4th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President took the chair at10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
The number of art-union promoters and agents for the same inthe Commonwealth whose correspondence through the Post Office has been stopped under the Post and Telegraph Act 1 901 (section 57), since the beginning of the present year?
– The answer is *’ none.”
Debate resumed from 26th October (vide page 1865), on motion by Senator Pearce -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
Senator ST. LEDGER (Queensland) last night I was dealing with what I think is a defect in the presentment of this Bill, inasmuch as it provides for so much to be done by regulations without the Senate being furnished with them in draft or skeleton form. I ask the Minister to consider whether they cannot be produced, if not here, in another place. It must be patent to everybody that the collective wisdom of the two Houses may be of assistance to the Minister and the Department in the framing of the regulations. A large number of the members of this Parliament have had considerable experience with regard to the conduct of elections. They are familiar with the regularities and- the irregularities which accompany elections, and that common fund of experience would, if properly appealed to, be of great assistance to the Minister, the Department, and the country in endeavouring to insure purity and simplicity of action in connexion with elections. It may be said in answer to my criticism that the Senate will have a full opportunity to consider the regulations when they are tabled. But I would remind honorable senators of what happened in the case of the census regulations and the difficulties which then beset us. There was some trouble in getting the regulations before the Senate; then there was difficulty in finding an opportunity to debate them, but the result of the discussion was that almost all the regulations were thrown out. That shows the danger on one side and the advantage on the other - specially in the case of an important measure - of the Senate having before it these proposed regulations. Few honorable senators give to regulations tabled in pursuance of an Act that minute attention which they often require. It is not until some grave error of administration has been discovered, or injustice has been done to somebody, that the attention of both Houses is called to a defect in regulations: That’ kind of thing is almost as bad as locking the stable door after the steed has been stolen.
– Am I to understand that the Minister has. made up his mind that we shall not be given an opportunity to see the regulations ?
– You know that all regulations have to be laid on the table of the Senate, and to remain there for a certain time.
– Certainly. But it is of no use for the honorable senator to tell me that Queen Anne is dead, because that will not carry the subject any further. In Committee I shall try to get the regulations laid before us. If that can be done in a State Parliament in the case of important measures, I see no reason why it cannot be done in this instance. One important feature of this Bill is the introduction of compulsory enrolment. On the matter of compulsion in any form I am very much like the proverbial Irishman who, when he arrived in the United States, and was asked for a vote, said, “ Is there a Government here; if so, I am agin it?” Whenever I hear of compulsion in a Bill the bent of my mind is to make the Minister show cause why it should lae enacted. I want cause to be shown why the principle of compulsory enrolment should be enacted. I have not yet heard sufficient reasons to make me assent to the proposal. It seems to me, as a logical proposition, that compulsory enrolment without compulsory voting is like Hamlet with Hamlet left out. I do not say that even with Hamlet left in I would like that kind of Hamlet any better. I cannot see how the Government, as a matter of consistency, or political action or logic, can halt at this point. The reason which might affect the decision of Parliament on compulsory voting would be entirely different from the reason which might influence its decision on compulsory enrolment. Who is to enforce the enrolment, and how is it to be enforced ? The Minister has said that he will have resort to the card system. He has assured the Senate that, in a measure, that will be sufficient. Of course, behind the card system he has the weapon of the Police Force. It is clear from his speech, and from the comments which have been made from this side, that it is not the merits or the terrors of a prosecution on which he entirely depends to give effect to the principle of compulsory enrolment. He thinks that the assertion of the principle, together with the machinery which can be used, and the adoption of the card system, will be sufficient to effect the object which he has in view. I doubt that very much. So far as the elector is concerned, he will not help or has forgotten to help the Department. That is where the machinery must begin. When an elector shifts from division to division, or from subdivision to subdivision, and has not given notice of his removal, one of two things must be inferred, either that he has forgotten to give notice or that he will not do so. Is the Minister going to prosecute him right away for that? Surely notice of an intending prosecution will be given to him before the Department proceeds, and if notice can be given of his neglect or failure to perform his duty it seems to me that it would be just as easy to enrol him by the same process. In other words, it will be equally effective to enrol him as to prosecute him. Again, has the Minister given sufficient attention to this aspect of the case : that there are more women than men on the electoral rolls? Does he intend to prosecute the women who fail to enrol? Surely he will give notice to them of his intention to prosecute them. Probably the last thing which occurs to a married woman who moves about with her husband is to transfer her name from roll to roll. The lapse of memory is likely to be “much greater with women than with men. It would be a shameful use of the penal provision of the Bill if women were prosecuted without first being reminded of their default by the Department. There seems to be one great objection to compulsory enrolment. When the Department send an official notice to a husband pointing out the neglect of duty by that process it goes nearly the whole way to securing his wife’s enrolment in the new division. Therefore, the penal provision would appear to be entirely unnecessary. I dare say the Minister has been told by the officials that the mere fact of prosecution will in itself be a powerful reminder to a defaulting elector of his duty, and to some extent a warning to every other elector of the liability for the non-performance of that duty. In other words, does the Minister or the Department anticipate that a prosecution in, say, Collingwood, will remind an elector, say, at Thursday Island, of his duty in that respect? It is childish to imagine that that effect will be produced. Again, will a prosecution in the Police Court at North Brisbane or Woollongabba be a reminder to dilatory electors at Townsville or Croydon of their duty? Not at all. 0 So that, from the point of view of the effectiveness of prosecutions in this matter, the prosecutions will have to be widespread throughout the Commonwealth, and to be, comparatively speaking, incessant before they will serve the purpose intended. In that way the system, . if it does not become persecution, will be a continual source of irritation, and, it may be, ridicule. I think that, notwithstanding the confidence of the Department and the Minister, it will be found that this provision will fail. The main object of instituting compulsory enrolment is to see that qualified adults are enrolled. Yet in this Bill the Minister strikes at - and may destroy - the most powerful means at present existing for keeping these persons on the rolls and purging the rolls of those whose names ought not to appear thereon. The political organizations on each side are powerful. In many instances they may be called voluntary machinery for helping the Department in that respect. Of course, the officials are not responsible for what has been done, or what is proposed in the Bill to be done, with regard to organizations. It contains clauses which may wipe out the organizations belonging to one political party. They may refuse to continue their existence because of the inquisitorial nature of the provisions. They may decline to go on with their political work, and confine themselves to individual action. So that we may destroy by this Bill, intended to bring about compulsory enrolment, one of the most powerful means we have hitherto had to secure the enrolment of electors. I come now to the question of the counts and recounts at contested elections. The provision dealing with the matter will no doubt be closely considered in Committee. When the numbers polled for different candidates at a contested election are close the counting is not a matter of much consequence, but the recounting may be all-important. When the votes are being counted those which are rejected as informal are set aside, and the returning officer has authority to give or refuse to give them to a candidate. It is of the utmost importance at a closelycontested election that the unsuccessful candidate should, if possible, be able to have declared as formal the votes which appear to be in his favour, and have been declared to be informal. On those votes the final result of the election may depend. It is in such a case that the recount becomes ali -important. * The candidate may be advised that if votes declared informal are really formal he may on a recount be the elected candidate. He has two tribunals to appeal to. He may first of- all appeal for a recount to the Divisional Returning Officer, who may refuse it. He may then appeal to the Chief
Electoral Officer, who may also refuse it, and then if he wishes to go further, and take the matter before the Court, he has, under this Bill, another difficulty placed in his way, because provision is made to enable the electoral officer to appear before the Court of Disputed Returns. I ask for what purpose this is to be allowed, if it is not in order that the electoral officer may fight the candidate appealing for a. recount ?
– Does the honorable senator think that the petitioner should be at liberty to make any charges he pleases against the Department, and that no one should be present on behalf of the Department to answer them?
– I admit the force of the interjection. The Minister, in speaking on the Bill, asked us to assume that the Commonwealth electoral officers will be men of common sense. No one desires to cast any serious reflection upon them, but might I not also ask the Minister to assume that the candidates will be men of common sense, and that none of them will be likely to ask for a recount without having very good reasons for doing so?
– A candidate may ask until the crack of doom, but unless he can show substantial reasons he is not likely to get a recount.
– A candidate will not ask for a recount without substantial reasons, but in this Bill the Government are assuming that the reason of the electoral officers will be superior to that of the candidates. I ask the Minister to assume that the candidates will be possessed of common sense equal to that of the officers of the Department. On this point a very valuable suggestion was made by Senator Sayers, which, if adopted, would remove a great deal of the objection to these provisions of the Bill. The honorable senator suggested that where the voting is close and the number of informal votes, as in the case of a Senate election, may be large, an unsuccessful candidate appealing for a recount should get it if he puts down a sum sufficient to cover the cost. He will have substantial cause for asking for a recount, and if he is prepared to put down a sum of money sufficient to cover the expense in order to establish his belief, there is no reason why he should not be permitted to do so. A recount at this stage may decide everything. It was pointed out that if in one case a recount’: had been granted a contest before the Court of Disputed Returns would have been avoided. I have suggested that the only reason why an electoral officer should be allowed to go into the Court must be to afford him an opportunity to support his own decision refusing the appeal for a recount. Neither the Ministry nor any other honorable senator on the other side has offered any reason why the electoral officers should be given this privilege. What defect is there in the existing electoral machinery which calls for this amendment? Although attention has been sharply directed to the matter from this side, we have heard no explanation of this most important alteration, and, with all respect, I say that that is not the way to discuss the Bill or to treat the Senate. I come now todeal with the very important provisions affecting political organizations. So much has been said on the subject that I need not go into the details of the clauses dealing with the matter. They are very drastic, and, in, my opinion, are intended to have only one effect, and that is to terrorize these organizations, and to prevent as far as possible their formation. Whether that is really the intention, only the Government can say but I think the effect of the provisions proposed will be in the direction I have mentioned. Most people are reluctant to disclose to any Government officialtheir private business, or the manner in which they exercise private rights. There is an instinctive horror amongst Britishers of that kind of thing. It is an extraordinary thing that the clauses of this Bill dealing with organizations have no precedent in history. Is there a Parliament in the world., in any constitutionally governed country, which has ever attempted to do such a thing as is here proposed ? I do not- think the Minister can find a precedent for it
– That does not matter. The Minister wants it.
– I can tell honorable senators where to find a precedent for something like it. It may be found in Russia and in France during disturbed times, when organizations were fighting for their political rights, at the point, sometimes, of the sword, or under heavy penalties. No other precedent for these proposals exists. Might I ask why this extraordinary and unprecedented manner of dealing with political organizations has been resorted to in Australia? Have representative public men of Australia, inside and outside Parliament, been so persistently corrupt, that a measure like this should be directed against them ? I say that it is a libel on the public men of Australia, and also upon the electors. Taking our people on the whole, and admitting whatever individual exceptions can be discovered, I say that, just as our public men have the highest reputation for incorruptibility in the whole world, so the general body of our electors is equally sound. There is here a blow struck at our political organizations. Their officials are to be asked to disclose their expenditure. That can only be on the supposition that the expenditure has been incurred for corrupt purposes. Where is the evidence of that? Over and over again in connexion with the operation of the postal voting system we have asked for evidence of corruption. Many things have been said by way of charge, but not a single word by way of proof, of the exercise of undue influence in the operation of the system. It seems to me that these clauses have been submitted with distinctly malicious and unjustifiable political intent. We carry the war into the enemy’s country, and point out that honorable senators opposite have organizations that spend enormous sums of money politically. The charge is made that political bodies supporting this side spend money corruptly. There is no proof of it. There are organizations on the other side that spend enormous sums of money for purely political purposes, but no honorable senator on this side has charged them with using their funds corruptly, or with seeking to unduly influence the electors. I do not, and shall not, make any such charge. I do not think that any one has substantial evidence to support such a charge. We are quite free and candid in the matter.. Why cannot honorable senators opposite be equally free’ and candid with us? We make no charge as to the immense sums of money which they spend on elections. Why cannot they be as just to us? When will the other side tire of calling themselves just and righteous, and of calling us and our organizations unjust and wicked? Why cannot they be manly and straightforward in reference to charges of this kind ? When they allege that immense sums of money are improperly spent by our organizations, why cannot they have the manliness to bring forward clear and distinct evidence in support of their assertions? Another objection which we have to the provisions of the Bill with which I am dealing is that they cannot affect the organizations which do political work in support of the Ministerial party. Would the Government accept an amendment to make the Bill apply to Labour organizations as well as to others? The Minister, in introducing the Bill, led us to infer that all organizations would be affected by the Bill. I have read the clauses over and over again, and as far as I can see not one of the Labour organizations will be affected. Further than that, if we were to insert distinctly the words, “ trade organization or trade union,” we should not catch them. But do honorable senators opposite mean to say that trade union officials and organizations carrying on political work, do not know how to use their forces in such a way as to appear to separate the industrial from the political side? Do they not know how to make it appear that nineteentwentieths of their expenditure and work is to be credited to the industrial side, and scarcely a shilling to the political side? Nevertheless, it is a matter of public notoriety that trade unions and organizations closely associated with them spend enormous sums of money for political purposes.
– We wish they had enormous sums to spend.
– The Minister means that, having spent the money, he regrets that the organizations do not still possess it.
– They will have to have the Commonwealth bank at their disposal before they can play tricks like that. Let me show the amount of money which has been spent by the other side and their organizations. I have consulted the twenty-fifth report of the Registrar of Friendly Societies in Queensland. This document deals, not only with friendly societies pure and simple, but also with trade unions. The revenue of these unions in Queensland in 1905 was , £5,021. In 1906 it rose to £7,159. By leaps and bounds the income wentup until in 1909 it reached the sum of £16,867. 0nwhat objects was the money spent? I will give the figures. Out of £16,867 these unions spent only £2,532 in benefits. They spent £8,398 on management. Nearly half the total funds contributed by trade unionists in Queensland were therefore spent on management. Management of what? Is there an institution, financial or otherwise, in Australia which could be carried on if it spent 50 per cent, of its money on management?
– Are we discussing the management of trade unions under this Bill, Mr. President?
– I shall not try to drive the meaning of these figures into the honorable senator’s head, but I remind him that I am quoting from a public document.
