5th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I take this opportunity of setting right a little matter in regard to -which I was in error yesterday. The honorable member for West Sydney rose, as he said, to make a personal explanation, and was reading the report of a speech referring to several matters, but in which it did not appear that there was any reference to him. I thereupon stopped him, and explained that that could not be the subject of a personal explanation. The hum of conversation which was proceeding prevented me from hearing him say that he had been mentioned, and that it was in regard to that personal mention that he wished to make a personal explanation. I thought that he desired to make a general statement to the House regarding the matter of the reported speech, and, therefore, I sought the leave of the House for that to be done, so that his remarks might be in order. I take this opportunity to make my apologies to the honorable member for having interrupted him under a misapprehension.
– May I refer again to this matter, Mr. Speaker?
– Does the honorable member desire to make a personal explanation ?
– Yes, arising out of a report of Friday’s proceedings, published in yesterday’s Argus, which reads as follows -
The Audit Bill was to provide that in any year they could get supply without waiting for Parliament, so as to tide over the first few weeks. Mr. Hughes said that it was a far-reaching reform, and it was not allowed to pass. The Agricultural Bureau Bill was a measure to assist the farmers and others. But these two bills were talked about the whole day, and when the House rose on Friday they were no further forward than when it began. The Opposition was not out to do business, and all the talk about noncontentious measures was just so much dust thrown in the eyes of the people, for the purpose of helping in a systematic process of political obstruction.
Whatever was done on Friday was the result of an arrangement between the Prime Minister and myself, which was fairly and honorably kept by rae, and by honorable members on this side. The House adjourned shortly after 3 o’clock, although there was no reason why the sitting should not have continued for another hour and a half.
– By way of personal explanation, let me say that, although the honorable member for West Sydney claims that what was done on Friday was done under an arrangement between us, there was no arrangement ; there was only the intimation from the honorable member that the Opposition did not intend to allow the Audit Bill to go -through until the ex-Treasurer returned.
– Naturally we would not allow a Bill to pass which we had never seen before.
– As a matter of privilege. An article appears in the Age newspaper this morning, in which the writer accuses me of having read in the debate yesterday one of the two important rules affecting general retainers, ignoring or suppressing the other, which, according to him, would have put a different complexion on the case. He says -
Everybody will deplore that Mr. Irvine did not think it necessary to be quite frank with the House in this matter.
A more serious charge could not be made against any member of Parliament, especially one occupying the position which I happen to occupy at the present time. The statement in the Age is a deliberate and audacious falsehood; audacious because, as honorable members will recollect, the text of both rules was read by me, and appears in the galley proofs which were supplied to me this morning by the Hansard Department. The rules are these, and every honorable member who was present yesterday will remember that I read the whole of each of them. Rule 5, which the writer in the Age says that I read, is as follows -
If the counsel who has accepted a general retainer from one party should be offered a special retainer or brief by another party, the general retainer entitles the party who has ((iven it to reasonable notice before the offered special retainer or brief is accepted.
Rule 8, which according to the writer in the Age I suppressed, but which appears in the report of my speech immediately after rule 5, and which honorable members will remember that I read, is in these words -
In case a special retainer or brief is offered to counsel by a party other than the party f:«ra whom lie has accepted a general retainer, the counsel, after giving notice to the party from whom he has accepted the general retainer of the offer of the special retainer or brief, is at liberty to accept the special retainer or brief of the other party, unless a special retainer or brief be given within a reasonable time by the party from whom he has accepted the general retainer.
I absolutely repudiate and give the lie to the defamatory and obviously false statement which appears in the Age.
– I take the point of order that the Attorney-General, having risen to a question of privilege, must, under standing order 285, conclude with a motion. That standing order says that -
Any honorable member complaining to the House of a statement in a newspaper as a breach of privilege, shall produce a copy of the paper containing the statement in question, and be prepared to give the name of the printer or publisher, and also submit a substantive motion declaring the person in question to have been guilty of contempt.
– Although the honorable the Attorney-General said he desired to speak on a matter of privilege, he was really making what was more properly a personal explanation.
– He said privilege.
– I know that is what he said. He rose to call attention to what he conceived to be a breach of privilege, and made a personal explanation in reference thereto. Under the Standing Orders his proper method as one of privilege was to produce a copy of the newspaper containing the words complained of, and to conclude with a motion. The standing order says: -
All questions of order and matters of privilege at any time arising shall, until decided, suspend the consideration and decision of every other question.
To arrive at a decision it is the practice to conclude with a motion affecting any matter of privilege.
– In bringing the matter forward under the cover of privilege, I thought that I was following the practice usually adopted. If I was wrong in doing so without concluding with a motion, the mistake was mine, and I ask you, Mr. Speaker, and the House to permit what I have said to be regarded as in the nature of a personal explanation.
– Is it the pleasure of the House that that course be adopted ?
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear.
– I do not know, Mr. Speaker, whether I shall be permitted to bring before the House by way of personal explanation a matter to which I desire to refer, but to which I cannot allude as a matter of privilege under the ruling just given by you. I refer to a statement in this morning’s issue of the Agc newspaper in reference to myself. By way of personal explanation I should like to put it right, because it is grossly inaccurate. The statement is -
Mr. Hughes tried to demonstrate that the AttorneyGeneral ought to absent himself from the House when the division should be taken.
So far as I am concerned, that statement is absolutely without foundation. Nothing that I said in the least degree bears it out. I had no such thought in my mind, and certainly did not make any such remark. I take exception to the statement, because it is grossly inaccurate, and places the Attorney-General and myself in an unfair light.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. In this morning’s issue of the Argus, under the heading of “Question of Pairs,” “Mr. Carr Sacrificed,” the following statement appears: -
Early in Ihe session it was announced that the Labour caucus had decided that no pairs should be given except in connexion with the visit of the British legislators.
Private members of the party explained then that the new rule was designed to keep members of the Opposition in their places rather than to embarrass Ministerialists, and some colour was Icnt to this view last night when no pair was secured for Mr. Carr, although the Liberal whip (Mr. Greene) stated that he was willing to make the necessary arrangements if it was desired.
That report is entirely without foundation. The Government Whip at no time wished to make any arrangement with me to provide a pair for the honorable member for Macquarie. As a matter of fact, I asked him to give me a pair, and his reply was, “ No possible hope.”
– I desire, by way of personal explanation, to refer to a question which you, sir, brought forward this afternoon. I objected to leave being granted to the honorable member for West Sydney yesterday afternoon because I felt at the time that the situation was misunderstood by yourself. I objected to honorable members being allowed to proceed only by leave of the House when they had a perfect right to proceed along the course they were taking. There is not, and has never been, any difference of opinion between the honorable member for West Sydney and myself in reference to this or any other subject.
– Following up a question which I put to the Minister of Home Affairs yesterday, I desire to draw his attention to the following telegram, published in this morning’s issue of the Argus, under the heading of “ Importing Mechanics “ -
PERTH, Tuesday. - Mr. McCallum, Labour Federation secretary, declares that there is no excuse for the Public Service Commissioner importing postal mechanics from England for Perth. He says that plenty of good men could be engaged, but the Federal authorities never pay more than ^144 a year, whereas now they are offering £j6 for men from England.
The question I desire to ask the Minister is whether, before any attempt is made to import mechanics from England, or elsewhere, he will see that an offer of £176 a year or more, for this class of work, is made to our local people
– May I reply by asking the honorable member another question? Will he send along the names of the local men whose services he says are available? If they are fit they shall be put on at the highest rates that can be afforded.
– The Government have barred them by the education test.
– I consulted the Commissioner this morning on this question of education, and was informed by him that the education test which they are supposed to pass is such as any ordinary school-boy could pass.
– School-boys can pass what mechanics could not pass.
– I am talking now of educational tests, and I am told they are of the simplest character.
– Did the honorable member see a sample of the test these men have to pass ?
– The honorable gentleman ought to have a look at the paper, and see for himself how simple it is.
– I wish to ask the Treasurer whether he is taking any steps with a view to stopping the further duplication of Savings Banks throughout the Commonwealth.
– The Government propose to take some steps. We are, however, awaiting certain information, and, until we receive it, cannot take any action.
Sugar Industry: Excise and Bounty - Sugar in Bond : Excise - Wages - Importation of Explosives - Reciprocal Trade with Canada and New Zealand.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister when we may expect to have submitted the Bill, or Bills, by which the Government proposes to deal with the loss of revenue in connexion with the repeal of the Excise and bounty on sugar?
– I hope that the Sugar Bills will be presented the moment my colleague, the Minister of Trade and Customs, returns from Queensland.
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information desired by the honorable member is being obtained.
– Will it be ready before the Sugar Bills are dealt with?
– I hope so.
– Last session, when Bills were passed in reference tothe repeal of the Sugar Excise and Bounty Bills, certain negotiations were entered into between the then Prime Minister and the Premier of Queensland. I desire to know whether the Prime Minister is aware that the conditions which were then mutually arranged are not being carried out; and, if that be so, whether he will see that, if possible, they are adhered to ?
– In what respect is the arrangement not being carried out?
– It was arranged that until the appointment of Wages Boards the wages should be 8s. per day in the mills and elsewhere. I am credibly informed by a correspondent that the wages in the mills are now only what they were previous to the arrangement, namely, 30s. per week and found, instead of 36s. per week and found. Will the Prime Minister approach the Premier of Queensland with a view to the arrangement being carried out?
– All I have to say is that legislation has been passed in the Queensland Parliament providing for the interregnum. If that legislation is not being carried out, I do not know what to say, except that I regret the fact extremely. However, I should like to have proof that the legislation is not being carried out, because, as the honorable member will see, we at present have only statements to that effect.
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What was the quantity of explosives imported for the year ending 30th June,1913?
– The information desired by the honorable member is being obtained, and will be furnished to the House as soon as possible.
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– On consideration, the honorable member will probably see that no answers to his questions are possible at present.
– The items might be mentioned without the duty.
– Oh, no.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Prime Minister in his speech on the second reading of the Bureau of Agriculture Bill, in which the Prime Minister said: “What they wanted in Australia was a small staff of the best original investigators they could find “ - how many persons would comprise the staff referred to, what would be their duties, and what would be the salary paid to each investigator?
Does the Prime Minister propose, if the Bureau of Agriculture Bill passes, to appoint -
In what city is it proposed to establish the Australian Bureau of Agriculture, and is it intended to establish branches of the Bureau in all the States of the Commonwealth?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice-
Will he take immediate steps to insure the representation by Australia at the Empire and Dominion Exhibition, to be held in London in 1915, and will he endeavour immediately to obtain the co-operation of the Australian States?
– This matter will be considered by the Government, I hope, at an early date.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The honorable member will be made aware of the order of business from time to time.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions are - 1 and 2. The nominal rate of interest paid by the Government of Victoria on debentures of the face value of ^1,000,000 is 34 per cent. ; but allowing for redemption at par, the rate is 3J per cent.
– I should like to interpolate a personal explanation at this stage arising out of the question that has just been answered. I take it that the question by the honorable member for Kennedy has reference to a statement which is alleged to have been made by me. I desire to explain that I have never said that the State of Victoria is paying 5 2/5ths per cent, for money borrowed from the Commonwealth; my statement has always been that if we add to the interest paid the amount lost by the State in consequence of the Notes Act, the total cost to them amounts to 5 2/5ths per cent, on all the money they have borrowed.
– What is the interest on all the money that the State has not borrowed ?
– I am not going to allow honorable members opposite to flog me with the Treasurer’s statement !
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
– I desire to give notice that to-morrow I shall move -
That a return be laid upon the table showing
I may explain that I referred this matter to the Honorary Minister yesterday, and asked him whether he would allow it to be treated as unopposed business.
– I would like my honorable friend to put his notice of motion on the business-paper, and to ask, in connexion with the desired return, for particulars as to the general duties undertaken by the staff of the Central Administration. If he does so, I shall have the greatest pleasure in allowing the motion to be treated as unopposed.
asked the Honorary Minister, upon notice -
– The Engineer-in-Chief for Railways has furnished me with the following information in reply to the honorable member’s questions: -
The ground on which the sleepers are stacked has been sprayed with a solution of arsenic, and proper air space has now been provided for.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Honorary Minister, upon notice -
Is it the intention of the Electoral Department to compare the absent voters’ list of voters with the voters’ rolls of the various contested divisions in Australia, with a view to ascertaining whether any of those who voted as absent voters were marked off as voters in the division wherein they were resident on the day of the election?
– This has been done, and the information has been furnished in the report tabled on the 12th ultimo.
asked the Honorary Minister, upon notice -
Have the Electoral Department counted the number of votes checked during the recent investigation and marked as having voted at the late elections, and compared the number so checked with the actual number of votes recorded in each electorate?
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
In view of the fact that Mr. Herbert Brookes, of Melbourne, forwarded ^500 for political purposes to the honorable member for Perth during the last election - has Mr. Brookes complied with the 172 (a) section of the Commonwealth Electoral Act? ‘
– I am not aware whether Mr. Brookes expended any money, or incurred any expense, which requires a return to he furnished under the provisions of section 172 (a) of the Electoral Act.
– In the question which the Minister has just answered, the statement that this money was sent to the honorable member for Perth during the last election is not in accordance with fact. To the best of my recollection, it was sent to me for the Liberal organization many months previous to the election, and in all -probability it was spent a considerable time prior to the election. I suggest to the honorable member for Barrier that he can get all the information he requires if he consults Mr. Brookes.
asked the Honorary Minister, upon notice -
Whether he will inform the House if it be the purpose of the Home Affairs Department to import an internal combustion locomotive for the Federal Territory. Seeing that the policy of the Commonwealth is protection, will he see that tenders are called for in the Commonwealth ?
– This Government have never had any intention of importing such a locomotive for the Federal Territory.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
Is it not a fact that the road tractor supplied by the Caldwell Vale Engineering Coy., Sydney, was laid up for purposes of experiment and not for inefficiency, and will he state the efficiency required when the purchase was made and the results attained as set forth in the driver’s log?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
The total load for the tractor was to be 21 tons, and the petrol consumption one gallon per mile full load.
In relation to the payment of driver, the Director-General of Works reported, on the 27th January, 1912, that on the 15th July, 1911, the company wrote, saying that they were willing to extend the period of trial to demonstrate that the machine was suited for the work. A trial of the machine was conducted on the 28th August, and it was reported as not being capable of the work which the company undertook it would perform. The machine was taken over on the 19th September, 1911, and since then “ part of the undergear has broken again and been repaired.”
On the 16th July, 1912, it was reported that for the two months ended nth June, 1912, the tractor had travelled 442 miles (half going and half coming); the average journey was 8 miles; average load, 4 tons - carrying in all 106 tons net ; running costs ^87 19s. 6d. ; average cost per ton mile, 2s. The average cost per ton mile with steam tractor is under 4d.
The Director-General of Works then instructed that, under the circumstances, the tractor should not be used except on emergency, when any other form of transport could not be obtained.
On the 14th August, 1913, the DirectorGeneral of Works reported that the engine was delivered on trial subject to certain conditions, and was taken into use for that trial, but did not (rive satisfactory running results. On one occasion it broke down at the Molongo River (fractured gear casing of carden shaft drive). The broken casting was replaced by the makers, who, however, claimed that the fracture was due to a defective casting fractured in cold water. A trial was made in the DirectorGeneral’s presence, under conditions agreed upon by the representative of the firm, and the results of the trial were unsatisfactory. On the 26th July, 1911, however, the engine performed a trial satisfactory to the late Minister, and at his direction the purchase was completed.
Manufacture of Big Gun Cordite - Naval Brigade, South Australia. - Naval College : Appointment of Master. - Fitzroy Dock. - Soldiers’ Complaints - Captain W. Brazenor - Cockburn Sound : Retirement of Mr . James Barrett
– I desire to ask the Minister representing the Minister of Defence whether it is a fact that the exMinister of Defence appointed a Committee to inquire into the manufacture of big gun cordite? If so, has that Committee reported, and does the Minister intend to take any action?
– I shall have inquiries made; but by way of general answer, I should like to suggest to honorable members that all questions relating to administrative detail in the Defence Department should be placed on the noticepaper.
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh, some time ago, asked me a question in reference to the uniform of the Naval Brigade band in South Australia. I have now to state that the Minister’s answer is as follows: -
Inform that the new uniform was adopted by a decision of previous Minister, dated 27th July, 1912. I see no reason to disturb it.
– The honorable member for Maribyrnong asked me yesterday a question with regard to applications for the two positions of master of the Royal Australian Naval College, a condition being that the applicants for a senior mastership must have obtained high honours in mathematics at a British University. The honorable member desired to know whether the word “ British “ excluded Australia. The Minister of Defence wishes to assure honorable members that the present Administration regards the word “ British “ as covering all Australia.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
Will he lay on the table of the House all the papers in connexion with the transfer of Cockatoo Island from the New South Wales Government to the Commonwealth?
– The Minister will be prepared to lay all the papers in connexion with the matter on the Library table to-morrow or the next day.
– asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– It is considered necessary, before replying to the specific questions asked, to quote Commonwealth Military Regulation 225, which deals with the redress of wrongs -
If any soldier thinks himself wronged in any matter by any officer other than his captain, or by any soldier, he may complain thereof to his captain, and if he thinks himself wronged by his captain, either in respect of his complaint not being redressed or in respect of any other matter, he may complain thereof to his commanding officer, and if he thinks himself wronged by his commanding officer either in respect of his complaint not being redressed, or in respect of any other matter, he may complain thereof to the District Commandant where the soldier is serving; and every officer to whom a complaint is made in pursuance of this sec tion, shall cause such complaint to be inquired into, and shall, if on inquiry he is satisfied of the justice of the complaint so made, take such steps as may be necessary for giving full redress to the complainant in respect of the matter complained of. If he thinks himself wronged by the District Commandant, either in respect of his complaint not being redressed or in respect of any other matter, he may complain thereof, through the proper channel, to the Military Board. A soldier may, if he so desire, submit his complaint in writing.
The answers to the questions are : -
The regulation above quoted seems to meet all reasonable requirements, and to be such as will insure the redress of any actual wrongs.
The recommendation of the Military Board on any complaint submitted to that body is, prior to action being taken on such recommendation, submitted to the Minister for final decision.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
If he will lay on the library table all the papers in connexion with the appointment of Captain W. Brazenor to the position of Area Officer in training area 70a, at Ballarat?
asked the Honorary Minister, uponnotice -
If he will lay upon the table all papers dealing with the retirement of Mr. James Barrett, Naval Construction Engineer, Cockburn Sound, Western Australia?
– The papers will be laid on the Library table.
MINISTERS laid upon the table the following papers : -
Extracts from the Annual Report of the Inspector-General of the Military Forces (Major-General Kirkpatrick) - 30th May, 1913.
Cordite Factory - Report for the period ended 30th June, 1912.
Small Arms Factory - Report by EngineerCaptain Clarkson upon relinquishing his appointment of Acting Manager on 10th August, 1 91 2.
Clothing Factory - Report for period ended 30th June, 1912.
Harness, Saddlery, and Leather Accoutrements Factory - Report for period ended 30th June, 1912.
Ordered to be printed.
Papua - Ordinances of 1913 -
No. 4. - Supplementary Appropriation (No. 3) 1912-13.
No. 5.- Supply 1913-14.
Public Service Act - Promotion of S. Irwin as Commonwealth Electoral Officer, Public Works Officer, and Deputy Public Service Inspector, 2nd Class, Department of Home Affairs, Tasmania.
Motion (by Mr. Kelly) proposed -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend- the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902-1911.
.- The other day when I asked the AttorneyGeneral a question about this measure he replied, “ The honorable member will learn the intentions of the Government respecting the matter and form of Bills which we intend to introduce at the same time as every other honorable member will learn them, that is, when they are introduced.” I have no doubt the AttorneyGeneral thought that a very smart reply, and I would recommend him to again read Chesterfield’s Letters to his Son, for then he would not be so impertinent. The reply was thought to be so witty that the Honorary Minister said he was entirely in accord with it. When they are a little older these honorable gentlemen will learn that, though they have been to universities, they do not know everything.
– Their manners were not improved there.
– Although these honorable gentlemen have been to universities they have not brought away with them an extra supply of good manners.
– Like the honorable member, I am vulgar enough to glory in my ignorance.
– I do not say I am ignorant. I do not deem it necessary to say it, nor do I consider it necessary to appear so egotistical and boastful before the community as to say I know a lot. The older I grow, I discover, the less I know ; but I do know that Oxford has succeeded in turning out an Oxford larrikin in the person of the honorable member who describes me as vulgar without any cause.
– It seems almost profanity to describe the honorable member as vulgar.
– I have the greatest fear of the capitalistic party opposite. I believe they have designs upon the government of this country in the interests of their own particular class, and before the
Minister is to introduce a Bill like this I wish to know what he proposes to do He has given us no information.
– If the honorable member will sit down I shall be only too happy to give him the information at once.
– I am old enough to know that I would not have another opportunity of speaking on this motion if I did sit down. I believe that they have designs on the people of Australia who are supporters of this party. The representatives of capitalism in the Federal Convention builded better than they knew. The Australian Labour party succeeded in electing only one representative to the Convention - Mr. Trenwith; ten Labour candidates who put up in New South Wales being defeated. The representatives of the capitalists who composed the Convention, therefore, thought that nothing was to be feared from the adoption of the principle of one man one vote. “ These Labour agitators,” they said, “ will never be elected to the Federal Parliament, and therefore it will be perfectly safe for us to put that provision into the Constitution.” I understand that the honorable member for Parkes once said - I have not the exact words, and I dread to misquote him - something to the effect that the representatives of the hob-nailed community would never find a place in this Parliament.
