -
Section four of the Principal Act is repealed, and the following section inserted in its stead : - “4. (1) The provisions of section sixty-four . . shall . . . apply to a referendum . . . “
.- Exception should be taken to this clause which, if passed, will make it impossible to vote by post at a referendum. I wish to enter my protest against the abolition of postal voting, for it will hit a class of people who possibly will not be able to vote under any other system. Under the Electoral Act we provide for compulsory enrolment. Old and young, weak and strong, are required to see that their names are placed on the electoral rolls. That provision applies even to the bedridden ; yet it is now proposed to deprive such people of the only chance they have of recording their votes. This seems to be a most contradictory attitude for the Government to take up, and one for which there is no justification. The postal vote system has been largely availed of, and the fact that recommends itself strongly to me is that the number who have resorted to it has increased at each general election. Surely the Government should be prepared to give some very strong reason for proposing the abolition of a system that is more largely availed of at each succeeding election.
– In fact, according to the honorable member, after a time the ballot would not be necessary at all.
– Some years ago there used to be some talk of allowing every one to vote by post, whether they lived next door to a polling booth or not.
– How did the sick, the lame, and the lazy vote before the postal voting system was introduced?
– I do not know that they voted at all, but the object of an electoral law is to insure that everybody capable of giving an intelligent vote has a chance of recording it. That seems a democratic way to view the position. The
Government ought to show very strong and cogent reasons for abolishing a system. that is being, more largely availed of as time goes on. It is no argument for the Minister of Home Affairs to say that the system has been abused. If it has been, there is a law under which he can bring the offenders to book. I am satisfied that if the privilege has been misused, a few cases dealt with by the Courts in a proper manner would prevent many repetitions of the offence. That is a trouble that can easily be cured. Even if the privilege has been abused, the abuse must be very extensive to justify any one in saying that the public must be deprived of it. . The Government are taking a most (undemocratic course. They profess to be the apostles of Democracy in these days, but if this is a sample of the way in which they are carrying out their professions, they do not understand what the word “ Democracy “ really means. I am satisfied, judging by the way the matter was dealt with when the Electoral Bill was before us last session, that no protest from this side, however well founded, is likely to be listened to, and so I shall not labour the question. The public should know what is really being done, and that the Government who propose to do it have offered no justification for their peculiarly undemocratic action.
– I take this further opportunity, of protesting against the proposed curtailment of the right of the people to exercise at the ballot-box their privilege of returning members to Parliament to make laws for their government. I cannot help remarking again upon the complete volte face of the Labour party on this question. A few years ago, when the Electoral Bill was before the House, they insisted that postal voting was the inescapable and necessary complement of adult suffrage. Member after member of the party, including some of its most prominent men, among whom were the present Prime Minister, and, I think, the present AttorneyGeneral, and the present representative of . the Government in another place, insisted that adult suffrage would be a complete failure, a mere empty phrase, unless accompanied by the postal vote. They pointed out, as we are pointing out now, that there were certain sets of circumstances which would operate to prevent a large, number of voters, especially female voters, exercising the franchise, unless special facilities, such as were offered by, the postal vote, were provided for in the Bill. The absolute reason and logic of these arguments was generally recognised by the House, because, if the purpose of the Bill was to give effect to our franchise in the most complete way, this could be done only by providing facilities for those who were unable personally to attend at the various polling booths, to record their votes. It was recognised that the sick and infirm, those who were in hospitals, those who had met with accidents, those who were too enfeebled by age or infirmity to travel long distances, or even, in some cases, short distances, should not be prevented, by circumstances for which- they were in no way personally responsible, from exercising the highest rights of citizenship. The postal vote was introduced, therefore, to get over the obvious difficulty in their cases. Then, in the case of the female members of the community, it was admitted that annually a considerable proportion of women would, during an election period, be in a delicate state of health, performing those highest functions of maternity without which the population of the Commonwealth could not be maintained, and, therefore, would not be able to travel to record their votes at polling booths. Members of the present Labour Ministry and other members of the party were loudest in their demands that provision should be made in the Bill then under consideration to meet cases of that description. They insisted, with unanswerable logic, that the necessary corollary of adult suffrage was the postal vote, and, consequently, the postal voting provisions were put into the measure. We have been told since that the postal vote has been abused. We have not been furnished, by those who’ are in the best position to obtain evidence and present it to the House, with any serious evidence of specific cases where abuse of the system has been practised to such an extent, at any rate, as to warrant the wholesale departure from a sound democratic principle, If there have been isolated cases of abuse, as no doubt there have, means already exist in the Act for dealing effectively with them. If they have not been dealt with in that way by the Government that is responsible for the effective administration of the Electoral Act that fact is a censure on the Government themselves, and not upon the system. But, in spite of the allegations we have heard from the supporters of the Ministry concerning extensive abuses of the system, we can find no record of any cases which have been brought before the Courts. That argues one of two things: Either there has not been an extensive abuse of the system, or the Government themselves have been extremely lax in allowing offenders to go unpunished. The strong probabilities are that the system has not been abused, as supporters of the Government would have us believe. If it had been, we should undoubtedly have heard more about the evidence. Specific cases would have been cited, and our newspapers would have been flooded with references to them. But, even admitting for the sake of argument that the system may have been abused, there are remedies in the Act itself. It is not only the postal-voting sections that have been’ abused. The same must have happened in regard to the ordinary voting provisions. No doubt, every portion of the Act has been abused in some way or another. If the argument in relation to postal voting holds good, even assuming that the facts are as alleged, the same argument applies to every other kind of abuse of every portion of the Act, and, to be logical, honorable members opposite should advocate the repeal of every portion concerning which abuses can be alleged. If a man personates another at the polling booth, the portion of the Act which admits of an abuse of that kind ought to be repealed. If an electoral officer does something in contravention of the Act, the portion under which that abuse was committed should be repealed. Pursuing the same line of reasoning, every portion of the Act that may possibly have been abused should immediately be repealed. So that finally we arrive at the only logical conclusion, that the Electoral Act should be abolished altogether.
– So that we should exercise no discrimination as to parts of the Act which are abused more or less?
– The honorable member is trying to draw a redherring across the trail, and his argument is fallacious. Who is to determine what particular portion of the Electoral Act is more liable to abuse than another? I venture to assert that if there is one portion of the Act that has been more abused than another it is the ordinary provision, under which personation and double voting have taken place. Not only that, but voting over and over again has occurred in many cases, constituting a much graver abuse than any that has been alleged against the postal-voting system. If that argument be sound, the portion of the Act dealing with personation is the first to which we should address ourselves in the direction of repeal. The result of the pursuit of that policy would be that nothing of the Act would be left except its name. Everything else would be repealed. I strongly protest against any invasion of the right of the public to exercise their will and give expression to their views at the ballot-box. So far from restricting opportunities for the exercise of the franchise, we, as professed representatives of a Democratic community - representatives of the people, in whose hands alone lies the power to legislate, through their representatives in Parliament - should be extremely jealous to guard every privilege and facility that has been provided to enable the electors to record their votes. I must say that I am extremely ashamed and disappointed that the first inroad made upon the franchise, the first assault upon popular rights, has come from that party which professes especially to represent the people. It comes with an ill grace from them that they should be the first to deprive any section of the community of an opportunity to record their votes. It will stand as an indelible blot against the Labour party that they were the first party in politics to make an assault upon the franchise which we enjoy only as the result of centuries of effort on the part of those who preceded us.
– Is the honorable member aware that his honoured leader was by no means too sympathetic when postal voting was first proposed?
Mr.W. ELLIOT JOHNSON. - That does not affect the point in the least degree. The fact that somebody was opposed to an extension of voting facilities is no excuse for depriving people of a franchise which they possess. That is the point. In times gone by, there has been a strong and strenuous effort to broaden the fran-‘ chise, to extend power more and more into the hands of the people. That has been the policy of Radicals and Liberals for a great number of years. It is only as the result of those ceaseless efforts, which have caused many of those responsible for them loss of property, loss of prestige, and, in many cases, loss of life, that we have attained to our present broad and generous system of government. We in Australia, fortunately, have not had to suffer the struggles that were witnessed in Great Britain for this extension of power among the people. As a result of efforts in the past we have received considerable enlightenment, and are happily born in a generation free from the conflicts of past days. Our present power we have received as a magnificent heritage of liberty, hardly won for us by our forefathers ; and, having obtained it so cheaply, we do not appear to prize it at its true worth. This very often happens when people receive advantages and privileges for which they have not had to labour. We know how often, when a man from boyhood has struggled from the smallest beginnings to make himself prosperous, in the face of the most adverse conditions, and has achieved fame and fortune, his progeny dissipate the accumulated wealth he has left to them in the most reckless and prodigal fashion. So it is with our heritage of liberty; we received is as a free gift from those who had to suffer and bear the heat and burden of the conflict. We, as I say, prize it at its lowest possible value; and it is only when we have to struggle for the liberties, which we, apparently, are so ready to fling away, that we realizethe fact that, while it is easy to surrender them, it is most difficult to regain them.
– We should not take liberties with the ballot.
Mr. W. ELLIOT JOHNSON.Certainly not ; what we have to do is to punish ‘ those who do take liberties, and not those who use it honestly by depriving them of their rights in the future.
– Liberties were taken with the ballot at Werriwa.
– And elsewhere. I venture to say that the worst abuses of the electoral system were on the side of the party represented opposite, and were not in connexion with postal voting, but at the ballot-box itself. Personation, double-voting, and voting over and over again at various places, are alleged to have been extensively practised in some cases. These are the most difficult offences to detect, much more difficult than abuses of the postal system, which can be easily traced and punished. Ifthere have been these alleged abuses, the police records ought to show some evidences of the facts.
– Who makes the allegation?
– Who rnakes the allegations about the postalvoting abuses?
– The honorable member is deliberately saying that there have been abuses by the supporters of this side of the House.
– I say that it is so alleged.
– By whom?
– It is alleged generally; and I say that such abuses are more easy of accomplishment, more likely to happen, and more difficult of detection, than abuses of the postalvoting system. To be logical, the Ministry cannot stop at the mere abolition of postal voting, but should say that, as the ballot is liable to abuse, it also must go. This would mean a star chamber kind of business and open voting, perhaps in places under strict supervision, where every man would become marked for his political convictions. Once we commence to lop off a little liberty here and a little privilege there - once we commence to make inroads on the rights of citizens - we establish a precedent for further limitation. Where is this to end ? I have always been a lover of liberty ; freedom has ever been my guiding star in all my political thoughts and actions, and I resent very strongly this attempt to deprive people of an undoubted right. I hope there will be a sufficient number of honorable members to record a most emphatic vote against this proposal in the Bill.
– The honorable member for Lang is very much concerned about the proposal to abolish postal voting; and, apparently, he is voicing the opinions of, if not all, at least a good number of honorable members opposite and their followers. A reference to the statistics of the last Federal election and the Referenda would seem to indicate good grounds, from a party stand-point, for the opposition to this proposal.
– Is that the reason for the introduction of this Bill ?
– The honorable member may discover the reason for himself. Postal voting represented to the party opposite a very substantial return for the large sums that were spent in what is termed organizing work throughout the electorates.
– That is incorrect ; some of the Labour candidates got more postal votes than did the Liberal candidates.
– Very few. Prior to the last Referenda New South Wales was canvassed by paid canvassers to an extent, and with a thoroughness, never before witnessed there. Every little village and town had its paid organizers, male and female, and sometimes they were doublebanking each other.
– The Labour party have more paid organizers than we have.