– It has nothing to do with this Bill.
– It has a great deal to do with the Bill. The honorable senator was not in the chamber when I led up to my point. Honorable senators opposite charge us with using immense sums of money on our political organizations. They ask us to furnish returns of our expenditure. My answer is that their organizations spend enormous sums of money on political work.
– On what?
– I am giving, actual instances. My complaint is that these organizations will not, and cannot, be effected by the Bill. Besides the £8,398 spent on management they spent £5,326 in other directions, including assistance to unions, legal and political expenses, and contributions to their newspapers. In other words, out of the total of £16,867 which was the entire income, only £2,532 went in personal benefits to the members of the unions, leaving about £14,000 to be spent in management and carrying out the objects of the unions in other directions, including contributions to newspapers.
– Of that £8,000 nominally spent in management a large amount was spent indirectly on political work.
– Of course.
– How much went to the assistance of kindred societies in connexion with strikes?
– That is not disclosed.
– But it is included in the total.
– I think that information is furnished in the report.
– I did not takeout those particular figures, if they are there.
– Trade unions do not exist for the personal benefit of the members.
– I thought that was one of their objects.
– Collective benefits.
– Does Senator McDougall suggest that unions exist only for the benefit of the officials?
– I leave that to him. If they do not exist for the personal benefit of the members who contribute these funds, for what object on earth do they exist?
– To give the honorable senator something to talk about.
– Assuming that in Queensland £14,000 out of £16,000 has gone largely for political purposes - I do not say that the money was improperly used to influence unduly elections, because there is not the slightest evidence of that - what inference can we draw concerning the rest of Australia? I wish to make it clear that, in my opinion, these unions are perfectly entitled - especially in this country where questions affecting the industrial as well as the political advancement of the workers are closely bound together - to contribute their funds and spend them in these directions. Political and economic questions are so closely bound together that it is almost impossible to separate the two in a return. Taking it that in Queensland £14,000 out of £16,000 has been directly or indirectly spent on political work, and taking the population of Australia as seven times that of Queensland - I think also that Queensland’s contribution to trade unionism is a little below rather than above the average contribution in the other States - it appears as an almost irresistible inference that about £120,000 is contributed in Australia to the various workers’ organizations. Assuming that the same proportion of expenditure exists in the other States, we may infer that only about £17,000 out of the £120,000 goes for the purely personal or economic advantage of the members of the unions or for the purposes for which these organizations were primarily created. I do not think that honorable senators opposite can get away from those facts and inferences. I believe that this estimate of £120,000 is rather above than below the amount contributed to the unions of Australia. Is it not, therefore, pure Phariseeism for honorable senators opposite to charge us with manipulating large sums for political purposes ? Is it not worse than Phariseeism to insinuate that we are the only persons who collect money for such objects ? I venture to say that in proportion to the numerical strength of trade unionists in Australia there is nobody in the world that raises so much money, or uses it so persistently - and, I will add, so well - for political purposes as the Australian workers do.
– They use it fairly.
– I have not said that they do not use it fairly. It would be unmanly to insinuate that they do not, because I have not the slightest evidence of anything of the kind. But when we carry the war into the camp of honorable senators opposite, and ask them to give us any evidence that we use our money - which is infinitely smaller in amount than that which they use - corruptly or improperly, not a shadow of proof is forthcoming. These insinuations are simply made with the object of inflaming public opinion - with the object of making it appear that money is being used corruptly and improperly entirely on the one side. The returns made under this Bill will disclose that comparatively little is spent on the one side, whilst comparatively large sums are spent on the other and then these particulars will be employed in the Pharisaical manner with which we are so well acquainted. It will be said: “See how disinterested we are ! See what selfsacrificing work we do ! We spend compartively little on elections, but look at the amount spent by the other side ! “ That is how this information will be used. That is the intent and purpose of the Bill. Honorable senators opposite cannot escape the charge of being afraid to meet us fairly. They will compel us to disclose information which they dare not disclose on their own side.
– I will produce one of the Opposition party’s posters, and will guarantee that he cannot tell me where it was printed.
– What has that to do with the matter? That is one of those red herrings that are always drawn across the trail whenever chargesare made against the Ministerial party. Does the honorable senator think that I am standing up to contend that no improper things are ever done in connexion with the conduct of elections on any one side in politics? Every one of us knows that our agents occasionally do things which are unjustifiable and wrong. It is in the nature of things human that persons should sometimes overstep the mark. Look at the abuses which, arise in connexion with trial by jury. Would honorable senators opposite condemn trial by ‘ jury because some juries are foolish, and others are occasionally even . criminal ? Do they say that the whole jury system is corrupt because some juries do improper things ? They dare not go so far as that. Every human institution is faulty in some of its parts. No matter how carefully devised, an institution may be, abuses will creep in.
– That is a reason why we should provide as many safeguards as possible.
– You are not game to tell me who printed this leaflet.
– The document bears no imprint. It is a cartoon printed in red and white, and has something to do with Mr. Fisher and Mr. McGowen.
– Probably it was issued by the other side.
– There is not a tittle of evidence to show where it comes from. Yet Senator McDougall charges me, or some body of which I am a member, with being responsible for its circulation. That is characteristic of the reckless way in which he hurls charges at others. He holds this cartoon up as an instance of our awful iniquity, and the desperate things to which we resort. There is not a tittle of evidence by which any one outside of a lunatic asylum could attach its publication to anybody.
– Because you are not game. This is the sort of stuff that you send out without a name being attached to it. It is contemptible lying.
– One would not brush a fly off a horse’s tail for a reason like that, yet we are charged with the responsibility for the issue of this cartoon. I shall now deal with the provision relating to election advertisements in newspapers. I do not think that the metropolitan and provincial newspapers care the proverbial tinker’s malediction whether it is passed or rejected. The insinuation is that in the past newspapers have been subsidized enormously by political organizations for the insertion of matter which was misrepresentative of the political views of the opposite side. That is a dream, born of a diseased political imagination. There is not an atom of evidence in support of the suspicion. Senator after senator on the other side, from the Minister downwards, has hurled against the newspapers charges which amount to nothing less than charges of corruption.
– Where did all the money come from which was spent during the referendum campaign - from the clouds ?
– You ought to know.
– Thousands of pounds came from Labour organizations. There is some suspicion that the metropolitan and provincial newspapers were got at. Schoolboys outside politics would not reason so rashly or stupidly as that. Every honorable senator on the other side must know well, though he does not want to make the admission, that for ten times £100,000 one could not buy the press of Australia. The sum which we could afford to give, and it is very small, could not influence the opinions of the newspapers. In the whole of Australia there is not a single journal which one could” buy with a subsidy.
– Senator Findley said not long ago that the Sydney Bulletin could be easily bought.
– I beg the honorable senator’s pardon ; I did not use those words at all.
– You used words which meant the same thing.
– I said that it changed its attitude as soon as it got a certain advertisement.
– That is only a polite way of saying the same thing. Inexactly the form in which the Minister now puts his charge against the Sydney Bulletin, that charge has been made over and over again against that journal. On the Stock Exchange it amounts almost to a proverb that there is one or other newspaper in Australia which can be bought at any time. These charges are more or less reckless. The Minister seems to have some reason for making a charge against one-, journal, but to make such charges against the metropolitan and provincial newspapers is unworthy of schoolboys. Honorable senators opposite know it to be wrong.. What have we to do with the past history of the Argus, or the Age, or the Daily Telegraph, or the Brisbane Courier?
– What did Senator Fraser say about the attitude of the Age?’
– Let Senator Fraser. when he is here, stand by what he said. I believe that if he, or anybody else,. says that by his commercial or political influence he can coerce the policy of any big metropolitan newspaper, he is, to use an expression of the pavement, “ talking through his neck,” and not through his brain. It is impossible. Because metropolitan newspapers may, at times, have supported us, that is not a proof that we subsidized them to do so. Many of them have opposed us just as frequently as they have supported us. Is it to be said that when they opposed us they, acted corruptly, or that when they supported us we bought their support? The charge contradicts itself. It is unworthy of honorable senators opposite to say such things of the newspapers. Because a majority of the newspapers have been strongly against the Labour party, especially when the referendum was taken, they are charged with being vehicles of wilful and gross misrepresentation. It is said that the newspapers were made vehicles for that purpose by reason of the money which was given to them, but they do not sustain their charge in one case.
– Senator Fraser made these charges against the Age.
– And Senator Findley made them against the Bulletin.
– I know who made them against the Bulletin.
– Deal with your own charges, and never mind those of an absent man.
– One judgment possibly was as bad as the other. I am not going to allow particular circumstances in the history of a newspaper to determine the whole question. We must look at these matters as a whole, and, on the whole, the press of Australia cannot be bought, nor ever has been bought. This provision is, of course, intended to strike at the newspapers. It will not strike a blow worth one cent in the way of damage to them. They will have no objection to furnish a return. But, again, the same contrast will be displayed when the returns are published to the world. It will be said that the Age, the Argus, and the Telegraph received so much for political advertisements, or for disseminating political information, but that the righteous Labour party did not spend one penny. The Labour press is subsidized by enormous contributions. The fund for their daily newspaper, which is not launched yet, has reached £50,000 or £60,000, and it will be subsidized to a very large extent by an annual contribution of 5s. or more per head from an immense number of workers. Not one cent of that expenditure will be included in a return furnished under this measure. When the returns are published, honorable senators on the other side will be able to refer to them, and say, “ Not one penny has been spent on our press, but a few hundred pounds has been given to the press on the other side.” That is a conclusion which they. will be able to substantiate literally, but one which will be the grossest falsehood in fact. This portion of the Bill is likely to receive close criticism in Committee. I now come to the most important portion of the measure, and that is the provision to abolish postal voting. One reason which has been given for the provision is that the system has been used corruptly. Again, the answer is : No evidence. I admit that the system has been improperly used by both parties.
– Can you give a justification for your party publishing this obscene cartoon?
– As the honorable senator has not spoken yet, he will have a chance to deal with, that red rag.
– Can you giveany justification for your party publishing it?
– With the honorable senator’s permission, I shall deal with the proposal to abolish postal voting. Not a tittle of evidence has been given to show that the system, although, at times, it has been used irregularly and improperly, has been used corruptly. If it is intended to abolish the system, because it cannot be properly controlled or safeguarded, that assertion is not justified by facts. If honorable senators are to proceed on that principle, they will punish the best of our institutions. A remarkable feature will arise in the working of the measure. Very properly, polling booths are proclaimed at charitable institutions, so that the aged and infirm inmates need not walk outside the grounds to record their votes. But the aged and infirm, who, happily, do not need the assistance of charitable and benevolent institutions, who would rather face death than go to them, have no polling booth taken to their door. It must be known to every member of Parliament that many of his personal friends and relatives are in such a condition of health, and at such an age, that it is impossible for them to go to a polling booth. Under this Bill,some of the best and worthiest of our men and women, who have borne the burden and heat of pioneering work in Australia, will not be able to vote. I know dozens of women whose condition of health, combined with their ace, is such that it might mean death to them to go, amidst the excitement of an election, to a polling booth to record their votes. I do not object to the creation of polling booths in places which the Act allows, in order to permit aged and infirm persons to exercise the franchise. But I ask honorable senators opposite why the old and the infirm should not be allowed the privilege of voting by post? It is said that the system has been abused. Granted. It is quite easy to establish such, safeguards that the abuses will be minimized. It is an injustice to aged and infirm persons to be deprived of the right to vote. This clause will disfranchise thousands of old men and women, some of whom are among the most deserving citizens in the Commonwealth. They are tobe disfranchised on the ground that political organizations may have abused the system which enabled them to record their votes. It is a maxim in criminal law that it is better that ninety-nine guilty per- sons should escape rather than that one innocent person should be punished. Under this Bill, if old and infirm persons cannot walk 5 miles, to a polling booth, they will be disfranchised. Why? Because of the improper or irregular use of postal voting in the past. It will be seen that instead of the franchise being extended, it is restricted by this measure. For these reasons, I move -
That nil the words after the word “That” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words : - “ in the opinion of this Senate the public interest calls for increase, rather than the curtailment, of voting facilities, and that in particular the system of voting by post should not be abolished, but should be extended under proper safeguards and simplified.”
– I beg to second the amendment. I think that the outstanding feature of this measure is the curtailment of voting power. It should be made quite clear to the members of each House, before it becomes law, that that is what the Parliament is asked to do. It will be clear to the electors throughout the Commonwealth, as it has been made clear to honorable senators during this debate, that although this is a Bill designed to amend the Electoral Act, its principal amendment, and apparently its chief and most important object from the point of view of those promoting it, is to abolish the system of voting by post. This system had been introduced, and was in force in Tasmania before the establishment of the Commonwealth. I think that it was in operation at the first elections for the Commonwealth Parliament in that State. If so, it was the only State in the Commonwealth in which postal voting was then an established practice. When we proceeded to lay down the electoral law for the Commonwealth this fact was noted, and we established a system of voting by post for Commonwealth elections. Since then I believe I am right in saying that each of the States has adopted the system, though they may not have adopted in detail the provisions of the Commonwealth law. They have, at any rate, affirmed the desirableness of the system, and have recognised its advantages. So far as I know, none of the State Parliaments has shown any outward disposition, such as is evidenced by this measure, to abolish the system.
– Queensland abolished the system.
– I am corrected in regard to that, but I was speaking as one who was not quite cognisant of what took place in all of the States.
– The Queensland Parliament abolished it practically unanimously.
– If so, I am quite certain that much more cogent reasons for its abolition must have been given in that Parliament than have so far been tendered here.
– The New South Wales Labour party supported it.
– In connexion with its proposed abolition by this Bill a great deal has been said on both sides as to abuses that have crept into its use. I should imagine that, even if abuses had crept in to the extent indicated, though not stated in detail by those who support the abolition of the system, that should not of itself be regarded as a sufficient ground for its abolition. We must remember that we have had ten years’ experience of the operation of the system in the Commonwealth, and it is a recognised, accepted, and established system, not only in the Commonwealth,” but in all of the States with the exception of Queensland.