– I never made the statement in my life, and the honorable member knows it. It was attributed to another member, and he, too, gave it the lie.
– Then I apologize to the honorable member. He has been so quiet and reserved during this Parliament that I do not wish to attack him.
– I have heard nothing worth answering.
– I ask honorable members to read section 29 of the Constitution, which says that -
Until the Parliament of the Commonwealth otherwise provides, the Parliament of any State may make laws for determining the divisions in each State for which members of the House of Representatives may be chosen, and the number of members to be chosen for each division. A division shall not be formed out of parts of different States. In the absence of other provisions, each State shall be one electorate.
It is, therefore, within the power of this Parliament to make laws determining the divisions of the States, and even to declare that each State shall constitute only one electorate. Do Ministers intend to propose that that shall be done? We ought to know. If the secrecy on their part is wilful, we have a right to administer something in the nature of a reprimand. Section 30 of the Constitution says -
Until the Parliament otherwise provides, the qualification of electors of members of the House of Representatives shall be in each State that which is prescribed by the law of the State as the qualification of electors of the more numerous House of Parliament of the State ; but in the choosing of members each elector shall vote only once.
Honorable members opposite cannot remove the prohibition of plural voting, but it is within their power to so restrict electoral privileges as to practically strike thousands of electors off the rolls. Indeed, the Attorney-General said, in his haste -
We propose to allow the political organizations to assist the electoral officers of the Commonwealth in purifying the rolls.
We wish to know whether the Bill provides for political organizations assisting the electoral officers in striking names off the rolls.
– How can honorable members know what the Bill provides until they have given leave for its introduction ?
– I am trying to administer a little castigation to the honorable member for his objectionable reply to me the other day, when he had a full opportunity to indicate his intentions, and should have done so. It is a common practice, when a Minister proposes to introduce a Bill, for him to outline its main features.
– It has never been the practice here.
– Perhaps the honorable member, when in Opposition, did not know of the standing order, but I remember the circulation of memoranda in this Chamber stating the intentions of Bills.
– They were circulated upon the introduction of the Bills.
– Are we not entitled to information? I have read in the press the statement that it is intended to introduce a Bill of one clause to amend the electoral law.
– If the honorable member will allow us the opportunity of seeing the Bill, he can judge what is in it.
– These interpolations do not assist, though they occupy a little of my time. Government members, by their interruptions, are trying to delay business. If they continue, I shall come to think that there is something in what the Prime Minister said when he asked, ‘ What is the matter with Australia ? What do we want any more laws for?” All this talk about trying to pass legislation may be so much bluff. The political game of the Government is to introduce a Bill of one clause reestablishing the postal vote. On such a measure discussion would be restricted, and the game of honorable members opposite would be successfully- played if they could get the measure on to the Senate, and bring about the failure of the Senate to pass it after it had been twice sent within three months, because that would make a double dissolution possible. If that is what is in the minds of honorable members, I ask them to read the two articles which were published in the Melbourne Age yesterday and the preceding day, dealing with the subject of a single and a double dissolution, and showing that in all probability their last state will be worse than their first. I deem it my public duty at every opportunity to put a sprag into the destructive wheel of the Ministry. The Attorney-General has said that he wants the political organizations to assist the electoral officers in purifying the rolls. He surely does not know the political abuses which occurred in Queensland under that system. Surely this great Commonwealth is wealthy enough to pay the electoral officers, police, canvassers, and all other persons necessary for the compilation of a good and pure electoral roll.
– What I said was that objections to names on the roll would be invited from political associations. These would be considered by the Department, and investigated with a view to purifying the roll.
– That correction does not improve matters. All that the political association did in Queensland was to furnish objections to names on the roll, which were thereupon struck off by the electoral officers.
– That was wrong, surely ! It was not suggested that the electoral officers should strike names off the roll on the ipse dixit of political associations, but that these associations should furnish information which would permit investigation to be made.
– The Attorney-General must see the objection to that. The capitalist partyhas an organizer in every electorate, and in many of the large towns. In Rockhampton, for example, a man is kept permanently employed looking after the rolls and after the political organization for which he works, the capitalist party paying him. The AttorneyGeneral is going to ask these paid servants of the capitalist party to make objections to names on the roll. Is it likely that they will object to the names of persons thought to vote for the capitalist candidates ? But is it not likely that an overzealous servant of the capitalist party - and these persons are generally overzealous will make objection to names of men who have every right to vote? So far as I can glean, there is to be no provision for publicity in regard to these representations. Bad as the Queensland system was, it had this to recommend it, that publicity was given to objections. On pages 1 and 2 of the Mount Morgan Argus of 4th September, which came by the last mail-
– Is the honorable member going to lay the paper on the table?
– If necessary. At a casual glance, I should say that on these pages there are given the names of fully a thousand persons which have been struck off the roll for Mount Morgan. These names were advertised in accordance with the State electoral law, and before each there appears either the word “ left “ or “dead.” For the most part the word “left” appears. There is also published in this issue of the Mount Morgan Argus the following warning on the part of the editor -
We would urge every one to look up the list for his own or friends’ names. The work of revising the roils has been done by the police. Many names have been left on for Mount Morgan which should have been on the Normanby list, and vice versa. The present attempt to adjust matters entails plenty of work on the new Clerk of Petty Sessions, Mr. R. Power, but he has tackled the job, and will now have to stand the many calls of “ left “ voters.
In other words the editor suggests that people whose names have been struck off the roll on the ground that they have left the district will be calling on the clerk of petty sessions in their tens, twenties, and forties to explain that they are still resident in the district. One advantage of the Queensland electoral law is that notice has to be given in the news papers when any name is to be struck off the roll, so that the person concerned, or his friends, may see the advertisement, and be able to take action. The AttorneyGeneral’s proposal is, however, to allow political organizations to furnish objections, and that the electoral officer shall have the power to strike off the names of persons objected to without publishing the fact that he intends to do so. Such a procedure is extremely dangerous.
– Even a published notice is not always seen.
– Quite so. The AttorneyGeneral may say, “ We shall send notice to the elector in each case.” There are many thousands of people in the Commonwealth who might not receive such a notice, and who fail very often to get a notice even when it is sent through the post. Then, again, many men when they received such a notice might be busily engaged at their daily work, and would say, “ Why should we bother about spending half a day or a day in waiting on the clerk of petty sessions to request that our names be left on the roll?”
– Surely the honorable member would not have the rolls maintained permanently without any revision ?
– What a question for an intelligent representative of Tasmania to ask ! The present electoral law is about as perfect a system as has so far been devised.
– I know cases where people had to send in cards two or three times before they could secure enrolment.
– Notwithstanding the faults in the system to which the honorable member may be able to point, I contend that the scheme under which an elector desiring “to be enrolled must sign a card, which is kept in the office for reference, is the best that has yet been devised. Then, again, in the Act, as it stands, there are a number of sections relating to the purification of the rolls. In Mount Morgan, for instance, at the end of 1912, 800 names were struck off the roll for Capricornia.
Colonel Ryrie. - Nearly all Liberals.
– They might have been. A new manager, who had been appointed by the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Company, proceeded to make a reduction in the staff with the result that 700 or 800 men were discharged. Many of these found their way to various parts of Australia, and of the 800 names objected to there might have been 500 or 600 that should legitimately be left off. There are several questions which I wish to ask, if honorable members will bear with me, before I vote to give the Honorary Minister leave to bring in this Bill.
Colonel Ryrie. - Do not hurry.
– I do not intend to do »o. Life is too precious to permit of my hurrying myself out of existence.
– Is the party behind the honorable member in this “ stone wall “ ?
– I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to call upon this Oxford larrikin to withdraw that expression.
– The honorable member himself has just used an expression which I must first ask him to withdraw.
– It was used in the heat of the moment, sir, and I withdraw it with pleasure. I can assure you that I am not indulging in anything of the nature of a “ stone wall.”
– I now ask the Honorary Minister to withdraw the remark to which objection was taken.
– If the honorable member’s method of adducing his facts led me into error, I regret it, and withdraw the remark.
– Order ! The honorable member must withdraw the remark without any qualification.
– I do so.
– The Treasurer and other members of his party have had a lot to
Bay in regard to the honesty of the electors of the Commonwealth. The honorable member for Bourke dealt with the Treasurer very neatly last week, when he referred to the attitude which he had taken up. The Treasurer had said that there had been a great deal of fraud on the part of voters; and, when it was proved by Mr. Oldham that this was not correct, he said, “ Well. I am surprised.” Supposing, for example, that some one had defamed the Treasurer.
– Supposing some one had said that he was returned to Parliament by a constituency consisting of fortyfive electors.
– That he had got into Parliament by very questionable means.
– No one would believe it.
– Probably not; but if the right honorable gentleman proceeded against that person for slander, what would he say if, when he had proved that he had been returned to Parliament by most legitimate means, the defendant said, “Well, I am surprised”?
– Is the honorable member leading his party in this instance, or is he only bidding for support?
– I trust that the honorable member will not lose sight of the fact that, as a Minister of the Crown, he occupies a very high and honorable position, and that he ought to behave himself. Certainly he is only an Honorary Minister, but even that position carries with it the obligation that he should behave himself.
– But is the honorable member bidding for the leadership?
– The honorable member for Wentworth is not quite a Minister ; he is only the Prime Minister’s “ fag.”
– These interruptions must cease. I have to call attention every day to the frequent interruptions that take place, and if they continue, I shall be compelled, although with great reluctance, to put in force the standing order relating to the matter. I try to forbear as much as possible, but there is a point at which forbearance must end.
– In the Age of 4tb August last there is an article headed “Electoral Inquiry,” “Sir John Forrest dissatisfied.” “ Present electoral law inadequate”; and in it we have the following statement: - “ It is all very well to try and smother it up by percentages,” said Sir John Forrest on Saturday. “ The important point is that the existing electoral system has permitted between 3,000 and 4,000 electors in forty-four divisions to vote more than once. It is a matter for great satisfaction that the double voting, as far as it has been discovered, does not show the amount of wrongdoing that was freely reported as having occurred. I am sure that every one will rejoice at that . . . “
Fancy a man who had libelled the Treasurer saying, when the facts had come out, “ Every one will rejoice because Sir John has come out of the case so splendidly.” My complaint is that honorable members opposite, who are proposing to amend the electoral law, have been responsible, and the Treasurer particularly so, for the slanders on the people of Australia with regard to the voting at the last general elections. One statement appearing in the Age, and signed “ G. B. Brick - hill, 233 Collins-street” - which, I suppose,. is the address of the Age office - was headed, “Tempting the electors”; “Opening for fraud”; “Weakness of the law”; and proceeded to show how often a man could vote. Then another article was headed, “ Alleged grave voting irregularities: Fifty-five double voters in one subdivision.” We are told in this newspaper -
The Liberal scrutineers in the Northcote subdivision of the Bourke electorate allege that no fewer than fifty-five cases of double voting have been brought under their notice, and that of these twenty-six have been authenticated in the. sense that it has been proved that with respect to each of twenty-six names on the rolls two separate votes were cast in different booths. . . . Mr. Howie, a Liberal secretary working in the Batman electorate, lias under investigation a case of a woman who appears to have voted three times in that constituency. . . . The alleged appointment of partisan political persons as officials within the polling booths is not the least important subject to be sifted.
What I complain of is that men like the Treasurer have evidently read all this scandalous talk, and accepted it as gospel, thus doing much harm to the reputation of the people of Australia. From my reading of statistics, the people here are, if anything, more honest than the people in other parts of the world. That may be due to the more general prosperity in this country; but, whatever the cause, it is possible for a man to go from one end of Australia to the other - over immense distances, sufficient to embrace Spain, France, Italy, and Germany - absolutely unarmed. This high standard of honesty is continually rising, as crime statistics show us; and our educational system, too, has doubtless something to do with this. Much has been said about the last general election, but I should like to tell honorable members an experience of my own about twenty years ago, when I was a candidate for Parliament. A committeeman of my opponent gave £1 each for votes, and it is interesting to know the way in which the money was earned. This committeeman gave a mau a blank slip of paper, and told this man that, on going into the polling booth, he had to put the paper into the ballot-box and bring out with him his untouched ballot-paper. This the man did, and received his reward. When the next voter came along he was given the ballot-paper - by this time filled up in favour of my opponent - and instructed that he had to put it into the box and bring out his own untouched ballot-paper. This process was repeated, each voter being paid for what he did. Has any one of us ever heard of such a thing at any election during the past ten years ?
– I have; people have told me that that is how it is done.
– This is scarcely in keeping with the manly reputation of the honorable gentleman.
– A mau told me, to put me on my guard against those who were opposed to me.
– That, is not a clever, but, on the other hand, rather a clumsy, ‘ get out ‘ ‘ on the part of the honorable gentleman.
– The man did not say anything about money being paid*, but put me on my guard against organizations.
– I have not the time fo go into the question of whether supporters of the Labour party, who are mostly wage-earners at manual trades, can afford to pay £1 each for votes.
– We have no Herbert Brookes to subsidize us.
– In the case just referred to, £500 was sent from one political organization. Melbourne, which, I suppose, in the future, will occupy much the position of Boston as the educational city of the Commonwealth, is the head centre of the political organizations. Contributions are not now, as formerly, sent to various organizations, but are all paid to one trusted individual, with some public man to see that the accounts are right.
– -And the trusted man in Western Australia is the honorable member for Perth !
– I am now speaking of men who control the political machine, and have the handling of thousands of pounds. I believe that some £3,000 was sent to Queensland on behalf of big landed proprietors and wealthy companies, who are strongly opposed to Labour party legislation, such as the land tax. These wealthy people, some of whom have to pay as much as £10,000 or £20,000 in land tax, very readily subscribe. They are simply told by the trusted man in control that they must give £1,000 or £5,000, as the case may be; and, so far as I am informed, there does not seem to be any trouble in obtaining these large subscriptions.
– They have to pay, or be squeezed out.
– If they do not pay they may suffer social ostracism, which is just as effective in their case as would be a punch on the nose to some people
– I wish we only had the power the honorable member refers to - we would put them under the roller !
– Honorable members on the Government side are missing much valuable information, and I call attention to the fact that there is not a quorum. [Quorum formed.] As to the recent general election, the Chief Electoral Officer was called upon in great haste to make a report. The Attorney-General, in his anxiety, did a most injudicious and irregular thing in asking for an investigation of the state of the ballot-papers.
– That is not so. The honorable member knows that that statement is not correct, and yet he makes it as though he believed it.
– What I am saying is absolutely true. The Attorney-General ordered an investigation.
– Not of the ballot-papers, and the honorable member knows it.
– Of the rolls.
– That is quite a different matter.
– As at first arranged, no scrutineer had to be present at the investigation; but, on representations being made to him, the Attorney-General very readily agreed, not only that there should be scrutineers, but that they should be paid. I desire to know whether the forthcoming Electoral Bill will contain a clause providing for the payment of scrutineers in the future. I think it is a very just complaint. All this talk about a defective electoral law resulted in a report by the Chief Electoral Officer, and it is said there were irregularities to the extent of less than three per 1,000.
– Alleged irregularities.
– And these alleged irregularities are not proven. Any one who knows anything about elections, and who takes the trouble to go into a polling booth to see what goes on, knows the excitement there is. He will see halfadozen electors pressing the presiding officer for ballot-papers, and he will readily understand how easy it is to make mistakes. The people appointed to these positions are not all capable, clerical men. I suppose some of them hardly ever use a pen. If we could get duly qualified clerks and schoolmasters, as is the case very often, to be presiding officers, everything would be well. But we cannot do that. So that honorable members may go to a polling booth and find a proportion of those officiating are men who have had rather a bad time in life, men who cannot get employment and are glad to earn a guinea or two when an election comes along, no one offering any objection to them because they know they are hard up. That is, no doubt, responsible for some of the irregularities.
– For a good many of them.
– The law which it is proposed to amend already contains numerous provisions for punishing people who commit breaches of it. I will refer to some of the prosecutions which took place under the regime of the former Minister of Home Affairs- the Hon. King O’Malley. I have a return of the names and addresses of the persons who were guilty of offences under the Electoral Act at the general election of 1910. I shall not mention the names, but I shall mention the offences. One man, charged with unlawfully removing an official notice, was fined 15s., with a guinea costs. Another was fined £2, with a guinea costs, for dual voting; and another was fined £2 on two charges, with a guinea and 6d. costs for a breach of duty as an authorized witness, a third charge in the same case being withdrawn. Another man was fined £1, with a guinea costs, for a breach of duty as an authorized witness. There was still another case, in which a similar fine was inflicted for a similar offence. Another man was fined £1, with 13s. costs, for improperly assisting an elector in relation to his vote. There were two charges in that case. In another case, a man was fined £1, with £7 16s. 4d. costs, for undue influence; and there was a fine of £1, with 6s. costs, inflicted on a man charged with disturbing a political meeting. For a similar offence, another person was fined £5.
– They could have added very considerably to the revenue at the last general election.
– It was the party now, unfortunately, occupying the cold shades of Opposition that brought in the law to punish men for interrupting political meetings.
– They did not put it into operation much.
– Honorable members opposite complain about persons interrupting political meetings, but we cannot be blamed for that. We passed the law providing that people disturbing political meetings were liable to a fine. The electoral law, as we have it, is quite complete, with ample provisions to deal with any person breaking it; and why do we need an amendment of it? Can honorable members opposite give us an idea of any method of arresting and bringing to book persons who break the electoral law? There was no law ever passed to prevent an intelligent human being, desiring to be dishonest, from voting at more than one polling booth ; no law can be passed to prevent it, and some people will no doubt vote more than once; but everything that could be done was done by our party to perfect the electoral law. Yet honorable members opposite, who belong to the capitalistic party - I notice they do not deny that - are trying to destroy this beautiful Act - it really is a beautiful Act - and it is only a just and reasonable demand that I am making that we should have full information. A very remarkable fact is that under the existing law a higher percentage of the people voted at the last election than at any other election in Australia. In New South Wales, 60.2 per cent. of the people on the roll voted.
– That is a very small percentage.
– It is so, but I warn honorable members-
– God help them !
– It will not be the warning that will be their trouble, it will be their fate if they disregard the warning. They have asked for a full vote. They say, ‘ ‘ Why do you not go to the poll ? It is a public duty to go to the poll.” They ask,. “ Why should we not have a 90 per cent. vote of the electors, as they have in other parts of the world?” The very fact that the people in New South Wales polled only 60 per cent. was the reason why we are on the Opposition benches. If the people in New South Wales had polled the percentage polled in other States, our friends opposite would be in the position in which they deserve to be. There was a 75 per cent. vote in Victoria; in Queensland, 76.89; in South Australia, 79.9; in Western Australia, 72 per cent.; and in Tasmania, 74 per cent.
– In Darwin it was 80 per cent.
– Honorable members have discovered - and that is why they wish to destroy this Act - that under the electoral law every facility is given to the people of Australia entitled to get on the rolls to get there.
– Except the sick and the aged.
– And now they desire to destroy the beneficial character of this legislation; they wish to prevent a number of electors from exercising the franchise. They say we abolished the postal vote. We did so because the capitalistic party employed certain justices of the peace.
– They corrupted them.
– I have a great respect for the unpaid magistracy; they do a lot of useful work, and it is a very honorable position they hold; but some individuals who get that distinguished position of justice of the peace have such little regard for their own personal honour that they are prepared to go to capitalistic organizations and receive money for the purpose of going round from door to door asking if the lady is ill, and if she requires a postal vote.
– Would it not be far better to punish them than deprive the sick people of votes?
– I am informed on good authority that justices of the peace in Queensland went round as paid canvassers from door to door, trying to get the names of those people who required postal votes, and that they assisted the invalid to copy the postal vote paper, and did all the writing necessary, and sent along a message to the Divisional Returning Officer asking for the postal ballotpaper to be sent to a certain address. Afterwards they called again to assist the invalid to vote; and having assisted the invalid to get a paper and to vote, and having ascertained how the invalid voted, if the latter happened to be a Labour supporter the postal vote never reached the Returning Officer.
– That is mere assumption on your part.
– Why did you not have those people punished?
– I did not know of a case; but I understand it was a fact, and that is our complaint - that is why the postal vote was abolished in Queensland by the Premier of the State at that time, « Mr. Kidston, who said that the postal voting system should be abolished root and branch. If honorable members opposite have a scheme whereby the secrecy of the ballot may be retained, let them explain it. I do not think that they have anything of the sort. They are a wicked, designing set of men, who want to rob the great majority of the people of the right to vote.
.- I desire to make a few suggestions to the Minister in charge of the Bill. Usually, during the discussion of a second reading, or at preliminary stages when there is an exhaustive debate, many valuable suggestions for amendment are made which cannot be dealt with at the Committee stage. At that stage, the Minister in charge of the Bill may move amendments which have been agreed to in Cabinet, but the Bill may not be amended entirely in accordance with the desires of honorable members generally. On previous occasions I have made suggestions for the amendment of the electoral law when an amending Bill was being discussed, but have not been able to give effect to them. Apparently the Bill which is to be introduced will be of such a character that only matters with which the Ministry desire to deal will be covered by it. What I desire is that the Bill shall be so framed that other amendments of the electoral law besides those proposed by the Ministry may be made,- should there be a majority in favour of them.
– Does the honorable member say we shall be debarred from inserting new clauses ?
M”.r. BAMFORD.- We shall not be allowed to insert clauses going beyond the order of leave. That has been ruled over and over again by Chairmen of Committees. I wish the order of leave to be made as wide as possible.
