7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– (By leave.) - I wish to make an announcement concerning the war. The following telegram from the Secretary of State for the Colonies to the Governor-General has just been placed in my hand : -
Decode of Telegram received from the Right Honorable the Secretary of Statu fob the Colonies.
Dated London, 31st October, 1918. 4.10 p.m.
October, 31st. Following from Prime Ministerfor your Prime Minister: Some days ago, General Townshend was liberated in order to inform the BritishAdmiral in command of the Aegean that the Government of Turkey asked that negotiations should be opened immediately for an armistice. A reply was sent that if the Government of Turkey sent fully accredited Plenipotentiaries, ViceAdmiral Calthorp was empowered to inform them of the conditions upon which the Allies would agree to a cessation of hostilities, and to sign an armistice on this condition on their behalf. Turkish Plenipotentiaries arrived at Mudros early this week, and an armistice was signed by Admiral Calthorp on behalf of the Allied Governments last night, and came into operation at noon to-day. It is not possible as yet to publish the full terms of the armistice, but they include the free passage for the Allied Fleets through the Bosphorus to the Black Sea, the occupation of the forts on the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus necessary to secure their passage, and the immediate repatriation of all Allied prisoners of war. Announccment of these terms will be made in both Houses of Parliament this afternoon.
The press has published even more recent information, of which I can give no official confirmation at this stage; but should it be received before the House rises this afternoon, I will inform honorable members of it. The news that I have just read will produce a peculiar and deep-seated feeling of satisfaction throughout Australia, because the nation which has sur rendered is that against which our first troops put up such an undaunted fight. The news, according to the best information possessed by the Government, marks the real beginning of the real end.
.- (By leave.) - Like every other honorable member of this House, I was delighted to hear the news that has been read by the Acting Prime Minister, and is being circulated throughout the metropolitan area by a newspaper extraordinary. It is with the greatest satisfaction that we hear that the place where the - Australian troops put up a fight, almost better than we thought possible, and where so many of the best -and bravest of them lost their lives, is now open to the Allies. I re-echo the opinion of the Acting Prime Minister that this marks the real beginning of the real end, and I hope that next month, when the season for rejoicing at the tidings of peace and good will to all men has come, it may be possible to celebrate a general peace. Honorable members in this House differ on many matters, but there is no difference of opinion in regard to this . We are all delighted that the end is drawing near.
Honorable members rose in their places, and cheered.
– A regulation was recently issued providing that as from July last deductions should not be made from deferred pay inrespect of fines imposed on soldiers who had died. Since the beginning of the war many gallant men who were penalized for disciplinary reasons have lost their lives, and those near and dear to them, and dependent on them, have suffered in consequence. Will the Minister for Defence therefore, take into consideration the advisability of making the regulation retrospective to the beginning of the war, so that justice may be done to- the relatives of those who have fallen in defence of the liberties of the world?-
– It may be very difficult to go into every case from the beginning, but I shall submit the suggestion to the Minister for Defence.
Evaporated Apples, Leather, and other Non-priority Goods.
– It has been reported in to-day’s press that vessels are coming to our shores to carry away our products, and I ask the Acting Prime Minister ifhe can see his way clear to have the evaporated apples that are stored in Australia shipped within a reasonable time ?
Mr.WATT. - Several lines of produce, including evaporated apples and leather, have during the past few months caused the Government great concern. We have achieved a certain amount of success in regard to leather, and the concession obtained will operate as from the beginning of the week. Official confirmation of the permission to export a quantity of leather equal to the quantity of hides exported has been received, and the arrangement will hold good in regard to all future shipments. Moreover, we have announced to the British Government our intention of using one vessel entirely for non-priority goods. We cannot do that without their consent, because they are operating the priority list, but I have asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) to make representation in the proper quarters in Great Britain regarding the difficulties under which many of our producers and manufacturers are labouring, and I do not doubt that when all the facts are known we shall get official sanction for our proposal. When that happens, evaporated apples will go on the priority list for that ship, and thus the situation will be greatly relieved.
– Will priority andnonpriority goods be treated alike so far as the ship spoken of is concerned?
– The ship will be entirely a non-priority ship.
– Priority goods will not be sent by her?
– For the convenience of members, so that they may understand the difficult conditions of the Cone contract, will the Acting Minister for the Navy have a precis made of the file of papers in connexion with it?
– I shall be pleased to do so. It will be ready by Wednesday next.
– Has the Acting Prime Minister yet obtained from Sir John Higgins figures relative to our exportation under fixed prices?
– I have been working at the question at odd times, but I was not satisfied that some of the information given was full enough to meet thehororable member’s requirement, and have sent back the report for revision. I hope to furnish a reply early next week.
– I have received from Mount Morgan and Cobar letters in which great anxiety is expressed concerning the copper situation. A Cobar resident expresses the opinion that if we close down on copper, Cobar will be practically wiped out. Can the Acting Prime Minister tell the House whether the Australian copper producers are to be permitted to sell their product to Allied countries in the event of the British Government not purchasing the copper output of Australia after the 31st December next?
– The honorable member asked me a question on the subject some days ago. I have no further cabled news as to the intention of the Imperial Government in this matter, but I have been in conference with our metal adviser, Sir John Higgins, as to the degree of unrest in the copper industry, and the honorable member may take it as an assurance that pending the receipt of information about an extension or renewal of the contract, this Government will have arrangements made, as during October, for the financing of the unsold products of our copper mines forat least the first three months of the new year - that is, to the end of March. That should prevent the discharge of men, and the dislocation of the industry.
– I ask the Minister in charge of the rationing of paper supplies in Australia whether the position is not better than was anticipated, and that with shipments about to arrive we shall have over twelve months’ supply. In view of the altered circumstances will the honorable gentleman, in order that the printing industry may not be dislocated, and men thrown out of employment, take into favorable consideration the suspension for a further time of the present drastic regulations?
– Whilst it is true that we could obtain a supply of news print and other classes of paper sufficient to carry us on, it is equally true that many other commodities are urgently needed, particularly for manufacturing purposes, and unless the Government can be assured that shipping will be available for the importation of goods even more urgently required than paper, we cannot do what the honorable member desires. However the matter is receiving our serious consideration, and I may be able to give the honorable member further information later.
– As there are millions qf tons of foodstuffs stored in Australia, will the Prime Minister make known the position to those in the Old Country, who are in charge of the shipping arrangements, in order that the producers of Australia may get relief, a.nd the starving millions on the -other side of 1/he world may be fed. The war news, which we have been, so glad to hear shows that our enemies are falling to pieces, and that the seas will be clearer of submarines.
– The Government, for some considerable time past has paid sustained attention to this matter. The authorities on die other side of the world are well acquainted with the situation here, and better acquainted with the shipping position than w-e are.- I can assure the honorable member that the Prime
Minister (Mr. Hughes) will not relax his efforts in regard to the sales of important products, and, as soon as possible, the despatch of them from Australia.
– Can theAssistant Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) inform the House whether the statement in this morning’s newspaper is correct that considerable tonnage is expected very shortly in Australia to load, wheat, or its equivalent in this form of flour?
– I am not aware that such is the fact, but I shall bring the honorable member’s question under the noticeof the proper authorities, and endeavour to give a reply next week.
– Can the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) inform honorable members when it is intended to construct workmen’s dwellings in Lithgow? Will the Minister carry out the promises that these houses shall be> constructed ?
– It is my intention at the earliest possible moment to submit ai motion to the effect that the House considers it expedient to proceed- with the work in accordance with the provisions’ of the Public Works Committee Act. Before that can be done, however, ‘I have to negotiate with the municipality of Lithgow. When the land was acquired, the municipality made certain representations to my predecessor in regard to public services - water, sewerage, roads, and lighting. I had a personal interview with the mayor of Lithgow the week before last, and since then I have sent up a special officer with a view to bringing the matter to a conclusion. I received a communication last Monday, and despatched a reply on Wednesday, -stating exactly what the Government are prepared to do, and the matter is not far from a settlement. As soon as these negotiations are completed the motion will be submitted to the House.
soldiers in the EaST ; furlough.
– In view of the very encouraging news announced to-day of the surrender of Turkey will the Government, take into consideration the advisability of releasing those brave Australians who have been fighting in Egypt and elsewhere in the East for three years and over? They have had to face deadly climatic conditions, and in hundreds of cases their friends have applied for their repatriation.
– The Government are not able to decide at this time when the troops serving in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Palestine, can be released, but I shall confer at the earliest opportunity with the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) to see how far the honorable member’s suggestion can be acted upon.
Dismissal of Disabled Soldiers
– I deeply regret that it is necessary for me to ask another question in reference to the dismissal of two disabled soldiers from their employment in the Defence Department. One of these soldiers, who is a married man with two children, has received no fewer than forty wounds in the South African and the pre- sent war. Cannot the Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Wise) do something for these two men, who were in receipt of only £3 per week, especially in view of the fact that three members of the Business Committee are being paid £100 a week ?
– I shallsee what can be done in the maitter.
– Can the Assistant Minister of Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) inform the House whether the Mr. Brookes, who is the Controller of Paper Supply, is the same gentleman whose nameis mentioned in connexion with certain Red Cross scandals in Brisbane?
– I know nothing of the matter, but will make inquiries.
asked the Assistant
Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions areas follow : -
asked the Assistant
Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
Will the Minister allow employees of the Navy Department who have served with the Australian Imperial Forces abroad to have such time so served with the Australian Imperial Force counted as service in the Department for the purpose of annual leave?
– Officers of this Department who enlist in the Australian Imperial Force are granted leave for the year in which they enlist, but are not granted leave whilst on active service. This is in accordance with the Public Service practice. The practice in the past has been not to grant leave for the year in which officers return to duty, but approval has now been given for proportionate leave to be granted for such year.
asked the Acting Prime
Minister, upon notice -
In view of the nature of certain apparently urgent matters in connexion with the administration of the Navy Department that require attention, will the Government cable Sir Joseph Cook, Minister for the Navy, asking him to return to Australia by the first available steamer?
– The Government does not consider this course advisable at the present juncture.
asked the Assistant Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
With reference to his reply, on the 18th October, 1918, to the honorable member for Echuca, relative to his desire for time to discuss the question of certain chaplains on troopships, that the Minister for Defence “ did not think any good would be served in discussing the matter as suggested”: - Is the Acting Prime Minister aware that the file does not disclose any such attitude on his colleague’s part, but that on the18th October he informed the ActingPrime Minister, by minute prepared for the information of the House, that he had “no objection to such opportunity being given “ if the Acting Prime Minister saw fit?
– I will look into the matter, and reply on a later date.
asked the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Conversion into Fodder.
Mr. JOHN THOMSON (for Mr.
Rodgers) asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether in view of the recent very satisfactory increases in Australia’s live stock, and of the rather menacing weather conditions now being experienced in several of the States, the Government will take into consideration, in cooperation with the Governments of the wheat States, the granting, as a national stock preservation measure, of an alternative offer by way of guaranteed minimum to the farmers for the conversion of their growing wheat crops into fodder?
Does he not think this will provide a national safeguard against a possible prolonged spell of dry weather, which could not be coped with as on other occasions by shipments of fodder from oversea?
– Following on the conversations I have recently had with the honorable member for Wannon upon this question, steps are to be taken next week by the Government, in conjunction with the representatives of some of the States, to carefully review the present situation and prospects, so that stock preservation may be assisted if the drought conditions intensify.
asked the Acting Prime
Minister, upon notice -
Whether, having in mind the happenings in Australia during the Mafeking rejoicings, he will frame a regulation that will bring about the closing of all hotels on the occasion of the declaration of peace?