– We have not had ten years’ experience of it.
– We have had practically ten years’ experience of it. It was in 1902 that we passed our Electoral Act.
– But not postal voting.
– We made provision for postal voting.
– In that Act?
– Yes, in the Act of 1902. The only amendments we have since made have been in the direction of extending the opportunities, and increasing the facilities for voting by post, and. side by side with the increase of those facilities, of providing precautions against its abuse.
– We claim that the increase of facilities for postal voting has led to an increase of corrupt practices.
– If so, we should increase the precautions to prevent them. I am not one of those who think that, in order to convince the Senate that abuses exist, it is absolutely necessary that we should have a detailed list of particular instances. If that were required it would be impossible for legislators to pass legislation for the repression, say, of illegitimate and excessive drinking, gambling, or other vices of that character. But I certainly do think that, before we are asked to abolish the system, we should have had something more specific furnished to us in connexion with the abuses of the postal facilities provided by the existing Act than have so far been tendered. The Electoral Branch of the (Home Affairs Department is highly organized. It has every facility for ascertaining, where abuses have crept in in connexion with the operation of the existing system, and at law. and otherwise, it has the power to enforce compliance with the law. I have had some acquaintance with the work of the Department in the capacity of a Minister. I had acquaintance with it immediately after the election of 1906.
– Did not the honorable senator introduce an Electoral Bill ?
– Yes, I did. I know that numbers of cases were brought before the Department, and through the Department before the Minister, of alleged abuses of the then existing law. What was done? If I. remember correctly, I believe that, wherever there was any justification whatever shown for a prosecution in any of the States for an offence against the then existing law of the Commonwealth, it was ordered, irrespective of party or of person. If was found necessary because of defects in the law to introduce an amending Electoral Bill. Such a Bill was introduced to make further provision for securing the purity of elections. If in connexion with the last election, or the election preceding that, it has become evident to the Administration that abuses have crept in in connexion with the use of the postal voting system, clearly it was their duty to prosecute in every instance. If prosecutions were ordered, what objection can there be to giving the instances, by way of illustration, on the floor of this chamber. The prosecutions themselves would have made public the abuses that are alleged to have crept in, and there could be no question of right or wrong in making reference to those matters which had already become public by means of prosecutions. If, on the other hand, prosecutions did not take place, surely we are entitled to claim that the Government should submit to us the cases in which abuses crept in, and the reasons why prosecutions did not follow. The position of the Minister argues one of two things : Either that the alleged abuses are only imaginary, or, if not imaginary, the Administration did not take in connexion with the last election, and in connexion with the referenda, the only course which duty dictated in regard to those alleged abuses. Is it unwillingness on the part of the Ministry, or ineptitude on the part of the Department, or an indisposition on the part of officers connected with it, to be associated with prosecutions?
– As the honorable senator must know, charges may be well founded, though it may be very hard to sheet them home.
– I was speaking just before the honorable senator returned to the chamber of my own experience as a Minister in charge of the Home Affairs Department immediately succeeding the election of 1906. I said that my experience was that sheaves of alleged violations of the then existing law were brought under my notice through the Electoral Office, and in every instance in which it was possible to present a case, irrespective of party or person, a prosecution was ordered in any of the States. I say that if these abuses in connexion with postal voting were so rife at the last Federal election and at the referenda, why have we not some evidence of them in prosecutions that took place consequent upon them? Either the alleged abuses were imaginary or they were not. If they were not imaginary, action should have been taken, and, 110 action having been taken, surely we are entitled to some explanation. It cannot be because the law was defective, and did not enable prosecution to be successful in many of the cases, because this Bill does not ask for the remedy of defects of the law which enabled the abuses complained of to exist.
– Yes it does.
– Not at all. It proposes the absolute abolition of postal voting.
– That means that no effective remedy for the abuses of the system is possible.
– I said before, that in connexion with the Electoral Act, and the complaints made after the 1906 election, they were not confined to postal voting, and wherever it had been found that there was a defect in the then existing law, we came to Parliament and asked for an amendment of the law to enable the Department always to insure the purity of elections. ‘ If there have been real abuses of the postal voting system, what we should be asked to do is, not to abolish it, but to prosecute where the law enables that to be done, or, if the law be defective in that respect, to so amend it as to enable the Department to maintain the system and preserve the purity of elections which we all desire. It seems to me that it is a grave reflection upon the Ministry. It argues either their indisposition or their ineptitude in the matter of prosecutions for offences against the existing Act. We are being asked now to revert to a system which, I believe, has never found a place in the legislation of the Commonwealth or of the States. That is the system known as the wholesale disfranchisement of constituencies. I think it has been the practice in times past in connexion with election petitions in the Old Country, where in the case of a single constituency corruption has been shown to be exceedingly rife, to disfranchise the whole constituency for a certain period. That is a penalty which I think no longer exists in the Old Country, and I doubt if it ever existed in any of the States of the Commonwealth, certainly not in modern times. Here, now, on the assertion that postal voting has been abused by a number of individuals, though the proportion is not stated or even estimated, we are asked to commit an act which means the wholesale disfranchisement of electors, who at the last election numbered nearly 30,000.
– Equal to the quota for an electorate.
– Yes. This is a reversion to what might be called the barbarous system of wholesale disfranchise ment, not the penalizing of particular individuals guilty of offences, but the total disfranchisement of a number of persons, including those who have been guilty of no offence whatever. I think that it requires something more than a mere assertion that abuse has crept in to justify such an act on Our part. If at any election for a single constituency in the Commonwealth electoral offences were rife, and a petition was afterwards presented to the Court of Disputed Returns, and it was proved that even more than half the electors who went to the poll had been guilty of offences against the Act, would the Court have the power to disfranchise the whole of that electorate ? Would this Parliament be justified in disfranchising that electorate for a single Parliament, let alone for ever? I venture to say it would not. Yet we are asked to do more than that in this Bill. It is not even suggested that one-half of the 29,000 odd postal votes recorded at the last election were obtained corruptly or by means of the perpetration of offences against the electoral law. It is not suggested, what proportion of them was so obtained, and yet we are asked to disfranchise a certain constituency of the Commonwealth, the section voting by post throughout Australia, represented by the number of postal votes recorded at the last election. If we had specific instances of prosecution given to us we might be able to estimate what proportion of those 29,000 odd votes were wrongfully obtained, if so obtained. If we had specific instances brought before us of breaches of the law in spirit, though not technically, and therefore breaches which could not be successfully prosecuted in a Court, we should have some means of estimating the alleged corruption of these votes. But we have only a general statement that abuses have crept in. We should have specific instances where prosecutions lay, or specific instances of abuses where, through defects of the law, it was impossible to prosecute successfully. We have nothing whatever to guide us, and, even assuming that abuses did exist, we are asked to commit this wholesale disfranchisement. I say that it will take very much more than anything so far submitted here to justify in reason, fairness, and honesty to the electors of Australia such a proposition as we are now asked to agree to in this Bill. I do not wish to labour the matter, as I proposeto confine my remarks in criticism of the Bill to a very brief compass, but I do hope, that, before in Committee we agree to a course of this character, we shall reflect upon what it means, and shall endeavour to realize what the effect will be throughout the Common wealth. We shall have voting by post, which was introduced in the Commonwealth in 1902, wiped out, and it will be retained in all the States, with the exception of Queensland, for all State elections. So far as the question of compulsory enrolment is concerned, . 1 see no objection whatever to the adoption of such a proposal. It will simplify to a large extent the work of the Electoral Office. I believe with the Honorary Minister that in time the electors will begin to recognise their duty, and will carry out their enrolment and their transfers as required under this Bill just as they carry out their duties under various other laws. But I cannot hold with the Government in halting at compulsory enrolment. Why should we not go in also for compulsory voting ? The answer to that by the Minister is in effect that though we may take a horse to the water we cannot make him drink. We may compel an elector to go to the poll, but we cannot compel him to give a valid vote. But do not honorable senators see that if electors realize that at any rate they must go to the poll, and go through the form of voting, in time, no difficulties of that kind will arise. If they do exist they will gradually grow less and less. The advantage of voting validly, as against invalidly, would be so apparent and so overwhelming that time and practice would cure any such causes of objection if they existed.
– Let the honorable senator move an amendment in that direction, and I shall support him.
– I believe that time, use, and practice would overcome any difficulty of that character. The Government are taking a step in the right direction in proposing compulsory enrolment, but they should follow it up with a proposal for compulsory voting. I do not believe that after many elections we should find a very large proportion of the electors stultifying themselves in the discharge of their duty.
– What about electors who are remote from a polling place?
– We should have to provide for cases supplying a just cause for refraining from voting.
– Should we do as is done under the Defence Act– cut out onethird of the population from the compulsory provision ?
– I am not prepared at the moment to say in detail what should be considered a just cause for refraining from voting under a compulsory voting provision. This Bill provides for the abolition of postal voting, but I have said that I should like to see that system retained.
– The honorable senator’s remarks are on the supposition that postal voting would be retained ?
– Just so. Another matter which has been dealt with briefly though I think it is important, is the proposal to have all elections held on a Saturday. This may not suit some people. It should be remembered that for most people, Saturday, or a portion of it, at any rate, is a holiday. That portion which is not now availed of as a holiday is generally the portion of the day when work is conducted under pressure in order that persons may take advantage of the remaining part of the day which is given as a. holiday.
– Election day is a special kind of holiday.
– That may be so, but I do not suppose that the Minister will go the length of proposing to make one of the other days of the week a public holiday throughout the Commonwealth. A large number of persons in all the States cease work at 1:2 or 1 o’clock on Saturday, and immediately hie themselves off to some distant place to take advantage of the Saturday and Sunday for a week-end rest. Up to the time of knocking off on Saturday they are generally working under pressure, because it is a short day. I fear that, to make Saturday polling day, would be disadvantageous to such people, and would not lead to an increased poll as some suppose.
– Saturday has proved satisfactory as polling day in some States for a great number of years.
– Still it might not be so satisfactory as another day of the week would be.
– Most satisfactory, as practical experience has shown.
– In New South Wales there has been a movement to do away with Saturday work altogether.
– I know that a similar movement is proceeding in other States as well. In my own city, for instance, advertisements have been published calling for hands, and one of the inducements offered to them is five days’ work per week, Saturdays and Sundays to be total holidays. If Saturday were invariably chosen as polling day I fear that many persons employed under such conditions would leave home on Friday and be away from home entirely on Saturdays.
– Many Sydney people do that now.
– Most people cannot afford to leave home for a week-end holiday.
– The honorable senator does not care about the others.
– It is only the privileged few who can afford week-end holidays.
– I am glad that my remarks are provoking discussion, which I hope will be followed by careful consideration of this proposal in Committee.
– Is it not the main point that, in States where elections are conducted on Saturday, it has proved satisfactory, and that there is no desire to substitute any other day?
– Saturday may have proved satisfactory in some States, but they have had little opportunity of testing whether any other day would be equally satisfactory, or more so. For many years past there has been a growth of interest in political affairs in the whole of Australia. That interest would be manifested if any other day of the week were selected as polling day, just as much as if Saturday were the day selected. These are, however, considerations which must certainly occupy attention in Committee. Senator Walker has drawn attention to the fact that there are persons in the Commonwealth who, from religious reasons, would be compelled to refrain from voting on Saturday during ordinary hours. It might not be possible, even by extending the hour of the closing of the poll, to enable electors so situated to vote, especially where they live some distance from polling booths. If we decide upon Saturday, it appears to me that the Minister and those in charge of the Bill should insert some provision to meet cases of the kind, enabling such persons to avail themselves of the absent voting privileges. Otherwise there is a probability of their not voting at all.
– Could they not get a special dispensation to enable them to vote on Saturdays?
– I am not sufficiently familiar with their practices or observances to know. Another matter - to which Senator Vardon- has referred - and one to which attention will be directed in Committee by way of amendment-
– If the honorable senator’s amendment be carried the Bill will never get into Committee.
– I am providing for all contingencies, even for the worst. If the worst comes to the worst, the Bill will get into Conrmittee, and I hope that when it reaches that stage the Minister will give serious and earnest consideration to the amendment in relation to proportional voting for Senate elections that has been indicated By Senator Vardon. I am not disposed at this juncture to enter fully into the matter, but I hope to address myself to it at some little lengthin Committee. In the meantime I would point out that the system outlined by Senator Vardon is intended, while maintaining the principle of equal representation of the Senate for all the States as provided by the Constitution, to secure that the representation returned for each State should effectually represent, not simply one dominant majority, or one preponderating party, but, as nearly as possible, the State as a whole.
– Not to represent the State as a whole, but sections of a State.
– No, I am speaking of a proper representation of” States, each having six representatives, and these regarding each six as a whole, being as nearly as possible representative of the whole State. They each should reflect the mind of the State. I trust that the Minister will give this subject his very favorable consideration, because he must be aware that two of his colleagues have already committed themselves to the principle that there should be proportional representation in connexion with Senate elections. The Vice-President of the Executive Council, early in the history of the Senate, placed a motion upon the noticepaper with this object in view. That was in July, 1901.
– Times change, and opinions change with time.
– For and until 30th August, 1901, if not later, the Vice-President of the Executive Council had the notice on the paper affirming the desirableness of the HareSpence system of voting being applied in all future elections for the Senate. The Minister tells me now that times have changed, and that opinions change with them. But the Vice-President of the Executive Council has not changed on this point. He has never since then, so far as I am aware, intimated a change of opinion in the Senate or elsewhere. . We had a discussion on the proposal in connexion with the first Commonwealth Electoral Bill submitted to Parliament in 1902. The debate was of considerable interest, and most of the States were fully represented by speakers who took part in it. Arguments were adduced, pro and con, and the Minister of Defence strongly affirmed the principle that we should endeavour to make provision for proportional representation in our electoral law.
– Is it not a fact that the first Federal elections in Tasmania were conducted on a system of proportional representation, and that there is now no desire on the part of that State to return to the system?
– No, it is not wholly a fact. Does not the Minister know that a system of proportional representation is in force in Tasmania to-day?
– Not in connexion with the Federal elections.