– It could not be wider.
– I have suggestions to make for the alteration of the electoral law, which I am sure will commend themselves to the Prime Minister and to the Minister in charge of the Bill, and I hope that the order of leave will be made wide enough to enable effect to be given to them in Committee. To mention one matter, I wish to do away with the monetary deposit that candidates are now required to make. There should not ‘be a deposit. It is unfair to ask candidates to lay £25 to nothing that they will secure a certain number of votes. To do so is to encourage the gambling instinct, and to that, I am sure, the Prime Minister is opposed. There are other alterations of the law which, in my opinion, should be made, and I ask that favorable consideration may be given to my request for an opportunity to propose them.
– We might have expected from the Minister ‘in charge of the Bill for which leave to introduce is asked an explanation of the lines on which it is constructed. I may be told that it is not usual at this stage to make such an explanation. That may be so, but the House has the right under the Standing Orders to demand an explanation at any stage. We are quite justified, therefore, in not treating the present motion as a formal one, and in asking for an explanation of the proposed Bill. The Minister in charge of the measure might have met us by furnishing information. We are entitled to know what the proposals of the Government for the alteration of the electoral law are. Having a majority, the Government can, of course, ultimately obtain leave to introduce the Bill. All Oppositions are handicapped in not having the power to extend the scope of a Bill. That can be done by getting leave to amend the title to cover amendments not provided for, but obviously a Government that did not wish further amendments to be made would use its majority to prevent such an alteration. There is very little hope, therefore, of succeeding in an attempt of that kind. I do not object to the provision of our electoral law which requires candidates to make a monetary deposit. It may be a handicap to some would-be candidates that £25 must be deposited on nomination, but there are two sides to the question. In my opinion, no man or woman ought to be nominated who cannot count upon substantial support. To be poor is always a misfortune, but I have known very few poor persons to be candidates for Parliament, and to have a fair chance of success, who could not find supporters prepared to subscribe their deposit money. When a candidate has a chance of succeeding, there is no risk in doing this. But -why should the Commonwealth he put to the expense and trouble of an election when there are only two candidates, and one of them has not the least chance in the world of getting even the small number of votes now required to prevent the forfeiture of the deposit?
– I know of a case in South Australia in which a perfect idiot was nominated by way of a joke.
– That sort of thing has not happened often in South Australia, but were the provisions regarding deposits eliminated from the law, interested persons would occasionally run candidates who had no chance of success. They would do this for the sake of the few pounds which they could thus get into their nets. I always believed in the deposit system, even before I entered the State House. Every man or woman contesting a constituency should give prima facie evidence of the belief that reasonably sufficient support would be obtained. Candidates should not be nominated in a manner that would abuse our electoral law and bring elections into contempt. I do not ask that Ministers should practically read the provisions of the proposed Bill, but I think that they should tell us how they propose to alter ‘the electoral law. This is a matter of exceptional interest. No one believes more strongly than I do that we should, where possible, adhere to the forms and practices of Parliament, recognising the principles underlying them, but the present case is exceptional. The Government had two lines of policy which it might have pursued. It might have interpreted the recent election as an expression by the people of the desire that during the next three years there should be rest and respite from the reforming zeal of the Labour party. A patriotic Australian Government would have assumed that that was the interpretation to be given to the verdict of the people. But instead of adopting such a policy, this Government determined to proceed along a reactionary line, and to reverse, as far as possible, the work done by their predecessors.
– Might not that argument apply to the work of the late Governmentmight it not be said that it was reactionary ?
– I think we are entitled to expect on the part of the honorable member some acquaintance with the political history of the country to which he belongs.
– I am asking for information.
– The question is so stupid that I am surprised that the honorable member should ask it. It is recognised by every thinking man of the Empire, as well as in the Republic of America, that the community is divided into two sections. One section is bent upon reform, believing that existing conditions, and more particularly the distribution of wealth, cannot be said to be satisfactory; while the other - I will not say that it is a reactionary party, because to say that the Conservative party consists solely of reactionaries would be to do them an injustice - takes up the position that, although things are bad, the granting of the reforms demanded by the other side would serve only to intensify the trouble. They, therefore, say, “ We prefer to stand where we are.”
– - But this is an electoral measure, and the honorable member will see its provisions when we are given leave to introduce it.
– The honorable member should have outlined the provisions of the Bill when he moved for leave to introduce it.
– It has never been necessary in the history of this Parliament to explain the scope of a measure on a motion for leave to introduce it.
– The people do not expect from the Conservative party anything in the nature of reform”; but they do expect reforms from a Labour or a Radical Administration. As to the statement just made by the Honorary Minister that it is not the practice to challenge a Bill on the motion for leave to introduce it, I am not prepared to say that the custom is altogether satisfactory. I am not prepared to admit that honorable members should cease to use on all occasions the right they possess to challenge a Government on a motion for leave to introduce a Bill.
– The honorable member is quite right; it is only right to treat a motion for leave as a formal matter when one is on this side of the House.
– I am glad that the Prime Minister agrees with me that when things are different they are not the same. I do not think that the honorable gentleman can complain when we ask for information as to the lines on which the measure is framed, so that we may either debate it, or allow it to pass on to a further stage. The Government, instead of interpreting the verdict of the country in the way to which I have referred, have declared war on the working people of the community. When war is declared, you do not expect your opponents to help you to gain possession of all the strong positions, or to move your troops wherever you like.
– Is the honorable member afraid to have the provisions of this Bill published ?
– The commercial press have already told us that it is a Bill of one clause, but they indulge in so much fiction that one cannot depend very much on their statements. Knowing that we have in power a reactionary Government with a reactionary policy, and that from the date of the last general election until recently the whole of the people of Australia were defamed, charged with double voting, and all sorts of malpractices
– Especially in connexion with the postal vote. Does the honorable member recollect what his party used to say about the postal vote a few years ago?
– If the honorable member had given us the fullest information when he submitted this motion-
– I will give the honorable member the information as soon as he sits down.
– The whole of the electors of Australia have been slandered. I do not say that they were slandered by the members of the Government, but they were certainly slandered by their organizations, their hacks, their jackals, and their commercial press. If they possessed the slightest measure of common sense, they would have realized what actually occurred. They would have remembered that we altered the law by providing for compulsory enrolment, and I believe that at least one-third of the electors at the last general election believed that they would be imprisoned if they did not vote.
– They made the farmers in my district believe that.
– And they did the same with many people in my electorate. Many women voters in the electorate of Hindmarsh asked me, “ Shall we be imprisoned if we do not vote?” I told them to vote by all means, but to have no fear about being sent to prison if they did not vote.
– Did the honorable member’s constituents ask that question ?
– Yes, and the same question was asked all over South Australia.
– Now we begin to understand why Labour won in South Australia.
– What the Government are beginning to understand is what every schoolboy knew from the first would happen - that because of the compulsory enrolment, and the belief held by many that they would be punished if they did not vote, there was a very heavy poll. The conclusion to which honorable members opposite came, however, was that because the men and women of Australia woke up and recorded their votes in large numbers, corrupt practices had occurred.
– Corrupt practices?
– Surely it is a corrupt practice to vote twice. The suggestion that double voting was indulged in came, I shall not say, from the Government personally-
– They fathered it.
– I do not say that, but the Government heard these statements being made, and had not the manliness to utter one word in defence of the people of their country, who were being defamed in this way. Twenty years ago the taunt often used to be hurled at politicians - although we do not hear it so often nowadays - that they were professional politicians, living on the game. If we are professional politicians, we have a perfect right to be jealous of the honour of our profession. I am not anxious to see growing up in Australia a race of professional politicians, who are conspicuous by the fact that they can never speak the truth, even by accident. There is a tendency in that direction, and it should be mercilessly suppressed.
– Hear, hear ! That is very rough on the honorable member’s side.
– I do not know so much about that. If we are to hand over, under this Bill, the purifying of the rolls - I believe that is the cant phrase used by the other side - to political organizations, what are we to expect? We may expect what I have known to be done here, and what has been scandalously done in the Old Country. I refer to the practice of selecting from the rolls the names of those known to be too busy to object if they are struck off - the names of people who are sobusy that they will not go before the Revision Court. These organizations would not think of picking out a member of this House or a candidate, because they would say at once, “ That man knows too much. We will let him alone.” They lodge objections by the score, and men and women, even if they receive notice, in many cases are too busy to take action, and when an election comes round they find that their names are not on the roll. This is a Conservative trick which is as old as the hills. It is part of the game of the party which believes in the power of wealth and privilege, and in keeping down the working man. They say, “ Give him a vote,” and next day they proceed in this way to rob him of the right to vote. No doubt, that is part of the arrangement to be followed in connexion with this measure. The organizations of the Conservative party will set to work to get as many names as possible off the roll in the shortest space of time.
– Does not the honorable member think that he had better see the Bill before he makes foolish statements ?
– The Honorary Minister should have told the House, in submitting this motion, the lines on which the Bill is drafted. The Minister has no one to blame but himself for the criticism that we have heard this afternoon. It would be a very good practice for the Government, in introducing Bills, to give some indication of their contents and of the principles on which they are based. This is a practice that has been repeatedly followed in the past, and might well be generally adopted. We are told by the press friends of the Government that the great object is to purify the rolls. But we know what that means whenever the brigade opposite touch the electoral laws. Their policy does not mean the purification of the rolls, but their attenuation as much as possible in the interests of their party. There is nothing very original in such a policy. It has been made a fine art in the Old Country, where the electors are robbed of their rights to the utmost possible extent. If a man moves even into the next house he is struck off the rolls; nay, if a lodger moves from the ground floor to an upper floor he is disfranchised, and has to wait, perhaps for twelve months, or until the next August, before he can be placed on the roll again. This is done by the august allies of our friends opposite, and with the old object of oppressing the people, and robbing them of their votes systematically on every available occasion. Immediately after the general election we find this Government, even with a majority of one, foaming at the mouth in their anxiety to carry out their reactionary measures. I rise simply to protest against the Government introducing Bills of this character; and I have intimated what I think their policy should be in view of the present state of parties. If they intend to proceed on their reactionary way, they must expect every inch of the ground to be fought. The Government and their press friends are both inquiring why we should not proceed with non-contentious legislation; but I suppose that, if we did so, it would only mean that some non-contentious measure would be placed in front of the Electoral Bill and hurriedly disposed of. This would once more bring us up against contentious matter; and, as I have said, the Government have no one to blame but themselves for the position this afternoon. It is a logical conclusion of their policy of declaring war against all the measures of reform passed by their predecessors. The ablest statesmen in the Old Country have laid it down that the Government should not attempt to reverse the measures of those who have gone before them, but should proceed with a steadying class of legislation until their countrymen give a dicision in another direction.
– I should like to give honorable members opposite some information now.
– That would close the debate.
.- The honorable member for Wentworth knows that if he were to rise and give the information he desires to give, the one result would be to close the debate.
– I hoped that my information would have that effect.
– I am glad the honorable member admits that his desire is to close the debate and prevent discussion.
– I think it is a useless debate.
– If it is a useless debate, the honorable member is solely responsible. The Standing Orders distinctly show that a Bill is brought in by way of notice in order that the minority - and we are not in such a terrible minority - may protect itself. The object is to allow ample opportunity for discussing measures at all possible stages.
– Until leave is granted, honorable members cannot know what the Bill is.
– That is quite correct; but the procedure of Ministers at this stage should be to give a general outline of a Bill. There is no need to give details, but merely some indication of what the measure is really intended to do.
– Has the honorable member ever known that course to be followed ?
– Yes; it is a common practice, even in this House. I regret that the honorable member has had his time so much taken up with other duties that he is not able to remember instances in which he himself, at such a stage of a Bill, has desired information.
– Never on an Electoral Bill. The electoral management of the country should be above party.
– In that, the honorable member is on firm ground, and has, struck the key-note of the position. If there is one thing that should not be dealt with from a party point of view, it is the electoral law. Honorable members opposite talk about making this a nonparty question ; but, immediately after the elections, there was what I believe to be a conspiracy set on foot.
– Call it a burglary !
-The honorable member ought not to interrupt. At the present time, he is on the Government side, and is not permitted to say too much. I have been on the Government side myself, and I can appreciate his position. As I say, there was a conspiracy set afoot to try to make the people believe that something very wrong had taken place during the elections. To justify themselves in slandering the people of the country, the Government and their supporters have thought fit to come down with some kind of Bill, though what kind of Bill it is we do not know, and the
Minister refuses to give any information. The Bill was merely thrown on the table like a bone to a number of dogs, and we were invited to worry it.
– The Bill is not on the table yet.
– Quite true. At, any rate, the motion was thrown on the table. On an occasion like this, some outline of the measure should be given.
– Let me have a chance to give one.
– The honorable member will probably get a chance in the morning. Supporters of the Government, and many members of the Government, took part in the conspiracy to slander the people, and they endeavoured to justify their position by holding a secret inquiry. It was only by chance that one of the newspaper reporters ferreted out the fact that an inquiry was to be held ; and when the question was raised in the House, the Government were forced to accede to the request of the Leader of the Opposition to allow the presence of scrutineers. What has been the result of the inquiry? Out of the thousands of alleged cases of double voting, we have not heard of one solitary conviction. It only shows the lengths to which honorable members opposite were prepared to go. We had the Treasurer producing a telegram from a defeated candidate in Fremantle, to the effect that there had been 2,800 double votes in that constituency; but, as a matter of fact, the scrutiny showed that there were only 150 odd who were alleged to have voted twice. Then, as the honorable member for Capricornia has told us, the Treasurer was simply amazed to think that the people of his own State were so honest. The surprise on my part is that the Treasurer should have taken up such a position, and no doubt that surprise is shared by those who read the honorable gentleman’s remarks. There is much in what the honorable member for Herbert said about the scope of this motion being made as wide as possible; but the scope of the Bill does not depend on that of the motion, but on what the Bill contains, and on the second reading. We have no information from the Minister as to what the Bill contains, and we have a right to the information, if only by way of interjection. The only method by which we can ascertain what the Government intend to do is to take the statements made by supporters of the Government, whose votes, I suppose, have an influence on Ministers. The honorable member for Grampians takes up a certain stand.
– I draw attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
– The honorable member for Grampians delivered a speech at Avoca a little while ago, and stated that, in his opinion, the only persons who should be permitted to vote at elections were those on the ratepayers’ rolls. Is it part of the policy of the Government in the Bill they are about to introduce to make the ratepayers’ rolls the basis of enrolment? After the first Federal election there was an inquiry held, and there was an effort made to have all voting done by post. All who gave evidence on those lines belonged to the Conservative party, and they desired that voting should be by post, because they claimed that it would save expense and a considerable amount of trouble for the voter. They alluded to the loss of time in voting in the ordinary way at the polling booths. So we can see in this instance a desire not to extend or liberalize the franchise. If we take this case, there is the desire to restrict it as much as possible.
– You will find that this Bill actually liberalizes it.
– I am glad to have that interjection. The honorable member will now see the error of his ways. He will see that it is not the correct course to merely come down and ask for leave to introduce a Bill without giving the smallest details as to the outlines of the measure.
– I shall do penance if the honorable member will sit down.
– In addition to the honorable member for Grampians desiring that we should have only the ratepayers’ roll, there was another honorable member sitting behind him who desired to considerably limit the franchise. I can go further. Let us go to the recent Bill introduced in Queensland by the same party, who are part and parcel, and supporters, of the organization to which members of the Government belong.
– If it will pacify the honorable member, I can assure him that the Queensland Government had absolutely nothing to do with the preparation of our Bill.
– They may not have had anything to do with the preparation of the Bill, but the honorable member has seen the Queensland Bill, and has probably copied some of its most Conservative provisions.
– I have not seen it, and I have not copied it.
– There has never been, in the last twenty years, a more Conservative measure in relation to the franchise introduced in any Parliament of Australia than the Queensland Bill. It will disfranchise, at least, 50,000 people if it becomes law, and this will be done in a very simple way. There is a clause in the Bill which says that people may not have their names on the roll unless they have bonâ fide residences. Until the time that I left the Queensland State Parliament to come to the Federal Parliament, that had never clearly been defined, but the provision was used by those who support the present Government to disfranchise people bytens of thousands throughout Queensland. In those days in the western part of Queensland, from the Gulf of Carpentaria to the borders of New South Wales, very few had votes. It seemed almost impossible to keep a name on the roll, and when an election came round we found, in all the small towns in the back country, only those had votes who had permanent residences in the towns.
– Hear, hear !
– And, as has been said by the honorable member for Hindmarsh, if a man crossed from one side of the street to the other he was disfranchised, or if he changed from one address to another he was disfranchised. If people could not prove to the Electoral Registrar, when he held his Revision Court, that they had bonâ fide residences in particular spots they were disfranchised. That law in Queensland was abolished by a subsequent Government, and eventually they brought in adult suffrage, but now we find the reactionary party that has been in power in Queensland for a year or two coming to the rescue, and enacting the same state of affairs that was in existence twenty years ago. When we see these things taking place, when we know that they are brought about by the very men who are supporting honorable members opposite, when we know that the very man responsible for the introduction of the Bill in
Queensland was trustee of the secret fund in connexion with the organization of the Liberal party, it is reasonable for usto be very suspicious in relation to the matter now before us. What was the postal vote about which honorable members say so much, and which they are also anxious to restore? Do they mean to say that all who were sick at the last general elections - all the sick and crippled who were in hospitals and could not record their votes, were Liberal supporters ? Considering the exposure and risk to injury that are likely to occur to the masses of the workers, I do not hesitate to say that there was just as large a proportion of the sick and crippled at the last election who were supporters of the Labour party, as there was in relation to the other side. Yet when we tried to give the people in the institutions an opportunity to record their votes, a number of the same individuals supporting our friends opposite refused to allow us to make polling booths in certain hospitals.
– This Bill will give all those people a chance of voting.
– The postal vote is open to fraud, and corruption, and deceit of every kind. It opens the way to the violation of the secrecy of the ballot, and I shall, therefore, use every endeavour to prevent any return to the postal-vote system.
– That is a serious reflection on the honesty of the Australian voting public.
– The honorable member is a great authority on the honesty of the voting public of Australia. Let me say that those who do dishonest things are not to be found on this side of the House. I have listened to the Prime Minister denying having slandered the people of Australia in regard to the vote at the last elections, although at the time he made the denial he had in his pocket a letter with the name of the writer who had defamed the people of Australia, and he was not manly or honest enough to tell the people who had done it. I say again, that I believe there is greater opportunity for fraud under the postal-vote system than under any other system I know of, and if the Honorary Minister chooses to say that that statement is libelling the electors, he may say it to his heart’s content, for what he says does not trouble me.From what I have seen of the postal vote, it has certainly opened a means of violating the secrecy of the ballot. To mention again the matter to which I am about to refer may seem almost tedious repetition ; but I do not think that it can be spoken of too often in this connexion. I have not with me at present figures relating to the whole of Queensland, but I know that in Charters Towers alone at one election 2,700 postal votes were recorded, many of them in the names of persons who were dead, and others in the names of absentees, some of whom returned on election day only to find that they could not vote, because they had been personated. The Government of the day appointed 300 justices of the peace, of whom somewhere about twenty were for the Charters Towers district, to go round witnessing and collecting postal votes. So far as these 2,700 votes were concerned, the voting was practically open and without secrecy. A few persons using the postal vote might have recorded their votes secretly ; but the vote generally was manipulated practically by two organizations - the Progressive League and the Labour organization. I do not claim more credit for my party than’ for the other party. I witnessed some hundreds of these votes, and, had I desired, I could have known for what candidates they were cast. To say that that cannot be known under the postal-voting system is to try to deceive. The wholesale corruption that occurred at the election of which I speak was unparalleled, and the new Parliament had hardly met before a Bill was introduced to abolish the postal-voting system.
– The Queensland postalvoting system differed from ours.
– The same thing could have happened under our system. To get the right to vote by post under the Commonwealth system, one had only to say that he had reason to believe that he would not be within 5 miles of a polling booth on election day, and any one could say that.
– What about the sailors? They need the postal vote.
– They use the absent vote.
– All we ask nowis leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Electoral Act. If the honorable member thinks that the Act is perfect, he should vote against the motion.
– Except for one or two minor matters, in respect to which it might be altered, there has never been a better electoral law in Australia. I do not claim that because our electoral law is practically perfect now, it will always be so.
– Under it, personation is easy.
– The right honorable gentleman should be the last to speak of personation. Did he not, in the Parliament of Western Australia, represent a constituency whose electors numbered only forty-five.
– That is not true.
– The right honorable gentleman had those forty-five men practically in his pocket.
– Is the honorable m ember to be permitted to make incorrect statements? I never had a constituency of only forty-five. My constituency was the town of Bunbury, which always had a population of at least 1,000.
– The honorable member for Kennedy must withdraw what he said.
– I shall not withdraw anything.. The Treasurer had no right to interrupt my speech.
– Is the honorable member for Kennedy in order in saying that he will not withdraw a statement which he has been directed to withdraw?
– I have asked the honorable member to withdraw his statement, because it is offensive to the Treasurer. It is the usual practice to require such statements to be withdrawn.
– I think that I am being badly treated. If this sort of thing is to continue, we shall have chaos, and it will be impossible to conduct the business of Parliament. It is outrageous for one honorable member to interrupt the speech of another.
– The honorable member has not yet withdrawn his statement.
– Is the Honorary Minister running the Chair?
– I am waiting for the statement to be withdrawn.
– I withdraw it.
– It was a gross reflection on the Chair to ask if I was running the Chair. I request that that remark be withdrawn.