– It may be advisable to take steps for the preservation of order and safety long before the formal declaration of peace, and the Government is at present considering the whole matter. There is no necessity to frame regulations, as power already exists, and will be exercised if circumstances indicate the necessity.
– Recently, the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson) asked the following questions: -
The information which it was promised would be obtained is: -
BAILWAY– POWER-HOUSE TO ClVIC CENTRE.
– Yesterday the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) asked me the following questions, upon notice: -
I informed him that the information would be obtained and furnished. The information has now been obtained, and the replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
The following papers were presented : -
Inter-State Commission Act - Inter-State Commission -
Prices Investigation Reports -
No. 8. - Farm Products Group - Milk,
Butter, Cheese, Condensed Milk, and ‘ Bacon - Further Report dealing with Milk, Butter, Cheese, Bacon, and Condensed Milk in New South Wales and Queensland.
No. 9. - Boots and Shoes.
Ordered to be printed.
Northern Territory - Ordinance of 1918 - No. 12. - Supreme Court.
Debate resumed from 31st October (vide page 7358), on motion by Mr. Glynn -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
.- I would not have felt compelled to continue my remarks this morning were .it not for some things which have been said on the Opposition side, and other- things which have not been said on this side, of the House. I refer, in the first place, to the charge made against the Government that the policy. contained in this Bill was not announced to the public prior to the election on the 5th May, 1917. I give that statement a most emphatic denial, and in confirmation of my denial I submit an extract from the Launceston Examiner of 21st April, 1917. It is portion of the report of a meeting held in the Albert Hall on the previous evening, and the Prime Minister is reported to have said -
I have asked you to vote for three Senate candidates. I have a statement to make. Mr. Goodluck saw me to-day, and asked me whether I was in favour of preferential voting. I said I was. “ Well,” he said, “ if you are in favour of preferential voting, and will say so to-night, I will withdraw my candidature.”
That public statement by the Prime Minister shows that the charge made against the Government is absolutely unfounded.
– Is he the Prime Minister who said he would resign if conscription were not carried?
– What about the circular he sent to the soldiers at the Front?
-I remind the House that it is grossly disorderly for honorable members to interject immediately after the Speaker has called for order. If honorable members will not obey the direction *>f the Chair, I shall have to have recourse to the Standing Orders in order to enforce obedience to my directions.
– I desire to make some reference to the restoration of the postal vote. Honorable members, who have not lived in a State in which preferential voting is in operation may be excused, to some extent, for their suspicion of it, because they have no practical knowledge of the benefits of the system. But that excuse cannot be offered “in regard to the postal vote. The privilege of voting by post was enjoyed by the people of Australia for several years, but when the Labour party came into power on the second occasion,, they introduced an amendment of the Act, the object of which, apparently, was not to obtain a true expression of the people’s view. That party deliberately took away from the people the privilege of the postalvote, and the remnants of that party are opposing its restoration to-day. I have a lively recollection of the effect of their action in the first election held after the postal vote had been abolished. 1 was living at that time on a station situated 50 miles from Longreach, Queensland, and owned by my son. Two married couples were living on the station; one couple were the station manager and his wife, who had a very young child.’ The nearest polling place was at Evesham, 10 miles distant. The station manager and his wife desired, as citizens, to exercise their vote, but it was impossible for the wife to go because of the child. The result was that the manager and his wife were unable to vote, but the other married couple, who had no very young children,, asked me for the loan of the station buggy, in order that they might drive to Evesham. I told them they could have the vehicle with pleasure.
– Did the honorable member ask them how they intended to vote ?
– Certainly not, but through the abolition of the postal vote the married couple without very young children were able to exercise lie franchise, whilst the couple who had a very young child were unable to do so, because of the action of the so-called Labour party. Incidents of the kind have been very frequent at every subsequent election. The abolition of the postal vote penalizes the pioneers, the men and women who bore the heat and burden of the day in preparing this country so that a large measure of prosperity might be enjoyed by the supporters of honorable members opposite. The aged and infirm have sacrificed much for the benefit of the working people, but many of them are deprived of the opportunity of voting.
– We do not wish to take away their votes.
– That privilege hasbeen taken from them. I know of men and women over eighty years of agewho if they wished to record their votes, had to be dragged out of their beds and conveyed to a polling booth at great inconvenience and even at the risk of their lives. It is our desire to allow such people to vote without being dragged from their beds, by restoring to the aged and infirm, the women with young children, and expectant mothers, the privilege of exercising the franchise which has been taken away from them by honorable members opposite.
Involved in the subject of electoral reform is the question of proportional representation, which, I understand, we shall not be able to discuss in Committee unless a definite amendment is moved. Honorable members opposite have tauntingly inquired why the Government are proposing one system of voting for the House of Representatives, which, they say, we dare not apply to the Senate. Honorable members could not have read the Bill or studied the question, because that question could be asked only under complete misapprehension.
– We cannot all write books on proportional representation.
-No, but the honorable member baa read one work on the subject, and therefore has not the same excuse as have honorable members who have not had the same advantage. The Government are not proposing to apply to the election of the House of Representatives a votingsystem which they do not intend to apply to the elections’ for the Senate. The Government do not propose, in the Bill, to apply proportional representation to the election of the House of Repres entatives. Why, therefore, should we be taunted with the fact that we do not propose to apply that system to the Senate? In. Committee I shall move an amendment to make the system of marking the ballotpaper exactly the same in the case of both Houses, namely, that the elector in each case shall employ numerals, and not the cross, to indicate the candidates he favours.
-Under that scheme how would the returning officer determine which Senate candidates had been elected?
– That amendment will not involve any change in the present system of counting the votes. As I am a thorough believer in the principle of proportional representation I accept this Bill, which embodies the system of preferential voting, as a step in the right direction, although it does not go as far as I would like to see it go. Two elements are essential in regardto proportional voting. It can only be applied to a multiple electorate returning at least three members, and the system of preferential voting must be in force. Proportional representation cannot be applied to single electorates. The great advantage of the adoption of preferential voting is that it will familiarize the electors with that system of voting, and will make it easier to convince’ them of the advantages of proportional representation.
During the course of this debate many taunts have been thrown out against the smallness of the area, and the. limited population of the Island ‘State in the Federation, Tasmania. But I wish to say that, although that island may be small in area, and although its population may be limited, its people have proved themselves to be mighty in conception and great in intellect, because, on their own initiative, and without any slavish imitation of electoral systems existing elsewhere, their own intelligence has ied them to adopt an electoral system which is an example to the whole world.
– An example not to follow.
– If the honorable member goes to Tasmania he will not find any number of people who have voted under the system in force there, and experienced its advantages, saying that it is an example not to follow.
– Every one is anxious to get away from Tasmania.
– I have not noticed that anxiety. If honorable members opposite would avail themselves pf tide opportunity of visiting Tasmania more frequently and enjoying its delightful climate, and viewing its beautiful scenery, we would hear a very different story from them.
– The honorable member has not told us what makes them all cleat out. The Tasmanians left in the Island are all old men and young women.
– If I could take the honorable member to Tasmania in February next he would not say that. I only wish to repeat that we have in the Commonwealth of Australia one State which, in the matter of electoral reform, has set an example to the whole world. I resent the idle taunts that are being continually hurled at this fair Island State.’
– They are not meant.
Ma-. JOWETT.- (No ; because in their heart of hearts honorable members opposite are proud of Tasmania, and when they come to understand the “question of proportional representation, as they will before many years are. over, and the important bearing it may have Upon the future of Australia, and perhaps the future of the world, they will warmly appreciate what Tasmania has done in the matter of electoral reform.
.- I compliment the Minister in charge of the Bill (Mr. Glynn) upon the manner in which he has endeavoured to explain its provisions to the House, that studious and earnest manner which always characterizes his speeches when, he is introducing a measure for the consideration - of honorable members However, in dealing with this matter at the present time I think we are fiddling while Rome is burning. No Government brings forward an electoral reform unless it is for the purpose of securing some advantage to its party, and it is quite evident that Ministers have been looking a little bit ahead. Perhaps the result of the Swan election has made them a little nervous. Perhaps they also realize that, whereas they are a mixed party, the Opposition is a concrete and earnest body with a definite policy, and that the people will soon cry out for it to take office. In his speech the Minister said that he had been waited on by different parties, presumably as a deputation, in reference to the introduction of the Bill, but on scanning the names of those gentlemen who approached him we see that nearly all of them were pure faddists, ot persons who, for selfish interests, were engaged in an endeavour to bring about a change of parties in the House. They have been engaged in the same game for years past. They fear the prospect of a truly democratic government coming into power, and since the 5th May, 1917, they have been very earnest in the matter of caring for their own vested interests. The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) is typical of them, and no doubt his friends are very anxious to keep faim here so that he may still pursue the task of watching over their interests. I do not blame him ; the country has given him the opportunity of being here, but he would do very much more for his party if sometimes he would be a little more serious, instead of endeavouring to turn the House into a circus.
– Speak for yourself.
– Our electoral system should be so simple that people can readily understand what they have to do when they go into a polling booth every three years to record a vote. Those honorable members who have acted as scrutineers at elections know that many very energetic citizens, who display considerable ability in the conduct of their affairs, are quite nervous when they go to vote. Not many years ago the electoral system provided that the names of certain candidates should be erased by the voters. The method of putting crosses opposite the names of. candidates has since been substituted, but at a recent election at which I acted as a scrutineer I was astonished to find that there was still an impression in the minds of the people that it was necessary to erase the names of candidates. Apparently the Government are desirous of creating still further eonfusion. They probably believe that it will be of some assistance to. them at the next elections, but if that is their object they will only be putting a nail in their own coffin, because no greater election cry could be raised against the Government than the charge that they are endeavouring to manipulate the electoral law in order to create confusion and prevent the true reflex of the people’s will being recorded. My experience has shown me that, the people take up such a cry very eagerly, and that they are ready to condemn those who endeavour- to create confusion at the polling booths. I cannot understand the Government’s endeavour to institute two systems of voting in connexion with the Federal elections, unless I am guided by a statement made by a gentleman who supports them in another place. He said, “ Do not think that we will be such fools as to do anything to bring about our own deaths. Whether the Government like it or not, we are not going to do anything to facilitate that end.” I cannot understand the object of the Government in trying to create so many parties in the House that this Chamber may become as mysterious as the proverbial sausage; it may have so many compartments in it that the people outside will not really know what it contains.
The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) has referred to the State oi Tasmania. Although the island has even opportunity, because of the fertility of its soil and its many natural advantages, no portion of Australia is more backward in the matter of industries or progress; and this is due to two things : the machinery of government, which will not permit of a true reflex of the will of the people being obtained, and the fact that the Dobson family own practically the whole island. There is hardly another State whose population has not been supplemented by young men born in Tasmania. As soon as a youth arrives at the age of twenty-one there are only two courses open to him in Tasmania, either to lead a miserable life there on a pittance, or clear out to another State. The electoral law of Tasmania has materially contributed to that condition of affairs, and it stands to reason that if the same system is adopted for the Commonwealth there will be stagnation in the whole of Australia. We have experienced something of this in the past. For ten years after the establishment of Federation there was no solid, concrete party in this House, and absolutely no legislation of a national character for the benefit of Australia was enacted. It was only when the great Labour party came into office that such measures found their way upon the statutebook. Under the preferential voting sys tem we are likely to have a Parliament of faddists. A faddist is always a nuisance, and particularly in a Legislative Chamber, where he is ever ready to advance his own particular fad at the expense of legislation urgently needed in the interests of the people. In this Parliament we have only two parties ; but in the Imperial Parliament there are almost as many parties as there are days in the year. I once attempted to compile a list of them, but it rapidly assumed such large proportions that I gave it up.