– Because the State does not regulate Federal elections. Under the Constitution, however, each State had power to regulate the first Senate elections. That matter was left by the Constitution to each State.
– The Minister’s statement that there is no desire on the part of Tasmania to adopt the system is refuted by the fact that it is a Tasmanian representative who is asking for it now.
– Tasmania adopted a system of proportional voting for the Legislative Assembly some years since.
– In a modified form. The expression of preference is limited to indicating a choice of one, two, or three candidates.
– That was the system which was proposed in the Senate in
– Is the whole State treated as one electorate?
– No. There are five Federal electorates for the House of Representatives in Tasmania, and they have been adopted as five divisions for the State Legislative Assembly, each returning six representatives. That is the system which Senator Vardon intends to propose in Committee. In Tasmania, for the purpose of co-ordinating with the Federal authorities, as far as is possible and consistent, the Federal electorates were adopted for the State. Each division, as I have explained, returned six members, so that the Legislative Assembly consists of thirty members. The system adopted is a modification of the Hare system. The result is in one division, for instance, that three-fifths of the representation is secured by Labour representatives, and two-fifths by non-labourites. Each party is returned in proportion to its voting strength.
– Is there any one divivision in Tasmania that returns members, all of whom are of one political colour ?
– No, not one. The highest proportion is in the Darwin electorate, which includes, on the one hand, Mount Lyell and Zeehan, which are mining centres ; and, on the other hand, Burnie and Devonport, and the north-west coast, where there are chiefly farming communities. In that division there are two nonLabour representatives out of six.
– The Labour people are entitled to their four representatives in that electorate.
– The honorable senator would depart from the principle of majority rule.
– No ; this system does not depart from that principle at all, because the majority in the division to which I refer is four, as against two. Tasmania has gone back to this system deliberately, and I think we are well justified in saying that there is no inclination, either in Parliament or in the electorates, to depart from it. It must not be supposed that Tasmania formerly adopted the proportional voting system and afterwards abandoned it. She did nothing of the kind. When Tasmania adopted the system before it was tried only tentatively in the two cities of Launceston and Hobart. It was tried there because Hobart returned six members, and Launceston returned four in groups. It was realized that the geographical contiguity of the constituencies so grouped enabled the system to be given a fail trial there. In those two places the Hare-Clarke system was tried. When a more liberal electoral law was passed for the whole State it was determined to apply the system to the whole State. ‘ It was because the proportional voting system was not previously enforced throughout Tasmania that its limited use was tentatively abandoned. But now it has been adopted throughout the State, and I think I am correct in saying that there is no party which shows any disposition to depart from it.
– Was not the Tasmanian Legislature largely influenced by the fact that by adopting the Federal divisions expense might be saved?
– I do not think that that consideration had any influence, because, if the desire had simply been to adopt the Federal electorates, it would have been quite easy to divide up the five Federal constituencies into subdivisions. The saving of expenditure in that particular was quite paltry.
– It was admitted that it would be impossible to have one division returning six members, and, therefore, the block system would not work if the Federal electorates grouping was adopted.
– Of course it would be intolerable, under the circumstances, to have electorates each returning six members in a block. No one would have dreamt of that. The matter is one upon which we might have a profitable and fruitful discussion in Committee.
– The existing system of Senate election is a perfect one. It must be so, because it returned the Labour party to power.
– My honorable friend’s criterion is apparently different from mine.
– The Government, for which the honorable senator was Whip in the Senate, was responsible for the present system of voting.
– The honorable senator should recollect that the Government of that day submitted to Parliament a system of proportional voting for the Senate. That system was supported by the present Minister of Defence and the Vice-President of the Executive Council. I supported it myself. But the Senate defeated us, not having then overcome its prejudices, or having insufficient information before it.
– The large majority of those who knocked out the proposal were sitting on the Opposition, benches.
– There was a mixture. I believe that Senator de Largie voted against it. It was the Barton Government, in 1902, that brought in the first Electoral Bill containing the provision for proportional representation in connexion with Senate elections. It was found, however, that we should be defeated upon it, and we were, and in anticipation of the defeat, which was clearly foreseen from the course of the discussion, the then Leader of the Senate, Senator O’Connor, submitted a block system which had not originally been introduced by the Government, but which was forced upon them by the necessities of the case. There are one or two other proposals in the Bill to which I wish to allude. One is proposed . new section 139, which makes provision for absent voting. I do not wish to elaborate my criticism at this stage, because much has been said by Senator Millen, and others, as to the extreme undesirableness of omitting so much from this Bill that ought to be in it, and simply making provision for regulations to contain the principles applicable to this system. It is proposed to abolish postal voting. In its place, what - I may say it without offence - we are given is a ludicroussubstitute - a system which amounts to the extension of absent voting. We are asked practically to affirm the principle that all the details of a system, whichis, at least, as much open to abuse as postal voting is. shall be provided by regulation. Senator St. Ledger has drawn attention to this thing. It has been a repeated source of complaint in the Senate in connexion with other legislation. But I have never known in connexion with a Bill such a wholesale proposition for future legislation by regulation as is contained in this measure. It has been answered by the Honorary Minister that the law provides that any regulations made under it must be submitted1 to Parliament, and that it is open to either House, within fourteen days of their presentation, to take exception to them. But what about regulations which are passed out of session? Under the Act those have only to be submitted within fourteen days of the next assembling of Parliament. What of the multitude of regulations which may be found necessary on the eve of an election, when there is no Parliament sitting, or, indeed, in existence? That is the time when regulations are found necessary. Regulations in respect to electoral matters should, as far as possible, be reduced to a minimum. I do not care what Government may be in power, as election day approaches it will be found emphatically necessary to minimize the need for regulations required to provide for contingencies; not foreseen.
– How many regulations are ever altered by Parliament?
– Why should we multiply the possibilities? Who is to blame for that?
– I am not blaming anybody or saying that any one is to blame.
– If regulations were not so voluminous and frequent as they are, I venture to say that they would receive far more criticism than they do. If instead of regulation by the Governor-General in Council we had Bills submitted containing the principles, many of the principles would receive scant courtesy from honorable senators in their criticism. So far as electoral matters are concerned, I do not think that we can too strongly realize that very much will depend on regulations within a month or so of election day, and that Parliament will have no chance of considering them. No Government, whatever its political complexion may be, should have such an extensive power put into its hands on the eve of an election.
– There is no ground for the honorable senator imagining that the regulations will be framed on the eve of an election.
– The honorable Senator must know that, as a matter of practice and experience, it is found that as the election day approaches there arise circumstances for which there is no guiding principle in the Act, and which the regulations, complete as they are, have not contemplated. So it becomes necessary at the last moment to frame regulations.
– Unimportant regulations; but not as to the matters you are speaking about.
– The regulations may or may not be very important indeed to the candidate, and to the community. At any rate, the framing of an undue number of regulations on the eve of an election, 110 matter how unimportant or formal, justified or fair, they may be, must necessarily in the minds of some persons create feelings which we do not care to see generated. The only other matter which I wish to refer to at this stage is the limitation of the time for prosecuting in respect of election offences. I think that we shall make a grave mistake if we extend the time to three years, not because a. person should escape the consequence of his action by the lapse of time, but because in the interests of justice it is desirable that all the documents, all the correspondence it may be, and all the other data which would necessarily be tendered in evidence should, as far as possible, be available. Persons may have removed or died, or for some reason or other they may not be available. It is usual in the case of offences against a Statute to limit the time for a prosecution, and it is not unusual to limit the time to six or twelve months. We would be well justified in fixing the time at six months from the return day of the writ, if not six months from the date of the alleged commission of the offence. I do not know what justification, if any, has been given by any supporter of the Bill for the repeal of section 206d. I imagine that it did not originate with the Electoral Office, but rather with the Post and Telegraph Department. It reads -
Telegrams relating to elections and containing only the names of divisions, names of candidates, and the numbers of votes polled for each candidate, and lodged for transmission on Hie day oi or before noon on the day after the day of election may, subject to regulations, be transmitted on payment of the rates prescribed in the Second Part of the Second Schedule to the Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1902.
That provision was inserted in the principal Act by an amending Bill, which was introduced by me in 1905, and the object was to facilitate the transmission, as news, of the results of elections throughout the community. The telegrams were limited to such details as the names of the candidates, the names of the division, and the numbers of votes for each candidate, and they had to be lodged for transmission on certain days. I hope that in Committee the Minister will be able to show some reason why we should abolish such a concession as that.
– The provision cannot do any harm there.
– It apparently does no harm, and I hope that some justification can be shown for its repeal.
– In place of the existing provision it is proposed to insert a provision enabling those who are interested in elections to send messages at press rates.
– There is no provision of that kind in the Bill.
– Yes, there is.
– I hope that the alternative provision will not have the effect of restricting or reducing a very legitimate concession. It is not available to everybody, as it is to persons in the metropolitan areas and large centres, to learn from morning newspapers the results of elections. I think that in a community where everybody is closely interested in elections the Post and Telegraph Department, which is under the control of the people, should be availed of, as far as possible, to enable persons, without practically any expense to that Department, to learn as much as they can when they are cut off from ordinary facilities.
– If the honorable senator will refer to page 50 of the document containing the principal Act and the amending Bill “he will find that it is proposed to strike out section 206d of the Act and to insert a provision in lieu thereof. The new provision is not printed in black type, as it ought to have been.
– That is what has misled me. I trust that the amendment of Senator St. Ledger will receive the consideration of honorable senators. I hope that before the question is put it will be realized that the step which we are asked “to take - the main step apparently from the point of view of the Government, as disclosed by the debate - is a retrogressive step. It means, as I said before, penal disfranchisement for a large number of persons, not in a single State, but throughout the Commonwealth, who may be regarded as a constituency, which certainly, as far as numbers are concerned, is equal to any constituency’ in the Commonwealth. About 29,000 persons voting at the last election represent that Commonwealth constituency, and now, because of alleged abuses - abuses which were not followed by prosecutions, because the Government was either unwilling or indisposed to prosecute, and not because the law was defective and would not enable them to do so effectively, since we are not asked to amend the law to enable them to do so in future - we are asked to disfranchise the whole of that electorate. It has not been suggested for a moment what proportion, if any, of that extensive electorate is corrupt. It has not been suggested that the proportion is a half or a tenth or a hundredth, but we are asked to take this step. «I venture to say that if we were asked to disfranchise an electorate for one election because one-half of its electors had proved to be corrupt, we would hesitate before we decided to punish the half who were innocent with the half who were guilty. Why should we for ever practically disfranchise more than one electorate of the Commonwealth for alleged abuses existing amongst a portion of that electorate to an extent not disclosed ?
– They will not be disfranchised in any way. They will have ample opportunities to record their votes.
– They will not.
– They will have ample opportunities to vote, as I shall show directly.
– I hope that the honorable senator will do that, because, sofar as I can see from the Bill, these persons will not have ample opportunities to record their votes.
– There are none soblind -as those who will not see.
– That does not apply in my case. I have been very anxious to find a provision of that kind. If the honorable senator has seen it, he has seen a thing which no supporter of themeasure has attempted to disclose.
– It has been stated over and over again that the proposed extension of absent voting will answer the whole purpose.
– That will not supply what the system of postal voting provides.
– How can a person confined to his room through illness vote?
– Were the whole of the 29,000 electors ill?
– Let the honorablesenator answer that one case.
– Were half of thosepersons in Victoria?
– -Never mind ; you said that they could vote.
– I am waiting tohear Senator Givens show how many persons who have used the postal voting, facilities will be able to avail themselves of what I have referred to as a ludicrous substitute.
– It is not denied that some of them will not be able to doso.
– Exactly. I did not say that the whole of the 29,000 per.sons would be disfranchised, but I believe that is not the full number, and the number of such persons is growing.
– If we do away with postal voting the number will be muchlarger.
– It will be much larger in years to come. I think that Senator St. Ledger is well minded in using in his amendment words which indicate that in passing this measure we shall be taking a step backwards. We shall be getting out of step, not only with ourselves, but with practically each State. While we shall have abolished an accepted system it will remain for State elections in practically every State but Queensland. Why we should step backward or get out of- line it remains for the Government to show. It has not even sought to establish a reason for taking this course, and I hope that the amendment will be carried.
– I do not know why the amendment has been moved, or what is really the object of it, if it is not to prolong the discussion, by allowing honorable senators- who have spoken to have another go at the Bill, because, in so far as it has any meaning at all, it is a direct negative. As a matter of fact, where the amendment says that the public interest demands an increase in voting facilities rather than a curtailment, it is in exact accordance with the Bill, because the latter does provide for increased voting facilities. The amendment is one of those senseless things which one would expect from Senator St. Ledger; but why an apparently intelligent individual like Senator Keating should so far fall in as to make the mistake of seconding it is more than I can understand. Almost every speaker on the other side has bombarded this measure to the fullest possible extent. Even the unattached senator on the other side, Senator Keating, has thought fit to heave off some heavy fireworks at the measure, because, after all is said and done, one cannot characterize the alleged arguments which have been used as anything else but fireworks, since they have absolutely no basis in reason.
– That is a bit strong.
– In spite of the bombardment I propose to show, if I can, that the necessity for the Bill is apparent to every reasonable man in the community. The aim, the end, and the object of an electoral law should be to preserve the purity of elections, and to insure that the verdict of the people shall be faithfully and honestly recorded without fear or favour.
– This Bill does not accomplish that.
– I propose to show that it makes a very laudable attempt in that direction. The chief objections offered to the Bill have been based on the fact that it abolishes postal voting. If it had not been proved conclusively to me by the experience of several elections that it is absolutely impossible to safeguard the provisions for postal voting, I should not be in favour of abolishing the system. My experience has taught me that no matter how many safeguards are provided, the system will be availed of to render elections corrupt and to unduly influence electors. In Queensland we had an experience of postal voting for a very considerable time, and the result was so grave a public and political scandal that all parties were practically unanimous in abolishing it. I shall be able to show that, not only were the parties engaged in the conduct of elections corrupt in their actions, but they went so far as to corrupt the public servants of the country. Let me quote a case that occurred at Townsville, which was represented for so long a time, and is still represented, by a gentleman who for many years was Premier of the State of Queensland, the Honorable Robert Philp. Would it astonish honorable senators if I told them that at one election for Townsville nearly one-third of the total votes cast were postal votes of men and women who would have had no difficulty or trouble whatever in going to the poll and recording their votes in the ordinary way? Why were they so cast? It was simply because the political organizers went round and persuaded electors, against their better judgment, to record their votes by post.