– The honorable member is drawing on his imagination when he says that the Labour party is so wealthy as to be able, like the other side, to spend large sums of money in organizing, or in any other work of the kind. It is true, as stated by the honorable member for Lang, that at the outset the leaders in the Labour movement were advocates of the postal voting system. It must be remembered, however, that they advocated the system with considerable restrictions, because they foresaw the possibility of abuses ; and that gradually the restrictions originally imposed have been broken down. At an earlier stage of this Parliament, and prior to the last Federal election some restrictions of this method of voting were proposed as the result of the experience of its operation gained in the previous election. But, when the Fusion was accomplished, the amending Act, restricting the operation of the postal voting system was repealed, and the maximum opportunity for its operation was enacted by the Fusion party. In the first Parliament, elected under Commonwealth electoral legislation, the system was considerably restricted as compared with its operation later, and a considerable amount of abuse set in. I was a member of the Select Committee, appointed to investigate the effect of our legislation. I well remember that one of the witnesses who came before the Committee claimed to be one of the prime movers in a State political movement of the time known as “ The Kyabram Movement.” He was the secretary of an organization that grew out of “that essentially Conservative “movement in Victoria. He strongly advocated the extension of the system of postal voting. He would have no restrictions upon its operation. He thought that every elector should be allowed to please himself as to whether he should vote at a polling-booth, or by means of the postal voting system. He admitted that his advocacy of the system was due to the advantage which it would confer upon the political party to which he belonged. The Select Committee could not see their way to recommend the total abolition of the postal vote. But we admitted that, even at that early stage, some abuse of the system had occurred, and we recommended stricter provisions. Although, I supported postal voting originally, I found that it was open to abuse, and felt that it should be abolished, and provision made in some other way to overcome the difficulty which it was intended to meet. That has been my attitude towards the system ever since. The experience of each succeeding election has but emphasized the liability of this method of voting to abuse, and its danger to a free expression of Democracy. With respect to the argument of the honorable member for Lang, as to the alleged volte-face of members of the Labour party who were previously advocates of the postal voting system, I should like to remind him that members of that party were also at one time strong advocates of what was known in New South Wales as the electoral right system. There can be no doubt that by the introduction of that system previous abuses in the conduct of elections were remedied. But fresh abuses crept in under the electoral right system.
– With all its abuses it was better than the present system.
– I do not agree with the honorable member. It was alleged that proprietors of boarding establishments in Sydney registered boarders who remained with them sufficiently long to qualify for a vote, and held large numbers of electoral rights issued in the names of persons who had left the district or the State. I do not Enow whether it was proved, or was possible of proof, but it was believed that numbers of these electoral rights were sold to the highest political bidders, and the votes they represented recorded in defiance of the provisions of the Electoral Act. The abuse of the system grew to such an extent that the men who originally advocated it felt that, in the interest of the purity of elections, and the best interests of Democracy, that system had to go.
– What abuses were proved ?
– There was very substantial evidence forthcoming that the abuse of the system had reached much greater proportions than was indicated by the cases in which abuse was actually proved. Members ‘‘desirous of maintaining the purity of elections considered that, in the best interests of Democracy the whole system should be abolished, and it was abolished. Thesame remarks apply to the system of postal voting, and honorable members who, like myself, originally supported the system, on finding that it had been abused, were perfectly justified in removing this cause of abuse in the conduct of elections. In doing so, we have not restricted the right of electors to vote, because we have made provision by which electors absent from their electoral division on polling day may record their votes, at polling-booths in the division in which they, happen to be on that day.
– And it is left to the Minister to say whether such polling- booths shall be established.
– Nothing of the kind. It is provided in the Act that every Divisional Returning Officer, or Assistant Returning Officer, presiding at a polling-booth, shall be competent to receive the vote of any elector who happens to be outside of his own electoral division on polling-day.
– At a general . election, but not at a by-election.
– That is a defect which I hope the Minister will see his way to remedy by permitting an elector who is leaving his division to go to a Returning, or Assistant Returning, Officer in his electorate, and record his vote before he leaves the electorate. Or in other words,- applying to electors not going, outside the Commonwealth those provisions which are made to meet the case of electors who are going outside the Commonwealth during this period. I think that with that addition to our legislation - and that only applies to by-elections - all reasonable demands could be met. I do not go so far as to say that there is no possibility of abuse in the conduct of an election by means of the machinery provided, but I hold that it has been reduced to a minimum. Again-, the principle has been laid down that the conduct of the ballot shall be, as far as possible, in the hands of officials, that is, of men who have an official reputation and position at stake. The more completely the Department can bring that into use in conducting elections, the better it will be, and certainly the more satisfied will electors generally be. Very often, at present, the result of the ballot is taken down by men who outside the polling booth are very strong partisans, and generally partisans on the other side of politics. Whilst I would not say that they were not fair in the. conduct of the ballot, at the same time there is a feeling of . dissatisfaction among the
– How many officials would you require?
– At least, one official in each polling booth. And certainly the Divisional Returning Officer of an electorate, and the Subdivisional Returning Officers ought, at least, to be officials, even if it is admitted that it is not urgently necessary to extend the principle to every polling booth throughout the electorate. These officials have such large powers in the counting, in the conduct of the ballot, in registering the votes which are posted from electors, and in dealing with the. whole machinery of the Department, that they should not be private persons, but Commonwealth or State officers, for the reasons I have indicated.
– I would rather trust very many of the Returning Officers than very many of the officials.
– That has not been my experience.
– That is my experi- ence.
– If an official cannot be trusted to conduct this work properly, he cannot be trusted with the general work of the Department in which he is employed, and the sooner the Minister looks into the character and the conduct of an official of that character, the better it will- be for the Department, to say nothing of the pure conduct of elections.
– The same thing applies to the Returning Officer.
– I do not wish it to be supposed for a moment that I am alleging anything against persons who are non-officials. The feeling of the public outside is that where there is a choice a public officer ought to be employed to conduct these elections. The system of postal voting has been abolished for the reasons indicated. It does not mean that a large number of persons who have used this system, or may desire it, are debarred from exercising their votes. The means of casting a vote have been so extended that, either within his electorate, or outside his electorate, an elector may record his vote on general polling day. The person who is too ill tq go and record a vote is generally not in a fit state to be worried about voting at all. Medical men in hos
– I. have heard the honorable member for Calare speak here on many occasions ; but I have never heard him talk away from his subject to such an extent as he has clone this morning. Generally speaking, when he makes a contention, he comes up to the scratch and makes a straightforward effort to prove it; but to-day he has said, in so many words, that he is against postal, voting because it is abused, or because it affords the possibility of abuse. Then we had a statement from him on everything connected with matters electoral. He dealt with the question of organization, and complained of the number of organizers, which this side puts into the field. He talked about anything and everything electoral except the one point on which he was. supposed to say something in support ofhis contention.
– If the honorable member wants any more evidence, here is the report.
– The honorable member said that he is against postal votingbecause it admits of the possibility of fraud. My reply is that there is hardly anything connected with the electoralsystem which does not. The honorable member thinks that it is quite enough for this Government, who want to abolish postal” voting, that they have practically made the absent voters provision unlimited. Now, if there is anything which lends itself tofraud, it is the extension of that provision.
A body of men can go into a polling booth in Queensland and say to the electoral officer that they are on the roll for some electorate in Western Australia, and he has to take their word. If they do happen to be electors from Western Australia, and he refuses to accept their votes, he has to take the consequences of his act. He has to decide on the day that the polling is in progress. Thus persons may vote who are not entitled to do so.
– Their votes would not be counted.
– Of course- they would be.
– The signatures would have to be compared, and that is one of the most valuable safeguards we have in our electoral system.
– Of course, the ballot-papers of absent voters have to bear the signatures of the voters. But the absent voters provision is open to very grave abuse.
– Could the honorable member forge my signature ?
– I do not say that I could. If I attempted to do so, it would be for a good amount, and the cheque would certainly be honoured if the forgery were not detected. I say that the absent voters provision opens the door to fraud much more than did the postal voting system. Therefore, it is mere hypocrisy to urge that the latter should be abolished because it has been abused. It is significant that not a single case has been brought forward in proof of the statement that it has been abused. But even if there had been two or three cases of wrong-doing, ought the remainder of the 29,000 electors who availed themselves of that system to be disfranchised? Under our Electoral Act these breaches of the law may be dealt with. When the honorable member for Calare declares that the Government have done a fair thing by extending the absent voters provision as a substitute for the postal voting system, my reply is that they have done nothing of the kind. The real reason for the abolition of postal voting is that my honorable friends opposite found that their political opponents obtained more votes under that system than they did themselves. The postal vote may have been abused, but it is incumbent on those who desire to abolish it to. show that it has been grossly abused. They have not done that. They complain of the amount of money which was spent at the last referenda by supporters of the Opposition. What does it matter how much was expended so long as it was expended legitimately ? There has been a great outcry about the thousands of pounds which are alleged to have been spent in connexion with the referenda in New South Wales. But if there were persons in that State who were sufficiently public spirited to plank down their money for the purpose of educating the people upon a matter which touched them vitally, what have my honorable friends to complain of ? I do not suppose that more money was expended in the referenda campaign against the Government proposals than was expended in support of them, if we could only get at the real facts of the case. But it does not matter if millions of pounds were spent so long as the law was not broken. If political parties chose to send out paid organizers-
– To intimidate the workers’ wives in their homes.
– If they did anything of that kind they were guilty of breaking the law, and a remedy is provided for that. Why do not my honorable friends bring these people to book, instead of being content to rely on hearsay statements? We are running a very great danger as a democratic community if we first clip off one privilege, and then another, and thus curtail the liberties of the people.
– The difficulty of proof in such cases is one of the reasons why we desire the abolition of postal voting.
– As a matter of fact the Electoral Department has brought persons to book for abusing their rights under the postal voting system’. If an elector breaks the law in that connexion, and is fined for the offence, there will be very few persons who will be ready to incur the same risk. Even if the postal vote is liable to abuse, there is no reason why we should abolish it altogether. It is our duty to endeavour to preserve the liBerties of the people, and to give every elector an opportunity of recording his vote. It seems to me that honorable members opposite have resolved to abolish it simply because it has been found that the vote does not swing their way.
.- Because honorable members on this side of the chamber have said little in reply to the criticism of honorable members opposite, it may be presumed that there is not much to be said. Seeing that this question was fully debated on another measure, its rediscussion now does seem to justify the complaint that time is being wasted, but I should like to state very briefly why I am absolutely opposed to the principle of voting by post. Honorable members opposite nave thought fit, notwithstanding that at other times they have laid down some good moral principles to the contrary, to accuse us of a mere party desire to strengthen our position by taking away votes from persons the majority of whom have used them against the Labour party. It is not incumbent upon us to definitely prove against certain individuals charges of improper practices in reference to postal voting. It is sufficient to show that we have come to the conclusion that the principle is open to very grave abuse, and leaves the door wide open to undue influence. It is because the principle does leave the door open to abuse of that kind that I am opposed to it. I am convinced that abuses of a very real character have occurred. I do not make a specific charge against any individual nor against any party. I do not think I am called upon to do that. I should not be called upon to submit such proof, as- would be necessary if I were making a charge against individuals. If there has grown up in our minds such a strong suspicion as to cause us to lose confidence in the system,, it is not necessary to be able to prove specific cases of wrongdoing. When discussing this Bill on a previous occasion, the honorable member for Angas - to whose views the greatest attention is always paid by honorable members on both sides of the House - said that in considering the question of undue influence we had to bear in mind that, after all, our whole electoral policy is based upon persuasion, inducement, and advocacy. The whole thing, he said, was a matter of persuasion, and we should not be too sensitive on the question of undue influence. In advancing that argument, the honorable member overlooks the fact that, whilst it is true that the policy of persuasion lies at the base of our electoral system, that persuasion and advocacy are resorted to, in’ this case, only when the people have to record their votes. In other words, the time is then gone by for advocacy on one side or the other. Both sides have been heard, and heard- very often in loud and sometimes discordant terms. The evidence has been given, and’ the time has come for the people to exercise their judgment. So far as things terrestrial are concerned, their omnipotent power is to have sway. It is, to my mind, quite improper that any number of persons, at a time when they are delivering their matured judgment, should be subjected to undue influence, or that there should be a grave danger of their being subjected to influences of the kind. The policy of persuasion ends at the ballotbox. In my short experience of political life and campaigning there have been borne in upon me instances to satisfy me that persons who could have gone to polling booths -to record their votes have voted by post, and have been subjected to improper influence.