The good news that we are receiving in regard to the war situation should act as a spur to the Government to push on at once with measures calculated to encourage new industries in Australia, and foster those already in existence. They should be busily engaged in drafting Bills of that character instead of taking up the time of Parliament with fiddling amendments of the electoral law. Only yesterday we had introduced an Income Tax Bill which should have been brought down long ago. Mr. Beeby, a member of the Win-the-War party in the New South Wales Parliament, pointed out a few days ago that it was necessary to raise £20,000,000 to meet interest on loans and the” repatriation expenditure. Why should we not proceed with taxation and -other financial measures demanding our immediate attention instead of tinkering with the Electoral Act ? No one can say that there has been any public demand for such a measure of electoral reform as that now before us. Why, then, has it been brought down? Do the Government and their supporters fear that returned soldiers will be nomi’nated in opposition to them, or that the farmers and settlers are going to burst up their little ring? The farmers of Australia will be as lions led by asses as long as they allow the present Government party to guide them. Why should not the Government do something to improve’ the lot of the farmer ? Why should they not do something to improve our industrial conditions, ‘knowing that the better the lot of the industrial classes’, the better must be the position of those on the land. Instead of attempting to better our industrial condition’s, however, the Government, and their supporters lead the farmer to believe that the one thing that he needs, above all- others, is cheap labour. When our ‘boys come back from the Front they will expect something better than is now offering in Australia; but the Government are doing nothing to open up new avenues of employment.
In the early days, when I watched the State Parliaments devoting their energies to matters of trifling importance, I looked forward to the creation of a National Parliament, in the belief that in such a. Legislature the little things in politics would be unheard of; but here today we are asked to deal with measures of ‘minor importance, while the great problems demanding our immediate attention are set aside. While the Labour party were in power, between 1910 and 1913, they passed legislation of a national character. Not one of the measures then placed on the statutebook has been amended. The present Government, however, are content to fiddle with our electoral laws, merely with the object of making themselves secure at -the next general election. They were returned on a Win-the-War policy, but they seem ,to be devoting themselves now to a win-the-next-election programme.. Can it be said that this Bill’ will effect any improvement in the finances of Australia ? Heaven knows our financial position requires attention, but the Government make no attempt to deal with it. Will this Bill better in any way the condition of Australia?
– It will.
– If the honorable member is prepared to make such an assertion. he can have but a poor conception of his duties as a member of Parliament.
The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) urged that penalties should be imposed on those who created party machines. Has the intelligence of the House sunk so low that it believes it possible to do away with party machinery and party government? Without the assistance of outside party associations, the National Parliament could not hope to -solve the great problems with which we are- confronted. It is for parties outside to lay down principles, and for the Parliament to- give legislative effect to them. We shall never be able to do without the party system, but I hope we shall never have in this Parliament more than two parties. We have to-day but two parties - the one in favour of liberty and progress, and the other guided only by selfinterest. The Labour party will surely be returned to power, for the people are not prepared to remain where they are; When we do come into our own again, we shall legislate to do away with the slums of our great cities. We shall have no back slums, nor shall we allow poverty to continue. Production in Australia in the year 1917 amounted to £272,000,000, and the- wealth of Australia amounts to £1,670,000,000. In such circumstances, there should be no room for poverty or discontent. If honorable members opposite would but attend to their intellectual readjustment, they would soon realize that every advance made in the position of .the industrial section of the community - and when I speak of the industrialists I have in mind all workers,” whe-they they .be journalists or architects, surveyors or wharf labourers - has a beneficial effect on all other sections. The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) is becoming wealthier every day as a result of the action taken by the Labour party to advance the interests o£ the “bottom dog.’’ When the spending power of the wage-earning classes, is extended, the lot of the storekeeper, the merchant, the landlord, and the man on the land, is correspondingly improved We should give special attention to the wage-earners of the country, because all other sections are well able to look after themselves.
– And would be, even if they had no representation in Parliament
– That is so. Evenminded, unbiased members of the community will not commend the Government for being in a hurry to alter our electoral machinery while so many Australians are absent from the country, either as soldiers or as helpers in other ways in the cause of the Empire. I have nephews who, being unfitted for active service, went abroad at their own expense to do their bit in the national cause, and there are many other patriotic workers who have done the same. There was no need for the Government to display anxiety to please all the faddists who are anxious to get into Parliament, and, under the present system, find themselves unable to do so.
No one who has honestly considered the matter will deny that, there must be confusiom at ‘ the next election with two methods of voting. It is not at all likely that the Senate will agree to any change in the method of electing senators, and, therefore, we must have two systems. The present arrangements should be satisfactory enough - certainly they are satisfactory to most of us whom they have sent to Parliament. Without conceit, I trust that I may say that I represent East Sydney as well as any one else could do ; certainly I attempt to do my duty in that respect, and should I be put out of Parliament it will not worry me.
Since I have been in this House I have heard a great deal said on the postal vote. If it is to be used to manipulate elections, I shall not allow myself to be euchred out of my position by an opponent. To my mind, the postal vote will serve chiefly those who are too lazy or too indifferent to go to the polling booths. The person who is really sick and suffering does not wish to be troubled about election matters. I know what it is to have a smashed leg, and to undergo a serious operation at the age of sixty-five years. My opinion is that persons in such circumstances do not wish to be troubled about voting.
– What about maternity cases ?
– I do not think _ that
R-omen who are about to have children wish to be troubled with voting-papers Voting should be left to those who arc well and strong, and in full possession of all their faculties. To my mind, postal voting is unnecessary, and open to abuse. The commercial traveller, or other person who is absent from his division on polling day, can vote under the absent voting provision. At certain times of the year a large proportion of the population of Syd ney spends its week-ends out of town, and is thus absent from its electoral divisions when an election takes place, but its vote is recorded under the absent -voting provisions. Those who would benefit by the postal vote are few. To my mind, it would torture many sick persons to be asked to vote. As is well known, I have always held that every man and woman should have the right to vote. - At ona time I thought that that would secure the salvation of Australia, but the result oi the last election seemed to me a mistake, though we must bow to the popular will.
As to the selection of candidates, I do not know in what groove the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) has moved, his conceptions are so strange. Honorable members must come to a Parliament pledged to some policy. We do not voice our own opinions pure and simple ; we voice the opinions of those who send u3 here, and advocate the principles that we were elected to support. A Scotchman’s advice to me once was to sleep over any matter on which I might be puzzled. Had the honorable member done that he would not have expressed the views to which he gave utterance.
– Does the honorable member think that preferential voting will do away with party politics.?
– No ; but it may create a House like the Tasmanian Assembly, in which nothing can be done. I am aware that it is not wise for a public .man to say anything against the press, because it is contrary to his interests to do so; but I cannot help calling attention to the fact that the newspapers are advocating the adoption of preferential voting. Of course, they are commercial concerns, run in the interests of their proprietors, who, no doubt, think that if Parliament sei- comes a confused assembly, in which no decisions can be arrived at, the press will be more powerful. Some of the States, and in particular Victoria, have been press-bound for many years. Mr. Alfred Deakin, of whom 1 am a great admirer, says, in a preface to a Life of Mr. David Syme, that no Ministry, no Bill, and no policy was ever put before the people of this State until Mr. Syme had been consulted. Preferential voting will weaken
Parliament and strengthen the press. Honorable members will be prevented from exercising the faculties with which they have been endowed, and the public will be compelled to rely on the press for its information and opinions. Nowhere has the preferential system proved of marked advantage to a country. Is there preferential voting in Victoria?
– Then it is not to be wondered at that Victoria is behind the other States, although she has had fairly intelligent representatives in public life.
– Then you appreciate the second ballot?
– I do not; and I do not think it will be long in existence in New South Wales. I may say, however, that in cases where the first ballot has no result, the second ballot results_ in placing two parties before the country, and in obtaining a true reflex of the opinions of the people. The second ballot may not have done much good to the Labour party, but, at any rate, it has not helped tha National party very much, seeing that when it has been exercised the Labour party has generally been successful.
I should have had more pleasure in congratulating the Government on the subject of taxation and other proposals than in dealing with a Bill of this kind, which can have no effect whatever in the winning of the war or in assisting the progress of Australia. The proposals before us, if carried out, can only create confusion and discontent, and I shall vote against the second reading. I hope there will be an amendment submitted which will give us an opportunity of deciding whether it would not have been better policy and more in the interest of justice to delay this Bill until our men had returned from the Front.
.- I have listened with close ‘interest to the debate, and particularly to the remarks from the representatives of the Labour party. I have not heard one argument by any honorable member opposite which shows that preferential orpostal voting will hurt any person in Australia, no matter what his brand of politics may be. I have to con gratulate the Minister on his consolidation of the various Electoral Acts, for this is one of the reforms we have a right to expect from an intelligent Government such as the National Government professes to be.
The gravamen of the attack by the Labour party is that we have violated our pledges to the soldiers now at the Front. I have attended many meetings and demonstrations in connexion with the Forces, and I never heard it suggested that in their absence the question of preferential voting would not be dealt with; indeed, the question does not concern them, and I doubt whether many would be able to give a proper definition of the term. A few weeks ago, when in Sydney, I received a very courteous letter from the secretary of the Returned Soldiers Committee asking me, in the interests of the association, to support proportional representation and to suggest that the Government should introduce preferential voting; yet honorable members opposite tell us that the Government, in introducing this measure, are violating their promises to the men at the Front. I have contested Calare at three different elections, and at all the meetings I spoke in favour of preferential and postal” voting, which, judging by the applause, had the approval of the electors. In the cities people have polling booths almost at their doors, but in the country districts it is unreasonable to expect men, during harvest or shearing, to down their tools and travel perhaps 50 miles to vote, when the franchise might be exercised near at hand by a scratch of the pen.
– That applies only to the extreme out-back parts, where there are no polling booths. In the honorable member’s own district there is always a polling booth within 5 miles.
– I could mention places where a polling booth is considerably more than 5 miles distant. However, if we desire true Democracy, we should see that no person is disfranchised - that every man and woman is given an opportunity to vote. We cannot have a true reflex of the opinion of Australia if, for instance, 5 per cent, of the electors are disfranchised through lack of facilities to vote.
Why should women who are performing the highest and most sacred duty to society be disfranchised and penalized? According to Mr. Knibbs, from whom I have received some very instructive figures, . there are generally in Australia 22,000 women in the state of health which precludes their attending a polling both; there are 11,000 patients in hospitals, and it is estimated that other sick people number 33,000. Further, there are 58,750 persons over the age of seventyfive; and, if we assume that two-thirds of these cannot personally vote at the booths, we have another 40,000, who, in the absence of postal voting, will be disfranchised. These figures represent a total of 95,000 persons, to whom, owing to infirmity of various kinds, the postal vote is necessary. No man claiming to be a Democrat can say that these people should not have the same electoral privileges as others.
We have heard a good deal as to corruption in connexion with postal voting. I am informed by the Chief Returning Officer that in the 1910 election S4,000 persons availed themselves of the privilege, of which number 49,000 voted Liberal, and 33,000 voted Labour, showing a majority of 16,000 in favour of the Liberal party. We can now see why honorable members opposite object to postal voting. During the election of 1913, when I was contesting Calare, some of the Labour candidates for the Senate openly said on the platform that postal voting was of no good to their side, seeing that in operation it had disclosed a majority of 16,000 against them.
– That is the only argument of the Labour party.
– That is so; at any rate, we have heard no other.
– The figures the honorable member is quoting now, and the figures he gave in regard to the maternity impediment, do not correspond by thousands.
– The honorable member may go into the matter if he likes.
– It is for the honorable member to do that, for he will have to answer to his constituents.