– They must have been a week-kneed lot of electors).
– If every man and woman were sufficiently independent to record their votes openly and in a straightforward way, without regard to consequences, we should abolish voting by ballot straight away. But uo one would dare to advocate for a single moment the abolition of the ballot system. We all know that its: adoption has been pf the greatest possibleadvantage to the people of every country in which it is In force by relieving then* from duress, outside pressure, and influence which would otherwise be brought tobear upon them.
– From losing their jobs in many cases.
– That is the duress-, under which many were previously compelled to vote. We all know that the ideal system would be for men and women tovote openly and independently in the faceof mankind and in the full light of day, but practical experience has shown that it is not possible in such a way to obtain anhonest and unbiased verdict. I was led: away by the interjection from the matter 1 had in hand, which was the conduct of. a particular election at Townsville, in which one-third of the total votes polled were postal votes. On that occasion, I go so far as to say that somebody was responsible for corrupting a Commonwealth public Department, and inducing the officers of that Department to do something which they should not have done, and which was against the law of the land. These are facts for which I can vouch from personal knowledge and observation.
– The officers must have’ been rather a weak lot.
– Possibly; but they were induced to lend themselves to a palpable lie. Under the Queensland Electoral Act it was provided that a postal vote should be posted on the day on which it was attested by the authorized witness, the same as under the Commonwealth Act, and it should bear the postal stamp of the date on which it was filled in and posted. What happened at the election to which 1 refer? The canvassers for the alleged Liberals - who ought to be honest enough to call themselves Conservatives and Tories of the deepest dye - went round every day and collected as many postal votes as they could. Of course, as they went round, they tried to influence people to vote for the candidate whom they favoured. After they had collected as many postal votes as they could during the day, they carried them into the organizing office of the alleged Liberal party. They were there retained until after io o’clock or later, when the meetings concluded, and after the letter-boxes had been cleared for the day by the postal officials. Then they were posted, and when, next morning, the postal officials cleared the letter-boxes, they put on one side the postal ballot-papers, which they could recognise because of the marking on the envelopes. They dien date-stamped all the other letters in the ordinary way with the date on which they were collected from the boxes, but when they came to stamp the postal voting envelopes, they changed the date-stamp to that of the previous day. That is a fact which came under my own. observation, and I reported it at the time to the PostmasterGenera I .
– They put on the date of the day on which the votes were actually posted.
– It was their duty to put on the date of the day on which they were collected from the boxes, as they did in the case of all the other letters collected at the same time. They had no knowledge of the date on which they were posted. They could not say that they had not been posted after midnight. As a matter of fact, they were on several occasions posted after midnight, because the meetings of this precious alleged Liberal party often extended until after midnight. No one knows, of course, what happened at those meetings, but there is a strong suspicion, and a wellgrounded suspicion, in the minds of many people that those present at the meetings examined every one of the postal votes that had. been collected, that they rejected those which were not cast in their favour, and posted only those that were in their favour.
– They must be a jollybad lot in Queensland.
– There are just as bad people elsewhere. Let me mention another case to show what happened under the postal voting system. I can say from personal knowledge that, while it was in force in Queensland, on certain mining fields, while the men were at work, the managers, who were justices of the peace, used to go round to the women folk - the wives, mothers, and sisters of the miners - and terrorize them into recording votes against their convictions. This led to a .great deal of family disunion and heartburnings in many families on the mining fields in Queensland. A poor unfortunate wife, dependent upon her husband continuing in employment with the goodwill of a mining manager, would be absolutely forced by the duress of her circumstances to give her vote when asked for it in that way, though there was no reason why she should not have gone to the polling booth and recorded her vote in the ordinary way. These managers knew that the only way in which they could secure votes for alleged Liberal candidates whom they favoured was to induce such people to vote by post. Will any reasonable or fair-minded man say that a system which could lend itself to so much iniquity and corruption should be retained? What happened at the referenda in last April ? I take the State of Victoria, and let honorable senators see what the figures disclose. There was a total of 28,000 odd postal votes recorded.
Sentaor McColl. - Twenty-nine thousand.
– Not quite. I have the exact figures; but I will not quarrel with the honorable senator over 1,000 votes. A’ curious thing is disclosed by the official figures. Of that 28,000 odd votes, no less than one-half, or 14,000, were recorded in Victoria, where there are greater facilities for voting in the ordinary way than in any of the other States.
– Half the population were going to London for the Coronation.
– I have yet to learn that there was a greater exodus from Victoria to the Coronation than from any of the other States. One of the chief reasons, and the one which appealed more than any other to the sensibilities of people, for the adoption of the postal voting system, was that it would permit women in a delicate state of health to record their votes. Not to be too delicate in the matter” the object really was to provide for maternity cases. Let us assume for a moment that it was on account of maternity that a very large number of these postal votes were recorded at the referenda ; and are we then to suppose that there were as many maternity cases in ‘Victoria, which has the lowest birth rate of any State in the Commonwealth, as there were in all the other States put together, though they have a higher birth rate than has Victoria?
– Now the honorable senator is actually going to take away the vote from such people.
– I would not willingly take away a vote from anybody.
– Is the honorable senator doing it under coercion, then ?
– I do not care a straw what may be the effect of a proposal upon any particular party. The question with which I am concerned is whether it is a right, wise, and expedient thing to do. Let me say, further, that if the vote is taken away from these people, it is the party opposite that is responsible, owing to the disgracefully corrupt way in which those associated with them used the postal voting system.
– Of course we all admit that.
– I have quoted two concrete cases.
– We have not heard the other side of those cases yet.
– The honorable senator can satisfy himself as to the facts with regard to the corruption of post-office officials at Townsville by inquiring at the Department, because I reported the matter straight away. I am sure that he will not doubt my word when I say that I vouch from personal knowledge for the statement that certain managers on mining fields in Queensland, and particularly at Charters. Towers, went round terrorizing women, and inducing them to vote by post, when there was no earthly reason why they should not record their votes in the ordinary way. These are two of the reasons why I am in favour of that portion of the Bill which proposes the abolition, of postal voting. I believe that the logic of experience has proved that it is absolutely necessary to do so. I have said that one-half of the total postal votes cast at the referenda were recorded in Victoria, which is the most densely populated State in the Union, which has better railway facilities than any other State, and in which the people are within easy distance of the various polling centres. There was less necessity for the exercise of the postal vote in Victoria than in any other State of the Commonwealth, and yet the official figures disclose the fact that fully one-half of the total postal votes recorded at the referenda were recorded in this State.
– Were those 14,000 postal votes all that were issued in Victoria. ?
– Another peculiar feature in connexion with the voting by post in Victoria at the referenda is suggested by Senator de Largie’s interjection. Of the total postal votes issued in this State, no less than 1,567 were never used. If honorable senators will turn to the existing Act, they will find that under sections 11 8a and 118b it is the duty, not of the person who makes the vote, but of the authorized witness to it, to post the vote, under a penalty of £100, or three months’ imprisonment. Yet in Victoria, of all the postal votes issued, no less than 1,567 were never accounted for in the ordinary way by being sent through the post as postal ballotpapers.
– Or received ?
– I wish to be quite fair, and I say that I believe that about one-third of these postal ballot-papers were afterwards accounted for by being presented to the presiding officers at the polling booths, and exchanged for ordinary ballot-papers. But the damning fact remains that over 1,000 postal ballot-papers issued were never accounted for and never received. What became of them?
– I can tell the honorable senator what became of one in my State. I obtained it and I did not use it-
– As I would not accuse the honorable senator of making a false declaration that he would not be able to vote in the ordinary way, I must credit him with making a miscalculation, since he was under no necessity to use the postal ballot-paper issued to him. I have said that over 1,000 postal ballot-papers issued in Victoria were never accounted for. After taking the trouble to work out a little calculation, I find that in Victoria there are eleven constituencies returning members of the present Opposition party. There are ten constituencies returning Labour men, and one returning an Independent member. It is a curious fact that, of the 1,567 postal ballot-papers unaccounted for, 940 were issued in the eleven constituencies held by the alleged Liberal party, and only 640, or thereabouts, were issued in the other eleven constituencies. If the fact that those postal ballot-papers were not accounted for is due to corruption, then our friends opposite, on the figures, are 50 per cent, more corrupt that we are. In view of these facts, there cannot be a single man desirous of maintaining the purity of elections, and to see that the people are afforded an opportunity to exercise an honest vote, who will not applaud the action of the Government in proposing to abolish a system which it has been shown leads to all sorts of coercion, duress, and corruption. It has been proved over and over again that so-called influential citizens in the various electorates have gone round at election time, and, as justices of the peace and authorized witnesses of postal votes, have exercised their influence, by canvassing and otherwise, to induce people, against the law, to make use -of the postal voting provisions, because they could not otherwise be sure that the votes of these people would be in favour of the candidates they supported. I say that the people at an election should be in the position of a jury. They are asked to bring in a verdict, and they should be allowed to give their decision absolutely uninfluenced and unbiased, and without fear or duress from any person whatever. If that be so, the postal vote should be abolished, because it enables the sort of thing to which I have referred to be done.
– So will the absent voters proposals of this Bill.
– I hope not. If it be shown that the methods adopted lead to the exercise of undue influence or corruption, the duty will be cast upon us to devise ways and means to prevent them. 1 think I have said enough upon the postal vote question to show that the Government have more than ample justification for the action which they have taken in that regard. I propose now to discuss one or two other points of the Bill. Our honorable friends opposite have denounced it as drastic, and as going too far in certain directions. I do not think that it is possible to go too far in trying to prevent misrepresentation and abuse of the privileges that are accorded, by arty elector or organization, in support of any party at election time. Why should people be allowed to circulate all kinds of lies and escape punishment? I am going to produce a case which is absolutely convincing upon the face of it. On the 6th September of the present year, a by-election was held at Brisbane. There were two candidates, Richard Sumner, who represented the Labour party, and Thomas Welsby, who represented the alleged Liberal party. I am going to show how honest these alleged Liberals are. I hold in my hand a copy of a card issued by the Thomas Welsby party. In Queensland, as most honorable senators are aware, the electors do not vote by placing a cross opposite the name of a candidate, but by striking out the name of the candidate for whom they do not wish to vote. I have here a dummy ballot-card, which I invite honorable senators to inspect. It reads as follows : -
Mark your voting paper exactly as above, or you run the risk of making your vote informal.
It will be seen that there is a thick line drawn across the name Sumner, Richard. I characterize the statement made at the bottom of the card as a base and malicious lie.
– Hear, hear; quite right.
– I say that the party responsible for issuing a lying statement of that sort, which might mislead many innocent voters into believing that their votes would be informal if they voted for the Labour candidate, is sufficient to warrant putting those responsible for issuing it in gaol for six months. I do not think that Thomas Welsby, who was elected, is, under such circumstances, capable of representing any body of honest men and women anywhere. Yet this man has never repudiated the card issued in his behalf.
– That is not postal voting.
– Honorable senators opposite have asked for instances of corrupt and lying statements. Here is a case produced under their very eyes. What do they think about it ? Will a single one of them justify mendacious tactics of this kind? As a matter of fact, if a person voted exactly in the opposite way to that indicated on the card, his vote would have been absolutely good and formal. It does not matter one straw to me whom this Bill Hits. If it hits our party, when they do wrong, I say well and good. If it hits honorable senators opposite, equally well and good. It is essential that we should keep our electoral machinery in such a condition that it shall afford opportunities for a faithful record of the desire and will of the people. With that end in view, false and lying statements should be rendered as dangerous as possible, and when they are discovered, the authors of them should be punished. In my opinion, the provisions of the Bill in that regard are not strong enough to deter and prevent this kind of thing.
– You can never suppress lying by Ant of Parliament.
– I would make lying so risky that I believe even the honorable senator would not like to try it. Perhaps it would be impossible to bind down lawyers, because they are so ingenious in discovering loopholes in any Act of Parliament, and can lie wholesale for the advantage of themselves and their clients.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.30 p.m.
– I have reviewed at some length the reasons which induce me to support the provisions of the Bill relating to the abolition of postal voting. Before I leave that aspect of the question, there are one or two points which I should like to emphasize. Whilst the ballot system, as it now exists, is not an ideal system which a free people should like to maintain as their method of election - because it would be infinitely preferable that every man and woman should be able to vote openly as he or she pleased - yet we know from experience that it is essential, if we are to maintain the independence and integrity of the voters, to preserve the ballot. But if we are to preserve it, I sayemphatically that the postal voting system cannot be maintained side by side with it. It is utterly and absolutely impossible to preserve the secrecy of the ballot along with the postal voting system. I will quote a case in point. When we had postal voting in Queensland, the ordinary votes recorded in the customary way, at a certain election at Charters Towers, placed two candidates far ahead of all the others. But before the result was officially declared, the opponents of those two men were so confident that the postal votes would count in their favour that they were able to forecast the ultimate result almost accurately, and did, in fact, wager large sums of money on it. The result showed that their forecasts were quite correct. Under those circumstances, it is absurd to contend that there was any secrecy whatever about the candidates for whom those postal votes were cast. The people who collected them evidently knew how nearly every person would use the postal vote. Therefore, I say again that if we are going to preserve the ballot system - and I maintain that it is essential until people achieve economic and political freedom - we cannot maintain side by side with it the postal voting system, which destroys the secrecy of the ballot. As long as we retain the postal system, so long shall we enable unscrupulous individuals to exercise undue influence on voters. I have pointed out how managers of mines can go round while men are at work on day or afternoon shifts, and terrorize their wives and relatives not to go to the poll, but to vote by post. Women are frightened in that way, because they realize that their own living, and their means of feeding their children, depend upon their husbands being maintained in employment. Coercion of various kinds is exercised in that way on almost every occasion when the postal vote is employed. We have known instances of influential persons making house to house canvasses trying to persuade and induce women to vote by means of postal ballot-papers, when there was no earthly or heavenly reason why they should not go to the poll. If a Royal Commission were appointed to investigate the matter, the proof obtained would be overwhelming. I venture to say that there is no one in this Senate who would be able to controvert the facts so elicited. The case in favour of the abolition of postal voting is indeed so overwhelming that I wonder at the audacity of any man who desires to see purity of elections, rising in his place in favour of the retention of the system. I am driven to believe that those who do so do not want purity of elections at all.