– There are dozens of cases of the kind.
– Why should they not vote by post?
– There are scores of cases. The honorable member for Wilmot directs attention to this very point when he says, as he did this morning, that voting by post is being used more and more as it becomes more generally known. That indicates the vicious results that are likely to grow from the policy.
– What is the difference, so far as the honorable member’s vote is concerned, whether he records it through the post or at a polling booth?
– I venture to say, with a sense, perhaps, of some self-satisfaction, that, in the particular case there would be no difference. Unfortunately,, however, we know perfectly well that many persons and classes of persons, through no fault of their own, are not in a position, if subjected to influence of the kind to which I refer, to exercise an independent choice. It is against our experience of human nature to suppose that persons are likely to record a vote, which completely realizes their views as to who should be elected, when they are called upon by some other person to whom they may be under a pecuniary or personal obligation, and who is interested in’ getting their vote recorded in a certain way. My own experience shows me that, in a good many cases, old-age pensioners have been induced to vote, in a certain way by reason of the representation that if they did not do so they would lose their pensions.
– By people on the honorable member’s side.
– I refuse’ to say that this charge applies to either side. I am not making a party charge. I say that the system is open to abuse; and I am not to be drawn into making a charge against those who, from the Opposition side of the House, have said that this is a purely party move by the Labour party to rid themselves of the votes of persons who, in the past, have voted largely against us.
– So it is ; several of the honorable member’s party have admitted that it is.
– Since honorable members opposite persist in making that charge against us, how do they get over the fact that, in so many electorates, where the Labour candidate secured a majority, he was in a minority so far as the postal vote was concerned ? Without making any charge, I say that that is a primafacie case of which honorable members opposite might well offer some explanation. It cannot be because there are more of the Liberal voters living more than 5 miles from the polling booth. Rather the contrary is the fact. It cannot be that more of their women voters find themselves in those circumstances under which they are provided for by the postal voting sections of the Act. The contrary again is the fact. It cannot be that there is more sickness amongst the friends of Liberalism, because the contrary is the fact.
– The honorable member for Maribyrnong said he had a majority of the postal votes.
– I think I had also at the last election, but if the honorable member turns up the returns he will find that, in a majority of cases, even where the Labour party were successful, they were in a minority of the postal votes, whereas, I do not think that in a single instance where the Liberal candidate was successful he was in a minority as regards the postal vote. Honorable members opposite might explain that circumstance. I cannot explain it, or rather, I am not going to, because if I did honorable members opposite would say that I was suggesting the use of improper practices. It is rather interesting to know how this system of voting by post was regarded by the friends of Liberalism when introduced into the Victorian Parliament in 1900, because the provisions of the Victorian law are practically identical with those which obtained in the Commonwealth law. Take the views expressed by Sir George Turner, who was afterwards the first Treasurer of the Commonwealth Par liament - a good Liberal, and a man of sound common sense and foresight. His remarks are all applicable to the Commonwealth law with regard to postal voting as we knew it. He said -
I am not going to say that if this proposal were” in force it would not be of some small benefit in the outlying parts of our Colony. But we have to ask ourselves whether the small benefit which might accrue to a small number of our voters is not outbalanced by the risks and . dangers of personation and intimidation which, to my mind, can be brought into effect under the provisions of this Bill.
So far as impersonation is concerned, that was to some extent modified in the Act as passed, but the question of intimidation remains in all its force.
– There were many more safeguards in our system than in the Victorian.
– The honorable member may be right as regards impersonation.
– No. I mean as regards voting. There is more trouble to get the vote.
– I do not think there is any difference in the two systems, so far as the risk of undue influence goes. Sir George Turner said f urther -
We have under our present electoral law many stringent precautions with regard to voting by ballot. Experience is showing us that these precautions are absolutely necessary to prevent fraud. And whenever we find that there is any chance of voting by ballot being rendered impure, or of our rolls being impure, we pass the necessary law . to see that the rolls and the system of voting by ballot are made as pure as it is possible to make them. We know that the great principle of voting by ballot is that a man can, without any fear, record his vote, knowing that the way he votes is absolutely secret. Before we abandon any of those precautions, we ought to be very careful to see that the evils which might arise under the new proposals are not greater than the difficulties that exist in the case of some of our voters at present, and that we do not, by any act, increase the facilities for committing frauds against our electoral laws.
And a little later he very aptly quoted the good old classic -
How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds Makes ill deeds done !
It might not be out of place to quote a great many good Liberals who appeared to have had valid and conscientious objections to the postal voting system at the time. It might not be out of place to quote Mr. Trenwith, who, on that occasion, said -
I say the possibilities for this kind of coercion exist under this Bill, and where possibilities exist, past experience teaches us that they will be taken advantage of.
That really sums up my own position.
– Is he a good Liberal ?
– We may take him as being an advocate of both sides, because he has spoken from both points of view at different times.
– But “the Labour party supported the postal voting system.
– I am not sure that they did. I know that they criticised it very severely. Mr. Trenwith said further -
Now, the ballot was fought for under very great hardship, and for a very long time before it was achieved, and this proposal is capable of vitiating very largely, detracting very largely from, the usefulness of the ballot.
I quite agree with what that gentleman said. The then honorable member for Essendon, who is now the honorable member for Ballarat in this Parliament, gave a very cautious support to the proposal at that time. He practically summed up his position in these words, which may serve to convince honorable members on the Opposition side that there is on our part a really conscientious, and not a mere captious or selfish, objection to postal voting -
My vote on the third reading will be entirely determined by the limitations the Government consent to introduce in .Committee. If they adopt such safeguards as in the opinion of honorable members will maintain the secrecy of the ballot, and the independence of voters, and if they limit the measure to the outlying districts of the Colony, and for a limited term, I shall be prepared to heartily support the third reading.
In that one sentence the honorable member practically anticipated every objection which we are now urging against the principle. The experience of South Australia was most unsatisfactory, and the experience of Queensland was such that the postal voting Act was wiped off the statute-book of the State. I have made these quotations in order to show the Opposition out of the mouths of their own friends that our objections to the postal voting system are genuine.
– Those speeches were all made before any postal voting was brought in.
– They were made on a Bill to introduce a postal voting system similar to that which, until last year, formed part of our electoral law.
– Now we have had experience of it.
– Is my honorable friend’s mind closed to the arguments of other men in other places with regard to this subject? I realize, as, of course, we all do, that a certain number of persons will be precluded from exercising the vote. Unfortunately, a great many people are unable, through sickness and other causes, to go to the poll on election day. That is the result of a decree of an all-wise Providence that we cannot overcome. But while we recognise that that is so, we say in a word that it is more important to preserve the purity and secrecy of the ballot from all kinds of undue influence than to try to overcome a difficulty by the suggested means. I will not say how this postal vote has operated as far as concerns the advantage of one party or the other. I, for one, am absolutely convinced that it has been open to very grave abuse. It has had its trial, and it has not come out unscathed. The judgment’ of the House ought to go against it. The honorable member for Lang, in that most inconsequential speech of his, raised an argument which will not stand the test of investigation. He was good enough to urge that, according to the test that I am submitting, all kinds of voting have been open to abuse, and that, therefore, the whole system of voting by ballot should go by the board. I wish to point out to the honorable member how utterly illogical and absurd such an argument is. It is open to this House to discriminate as to what is more open to abuse and what to less, to point out that this system of voting by post is peculiarly open to the abuse of undue influence, and to come to a determination accordingly. Notwithstanding the somewhat unkind remarks which the honorable member made as to the motives animating us on this side, we are justified in going straight ahead with our determination. Not long ago, when some one dared to question the honorable member’s motives on another matter, he cried out that it was very wrong to suggest that an honorable member on his side would be influenced by improper motives. We could not allude to any but statesmanlike motives then, but nothing is too bad to animate honorable members on this side. In voting against this measure I shall be assisting to abolish the postal voting system, with the confident belief that we shall be doing a good thing for Australia.
.- I have been largely drawn into the discussion by the apposite references of the honorable member who has just concluded his speech, he having intimated to me his intention to refer to the past. By so doing he has enabled me to refresh my memory. Acting on that hint, I have turned up the Victorian Hansard for 1900, when the question of postal voting was dealt with by the Victorian Parliament. At that time, apparently, only a South Australian measure providing for it was in force. The system was then in a very crude state, and its applicability or value had not been determined upon. The Government in power in Victoria at that time had as its head a late member of this House, Mr. McLean, and a present member of this House, the honorable member for Flinders, as Attorney-General. That Government brought in a Bill, from the debate upon which the honorable member for Batman has made his quotations. He has made them quite fairly. But I think he omitted to glance at ‘the Bill then submitted to Parliament, and to compare it with the measure as passed, from which it differed in toto. As introduced, it promised to be one of the most daring departures ever attempted in regard to electoral matters in any Australian constitutional Assembly. The then Attorney-General, in speaking of the provisions relating to voting by post, made these comments -
There are certain . principles running through this scheme which we have endeavoured to adhere to as closely as possible. One is, that this system of voting is entirely optional.
That is to say, it was not to be compulsory.
The idea naturally suggests itself that we might make voting by post a general application, in substitution for the existing system. Of course, the advantages of that are apparent. You would be able to do away with almost all the polling booths, and a great deal of the expense in connexion with elections, and so forth.
The Government of the day, assisted by the criticism they received in Parliament, both from friends and opponents, renounced this and other bold ventures. What kind of measure was then submitted? The then Leader of the Opposition, Sir George Turner, called pointed attention to its wide scope. In the debate reported in vol. 94 of the Victorian Hansard, page 312, Sir George Turner said -
By this Bill my honorable friend proposes that the application forms for ballot-papers are to be disseminated indiscriminately. They are to be supplied to the post-offices, to public buildings, to private stores, to schools, or to private houses, if thought necessary. Any one can get them. Any child at school can get one ct twu and take them home.
– It was the Bill of a Liberal Government?
– Sir George Turner was then in Opposition.
– There was one lot of Liberals on one side of the House, and another lot on the other?
Then the applicant, having got his form, simply has to sign it and send it to the Returning Officer, and he gets sent to him his ballot-paper. That ballot-paper he has to vote upon and send back, and he has to sign the counterfoil. There are precautions taken for ascertaining that the signature on the counterfoil and the signature on the application paper are written by the same person, but there is not the slightest precaution taken to see that the person who has made the application and sent it in is the person who is entitled to vote.
– That is different from my scheme.
– No. After some interjections, Sir George Turner proceeded -
There is nothing whatever to identify the person who makes the application and who ultimately votes with the person who is entitled to vote. All the person has to do, who gets this form by some means, is to make an application for a voting paper. Under the South Australian law he has to personally apply for it.
– And, for criticising these provisions, the honorable member for Batman regards the honorable member for Ballarat as being opposed to the postalvoting principle.
– I did not say so.
– He did not; but I shall come to that point in a moment. The Minister should remember that he, as one of those intent on suppressing the system of postal voting, has brought forward’ another system of his own, which, like the very system he has just been mocking at, depends on the signature of a man in any part of Australia. The “ absent vote “ depends on the signature of a man, not within the small portions of Australia known as Victoria or Tasmania, but of a man voting in any part of Australia. That signature is all the evidence on which a Returning Officer relies to say whether the vote is given by the man who signed, or by some other person in his name.