– I shall answer to them all right. As to the alleged irregularities in connexion with postal voting, we are told by the Chief Returning Officer that, during the ten years in which the system was in operation, there were only ten prosecutions, or one per annum, with a roll representing 2,000,000 voters. The fines for these offences ranged from £1 to £5, and the offenders were mostly justices of the peace, who had not ‘ascertained the truth of statements made by applicants. There were no cases of fraud, for which a possible penalty of £50 is provided; and the small fines that were imposed are evidence of the trivial nature of the offences. But under what system is there no fraud? Under the Electoral Act, without postal voting, there is fraud, as, for instance, in connexion with absent voting; and I am sure no one would suggest that, because of such offences, the whole electoral system should be swept away. As a matter of fact, there is no part of the voting system where less fraud is to be found than in postal voting.
– If there were a severa penalty there would be no frauds at all.
– There is a severe penalty - a fine of £50. I noticed the other day that a gentleman has been selected to oppose me at the next general election. I have met that gentleman before, and shall be pleased to meet him again; but if the postal system is so bad, why was it that when my prospectiveopponent submitted himself for selection, the votes of the Labour Leagues were transmitted by post ! If the system is right in the selection of a candidate, how oan it be regarded as wrong in the selection of a member.
– Do not confuse Political Labour League voting with Australian Workers Union voting. In the case of the latter, each man has to attach his union slip, and thi3 excludes corruption.
– The vote goes by post.
– Yes, but with the ticket attached.
– The system proposed in the Bill is just as good as that adopted by the Labour party; and this is proved by the fact that in ordinary elections in ten years there were only ten offences, involving, not corruption, but merely error. If there were more cases, why where they not reported?
– ‘How could they ba found out?
– I remind the honorable member that Mr. Oldham Was then an officer under a Labour Government. Further, postal voting is used in .all sorts of business other than parliamentary elections. The committees of the various agricultural societies throughout Australia are elected by post. In connexion with shire elections the adoption of the postal vote is optional, but most shires do use the system. The directors of the Australian Mutual Provident Society and various other large insurance and commercial companies utilize the postal vote for the election of directors. I recollect that, in 1913, the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr.’ Page) extolled the enthusiasm of Labour supporters, and - he instanced a man in his electorate who actually walked 100 miles to a polling booth. Apparently the honorable member still desires bo compel a man to walk 100 miles in order to show his enthusiasm for the Labour cause, Whereas by the restoration of the postal vote the man could remain at home and allow the post-office to make his vote effective. The postal vote is in the interests of the working men who have no motor cars to carry them to distant polling booths, and are compelled to tramp the distance. Therefore the Labour party, in opposing the postal vote, are acting against the interests of their own supporters.
– Why does the honorable member concern himself so much about the workers ?
– Because I represent hundreds of them; they vote and work for me, and I intend to. see that they have some means of recording their votes. The honorable member for Maranoa should show consideration for his enthusiastic supporter who walked 100 miles to a polling hooch, and give that nian an opportunity of exercising - his franchise without so much sacrifice.
In regard to preferential voting, that system is adopted by the Labour party in the pre-selection of candidates. I do not know how honorable member’s opposite can contend that the .principle is right for selection and wrong for election. The injustice of the present .system is indicated by the recent Swan by-election. It is no wonder that the Labour party do not desire preferential voting.; they wish -to continue to win seats on a minority vote. In the Flinders by-election there was a danger of a Labour candidate being returned on a minority vote, and that is quite likely to happen in connexion with the by-election for Corangamite: We should allow every interest in the community ‘ to. nominate candidates at every election. In the Swan by-election Mr. Corboy, the Labour candidate-
– A returned soldier.
– I am pleased that he is a returned soldier, and I shall be one of the first to welcome him to the House. But I am discussing principles, not individuals. Mr. Corboy received 6,433 votes; Mr. Murray (Farmers and Settlers), 5,738; Mr. Hedges (Nationalist), 5,535; and Mr. Watson (Prohibitionist), 836; thus Mr. Corboy won the seat with 6,433 votes, although 12,139 electors directly voted against him. It is time that such an inequitable system was abolished. The Farmers and Settlers Association have every right to nominate a .candidate, and if he receives the votes of a true majority of the electors I ‘ shall hail with delight his advent to the House. The returned soldiers also have a right to be represented in this Parliament, and their associations are doing nothing improper in organizing the electorates in behalf of their candidates. ‘ It is in order that these various sections shall have an opportunity of sending their representatives to the poll and that the .successful candidate may represent the wish of an absolute majority of the .electors that we propose to introduce the preferential voting system.
. - I am opposed to the Bill, because, even if no definite pledge were given by the
Government, it was commonly understood that no alteration of the electoralsystem would be introduced’ while OU] soldiers were abroad.
– Who made that- statement on behalf of the Government?
– I do not know that any statement was made on behalf of the Government; but that was very commonly understood.
– The Prime Minister made the promise on every platform.
– During the last general election statements were made on practically every platform throughout the Commonwealth that no alteration of the Existing law would be made while the soldiers were abroad. That promise, like many others made by the Government, has been broken. Apart from my opposition to the Bill on the general ground, I take exception to many of its provisions. Nobody can object to preferential voting if it is operated in a truly democratic manner; but under the system proposed by the Government, if six candidates nominate for one seat I shall be compelled to vote for all of them when I desire to vote for only one. If I were allowed the option, of indicating my preference or- of plumping for the one candidate, the system would be’ fair, but in compelling me to vote for six candidates the Government are forcing down my throat something I “have no desire to swallow. The method I suggest is quite practicable. If the Labour party, the National party, and the Farmers and Settlers Association each nominate a candidate, my desire will be to vote only for the Labour candidate ; I shall have no desire to assist any other candidate in any way; but, because the Government will compel me to give support to a candidate whom I do not favour, I object to the preferential voting provisions of this Bill. The statement by the honorable member for ‘Calare that that system is operated . by all the Labour Leagues in connexion with the preselection ballots is absolutely untrue.
– Order ! It is unparliamentary to say that the statement of another honorable member is absolutely untrue.
– I withdraw my statement and say that the assertion made by the honorable member for Calare is incorrect. Preferential voting is adopted by some of the Labour Leagues in connexion with preselection, but other league’s choose their candidates on a simple majority vote. The honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith), in the course of his advocacy of preferential voting, quoted from the Australian Worker, and referred to the editor, Mr. Boote. He quoted, also, statements by me regarding the conduct of that gentleman. I have no desire to call upon the honorable member for Denison to defend me in respect of any attitude I may adopt towards Mr. Boote. I am quite capable of defending . myself and of attacking Mr. Boote, if an attack be necessary, without the able assistance of the honorable member for Denison. I do not think it proper that an’ honorable member should make use in this House of a statement made by another honorable member in denouncing the attitute of a particular individual.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– The speech of the honorable- member for Denison referred more to the Perth Labour Conference recruiting resolution than it did to this Bill, and apparently was an effort to create dissension in the ranks of Labour. The honorable member said the policy which existed when the old Labour party was united was the best that could possibly be devised, but that it had now disappeared. I tell the honorable member that it ia still in operation, and is just as good and just as vigorous as it was when he was a member of the party. The honorable member said that his desire was to bring about equitable reforms for the purpose of permitting all and sundry to seek admission to the House of Representatives or a Legislative Assembly, but there is nothing to prevent their doing so at the present time. So far as the talk of keeping the ballot Clean goes, I do not think that preferential voting or proportional representation will prevent unscrupulous persons from tampering with it. A few individuals, as the result of making stringent inquiries in regard to the number of electors who are likely to be absent on polling day may discover that eight or ten persons do not intend to record their votes, and if they are unscrupulous enough, they may record their own votes, and then visit other polling booths, and cast absent votes in the name of those eight or ten persons. Such practices will not be prevented by the use of the postal vote. No one can take exception to the two main points upon which the Ministerial support- of the Bill seems to hinge, namely, having a clean ballot, and giving every eligible adult the opportunity of voting; bub it is quite possible to have these things under the existing- law, whereas, on the other hand, the establishment of POstal voting may enlarge the avenues open for corrupt practices. I have no desire to deprive any person eligible to vote of the right to exercise the franchise, and it is quite possible to provide for every adult who may be incapacitated on polling day to record a vote, and to establish -more polling booths in order to permit people in out-back districts to vote. It is said that some voters are compelled to travel from 15 to 30 miles in order to reach a polling booth, but that is due to the non-provision of proper voting facilities. There must be a certain number of electors in a locality before a polling booth is opened. I have made several applications for polling booths to be established in out-back districts, but the communications I have received from the authorities show that there were not sufficient voters in those localities to warrant the applications being granted.
No matter what system of voting is adopted, corruption will creep in. Not long ago a person took a ballot-box out of a polling booth on. to the road, and allowed a certain individual to record a vote. The truth of this has been denied, but nevertheless it actually occurred, and it only shows how impossible it is to prevent unscrupulous people from tampering with the ballot. The infliction of severer penalties might tend to do so. For instance, the penalty for unlawfully . destroying, taking, opening, or otherwise interfering with ballot-boxes or ballotpapers is a fine not exceeding £50, but the infliction of a fine of £2 10b., or even £50, with imprisonment, will not pre.vent some people from interfering with ballot-boxes if, by so doing, they can gainfifteen or twenty votes. They are prepared to accept the risk. If the penalty were increased to £200 with imprisonment for twelve months, there might be some guarantee that they would not do so. The penalties in the Bill are not severe enough.
The Swan by-election has been referred to in connexion with preferential voting. Had that system been in force it might have brought about a different result, but even under the existing law, had the Labour candidate not been returned , there would have been no complaint from honorable members on the Government side. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) is desirous that everybody who feels inclined to contest an election should have the right to do so. No one would deny him that right, but when candidates were submitting themselves for the consideration of the Swan electorate, Ministers were very anxious to secure the withdrawal of some of the nominations. The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) forwarded a telegram to this effect: -
The Government have considered the situation in the Swan division, and view with apprehension the split in the National vote, probably leading to the return of the Official Labour candidate. At this critical hour this should be avoided and they urge you to consider with other candidates without delay, and to arrange for arbitration, so that the war aims of this important electorate in the loyal State of Western Australia should not lie misunderstood by friend or foe of Australia. May I rely upon your co-operation?
Apparently, the desire of Ministers was to have a straight-out fight between the Official Labour candidate and the official National candidate.
– That telegram was necessary, because preferential voting was not in vogue.
– One would be led to believe from the statements of honorable members, that preferential voting and the establishment of proportional representation will do away with partypolitics, but we cannot possibly abolish party politics, no matter what system is enforced. Even if there should be no party in existence at the polls, parties would assuredly he formed in the House within two or three days after the meeting of Parliament, and -there would ‘be just the same bickerings as we now experience.
– Sometimes it takes only one man to make a party.
– Under the greatest stretch of imagination it does not seem to me that we can bring about any change in regard to party politics by the adoption of preferential voting. It is strange that Ministers should seek to have one system in operation for elections for the House of Representatives and another system applying to the Senate elections. Why cannot there be uniformity in this regard ?
– Because the Senate will not have it.
– And we are not in a position to force it on them. The great majority of the electors want a ballotpaper which is clear and definite, and about which there can be no misunderstanding. It seems to me that there will be many misunderstandings under the preferential voting system. Some people are under the impression that if they cast their No. 1 vote there is no necessity for them to go any further. There is really no necessity for them to do more. They are carrying out the true democratic principle of voting by casting their No. 1 vote, and no man should be compelled to vote No. 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 if he does not feel inclined to do so. In any case, if the system is enforced, there will be many people who take very little interest in electoral matters who will be very confused when they go to’ the ballot-box and learn that they have to express their preference in regard to the various candidates. They will probably vote 1, 2, and 3, and that will be the end of it.
– Is there much political wisdom lost in such a case, where people cannot discriminate?