– Rather a gratuitous assumption, I should think.
– The facts are overwhelming in support of what I say. What is an unfortunate woman going to do in such a case as I have mentioned ? Say that a miner has a wife and a family of young children. Say, that the mine manager comes along at election time, while the man is at work, bringing with him all the necessary papers, and suggesting to the woman that it will be better for her not to go to the poll, but to cast her vote by means of the postal ballot system. Suppose she demurs. She knows that if she does so she will run the risk of her husband losing his employment, which means the loss of livelihood for herself and her children.
– The mining manager could not be present when she marked her paper.
– The honorable senator is very innocent. I have already instanced a case in which the friends of certain candidates were able to forecast the result pf an election accurately because they knew how the postal voting would go.
– Does the honorable senator, with his ‘ knowledge of what is going on around them, suggest that working people are in fear of their employers nowadays ?
– I know that on one occasion 800 men were victimized in Charters Towers on account of their action at an election.
– Nowadays., it is the employer who is afraid of his men.
– An employer may sometimes have a battle royal with the organized employes, but he always has the power of victimizing individuals. Times have not always been so good in Australia as they are now. Work has not always been so plentiful. I have known times when men would do almost anything rather than run the risk of losing their employment. Senator Millen suggests that the men and women of Australia are so independent that they would resist the coercive influence of any employers. If that be so, why does he not advocate the abolition of the ballot system ? It only exists because, without it, people might be terrorized, and prevented from giving an honest verdict in accordance with their convictions, independently of any influence whatever. The abuses that have occurred under the postal voting system are so serious that this method of voting should be reprobated by every honest man and woman in every part of the Commonwealth. In Queensland, the corruption under the system was so rampant that there was scarcely a word of protest from any one when it was abolished.
– There must be a very bad lot of people in Queensland.
– They are no worse than people in any other part of the Commonwealth. I am simply speaking of Queensland because it is the State of which I have the most personal knowledge. Others can speak of what has occurred in their own State. That is their business. It is my business to put the case from the point of view of the State which I represent. In this Bill it is not proposed to in any way limit opportunities for recording votes, and safeguards can be inserted to prevent hardships occurring. The main reason - indeed the most cogent reason - why postal voting was introduced at all was to allow women in maternity cases to record their votes.
– Also those who lived too far from a polling place to vote at the ballot-box.
– There is an easy way of dealing with them. The reason applicable to women in maternity cases appeals to everybody. Had not the abuses under the system been so glaring, I should not have advocated the abolition of postal voting now, because I desire to afford the utmost facilities to every one to exercise the franchise. I say, without any hesitation whatever, that if a woman is able to assert that on a certain, day she is likely to be so ill that she will be unable to go and vote, this Bill can give facilities to remove any disadvantage that might attach to her.
– Does the Bill do it now ?
– It is a matter for amendment in Committee, and I shall not anticipate the Committee stage by suggesting an amendment at present.
– Would the honorable senator advocate making such an amendment in Committee?
– I would.
– Then the honorable . senator is not in touch with the Bill as it stands ?
– I am offering a suggestion. There are alternative means by which, in maternity cases, provision can be made. We have heard it said by honorable senators opposite that this party desires to punish womanhood by not allowing women under certain disabilities to vote.
– That is what the Bill does.
– No; but honorable senators on the other side want to punish motherhood by subjecting mothers to all sorts of coercive influences, to compel them to vote against their consciences, as they have done frequently.
– That is a mere assertion.
– It is an absolute fact. Honorable senators opposite get up with the most righteous and pious indignation to pose as the defenders of, to quote Senator Walker, “lovely woman.” But what was their attitude about twenty years ago, when we began to agitate for the enfranchisement of woman?
– I have always been in favour of it.
– I know that every member of that party was strenuously opposed, to it. There has been enough malpractice in connexion with election contests to render any one almost speechless with indignation ; or, if he can find his tongue at all, to make him so excited with animosity against the people who would be guilty of such barefaced acts as to voice his indignation.
– Not even indignation could make you speechless.
– I am struck almost dumb at the audacity of honorable senators on the opposite side. I do not think I need say anything more in justification of the proposal of the Government to abolish postal votingt which has lent itself to many abuses.
– Do you not see that what you have said is not in support of the Government proposal, but in denunciation of it?
– I have not denounced the Government at all, but suggested, in reply to criticisms which have proceeded from -the Opposition, a way by which maternity cases can be provided for, altogether apart from postal voting.
– I am glad to hear you say so, because it looks like a modification of the Government Bill.
-The honorable senator knows me so well that he need not be told that I am not wedded to every detail of a Bill which is brought in by a Government that I support. If I believe that a principle is right, I advocate it, and try to get it enacted whether the Government are in favour of it or not. I think that the Government will offer every facility to honorable senators on both sides to provide such reasonable opportunities for voting, and at the same time do away with opportunities for corruption, as will make the measure an invaluable, addition to our electoral law.
– That is exactly what my amendment says.
– No; it is a mere asinine, roundabout way of calling a negative to the Bill. The honorable senator is opposed to the abolition of postal voting, but nine-tenths of the people are opposed to its retention. It must be borne in mind that opposition to the system is not confined to the members of the Labour party. Any number of the supporters of the Fusion party have been struck almost speechless with indignation at the way in which the system has been used. Look at the case I quoted where, instead of posting the postal ballot-papers, the parties took them into a committee-room to count them-, and at 11 or 12 o’clock at night posted them, getting the Postal Department to change the date and so falsify the return to the post-office, in order to make them comply with the Act. Will the honorable senator defend that sort of thing?
– Nobody would.
– Yet that is a thing which has happened.
– The honorable senator wants to punish a large number of persons, simply because a few persons did wrong.
– I do not want to punish anybody, nor is it proposed in this Bill to do so. On the contrary, it provides machinery and facilities which, as far as it is humanly possible, will enable everybody to record their votes in such an honest and independent way as will preserve the secrecy of the ballot, and also secure the absolute purity of elections, which is the great desideratum.
– It may allow worse abuses than those whichyou allege against postal voting.
– I am not going to say that. The ingenuity of our honorable friends opposite, and the legal talent which they are able to retain with the money-bags at their disposal, is such that they may be able to baffle almost any Parliament in its endeavours to provide effective means to make them act- with common decency and honesty. If they are ingenious in that way, we shall have to endeavour to be equally ingenious in devising means to check them-. I do not say that the Bill will prove to be perfect- The history of Parliamentary government is that it is almost impossible to make any measure perfect. Three-fourths of the work of the Parliament of a country which is constitutionally governed is represented, not by new legislation, but by amendments of Acts which experience has proved to be defective. Possibly that will be the case with this measure. At any rate, I am convinced that it is an honest attempt to make our electoral law a little better and purer, and to provide more effective checks and safeguards against those corrupt and wrong practices which have been anything but creditable to the Commonwealth. There is another provision which has excited a great deal of opposition from our honorable friends opposite, but which, I must confess, commends itself to me with a great deal of force, and that is that, at election time, there shall be as little misrepresentation as possible. It is sought to provide that every statement issued shall be issued by somebody who will take the responsibility for its publication; and if that statement, or that action, whatever it may be, is such as to be a contravention of the electoral law, we shall be able to place our hands on the contravener and punish him accordingly.
– Nobody has opposed that here.
– The provision is opposed by honorable senators opposite.
– It does not touch that.
– In his lengthy and denunciatory speech a little while ago, Senator St. Ledger tried to point out that, whilst the provision will affect the organizations, the newspapers, and the supporters of his party, it will not affect our organizations, our supporters and our press.
– You cannot object to that.
– This will be like every other law. It will be a law passed irrespective of persons, corporations, or newspapers. It will be a law which^ on the face of it, applies to every individual alike. I do not care a straw who is the offender - whether it is a Liberal, a Tory, a Labour, a Socialist, or any other newspaper. Anybody who offends against the law should be held up to public execration, and submitted to condign punishment immediately. The highest and most important function which we, as a free people, have to perform, is that of governing ourselves. The only opportunity which the people have of exercising that function is at election times ; and any person, corporation, newspaper, organization, or society which does anything to subvert that law strikes at the root of selfgovernment, and consequently is guilty of the gravest crime against the State. It is for that reason that I support the provisions which are designed to restrict action of that kind.
– There is nothing in this Bill to stop that : it does not touch it.
– The Bill is now the property of the Senate, and not the pro perty of Senator Findley, or the Government, or anybody else. If it does not contain the provisions which we want, and the Standing Orders will permit us to do so, we shall try our utmost to put them in. A little while ago Senator St. Ledger, in the highest and most indignant tones, asked for proof of any misrepresentation which had occurred during an election. Senator McDougall very kindly said that he would provide the honorable senator with a specific instance, and brought in an election poster, or dodger. It is, I venture to say, worthy of the most artful dodger the world has ever produced. Senator McDougall brought in this dodger, which had been used in New South Wales at the referenda. It was circulated broadcast by members of the organization of which honorable senators opposite are the representatives here.
– That is not the point. There is no evidence as to who did it.
– When Mr. Gregory Wade, the famous New South Wales statesman, was going to address a meeting, his Committee, or his supporters, put a copy of the dodger on every seat. I hardly know the right word with which to describe the document: It is so infamous that it almost pollutes a man to refer to it, or touch it.
– What is wrong with the cartoon?
– If the honorable senator’s moral sense is so blunted that he cannot see anything wrong in it, I have nothing but the utmost compassion for him. In the first place, it is on the face of it an audacious lie. The cartoon, which is printed in red, black, and white, represents the two parties fighting strenuously at the referenda, while underneath is a picture showing a festive: table laid out with all the dainties of the season, including the most expensive cigars, and the choicest wines. Mr. Fisher, the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, and Mr. McGowen, the Premier of New South Wales, are shown to be drinking champagne in company with a lady - represented here as “ Miss Coronation,” but who, by the way she is depicted, would be a more fitting representative of the demi-monde of London or elsewhere.
– In the Worker, on the other side, I have seen dozens of cartoons exactly like that.
– The honorable senator is sufficient of a lawyer to know that if I murder a person to-day, that is no justification for him to murder a person tomorrow.
– You admit that the Worker was a species of murderer?
– I do not admit that ; but, as usual, the honorable senator’s reasoning is absolutely faulty. This dodger is an audacious lie, because there is no man, either in the Senate or in Australia, who will dare to say a word derogatory to the moral or private character of either Mr. Fisher or Mr. McGowen.
– No one did.
– This infamous dodger, distributed broadcast by the Liberal party in New South Wales, did.
– It is your diseased imagination which leads you to say that.
– Like all lawyers, the honorable senator seems to have his moral sense so blunted that he cannot see “the outrageous and audacious indecency, -and the lying vituperation, contained in this -dodger.
– Some persons will cover up the legs of their pianos, so fine is their sense of morality.
– That is why the ; honorable senator departed from the practice of his forefathers. He took to “trousers instead of knee breeches, in order to hide his bad legs.
– I object nowYou are becoming personal to my legs.
– Surely I can have a joke as well as the honorable senator. I feel quite certain that there is no individual, perhaps with the exception of Senator St. Ledger, on the other side, who will dare to defend this audacious dodger. It is the most disgraceful document which I have ever seen. There is no man or. woman in Australia, I venture to say, but will not readily admit that two men of a higher moral character, or of a purer or better private life, do not exist in this country than Mr. Fisher and Mr. McGowen.
– Both men are nondrinkers and non-smokers.
– I was coming to that. This dodger depicts, these two honorable gentlemen as drinking champagne, although they have been total abstainers all their lives. Could misrepresentation possibly go further than that? This dodger was not issued when a personal contest was proceeding. It was dragged in when the contest was absolutely impersonal, and it was done to discredit these two honorable gentlemen by making it appear that they were carousing and enjoying themselves in doubtful company in London.
– Not doubtful.
– Do you know that under the present Act there is “no means of checking these dodgers?
– Of course I do, and that is why this Bill seeks to remedy that state of affairs.
– It does not touch it, so tar.
– I want to further point out that if Mr. Fisher and Mr. McGowen had not gone to the Imperial Conference and the Coronation they would have been charged with disloyalty and with wanting to disrupt the Empire. Our opponents would have been howling that Australia was being ruined and degraded because of the reprehensible conduct of those two gentlemen.
– I think that their personal honour is so high that they need no one to defend it.
– I am not defending it, but pointing out the disgraceful misrepresentations contained in the degraded document I have before me.
– I could show you some dodgers issued on your side which were just as bad.
– I have pointed out before that the honorable senator is lawyer enough to know that that defence will not hold water anywhere.
– I admit that.
- Senator Vardon has a perfect right, if he can find such dodgers, to bring them along. I produced a dummy ballot-paper which, I venture to say, no one on the other side will have the audacity to defend for a moment. It was a barefaced lying document.
– I am glad that you admit that.
– I feel, perfectly sure that, neither in a public nor in a private capacity, will the honorable senator defend a thing like that for a second.
– They are worse than bad ; they are stupid.
– Help us to penalize them.
– Your Bill does not touch these things.