When such a proposal was made in the small State of Victoria in 1900, it was rejected on the ground that, although the applicants were in the neighbourhood, and the applications and signatures were sent to the Returning Officer of the division in which the voters were living, attested by the prescribed witnesses, the evidence was not sufficient even within our extremely limited area. That system is ridiculed by the Minister himself to-day, and yet he is about to apply it to all Australia with no other safeguards whatever. The whole question turns on the signature of the man. lt must not be forgotten that the great body of nomadic employes in shearing, and other industries, who move from State to State, are men, and that the concession is made, therefore, practically to the men voters of Australia. How is that consistent with the proposal to deprive women of their votes when, from natural causes, they are unable to present themselves at the ballot-box ? The second reading of the Bill introduced in the Victorian Legislature, in 1900, was carried by only one vote; and my support on that occasion was, as the honorable member for Batman showed, made subject to conditions then adopted without which it would have been impossible to get the odd vote. That is an important consideration, which has to be taken into account in connexion with all the extracts already read by the honorable member.
– The honorable member must recall what I said about the objection as to undue influence.
– Quite so; but, while I think that point much narrower than the honorable member supposes, it is an element which we cannot eliminate entirely under any system. It has not been eliminated, by Ministers in regard to absent voters, but is permitted with them. Why not with others? As I have said, those who vote are men associated together as shearers, and most of them united by the bonds of their trade unions.
– They have to go to a polling booth, the same as have the men of the factories elsewhere.
– They have to go to a polling booth which they have never seen, and where they have never been seen before. The signing of a name is the only safeguard.
– Was there a card system connected with the Victorian proposal ?
– That is very different from the Commonwealth system. The card system is just the same as the system of giving letters of credit.
– All that the honorable member can claim for the card system is that it furnishes a convenient form for the signature which has to be verified on a card. In Victoria, the application was signed on a formal paper, and fulfilled exactly the same purpose ; the only and inconsiderable difference is that the Minister has substituted pasteboard for paper. But the signatures in that case are not attested by authorized witnesses. The only way in which it was possible to secure the second reading of the Victorian Bill was, as I have said, by pointing out that the very ambitious scope of that Bill, as it was introduced, and the laxity’ of its safeguards, rendered it an undesirable measure, until it was severely conditioned.
I have only a remark or two to read in order to make my attitude a little plainer than it was quite fairly made by the honorable member for Batman. What I ventured to say, as reported on page 429 of the Victorian Hansard, was as follows : -
Let us try this experience to a limited degree. If it fail I should be guided by experience and should give up - with some regret, I admit - the attempt to enlarge our electoral returns. It may prove a success; but, if at first we don’t succeed, according to the childish ballad, we may have to try again until we have attained the object we have aimed at.
Mr. Sadler. ; We should not play with a dangerous thing.
– If you refrain on all occasions from “ playing “ with what may be described as “ a dangerous thing,” you will have no liberal and progressive legislation at all.
– Hear, hear ! The karri sleepers !
– No; I admit that the karri sleepers are dangerous. I went on to say -
We are constantly accused by our conservativefriends of “ playing with dangerous things.” We are accused of “ striking at the foundations of society,” and told that every one of our proposals is perilous. Every one of those great social measures upon which some of our hearts are most intently set is, according to the description of their opponents, a proposal of a most dangerous description. No supposed risk need deter us from instituting this reform, provided we adopt reasonable means to provide against all the dangers that can be foreseen. Every step we have taken in the direction of the extension of the franchise has been denounced as a danger. This is a proposal which, in its bare principle, is one for the extension of the franchise, and as such should receive the most friendly consideration of every Liberal.
In further explanation of my particular position, I said -
In deference to the opinion of some of my honorable friends on this side of the House, I am’ modifying my opinion to some extent. Otherwise I should have been prepared to go much further than they are. . . . But it is surely in our power to remove the dangers attending the experiment, and if we can do that it will possibly- I should prefer to say prob ably - be the means of increasing the hold which the legislative bodies have upon the country, and, more important still, increasing the control which the country has over the legislative bodies which are supposed to represent it.
By this means we scraped through the second reading by one vote. The extent to which it was approved as it became better understood, and surrounded with the necessary safeguards to prevent fraudulent voting, intimidation, and other abuses, may be judged from the fact that the third reading of the measure was carried unanimously in a full House.
Absolute exclusion of intimidation and all undue influence is practically impossible. There will always be odd cases, I hope they will be few, in which these forces will be exercised. I undertake to say that they are exercised to-day, and will be exercised a very great deal more by supporters of my honorable friends opposite than by supporters of this side. Owing to our new circumstances to-day, the power which was once possessed and enjoyed by the wealthy and employing classes has been transferred, and now exists as a far greater power, so far as political matters are concerned, in the hands of those who are employed. Their control exceeds anything that employers now dare attempt to exercise, even if they were so disposed. It appears to me that we are now approaching a time when we may reasonably expect a turn of the tide. I can understand men who have smarted under abuses which existed in the past using the same class of weapons in a different form in their own interests. What we are all looking forward to is the time when all these weapons shall be laid aside, and the only means employed by any political party shall be endeavours to convince the reason and judgment of the people at large.
– I find that the honorable gentleman did not vote on the second reading of the Bill, nor is his name included in the “ Pairs.”
– I had not noticed that. I accept the honorable gentleman’s word for it.
– It is only fair to say that every Labour member I recognise in the division list voted against it, so that this is no new thing.
– The point is that it was a new thing. There has never been such a law before or since in Victoria. The law in South Australia was not the same.
– The proposal met with the opposition of Labour members on the occasion referred to.
– On the second reading, yes. I have no objection to that fact being stated. The Bill was transformed before the third reading. My own absence from the House meant that I had then the responsibility, as I have still, of earning my living. Did the division take place directly the House met ?
– No; the division was taken at a few minutes before11 p.m.
– I cannot understand how it is that I was not “paired.” It may have been due to an oversight on the part of the Whip, as the previous debates show that I used whatever influence I possessed in favour of the measure. .
Apart from the democratic claims of this proposal, it seems to me an absolute inconsistency on the part of my honorable friends opposite to deprive of their votes women whose absence from the poll is owing to circumstances over which they have no control, and which make it impossible for them to vote at all unless they vote by post. They can number only a few thousand throughout the Commonwealth, and must represent but a trifling proportion of the total vote of Australia. Yet this Government goes out of its way to deprive them of a vote in circumstances of extreme hardship. Even if this did permit in their case of some special opportunity of influence and direction, it could not do so in a sufficient number of cases to justify the action of the Government. Yet at the same time they are coupling with the proposal to abolish the postal vote specially attested, these other proposals for an “ absent vote “ which may be exercised throughout the Commonwealth under circumstances which render it far less subject to supervision, and capable of being abused a hundred times for once that the system of voting by post can be abused by women. There could not be a greater contradiction or more absolute antithesis than the inclusion of these two conflicting proposals in the same measure by the same Government.
This points again to the unfortunate fact that a sense of real or imagined injustice and domination in the past still sways the judgment and conscience of my honorable friends opposite to an extent that nothing else could do. and which nothing can justify. When the Government provides opportunities for the stalwart men of the community to exercise their electoral right at a distance from means of identification, surely women carefully identified by local authorized witnesses, who are unable to attend a polling booth through no fault of their own, but owing to circumstances which we propose to recognise and honour by other legislative action, should not be deprived of the opportunity to vote by post. The one proposal is so absolutely in contrast with the other that I cannot understand its submission at this stage. I suppose that one can do no more than express a pious hope that honorable members opposite will not persist in this path, but will at least restore that partial measure of equity which is in their power by allowing the postal vote to be renewed for the satisfaction and justice of a few thousand - or, at all events, a very small fraction - of the electors of Australia, especially at a time when they are recklessly straining our electoral system to breaking point in order to preserve the franchise for men who are well able to look after themselves in electoral as in all other matters.
– I think that, on this clause, we can clearly reconsider the wisdom of abolishing the postal vote. Whatever objection might’ have been taken to the application of the postal vote to the election o’f members of Parliament, it would not apply with the same force to referenda proceedings, because referenda questions may fairly be regarded as impersonal, and, therefore, not even involving the possibility of that undue influence ‘to which .reference has been made by the honorable member for Batman. I admit that he has very fairly and impartially summarized the objections to the postal vote. His objections, taken in such careful, well-considered terms, may be compared with the extreme objections raised by such members as the honorable member for Gippsland, who made a ruthless, unqualified attack on the system of postal voting, absolutely contending that it had been grossly abused, particularly in his own State. The honorable member for Batman, however, approached the question in a more judicial frame of mind. iHe candidly contended that he was not called upon to prove actual abuse or illegal practice, and he did not attempt to prove either of these grounds of objection. He contended that the mere possibility of being open to the sus picion of abuse was a ground for abolishing the postal vote. But I venture to say that such an objection is hardly sufficient to justify the abolition of a facility which has .been legalized, not only by the Commonwealth, but by nearly all the States, and which has been found to work fairly and reasonably well. The honorable member for Gippsland suggested that this system had been abused, particularly in his own State ; but he was not prepared to give any proof in support of that contention. No proof whatever was given.
– He asked how it was that more postal votes were cast in Melbourne than in the whole of Victoria.
– Yes, he did ask that question, and the answer was, not that those votes were given by means of undue influence or illegal practice, but that because of Victoria being a smaller State territorially than New South Wales, or Queensland, or Western Australia, there were more efficient organization and better opportunities for bringing into operation the machinery of the postal-voting system.
– How is it that there was more postal voting in the city than even in the country?
– It may have been owing to the greater amount of organization, and to greater knowledge.
– There is no doubt about the organization.
– Organization does not mean improper or illegal practices.
– Not with our party.
– The organization was all right.
– The Labour party is admittedly the most strongly organized party in Australia, but it does not follow, therefore, that its organization is illegal or corrupt. It has agents at work for propagating political views, for advocating its cause, for canvassing, without fee or reward, and for inducing persons to go to the poll. Organization does not necessarily mean illegal practices. It is an essential part of any democratic system. I only wish that our party was as well organized as is the Labour party. If we were, we would always have a better chance of winning at the poll. However, there is a good time coming, when we hope to be able to follow its good example.
– You spend ^1,000 to our £1
– I do not think that there is anything to justify that statement. It is well known that the Labour party makes forced levies on the ranks of the labouring classes. The men have to give whether they like it or not.
– That is not correct.
– On our side, the contributions are free and voluntary; but on the other side, if a man does not pay his political contribution, he is turned out of the league, or out of the union, and is called a “ black’-leg,” I have no doubt.
– Not out of the union.
– Out of the union, undoubtedly.
– At any rate, there is a well-studied, carefully-prepared system of exacting contributions towards the political funds which we do not possess, and do not want. We believe that political agitation or campaign work should be founded upon freedom, and not on force or compulsion. However, that is an issue which is not involved in connexion with postal-voting. Our organization, which resulted in securing a larger number of postal votes, cannot be proved to have been unfair, or improper, or corrupt. It may have been that we had more people engaged in finding out those who wanted postal votes.
– Who had more money.
– There can be no doubt that the machinery for the exercise of the postal-voting system does involve a considerable amount of labour and trouble, and, incidentally, expense, because you cannot get these special witnesses to make journeys in order to take part in the preliminary process of witnessing an application and the final process of witnessing a vote, without having to convey them, it may be, for a considerable distance. They cannot be expected to walk or to pay for their own conveyance Therefore, naturally, conveyances had to be provided for bringing them to atteni upon intending voters. These are the reasons why the voting system does involve a certain amount of trouble and expense; and, therefore, some form of organization is absolutely necessary; and that, probably, was the secret of our securing a larger number of postal votes in Victoria than in any other State.