– Under the present simple-majority system many informal votes are cast.
– What is the cause of that?
– I do not know; but in connexion with every election a number of informal votes are east.
– That should not worry the honorable member, because he and his party say that all the stupid people in the community are on the Nationalist side.
– I do not say that; but the National party certainly has in its ranks a fair share of the stupid people . of the community. Informal votes are cast in connexion with the National party selections as well as in connexion with the ballots held by other parties. Quite recently a ballot took place in the New South Wale3 Parliament. Both the preferential system and the proportional system were adopted, and, notwithstanding that it was conducted by the brains of the State, so to speak, there was a good deal of confusion. We had a certain declaration as to the result, and later on quite another declaration. In the end, the result was declared to be a dead-heat.
– Why is it that the preferential system is adopted in selecting candidates inside the Labour movement?
– We - have elections under the preferential, as well as under the simple-majority system.
– Why does the Labour party adopt the preferential system in the selection of Ministries? Is it not due to the fact that it prevents dissatisfaction?
– In one set of circumstances it would give satisfaction. If, for instance, there were four candidates standing for one constituency, one of them being an Official Labour candidate and another an official Conservative candidate, the supporters of the Labour candidate would be told to vote “ No. 1 “ for him, and “ No. 4 “ for the Conservative candidate, so as to avoid any likelihood of the Conservative candidate being returned. I saw ia preferential ballot conducted where there were five candidates standing for selection. One man was thought to have a specially good chance, and his supporters were urged to vote “No. 1” for him and “No. 5” for the man who was thought to have the secondbest chance. Hundreds of votes are cast in that way, so that the second-best man may not be returned. And yet we are told that the preferential system is the best that can be devised.
– -From a party standpoint, there can be no “ next-best man.”
– That is so. There is only one candidate that I wish to vote for, and I fail to see why .1 should be compelled to vote for more than one.
– A system that is thought “ to be good enough for the selection of Labour candidates and Labour Ministers should be good enough for the people outside.
– The honorable member ought not to complain of the present system, since, at the last general elections, it returned his party with a majority to this House. If the Government and their supporters merely wish to make laws with the object of defeating the Opposition, they should not forget that such an action might have a boomerang effect.
– Surely a large party can be absolved of any such desire.
– I do not say that there is any degree of suspicion in that respect attaching to honorable members opposite. I believe in the exhaustive ballot as the best means of obtaining a true expression of the opinion of the electors. Under the preferential system, it is impossible to do so. Much has been said during this debate of the ballots conducted in the Labour ranks. Just as many are conducted under the simplemajority system as there are under the preferential-voting system, and no hitch occurs in connexion with the simplemajority ballots. The honorable member for Calare has said that the Labour party have adopted postal voting in connexion with its pre-selection ballots. Postal voting does not apply to the selection of members of the Political Labour League. Where, however, there is a union ticket in operation, and the voter is permitted to vote on the ticket, he is required to tear from his Australian Workers Union ticket, for example, a slip which he attaches to his ballotpaper, and so makes it impossible for corruption to creep ‘ in. Such a vote is recorded by post where the voter is more than a certain distance from a polling booth. No one could take exception to the postal voting system if it were conducted under proper supervision. On many occasions the postal voting system is necessary to enable invalids to exercise the franchise, and if. proper safeguards could be devised it would work very well. There can be no doubt, however, that the ° postal voting system, if brought into operation, would be largely abused. Many residents of country districts who are 5 or 6 miles from a polling booth would apply for a postal ballot-paper on the ground of sickness in order to avoid having, to travel such long distances to record their votes.
– What harm would be done, so long as each person had only one vote?
– There is no guarantee that each person would have only one vote. It would be quite possible-
– It was found quite possible to put in 700 against me.
– And my opponent’s put in something like 400 or 500 against me. I tried to trace those votes, but could not do so. In the Conservative centres of my electorate, committees working for the other side ascertained that a number of people were likely to be away on polling day, and, knowing that they would not vote, they caused votes to be cast in their names, as absentee voters, in other parts of the electorate. That sort of thing is likely to happen in connexion with the postal vote. While every encouragement should be given to the electors to record their votes, I do not think that avenues of corruption should be deliberately thrown open, as they will be if all and sundry are allowed to vote by post. Many of those residing at a distance from a polling booth would apply for a postal ballot-paper on the ground of sickness; but if a doctor’s certificate had to accompany each application, corruption would not be so likely to creep in.
My chief objection to this Bill is that it was generally understood that no electoral reforms would be undertaken while our men were at the Front. It was commonly understood - even if a pledge were not actually given - ‘that the electoral law would not be amended in their absence. If it is to be amended at the present time it will require still further revision’ when the whole of our troops return. The men will be allocated in different parts of the States, the population of certain districts will thus be materially increased, and a further revision of the electoral system will be found necessary. I hope that nothing will be done in this direction until our men return from the Front. “Within the next five or six months, perhaps the whole of our Australian troops may return, and the Government will then be able, if they so desire, to make whatever alterations they deem necessary in the electoral laws of the Commonwealth.
.- I desire to congratulate the Government upon the fact that they have at last realized that our present electoral system is not in accord with the true principles of Democracy, and that the people are actually being cheated out of th’eir right as free citizens to return to Parliament the men of their choice. My congratulations, however, are not unrestricted, since I find that the Government are wholly ignoring one of the greatest scandals of our present electoral law, and that is the present system of conducting Senate elections. I hope, before this Bill is passed, we shall be able to persuade the Government that some reform is absolutely necessary in order that we may avoid a recurrence of what has happened at the last two or three elections, when little more than one-half of the population in this State returned the whole of its representatives in the Senate. If each State were divided into three electorates, or if proportional voting were adopted, the position would be different. I recognise that the proportional representation system would be rather difficult to operate in our populous cities, and that it would delay the count. As the simplest way out of the difficulty, I would recommend that for elections to the Senate the States should be divided into three electorates, and that we should have in operation the same system of voting that we have applied to the House of Representatives.
I have listened carefully to the objections that have been raised to this measure, and particularly in opposition to the preferential voting system. One would have thought that the result of the recent election for the Swan would be quite sufficient to satisfy the Labour party, who prate about Democracy and progress, that the present system is not one under which a progressive community should conduct its elections. It is not a system that enables a free Democracy to return to Parliament the men of their choice. We want a system that will insure the return of the man who, in a single contest, would beat any other candidate, and at the same time give a free run to any man who wishes to seek election. The system for.which this Bill provides would, to a large extent, have that effect. In extraordinary cases alone would it happen that the man whom the majority in his constituency favoured would be rejected at the first ballot, and so would possibly lose the election. Hard cases of that kind would occur, perhaps, only once in ten thousand contests, and we cannot afford to delay the passing, of such a measure as this merely because one or two hard cases might possibly arise under it. There are two principal arguments advanced against this Bill. The first of these is that, while our soldiers are away, we should not interfere in any way with our electoral legislation. The Labour party claim credit for the present electoral system, which permits of a spectacle such as we have witnessed in connexion with the Swan by-election now nearing completion, a system that is utterly undemocratic and unprogressive. The electoral law is being altered to protect the returned soldier, and to give him the opportunity for the special representation to which he is justly entitled. Under the present electoral law he does not get a fair run. The electors have no opportunity to say whether a returned soldier as such shall represent them.
– What does th? honorable member care about that?
– I say that any section (of the community that is numerically strong enough to send a representative to Parliament should have an opportunity to do so. The “ returned soldier “ cry that honorable members opposite are raising is too thin, too hypocritical. I am surprised that one after another they have objected to the alteration of the electoral law on the score that our soldiers are away at the Front.
– Why does not the Minister alter the distribution of divisions? He has said that in three of the States an alteration is necessary.
– I understand that there are in some, if not in most, of the States divisions with populations much above or below the quota, but that is not a matter affected by the Bill, and the rectification is provided for by a system which still stands, and was indorsed by the party of which the honorable member is leader.
– The Minister stated that the Government did not propose to make a redistribution.
– That is as between the States.
– Every speaker opposite has drawn attention to the lack of intelligence of those who support his party, holding them up to scorn by suggesting that they will not understand the preferential method of voting. Inferentially, those who support Ministerialists must be intelligent enough to exercise the preferential vote, because honorable members opposite say that we propose the preferential voting system because we expect to &ain an advantage with it. On two occasions I have been a parliamentary candidate under the preferential system of voting. Probably no other member of the House has had that experience. When preferential voting was proposed in the Victorian Parliament, we heard speeches against it similar to those that are being made now by honorable members opposite. We were told of the mistakes that would be made because of the unintelligence of the electors.
– In Victoria there are not two systems of voting being used at the one time.
– My desire is that there shall not be two systems here. It is the Victorian experience that informal votes are fewer under the preferential system of voting than under the old system.
– In 1914 the informal votes in Victoria were only 2.2 per cent.
– Does not the honorable member see a difference between preferential vo ung for a single electorate and proportional voting where three members are required ?
– Yes, but had the honorable member been listening he would have heard me say that I approve of dividing each State into three electorates for the election of senators, so that preferential voting can be applied to the Senate elections. I desire the most democratic electoral system obtainable.
– It amuses me to hear Conservatives talking about Democracy.
– It is not so strange as the behaviour of so-called Democrats, whose every act is contrary to democratic principles, who tried to prevent th, people of Australia from expressing their views on the most momentous question ever placed before a people, and whose Demo.cracy allows a small committee outside Parliament to decide for the whole community. No doubt they are congratulating themselves on their fluked victory in the Swan division, and hope that if this Bill is defeated they may win the Corangamite election in the same way. The honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) no doubt is satisfied with the present system, since it enabled hiin to be elected by a minority.
– I got in on a minority vote on the first occasion, and although my opponents have threatened me ever since, they have never succeeded in beating me.
– The honorable member has been lucky and the people unlucky. Had he not succeeded on the first occation. Australia might have been saved a good deal. I do not look upon the possibility of the defeat of the party possessing the greatest numerical strength arising out of a split vote as the worst feature of the present electoral system; what I object to in it is that parties have not the choice of candidates that they should have. Under the present arrangement, parliamentary candidates are chosen by an infinitesimal fraction of the members of the big political parties. Now,, good work is impossible by a party that cannot constantly acquire new blood,- fresh energy, and vim. Yet for many years, under the present system, the sitting member, provided he comes to heel about election time, has got the party selection, and often keeps out of the running younger, abler, and better men because of the fear of a split vote. Preferential voting will bring new members to the fore in every party. The two main objections brought against the Bill by members of the Opposition are that it is unjust to our soldiers to alter the electoral law while they are away, and that the electors are not intelligent enough to exercise the preferential vote. In reply to these, I have shown that the existing electoral system is unjust to the soldiers because it does not give them an opportunity to select representatives, and that the experience of Victoria is that fewer informal votes are cast under the preferential system than used to be cast under the old system.
I trust that in Committee the Bill may be amended so as to extend the benefits of the preferential system of voting to Senate elections. The present mode of electing senators is a scandal on Democracy, an obstacle to progress, and a danger to the country. No doubt we shall find the Minister reasonable in regard to amendments. He cannot but have been driven to the conclusion that the present system of electing senators should not continue in a country like this.
– Honorable members opposite have made this jibe at the members of this party, that the preferential system of voting is used in our pre-selection ballots for parliamentary candidates.
– And in your ballots for the election of Ministers.
– Yes, but those ballots are different from the ordinary electoral ballots. When five persons, members of a party, offer themselves for selection for parliamentary candidature, those who vote for them under the preferential system vote for men all of whom advocate the same principles, and subscribe to the same platform, and thus do no offence to their consciences or political convictions in marking their ballot-papers in the order of their preference. It is the same with the election of Ministers by a Caucus. But at an ordinary parliamentary election the candidates are of opposite political faiths, and under the preferential system an elector’s preferences may be applied to secure the return of a candidate to whose political views the elector is totally opposed.