– I did not intend disrespect to the Chair, but the Honorary Minister has no right to put leading questions to the Chair. The Treasurer published a statement to the effect that 2,800 persons voted twice in Western Australia during the recent election.
– I only sent on a telegram which I had received, and which I believed to be true.
– The honorable member gave that telegram to the press, but when an inquiry took place, and it was found that only 156 persons were alleged to have voted twice, he expressed surprise; in fact, he was disgusted that there were not 2,800 cases of double voting.
– I said from whom I got the telegram.
– But the honorable gentleman said that he believed it.
– So I did.
– The honorable member believed that the people of Fremantle were so corrupt that 2,800 of them voted twice. When it was found that only 156 votes were recorded twice, it was the duty of the honorable member, especially in view of his high and responsible position, to apologize to these people for the slander he had cast upon them. The Bill may contain some extraordinary provisions. I should like to know whether it provides for the adoption of mechanical voting contrivances. We have all heard of machine politics, but there is something to be said for machine voting. If provision is to be made for the use of voting machines, I should like to know what make of machine will be used ? A number of voting machines have been exhibited in this building, and one invented by a Mr. Harding, watchmaker and jeweller, of Grafton, seems to me best suited for the purpose, and most convenient, though, of course, I have not been able to thoroughly test it. The machine is small, being only 8 or 10 inches square, and could be operated for elections affecting two or three candidates. Another machine, a truly wonderful contrivance, has been invented by some one else, whose name I forget, for recording the voting in Senate elections. The use of machines would save much expense in printing ballot-papers and other documents, and the machines could be used effectively on a very simple plan. Each machine would be in a booth, in front of which would hang a curtain, and the elector, having obtained from the presiding officer permission to vote, would pass behind the curtain, and, seeing the names of the candidates exhibited in large letters in the booth, would vote for the man of his choice.
– A photograph could be taken of each voter.
– And the Honorary Minister, who is fond of posing in this House, would have yet another opportunity to pose. The elector records his vote by simply turning a handle. One of the advantages of the machine is that it does away with the necessity for counting the votes, each individual vote being recorded by it. It has already been used largely and with very considerable success in America, and I trust that the Government will take into consideration the desirableness of introducing some such system. I recognise that such an innovation would be viewed witha certain amount of suspicion; but in America, as I have said, it has been adopted with success. Some time ago a Bill was introduced providing for the use of postage stamp machines in the Commonwealth. These machines, it was proposed, should be sent out by the Department to responsible firms, and it was shown that a very considerable saving would be secured by their use.
– The Senate rejected the Bill.
– -The PostmasterGeneral will admit that the machine, to which I refer only by way of illustration, is a very useful one, and would save much expense in the printing of stamps. Sooner or later voting machines will be introduced, and should prove of much value. At the last general election there was a very marked increase in the percentage of electors who recorded their votes. I congratulate the people of Australia upon the interest they evinced on that occasion in the doings of the National Parliament. In my own electorate, for instance, 76 per cent. of the electors on the roll recorded their votes. These electors were scattered over an area of 330,000 square miles, my electorate being nearly four times the size of Victoria; and when we remember that many of the people had to travel long distances in order to record their votes, we must all appreciate the self-sacrifice shown by them. In some cases, electors journeyed 50 miles in order to vote, and I have had letters from men who travelled an even greater distance. One can have nothing but admiration for the people who are prepared to go to such trouble in order to exercise the franchise. Another reason for the large increase in the percentage of voters at the recent elections was the fact that the Electoral Act had been considerably liberalized. The absent voting system had more to do with the increase than had anything else of which I know; but, judging by the utterances of their supporters, the Government now propose to destroy that system. It is only a little while ago that honorable members opposite used to say that only 40 or 50 per cent. of the electors had recorded their votes, and that with a bigger poll they would have been returned to power. We now find that it was only when a comparatively small percentage of the electors of the Commonwealth took the trouble to vote that they secured a majority in this House. They propose now to destroy the system under which every elector is given ample opportunity to record his vote. The Honorary Minister told me just now that a question of this kind should be above party. Seeing that he holds that view, why should he ask for leave to introduce a Bill that is going to destroy a system that facilitates the exercise of the franchise?
– The honorable member cannot be serious. He has not seen the Bill.
-I am merely judging from the utterances of supporters of the Government. It is true that I have not seen the Bill, but the Minister should have let us have it before’. Does he not know that the standing order which makes it necessary to move for leave to introduce a Bill is designed to protect the minority in this Parliament? I have heard him in this House use the very words I have just uttered. No honorable member has been more desirous than he has been of eliciting the fullest information regarding the scope of a measure on the motion for leave to introduce it. The same remark will apply to the Treasurer.
– Has the honorable member another quarter of an hour to go ?
– Let us make it twenty minutes. I wish to hear in full his objections to the Bill.
– I am merely raising a preliminary objection. The honorable gentleman will hear my objections to the Bill when it is submitted to us. I had no intention, when I rose, of speaking for more than a few minutes. As a matter of fact, I came here prepared to speak on the Audit Bill, as I understood an arrangement had been made that we should proceed with the consideration of that as a non-contentious measure.
– We could not possibly foresee that the Opposition would object to leave being granted to introduce this Bill.
– We object to the way in which the motion was practically thrown on the table. I can well imagine, Mr. Deputy Speaker, what a strong protest you would have entered against the course now being taken by the Government had you been on the floor of the House, and sitting in Opposition.
– I think this is the first time we have had objection raised on a motion for leave to introduce a Bill.
– The whole object of the standing order requiring that leave shall be obtained to introduce a Bill is to enable information to be secured regarding the scope of the measure. The right honorable gentleman, who asked the electors of Western Australia to return him again to Parliament so that he might complete his political jubilee, could not have been in this Chamber during the last thirteen years if he has never heard objection raised before to a motion for leave to introduce a Bill. If he has not heard such a motion discussed on a previous occasion, I can only say that he has not been paying attention to his parliamentary duties.
– The honorable member knows that we never obstructed at this stage.
– That is a distinct imputation that I am obstructing this measure, and I ask that it be withdrawn ?
– If the Honorary Minister made such an imputation, he must withdraw it.
– I made, not an imputation, but a statement of fact. I said that we had never obstructed a Bill at this stage.
– I accept the honorable gentleman’s apology. If the honorable member meant the statement to apply to his own party, and their obstructive tactics at various times, it is a different matter. Of course, the honorable member knows more about obstruction than we do on this side, for we have not had much experience, while he is a past-master in the art. Repeatedly during the past three years, at this stage of Bills, information has been sought by honorable members opposite.
– I am willing to give the information as soon as the honorable member sits down.
– The honorable member refused the original request for information, and only now, when there is a bit of a fuss, he expresses his willingness to give it.
– I am willing to give it.
– This is one of the cunning little dodges for which the honorable member is famous. If we, in our simplicity, were to allow him to make an explanation, he would be taken to have replied on the debate, and there could be no further discussion.
– I at first thought honorable members opposite really wished for information, but now I think that they do not.
– The honorable member is imputing unworthy motives, and going altogether beyond parliamentary procedure. He is taking a course which certainly is not creditable to him as an Honorary Minister.
– And he is bringing discredit on the Ministry.
– Of course; but the Honorary Minister is not very much concerned about that. We desire the fullest information; and, had it been given, I should not have spoken. I am afraid, however, that the Government are going to introduce a Bill for the express purpose of disfranchising many people - that, as in Queensland, they will propose a residential qualification. Just after the first elections we were told that there were thousands, and tens of thousands, of electors who had not been placed on the roll; but now it is said that there are too many names on the rolls. It is evidently a most difficult matter to satisfy honorable members opposite. They know as well as we do that it is not possible under our present system to avoid having more names on the roll than there are people entitled to vote at a particular time; but I point out that, in my own elec torate, for instance, while there are 39,000 electors on the supplementary and original rolls, there are only about 34,000 on the official roll. These are facts that honorable members opposite do not take into consideration. We were told that in the Oxley electorate there were 50 per cent. more votes than there were electors; and yet I understand that’ the Prime Minister has in his possession a letter from the gentleman who made that assertion, though that letter the Prime Minister has refused to deal with. Under all the circumstances, it is about time the Government and their supporters abandoned all this nonsense about dual voting. The Honorary Minister has, I may say, earned a reputation as an eminent detective in the Department over which he presides, and has engaged a number of “ Pinkertons “ to gather information as to double voting. However, no case of double voting has been brought to light, although two or three months have elapsed since the elections, and the Government have had unlimited money and the full power of the Commonwealth behind them. There are organizations which are prepared to go any length in swearing to almost any statement calculated to bring discredit on the Labour party. My own experience of politics is that crooked voting is very rarely found amongst the working classes, but usually amongst that portion of the community who are prepared to pay very liberally for it.
– This is a gross calumny.
– The honorable member thinks that that is very smart, but this party is not half as corrupt as the party with which the honorable member is associated.
– The honorable member for Kennedy has made a statement that the party with which I am associated is corrupt.
– Does the Honorary Minister rise to deny it?
– I rise to ask Mr. Speaker what opportunity the forms of the House give for us to test the question raised by the honorable member for Kennedy? A reflection on the honour and honesty of members of Parliament is a very serious matter.
– Obviously the honorable member for Kennedy is out of order in making such an observation, and I ask him to withdraw it.
– It all depends on how it is said I made the observation. If the Honorary Minister takes the observation personally, or as applied to a party in this House, I withdraw it.
– The honorable member certainly made the statement.
– I was referring to the party outside - about people outside who are corrupt.
– I took the observation as a reflection on a certain section of Parliament. If it is not such a reflection, I suppose it may be allowed to pass. I wish to have the honorable member’s assurance that it was not made as a reflection on any section of Parliament.
– I unreservedly withdraw anything that may be taken as a reflection on any section of this Parliament. What I was pointing out was that the corruption complained of in connexion with the double voting is not found amongst the workers, but amongst those who are prepared to pay for such corruption. The Honorary Minister, in a disorderly interjection, tried to attribute some statement to me that I never used or intended to use.
– The time of the honorable member has expired.
– There is nothing that interests members of Parliament more than an electoral Bill. This is not the first measure of the kind, by at least a dozen, that has been introduced into this Parliament, because every session of every Parliament has brought forth proposals for an amendment of the Electoral Act.
– No Bill has ever been obstructed on the motion for leave.
– I rise to a point of order. Is the Honorary Minister in order in saying that honorable members on this side are obstructing the motion?
– If the honorable member made such an observation he ought to withdraw it.
– If I had made such a reflection, I should immediately withdraw it. What I said was that no electoral Bill had ever been obstructed on the motion for leave.
– I maintain that the implication is that there is obstruction going on now.
– If the honorable member naturally takes the observation in that way - and I do not blame him - I withdraw it.
– The Honorary Minister, who is such a good hand at the particular game, is accusing us of doing exactly what he himself has done for the last three years. I, for one, do not admit the soft impeachment that we on this side are “ out for “ obstruction. It has been suggested that the Government should allow one of the members of their party to go away, so that there could be a new election on the old roll, and I suggest that, preferably, the honorable member for Grampians, who is very anxious to go to the country on a ratepayers’ roll, be that one. There is no doubt that the honorable member is in favour of such a roll, and that a majority of honorable members opposite agree with him. As a matter of fact, I do not believe that any honorable member opposite, with the exception of the Prime Minister, believes, in his heart of hearts, that there ought to be manhood and womanhood suffrage. I know that manhood suffrage had to be dragged out of members of the State Parliaments.
– Manhood suffrage has invariably been granted by Liberals in the past.
– Because, forsooth, Liberals had no alternative but to vote for it, in order to save their political skins.
– The Liberals granted it before Labour parties were thought of.
– The Honorary Minister has not a very long memory, because it is only a few short years ago that in Australia, as a whole, manhood ‘ suffrage was a long way off.
– We have not got it in Victoria now.
– I do not know whether it was New South Wales or South Australia that led the van in this connexion; but I do know that, up to the time of Federation, South Australia was one of the most democratic, if not the most democratic, of the States in the Union. At that time we used to point to South Australia with gladsome finger, and look with gladsome eye on the legislation passed in its Parliament. But it was like the rest of the States, it got. back again to the old Conservative groove, and reactionaries, as Mr. Deakin called them at one time, of every party have got together, and are trying to excel in seeing how far they can put the clock back. According to a speech reported in the press, the Attorney-General desires outside political bodies to assist - assist, mark you - the officials of the Department in purging the rolls and keeping them clean. Is that - the AttorneyGeneral’s idea?
– The idea was to have them assist in a particular way by supplying for investigation the names of persons they think ought not to be on the rolls.
– When our electoral law was framed, it was the desire of members in every part of the House, because of their experience in the different States, to do away with political bodies having any connexion with the electoral administration under Federation. I can. speak for Queensland only, because the whole of my Australian life, until I came to Victoria, was spent there. At the time of the shearers’ strike, in 1891, wewere told not to strike, not to rebel, not to conspire, not to go about in armed bodies, but to put members of our party into Parliament.
– Who told you that?
– The squatter Government, with Sir Thomas Mcllwraith at thehead. We set about doing this; we put our own men into Parliament, and thefirst man we put in was in the Barcoodistrict), where I live, and that was Thomas J. Ryan - the first pledged Labour man returned to the Queensland Parliament. Then what did they do ? A political organization, led by Sir ThomasMcilwraith, sprang up, called theNational party; and there was also thePastoralists Union. Some people wonder why we have such a set on the squatters. If they only knew one-half of what thesquatters did to us in Western Queensland, they would not wonder, for the squatters not only robbed us of the fruit* of our toil, but they robbed us of our franchise. They made things so difficult, and put so many obstacles in the way of men leading nomadic lives getting on therolls, that it is a wonder that any Labour members were returned to the State Parliament of Queensland. They told us toget on the roll and put our own men into Parliament; but directly we did so, they started purging the roll by the use of the word “residence.” The population of Western Queensland is nomadic. Very fewpeople live in towns, unless they are con- nected with trade or have their homes in -the towns. The vast proportion live a nomadic life, going from place to place, sometimes living on the borders of New South Wales, often across the border, in New South Wales, and then in a few months, perhaps, moving from four or :five hundred to six or seven hundred miles -away to another part of the interior.
– They are the backbone of Queensland. ‘
– They are. As soon as we started manoeuvring to put these men on the rolls and return Labour members to Parliament, the organizations of which I have spoken sprang up, particularly the Pastoralists Union. They objected to any man being on the roll unless he had a -fixed place of abode. Fancy a man who had to hawk his labour from shed to shed, from station to station, having a fixed place of abode ! There are many men in Western Queensland to-day who have no homes. The consequence was that they used to strike these men off the roll, not by ones and twos, but by hundreds, and the practice became so bad that at last the Australian Workers Union had to take a case to the Supreme Court. It was one in which men had been deliberately thrown off the roll on the “ residence” qualification, and we secured a ruling from Mr. Justice Chubb that it did not matter where a man was, if he was up a tree or at the foot of a tree, or under a bridge, or in the bush, wherever he -camped when travelling on the road must be held to be his residence. Consequently, we got a few men back on the roll under that decision of the Supreme Court. But, what “happened afterwards ? The Pastoralists Union had their paid secretaries and paid Organizers, and if there was anybody on the roll whom they thought had Labour tendencies, or if there was anybody on the roll described as a labourer, they sent in an objection. There was nothing to pay; they simply had to object to the names being .on the roll on the ground of some disqualification or other. The objection was sent to the Registrar, and then posted to the man’s last known address, or to the address given when the person got on the roll. Then, if the letter was returned to the Electoral Registrar, it was taken as prima facie evidence that the person objected to had left his residence; and so, without any more ado, the name of that person was struck off the roll; and, when he went to vote, thinking he was on the roll, he found he was not on the roll at all. There was a gentleman named Marshall, the pastoralists’ agent at Barcaldine, who objected to every known Labourite on the roll, and said he would make them all go to the Revision Court and prove their claims for inclusion. Honorable members know what it means to have to go, perhaps, 30 or 40 miles to a Revision Court to prove the bona fides of a claim for enrolment, and it is not surprising that 90 per cent, of those objected to would not attend the Revision Court. But, in the Queensland Act at that time, there was one provision which this gentleman had forgotten, and two or three of us who used to look after the rolls at that particular time put our heads together. Our opponents got all the law they could possibly secure in Longreach, Barcaldine, and Blackall, so that we could not retain any lawyers; and two of ns had to stand at the Revision Court and fight the gentlemen of the law, who laughed at the idea of our objection. But we had the joker up our sleeves. There was one provision in the Act which said that any person objecting to any names on the roll must himself be on the roll. We hunted through the Barcoo roll to see whether this gentleman’s name was on it, and as we found it was not there, we let them have their fun for about seven or eight hours, and when 400 or 500 names had been struck off, we objected to this gentleman appearing as objector, seeing that his name was not on the roll. There was, of course, a great flutter in the dovecote amongst the horse-hair gentlemen, and they tried to bluff us; but the acting police magistrate, who was the Registrar at that time, had to adjourn the Court while he telegraphed to Brisbane to get the advice of the Home Secretary as to what he should do ; and next morning, at 10 o’clock, he said, “ Mr. Page’s objection is fatal; every one of those names must stop on the roll.” The election came off in three months, and we romped in. From that time out we have been fighting the squatters. We are fighting them to this day. The same people are supporting honorable gentlemen opposite, finding their money for them. I know this, because I happened to get a cheque that was sent from a station when I was at Cunnamulla. It was at the referendum before thelast. They taxed themselves so much per 1,000 head of sheep, and the cheque was for £7 10s. from one station. It was given to me because I was the only politician there. I am sorry I did not stick to it. At any rate, I sent it back and told them it was of no use to me, but that it proved they were supplying money with which to fight the referendum. People in the south cannot realize what the squatters in the north do. At Isisford they had a packed Bench of squatters, and an old, imbecile postmaster as chairman of the Bench sitting like a stuffed monkey, saying, “Yes, Mr. Brown,” or “ No, Mr. Johnson,” to whatever they said. Then there was a coterie of men at the front of the courthouse, and as the official cried out, “ John Johnson ! John Johnson ! John Johnson !” the coterie of men would not allow John Johnson to pass through, and this old fool on the Bench would say, “ John Johnson is not present; strike him off.” In that way, they struck off eighty odd names. It was so glaring that we took the case to the Supreme Court, in Brisbane, and got every one of the eighty men put on the roll again.
– Who paid the costs in those cases?
– We had to pay them. Do you think the squatters would pay them for us? At Cunnamulla they had a servile gentleman sitting on the Bench. Do not talk to me of justices of the peace. Of all the rotten wretches in the world the Queensland justices of the peace are the ones, and if we are to have justices of the peace in this proposed amendment of the electoral law the Bill will be carried over my corpse before a justice of the peace has anything to do with postal votes, or any other votes.
– I expect you are one yourself.
– A “ J. P.”
– Yes, James Page every time. At Cunnamulla they struck off names, not bv ones and twos, but by the gross, and the Australian Workers Union had to come to the rescue again by appearing at the Supreme Court in Brisbane, when every name was left on the roll.
– Did they reimburse you in the Isisford case?
– No. That case cost the Australian Workers Union £1,000 odd.
In reply to an interjection, I may say to the honorable member for Indi, “ Thank God I am a Britisher, and that the Courts of Great Britain are pure.” If some people could pollute them they would tomorrow. They may pollute the lower Courts, but they cannot pollute the higher ones.
– And the Judges come from that unfortunate class you condemn - the lawyers.
– They can pollute the lower Courts, the justices of the peace, and police magistrates, but they cannot pollute the High Court Bench or the Supreme Courts or the District Courts of the different States, or, by Jove, they would do it; but, thank God, we live in a country, and under an Empire, where such things cannot, and have not, taken place. That is one thing for which I am proud of being a Britisher, that our Courts are pure. In regard to this new Electoral Bill, the honorable member comes down with a blank piece of paper, for all I know.
– No; here is the Bill waiting to be placed on the table.
– The honorable member asked leave to introduce it, and threw it down on the table as if it were a bone for us to worry. Will he let me look at it?
– As soon as you sit down I will get leave.
– Of course; I have been here quite as long as the honorable gentleman, and I know that as soon as I sit down I forfeit my right to sav another word.
– Why does the honorable member talk about a Bill that he has not seen ?
– I can talk now, but later I shall not have so much freedom.
– There will be six other stages at which the Bill can be discussed .
– I intend to have the full time that is given to me, not only on the Bill, but on every clause. I learned good tactics from the honorable member during the three years that the last Government were in office, and will do what he did. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. We are giving the honorable member a dose of his own physic. He rebels at the first taste ; but God knows how he will like it after he has had it a dozen times.
– I have never obstructed a motion for leave to introduce a Bill.
– The honorable member has spoken at every stage of a Bill, including even the report stage. I have a good memory. My desire is that we shall have the purest electoral law we can get.
– Here it is.
– The honorable member is like the boy with tin soldiers, who says, “ These are the troops who are going to win.” That cock will not fight. I do not want any one to take advantage of me at election time, and my voice and vote will be used to prevent it; and I do not want to take advantage of any one else. I know what we have suffered in the past, especially in Western Queensland. At the election before last, I had five postal votes, witnessed by justices of the peace, that were not signed. They had been sent to persons on stations, with the names written in pencil where the signatures were to be put in ink. I often think of the words of the first member for Adelaide - the late Mr. C. C. Kingston - who, speaking in this chamber on the first Electoral Bill, said that the only way to secure a true reflex of the views of the people, and a fair and square deal for every candidate, was to bring the voters to the polling booth, and make them vote there. I am more than satisfied that that is the only way to prevent abuses. A lot has been said about the way in which the last election was conducted ; and I candidly confess that when I saw all the reports in the newspapers from various parts of Australia, including even little Tasmania, where the people are supposed to be incorruptible, I thought that there must be something in the howl about double voting and personation. Indeed, I was afraid that so many seats would be challenged that there would not be enough members to make a House. Judge of my dismay when I heard, on the first day of meeting, that the Government had got to work to find out all about this double voting. But, after they had checked all the rolls again, what was discovered ? Like the Treasurer, I was surprised.