– That requires a good deal of explanation.
– It is reasonable and rational. The only ground of attack suggested by the honorable member for Gippsland, one of the most fierce assailants of this system outside the ranks of the Labour party, was that more postal votes were used in Victoria than in any other State, and, therefore, these votes were the result of illegal practices. There was no reason given for that contention.
– I admit that I got my share.
SirJOHN QUICK.- I suppose that the honorable member had a majority.
– Considering that I beat my opponent by 10,000 votes, I had.
-Many other Labour candidates had a majority of the postal votes.
– I had a majority of them.
– The honorable member wants to abolish postal-voting, I suppose, because the Labour party did not get a majority of the postal votes in alt the electorates. If that be not the reason for the annihilation of the system, the honorable member for Batman suggests two reasons, and I think that they are certainly more entitled to consideration and reply than are those advanced by the honorable member for Gippsland. One was the possibility of undue influence being used.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– I propose to deal with two objections which were urged against the system of postalvoting by the honorable member for Batman, namely, that it is open to the suspicion that undue influence may be exercised, and that it may possibly contribute to the violation of the secrecy of the ballot. Regarding the first objection, I would point out that any system of voting lends itself to the possibility of undue influence being brought to bear on the elector. The extent of that possibility will depend upon the voter’s state of political enlightenment and political independence. In Australia the time has happily passed when many persons could be coerced or cajoled into voting against their convictions. People are too educated and too independent to be subject to undue influence which, in the old days, formed one of the grounds for attacking the validity of elections. Let me apply the possibility of undue influence to the case of persons who could formerly vote by post. These, persons were divided into three groups. The first of these is defined by section 109 of the Electoral Act as -
Any elector -
who has reason to believe that he will on polling day be more than five miles from the polling place for which he is enrolled.
It is obvious that the knowledge that an elector would not be within the prescribed radius of a polling place upon polling day must have been knowledge exclusively within his or her possession. Strangers would not be aware of an elector’s intention to be more than 5 miles distant from a polling place in the electoral division for which he or she was enrolled on polling day. If they were in possession of that information it is plain that they must have derived their knowledge from the voter himself. It was barely open to canvassers to discover that particular electors would be more than 5 miles distant from any polling place in the electoral division for which they were enrolled on polling day, unless the electors themselves communicated that information to them. Consequently, there was very little possibility of undue influence being exercised in that case. Of course, undue influence may be exercised in cases where voters are incompetent to resist it. But that time has largely disappeared from the sphere of practical politics. We have now arrived at a stage in our history when we are proud to know that law and order obtains, and when electors, except those who are so weak minded as to really be unfit to exercise the franchise are beyond the reach of coercion. We cannot legislate for such persons. The section which I have quoted was the most convenient provision connected with the system of postal voting, because it enabled persons who resided more than 5 miles from any polling place, in the division for which they were enrolled, to exercise the franchise without being compelled to travel long distances. Of course, that difficulty would hardly arise in great centres of population such as Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, or Ballarat. But in the remote regions of Australia it is almost impossible to have polling places as close as 5 miles to the residences of many voters without unduly inflating our electoral expenses. In a democratic community I think we should facilitate the opportunities of voting so that those who are indifferent to their duty in this connexion may not be able to plead the difficulties of travel. In these days candidates are not allowed to make pro vision for the conveyance of voters to the poll. Conveying a voter to the poll is an illegal act for which a penalty is provided. Seeing that we are not allowed to convey electors to the poll from distant localities it is only reasonable that facilities for voting should be granted to those who reside outside of the recognised radius.
– It would be better to permit candidates to convey voters to the poll than to revive the postal voting system.
– I cannot see what harm was involved in allowing electors to be conveyed to the poll by candidates. However, this Parliament deemed it advisable to prohibit such action, and to exclude candidates’ expenses under that heading. Of course, there is nothing to prevent a candidate conveying a voter to the poll in his own conveyance-
– My opponent had a dozen taxi-cabs running at the last election.
– If a candidate pays a cabman a reasonable remuneration for assisting to take electors to the poll he is guilty of an illegal act, and if his candidature be successful he is liable to forfeit his seat. If we wish to prevent electors being conveyed to the poll, we ought to grant facilities to enable those who reside beyond the recognised radius to exercise the franchise. We can do that only by some well-regulated system of postal voting. I come now to the second group of electors who were allowed to vote by post under the old Act. They are set forth in paragraph b of section 109, namely, any elector - who being a woman believes that she will on account of ill health be unable on polling day to attend the polling place to vote.
That facility was conceded to women on account of the ill health to which they are peculiarly liable, and in respect to whom it would not be feasible to make provision for conveying them to the polls. It was deemed prudent in the interests not only of free voting but of humane legislation to provide that they should be allowed to vote in the privacy, seclusion, and security of their own homes. That was a just provision to make. Why should women, in the performance of one of the most sublime functions of the human race, be excluded from exercising the franchise during their period of disability? It was wise originally and would still be wise to make provision of the kind for the special accommodation of women in such circumstances. It is said that the objection is that the postal voting system conceded to women in such a condition renders them liable to undue influence. I appeal to honorable members to say whether in the ordinary conditions of life women so situated, and living generally at home, under the protection of their husbands, and surrounded by family securities, do not enjoy absolute immunity from the invasion of the ordinary political canvasser? The ordinary canvasser, who might be suspected of endeavouring to unduly influence women so situated, would be excluded from the sanctity of the home in such circumstances, so that I fail to see how he or any one else interested in a political campaign could have an opportunity to bring to bear, within the meaning of the objection, undue influence upon women so situated.
– The honorable member’s assumption is not borne out by the facts.
– It is a reflection on the husbands and families of the women to say that they are not so protected.
– The average husband has his work to attend to.
– A husband naturally protects his wife, and, if he suspected the intrusion of any undesirable canvasser, would provide such securities as he thought fit. But it is monstrous to assume that even ordinary political agents, whether they be on the Labour or the Liberal side, would be so inhuman as to endeavour to invade the sanctity of the home under such conditions, with a view of influencing women in their vote. Then, again, a woman coming within this provision would be a married adult of mature age, and could be fairly assumed to have intelligence and discretion, so that if any one did, without the permission of the husband, find access to the home, she would be quite capable of protecting herself and resisting any undue attempt to influence her vote.
– The honorable member is assuming that only married women are in the state of health referred to.
– I assume that women in this state of health are deemed to be in the married state. We are not legislating for any illegitimate condition of ill health. Generally speaking, such a woman, whatever her rank in life, is in the possession of intelligence and judgment. If her husband were absent on the occasion of such a visit, she would be quite capable of defending herself, and of asking to be allowed to consult her husband. The suggestion of undue influence being brought to bear on married women in that condition is not reasonably sustained, and should not be a sufficient ground for withdrawing the franchise from them. The third group of persons for whom voting by post was provided is set forth in paragraph c of section 109, namely, those persons - who will be prevented by serious illness or infirmity from attending the polling place on polling day.
That group includes both men and women, and the remarks I applied to the former group would apply, to a large extent, to these persons. If they were so sick as not to be able to attend a polling booth, they would probably be confined to their rooms, and would be poor, indeed, if they were not surrounded by some family protectors, who would guard- them against undesirable intrusion on the part of those who were endeavouring to bring about undue influence. I contend, therefore, that this allegation of undue influence is a mere suggestion. It has no solid foothold. A system which has worked successfully in all the States, as well as in connexion with Federal elections, should not be condemned and” abolished merely on suspicion, or the bare chance of undue influence. The honorable member for Gippsland went too far in RSserting that the system had been abused” when he had no proof of abuse, whereasthe honorable member for Batman does not go far enough when he says that it ought not to be abolished on the mere suspicion of its being open to undue influence. Political and civil rights ought not to be assailed and taken, from people merely on suspicion.
– I said there was enoughevidence to satisfy me.
– Rights ought not to be taken away on suspicion or the barepossibility of abuse. If there had been a systematic violation of the law - if it could” be proved that even a small percentage of the 30,000 votes recorded by post at the last general election was the result of undue influence - that might be the basis of strongand serious objection $ but none of the votes- so recorded have been proved to have been the result of undue influence. I move -
That after the word “ of,” line 3, the following words be inserted : - “Part X., ‘Voting by Post,’ of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902-1909 and of.”
.- It will be within the knowledge of every honorable member that, for many years past, we have been gradually increasing the facilities for voting, and the number of persons entitled to vote. Every decade has witnessed a substantial advance in this direction, and I do not think there are very many people who are prepared to take up a position of antagonism to that. It is generally recognised that wherever there is taxation there should be representation, and every person is entitled to the franchise who has to bear a share of the burden of the cost of government, and to be governed by the Legislature of the land. Strange to say, it has remained for a Government which, of all Governments, poses as democratic to reverse the process, substantially diminishing, instead of increasing, the facilities for voting.
– We are purifying the ballot, anyhow.
– That is very questionable. The method of absent voting now being adopted by the Electoral Department will be fruitful indeed in possibilities of corruption. I have very serious misgiving whether this method, by which a person resident in Victoria may vote in Queensland or elsewhere, will not lead to a very large number of votes being improperly recorded.
– Then you think there is too great a facility for voting?
– There is too great a facility in that direction. It is a proposal in the direction of giving facilities to those who are of a nomadic character, whereas the facilities for a large section of the community whom, generally speaking, every man honours, respects, and reveres, are being decreased. The abolition of the postal vote, as proposed in this clause, means the curtailment of the privileges of that particular class of the community under those peculiar conditions which render them the most entitled to consideration. It will prevent them, as reputable, honorable, and valuable members of the community, from exercising the franchise which we, as Liberals, say should be accorded to every person in the community. Is it not a singular thing that this should have been proposed by a Labour Government? One is astounded to think that those who propose this line of action pose as Liberals. They are really rank Conservatives, obviously determined to safeguard the interests of a section as against the interests of a whole community. Why are we asked to take this step? It has been averred by the honorable member for Batman that there is quite enough evidence to justify him in thinking that the postal vote has been misused. I venture to say that, in that regard, he is a man very easily satisfied, and I would suggest that he place himself in communication with those who are high up in the Electoral Office. Those gentlemen, to their credit be it said, pride themselves upon securing to the utmost of their power the absolute purity of the ballot- . box and of the vote. If you question them, they will tell you that, so far as they know, not a single genuine case, which can be substantiated, has come under their notice proving that this system has been unworthily or improperly used.
– What about Lesser, J. P., of Coleraine, who was fined
– I do not know that particular case, but if it is well authenticated or established, and the man has not been prosecuted by the Electoral Department, this House ought to pass a vote of censure on the Department and its administration.
– It is a clear case, showing that abuse has entered into the postal-voting system.
– That, perhaps, is the exception which proves the rule - the one default which proves the generally honest observance of the principle. Surely, if there has been this gross breach of propriety in regard to postal voting, some knowledge of a general character would have come to the Department in regard to some specific cases - not an isolated case. The Department, however, will tell you, if you inquire, that such is not the case.
– What officer will say that?
– I am not justified in naming officers in this House, but I recommend the honorable member to go to some of the high and more important officers of the Department, and make his inquiries for himself, as I have taken the trouble to. do. Upon a mere suspicion that wrong things had been done, upon reports alleged to have been made, which doubtless upon investigation did not justify prosecution, some thousands of the most reputable, honorable, and desirable people in the community are to be disfranchised. We are dishonoring our womanhood ; vye are dishonoring our mothers, our sisters, and our wives.
– Let the honorable member speak for himself.