– Yet you support compulsory voting, although an elector might detest both candidates.
– I do; compulsory voting is, at any rate, the least of two evils. If the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lynch) thinks that preferential voting will abolish political machinery he is mistaken.
– I do not think so, but I think it will render political machinery very uncertain.
– One of the effects of preferential voting is that if Jones and Brown, both of the same brand of politics, are candidates, and Brown is re- ‘garded by an elector as the most dangerous opponent of Jones, the elector will not exercise the preferential vote as it is theoretically expounded, but will give Jones his first, and Brown his last, preference.
– That docs not help the elector.
– But it shows that in practice the preferential vote is not so fair as in theory it is supposed .to be. Such a course has been taken at party meetings and so forth, and will certainly be taken at a general election.
I was rather surprised to hear the honorable member for Denison speak so eloquently in favour of preferential voting, because I find from the report of the Electoral Commission, of which he, with the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney), was a member, dissented from the other three members of the Commission, and declared themselves against the preferential system.
– Consistency is the virtue of a fool !
– Of course, if the honorable member for Denison had reason to change his opinion it is- all right, but in my judgment he has given none.
– I have. I said that when I signed that report there were only two parties in the House, whereas there are now more than two.
– There are only two parties, and no matter what fantastic electoral system may be adopted, there will always be two. No member will be so foolish as to say that, simply because of a new system of voting, the party system will be abolished. Why, we hardly know what the operation of the party system is in this country.
– Do we not?
– Any one would think, from hearing some people talk, that Australia is the only country where the party system is to be found, while, as a matter of fact, it is a mere circumstance compared to what we find in the Old Country.
– No one has decried the party system.
– But some honorable members would have us believe that preferential voting will do away with the party system.
– No one has said such a thing.
– Of course I know that honorable members have spoken, not only of two parties, but of many parties; I am talking of the two-party system, which at Home is exceptionally strict. If the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith) or myself should ever have the honour to go to the House of Commons
– God forbid!
– We have been told in Victoria before that anything is possible in a Democracy. However, I will say that if the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Falkiner) were ever to find a seat in the House of Commonsin the interests of either one or other of the great political parties, and he was ill-advised enough to speak out of his turn, he would be warned on the first offence, and on the second offence would find himself left out of the selection. The party system is mild in Australia compared with what it is in the older countries of the world, and, somehow or other, although the British Parliament may not have done the best possible, the Old Land has managed to keep fairly well ahead. In the United States of America I dare say the party system may be found in excelsis. I do not advise questionable methods such as are sometimes adqpted in the party system, but would provide machinery to make the way of the electoral transgressor hard. At any rate, in all parts of the world we find the party system, and I think it will continue for many a day tocome. No country has suffered very seriously in consequence, though, of course, times change, just as the honorable member for Denison has changed his views in reference to preferential voting.
We hear it said that preferential voting gives a chance to all, and if that be the object in view I suggest the abolition of the £25 deposit, so that any man may be at liberty to present his views to the country without having this penalty held over him. I go further and suggest that if a State member desires to stand for a Federal seat, or a Federal member desires to stand for a State seat, he should be allowed to do so.
– When would you find a Federal member wishing to stand for a State seat?
– I do not say we find that occurring, but, at any rate, there ought to be a reciprocal arrangement, ratified by State and Federal legislation. I do not think that any deposit is demanded in Queensland.
– I think that a deposit is required in five of the States, South Australia being the exception.
– It was considered a great concession when we reduced the deposit to £25, and it would be just as well to abolish it.
Some honorable members here may remember the great fight there was in this Parliament during the time of the CookIrvine Government over preference to unionists and the postal vote. This House at the time was about equally divided, and these two questions were set up for special discussion. After a great struggle this Chamber reached a decision, and sent the measures on to another place, where, without ceremony, they were rejected. On this there was a double dissolution, and in the course of the elections the war broke out. While the war overshadowed the two questions on which the elections were fought, they were never obliterated from the thoughts of the people. Even tlie present Chief Justice of Victoria (Sir William Irvine) has admitted that the people of Australia in 1914 decided in favour of preference to unionists, and have I not the right to say that the people have decided against postal voting ? That, I think, is a fair deduction from the circumstances. It will be noted that before the Labour party seriously considered the abolition of postal voting they were aware of the numerous abuses surrounding it in the Federal arena as well as in many of the States. In Queensland it was not a Labour Government that wiped it out of the electoral system, .and I do not think at the present time we could find any political party in that State to advocate its reintroduction. T am sure that if the Leader of the Opposition in Queensland were asked his opinion he would declare against it. Mr. Kidston, in view of an exhaustive inquiry that was made after an election in Queensland, when he was leader of what might be termed a composite or .coalition party, used the following words: -
Every one of us knows quite well that the way in which postal voting was carried out in many cases made it, to all intents and purposes, open voting. … It was open voting under this peculiar condition - .that it was open voting done under the eye of some one who probably had some power over the person voting. . . . that was the objectionable feature of it. The thing that I wish particularly to point out is this: Whatever evils resulted during last election from postal voting are not a circumstance compared with the evils that will take place at the next election if postal voting is still in existence.
– Will the honorable member quote from the Electoral Commission’s report on postal voting?
– I understand that the honorable member, as a member of cbe Electoral Commission, affixed his signature to a report which was in favour of postal voting.
– And it was signed by the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney).
– But I think the Commission recommended that postal voting should be surrounded by such safeguards as would prevent abuses.
– The postal vote was abolished in Queensland in consequence of the opposition of Mr. Kidston and others, but it was afterwards restored. Postal voting operates in that State today.
– What the honorable member , says is news to me, because Mr. Kidston, in speaking on the Bill for the abolition of the postal vote, denounced the system, lock, stock and barrel, and the Minister may read in the report of Mr. Thomas Mowbray (police magistrate) and the returning officers for Sandgate and Ipswich instances of the abuses that were perpetuated under the postal voting system as it was then operating in Queensland.
– The fact is that in 1908 Queensland had a wrong system of postal voting. That was abolished, and subsequently a modified system was substituted. Now the postal vote is practically confined to persons in ill-health.
– It is on record, that the Government employed a number of justices of the peace and others to go about the country collecting postal votes.
– As suggested by some honorable members, I shall propose a clause to prevent such an abuse.
– I .am satisfied that the Minister has every desire to prevent abuses in connexion with the electoral system. If he can have his way in doing what he considers right, the Bill will emerge from the Committee a better measure than it is now. Here is an indication of what occurred in connexion with postal voting at the Federal elections of 1910. Honorable members are aware that medical men are amongst those who are authorized by the Act to witness a postal ballot-paper, and the following circular was sent by the Australian Women’s National League to a number of medical men in Collins-street and the suburbs, and no doubt in country districts also: -
On polling day there will be under your care a large number of persons who may not be able to vote by attending a polling booth. Enclosed you will find a number of application forms for postal ballot papers. Will you kindly see that they are distributed amongst your patients, and also that they get postal ballot-papers and vote.
Honorable members know tbat a patient in ill-health will ask the doctor to fix the vote up for him. The doctor in many cases will reply that the one thing he cannot do is to sign the patient’s name. The patient will thereupon say, “ I will attach my name to the ballotpaper if you will do the rest.” Some medical men, no doubt, are strong partisans, and, like other members of the community, will go to extremes to induce their patients to vote in a certain direction. In any case I cannot conceive of any medical man to whom the patient intrusts the responsibility of filling up the ballot-paper putting a cross opposite the name of a Labour man unless he is asked to do so by the patient. I hope the Minister will accept an amendment in regard to the postal voting provisions. It is the duty of honorable members on both sides of the House to endeavour to improve the Rill. Does the Minister think that the persons enumerated as those who may witness a ballot-paper should be subject to the same pains and penalties as if they were electoral officials operating in a pollingbooth? If not, we should amend the Bill to provide that the same penalties should attach to the school teacher, the justice of the peace, the medical man, and the others who are allowed by the Bill to witness ballot-papers, as attach to any officer employed in a polling-booth.
– All will be on the same level in regard to penalties.
Mr.FENTON. - If we can increase the penalties on the witnesses of ballotpapers, so much the better, because an elector, who votes in the presence of a witness, does so under conditions which are entirely different from those which surround him when he goes to a pollingbooth. . He is more or less subject to influence by the witness.
– The honorable member seems to have a splendid knowledge of all these abuses.
– -I am quoting from the debate that took place when last this House dealt with an Electoral Bill, and in view of the fact that a double dissolution arose out of . the rejection of that
Bill, the arguments used in connexion with itremain vividly in one’s memory. If the people ever pronounced an opinion on an electoral system they pronounced against the postal vote in 1914.
– Is the honorable member’s objection to postal voting only because of the abuses of the system ?
– Are there not abuses of every law?
– Yes ; but when certain interested parties are called upon to witness a postal vote there is a danger of their exercising undue influence.
– What about Returning Officers who enrolled men who had been only twenty-four hours in the electorate ?
-If the honorable member can prove that allegation, the men responsible ought to be dismissed. I am certain that the Electoral Department would be only too glad to deal with such a culprit if the honorable member would give particulars of the offence.
– I gave particulars of one wrongful act, and a reply was received from the Labour Government that the charge was not to be pressed, and the man was fined 5s.
– If the allegation against the man is true, that man should not be allowed to occupy an electoral position again.
– Is the honorable member in favour of absent voting?
– Yes. We must have some system for the convenience of the large number of electors who are absent from their constituency on the day of election. Australia is a land of vast distances. On many times during the year dozens of Victorians are as far distant as the north of Queensland on a particular date, and similarly many Queenslanders are in the southern States. I know that in 1910 the declaration of the poll in my electorate was delayed for two or three weeks because one man had recorded a vote for me on the borders of the Northern Territory and Queensland.
– What would the honorable member provide for country people who are living 10 or 15 miles away from a polling booth, and who cannot all leave their homes in. summer time, because of the danger of bush fires?
– We cannot provide for all cases. The absent vote makes provision for most of them, and it is not liable to the same abuses as is the postal vote.
-The Electoral Commission reported instances of abuses of the absent vote.
– Of course, if men and women are prepared to risk the penalties of the law by committing abuses we must try to catch them, but no matter how small the mesh they sometimes escape our net. Absent voting has this safeguard, that the voter must walk into a polling booth, and ask an electoral officer for an absent voter’s form, and he must vote before a properly accredited man in the booth. Thus his vote is similar in many respects to that recorded by a man in the polling booth in the ordinary way.
– Has the honorable member any safeguard to suggest in connexion with postal voting?
– I hope to make some suggestionsin Committee. I should like to see this Electoral Bill and the new ideas which are embodied in it postponed until Australia is in a more normal condition, and until our 300,000 absent soldiers have returned. Honorable members have said that it is a slight on the intelligence of the electors to say that the number of informal votes will be increased by the introduction of the proposed new system of voting. Statistics indorsed by the Electoral Department show that in each year 85,000 people in Australia reach the age of twenty-one, andbecome qualified to vote. On the other hand, “36,000 persons over the age of twenty-one years die, leaving a net increase of 49,000 voters. Therefore, in. the three years’ interval between elections, about 150,000 new voters are placed on the rolls, and exercise the franchise for the first time at a Federal election. I agree with those honorable members who have said that we ought to make the system of voting as simple as possible. Some of the younger persons who vote for the first time may do so more intelligently than others who have been exercising the franchise for a number of years. At the same time when 85,000 persons qualify for a vote each year, we ought to make simplicity in voting our first aim. It will be one of the worst sins which this Parliament can. commit if we provide for the operation of two systems of voting on the one day.