– There was no means of discovering wrong-doing under the Act.
– In my electorate the difficulty is, not to prevent persons from voting twice, but to get them to vote at all.
– They would never vote again for the honorable member if they saw what he is doing now.
– So long as I hit hard at the Government, they will be satisfied to return me. Ministers are doing one of the meanest things I have ever heard of. At Ballarat they are supporting the claims of the Liberal League, so called, but really the Tories of Tories. The Minister at the head of the Department has not been game to accept the responsibility himself, and has put it on the Chief Electoral Officer. Detectives have been sent to Ballarat to hunt up cases.
– Does not the honorable member know that the late Minister sent out detectives?
– So did the late Attorney-General.
– If there has been wrong-doing, it should be discovered.
– There has been no wrongdoing, but Ministers want to make out a case. Had matters been left with the Postmaster-General, he would not have sent out detectives. Like me, he is a sport. If I get beaten, I shall not squeal. When a man is beaten fairly and squarely, what is the use of squealing ? It is all in the game. When we are on the stump, we are out to win. No one is out to lose unless he is merely fighting a forlorn hope for the benefit of his party. It is those who do that who deserve most credit. Why should detectives be sent out at the behest of any union or league ? If fraud has been perpetrated, let things be done in the light of day. Those who have been guilty of personation should be brought to justice. The honorable member for Ballarat is not afraid of this investigation. If the Minister knew anything, he could not keep it secret for five minutes. If anything was discovered to be crooked in connexion with the Ballarat election, the world would know of it within five minutes, though, of course, Ministers are not going to prosecute any one of their political colour. But should the detectives discover anything crooked which might be attributed to the other side, the Minister could not keep the information secret for five minutes. The first interviewer would get it from him.
– I thought the honorable member meant that the honorable member for Ballarat would learn Departmental secrets even before I could,or within five minutes of my knowing them.
– That is not what I said. My statement is that if the Minister had any information of the kind to which I refer he would make it known at the first: meeting of the Women’s National League that he might address, or to the public press. “ Here is something against the Labour party; something they are suspected of doing.” We should not only have prosecutions, but if the persons suspected were thought to be Labour supporters there would be persecution too. Ministers wish to go back twenty years, to put the restrictions on the franchise that we had then.
– I have not influenced the Chief Electoral Officer in regard to any prosecution. I do not interfere in these matters, which are within his province.
– I am pleased to hear the Honorary Minister say that. Does he deter the Chief Electoral Officer from prosecuting ?
– I have not taken steps to deter him from making prosecutions.
– How, then, is it that many of the prosecutions instituted by the late Attorney-General have not been carried out?
– According to a communication from the Chief Electoral Officer, which I read this afternoon, there is only one prosecution that has not been proceeded with. The honorable member is reckless.
– No, I am not at all reckless. I am pleased to have the assurance of the Minister that he does not interfere with the Chief Electoral Officer. I should like to ask whether the Chief Electoral Officer sent the detectives to Ballarat of his own volition, or whether they were sent with the consent of the Minister ?
– I answered that question this afternoon. The Chief Electoral Officer took all the steps concerned.
– But did he act under instructions from the Minister ?
– What next shall I be asked ?
– I do not want to catechise the Minister. I am satisfied with his answer. I am satisfied that he does not interfere with the Chief Electoral Officer, and that what has been done by that officer has been done of his own volition. But is he allowed to incur expenditure off his own bat in this way?
– I think it right that he, as the guardian of the Act, should have some discretion. I wish that the lateAdministration had taken that view, audi, left to the Chief Electoral Officer a lotof matters concerning which he should have exercised his own discretion, instead of interfering with presiding officers and so forth.
– The honorable mem ber ‘sinterjection reminds me of another matter to which I desire to refer. My experience of presiding officers and returning, officers is that they are a very mixed lot. In one part of my electorate a presiding: officer, if he thought that an elector had’ Labour tendencies, had no ballot-papers’, to spare.
– We have just two minutes; in which to put this motion through.
– If the honorable mem-, ber cannot get it through to-night, hewill be able to get it through to-morrow or the next day. This presiding officeradvised Labour voters to go to the next, polling booth, which was 16 miles away,, with the result that that booth was flooded* with votes for the Labour candidate. Hewas thus able to say, when his ballot-box. was opened, that there were so many Tory votes as against so many Labour votes, and lie hoped in that way to gal n the encomiums of the squatter “ push “ of the district. The poll clerk, however, had a few scruples. On reading the Act next day, and learning of the pains and penalties to which he was liable, he “ came out “ on the presiding officer, and wrote a full report about the matter. The Department was going to prosecute the presiding officer, but, as he is seventyeight years of age, I asked that proceedings should not be taken against him. The Department, however, has promised” me that he will never be engaged again, in a similar occupation.
Sitting suspended from 6. SO to 7. £5 p.m.
– Some honorable membersopposite have complained because certain persons who had been in the habit of acting as returning or presiding officers were not allowed to act in that capacity at thelast general election. They have carefully abstained from saying anything concerning the way in which supporters of our party have been debarred from holding like positions because of their politi-cai convictions ; but directly some of their supporters are touched, they begin to> squeal and say, “ Do you think these men are rogues and vagabonds?” The general run of those who officiate as returning and presiding officers are just as honest as the rest of the people of Australia ; and I know that it has been the desire of every Government to secure the services of as many public servants as could be spared to conduct the elections. The Honorary Minister has not told us anything of the scope of this Bill.
– I am burning with anxiety to tell the Opposition of ite scope.
– I have an idea that there is in this Bill a clause that will deprive many of my constituents who take part in strikes– and sometimes a strike is a day’s outing for some of them - of the right to vote. There may be in the Bill a clause depriving all unionists of the right of enrolment. This may seem rather farfetched; but such a proposal was actually advocated a few weeks ago by the Age newspaper, which has been supporting the Government through thick and thin. An honorable member opposite has said that the rural workers have not asked for a union. I would say, in reply, that, so far as I am aware, there has been no demand on the part of the people for electoral reform. I am satisfied with the electoral law as it stands, and do not think honorable members opposite have much cause to complain. The Government have come here with a vast majority, and are using it in such a brutal fashion that they sometimes keep us here until midnight. If the Honorary Minister is, as he says, consumed with a burning anxiety to supply us with information regarding the scope of this Bill, why did he not avail himself of the opportunity to give us that information when he submitted the motion ? Why did not the Government introduce this Bill in the Senate? The members of another place have nothing to do. They are simply marking time. They have done only three or four days’ work, while we have been labouring here for the last three or four weeks.
– Surely the honorable member is not in order in reflecting on the Senate.
– I am reflecting, not on the Senate, but on the Ministry, which does not give that House something to do. The Government say they are anxious to do something.
– They pretend that they are.
– They pretend, at all events, that they are very anxious to push on with business. Why do they not with, draw the Bill, and send it to another place ? If they did, I am sure they would get it back in due course. Meantime, we could go on with the consideration of the Audit Bill, and that great national measure which is going to do so much for the people on the land - the Bureau of Agriculture Bill. I have also an idea that this Bill may provide for the introduction of the novel and dangerous system of voting by machinery - that it may provide for the use of machines to register votes. They might do very well in big centres of population, where the ordinary system could be reverted to if the machine suddenly went wrong ; but what would be the position in the country? The best of machines in every industry are liable to get out of order. What a fix we should be in if such machines were used at the next Federal election - which, I hope, will take place within the next few weeks - and the honorable member for Wentworth, whilst instructing some ladies at the Paddington booth how to vote, got locked up with one of them, and no one could open the door. I should like to know whether the honorable gentleman proposes to supplement or to do away with the card system.
– The Opposition are playing the three-card system.
– At all events, we have not taken the honorable member down. The Honorary Minister has been giving interviews to the press regarding the enormities of the card system. He has told the press that dummy cards have been used; and, that being so, surely he will have something to say as to the steps which the Government intend to take to perfect the system.
– Honorable members opposite will not give me a chance.
– The honorable member will have a chance to explain about 11 o’clock. He will get his motion through to-night. We are all interested in this Bill, because it means either political death or salvation for many honorable members on both sides. It is a singular fact that, even when a general election follows another within a few months, some of those who think they are perfectly secure fall by the wayside. Is it any wonder that men fight so strenuously to secure seats ‘ in this Parliament ? I admit that the cushions are very soft and the company most agreeable… But the elections come around too soon, and, in my opinion, Parliament ought to be elected for a longer period - the Senate for seven years and the House of Representatives for five. We desire to know what the Bill contains, and its scope; but the Honorary Minister simply threw a sheet of paper on the table for us to worry, and we have been worrying it ever since about 3 o’clock without making any advance. I have a vague idea that the Bill will provide for compulsory voting, and also preferential voting. However, any system would be good enough for the Government and their supporters, so long as it was sufficiently new and complicated; but I am game to bet that there will not be a clause which will make the law more effective than the present Act. If there is compulsory enrolment, the natural corollary is compulsory voting. If a vote is worth having it ought to be used, but we are told by opponents of compulsory voting that although we may take a horse to the trough we cannot make it drink. My experience is that once a voter is got to the pollingbooth, he or she is affected by the prevailing feeling, and takes sides just as much’ as do those who have been previously bitten by the political microbe. I should like to see compulsory voting tried, because I think it is a very good idea. Of course, all this is conjecture on my part, not having seen the Bill; but a reporter whispered to me that when I saw the measure I would conclude, as he has done, that it is a perfect “ snorter.”
– That is only imagination on the part of the reporter.
– Some honorable members opposite have given us some pretty broad hints as to what is going to take place.
– Will the honorable member tell us the name of the pressman who said he had seen the Bill ?
– How childlike and bland the Honorary Minister is! People who tell me anything have known me long enough to know that I “ ain’t the sort of bloke to give a pal away.”
– I do not believe a pressman could have told an untruth like that.
– I do not care what the Honorary Minister doubts; there is nothing of the Carey in me, and I am not going to turn informer. I am satisfied that the reporter knew something, because he has been borne out in part by words which have fallen from honorable members opposite; and it is evident that he has either seen the Bill himself, or seen somebody who has.
– I do not believe that would be possible.
– I suppose the Honorary Minister will come down with a new Bill.
– What is the honorable member afraid of? Why not give the leave asked for?
– I am not in the least bit afraid. What is causing me to say so much is the refusal of the Minister to> tell us what the Bill covers.
– I wish to talk about the Bill on the second reading.
– So the Honorary Minister shall, and so shall we. There will be also plenty of other opportunities to> tell us what the Bill is about. As I said before, I was totally opposed to the provision for signed articles.
– The honorable member voted for it.
– Of course, I did. I voted’ with my party. I have never “ratted”” on my party since I have been in politics, and I hope to God I never shall. If ever I do, I hope they will exterminate me as they would any other “rat.”
– The honorable member did once vote against his party.
– I never did.
– On the Queen Memorial” issue.
– That was not a pal tr issue, but I voted as I chose, because T believed in the proposal. The electionsgave me quite a surprise in regard to the provision for signed articles. Many of the gentlemen who signed the articles professed great friendship for us personally, and for the Labour party and Government, but what a day of awakening there –vas !~ Some of those gentlemen, for whom I had’ the most profound respect, wrote the most scurrilous articles - articles that could not have been surpassed by the bitterest opponents of the party.
– The simple truth may bemost offensive.
– It may to the honorable member, but not to me. Honorable members opposite are quite satisfied, and nomatter what had been thrown on the table, they would have said, “Yes, Mr. Brown; thank you, Mr. Brown; very pleased, Mr. Brown; Good-night, Mr. Brown “ - they would have accepted any- thing with good grace. We are here as His Majesty’s Opposition to oppose hasty and useless legislation, and the “ ins “ of to-day are the “outs” of to-morrow. I congratulate the Honorary Minister on the position he occupied when in Opposition. When the real Leader of the Opposition was away, he, as Deputy Leader, carried out his duties in the most courteous *iud able manner towards the Government. I candidly confess that I am more at home on this side than on the Government side.
– The honorable member will be evicted all right.
– The Government hope that we are not going to evict them, but the elections will prove whether or not they remain in power. If honorable members opposite are as anxious and eager for a dissolution as they try to make people believe at their pleasant Saturday and pleasant Monday gatherings-
– The honorable member seems to have forgotten that the motion is that the Honorary Minister has leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Electoral Act.
– With all due deference I thought I could glide along with slight references to what the Ministry intend in regard to an election. If the Electoral Act has nothing to do with what honorable members say at their pleasant Saturday and Monday gatherings, I do not know what to make of their utterances about electoral reform. ‘ According to the other side, electoral reform means that the Government desire to make elections so pure that only the pure merinoes can be elected, and the Labour members kept out.
– This obstruction of a motion for leave is the “ purest “ thing I ever heard of.
– I object to the Honorary Minister accusing me of obstruction, of which I have never been guilty since I entered this Chamber. I am burning with one desire, and one desire only, and that is to obtain some information with regard to a Bill which is going to make or mar us as politicians. The honorable member for Capricornia tells me that he forgot, when on his feet, to refer to the matter of the right of public meeting. We have an idea that’ the Government are going to interfere with that right at election time, and, further, that they propose to put in gaol anybody who dares to boo-hoo Liberal candidates.
– The power to put in gaol those who boo-hoo is in the Labour party’s own Act.
– If the Honorary Minister had only given us the information that we sought earlier in the day, he and the Government supporters would have been in a much happier position, because we should at once have accepted the motion, and passed the first reading.
.- As a quiet, young, inoffensive, and very unassuming member, I am a little alarmed at the proposed introduction of this Bill, because of the utterances of delegates at a Liberal Conference, held at Launceston since the general election, and composed of about 150 delegates from the Liberal leagues of Tasmania. I have been wondering whether the Government have been taking instructions from that Conference. I have noticed that a Liberal or Fusion Conference was also held in Melbourne two weeks ago, and that the head of the Liberal or Fusion Conference in Tasmania has since returned and told his people in Tasmania that he was informed by the Prime Minister that there would be an early dissolution of Parliament, and that the electors of Tasmania must be prepared ; also that the Liberal party were going to the electors on two specific things only - the postal vote and an amendment of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The Conference in Launceston was held on 19th August last, and some of the richest men in Tasmania and some of the best canvassers among the ladies of Tasmania in the Liberal interests attended. I believe some of these ladies, at the last election, were not too particular as to what they said regarding certain candidates. The honorable member for Franklin may nod his head as he likes.
– They said that I stole thousands out of the Home Affairs Department.
– We are alarmed on this side, because we have no information as to what will happen should we allow this Bill to enter the House and proceed to another place. We are in the dark, and would like to know something.
– The best way to find out is to allow the motion to pass.
– I shall take my own way. At the Liberal or Fusion Conference held in Launceston on the 19th August last, the first matter on the agenda-paper for discussion was compulsory voting. Nine branches of the Liberal or fusion leagues had that subject on the agenda-paper with a view to its discussion and to having it as a plank of the Liberal party; and Dr. Bottrell, of North Hobart, made some startling statements with regard to what he would do, and what ought to be done in Australia. I believe that many who spoke did not approve of his statements, but I know that there are certain gentlemen sitting on the Government benches who do approve of them. It is what we might expect from them, because now they are dictated to by these leagues outside Parliament. They have accused us of taking orders from the Trades Hall and from the workers’ leagues. We admit that whatever the workers’ leagues decide at their Inter-State Conferences every three years we obey if we subscribe to it; but honorable members opposite take their orders from bodies outside Parliament, and it is what these outside bodies will compel them to do that causes a certain amount of alarm in regard to this Bill. I suppose Dr. Bottrell has a certain following in Tasmania. He was representing the North Hobart branch of the Liberal League, and, according to the Launceston Examiner, he said -
Voting should be regarded as a high privilege. He thought that at present they had got the vote too low down. The franchise was in the hands of those who were not qualified to use it. It would be better if there were fewer voters on the roll.
– That is what the honorable member for Grampians said.
– These are the expressions of delegates at that conference, and they have two representatives in this Chamber. Dr. Bottrell, who, I am informed, is a doctor of law, continued -
People unable to sign their names, or who had committed a criminal offence, or were receiving assistance from the State, should not be allowed a vote.
Those are the expressions of delegates to a Fusion Conference held in Tasmania three weeks ago. When analyzed, they mean that every old-age pensioner in Australia should not have a vote.
– It would also mean that we would not be allowed to vote.
– And it would disfranchise the honorable member for Swan when he is not in the Ministry.
- Dr. Bottrell urges that the poorer people of Australia should not be entitled to vote. He says that no person getting State assistance should be allowed the privilege of voting. He says the vote has got too low down. This is the expression of opinion from people elected as delegates to the Launceston Liberal Conference.
– Did the conference carry that ?
– How often have honorable members on this side of the House been charged with responsibility for statements of delegates attending our conferences? How often have attempts been made to tie us down to them ? How often on public platforms has this been done?
– And the actual votes at conferences have been deliberately misrepresented.
-Dr. Bottrell also said -
He thought also that those who had not voted on any two consecutive occasions should be struck off the roll.
– Do you not think you have held up the Bill long enough?
– There is no honorable member more capable of talking on any subject and at any time than the Honorary Minister was during the last two or three years.
– And he talked the most irrelevant rubbish.
– I do not often trouble the Chamber, but when I am confronted with such startling statements as I have read, I am quite convinced that the intention of the Government is to restore the postal vote, and that in their hearts they know the methods that can be adopted under that system are the only methods whereby they can secure a substantial majority in this Chamber, and perhaps in another. They know that the justices of the peace of Australia are men who have been favoured by past Governments in securing their positions.
– You are a justice of the peace.
– I admit it. I was favoured by a past Government. It is because of the methods that they can adopt under the postal voting system that they are bringing this Bill forward. The Liberal Leagues throughout realize that, unless they can bring this proposed alteration into effect they have little hope of attaining that which they desire.
Colonel Ryrie. - We won even under the present system.
– Then be satisfied, aud let it remain. But honorable members cannot alter it. It is not because they can carry the Bill through . this House that they can carry it somewhere else.
– It should have been introduced in the Senate.
– Who are the people throughout Australia that can afford to pay broken-down justices of the peace to canvass electorates ?
– Other people besides justices of the peace were concerned in the postal vote - the police, railway gangers, and school teachers.
– I do not think the police would lend themselves to anything wrong, and I do not think any State school teacher, who is privileged to do that work, did anything wrong, but I do believe that justices of the peace have done that which was wrong with regard to the spirit of the Electoral Act.
– Some of them.
– I am not talking of all justices of the peace, because nine-tenths of them in Australia would not think of going about soliciting postal votes, or even attempting to witness them. Outside four or five, no justice of the peace in Bass would do it. But I know one justice of the peace in Launceston who is always waiting to see if lie cannot get some position from the Liberal League there. In his former years he was in business, but now he relies practically on what he can do as a justice of the peace, and he is associated with the Liberal League, having no other means of earning a livelihood. He canvassed Launceston three years ago with regard to the postal votes. What I am most alarmed about in regard to the introduction of this postal voting system is the terrible authority men and women have over their servants. Take a lady who has two or three maids whose names are on the electoral roll. She requests them to record their votes by post, as they cannot be allowed out on election day, and they have to do it.
– Give us a specific instance. »
– Honorable members opposite have not given specific instances of abuses justifying the abolition of the absent vote. They have charged the people of Australia with corruption during; the last election, but have not yet got a verdict against any one, nor, indeed, have they yet commenced a prosecution.
– Would it not be better for the honorable member to wait for the introduction of the Bill ? If the things that he fears are not provided for by it, he will have been merely beating the air.
– The things that I expect to see provided for are the abolition of the absent vote, and the restoration of the postal vote, the repeal of the provision which honorable members say. gags the press-
– What about a property qualification ?
– It is rumoured that that is intended, but I do not think it can be done under the Constitution.
– Yes, easily.
-I have had, I think, every day since the session opened, to remind honorable members that when the Speaker has repeatedly called the House to order it is grossly disorderly to immediately interject, and if conduct of this kind is persisted in, I must have recourse to a standing order which I shall be very sorry to have to resort to. It ought not to be necessary for me to make this statement every day. Regarding the incessant conversation and interjections which accompany speeches, I would like to say that it has been represented to me that members of the Hon- sard staff, experienced and trained as they are in the following of speakers, find it increasingly difficult to carry on their work. I sincerely trust honorable members will not strain my forbearance to an extent which will compel me to take decisive action to maintain the rules of debate and preserve orderly procedure.
– It is rumoured that the Government intends to provide for the appointment of scrutineers.
Mr.- Higgs. - That would not be a bad thing if they were paid.
– I do not know that I arn quite opposed to that, but I doubt if it would be right for the Minister to have the sole power to say who should be appointed. I am convinced that the Bill is to be introduced to do injury to the workers of Australia. This Administration, which contains five or six barristers, will try to make the method of voting a difficulty to the workers. It has been suggested, too, that preferential voting is to be provided for, but on that subject I shall reserve my remarks until I see the
Bill. I trust that many of the rumours concerning the Bill are without foundation. Personally, I am not opposed to the sick having the vote, but I am opposed to the methods under which their votes were taken in the past.