– I am referring to the honorable member, and others who support the abolition of the postal vote. It has always been a primary principle of Liberalism to maintain equal rights, opportunities, and representation. But that principle is being abrogated on this occasion. If this House insists upon doing this wrong, I do not hesitate to say that the women ought to assert themselves and to find direct representation in this Chamber to keep us straight and right.
– Miss Goldstein is going to stand for Kooyong.
– Miss Goldstein is a back number, who has contested many elections.
– Listen to the great defender of women !
– Ladies are never back numbers.
– The honorable member is outside the pale altogether.
– I mean to say that very little has been done in this House since I have had the honour of being a member, which appears to me to discredit Parliament more than this particular measure, because it inflicts an injustice by depriving a section of the community of a right. It also creates a condition of inequality which ought not to exist.
– And when a lady puts up as a candidate, the honorable member calls her a “back number.”
– If honorable members opposite will make intelligent interjections, I shall be prepared to take notice of them. I am here, as a representative of an important constituency, to fight for the rights of the highest and noblest half of humankind. Their interests and rights are being reft from them by these means. Our whole political fabric is founded on the right of the people to express their views at the ballot-box, and it is essential that Parliament should see to it that no facilities are granted for improper action. That object is secured by the system of postal voting which has .been evolved. I do not refer to the crude system to which the honorable member for Batman alluded. There were many grave objections to the system as first introduced. But, by a gradual process of evolution, postal voting has been made so perfect that we are justified in assuming that no person can violate the law without running just as great a risk as does any other person who violates any other section of the Electoral Act. No proof has been adduced that postal voting was abused. We have merely had general assertions. Cases, I believe, have been submitted to the Electoral Office which, on investigation proved to be untenable. But, apart from those, there is no justification for the serious step now being taken in depriving thousands of people of their votes. I am satisfied that they will resent it. This action will take a boomerang character. The Government will throw their weapon, but it will come back upon hem with tremendous effect. My experience shows me that there is a general feeling of resentment throughout the country against this amendment of the law. I urge the Government seriously to consult their own political welfare, and to hesitate before committing an act which common sense, righteousness, and a sense of justice leads us to know is a wrong done to a section of the community. I have no wish to enter into details, which have been thoroughly treated by the Leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for Bendigo; but I say, upon broad general principles, that a great wrong is being inflicted upon a most worthy section of the community.
.- I had not any intention of addressing the Committee on this” question, but almost every speaker from the Opposition side has been asking for proofs of abuse of the law, and I wish to respond to their challenge. The honorable member who has just resumed his seat has, on two or three occasions, repeated that no cases of abuse have occurred, or been reported to the Electoral Office, upon which action could be taken. I know from my own experience that that statement is absolutely incorrect. I have made this assertion in the (House before, and it will stand repetition. The honorable member for Bendigo, in dealing with those parts of the measure which affect the postal vote, overlooked the fact that the intention of Parliament was that that means of voting should be dealt with by honest people. But when we find that it is manipulated by dishonest people, it is time that the law should be altered. In New South Wales, one of the most liberal land laws that was ever promulgated was that put upon the statutebook at the instance of the late Sir John Robertson. But no law was more abused, and it had to be altered to prevent the evils that occurred. When the postal method of voting was introduced, it was intended to give bond fide facilities to those who knew that on polling day they would be more than 5 miles away from any polling place. There was abundant proof that postal votes were obtained by people who, not only were not 5 miles away, but not 500 yards away, and who were actually working as canvassers in the neighbourhood on the election day. A number of cases of the kind could be cited and proved.
– It is strange that they never have been proved.
– I am speaking from personal experience, and I ask honorable members to accept my word. I quite agree with the honorable member for Bendigo that the intention in framing the Act was to apply it to married women whose condition rendered it injudicious for them to attend at the polling booth ; but if we analyze the votes we find that the postal vote was not used by this legitimate class, but was very seriously abused by others of the same sex. As to undue influence, no one knows better than the honorable member for Bendigo that there are a number of ways in which it can be wielded. No person would go up to another and abuse or threaten him in order to influence his vote; such a person would know that he was bringing himself directly within the law. Undue influence is exercised in other ways, and I can cite a. few instances in the Riverina. Some people can exercise greater influence than others, such as employers over the employed. The Minister of Home Affairs at the time, and others, including myself, know that managers of stations, acting in the dual capacity of employers and accredited witnesses, with the powers given them as justices of the peace, went to persons in their employ, and, although not saying in so many words that, if the vote was not given as they desired, the voter need not seek for any further employment, intimated their desires. Those managers received the postal applications and the votes ; and I was prepared to prove, and would have proved had the papers been available, that many of the votes were never put in the ballotbox. Where a man honestly voted according to his convictions, and . the vote did not suit the manager, it was not forwarded to the Returning Officer.
– A man is liable to a very heavy penalty for that.
– I know ; and one of my first actions in this House was to move for the production of the documents, but the honorable member for Swan, who was then Minister of Home Affairs, informed me that the voting papers had all been burnt.
– They should not have been burnt as early as that.
– Technically and legally the Minister of Home Affairs, at that particular time, was within his rights. I am glad to say, however, that that abuse has been remedied by an amendment of the law, and there cannot be another similar occurrence.
– And a good job, too!
– It is. There were many other cases of exceedingly improper procedure. For instance, is there a class of man who has more influence over the people, especially over those who have overdrafts, than the banker ?
– Hear, hear !
– I dare say honorable members have felt that influence; at any rate, I have myself. In my own experience, a case occurred where a banker, who is also a justice of the peace, made it his business to go from house to house to secure postal votes; and I was. in a position to prove that, in two cases at least, he had absolutely given electors to understand that, if they did not vote as he wished, they would have to meettheir liabilities at once. There were other cases of the kind, and when the honorable member for Echuca said that no cases had been reported to the Department - that no officer of the Department could say any such case had been reportedI interjected that he was incorrect.
– The honorable member for Echuca said that if the honorable member for Riverina went to the Department he would change his opinion.
– I understood the honorable member for Echuca to say that if I or any one else went to the Department we would find no officer to say that any case had been reported on which actios would be justified.
– No, no; I did not say that no cases had been reported, but that no cases had been proved.
– There were two ladies, very high in the land, and known to other honorable members present, who applied for and obtained a postal vote, and sent it along in the ordinary way, and then deliberately presented themselves at the polling booth in order to get an additional vote. That case was reported; and I wished to know at the time why no action was taken?
– That is not many cases out of 30,000 electors.
– I am merely citing cases that came within my own experience; and this was a case in which action should have been taken at once. The Labour party were not in power then.
– Does the honorable member say that cases have been reported to the Department that have not been . investigated ?
– I say that that case was reported to the Department by the Returning Officer, and that no action was taken. The Government in power then was that in which the honorable member for Swan was Minister of Home Affairs.
– It was a long time ago.
– It does not matter how long ago it was; the 1861 Land Act of Sir John Robertson was passed a long while ago. The honorable member knows what occurred under that Act as well as I do. It was a good Act; but, because it was abused, it had to be amended. In the same way, the postal-voting provisions of our electoral law have been so seriously abused that we should be recreant to our duty if we did not abolish them.
– Including the provision for absent voters?
– No; I should not include the provision for absent voters.
– I am aware that the honorable member would not.
– It is the concomitant of the abolition of the other.
– Do honorable members opposite desire to abolish the absent voters’ provisions ?
– They would like to do so. I regret very much that some means cannot be devised to enable women, in deserving cases, to honestly record their yores. But honorable members opposite would have us believe that the whole, of the women of Australia will suffer from the abolition of the postal-voting provisions. That is not so. The honorable member for Echuca just now informed us that there will be no check upon absent voting, but I say that the absent voters’ provisions cannot be abused, and I shall endeavour to show why. Under the new electoral system an applicant for registration as an elector must attach his signature to a card. The first election after he has applied for registration may not take place for two or three years. Would any one contend that it would be possible for any person to retain, for two or three years, so vivid a recollection of the applicant’s signature as to be able to imitate it in such a way as to avoid detection? It is absolutely impossible. The elector’s card is retained in the Electoral Branch of the Home Affairs Department. If any person presents himself in any part of the Commonwealth and claims to vote in the name of that elector for a certain electoral division, the Returning Officer will have no means of discovering whether his statement is correct.. But he will ask him to sign a declaration that he is entitled to the vote which he claims. He will then receive a ballotpaper, on which no names are printed, and will write upon it the name of the candidate for whom he desires to vote. This affords another means of comparing his handwriting with the signature on the elector’s card. Further, it must be borne in mind that the vote which he gives is not recorded. It is held over, and is brought from the most remote part of the Commonwealth to the electoral division for which the person voted. His signature and his writing on the absent voter’s ballot-paper are there compared with the signature on the elector’s card. That is as near perfection as it is possible for any system of voting to be. The main point has yet to be stated, and it is that, if the individual referred to has personated some one else, though he may not be found, and it may not be possible to punish him, his vote is ineffective. That cannot be said of fraudulent postal-voting, because fraudulent postal votes have been effective. An absent voter’s vote, under the new system, cannot be effective until it is shown that his signature to an application for an absent voter’s ballot-paper and his writing on that ballotpaper are identical with the signature ob the elector’s card. Postal voting was wellintentioned. It was intended to give a relief that was needed ; but it was seriously abused. The abuse was year after year becoming greater, until the manipulation of the postal vote had become a fine art.
– We should have something in the nature of proof.
– I have given instances, and have asked why prosecutions did not take place. I mentioned the case of two ladies in high position, residents of the electorate I have the honour to represent.
– Will the honorable member - give the names?
– I shall not give the names.
– Was this at the last election?
– No. I did not give the names of these ladies, and I do not intend to give them. But the Returning Officer for the division did give their names, and they are within my knowledge.
– The honorable member mentions two cases which occurred years ago.
– It does not matter when they occurred. The fact is they did occur, and should have been dealt with.
– On evidence of that kind the honorable member might condemn the ballot system.
– The honorable member knows of a case of personation. Why does he not propose to prevent that ?
– The honorable member for Balaclava reminds me of a case of personation which I reported. I asked “ for the production of the papers, in order that I might compel the Department to take action to punish the offender, but I was told that the papers had been burnt. One man, the owner of a station, put up a record which no member of this Chamber can approach. Every man on his station who was on the roll voted in exactly the same way.
– Why not repeal the sections that permit that?
– I support the repeal of sections which I know to have been abused. I should not have mentioned this instance if I had not been asked to do so by the honorable member for Balaclava. The gentleman to whom I refer is still one of my constituents. The proof, of the case was not only, in my bands, but in the hands of the Department, and the departmental officials must have knowledge of it at the present day.
– Would not the honorable member use that as an argument for abolishing entirely the present system of voting?
– No, because the little cross which is put in the square on the ballot-paper is itself often as effective to prevent personation as is the signature on an electoral card. Will honorable members tell me that every elector on a station will record his vote in exactly the same way ?
– The honorable member is under a great delusion if he believes that, the signature on every application card is the signature of the applicant to be registered as an elector. In some cases one member of a family has written all the applications for registration for members of the family.
– There is a distinct difference in the handwriting of every man and woman.
– I mean that one member of a family would fill up the whole of the applications.
– No. If they did that they would bring themselves at once under the penalty of the law. If the honorable member wants to prove this for his own satisfaction, let him. go round the Chamber with a piece of paper and a pencil in his hand, and ask each honorable member to mark his cross, the same as he would do if he were inside a polling booth, voting in the ordinary way. I am prepared to make with him a small contract - I will not call it a wager, because that would be illegal - that he would find a distinctive difference in every one of the crosses.
– Some persons, if they voted late in the day, could not say how thev made the cross.
– Owing to the frailty of human nature, it is impossible, I believe, to attain perfection. The best we can do is to try to attain as near perfection as possible.
– It seems to me that you all know more about this business than I do.