– Children could be taught to vote at the schools.
– Children who are approaching maturity might receive some instruction at the State schools; certainly when they are nearing the voting age they ought to be taught in their homes or elsewhere how to record their votes. At the present time the system in connexion with Federal elections, and some State elections, is to make a cross against the candidate’s name; in other States, the voter mustplace numerals against the names of candidates to indicate his preference, whilst in municipal elections he must strike out the names of the candidates whom he does not favour. These varying systems create no end of confusion, which will not be lessened if a dual system is introduced by this Bill. Thousands of persons will unconsciously disfranchise themselves for the first two or three elections held after the dual system is in operation. I think the Minister should arrange to issue a final notice to electors before prosecuting them for not enrolling.
– It could not be done. The compulsory provisions have been sufficiently notified all over Australia.
– I know that the electoral authorities sometimes take up the attitude that if they assist people to place their names on the roll they are doing something against the compulsory provisions of the Act; but the main object should be to get every person enrolled.
-Since 1903 the enrolments have about doubled.
– Our population has increased in the meantime.
– The percentage of votes has increased from 43 per cent, to about SO per cent., and that result has been achieved without compulsion.
– I know that the percentage of voters at Federal elections is higher than that which is obtained at
State elections, except in the case of Queensland, where compulsion exists; but the 80 per cent, referred to is only the percentage of the voters who are enrolled, whereas there are many persons whose names are not on the roll. Where the names on the rolls run into millions it may be impossible to have an absolutely perfect roll, but at the same time it is rather strange that the name of the head of a household who* has been living in the same house for twenty years should not appear on the roll, while the names of the rest of the family are to be found upon it. In fact, in some cases the names of a whole family have been omitted from the roll. If we could send out an official notice prior to instituting a prosecution it would save many a citizen the inconvenience and loss he sustains by having to attend a Police Court, lose half a day’s wages, and pay a fine of 10s. for, perhaps, an inadvertence on his part. I am sure that it would lead to 90 per cent, of these omitted names being placed on the roll, and I would like the Minister to look into the matter-
– I have already done so, and found it utterly impossible to carry out the honorable . member’s suggestion. People shift about so much.
– I can speak as to shifting. In one subdivision in my electorate where there are 9,000 names on the roll, I have been told by a Returning Officer that between two elections there have been almost as many alterations as there are names on the roll.
The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) has alluded to a pledge which was specially given to the soldiers that no legislation affecting them “would be amended or wiped off the statute-book during the currency of .the war. I have a copy of the Anzac Bulletin, dated 4th April, 1917, containing a special pledge given to the soldiers abroad. This paper is issued under the authority of the High Commissioner, and besides contributions from literary men in London, it contains informative cablegrams as to what is happening in Australia. This fulfils a very desirable object, and no doubt the paper is treasured by the soldiers at the Front, because it tells them something of what is happening in their. homeland. The only thing that I object to in it- is that nearly everything which tells against the Labour party and in favour of the National party finds a place in. its pages, although it is supposed to be a non-party paper. However, this was the pledge of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), which appeared in its pages -
If the National Government he returned to power, not one stone in the temple of Labour legislation will be displaced.. It is a non-party Government, which accepts things as it finds them.
It will not touch, except to increase, civil or military pensions, the maternity allowance, or the old-age pension. It will not destroy the principle of preference to unionists, nor any of the other Acts brought in by Labour Governments, and it will administer all these measures in a sympathetic spirit. Its object is not to destroy, but to build up; not to create discord between the various sections of the community, but, by uniting all, to enable Australia to do her’ part more effectively in this war.
It is an all-embracing phrase, “ nor any of the other Acts brought in by Labour Governments.” It was a Labour Government which abolished the postal voting system, amid the “plaudits of the Prime Minister and quite a number of honorable gentlemen sitting behind the Government who are now voting for its reintroduction. I have not the time to quote speeches delivered by those honorable members in opposition to the postal vote, yet we -find them to-day supporting the system with the pledge still ringing in the ears of soldiers on the other side of the world that not one piece of Labour legislation would be touched, injured, or altered in any way during their absence. The Prime Minister, his Government, .and the party supporting them, are now going back on that pledge. The very last vote that tens of thousands of those soldiers cast before they left Australia was upon the question of the reintroduction of the postal vote, and they voted in favour of the Labour party, which said that this system of voting was not to be employed, yet while they are away it is proposed to pull down this particular portion ‘of -the temple of Labour, and this part of the electoral system which they helped to create when they were here. For this reason, and, for hundreds of reasons that
I could give, I have made up my mind to move an amendment to the second reading of the Bill.
– Another “ umbrella!”
– It is not an umbrella.. Lately the honorable member has. been thinking of nothing but umbrellas. I move -
That all the words after” “ That “ be left out with a view to inserting the following in lieu thereof : - “ no alteration be made in the electoral laws of the Commonwealth until such time ns all the Australian sailors, soldiers, and. workers have returned to Australia.”
I hope that this amendment will receive hearty support on either side of the House. We are trying to keep our pledges, and trying also to keep Ministers and the party opposite within measurable distance of carrying out the promises which they have made.
– The honorable member is aware that his amendment is not in order.
– I hope that the Government will accept the amendment in the spirit in which it is moved, thus enabling them to keep their pledges to the electors
It has been said that soldiers are not represented in Parliament, but I find that the political parties are already selecting soldiers as candidates. Senators Foll, Bolton, and Rowell were selected in three different States to contest the last election for the Senate. They were gentlemen who had either been closely associated with the troops who went to the Front, or had gone to the Front themselves. There can be no doubt that the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce), is a gentleman with qualifications of commercial character, and is a valuable addition to this House from a certain point of view, but one of the main reasons actuating the Flinders electors in returning him to this House, was the fact that he. had done good work for his country at the Front.
– The latest addition to our ranks is a returned soldier.
– I have noted that fact. The following are members of this House ‘ who have either served at the’ Front, or are on their way there: - Messrs. Corboy;
Abbott, McGrath, Burchell, Heitmann, Lister, Ryrie, Yates, Wallace, and Fleming. These honorable gentlemen sit on both sides of the House, and we. may be sure that in this House soldiers will always be certain of representation,, apart altogether from the establishment of the preferential system of voting-
– The amendment is not in order. The honorable member can achieve his object by moving to omit the word “ now,” and adding to. the motion- the words “ this day six months.”
– With a view to bringing about that desirable end, I move -
That the word “ now” be left out wilh a view to adding to the motion the words “ this day six months?’
Mr. AUSTIN CHAPMAN (Eden-
Monaro) [3.44]. - It is interesting to note that at this late hour we are to have a vote of censure on the Government. What can be the result of it except to solidify honorable members on this side, who have been expressing their opinion from a non-party stand-point? The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) may laugh, but the united chorus of disapproval w& have heard from honorable members opposite is extraordinary. Why has it been expressed? The reason is that certain alterations are proposed in the Electoral Act which they think may prejudice their chances at the next elections. What has accounted for the absence of the postal voting provisions from the electoral law for some years past affecting, approximately, 30,000 or 40,000 sick and aged persons, who cannot, possibly vote unless they vote by post? We know that a very careful table was kept of the postal votes recorded at a certain election, and that because a very small majority of those votes were opposed to the Labour party, members now sitting opposite cam E down to the House and ruthlessly .wiped out the postal voting provisions, thus disfranchising many thousands of voters. And to-day they raise a wail because it is proposed to restore those provisions. It is extraordinary what an amount of- detail they can produce, showing how the postal vote may be manipulated. If it is mere guesswork on their part, I oan only say that they are very good at guessing. Abuses of the electoral law are as prevalent on one side as they are on the other. This Bill is designed to afford the people an opportunity to give free expression to their views. Some honorable members of the Opposition candidly declare that it will do away with party government, and so inflict serious injury on the country. If I thought it would do away with the party system, I should consider that a particularly good reason for supporting it. It is time that we got rid of party government. The sins of the party system do not rest on one side alone; but when it comes to political manoeuvring in connexion with the Tunning of an election, the Nationalist party runs a very poor second.
– The honorable (member knows more than his fair share of how to run ian election.
– The honorable member is himself a specialist in that sort of thing. The charge that our party desires to manipulate the elections is most extraordinary. It is in order to avoid the manipulation of elections that a Bill of this kind is necessary. The control pf an election should not bo in the hands of any coterie. The people should be able to go to the ballot-box untrammelled, and should have an opportunity to record their votes in the clearest and most unmistakable way. The result of the contest in the Swan electorate during the last two or three days is an illustration of the faultiness of the present system. “We shall all be pleased to welcome a returned soldier to this ‘House, no matter to what party he belongs; but the tender regard which the Labour party now evinces for the interest of our soldiers is of quite recent date. They talk about the pledge which the Nationalist party gave our soldiers at the Front that it would not interfere with Labour legislation in their absence; but they say nothing of the Labour party pledges they gave to our boys, nor do they say anything as to the way. in which they have tried to go back upon those pledges. Now that they find that the tide is turning, the Labour party sing quite a different tune, so far as our soldiers at the Front are concerned. Surely they do not think that these men, who have risked their lives for us, are so unintelligent that they cannot see through their little game. We are told that we ought not to do an injustice to our soldiers in their absence; but I am satisfied that, when they return, they will show that they are well able to take care of themselves. They will take advantage of this measure to give free and full expression to their political views. We do not want a repetition of the result of the Swan contest, where the successful Labour candidate will represent only onethird of the electors.
– There was only one Nationalist candidate.
– The Labour candidate who has been returned had more than two-thirds of the voters against him.
– So did the Nationalist candidate.
– We had to-day from the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) a plain, honest, and eloquent statement. He told us that he was quite satisfied with the present system, which was responsible for his return to this Parliament, and which, if retained, would keep him here. For that reason he is against this Bill. His party now comes forward with a vote of censure. I am surprised that the Leader of the Opposition did not himself submit it. Why did he put up one of the lightweights of his party to move it?
I should like to ask what has become of the promise of the Minister that we should have one electoral roll for Australia. Tasmania uses the Federal roil for State elections, because it has to study economy. The Federal Government, apparently, are not prepared to study economy until they are forced to do so. This House will compel them to do so.
– There is special provision in the Bill to bring about uniformity, and whatever else remains to be done can be brought about by joint regulations.
– I am tired of legislation by regulation. I am tired of a system under which the country is governed by Ministers - a system under which everything seems to be done, not by legislation, but by regulation.
– I was referring to joint State and Federal regulations. We have them framed for the States to adopt with us as the basis of uniformity.
– I maintain that the Government are responsible for the loss of the Swan seat to the Nationalist party. If they think they can play fast and loose with legislation - if they think that they can postpone the carrying out of their promises to the people - they will soon find themselves bereft of the big majority on which they seem to rely to cover every sin of omission and commission. What has happened in the Swan electorate will probably happen in connexion with the forthcoming election for Corangamite. The Swan is essentially a Nationalist seat, and yet three Nationalist candidates were defeated, and a minority representative returned. Corangamite is in a different category.
– Every provision for electoral uniformity is ready. It is simply a matter of securing the agreement of the States, and I am doing my best to bring them into line.
– The Minister must take a firm stand in dealing with the States. Unless Ministers show a stronger disposition to carry out the will of the people by economizing and retrenching, instead of imposing more and more taxation, my vote will go against them. The people outside are sick and tired of the way in which the Government are carrying on, and it is only the weakness of the Opposition, and the raising of the red flag by their followers, that prevents the electors from making a change. The patience of the taxpayers has been tried to almost breaking point. If Tasmania can conduct its State elections under the Federal roll, why can we not have uniformity and do the same.