– What method would the honorable member suggest?
– I suggest that every sick person should be allowed to vote providing that a doctor’s certificate is obtained; and a doctor, justice of the peace, and a presiding officer or other official should be present at the recording of the vote. Our opponents have tried to make it appear that we are against the sick having a vote, but we are not. Our objection is to the methods under which, during the election of 1910, and the referenda of 1911, canvassing for postal votes was indulged in.
– The Labour party disfranchised the sick.
– We may have disfranchised some whose votes would have been properly recorded, but we have disfranchised many more whose votes would have been subject to the exercise of undue influence.
.- I look upon it as the solemn and almost the religious duty of every member on this side to speak to this motion. In days gone by there have been so many attempts by Conservative Governments to take away rights that had been won by centuries of persistent effort, that we cannot be too ready to defend our liberties. Only last week the Conservative Government df South Australia introduced a Bill to gerrymander the electoral districts of that State. As that Government has a majority in both Houses of the South Australian Legislature, the Bill will probably be carried, and although at the last Commonwealth election Labour candidates for the Senate had a majority of nearly 12,000, it will be impossible for the Labour party or any reform party to get the government of the State into its hands again for many years to come. What is proposed by this Government may be even worse. In any case, so many valuable suggestions have fallen from honorable members during this debate that we must be regarded as conferring a benefit on the Government. The Minister in charge of the Bill may, perhaps, profit by the discussion, and be able to adopt them for the improvement of the Bill. Many honorable members opposite would be willing to vote for a proposal similar to that moved at a Liberal - or, to speak correctly, a Fusion - conference, by the doctor referred to by the honorable member for Bass. The honorable member for Grampians has seriously proposed that the parliamentary franchise should be based on the ratepayers’ roll. I do not know the details of the Victorian system of municipal and district council elections, but I know, to my sorrow, the details of the South Australian law. Woe betide the people of Australia if their parliamentary franchise ever becomes like the municipal franchise of South Australia. I do not think that it ever will, because we on this side are the champions and defenders of the people’s rights, the watchdogs of political liberty. We shall oppose even the most subtle attempts to interfere with these rights. In South Australia, a man possessing a large number of houses in a ward may practically monopolize the voting power of that ward. The owner of property has a vote for it, or he may give the right to vote to his agents, but not more than three votes may be cast in respect to one property. Sometimes a firm of solicitors goes into the house agency business, and an owner can make such a firm his agents. He can, moreover, appoint different agents for each property, and I know an owner who must have at least fifty houses in a ward of one of the eastern suburbs. Honorable members may imagine the enormous voting power that can be exercised by such a man.
– Surely some of the old members of the Opposition should do this; it ought not to be put upon the young members !
– The Prime Minister is to be excused for the interjection, because he was not here when you, Mr. Speaker,appealed for order a few minutes ago. We have had plural voting with a vellgeance - a system that is seriously proposed by the honorable member for Franklin - and this Bill may provide for its reintroduction. We know that it is the desire of the Conservatives to introduce any system that will enable them to retain their position and secure an even larger measure of political power than they now have in this Parliament. The last chance that they have of gaining a bigger majority is to do something of that description. I would remind them, however, that the Labour party has been returned by nearly one-half of the electors of Australia to see that no such legislation is passed. Coming to the question of absent voting, I would be prepared to support a proposal that all electors living more than, say, 10 miles from the nearest polling booth should have the right to vote in some way other than that at present open to them. It is very difficult for all the members of a family so situated to record their votes. A licensed victualler, for instance, might be 10 miles distant from the nearest polling booth, and since the law, in South Australia, at all events, requires him to keep his house open during certain hours, all the members of his family would not be able to get away to vote. I would also be pleased to assist in devising some means of enabling sick people to vote, but I shall most emphatically oppose the reintroduction of the postal voting system. During the last twenty-two years I have had a great deal of experience in connexion with electioneering. I was one of the foundation members of the Labour party in South Australia, and did a great deal of canvassing for others long before I took a seat in the South Australian Legislature. As the result of my experience in canvassing. I know that any individual who would so lower himself as to try to induce people to vote by post when they were able to go to a polling booth could easily lead a large number to vote for the particular party by which he was employed. Between the date of the issue of the writ and the time in which postal votes must be sent in, any ordinary individual would be able to get 200 postal votes “ up his sleeve,” so to speak, ready for counting when the poll closed. We know how easily this could be done in the course of a house-to-house canvass. An unscrupulous canvasser could induce many electors, especially women, to vote by post, particularly if he had a motor car at hand to drive them to the nearest post-office or to the residence of a justice of the peace. Then, again, very few people know until a short time before a general election, the names of all the candidates who are offering themselves.. In the case of the Senate, the great bulk of the people do not know the names of all the candidates and the parties to which they belong. Should there be a double dissolution, and that, of course, is very unlikely, we might have from twelve to twenty candidates standing in each State for election to the Senate, and it is not to be expected in such circumstances that the people generally would know all their names, or the parties to which they belonged. Many electors, when they were proceeding to vote by post, would say, “Who are the Fusion candidates?” or “ Who are the Labour candidates?” and some men might be dastardly enough to mislead them. It is the easiest thing in the world to induce hundreds of people to vote according to your own sweet will.
– The honorable member must have a very poor opinion of the intelligence of the electors.
– Thank God, the rising generation are not quite the fools that their grandmothers and grandfathers used to be in the matter of politics, but still there is a great deal of ignorance.
– The honorable member should speak for his own party.
– I am speaking for the honorable member’s party. If I were a candidate with plenty of money of my own, or with the funds of some political organization at my disposal, I wouldbe able, if I so desired, to secure the services of dozens of canvassers - as the Conservative party have done over and over again - and some of the more unscrupulous would find it an easy matter to have a large number of postal votes ready for counting when the poll closed. I should not object so much to the postal voting system in the case of women, if we could be sure that it would be used only in the case of illness. As the law stood, however, it was merely necessary for a woman to say that she “ thought “ she would be prevented by illness from attending at the polling- booth in order to be allowed to vote by post. We could think whatever we pleased, and it was an easy matter for any one to say, “ I think I will be ill on polling-day, and I therefore propose to make use of the postal voting system.” I repeat that I would give those living more than a certain distance from a polling- booth the right to take advantage of the absent voting provisions of the Act, because, in the larger States, many people in the back-blocks live so far from a polling-booth that it is almost impossible for them to attend. It has been said - and I believe that even the electoral officers have the scheme in view - that political organizations should be allowed to co-operate with the Government in what is described as the work of purifying the rolls. I know from experience what this so-called purifying of the roils might mean in the case of some indi /1.duals. Prior to the last general elections the political party opposed to me, in o;;e of the eastern suburbs of Adelaide, engaged the services of a certain individual who openly boasted - -indeed, he told members of my own family - that he vas going to the local post-office to inspect the letter-carriers’ lists in order to find out the names of those who had left the immediate locality with a view to having their names removed from the roll. Many of these people, perhaps, had moved only from one street to another - they had not left the division - and he proposed to use the information which he obtained in this way to have their names struck off the roll. Fortunately, I heard of his intention in time to take action, and I believe that the electoral officer at once put a stop to this system, which necessarily put the people concerned to a great deal of inconvenience. Before a. name can be struck off the roll, notice must be given to the person concerned.; but many people are negligent in these matters, and do not take the trouble to answer such notices. Furthermore, the people have been receiving so many notices under the Electoral Act that quite a number are sick of answering them, whilst others are so illiterate that they are unable to grasp their true significance. I am aware that the law permits a person who has changed his place of residence to notify the electoral officer, but many people often change their places of abode, and it would be inconvenient for them whenever they moved from one street to another to send along the required notice. It is not the intention of the Act* that such people should be struck off the roll. I think it better that all political parties should be left out of consideration in connexion with this work. Compulsory registration is a very good system, and I think it would be wise to follow it up with compulsory voting. Honorable members opposite may say, “ Since you say that many people do not know much about politics, why compel them to vote in ignorance?” My answer is that it is only the burnt child who dreads the fire, and that, if people make a mistake at one election, they take care to rectify it on the next occasion. The casting of this elec- toral responsibility on the shoulder’s of the people would make them take an interest in political matters. They would see that they gained some knowledge of the politics of their country, and tried to use their franchise in an intelligent manner. It might be thatthe party or Government who introduced compulsory voting would come in for the vengeance of the electors at first; but we know that people have to be compelled to do many things for their own benefit. For instance, some people have to be compelled to keep their back yards clean, not only for their own sakes, but for the benefit of their fellow citizens. Again, if you drive along Bourke-street, you must keep to your right trying to avoid accident. Still another instance is found in compulsory education, to which, nodoubt, some people could be found to object.
– What has this to do with the motion?
– I am showing how, in some cases, it is necessary to use compulsion, and it is possible we may find in the Bill a provision for compulsory voting.
– The sooner the honorable member sits down the sooner we shall get to the Bill.
– In my opinion, this discussion is conferring a benefit on the Honorary Minister. The words of wisdom which fall from honorable members on this side may enable him to put the Bill in better shape than it probably is at the present time. In any Electoral Bill I should like to see a clause providing that the scrutineers appointed by the candidates shall be paid by the community. In country districts, where Labour candidates, on account of their poverty, cannot afford scrutineers, all kinds of hanky-panky tricks are played. The ex-Minister of Home Affairs sought to preclude as far as possible the employment of political partisans in the polling- booth, but that, of course, is almost an impossibility, in view of the fact that all people who are intelligent enough for such positions hold political opinions of some description. Of course, we might exclude those who take a very prominent part on one side or the other; but to exclude all political partisans is, as I say, impossible. When party feeling runs high, people often do things that in their calmer moments they would regret, and for that reason I think that scrutineers ought to be paid.
– That seems to voice a suspicion against Australian electors.
– Not at all. Human nature being what it is, an individual who is paid a guinea or two guineas by a candidate to look after his interests may be only too pleased to push those interests to their best ability, and some of them, perhaps, may not stick at trifles. I should not object to the postal vote if canvassing were made a penal offence. It would not be sufficient, in my opinion, to prohibit canvassing on pain of a fine of 10s. or JB1.
– I think there ought to be a quorum. [Quorum formed.]
– I should have no objection to the re-introduction of the postal vote if house-to-house canvassing by political agents, or even by candidates themselves, were made a penal offence. Of course, we should not be able to prevent everybody from canvassing, because there are always people willing to take risks, especially if they are paid by somebody to do so. Again, it is possible that in the Bill there may be proposed some restrictions on the right of public meeting, for this is not an “unknown quantity” even in Australia. Last year, the Conservative party in South Australia passed an Act which left public meetings practically at the ‘ mercy of the chairman, whoever he might be. Though we know that while, in some cases, a chairman may be a very talented person, he may in others be very mediocre, or even almost an imbecile. Nevertheless, in South Australia, it is left to the chairman of a public meeting to decide whether a person is interjecting unduly; and the law has already been put into operation. At the public meeting addressed by the Prime Minister, just prior to the last elections, somebody happened to interject.
– Somebody? About a thousand !
– About three months afterwards that somebody, when, of course, he could not possibly obtain witnesses, was served with a summons, though I have not heard what ultimately happened to him.
– He was fined £5.
– It may be, as I say, that the Bill to be introduced contains some “such proposition.
– There is a similar proposition in the Act passed by the Labour Government.
– It is just as well to warn the Honorary Minister that I, for one, and in all probability others, could not agree to any such clause. It is a good thing for the chairman at a public meeting to be strict. But, at the same time, at a meeting at the Exhibition, in Adelaide, people were absolutely driven, not merely to interject, but almost to revolt. First and foremost, fourteen men in blue lined up and stood around the hall. I shall not say anything about the chairman of that meeting, because death has taken him away. The Prime Minister, who addressed that meeting, practically lives, as we know, on interjections.
– Not of that sort.
– Although a very peaceful, even-tempered person myself, I should feel compelled to assert my manhood if I found a gentleman holding forth and telling a lot of lies, and we know that at political meetings feeling runs high.
– The honorable member is very offensive.
– I am not saying that the Prime Minister told lies at the meeting, but that such conduct on the part of any speaker would rouse my feelings.
– A speaker’s feelings may be roused, especially if there are about a thousand savages in the hall.
– On the particular occasion now referred to by the Prime Minister there were two principal speakers - the Prime Minister and the Minister of External Affairs. When the Prime Minister was speaking, I am told that he brought on a perfect pandemonium, but, on the other hand, when the Minister of External Affairs spoke, one could have heard a pin drop in the vast audience.
– Quite true.
– The people wanted to hear this man Cook - I mean the Prime Minister.
– That is precisely what they did not want to do.
– The Minister of External Affairs said all he needed to say, and almost all he wished to say, in a tactful manner, and did not offend anybody. My own experience is that a most hostile audience in any part of Australia always has the common sense and decency not to interject too freely, and give very little trouble, if they are tactfully approached. To have a dozen policemen at a meeting is to set every person at the meeting on edge. The Minister claims that the Bill will liberalize the existing Act, yet that Act is the most liberal on the face of the earth. In Australia we have the proud distinction of being the only people who have a full voice in the management of public business. This is due to the good old real Liberals who sat in the Federal Conventions, and drafted the Constitution which was approved by the people. So where liberalization comes in regarding this measure, I fail to see. Maybe it is the intention of the Minister to introduce the initiative, the referendum, and the recall. If so, I would welcome the measure. If I have read rightly, some honorable members representing Victorian districts have been advocating the initiative and the referendum, if not the recall.
– Ask the honorable member for Adelaide if he agrees with that.
– And then I will ask the’ Prime Minister whether he agrees with Councillor Webber.
– To introduce the initiative, referendum, and recall would be a liberalization that would, practically, put the apex on our political liberties and rights. The people of Australia would at all times have power over their representatives in Parliament, and it is absolutely necessary that they should have that power. They would not have to wait for a general election where personal factors step in, but at all times they would have the power in their hands to pull up their representatives on short terms. The rising generation, on account of the schoolmaster having been abroad, and on account of the high schools established throughout Australia - mainly through the instrumentality of the Labour party - is advanced enough to follow and intelligently use such an instrument of legislation as the initiative, referendum, and recall. What greater glories could the people of Australia have? I hope the Honorary Minister has included in his Bill the power to initiate legislation, and also the power to recall any legislation objectionable to the majority of the people. No more glorious piece of legislation could be enacted; and if it is the intention of the Ministry to include that in this Bill I. would hail it with delight. It is a system that has been in vogue in other parts of the world. Switzerland has it, and in Switzerland they have State Parliaments as well as a Federal Parliament; each of the twenty -two cantons of Switzerland has its own Parliament. Despite four different nationalities living in the one country, they have had the institution of the initiative, referendum, and recall for a goodly number of years, and they use it very effectively. The people of Switzerland are the only people who truly govern themselves. Whether at all times they have used their power intelligently or not I cannot say, because many things require righting in Switzerland - they are not such a happy community as many of the people living in Australia, that being mainly due to thefact that the natural resources of Switzerland are not nearly so abundant as ours- - but it is singular that even in Switzerland it is very rarely that on the first, time of asking the people have agreed to adopt by the referendum what the Government for the time being have advised them. It is generally at the second or third time of asking that they do so; and. I am living in hope that our referenda defeated at the last general election willbe carried at the next time of asking. I do not look upon this as a waste of time. I believe it is a good thing for the Government, even before they submit the. Bill, to know what is in the minds of-‘ members on this side. If they can bring forward a method by which the really; sick can vote, and an amendment whereby people living beyond a certain number of miles from a polling booth can vote, I shall be pleased to vote with them. It-, will show that we of the Labour party are not bound hand and foot to everything. I voluntarily signed - and I have done it again and again before an election, - a platform I helped to make, and to that platform I am honorably bound. Of course, I use my own discretionon it, but outside that platform I may differ from other members on this side. While I was in the South Australian, Parliament I voted against the majority of my own party on dozens of occasions - at times I have been the only one votingwith the other party - but, of course, on questions not affecting the Labour platform. This shows we are not nearly so tied down by the dreadful.
Caucus we hear so much of as are members opposite. If the Bill is a good one, I hope it will pass not only this House but the other House. If, however, the idea is to introduce that nefarious system, the postal vote, without the safeguards of doing away with canvassing from house to house, making it easy for people to persuade others, and for others to be persuaded how to vote, or if it is intended to introduce such a provision that if a person only thinks he is going to be ill or away on the day of election he may vote by post, I shall set my face against it, and I know it will not be accepted by members of another Chamber.
.- I am very anxious that the Honorary Minister shall have the opportunity of making the statement he refused to make earlier in the day.
– That statement is most inaccurate. I did not refuse to make any explanation.
– The Honorary Minister did not refuse; he merely refrained from making an explanation.
– I have been corrected. I should have said that the Honorary Minister refrained from making a statement when he had the opportunity. It would have prevented all this discussion had he made the explanation. I admit it is somewhat unusual to discuss a Bill when leave is being asked to introduce it, but the circumstances are somewhat unusual. Have we any reason to be dissatisfied with the electoral law ? Has it suited the requirements of the majority of the people ? We can only answer that by making an analysis of the number of people voting at the last election, and comparing the percentage with that at the previous election. In Victoria, election day was the wettest polling day we have ever had, and yet the percentage of people voting was 75, while in Ballarat we had an 83 per cent. vote, the highest recorded in any part of “Victoria. So, in that respect, I think there is little or no need for alteration of the law. The Prime Minister has been accused of making some very defamatory statements concerning the people of Australia in that famous interview with the reporter of the London Morning Post. These statements have been circulated throughout Australia. Irregularities are alleged to have taken place in connexion with the elec tions, and detectives have been sent to Ballarat. The Liberal party handed a list - I do not know whether it was to the actual Minister of Home Affairs or to the Chief Electoral Officer, but detectives were supplied with this list by the Liberal party, and I understand that as a result of their investigation, the detectives have found nothing wrong at Ballarat in connexion with the elections. However, if there has been any abuse in any part of Australia we should have an investigation into the alleged irregularities before any Bill is submitted to the House. If it can be proved that under the absentee voting system there has been any form of corruption, duplicate voting, or personation, I am prepared to vote for the abolition of the absent vote, that is, if the evil can be proved to be at all general. If it can be demonstrated that the Act, which contained some startling innovations, opened the door for corruption, or for people voting for dead persons, I am prepared to support a stringent alteration. A little while ago the Ministry were very anxious for an investigation, and now they are bringing down a Bill before an investigation is held.
– We are only asking for leave to bring it in.
– The honorable member intends to follow up this motion with a Bill, but why does he do it before an investigation is made?
– I thought you were complaining of an investigation at the start.
– I am complaining of a partisan investigation.
– That is a pretty rough thing to say about the Chief Electoral Officer; it is absolutely unwarranted.
– When detectives are supplied with lists made out by the Liberal party, and no notice is given to the other side, the inquiry must be regarded as of a partisan character. I feel that there should be an investigation; but, if Ministers want honest voting, as we do, let them agree to the appointment of a Committee such as an honorable member opposite has given notice of his intention to move for, to make a full investigation. We shall be ready to afford every assistance for the securing of clean elections. I do not desire that the door shall be open to men to vote nineteen times, as it is said in Melbourne one elector did for me during the last election. But if Ministers wish to get on with business, why do they not introduce their Conciliation and Arbitration Bill? They have told the farmers that they are going to take from the rural workers the right to appeal to the Arbitration Court, and they should carry out their promise, although they know full well that before they can pass any measure into law the rural workers will have come before the Arbitration Court, and will have got an award. The exemption of rural workers from the arbitration legislation was practically the only question on which the Liberal party went before the country. Liberal candidates may have said a few words about the reestablishment of the postal vote; but, after what has taken place here in Victoria recently, no one should be anxious for that. When Mr. Abbott and Mr. Clarke were candidates for a seat in the Legislative Council of Victoria recently, Mr. Abbott was defeated by something like twenty-eight votes, and obtained a recount. It must be remembered that the electors of the Council have a property qualification, and are supposed to be better educated than ordinary electors. But this is the report of a Committee of the Council on the operation of the postalvoting system : -
With regard to the postal votes, 67 postal ballot-papers were issued. Six were disallowed by the Returning Officer, but one of these was afterwards allowed by the Committee on the recount. The Committee found themselves compelled by the Act to reject 22 additional papers, so that there were 27 rejected, or 40 per cent, of the 67 postal ballot-papers issued.
So that 40 per cent, of those who voted by post at that election were disfranchised; many through no fault of their own, but because of a mistake on the part of the witness, and for other reasons. Had there been a similar investigation of the absentee voting, the percentage of voters disfranchised would have been found to be much less than 40 per cent. Most of the absent votes that were rejected were due to the casting of votes by persons who believed that their names were on the roll of some other electorate, but whose names had been removed prior to the election; very few votes were declared informal because of any wrong act on the part of the voter. The absent vote is easier and simpler than the postal vote. The system may need slight alterations. I think that the Returning Officers should have the right to count the ab- sentee votes cast within a division instead of having to send them to the head office to be counted, thus delaying the declaration of the poll. I speak feelingly on the subject, because I was fourteen votes behind my opponent when the direct votes had been counted, and something like three weeks were needed to count 2,600 absent votes that were sent in, pretty well half of which could have been counted on the night of the election had the Returning Officers in the respective divisions had the right to open them. The delay in ascertaining the results of the election caused an outburst of feeling against the absent vote; but the carrying out of my suggestion would have made that delay much less. I do not expect that the Bill will increase voting facilities other than by re-establishing the postal votea thing to which I am opposed, because I have seen a great deal of corruption in connexion with that system. I do not say that that corruption is chargeable wholly to one party. So long as the door is left open to corrupt practices they will creep in.