– I am now dealing with the broad features of the Bill, and not with its details ; but if the details do not provide for these matters, there is a ready means by which we can do so. lt should be our duty, and our pleasure, to take that course. Everybody knows that at the time of an election newspapers, which are mostly violent partisans - I do not blame them for that - indulge in misrepresentation of all kinds ; and in doing so they speak with an air of authority under the pseudonym of the mighty eternal “ we.” I have no objection to a newspaper making any comments it likes, provided that they are brought within the bounds of fairness and decency. .1 consider that every newspaper has a perfect right to comment on every public affair which concerns the general interest, and every public man with regard to every one of his public actions. What I do object to is that newspapers misstate the facts, or quote alleged facts which have no existence, except in their own imaginations, and then proceed to comment on the alleged facts as if they existed. They put into the mouths of Labour men statements which were never uttered, and then proceed to condemn those persons as if they had uttered such things from the house-tops. I have no objection even to newspapers indulging in all sorts of misrepresentations, provided that each writer shall give his name and -address, so that we may know where to find him, and saddle him with the responsibility. But when the general public are faced -with this eternal editorial “ we,” we are up against a difficulty which it is impossible to combat. Most persons seem to think, in the innocence of their hearts, that a thing must be true because they saw it in print. I think that most politicians have got beyond that stage, and know that every comment in a newspaper is written by some man or other, and that very often it is not even the opinion of that man, but something which was written to order, and in which little or no trust or. confidence can be placed. But the general public do not know that. When the newspapers speak to the general public every morning at breakfast, or every afternoon at tea, with an air of authority, through this mighty editorial “ we,” the readers are inclined to attach undue importance to what they read. I should* not try to restrict newspapers as to what they published ; but I should provide that if, in connexion with an election, comments are indulged in, the name and address of the writer of the article should be published, so that the general public may be in a position to place its true value upon it, and saddle the author with responsibility for it.
– The proprietors of newspapers are liable now ; and they can reveal the identity of the writer of an article if they please.
– Suppose, in connexion with the coming State elections in Victoria, the Argus were to publish an outrageously condemnatory leading article on some candidate standing for the constituency of Melbourne - because I do not believe its influence extends very far outside Melbourne - it would be read by almost every voter in the constituency, and the electors might be inclined to attach undue importance to it They would say, ‘ This is the opinion of a great newspaper ; an authoritative statement for which it is responsible.” But, if attached to the article there were the name and address- of the writer, those who read it would be able to estimate it at its true value. They would probably say, “ This is only the opinion o f so-and-so, the penny-a-liner.”
– Of Walpole.
– Of Walpole of the Employers Federation. By the way, it is a notorious fact that the Employers Federation, and other political organizations of the kind, have furnished the press with articles to order, and the press, in some instances, have published them. The public -have a right to know where these alleged authoritative statements come from. They should know who are the authors of them, so that they may understand what reliance is to be placed upon them. Only a few days ago, I think, each of the leading newspapers in Melbourne was summoned before a Court and heavily fined for contempt in connexion with a certain trial. I do not think that any one believes that that was an unfair deal, because there were great issues at stake in the case, and it was essential that the jury should enter upon its consideration absolutely unbiased, and should consider nothing but the evidence of facts put before them at the trial. If the trial of a private individual, even though his life should be at stake, is important, I say that when the fate of a nation hangs in the balance, as it may do at the time of a general election, the results of which might be disastrous to the nation should a wrong decision be arrived at, it is equally important that the jury should be protected from misrepresentation and fraud. After all is said and done, the electors at the time of the general election occupy, to a certain extent, the position of a jury. It is theirs to weigh the facts and the evidence, and to bring in the verdict. If the evidence is tainted, and savours of misrepresentation or fraud, we cannot expect a clear and honest verdict, such as we might otherwise anticipate.
– There is nothing in this Bill to prevent the publication of a lie.
– I hope that before the Bill leaves the Senate there will be something in it which, though it may not prevent men from telling lies at the time of an election, will enable us to punish those who do so. There is nothing in our civil or criminal law to prevent a man committing murder, but there is a great deal in our law to deter men from doing so, and to punish them if they do commit murder. That is the kind of provision I desire to see made in this Bill, to cope with the lying misrepresentations, false statements, and travesties of alleged facts which are frequently published by interested organizations during a general election. I do not care to what party the newspapers belong that make use of these objectionable methods. I say, let us, by all means, have our elections as pure as possible.
– Is the honorable senator suggesting something in the nature of a censorship of matter published at election times?
– I told the honorable senator, only just now, that I have no objection to newspapers publishing anything within the bounds of decency ; but I would devise ways and means to saddle the authors of newspaper comments and articles with the responsibility for them, so that if they transgress proper bounds, they can be brought to book.
– They are saddled with it now under our libel law.
– Nothing of the sort. There is such a thing as libelling something which is so indefinite that one could not find a plaintiff to bring the matter into Court. The honorable senator must know that as well as I do. There is such a thing as making a libel so general in its terms that no individual could bring an action because of it. Senator Millen has been connected with newspapers, and he should, as I do, possess a fair knowledge of what the libel law is. I venture to say, from my experience as a newspaper proprietor, that I could publish anything I pleased about any individual without laying myself open to the law of libel. While owning and running a newspaper myself, I used to write pretty strongly, just as I speak pretty strongly in the Senate sometimes, and I do not think that the newspaper I conducted had any need to be ashamed because of a lack of plain speaking, or fire in attack when the occasion demanded it. Yet I was hauled up for libel once only, and then unsuccessfully, because I won the case. But directly I left the office, and some one else was placed in charge, I found I was always in hot water and threatened with insolvency, because he was always up against the law. It is not so much the libel as the way in which it is stated, that is important.
– The honorable senator is offering a premium to successful libellers.
– I am advocating that where the issues are often entirely impersonal, as they were at the referendum, we should, under this Bill, provide that, as far as possible, the jury who will have to bring in the verdict shall be enabled to do so with a full knowledge of all the facts, and without any misrepresentation or lying statements being placed before them as alleged evidence. Senator Millen says that
I wish to establish a censorship of the press. I do not wish to do anything of the sort. I believe that the newspapers should be absolutely free to publish anything they please, but the public should be placed in such a position as to be able to saddle the responsibility for a particular article on the individual who wrote it ; and if he has been guilty of some contravention of the’ law, to bring him to book for it. I have spoken at considerable length upon the two main principles of the Bill. There are only one or two other aspects of the measure to which I should like to refer briefly. It provides for compulsory enrolment. I am happy to say that I believe that proposal meets with almost universal approval. I think that almost all our friends opposite have said that tb.pv are in favour of it. Compulsory enrolment would provide a remedy for many of the defects of our present haphazard system. I am in favour of compulsory en- .rolment ; but our friends opposite wish to go a little further than I am prepared to go. They advocate a system of compulsory voting as well as compulsory enrolment.
– The honorable senator can leave me out. I was against that.
– The moral sense of honorable senators must have become very much blunted if they can support a system of compulsory voting. I say that if any law came into existence which would compel me to “vote for some person with whom I totally disagreed, and whose political principles I detested, I should regard it as of so immoral a nature that I should feel more than justified in repudiating and breaking it. Why should I be compelled to vote for some one whom I utterly detest as a politician? There could be only one justification for a system of compulsory voting, and that would be the adoption of a system under which every elector would be given the widest possible scope to vote for any qualified person in the Commonwealth as the candidate of his choice.
– Or the vote might be counted negatively against each candidate.
– Compulsory voting of that kind would be a farce.
– It would get over the honorable senator’s difficulty.
– I could overcome that difficulty much more easily by making my vote informal. I say that any law which would compel me to vote for a man whose political principles I entirely repudiated, or whose administration, it might be, I detested, would be so base and immoral in its nature that I should be more than justified in absolutely repudiating it. I defy any Government to pass a law which would compel me to vote for a person in whom I did not believe.
– I have seen ballotpapers on. which all the names were crossed out.
– The honorable senator has been supporting a system of compulsory voting.
– No such thing. What I said was that, if compulsory enrolment is fair, compulsory voting is fair.
– Nothing of the kind. If that is what the honorable senator said, he must accept the responsibility for it ; but, thank goodness,” I am not responsible for the expression of such an opinion.
– No one asked the honorable senator to be responsible for it.
– A good deal has been said about the preferential system of voting, and other voting theories and fads. I shall not be led .away from the discussion of this Bill to the consideration of such matters. I hold very strong opinions about them ; and whenever such proposals come within the range of practical politics, if I occupy a seat in the Senate, I shall be prepared to express my opinion upon . them. But they are not included in this Bill ; and, as I do not desire to see them included in it, I shall not discuss them how. I heartily approve of the Bill, so far as it goes; but I hope that, before it leaves the Senate, we shall be able so to improve it as to render our elections very much purer in the future than they have been in the past. I hope we shall be able to make it so hard as to be almost impossible, for the electors, at any election or referendum, to be gulled and deluded as they were recently by certain parties and party organizations. I hope we shall be able to make the measure so perfect as to enable the electors, in the interests of the Commonwealth, and of the future of themselves and their children, to exercise an independent vote. I hope that, under the measure, we shall be able to afford the men and women of Australia the utmost facilities, consistent with the secrecy of the ballot,, to cast an independent vote at every referendum or election to be held in the? future, with an absolute consciousness that they will be free to do their duty and their best as good citizens for the country in which they live. I thank honorable senators for the patience with which they have listened to me, and I hope that when the Bill reaches Committee., we shall be able to make it so good a measure that even our opponents, who have so strongly denounced it, will be amongst its friends when it is finally reported.
– With all the honorable senator’s aspirations for the purity of elections, and the perfection of our electoral law, I think that every honorable senator is in sympathy. But the more we consider this measure, the more strongly we are confirmed in the opinion that it has been introduced in the interests of one political party, and is directed against another. Senator Givens was, I think, the first honorable senator on the other side who endeavoured to give us concrete cases of what he considers wrongdoing under the operations of the postal voting provisions of the existing Act.
– I am sure that the instances I cited have the honorable senator’s condemnation as well as mine.
– I should not be prepared to condone the action of any one who infringes the electoral law. I hold, as does Senator Givens, that it is the very foundation, not only of our politics, but of our liberty and good government. I should be strongly opposed to any one who would set aside the principles which ought to govern elections. J do not think that the honorable senator was as successful as he supposes he was in proving his case. He said that he did not know why the amendment was moved.
– I was wrong, if I said that. I know that it was moved to enable Senator McColl, and other honorable senators opposite, to talk again.
– I think that the honorable senator who moved the amendment was well-advised in doing so, because it gives us an opportunity to concentrate our attention upon the chief blot on the Bill. We do not say that the Bill as a whole is bad, but we do say that those clauses of it which would abolish voting by post are directed against classes in the community who ought to be protected rather than attacked, and that they will work great harm and injustice. Senator Givens argued that the Bill is intended to secure the purity of elections. Portions of it may be required for that purpose ; but, most certainly, the whole of the Bill is not required for any such purpose. The honorable senator gave us instances from Queensland which he said were a public scandal. .He mentioned the case of the Townsville election, at which he told us one-third of the votes recorded were postal votes. That may be a glaring case of abuse of the postal provisions; but I am not acquainted with the facts. But when the honorable senator further told us that mining managers have gone around striking fear into the hearts of the wives and female relatives of miners, I think he was belittling the miners of Queensland and their women folk. I do not think” the miners would allow themselves to be so dominated ; and I believe their women folk would resent very strongly any attempt to force them to vote in a way they did not desire. I think a good deal of that statement may be taken as mere gossip. Senator Givens was scarcely fair in speaking of these cases, inasmuch as he did not tell us what had taken place afterwards. I have learned, since the honorable senator spoke, that the cases to which he referred were the subject of a judicial inquiry.
– I rise to a. point of order. For the guidance of others who may desire to speak to the amendment, I should like your ruling, sir, as to whether it is competent for an honorable senator who has already spoken on the main question, to traverse the general provisions of the Bill in debating the amendment?
– I have listened very carefully to Senator McColl, and he has, so far, confined himself to what I think is the subject-matter of the amendment. It is not competent for any honorable senator who has already spoken on the main question, in discussing the amendment, to go beyond the subject with which it deals.
– The instance to which I was referring related to postal voting. The matter was brought up by Senator Givens, who said that the postal vote had been used in such a way as to strike terror into electors. Since the honorable senator made these remarks I have been informed that the case occurred al Charters Towers, and was afterwards the subject of a judicial inquiry. I have had the report of the proceedings placed in my hands. They are recorded in the Queensland Parliamentary Papers for 1908. It appears that a petition was filed by John O’Flynn, accountant, Charters Towers, who stated -
Wherefore your petitioner prays that it may be determined that the said John Burrows and Vernon Winstanley were duly elected, and ought to have been returned; 6r, in the alternative, that the said election was void.
The case was heard before the Chief Justice of Queensland and six assessors. I shall show what the result was. At the conclusion of the evidence the Chief Justice addressed the assessors as follows -
Mr. Feez says that these votes are invalid because they were not stamped as required under sub-section (vii.) of section 780 of the Election Acts. Now sub-section (vii.) says -
The postmaster or justice of the peace shall then place such envelope in the envelope addressed to the returning officer, and upon receipt from the voter of the proper postage stamps shall, in the presence of the voter, affix them to the envelope.
Now, I am of the opinion that it makes no difference at all whether the voter affixes the stamp or whether the canvasser or justice of the peace does it. The thing which the Act requires is that the envelope shall be stamped, and that it shall be posted and recorded. That is what the Act wants - that these votes shall be recorded. Then the sub-section goes on -
If the justice of the peace has attested the vote, he shall forthwith deliver it to the voter, who shall post it on the same day.
Now, if the voter hands the document back to the justice of the peace or canvasser and requests him to post it, then, in my opinion, the voter has posted the document. That is my ruling as to the construction of that section. Now, here are some votes on which the assessors shall give their findings. Mr. Shand points out that there is no evidence that the voter did not provide the stamp, and that the justice of the peace did not affix the stamps in the case of any particular vote. That is a question for you to answer.
Mr. Plunkett. There is nothing in it.
His Honour. - You find there is no evidence of that?
Mr.Plunkett. There is no evidence of it.
His Honour. - That disposes of that. Nor is there any evidence of the number of votes to which the objection can apply to the voter at all.
Mr. Gunn. There is no evidence of that.
His Honour. - It seems to me that there is no evidence.
Mr. Barnes. We are quite agreed on that.
His Honour. - Then it seems to me that we have nothing more to do but to decide whether the respondents were duly elected and returned or not. I put that to you, too. On these findings of the law and fact, are you of opinion that the respondents were duly elected and returned ?