– I went through the Bill, clause by clause, with the officers of some of the States.
– Why talk like this; why not have uniformity?
– The Minister cannot coerce the States.
– The State electors are also Commonwealth” electors. .
– Let us go straight out for Unification.
– I am prepared to do that. It is time we had Unification, or at all events, uniformity in regard to electoral and other matters.
– The honorable member “ kicks “ up a big row, but does nothing.
– The honorable member was returned to thisHouse, not by a vote of the people, but as the result of an accident.
Our present electoral system is a rotten one, leading as it does to minority representation and to party wire-pulling. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) fears that this Bill will do away with the party system, and he has expressed the hope that we shall never have more than two great parties in this Parliament. He favours the party system because he wants a political post against which to lean. I hope the time will come when party government will be no more. If the House itself could elect Ministers, would we accept sucH a statement as that just made by the Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. Glynn), who says that he is conferring with the States on this question of electoral uniformity. What is the good of conferring with them ? The State electors are also Commonwealth electors, and nine out of every ten of them will tell you that they are sick of the duplication of expenditure and extravagance that is going on in Commonwealth and State circles. There seems to be on the part of this Government an idea that as long as they can keep on increasing taxation everything will be all right. That is quite a mistaken view of the situation.
I am opposed to compulsory enrolment: Why should a man in the back-blocks, or a resident of one. of our badly-lighted suburbs, who does not understand the law, be haled before a Court and fined because he has neglected to see that his name is on the roll? It is farcical that we should have compulsory enrolment without compulsory voting. As a matter of fact, I am opposed to both principles, but I certainly think the Government should no longer neglect the pledge they gave the Parliament that electoral uniformity and economy would be secured. Under the present electoral system, which allows of party wire-pulling, an independent candidate has no hope of selection or election. No man is permitted to offer his services to his country unless he is able to get a pull in the Labour party or in the Nationalist party. In these circumstances this Bill, imperfect as it is, will provide something better than the present system. I shall therefore vote for it. I ask the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), however, not to force honorable members, who, like myself, are prepared to vote conscientiously, into the position of having to support the Government every time by moving foolish votes of censure. I am prepared to support a vote of censure based on. proper lines. If the honorable member can show this House in what way the Government have failed to provide for reasonable retrenchment and economy he will secure a good deal of support for a want of confidence motion.
Some of us will have a pretty bad time under the preferential voting system. Quite a number of honorable members on both sides of the House owe their presence here to the fact that the people under the present electoral system have not a free choice of candidates. “When they have something will happen.
– The honorable member wants to suggest that there will be some more “ accidents “ over there.
– It was a happy accident that led to the return of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West). We a-re all glad to see him here because of his humour, and, may I say, peculiar ability. But why do not members opposite declare plainly that their objection to the Bill is that they fear that its provisions may not suit them. I do not think that they will suit the members of this Parliament. The public will have a larger choice of representatives, and probably many now here will disappear, their places being taken by independent candidates of all shades of opinion. I protest against the twaddle of the last speaker, who complained that the Government is breaking its. pledge to the soldiers. If on their return to Australia our soldiers play their game as well as they are doing it at the Front, the consequences will be unpleasant for some of those opposite.
– Is not a returned soldier after the honorable member’s seat?
– Some one has been after my seat ‘ for the last twenty-eight years, and has never got it. I would rather lose my ‘seat to a returned soldier than to some of those opposite who pose as patriots. No doubt the soldiers will show that they are sick of party government, and the Bill will give them an opportunity to do this. Had preferential voting been the law, the Swan election would have resulted differently. I hope that the Government will expedite the passage of this measure so that it may apply to the Corangamite election.
– That is for the House to do. The Bill could be put through in a week easily.
– I shall certainly vote for the Bill if only because of its postal voting provisions. According to Mr. Knibbs, 33,000 persons, on the average, are always unable, because of sickness or for other reasons, to go to the poll. I wish to give these persons and the maimed soldiers who cannot get to the poll a chance to vote. But we need uniformity. There should be one roll for State and Commonwealth, as in Tasmania, and one set of divisional lines for State and Commonwealth electorates.
– Hear, hear ! As soon as we have passed the Bill the States are to provide for that.
– The. electors demand this uniformity and attendant economy.
– I suggested it in 1901.
– But when is the Minister going to do something to bring it about ? I favour preferential voting, regarding it as a step towards proportional voting, which I hope we shall soon have. I should like to see the States divided into three electorates to enable preferential voting to be applied to Senate elections. Members opposite say that they oppose the measure because it may have the effect of doing away with , party government; but I say that the people are tired of party government, and wish to have a larger choice of candidates than has been possible to them during the last twenty years.
Question - That the word “now” proposed to be omitted stand part of the question - put. The Committee divided.
Majority . . . . 17
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and committed pro forma.
Motion (by Mr. Glynn) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. Finlayson) this morning asked me whether the Paper Controller, Mr. Brookes, is the Mr. Brookes who is identified with some Red Cross scandals in Brisbane, and I replied that I knew nothing of the circumstances, but would make inquiry. I have asked Mr. Brookes whether the facts, as stated by the honorable member, were correct, and have received the following letter from him: -
In regard to theRed Cross matter in Brisbane, the connexion of the firm of William Brookes and Company Limited in this matter arose from the fact that a manager in our establishment,but who is no longer in our employ, had paid commission to the honorary secretary of the Red Cross on printing work executed by my firm.
This payment was made without my knowledge or authorization. It has been demonstrated on inquiry that the work was executed at prices which were reasonable, and, indeed, low, and that the commission paid was in no wise a tax upon the Red Cross funds.
It will be noted that the gentleman who was responsible is not now in the employ of the firm, and that this thing was done without the knowledge or authorization of Mr. Brookes. It is to be regretted that the honorable member did not make some inquiries from me before he impugned the honour of a man who is serving the Government at this time. I think it most reprehensible-
– Wait until you hear the other side.
– I think it most reprehensible that any honorable member should make a statement in this House which indirectly impugns the honour of any man before making some inquiry whether the statement is true or not.
– How do you know that the honorable member did not make inquiries ?
– This thing was done by a man who is no longer connected with the firm, and Mr. Brookes says that it was done without his authorization.
– It has been made good by Mr. Brookes.
– It is not a question of being “made good.”
– Who got the money?
– This woman got the money, I presume, but it was in no way a charge on the Red Cross funds.
The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Sampson) asked this morning whether the Government proposed to postpone the curtailment of the issue of news print in Australia in view of the circumstances of the war. The Government have considered the question, and have decided to postpone the operation of the regulation in regard to news print until 11th December. At the same time, we are intimating to the Advisory Committee, by whose advice this is being done, that the Government can in no way guarantee that shipping will be available to bring the amount of news print forward we hope to be able to get, and consequently it may be necessary later on to impose the restriction to the full extent.
.- I desire to immediately inform the Minister that I refuse to accept any suggestions from him as a guide to my conduct in the House. Any suggestion of the character comes with mighty ill-grace from the honorable gentleman and members associated with him, who, all the time I have known them in the House, have been particularly clever in making all kinds of suggestions about honorable members on this side. I say straight out and the Minister knows it, that I made no suggestion against Mr. Brookes. 1 did not suggest in my question that he was connected with the scandal.
– Then I misheard the honorable member.
– My question was quite clear - whether Mr. Brookes, the Paper Controller, is the same Mr. Brookes whose name is mentioned in connexion with these scandals? I did not suggest whether or not his name was correctly mentioned, or anything about the matter; I was interested only in knowing if it was the same gentleman. As to the facts of the case, the Minister now admits that Mr. Brookes is the same gentleman.
– No, I do not.
– You admit he is connected with the firm interested.
– That is another matter altogether. The honorable member put it in a personal way.
Mr.FINLAYSON. - Mr. Brookes’ name is mentioned freely in connexion with the matter, and he has now had an opportunity to clear himself. This opportunity he has taken, and I have no objection whatever to that. I made ho suggestion against his honour; but from what the Minister has said, it does appear as if the firm had been in the habit of paying certain secret commissions, and that because one manager has done so he has been victimized to the extent of losing his employment - losing his employment for carrying out what seems to be a regular practice of the firm. Does the Minister, who talks so glibly about conduct, approve of that kind of business?
– The honorable member is assuming that this manager lost his employment as a result of this affair.
– I am assuming that because you have told me so.
– I have not. I said that the man. who was responsible is no longer in the employment of the firm.
– I can assure the Minister that, so far as the connexion of this gentleman with the firm is concerned, I know nothing whatever about it beyond what the Minister has told me ; and undoubtedly the impression on my mind, and no doubt on the mind of others, is that this man lost his position because he had been carrying out the practice of the firm. It isdelightful to know that the firm has realized that it is a wrong practice.
– Secret commissions are illegal.
– At any rate, the firm responsible evidently think that they have justified themselves and their conduct by dismissing this man. But to my mind that does not help the case one bit. So far as Mr. Brookes is concerned I know nothing about him. I am concerned only -with the fact that there are certain allegations in connexion with, a public matter in Brisbane, and that this firm, of which Mr. Brookes is a particular member, is interested in those scandals. Surely the firm ought to be glad to have au opportunity to disclaim any connexion with wrong conduct. Instead of the Minister castigating me, he ought to thank mc for the opportunity Mr. Brookes has had to clear his name from any connexion with this scandal.
.-Will the Minister in charge of the House indicate the order of business for next week ? Do the Government intend to proceed with the Electoral Bill?
– Yes; we desire to get it through Committee as soon as possible.
– I do not think it will go through Committee on Wednesday.
.- On this day fortnight I asked the Acting Prime Minister if he would ascertain the position of the employees in the Customs Department in Queensland. The honorable gentleman carried out his promise that he would obtain the information. The Minister in charge of the Department has shown me a copy of the questions which were asked in regard to the staff in Queensland, and the answers thereto, and I find that my suspicions were not well founded. Therefore, any imputations which I made when asking the question, I now withdraw.
.- I desire to make to the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs a suggestion which will meet with the approval of both sides of the House. According to the telegrams, the death rate from that form of influenza which is called Spanish influenza is terrible, and I ask the Minister if he will have simple directions prepared, and published in’ the press and elsewhere, as to how people should treat the disease in the first instance. The Minister will recognise that, owing to what is known as the “ doctors’ strike,” medical attention is not given so readily to the people as in normal times. I should like him to arrange for placards to be posted on the railway stations and elsewhere, prescribing certain simple rules. For instance, if Spanish influenza is like ordinary influenza, that soiled handkerchiefs, which are a prolific medium of distributing germs, should be placed in a simple antiseptic solution; that places of amusement where large crowds congregate, should be disinfected; that patients should rest in bed - if that is the proper form of treatment, as it is with nearly every disease; and that the windows should be kept open or closed. I am sure that the Director of Quarantine (Dr. Cumpston) would give the Minister full particulars as to what should be done, and a small leaflet, which would not be as difficult to prepare as an ordinary price-list, would be of great use to the people, particularly those in country districts, where there is no doctor. I am stressing this suggestion, because now is the time to act; prevention will be more effective than any attempt to control the disease after it has made its appearance. Having regard to the statistics which have been cabled to us regarding the mortality in other countries, it is unnecessary for me to warn the House of how grave the danger will be if the disease is allowed to get a hold in the community.
– I have questioned the Acting Prime Minister-in regard to the order of business on Wednesday. In order to allow the second reading of the Land Tax Bill to be moved the House will first go into Committee of Ways and Means, and then the debate will be adjourned, and we shall proceed with the Electoral Bill, and afterwards the Loan Subscription Bill.
Question resolved in’ the affirmative;
House- adjourned at 4.26 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 November 1918, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1918/19181101_reps_7_86/>.