– Corruption is easy with the postal vote.
– Yes. A postal ballot-paper can be filled in in Melbourne, and sent to Ballarat, and only one person need know anything about it.. The name of a witness can be safely forged, because no inquiry is made as to his existence. I do not wish to tell too much, but I have seen enough of the postal vote to determine me never to vote for its adoption again. The postal vote is unfair, because it means that the party with most money and most canvassers must succeed- I do not speak as one who has suffered, because, although I contested four or five State elections under the postal system, I knew how to organize it as well as the others did, recognising that it had to be looked after. It has been said that the Labour party abolished the postal vote because its members suffered from it, but I do not think that that is so. I believe that in 1910 a majority of the postal votes were cast for Labour Ministers and members. The honorable member for Boothby has pointed out that the exercise of the postal vote was allowed, not because persons were ill, but because they thought they might be ill, or might, on polling day, be five miles from a polling booth. The postal vote is a dangerous weapon to place in the hands of the employing classes. There is nothing to prevent them from asking their employes to sign applications for postal ballot-papers.
– They have done it.
– I have no knowledge of it being done in Victoria, but there is. nothing to prevent it. The political fight is becoming very keen and bitter. At the last election we saw that the wealthy classes would stoop to anything to secure control of the Treasury bench. Having command of capital, and being able to employ armies of canvassers, they could prevent the Democrats from ever regaining possession of office if the postal vote system were in force. It is hard that those who are sick should not be able to vote, and if means could be found to enable them to do so secretly I should be ready to vote for them.
– What method does the honorable member suggest?
– I think that it would be necessary to send the Divisional Officer with the ballot-box to every sick voter.
– With a scrutineer.
– I know of no other way of conserving the secrecy of the ballot. We had to fight too hard to obtain the secrecy of the ballot to be able to afford to lightly forego it. Labour had no chance of being represented in Parliament so long as the workers were compelled to vote openly. The honorable member for Wilmot has said that the Labour party is the only political party that has voted to disfranchise electors, but we know that only three years ago the Liberal party in Victoria took from the inmates of benevolent asylums the right to vote. Moreover, only one person in three in the State of Victoria can vote at an election for a Legislative Councillor, and there are only 20,000 in the State who possess the qualifications required of a candidate for the Council. Such a candidate must hold £1,000 worth of freehold property with unencumbered title deeds. Yet the honorable member for Grampians, who is so anxious that the sick woman should have the right to vote, would restrict the exercise of the Commonwealth franchise to those persons whose names are on the ratepayers’ rolls. Do we find honorable members opposite fighting to enfranchise the Victorian citizens who are disfranchised, to restore the right to vote to the inmates of our benevolent asylums ?
– Not one of them has said a word in favour of that.
– Not a word. One gentleman - a doctor of law, I believe - declared in Tasmania that old-age pensioners should lose their right to vote. If such a statement were made in a moment of excitement by some of our leaders in the trade union movement, it would be quoted against us, but honorable members opposite go to their conferences and declare that they are going to deny various people the right to vote in this way without any blame being attached to them. The party opposite profess to be anxious that every man and woman should be given an opportunity to vote, yet one of their members, the honorable member for Calare, told us that one rural electorate in Great Britain, comprising only 1,500 people, returned a member to the House of Commons, whereas a city electorate, comprising 49,000 electors, had only ona representative, and that he would like to see the same principle applied in Australia. These are the people who talk of extending the right to vote !
– How do the Labour party elect their representatives to the Hobart Conference 1 They give one roan ten votes.
– The delegates from Victoria represented 150,000 unionists.
– We have nothing to be ashamed of in connexion with our representatives at the Hobart Conference. Our delegates were elected on the preferential system.
– The honorable member is not in order in referring to that, matter.
– I thought the information would be interesting to thehonorable member, who seems to knowvery little about the subject. How absurd it is for the Government and theirsupporters to declare that the sick should have the right to vote, when, during thepresent session one of their number hassaid that he would give 1,500 people in a country constituency as much votingpower as is possessed by 49,000 residents in a city electorate.
– In the case of the Senate, one Tasmanian has the same voting-‘ power as ten New South Welshmen.
– Order ! The honorable member for Calare must cease interjecting.
– Perhaps the Ministry will propose some ‘ alteration in that regard. We cannot deny that the Senate is not elected on a Democratic basis, since the smaller States have equal power with the larger States; but the Labour party had nothing to do with the determination of the basis of representation . I was very young when the Convention sat, but I took some small part in the opposition to the Constitution Bill, because it provided for the very principle to which the honorable member refers. If the Government will propose an amendment of the Constitution, giving representation to the States in proportion to their population, we shall not offer much objection, but I should object to a scheme to divide each State into electorates for the Senate.
– That could not be done without the consent of the States.
– I am glad to hear that that is so. The basis upon which the Senate should be elected was decided by the Convention, in which we were not represented. The system worked all right so long as the Conservative party were in the majority in this House. Now, however, they talk about class representation in the Senate, although they make no complaint concerning the representation of only one class in the Legislative Councils of the States, in which they have always had a majority. The Senate, at least, is elected bv the men and women of Australia. In the case of that House, men and women count for more than bricks and mortar. In respect of municipalities in Victoria, some people have three votes, while others have none. In some instances, where a shire is divided into four ridings, some people have as many as twelve votes each, and certain families cast as many as fifty or sixty votes, although they do not reside in the district. At a recent shire election in my constituency the defeated candidate received the votes of two out of every three persons who went to the poll. There, however, it was not the number of men and women who went to the poll, but the number of votes appearing opposite their names on the rolls, that counted. Are the Liberal party urging any alteration of the electoral system in relation to our municipalities ? It is quite possible that some startling propositions will be found in this Bill. The Attorney-General has already made the alarming proposal that political or ganizations should be given power to object to any name being on the roll. If that power were given, the Liberal organizations in Ballarat would have 20,000 names removed within a day. We, I suppose, would also be active, and practically every one in the division, with the exception of the candidates, would be objected to. This would be a very dangerous power to give to any political organization. The present method is simple, and, I think, fairly accurate. I wish to impress upon the AttorneyGeneral, who, I am sure, is broad-minded and reasonable enough to be impressed with the arguments advanced by the Opposition, the danger of the power that he proposes to give to political organizations. I am certain that if we could get him to realize what could be done by political organizations on both sides if this power were given to them, he would alter his decision. His time is so much taken up with his work in the Law Courts and his Ministerial duties that, perhaps, he has not been able to make himself acquainted with the method that has to be followed to secure the removal from the roll of the names of those who have left the district. The procedure is quite simple, the work being left practically to the postmasters in the various electorates. Who has a better knowledge of the changes of residence made from time to time than have the various postmasters ? The letter-carriers make a note practically every day of those who have removed, and they report to their superior officer. That officer then sends a notification to the last address of the person concerned, and if no proper reply is received, his or her name is struck off the rolls. The system is quite fair; it purifies the rolls, and that is all that we desire. Much capital has been made out of the allegation that the Federal rolls contain more names than there are electors in the Commonwealth. That statement may be quite true. We were anxious that every one should be enrolled, and there was published throughout the Commonwealth a notice that those whose names were not on the roll for the subdivision in which they had resided for not less than one month, were liable to be prosecuted and fined. Many people who had changed their place of residence, in filling in their cards, stated that they had not been enrolled, forgetting for the moment that they were on the rolls in respect of the division in which they had. previously lived, with the result that their names appeared on two different rolls. ]t does not necessarily follow, however, that they voted twice. They voted in respect of the division or subdivision for which they were last enrolled. Whilst it is said that there are more names on the rolls than there- are electors in Australia, it cannot be asserted that at the last general election the number of votes recorded was in excess of the number of people enrolled. In the interview which Mr. Myers published in ‘ the Morning Post, it was said that in the electorate of Oxley one and a half votes were cast for every person on the rolls.
– Absurd !
– It is absurd. Statements such as these regarding the conduct of the elections at Oxley, Fremantle, Ballarat, and certain other electorates ought to be cleared up. We are anxious that there should be an investigation; that the officials should be put in the box and crossexamined. We court the fullest inquiry, and I am surprised that the first act of the Government, after the censure motion had been disposed of, was not to provid-3 for the fullest inquiry.
– It is only on information so obtained that we can build up the electoral law.
– Quite so. That is what we want. We want an investigation before this Bill is laid on the table. As soon as it is introduced the Liberal party must be to some extent committed to it, and, in such circumstances, it would be difficult for them to go back upon it. We therefore ask that a full investigation be made before the Bill is presented. In this House the Government have a majority of one, and it is only on your casting vote, Mr. Speaker, that business can be carried on. Electoral reform should not be a party question. I do not wish to make it a party question. My desire is to give a vote that will enable, under fair conditions, practically every man and woman in Australia to exercise the franchise. If the Government can devise a scheme which, while preserving the secrecy of the ballot, will give every person an opportunity to vote, I shall be prepared to support it. Surely the Government do not propose to abolish absent voting, which has proved such a boon to a large number of people, on the wild, biased statements of the .4 rous and the daily press of the country? Once the Bill is introduced, with such a provision included, honorable members opposite stand committed to it, no matter what the result of an investigation might be. It is generally admitted that the Government have little or no chance of passing such a Bill through both Houses of Parliament, and, therefore, ‘ it is only wasting time to introduce it. It is unfair to accuse the Labour party of wasting time, because we have declared that we are ready to go on with measures of a non-party character.
– Why not go on with the Electoral Bill, which honorable members opposite say is non-party?
– Let us have the investigation first. Then we shall be prepared to assist the Minister in giving legislative effect to any proposals that will lead to less corruption, if there has been any. Personally, I do not think that there were fifty cases of personation and duplication throughout Australia at the last election. It was a remarkable occasion. Never was interest so keen, or feeling so bitter, and never, in Victoria, was the weather worse. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon, at Ballarat, the Labour party were quite satisfied that they were badly beaten. Our opponents had all the motor-cars and private vehicles; but after 4 o’clock thousands of our supporters, to whom the Labour movement does give some inspiration, and who had been waiting in the hope of better weather, rushed the polling booths. The Returning Officers, and others, had to do their work under great difficulty; and yet investigation has shown that there were not three errors in every 1,000 votes cast. This is remarkable testimony to the accuracy of the work done; and yet, because the daily press has made an outcry against certain provisions of the Act, practically the first measure of the Government is one for electoral reform, before there is any evidence that such legislation is required. We are told that it is proposed to deal with the question of signed articles; and I hope that such is the intention. If there is any proposal in this connexion, I shall move an amendment to the effect that signed articles be not confined to election time, but continued throughout the year. I see nothing unfair in asking a writer to attach his name to his productions.
– Such a proposal might have the support of the AttorneyGeneral after his outburst this afternoon.
– Not only the AttorneyGeneral, but, I am sure, the honorable member for Henty would support such a proposal, for the latter was a strong advocate of signed articles when he was in the State Parliament.
– Wait until the Fusion Caucus get at him!
– The honorable member for Henty is a firm and determined man; and I think he will be found supporting this side of the House to the extent, at least, of retaining the present provision in the Act.
– The honorable mem bar for Henty has nothing to thank the press for.
– Quite so; the Age has fought him all along, and, I think, perhaps with some justification. If the honorable member for Henty votes with the Labour party on this matter, then, of course, the Ministry cannot carry the measure, even in this Chamber. I am surprised that pressmen should object to signed articles. We who go on the public platform have to take the responsibility of everything we say, and I think it is only fair that those engaged on the press should put their names to articles. Certainly, the present provision in the Electoral Act has had a great effect on the community. At one time, when a leading article appeared with the editorial “ we,” many people thought that it was a production of many persons, whereas to-day they know it simply means the work of Tom Jones or Jack Brown, and they attach to it the importance it deserves. I assume that press writers say what they believe to be right and truthful, and they ought not to be ashamed of their- work. I should not have spoken to-night if I had not thought it necessary to make my position clear. I feel that a great injustice is done to us by this investigation not being held in the first place; .and honorable members opposite must realize that we have deep cause of complaint. An investigation of the kind could be completed in about a month, when both sides, supplied with the fullest information, would be prepared to discuss whatever electoral reform measure might be introduced.
.- The Honorary Minister, in moving for leave to introduce this Bill, should have given the information which he now, in the closing hours of the sitting, professes himself so anxious to impart.
– Surely the honorable member does not think that these are the closing hours of the sitting? We have done no work all day.
– The honorable member had an opportunity of doing some work in submitting the motion.
– This is a formal stage, which has never before been contested in this House.
– It is an old debating society dodge to keep all your arguments up your sleeve until your opponents have spoken, and then make your statement when there is no opportunity to reply. The Government asked carte blanche to do anything they liked in this Bill. What right have the Government to ask for leave to introduce a Bill which might go to the extent of upsetting some of the vital principles of the electoral law? The Government have no mandate from the people to repeal any of the basic principles of existing legislation . They ha ve been returned with the smallest margin of votes, and I doubt whether any Ministry in the history of responsible government has been returned with a smaller. If this indicates anything, it indicates that the people desire a cessation of legislation; at any rate, it gives no mandate to repeal existing measures. There are plenty of measures of a non-party character upon which both parties can agree.
– Is not this a non-party measure ?
– I do not think that any electoral amending Bill which could be introduced by the honorable gentleman could be of a non-party character.
– Does not the honorable member think that he might wait and see ?
– We can judge the future from the experience of the past, and we have never known the honorable gentleman to associate himself with anything of a non-party character.
What has been his attitude since he has been in charge of the Home Affairs Department? Has he not given an exhibi- tion of the grossest partisanship ? Has he not been raking over the rubbishboxes, looking into the waste-paper baskets, and searching through the various drawers, to find out whether he could discover some trifling slip somewhere by means of which he could hold his predecessor up to odium and contempt?
The previous Government spent between £50,000,000 and £60,000,000 during the last three years on matters of national importance; and it would be marvellous indeed if an Administration covering such a wide area did not make some slip somewhere. We have had this Minister rummaging round, scandal-mongering, to see what could be raked up. He has dived into the papers of the Electoral Office. His Government have besmirched the fame of the people of Australia by insinuating that there has been wholesale corruption.
– They have done nothing of the kind.
– Having, at great expense to the country, made investigations to see whether there had been duplicate voting, we now find that the principal instances occurred amongst their own supporters, the Liberals. I told the Minister of a list of names presented to me in my own electorate as to persons who are alleged to have voted twice. It contained the names of leading business people who were strong supporters of the Liberal party.
There were two electorates, Ballarat and Illawarra, in which there were only a few votes between the two sides. Within the period when a defeated candidate could lodge a petition against the return of a successful candidate, we have had this Government conducting an investigation to see whether they could find anything wrong. It seems to me that that was an exhibition of the grossest partisanship. Having made this investigation, and finding nothing that was palatable to them, the Government are now trying to drop the issue. We have asked for the papers to be laid upon the table of the House.
– I think that this debate is important enough to require that there shall be a quorum present. [Quorum formed.]
– The present Government have no authority whatever to introduce legislation for the repeal of existing laws. They have been returned by the narrowest of majorities. In an exceedingly well- written article in the Age of yesterday, 9th September, dealing with the political situation, I find an analysis of the party figures affecting the recent election. The result shows that the Liberal votes numbered 928,152, whilst the Labour votes numbered 919,737, and that the independent votes were 41,850. After referring to the votes cast for the Independent candidates, and pointing out those which might be claimed by the two parties, the article shows that the Labour votes in the country numbered 929,737, whilst the Liberal votes totalled 928,152. These figures show that, although the Government have a majority of one in a total of seventy-five members, a slightly greater vote was cast for Labour than for Liberal candidates. Due allowance is made for the uncontested electorates. In these circumstances, I submit, the Government have no authority to introduce repealing legislation. It is merely an accident, from the way the electoral boundaries are defined, that votes are distributed as they are in the various constituencies, and that the one party or the other secured the odd number. That is absolutely clear from the figures.
– Would not that always apply?
– I do not know whether it would always apply; but I venture to say that if it applied at any time when a Government obtained actually a minority of the votes cast, although by an accident they secured a narrow majority of members returned, it would rightly be claimed that that Government had no authority to repeal existing legislation, or to interfere with established vital principles.
Ever since I have been a member of this Parliament, we seem to have had a new Electoral Bill every session. In these circumstances, we might almost say ‘ ‘ Give us this session our sessional Electoral Bill.” The principal Act was introduced about eleven years ago by gentlemen who had spent their life-time as representatives of the people in our State Parliaments. One would have thought that, with their wealth of knowledge, we should have secured an Electoral Act which would be almost perfect. Yet the ink was scarcely dry upon that measure before there was a proposal to amend it. Session after session we have our electoral machinery upset and innovations introduced. As fast as we adopt one proposal to cure some defect, it is found that that proposal itself contains an inherent weakness and defect. As a matter of fact, we shall never obtain an Electoral Act which will be free from imperfections.
The Statute has to be framed by representatives of the people who have all the imperfections of humanity; and when it has to stand the stress and strain of an election, we find the keenest minds in the community contesting one against the other in an effort to obtain the political mastery. So that whatever the ingenuity of man may invent in the way of electoral provisions, the ingenuity of man will circumvent when a contest takes place to determine which political party shall obtain the upper hand.
The Minister has not told us what alterations it is proposed to make in our electoral law, and, consequently, we must look elsewhere for the information. Turning to the policy speech of the Prime Minister, which is reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of 4th April of the present year, I find the following: -
We propose to repeal all this legislation, to restore to invalids the opportunity of voting through the post, to strike the shackles off the press of this country, to leave parties and organizations reasonably free to conduct their electioneering, and to re-shape our electoral laws so that they will not only reflect the principles of Democracy, but also the wisdom and good sense of the community.
– That sounds all right.
– The will of the community and the principles of Democracy are to be given effect to by removing the restrictions which have been imposed upon the Employers’ Federation, and upon the political organizations of the capitalists, so that they may be free to debauch and corrupt the constituencies, just as similar institutions have done in America. That is the kind of freedom and Democracy which is favoured by the Prime Minister. Why should we not know where the money comes from with which these electoral battles are fought? If the Colonial Sugar Refining Company contributed £50,000 to defeat the referenda proposals of the late Government, why should we not know it? Surely it would tend to the political enlightenment of the people !
Here we have a great combine, which can buy a full page in the Sydney Morning Herald or the Daily Telegraph for the purpose of misleading the people. Yet we are not told where this money comes from. After the defeat of the referenda proposals it is significant that the shares in the Colonial Sugar Refining Company went up sky-high. The company is making such immense profits that it is compelled to hide them by giving away £250,000 in new shares to the existing shareholders.
– The honorable member’s party gave them £100,000 last year.
– The honorable member is wrong, but he reminds me that the present Government have given them £150,000 this year through ineptitude in administering the public revenues. We are entitled to know what money these wealthy companies, which are robbing the consumer day after day, spend for political purposes.
– I think that we ought to have a quorum, Mr. Speaker. [Quorum formed.]
– It is quite apparent that the Prime Minister proposes to remove the restrictions which have been placed upon these wealthy corporations, and to abolish the provisions of our Electoral Act which require them to submit a statement of their expenditure in connexion with elections. Personally, I regard those provisions as one of the most important parts of our electoral legislation. If a firm contributes £1,000 or £50,000 to an election, surely it ought not to be ashamed of it. Where is the need for all this secrecy, if something is not being done to the detriment of the public? Surely these persons who claim to be patriotic, ought to have no objection to telling us what money they have expended in helping the political party opposite.
During one of the recent debates in this Chamber the statement was made that our trade unions spent large sums of money for political purposes. Of course, if organizations are to be called upon to submit an account of their expenditure for political purposes, it should be made to apply all round. I have here a balance-sheet showing the income and expenditure of the New South Wales Political Labour League, the New South Wales branch of the Australian
Labour League, for the year ended 31st December last, together with the report of an independent auditor, and I am prepared here and now to supply copies to honorable members who wish to study it. Can honorable members opposite, in their turn, furnish me with copies of the balance-sheets of their political organizations ?
– T rely upon the honorable member, as a man of his word, to keep that promise. I trust that he has not yet learned the arts of his political associates, and is not merely bluffing, because, although we sit on opposite sides, we have been personal friends for some considerable time. The total sum contributed by the unions of New South Wales to the Political Labour League of the State is-
– The honorable member will not be in order in giving the details of the balance-sheet.
– I am showing that it is probable, from a reading of the policy speech of the Prime Minister, that the Bill which the Government wishes to introduce provides for the elimination from the electoral law of the wholesome provisions which require political organizations to submit accounts of their expenditure in connexion with elections.
– The honorable member may refer to the balance-sheet, but he may not quote from it in detail.
– It is a lengthy document, which I did not propose to quote in full. The total amount contributed by the unions of New South Wales during last year was £703 15s. Id.
– Was there’ an election in that year I
– The honorable member could not expect to have the balance-sheet for 1913 before the year has come to an end. It is clear that the funds in hand at the end of 1912 would be available for the last election. The greater part of the expenditure of the League was necessary for the upkeep of the central office, the payment of a general secretary and of a couple of assistants, printing, and other things. On the 31st December last the money in hand was £316 ls. Id. in the bank and £5 in petty cash, or £321 ls. Id. altogether.
– Is that the only source of revenue T
– There are sustentation fees paid by league branches. That income amounted to £234 for the year. The Labour League’s fees are ls. for women and 2s. for men per annum, and when the expenses of their local meetings are paid, there is not much left to send to the central organization.