– The honorable member happens to represent what may be called an urban district, where offences against the electoral law are not so frequently committed.
– There is more roguery in one city electorate than in all the rural electorates put together.
– If that be so, I am sure that the honorable member for Parramatta must have some knowledge of what is done. I do not wish to enter into details. It has been stated here before, and proof can be given of the statement, that the female sex includes an unfortunate class who do not care to expose themselves too much in the light of day, and neither candidates nor other persons care to associate with them openly very much. It is a notorious fact that,’ in Melbourne, hundreds and hundreds of this class exercised their votes by post, and in a particular direction.
– Is that any reason why you should abolish the whole system?
– No; I have given the reason why I would, and that is that the system was abused in other and worse directions. I am in the same position as the honorable member for Batman. Stern experience has satisfied me that postal voting was very seriously abused, and I think that Parliament did a wise thing in abolishing the system, and, at the same time, making provision for all persons to record their votes, except those few with whom I have the greatest sympathy, who are really sick, and unable to go to a polling place. With these exceptions, under the present law every adult in the community can exercise the franchise, and exercise it. too, in a proper manner. I do not think that there is any doubt as to the result of the Bill. I feel perfectly satisfied that this move is in the direction of purifying elections. We should legislate in order to give electors the freest franchise, which we often boast that we have.
– The honorable member for Riverina, in his concluding sentence, said that he had no doubt as to the result of the amendment which is proposed in this Bill. I know, of course, that he recognises, as we all have to recognise, from experience, that the numbers are already up, but that does not prevent those who have at heart the interests of a certain section of the community from expressing their views about the attitude and the actions of the Government with respect to those who are least able to help themselves. The honorable member for Riverina has been the first to give the Chamber specific instances. These have been asked for fre quently enough, but we have not had any given until to-day.
– I have given them before.
– Let me say, rather, that I have not heard any instances until to-day. The honorable member’s instances are two in number affecting this particular question.
– I only cited those two.
– Those are the only instances I have heard, and they are two in number. First, the honorable member said that an authorized witness had improperly used his position, and retained certain ballot-papers, that they had never been put into the post. Then he said that two ladies had used postal ballot-papers, and subsequently attempted to vote in person. The honorable member told us that, in both cases, the proof was sent by him to the Department ; but, for some reason or other, it would not prosecute ; and he was careful to inform us that it was then presided over by the honorable member for Swan.
– The proof was not sent by me, but the Returning Officer for the division.
– At any rate, the proof was sent to the Department, and it did not prosecute. The honorable member, and other honorable members, accentuated the fact that it was not the present Minister who was then in office, but a previous Minister, and, eventually, “we were told that it was the honorable member for Swan. I have the authority of that right honorable gentleman to say that every case that came before him while he was- Minister of Home Affairs was referred by him to the Crown Law Department, and that, in every instance where a prosecution was recommended by that Department, he ordered it to ensue.
– Why did he order these papers to be burnt before I could return to the House?
– This is something fresh.
– I mentioned it previously.
– I beg the honorable member’s pardon ; he certainly did not mention that the ballot-papers were burnt, and he said that that was the reason which was adduced why a prosecution was not entered upon.
– I said that all the papers were burnt.
– It is only now that the honorable member has insinuated that the honorable member for Swan ordered these documents to be burnt in order to prevent him from getting a prosecution initiated.
– I beg the honorable member’s pardon. Twelve months ago, in this House, and in his presence, I mentioned that all the papers, including the ballot-papers, had been burnt.
– I am now addressing myself to the speech which the honorable member has just made, and I wish to make it perfectly clear that the attitude which was adopted by the then Minister of Home Affairs was that every complaint made to the Department was referred, without comment, and without instruction, to the Crown Law Department; and that, in every instance where a prosecution was recommended - and surely the honorable member will not say that the Crown Law Department is under political influence - he ordered immediate action to be taken. I hope, therefore, that there will be no attempt to make political capital out of what the honorable member has said.
– Was this at the last election ?
– No; and that is another point.
– The honorable member was sitting behind the Government at the very time.
– The honorable member is absolutely wrong. I was sitting outside the Chamber, owing to the manipulation of the postal votes, amongst other things.
– Then you came in and sat behind the Government.
– My opponent was sitting in this Chamber.
– Order !
– There is another point to which I want to direct attention. The proposition is to alter the law as it stands to-day and as it stood at the last election. What the honorable member for Riverina has complained about occurred under the old law, and not under the law as it stands to-day. He acknowledged that when an interjection was made in regard to the destruction of the ballot-papers, because he said that it is now impossible to destroy them until a certain period has elapsed.
– We altered the law last year, and this alteration in respect to a re ferendum is a necessary corollary to last year’s work.
– The Honorary Minister must not obscure the point that the complaints of the honorable member for Riverina were complaints which were made under the previous law, and not under that which we are now asked to alter.
– The complaints were made under the law which we are now asked to alter. .
– I have here the words of the honorable member for Riverina, who was a victim of the old law, and he states that the destruction of the ballot-papers took place under that law.-. I do not think that the Honorary Minister was a member of this Parliament at the time, and, if he will pardon me for doing so, I prefer to accept the statement of the honorable member for Riverina upon this question. I was amazed at an assertion which was made a few days ago in this House in regard to the operation of the postal vote in Victoria. It was made, I regret to say, by a Victorian representative - I refer to the honorable member for Gippsland - who inferentially accused an enormous number of electors in this State of wilfully abusing the postal vote.
– There is no doubt that it is true, too, and the honorable member knows it.
– I like to hear the honorable member talk in that fashion. I want to tell him that I know nothing of the sort. My knowledge of the people of Victoria is of an entirely different character. I have lived here all my life, and I have had the honour of representing them in Parliament for nineteen years, and to hold them up to obloquy as men and women who would wilfully make an illegal and improper . use of the postal-voting system, is a falsehood and an insult to them.
– How does the honorable member account for the number of postal votes cast in Victoria?
– There are quite a number of factors which enter into a sum of that sort.
– How does the honorable member for Hindmarsh account for the number of votes which were registered in South Australia.
– I do not desire to justify one thing by throwing mud at another. I do not intend to justify the attitude which I adopt in regard to postal voting by decrying roll stuffing and practices of that sort. Under any human system of voting we know that abuses will occur. But surely we are not going to claim, as the Minister of Home Affairs wishes to claim, and as the honorable member for Riverina claims, that we have approached as closely to perfection as we can get. Where we enfranchise the whole of the people we should be most careful not to take .any action which will deprive a large section of them of the right to vote.
– I applied my reference to only the system of absent voting.
– I accept the honorable member’s statement. In regard to the stigma which has been unfairly cast upon the people of Victoria by one of their own representatives-
– What did he actually say ? The honorable member is merely giving us his own deductions.
– I will read what he said. It is to be found on page 2988 of Hansard of this session. He said -
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.
The only inference which can be drawn from that statement is that impurity and illegality existed in Victoria to a very large extent.
– That is a shameful interpretation. The honorable member has torn a few words from their context, and is maligning an absent man.
– The Honorary Minister is, apparently, desirous of measuring my corn by his own bushel. I have quoted from Hansard the words used by the honorable member for Gippsland, and now the Honorary Minister says that I have torn them from their context. I will read the context so that honorable members may see how truthful his statement is. Upon the same page of Hansard, the honorable member for Gippsland said -
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.
Then follows the quotation which I previously made. Now, I ask the Honorary
Minister if I did the honorable member for Gippsland any injustice by omitting the context? I say that it has no relevancy at all to the words which I first quoted. They stand entirely by themselves, and their effect cannot be either improved or lessened by the context.
– They will not bear the malignant interpretation which the honorable member put upon them.
– Now, the Honorary Minister is shifting his ground as is his usual custom. His grievance before was that I had torn certain words from their context.
– That is still my’ statement.
– I ask honorable members to judge the Honorary Minister and his truthfulness by the context which has now been read. My attention has now been directed to other words upon the same page of Hansard, and in quoting them I hope I shall not be accused of divorcing them from their context. The honorable member for Gippsland said -
It points to the fact that in Victoria there was a gross misuse of the postal ballot-paper.
– Quite true.
– I think that the Honorary Minister will be rather sorry that he stirred me up on this question. He is getting a good deal more than he bargained for, and has only made the case of the honorable member for Gippsland appear in a worse light than that in which I would have presented it. I do not care where an honorable member may hail from, even if he were my dearest friend, I would have no hesitation in standing up to defend the people of Victoria against such a slander as that which has been uttered against them. The honorable member for Gippsland continued -
There is no getting away from that.
The honorable member for Illawarra interjected -
Ought not the Minister to be able to prove that?
To this the honorable member for Gippsland replied -
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.
There is more of the context from which the honorable member said I tore the quotation that I first made. I wish to make plain that which impelled me most strongly to address myself to this question at the present juncture. The honorable member for Hindmarsh, by interjection, urged that in Victoria, least of all, should there be any necessity for postal voting. A number of factors which, apparently, have not been taken into consideration went to make up the sum of necessity for. postal voting here.
– They are a very convenient vote for the ugly side of politics.
– The honorable member, who was not in this Parliament when voting by post was first introduced, will perhaps be surprised to learn that the opposition to the principle came then, not from his party, but from members on the other side. When, prior to Federation, a Bill providing for voting by post was introduced in the Victorian Parliament, it was the Conservatives who opposed it, and who were fearful of its being put to improper uses.
– What has made the honorable member fall in love with the system now?
– As a true Democrat - as one who believes in the franchise being extended to all adult citizens - I have always been in favour of giving those who are enfranchised every possible opportunity to record their vote. We had the postal voting system in operation in Victoria before Federation, and had experience of its benefits before it was applied to Commonwealth elections. Some may say that I am uttering a paradox when I assert that’ the opportunity for using the voting by post system is not as great in the case of a scattered population as it is in the more densely-populated parts of the country. In Victoria, for instance, within an area more than 5 miles from a polling booth you will find, perhaps, fifty homesteads as against only five in any of the other States.
– I am afraid it is pretty hard to justify the number of postal votes cast in Victoria at the last general election.
– Before I would say that the numbers suggested that there had been corruption of a gross character - -
– I did not say that.
– I should be prepared rather to accept the position as one of perfect purity. The postal voting system is more likely to be availed of by those who can be easily reached than by those who are widely scattered. The percentage of votes cast both through the post as well as at the ballot-box in the States where the population is more widely scattered is less than in the case of the more closely-settled States. The explanation is not that the people have not the same facilities, but that they are more easily reached by the candidates; that they consequently take more interest in the elections, and have a greater desire to exercise the franchise. If honorable members feel, as some apparently do, that the postal voting provisions have been abused, I advise them to follow the example of the honorable member for Echuca, and to have a chat with those in authority in the Electoral Office. Let them ascertain in that way whether there has been that gross abuse of the system which is alleged . to have taken place. That there have been cases of abuse none can deny, but I believe that the number of cases in which the postal voting system has been abused is small in comparison with the number of cases of personation at the polling booths. I am not speaking without knowledge. Honorable members cannot go through a political campaign without hearing of things. I have seen cases myself - in fact, I have had names brought to me-
– Has the honorable member reported them ?
– I have not.
– And yet the honorable member says he is a true Democrat?
– They voted on the other side. Why should I penalize them?
– I suppose there were cases on the honorable member’s side?
– I give the honorable member my word of honour that I have not heard of one man who ever voted improperly for me.
– Would the honorable member report a man who did so?
– I would have a very serious talk with him.
– In caucus?
– No, there would only be two of us present. Honorable members opposite seem to be ready to put the worst construction on my action as well as upon the actions of those whom they charge with abusing the postal voting system..
– The honorable member made the statement himself.
– And honorable members opposite have placed upon my statement a construction which no unbiased individual would.