Mr. Gunn. Yes, I think so. There were a few votes disallowed, of course.
His Honour. - But they will make no differ ence to the result of the election.
Mr. Gunn. No difference “at all.
His Honour. - There were about eighteen hun dred votes disallowed.
Mr. Feez. Yes; they would make no differ ence.
His Honour. - This Tribunal is of opinion that they make no difference.
Mr. Shand. I ask that the Tribunal make an order that the costs and expenses of the respondents be paid by petitioner, and that the ?100 paid into Court be applied to that purpose.
His Honour said : I am bound to say I can see no reason why the ordinary rule as to costs which prevails in all litigation should not be applied in a case of this kind. The ordinary rule is that the unsuccessful party pays the costs. That is a reasonable thing, and has been the rule for centuries.
Mr. Barnes. That would strike one as a fair thing.
His Honour. - That is the practice, and I see no reason why the rule should not be followed in this case. Those who are complaining - according to the evidence of Mr. Boyce - did precisely the same thing themselves.- They are complaining that the political organization was running the affair, and was asking the returning officer to send the applications papers to the office of the organization. The persons who are complaining were doing the same thing themselves. Knowing that, why did they come here and compel the respondents to spend all this money fighting this action? It seems to me to be most unreasonable.
Mr. Stodart. I think the petitioner should pay the cost.
Mr. Plunkett. I agree to that.
Mr. Barnes. I agree to it, too.
Mr. Gunn. The ordinary rule of the Court should be followed.
His Honour. - I entirely agree with that.
Mr. Feez. You can only make an order for costs up to ?200.
His Honour. - I make an order for costs up to ?200, and that the?100 paid into Court be applied to the payment of respondents’ costs.
Mr. Fees. ; With reference to section 27 of the Elections Tribunal Act, it is the petitioners intention to appeal to the Full Court. Section 27 provides : “ When notice has been given of an intended appeal, the Judge shall postpone the granting of the certificate hereinbefore mentioned until the determination of the appeal by the Full Court.”
His Honour. - Very well. There is nothing more, gentlemen (addressing the assessors). I would not like you to depart from the Court without saying that you have given me a great deal of help during this inquiry, for which I am very much obliged to you.
Mr. Barnes. We are exceedingly pleased to hear that, your Honour.
The Tribunal then rose.
That is the case of which Senator Givens made so much.
– The verdict had nothing to do with the question of how the postal votes were obtained. That is what my argument illustrated.
– That is the case which has now been reported in Hansard as a glaring instance of the’ misuse of postal voting, and of the reason why we should abolish that system. If the other cases mentioned by the honorable senator had no better foundation than thatI am afraid that the rest of his speech was not worth taking much notice of. A great deal was made of mine managers having gone round to the houses of miners in their absence and intimidated their womenfolk. I do not, for a moment, think that such things have occurred. The honorable senator must have been misinformed. I do not believe that he would wilfully make a misstatement, because I recognise that he is a fair and honorable antagonist. But I have had as much experience of miners and mine managers as any one in the Senate. For over forty years I have known scores of them at Bendigo, and I have never met one mine manager who would so demean himself as to go to a man’s house in his absence and try to induce his wife, and other relatives, to vote in a particular direction.
– They are all quite angelic at Bendigo !
– No, we have our faults up there, just as have other people.
– Has the honorable member ever known mine managers in Bendigo who would blacklist a man and prevent him from getting employment?
– I do not know of any mine manager at Bendigo who has ever penalized a miner on account of his political opinions. I never heard of such a case.
– Has the honorable senator ever known of a case having to be bought out of Court?
– I do not know of any one who has had to buy a case out of Court either. I shall be quite willing to enter into that matter with the honorable senator at any time he pleases. I know what he is referring to, and, as. a matter of fact, it had nothing whatever to do with political matters. The serious charge made here was that postal voting was a source of corruption. Senator Givens instanced a case where stamps were deliberately altered and a wrong date placed on letters after they had been posted, and he also said that when complaint was made about the matter no notice was taken. I can only say that a Department that would take no notice of such a charge as that was very remiss in the performance of its duties. That Government officials should deliberately alter a stamp for the purpose of aiding any particular political candidate is so serious as to demand rigid investigation. Senator Givens dealt with the case of women who, because of their condition, are unable to vote at election times in the ordinary way. But the postal vote was intended for women in other situations than those which he described. There are many women who are unable to attend the poll because they are suffering from other troubles than those referred to, and it appears to me to be improper that we should take away from them the facilities for voting, which they have hithertoenjoyed. We were also told that in Victoria, a thousand postal votes which were handed out were never returned. That is a serious matter, which should certainly be inquired into. The Electoral Department should cause an inquiry to be made and furnish us with particulars of the actual facts. It would not be amiss if a return were moved for, showing the number of postal votes issued in all the States, and the number not returned, together with the names of those who did not return, them. It would be rather interesting information to have. I should be very glad, indeed, to see such an investigation made.
– Are the papers in existence?
– I do not know.
– I should be glad to support such a return.
– It is most extraordinary that a. thousand postalvotes should be issued and not used. These papers are not scattered haphazard about the country. They are not like enrolment cards. They are papers which have to be properly applied for on an authorized form, signed by prescribed persons, and duly witnessed. I should like to have an assurance from the Government that they will institute an inquiry into the allegations made. If not, I shall be prepared to consider the desirableness of moving for a return. The fact that more postal votes were recorded in Victoria than in any other State seems extraordinary, and I can only explain it in one way. The postal voting system has been longer in operation in Victoria than in any other State, except South Australia. It was adopted in South Australia in 1896, but there the law did not give so many privileges as did the Victorian Act. The system came into use iii Victoria. in 1899 or 1900. Our people got accustomed to it, and, probably, that explains the use that was made of the system at the last election.
– Is it true that the honorable senator did not vote for women’s suffrage in Victoria?
– The Minister made a statement to that effect, and since then I have obtained the means of refuting him with proof.
– The honorable senator has already made a personal statement on that matter.
– If I am out of order now I shall take another opportunity. A great deal has been made of a cartoon which has been exhibited in the chamber. It certainly was not very nice.
– Order !
– That carfoon was founded upon a leader in- the Queensland Worker.
– Senator Givens mentioned a case in Queensland, where, as he represented, mining managers had the power of life and death over workmen and their families, and where a great number of votes were prevented from being recorded in favour of a political party. He informed us that that occurred fifteen years ago. But there was no postal voting in Queensland fifteen years ago, so that his argument on that head falls to the ground.
– Senator Givens made no reference to postal voting in relation to that argument.
– He was arguing about postal voting1 all along.
– What has the honorable senator to say as to the Townsville case where the postal authorities were corrupted ?
– I have dealt with that case, and I say, again, that an inquiry ought to be made and the guilty persons brought to book. If the facts are as related there was a glaring misuse of authority. We have had postal voting in operation in one State for twelve years, and in another State for nine years. Has there been any public demand for its abolition? There has been none. Statements that have been made as to the working of the system are such as cannot be relied upon. Very little proof has been offered, and there is not the slightest evidence that the public have any desire that existing facilities should be lessened. Our object ought to be rather to increase facilities for voting. Only one definite case was mentioned, namely, that brought forward by Senator E. J. Russell yesterday - the case at Coleraine. It looked like a glaring case upon the face of it. I asked Senator Blakey if he knew the man, and was informed that he was over eighty years of age, and a very decent man at that. On inquiry the circumstances do not appear to be nearly so glaring. All that the man did, although he was fined on three charges, was to neglect to take the proper steps to ascertain whether the grounds on which a postal vote was claimed were legitimate or not.
– Did you read the lady’s evidence?
– Yes. The man did not ask the woman whether she really was ill. He signed the paper without making the necessary inquiries. But there was nothing before the Court to show that he had endeavoured to influence her vote in any direction.
– - Was he brought to witness a signature, or did he go round canvassing persons to vote by post ?
– I do not know that he did that.
– He went to a healthy woman and asked her to vote by post.
– He was asked to witness the signature of some woman. I do not desire to shelter the man, but merely to point out that the case was not so glaring as it appeared to be.
– I shall take the opportunity of reading the whole of the evidence in the case.
– I did not see all the evidence. I only saw the Argus report, and perhaps the honorable senator had a longer report.
– He justified himself, and asked a healthy woman to vote by post.
– The system of postal voting was brought in more especially because women’s suffrage was being introduced. It was felt when that great change was being made that greater facilities ought to be given to women to exercise the franchise than had been afforded previously. The reasons which influenced those who introduced the system of postal voting are just as strong to-day as they were at that time.
– What reasons were they?
– The reasons were that women were peculiarly situated; that they had not the same facilities for going to the poll as had other electors, and that special provision ought to be made to enable them to vote with greater freedom than had been allowed previously. _ There was also the question of conveniencing not only women, but those who were infirm and feeble, and unable to go to the poll. Further, there was the question of meeting the case of those who were far removed from polling-places, and who, it was felt, should be placed on an equality with these other persons. With regard to voting, we should endeavour to give all classes equality of opportunity. It cannot be said that the privileges enjoyed bv those who live in closely-settled parts are the same as those enjoyed by persons who live in the country ; they are very much greater indeed. In the city a man has simply to go to the “next street to record his vote, but in the country a man may have to go many miles; it may be at harvest time, when it is very difficult for him to leave his farm, as every hour is precious. The Bill does an injustice to country persons by depriving them of the privilege of voting by post.
– I know the position of the farmers, and I think differently.
– The provisions which it is proposed to substitute for the system of postal voting are, I think, likely to be subject to very great abuse. We are virtually asked to buy a pig in a poke. We have placed before us only a sketch of a system which may be so manipulated by regulations as to play into the hands of one party or the other, and so perhaps open the door to an enormous amount of fraud and trickery. I think that in this matter far too much is left to be done by regulations. As Senator Keating has pointed out, we may have regulations regarding voting brought in immediately before an election.
– I trust that the honorable senator will confine himself practically to the subject-matter of the amendment, which is an increase rather than a curtailment of voting facilities, and in particular, the system of voting by post. .
– We should endeavour to give greater facilities to persons to vote rather than curtail them. I have much more to say, but I am confined to the amendment. I should like, if I may have the leave of the Senate, to justify what I said when I denied the statement made by the Minister the other day that I had been against women’s suffrage - that I would not give a woman a right to vote whether she was ill or well.
– Order. The honorable senator had the leave of the Senate just after that charge was made, and he made an explanation.
– I did not give an explanation, sir, but merely denied the fact. I desire to-day to give the proof, because otherwise a statement of that character regarding myself in Hansard would be very damaging. The statement is absolutely untrue, and therefore I should like permission to make an explanation.
– Order ! When an honorable senator is speaking to an amendment he cannot refer to any other subject, nor ask the leave of the Senate to make an explanation with regard to a statement made previously in debate.
– I am sorry that I cannot prove what I said the other day. But I shall take another opportunity to do so.
– You ought to withdraw your statement, that the Labour party were opposed to women’s suffrage, also.
– I had some remarks to make in that regard, but I have been stopped. I shall make the statement again and justify myself. What I said was that in their early days the Labour party were not in favour of women’s suffrage.
– You said that the Trades Hall party had always been opposed to women’s suffrage.
– Order ! I wish that the Minister would not try to lead Senator McColl to repeat a statement which I have ruled out of order.
– I shall not attempt to further deal with the matter to-day.
– There are one or two points which I notice particularly in regard to postal voting, and which I intended to emphasize in my speech the other day. In the Act we endeavoured to provide that the system of postal voting should be carried out properly, and especially that postal votes should be open to the inspection of the scrutineers who had to count the votes. Section 119 reads -
At the scrutiny the returning officer shall produce all applications for postal vote certificates and postal ballot-papers, and shall produce unopened all envelopes containing postal votes received up to the close of the poll, and shall proceed as follows : -
he shall compare the signature of the elector on each postal vote certificate with the signature of the same elector on the application for the certificate, and shall allow the scrutineers to inspect both signatures;
if he is not satisfied that the signature on the certificate is that of the elector who signed the application for the certificate, and that the signature purports to be witnessed by an authorized witness, he shall disallow the ballot-paper without opening it or separating it from the certificate, but if he is so satisfied he shall accept the ballot-paper for further scrutiny ;
he shall separate all postal ballot-papers accepted for further scrutiny from the postal vote certificates, and without unfolding the ballot-papers shall place them in a ballot-box by themselves.
– Order ! I think that the honorable senator is now going into the details of the measure.
– No, sir.
– The honorable senator has already spoken to the main question. The amendment refers purely to postal voting, but the honorable senator appears to be going- into details of the measure as regards the. counting, and the submission of postal votes to scrutineers at the time of the count. I think he is out of order.
– I do not wish to transgress the rules in any way. What I want to say, and what I intended to say the other day was, that there is nothing in this measure which will give the same security as regards the identification of signatures as does the principal Act. When the Ministry propose to repeal postal voting they are called upon, I think, to show that they are substituting something which will efficiently take the place of the present system. To-day we have heard a great deal about the abuse of postal voting, and the statement was not backed up by actual proof. I want to know whether the Ministry do not think that any provisions which they may make in this measure ought to safeguard as fully and as surely the interest of the electors and the purity of elections, as do the provisions for postal voting which they desire to repeal. I think, sir, that I am within my rights if I make a point of that particular fact, because, although it is said that the system of postal voting is being replaced by a more comprehensive system of another kind, the Bill does not contain the same safeguards as exist in the Act. Probably the Minister will be willing to admit that.
– I think we shall be able to satisfy you that there will be greater safeguards.
– Why have you not informed us of that? That is the whole point.
– We have not come to the time yet.
– It will be done by regulation all right.
– Here in the Act we have a provision for the signature on the application to be compared with the signature on the certificate.
– But suppose that it was not the elector who made the application, where is the safeguard?
– The elector must make the application.
– In hundreds of instances it is not made by the elector, but on his behalf, and you know that.
– The honorable senator does not touch my point.
Question - That the Senate do now adjourn - put under sessional order, and resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 4 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 27 October 1911, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1911/19111027_senate_4_61/>.