– It has been suggested that every penny of a candidate’s expenses should be paid for him.
– That is my view; but 1 have always had to pay my own expenses. I think that when a member is chosen to represent the principles of an organization, and he must submit himself for selection by the organization, his election expenses should be paid.
– The proposed Bill may provide for that.
– Why does not the Minister tell us about it?
– The Opposition will not give him a chance.
– The proposals of the Bill may be so absurd that we ought not to give leave for its introduction. I wonder if the honorable member for Nepean knows what they are. Has the Bill been before the Fusion caucus? He must know that once it is brought in he must support it, whether he agrees with its provisions or not. If there is something in it to which he objects and an effort is made to eliminate it, he will be compelled, should the Minister say that the Government regards the matter as vital, to vote against his convictions. 1 anticipate that the Government intends to abolish the provision requiring returns of election expenditure from the great capitalist organizations of Australia that pour their wealth into the lap of the Fusion party to secure legislation in their own interests, enabling them to further exploit the masses of the people. These organizations are really only advancing these sums of money, knowing full well that they have the power of taxation over the people, and can simply increase the price of goods, and scoop the money back with an added amount when their friends are in power. Honorable members opposite, apparently from the Prime Minister’s speech at Parramatta, propose to remove this obligation from the capitalist organizations to let us know the destination and the amount of funds they are contributing in this process of interfering with the legislative power.
– How much did the Honorary Minister give to that fund ?
– The honorable member for Wentworth is very fortunate in having inherited a considerable amount of wealth, so we are led to believe.
– That is not quite the game.
– I am making no reflection on the Minister.
– I only wish it was true.
– It has been suggested that the strong financial position of the honorable gentleman had something to do with the, present position that he occupies.
– What do you mean by that statement?
– Order ! I am waiting for the honorable member to connect his remarks with the question before the Chair.
– I rise to order. A statement has just been made by the honorable member that my “strong financial position “ has had something to do with the position I am at present occupying. I think it will be clear to you, sir, and to the House that an indefinite reflection of that kind is not worthy of an honorable member.
– You are stretching it. What is the point of order?
– The point of order is that that remark, if it is intended to be seriously made, is not only a gross reflection upon myself, but a very gross reflection on the Government and honorable members generally. I ask, sir, that the honorable member be required, not only to withdraw the statement, but to apologize for it. It is a very serious thing for an honorable member to say that a man owes his position in the Ministry to some “ financial position “ which he occupies outside the House. If the honorable member does not withdraw the statement and apologize, I shall move that the words be taken down.
– I request the honorable member to withdraw the observation he made.
– Do you, sir, rule that my observation is an offensive remark?
– The Minister regards the remark as offensive, and it is a rule of the House that when a request of that kind is made the remark is withdrawn.
– In deference to you, sir, I withdraw the remark, but I must say that the honorable member is posing and attitudinizing here, and trying to make out that there is something in the remark, when there is absolutely nothing in it.
– In what?
– In the statement I made.
– Judge Heydon made that remark in regard to the honorable member’s statements several times.
– The honorable gentleman is stating what is absolutely untrue.
– Is that in order, sir?
– The honorable member makes an untrue statement, and then objects to the retort.
– Order I The honorable member must know that he is saying what is grossly disorderly. I ask him to withdraw the statement.
– I do withdraw the remark, sir, and I ask you to require the Minister to keep silent while I am speaking.
– I am doing my best to preserve order, but it is a hard job.
– The honorable gentleman stands up and appears to take a point of order seriously, and then laughs like an ass or a grinning idiot.
– The honorable member must not make use of expressions of that kind. I ask him to withdraw the expression.
– I do withdraw the expression, sir, but I ask you to take a note of the general attitude of the Honorary Minister. If his peculiar grin could be photographed into Hansard those who read the record of the debate would see the point of the remarks I have made within the last few minutes.
The Government, we are told in the speech of the Prime Minister, propose to restore to invalids the opportunity of voting by post. I do not think there is an honorable member who does not desire that the fullest opportunity should be given to every person to record a vote. There is a difference of opinion as to how it can be most satisfactorily accomplished. There are some persons, I venture to say, who do not want to vote. Why should a man on his death-bed, for instance, be worried by an electoral agent asking him how he is going to record his vote? Why should a man who is within five minutes of Eternity be worried as to how he is going to record his vote, or propped up to sign his name to a paper to be sent to the Returning Officer? I have known cases where the invalids have died before the postal vote could be sent back, and therefore could not use them. Will any one tell me that in a case of that kind there is a very great desire on the part of an invalid to have the right to vote? Surely not.
– That does not apply to all.
– It does not apply to all, but it does apply to some. There are some invalids who, we can all agree, do not require the right to vote. There are some persons of course, who are temporarily incapacitated. Take, for instance, a person who has a broken leg, although possessing the mental capacity to take part in the politics of the country. I agree if it is possible to give an opportunity of voting to that person, without greater opportunity for corruption, it ought to be given, but we all know what has occurred. Is it possible to so surround the postal vote with safeguards as to prevent corruption ?
– We can have a fair try.
– Does the honorable member want a system of postal voting surrounded with safeguards that will prevent such corruption as took place, or does he want the old kind of postal vote ?
– So far as Tasmania is concerned, I do not think there was any corruption.
– Under the previous law, a man was entitled to a postal vote if he declared that he had reason to believe that in three weeks he would be indisposed. Had I made such a declaration, who could prove that I had not that belief in my mind ? It would have been impossible to prove that. Under the former system tens of thousands of postal votes were cast which were never contemplated by the law. I have known of cases. I know that if I had been a wealthy man, and had divided my electorate into districts and put clerks in charge with instructions under the postal voting provisions I could have got 10,000 postal votes.
– If you started out for corrupt purposes you could do that under any Act.
– No. Tell me how the present system is open to corruption in the same way as is the postal voting system. A man with sufficient wealth to be able to introduce a thorough system of organization would have no trouble, if he desired to do so, in obtaining 10,000 postal votes in any electorate in Australia under the previously-existing postal voting system. In the little metropolitan electorate of Kooyong, in the State of Victoria, more postal votes were cast at the elections of 1910 than were recorded for the whole of the State of New South Wales. In that electorate there was a tram running practically from the end of every street to a polling booth, yet that is what took place.
– Ten times as many postal votes were recorded as were cast in my electorate across the river.
– Quite so.
– There are a lot of cripples down there.
– The honorable member says that there are a lot of “ crook ones “ down there. As the seat is a Liberal one, I leave the honorable member to speak for it, since he knows more about the Liberal side of politics than I do. It must be patent to the honorable member that all those who voted by post on that occasion did not do so bonâ fide according to the law. But how are we to police such a law ? In respect of the 2,000 or 3,000 electors who voted by post, an inspector would be required to make an investigation. We should need to have some machine to enable us to put their consciences under a microscope, to find out what they thought. No doubt they all “ thought “ two or three weeks before polling day that they would be unable to go to the polling booths, but probably 2,500 out of 2,600 found on polling day that they were mistaken. How could we prove, however, that they did not act bonâ fide? This shows that we must either eliminate the system altogether, or surround it with such safeguards as will prevent a repetition of the corruption that has taken place.
– I think the honorable member voted for the voting-by-post provision of the Act.
– I do not remember. I may have been prepared to give it a trial. Personally, the matter does not concern me very much. If the Government re-introduced the postal voting system it could not be operated in my electorate without my knowledge, and if I found that tactics were being adopted that left me no alternative but to adopt the same tactics, I should probably resort to them, and I am sure that I could get as many postal votes as could any one whom the Liberal party saw fit to put up against me. I have no complaint to make so far as I am personally concerned against postal voting. In every case I have always had a majority of the postal and absent votes recorded in my electorate. The number of postal votes, however, was comparatively small - a couple of hundred for myself and somethingless for my opponent.
– There was not much wrong there.
– No. But in the case of the Ballarat electorate a reputed millionaire stood in the Liberal interest, and put in what he described as uptodate business organization. If he so desired it would be absolutely impossible for a Labour man to win that seat whilst the postal voting system was in vogue. I do not suggest that he would operate the system; I merely say that he could take advantage of it if he chose to do so.
– This is putting a poor estimate on the electors.
– My estimate is not of the electors, but of the capitalists who take part in the elections.
A Bill having been passed providing for the imposition of a land tax, which takes a million and a half a year out of the pockets of the great landed proprietors, and adds it to the revenues of the Commonwealth, what more natural than that those great landed proprietors should say, “ Would it not be better for us to put half a million of money into the next Federal elections, secure the return of our own nominees, and obtain the repeal of this legislation. Why should we not transfer the burden of government from our shoulders to the shoulders of the toiling masses?” From the point of veiw of their personal interest, it would be better for them to spend half a million in that way, and so obtain the repeal of the legislation to which they objected. And so with the Sugar Refining Company. When they found that they were not to be allowed to exploit the community as they were doing, it would be a very good investment for them to contribute £50,000 to defeat certain candidates in order that they might work their own sweet will upon the community.
It is quite apparent that it is not possible so to restrict and limit postal voting as to provide for the purity of our elections. After all, how many people are affected by it ? Surely, if these great risks are to be undertaken there must be some adequate number of persons involved. Under every law some one suffers. No doubt every piece of legislation imposing taxation inflicts some hardship upon individuals, but we cannot frame our legislation on the basis of saving these units out of some hundreds of thousands of people. We have so to frame our legislation as to safeguard the interests of the great majority. We have no information before us as to how many people have been disfranchised because of the amendment of the postal-voting provisions made by the last Parliament. We certainly eliminated postal voting, but we introduced absent voting provisions of the most favorable kind.
– Which the Prime Minister said were as good as the postal voting system.
– I am reminded that the Prime Minister said, when the Bill was before the last Parliament, that the absent voting system was as good as the postal voting system.
– I do not think I said so.
– When a statement made by the honorable member is challenged, he finds some way of wriggling out of it. We shall have to turn up the Hansard report and quote it for his benefit.
– Why does not the honorable member turn it up before he makes these statements ?
– It has been looked up.
– The statement is in Hansard. It was an interjection.
– I am glad that the honorablemember admits having made it. Will the Attorney-General accept the admission made by his own
Prime Minister. One would think that the Prime Minister was not competent to take care of himself without the honorable gentleman’s assistance. The absent voting provisions afford an opportunity for everybody away on holiday or business to record their votes at any polling boot’i. A great many of the people affected are, no doubt, on sick beds, and in pain, and do not wish to be bothered by election agents; and I am sure that the number of votes at stake in a bond fide way would not justify us in letting loose, or, as I was going to say, opening the flood gates to the corruption that has taken place in the past, and, no doubt, would recur in the future.
The Government have no mandate to interfere with the vital principles of the existing Act without inquiry; and, further, we are told by the Prime Minister that he proposes to seek a double dissolution. During the debate on the amendment to the AddressinReply, the Attorney-General stated that the Government proposed to introduce certain measures when the political situation would permit, thus admitting that some questions could not be dealt with now with any hope of carrying them. Then the Prime Minister, in the Sydney daily press of Monday week, stated that the Government are simply taking steps to bring about a double dissolution at the earliest possible time. Apparently the introduction of Bills is only for the purpose of finding an opportunity for that double dissolution; and, with that idea in his mind, the honorable gentleman proposes an alteration of the electoral law. Under such circumstances the Government are not justified in interfering with the Electoral Act, except on points regarding which there would be practical unanimity in the House. Certainly the Government are not justified in introducing partisan clauses in the Bill which would give rise to the most violent party feeling, and afford some particular advantage to the Government in the foreshadowed election.
– Will the honorable member tell us what he would like us to do ? Let us see whether we can make an arrangement.
– If the honorable member will grant me leave to continue my speech to-morrow, we shall be able to retire to rest at a reasonable time.
– The Opposition Whip said the debate would be finished at 11 o’clock to-night.
– We have been refused information which the House has a right to expect, and, as a result, this debate has extended over a whole sitting.
– We are ready to give you the information.
– But it would be given in a speech which would close the debate. If the Prime Minister himself will give us the information, I shall resume my seat.
– The speech of the Honorary Minster will not close the debate on the Bill.
– But it will close the debate on this motion. We ought to know what the Bill is to contain before we give leave for its introduction. The Age, in a special article, shows that the present Government secured at the recent elections a minority of votes to the number of 8,000 or 9,000.
– The honorable member knows that that is incorrect.
– I am sure that the honorable gentleman will not charge the Age with any desire to help the Labour party at the expense of the Liberal party, because its arguments are all devoted to helping our friends opposite, to our disadvantage. If the Government had como to this House with a clearly defined policy, indorsed by a clear majority of the people, they would have the right to introduce a Bill as outlined in the policy speech, but under existing circumstances I submit that they have no such right. I am entitled to continue my remarks for a considerable time, but to show that I have no desire to obstruct business, I shall make way for some words of a very pertinent character by the honorable member for Gwydir.
.- I have regarded the honorable member for Wentworth with a great amount of sympathy for a great many hours, while lie has been regretting that lamentable error he committed earlier in the sitting, when he refused or neglected to inform honorable members what is contained within the pages of the proposed amending electoral law. It seems an awful oversight on the part of the Honorary Minister, at the inception of his official responsibility, when he is trusted with the introduction of a measure of this character, that he should not have asked some of the senior members of his party as to how he had better proceed, with a view to the harmony of this Chamber. The Honorary Minister, however, will probably learn something from what he has heard to-night. The debate, I take it, has shown an honorable intention on the part of honorable members on this side to indicate to the Government what kind of an electoral law is most suitable to the people of this country. Seeing that the Labour party represents more than half of the electors of the country, surely the Prime Minister - I am not going to speak of his assistant - must recognise that we have a right to suggest the character of the legislation the larger proportion of the people of the Commonwealth require. I am satisfied that the reason why the Minister did not do what it was his duty to do when he rose to move this motion, was because he wished to withhold from the public as long as possible the unpalatable character of the measure of which he is in charge. I should like to ask the Prime Minister whether he will consent to an adjournment now? We have a Caucus meeting in the morning, and I should like this subject to be threshed out there as well as here.
– That settles it!
– Do I understand that the Prime Minister agrees to an adjournment t
– I should like to know whether there are any more speakers [than my honorable friend?
– Yes; there are others who have valuable material to bring forward.
– At this stage?
– May I make a statement ?
– Get the leave of the House.
– Go ahead, if you won’t let me make a statement.
– Ask for the leave of the House and you will get it. I will not object.
– I will ask you nothing. Learn how to behave yourself.
– I am very sorry, because I realize that the Prime Minister was inclined to be considerate.
– If one does anything here, he is met with insults.
– Last night there were nearly two or three cases of heart failure through the violent exercise to which honorable members had to submit to catch their last train.
– What do the Government want to do to-morrow?
– I will tell the honorable member when we have done what we have to do to-day.
– Where is the hurry ? If the Prime Minister wishes to make a statement, I will sit down.
– I will not so far humiliate myself as to make a statement now.
– I wish to say, in conclusion, that I am very sorry that the Attorney-General has caused this trouble to-day. It. has largely arisen out of his action on this measure. He tells the House that he is going to give power to certain political organizations whereby they will be able to cull the names of respectable citizens from the rolls of the Commonwealth, and object to them. Persons are to do that in their capacity as organizers. Like the policeman who gets a reward according to the cases that he deals with, those organizers who get the most names struck off will get the highest salary. The Attorney-General has thrown down the gage to those who know what Liberal organizers can do. I have in my possession a list from the Dubbo subdivision, showing that the Liberal organizers at the last election had a challenge list printed in roll form, on which there were 551 names for the scrutineers to object to when the persons came to vote. Not one reason is set out on the list as to why the persons should be objected to. That is typical of the system which the Attorney-General desires to introduce into the electoral system of this country. His actions, like the trail of the serpent, can be traced in everything he does in regard to politics. We have to watch him whenever a proposal is made to amend democratic legislation. He is always aiming at strangling Democracy in the interests of the Plutocracy that he serves. It is not necessary to say any more now, because we can say what we wish later on. I will allow the Honorary Minister to open his mysterious packet, and, when he has done so we shall be able to analyze, to dissect, and, I hope, to annihilate what he proposes.
– Honorable members opposite have been stretching their imagination all day, endeavouring to find all sorts of vague things which they say may be in the Bill. I cannot recollect a single instance since I have been a member of this House when the forms have been strained to hold up a Minister in the execution of his duty when claiming the mere right to introduce legislation to amend any existing law.
– What about the financial agreement?
– I cannot recall an instance of the forms of the House being strained in the way they have been strained to-day. Honorable members opposite have been delaying business and the public funds have been suffering all the time.
– Is this the information that the Minister desired to give?
– It has become abundantly clear that honorable members opposite do not desire any information on this question. The Standing Orders will not permit me to express myself frankly in regard to their conduct to-day. After they have indulged in this farce-
– I am glad that the honorable member realizes that it is a farce.
– Order ! For the third time to-day, I must direct the attention of honorable members to the fact-
– The Minister will not get his Bill through any quicker for this.
– I name the honorable member for Gwydir, and I ask him to apologize to the House.
– Apologize for what?
– For disregarding the authority of the Chair.
– I did not hear you. But I apologize if I have offended you, old chap.
– Order ! That is a disrespectful method of addressing the Chair
– It is a homely expression in my country, but I withdraw it if you object to homely expressions.
– I wish to point out once more that when the Speaker has called for order, and especially when he has done so several times, it is grossly disorderly for an honorable member to interject. I must ask the House to give me that loyal assistance I have a right to expect to keep order,, and to observe the ordinary rules of debate.
– I think that the extraordinary questionings of honorable members opposite - the extraordinary straining of their imaginations as to what may possibly be in this Bill - make it abundantly clear that no answer from me is necessary at this stage. The Government business has been held up in this way. I regret it, because the Government business is the country’s business, which we have been sent here te transact. At this stage, therefore, I propose to say nothing more.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Electoral Bill - Order of Business - Speech bt the Prime Minister.
Motion (by Mr. Joseph Cook) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.-! should like to know from the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs why he has not introduced the amending Electoral Bill, after having secured the leave of the House to do so. I also desire to learn from the Prime Minister whether he has changed the order of business from that in which it appears on the business-paper. I understood that to-morrow was grievance day. There has not been a grievance day since we met. Has he put off grievance day for another fortnight?
– Grievance day was last Thursday, and the honorable member was grieving all day.
– I want another opportunity to grieve. It is not right for the Government to rob honorable members of their opportunity to ventilate questions of serious importance to the electors. Is it intended to abolish grievance day entirely ?
.- Last year the Prime Minister paid a visit to tlie town which gave him political birth. I refer to Lithgow, in New South Wales, where he spoke on the 10th June, in the Oddfellows Hall. On that occasion, he said, as reported in the Lithgow Mercury of 12th June, 1912-
He believed in having his own opinion, and would not allow any caucus to think for him, or to come between him and his constituents. He had not altered his position ; the others had done the jumping round, and now imagined he had.
I wish to place that statement upon record. The Prime Minister was speaking in the district which first returned him to Parliament as a Labour representative, and he was there explaining that he had not altered his democratic opinions. It is a matter of some importance, particularly at this juncture.
.- In connexion with the little incident that the Prime Minister endeavoured to magnify just now, I desire to say that when the Acting Leader of the Opposition desired to make a statement to the House yesterday afternoon, a very wise course was adopted in insisting that he should first obtain the leave of the House. I wish to point out that if the Prime Minister had adopted my suggestion to secure that leave, there would have been no objection by honorable members upon this side to his making a statement.
– Leave of the House for what?
– To make a statement when the Prime Minister was out of order. I repeat that no objection would have been offered by honorable members on this side of the Chamber if he had first sought to obtain the leave of the House. But, instead, he sat down in a dramatic fashion and endeavoured to make it appear to the press and people of this country that we did not desire him to speak at all. That was not the case. We merely desired to have the Standing Orders strictly obeyed. The Prime Minister’s understudy has now obtained leave to introduce an amending Electoral Bill. He has stated that he is bursting with a desire to give information in respect to that Bill. There is nobody in this House who is better acquainted with the Stand ing Orders than he is, and he knows that under those Orders the motion for the first reading of that measure must be taken without debate. He has not given honorable members an opportunity of seeing the Bill to-night; and, consequently, they will not be able to discuss it until it has reached its second-reading stage. I feel that he has treated the House with scant courtesy in this matter. We are all greatly interested in electoral matters.
– The honorable member knows that the discussion has not been serious.
– That remark ought to be withdrawn.
– If it is considered offensive, I ask that it be withdrawn.
– If the honorable member for Kalgoorlie considers it offensive, I withdraw it.
– It is not personally offensive to me, because I did not participate in the discussion, but it is offensive to members on this side. Can the Minister give any reason why honorable members should not be in a position tomorrow to read tlie Electoral Bill. That would have been possible had he presented the Bill which he got leave to introduce, and moved the first reading, which would have been taken without debate. There seems to be an anxiety on the part of honorable members to lo.ave the chamber, and if it is intended to count me out, I shall continue my remarks on questions , of public importance until that is done.
– There are only three members present on the Opposition benches.
– We are not called upon to keep a quorum.
– We have a quorum.
– I do not wish to take advantage of honorable members, but if they are leaving tlie chamber igo count me out, I shall continue to discuss public affairs until that is done. I had practically finished when an obvious rush to the doors began. I hope that my remarks will be seriously considered. Had the Electoral Bill been read a first time, we could study it to-morrow afternoon, when private business will be under discussion. That advantage has been denied to us.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.29 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 10 September 1913, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1913/19130910_reps_5_70/>.