– The honorable member said that these people voted against him - that they voted for us. He has no right to make such a statement without proof.
– I was asked for the information. I hold that to deprive those whom sentiment, if nothing else, should require us to protect and assist, of what we so often describe as the highest duty of citizenship, is an act of which no Government or party could possibly be proud. I can understand the restiveness of my honorable friends opposite. I can understand how irritated they feel when attention is drawn to their action. They are not proud of the part they are taking in this matter. They know that it will be very hard to justify it. I do not say that it will be hard to justify it to those who send them here, because, so far as they are concerned, I do not think it matters very much what they do as long as they do what they are directed to do, but it will be very hard for them to justify their action to their own consciences. Without a shadow of doubt they are taking away from a very large number of people-
– What percentage?
– The honorable member has only to look at the number who exercised the privilege in Victoria at the last election.
– What percentage of the whole do you say that the women who for legitimate reasons cannot get to the polls constitute?
– In Victoria alone, according to the figures given by the honorable member for Gippsland, there were 14,049 postal votes cast at the last election. Surely honorable members opposite will not say that even a considerable proportion of those voted improperly or corruptly ?
– I venture to say that very nearly 50 per cent, were intimidated.
– If the honorable member lived a little longer in Victoria he would find that the people here are too sturdy and independent to suffer from the intimidation by which those with whom he has been most intimately concerned are apparently so easily affected. If those gentlemen who have impelled the Government to bring in this amendment of the law really believe that 7,000 of the people of Victoria at the last election voted by post under intimidation, as the honorable member for Gwydir asserts, then I am only astonished at the moderation of the Government, and surprised that they did not do something far more drastic, not ‘ only abolishing means for voting, but doing away with elections altogether, so that they might stay where they are now for the rest of their lives.
– The provision with which we are dealing is of very grave importance. We should not deliberately set out first to ask the people of Australia by means of referenda whether they are prepared to transfer certain powers from the States to the Commonwealth, and then say to them, “ If you are unable to go to the poll, we shall disfranchise you.” As a matter of fact, that is what the Government are saying to the people. They can surround the proposal with all the flap-doodle that their supporters have sought-
– What does that mean?
-I think it was Marryat who interpreted “ flap-doodle “ as “stuff on which you feed fools.” If a majority of the postal votes had been cast for Labour, we should never have seen this disfranchisement take place. When I came into this House first, the constant taunt thrown across the chamber was, “ Why do not you people organize? It is because you cannot.” The Liberal party did organize ; and because they have brought their organization to a degree of efficiency which enables them to use the franchise, including the postal vote, effectively, and because a greater number of votes by post were recorded for Liberal candidates, these purists in electoral matters come along and wipe out the postal voting provisions.
– If secrecy of the ballot had been maintained, you would not have heard anything of it.
– Secrecy of the ballot ! Secrecy of the humbug ! With all this talk about purity of elections, we know that honorable members opposite are trying to argue themselves into the belief that they are doing right, but they know that there will be thousands of people who will be disfranchised when the referenda are taken. When the postal voting provisions were before the House last session, I heard an honorable member sitting on the Ministerial side make a statement which ought to make members pause. He said that when the postal vote was abolished his father would be disfranchised, because he could not get to the poll. There are throughout Australia thousands of honest people who want to record their votes, and from whom the opportunity will be taken away with the right to vote by post. There is not a man holding office in the present Government who did not support the postal vote when it was first introduced into this House. Listen to this -
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.
That was said by Senator McGregor, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, when the Bill introducing postal voting was before the Senate. If the majority of votes by post had been cast for Labour, should we not have heard those benches ringing with the denunciations of those who are seeking to rob sick people of their votes ? It is only one more attempt to load the dice, and it will not save them. Ohe cannot help feeling a certain amount of sympathy for men who we know are fighting for their political lives.
– Yours hangs by a very slender thread.
– Whenever honorable members opposite hear the unpalatable truth being told, they yelp like the little puppies in the Eastern Market that have been deprived of their mother’s milk. They will have to learn now, as they will have to learn on election day, to take their gruel.
– I remember some of your prophecies before the last election.
– There was no one more surprised than honorable members opposite to find themselves coming back with a majority. Here is a statement which I think ought to convert every honorable member opposite -
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.
That was said by the Postmaster-General seven years ago. But in 1909 the honorable gentleman realized that the postal vote was working against his own party. It is all very well for the Minister of Trade and Customs, and others who represent town electorates, to oppose the postal vote, but their constituents can attend a meeting without any inconvenience. They never have to go further to vote than is covered by a twopenny ride on a tram. But there are districts in Australia where people have to travel many miles, and where the roads are often exceedingly bad. The next elections are going to be held in the middle of winter. If the postal vote is taken away thousands of people will be deprived of the opportunity of exercising the franchise. It may possibly be urged that when there is a strong feeling of rivalry between candidates the committees who are fighting for them will be inclined to do things which are regrettable. But when a referendum is in question there is no excuse for anything of the kind. We started out at the beginning of Federation with certain powers which were conferred upon this Parliament. Other powers were left to the States. I do not blame the Government for holding a referendum if they think that the Constitution requires amendment. It is quite right that they should take that course. But when we hold a referendum, and ask the people to surrender further powers of local government to the Commonwealth, their franchise ought to be as complete and full as it can be made. Now, however, a referendum .is to be taken on a restricted franchise. Surely honorable members will see the impropriety of that.
Business of the House.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
The Chairman of Committees has just reported progress, but I hardly know what progress has taken place. It is desirable that I should remind honorable members that this session commenced nearly three calendar months ago, and that the state of public business demands longer sittings, or, at all events, that business shall be done in a more expeditious way. I do not desire to suggest any methods of expediting business other than those which have hitherto been characteristic of this Government. But it is a necessity of the policy of the Government that those measures which have been officially intimated shall be passed before this Parliament ceases to exist. Opportunities will be given, as far as possible, to hear every honorable member who has anything to communicate to the House on the measures brought forward. But it is only fair that honorable members should know the course which the Government intend to pursue. If it requires two sessions to do the work which we have in hand, two sessions will be devoted to it cheerfully. If the work can be done in one we shall be all the better pleased.
– The little lecture which we have heard from the Prime Minister reminds me very much of observations’ which used to be delivered by my old schoolmaster at the end of the week, as to the progress that had been made by the boys, and as to how much better he expected us to behave in the coming week. It is all very well for the Prime Minister to lament the slow progress of business, but he must recollect that whilst the Bills which are introduced by his Ministers have previously been discussed in Caucus, we received them for the first time ; and we feel il to be our duty to go through them carefully and criticise them as we think best. I wish to add, for my own part, that I attach no importance to what the Prime Minister has said. I claim my right now, as always, to spend as much time as I think proper upon the Bills introduced by the Government, which, when they come out of the Caucus - hot, I admit; - have not previously been considered by us.
– I was very glad to hear the Prime Minister’s announcement concerning the intentions of the Government to see that business is transacted with a great deal more expedition than has characterized our proceedings so far. It is quite apparent to every one that a great deal of time has been wasted by honorable members opposite. As for the honorable member who has just resumed his seat, I have no doubt that a few all-night sittings will soon bring him to his bearings. In fact, he is never here after n o’clock. Consequently, if business is obstructed by- the honorable member, the Government will know- that they can always get it through by sitting a little later. If the general election is not to take place early next year, I see no reason why we should not have another session after Christmas. There is a good deal of important work which we could do, and, as far as I am concerned, I should be very happy to assist in placing some of the projected legislation on the statute-book after the New Year. Therefore, I attach a great deal of importance to what the Prime Minister has said. The right honorable gentleman has made appeals to the Opposition on several previous occasions to assist him in carrying on the business of the House ; and I hope that he will now see that gentle appeals are of no use, but that some stringent measures will have to be taken.
– Put the “ gag “ on.
– We can do something short of the “ gag,” and still get more work done ; for instance, we can sit on Mondays and later on Fridays, and if necessary on Saturdays. I have no doubt there are many ways which the Prime Minister could adopt ; and I sincerely hope that, after the warning he has given today, he will not .he deflected from his determination.
– I should like to know exactly where honorable members opposite are. The Prime Minister has complained that wo are here too much, and yet the honorable member for Cook chides us for not being here enough. What is it that honorable members opposite desire? Do they wish for a more solid phalanx on this side - for more talking ability?
– Honorable members opposite do not say enough of the right sort.
– The AttorneyGeneral has not been saying anything at all lately. ‘
– I cannot get a chance.
– Nor I ; I have not said a word to-day. I -agree with the Prime Minister that the business should be put through with all reasonable despatch, and I desire to assure him that the Opposition will give every assistance consistent with full and fair consideration. ‘ As to the honorable member for Parkes, he has not said very much, lately, and it was only to-day, if he will permit me to say so, I asked him whether he was not going to speak on this very important measure to amend the Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Bill.
– And I asked the honorable member of what use it was to say anything, in view of the brick-wall opposite.
– Then why waste time ?
– May I suggest a way of saving time? The Government ought to bring down their measures in such a form that they have not to be taken back to be re-modelled and re-fashioned. Today we have had pui into our hands a whole sheaf of proposed amendments in the Navigation Bill, although that Bill has been in hand in another place for over two years.
– For seven years.
– I am speaking of the time this Government have had it in hand. We now find that they desire to have practically a new Bill.
– Who drafted the Bill? The friends of the honorable member for Parramatta.
– Where is the Bill that the Attorney-General drafted?
– The Bill I draftedwell !
– The AttorneyGeneral points significantly to the wastepaper basket. The Bill we are now trying to consider is one drafted by some one on this side of the House. This is not the first time the Government have received valuable assistance from members over here, and when we try to help with the Ministerial measures, we are told that we are trying to waste time. What has become of that celebrated Ordinance regarding the Northern Territory? It was introduced with a great flourish of trumpets, but it has disappeared to be re-shaped, largely, I venture to say, owing to the criticism of honorable members on this side. 1 suggest that the Government and their supporters give a little more consideration to their Bills in caucus, and strike out undemocratic provisions, so that all this trouble may not be entailed. The Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Bill has been considered once or twice before, having been taken back, and some other proposals brought on; and on Tuesday next we begin on a brand-new subject. Apparently, the Bill to amend the Referendum Act has to go by the board once more. Nothing could be more inept, it seems to me, than the way in which the business of this Government is presented and attempted to be carried on. The Opposition are so anxious to get the buisness through that (hey feel it to be their duty, from day to day, to lick measures into shape, and make them presentable to the great outside public.
– And the honorable member and his friends will condemn them afterwards.
– Keeping the supreme obligation of the Opposition in mind, I assure the Prime Minister once more (hat we shall help him to put the business through in the least possible time.
– I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for what he has said about helping the Government ; but I have to say that, with or without his help, we propose going through with the business. The honorable member was ungenerous enough to speak of ‘ the “ sheaf “ of proposed amendments in the Navigation Bill. That is a Bill which stands by itself. It consists of some 424. clauses, and affects all the other countries of the world. I remind honorable members that the navigation laws of Great Britain, which are supposed to be .the best in the world, have all been re-arranged during the last seven or eight months. Since the Senate had this Bill before it, there have been events in the navigation world such as to throw the whole of the laws into the melting-pot; and there is now a measure of about 800 clauses before the Imperial Parliament. When the honorable member points to a “ sheaf of amendments “ as showing the incapacity of the Government, it can only be an attempt to blind the public. It is the sort of discussion with which we are faced when we are attempting to bring our laws up to date; we are told that we must stick to the old. Bill. This is in accordance with the policy of the Opposition; it will always remain their policy, because it is their hope that no progress will be made, and that things will be left as they are.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.15 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 September 1912, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1912/19120920_reps_4_66/>.