4th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
MINISTERS laid upon the table the following papers : -
Papua - Ordinances of 1911 -
No. 17. - Animals Prohibition and Restriction.
No. 23. - Supply (No. 1) 1911-12.
Representation Act 1905 - Certificate of the Chief Electoral Officer as to the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth and of the several States.
Representation Act 190c - Determination by the Chief Electoral Officer of the Representation of the States in the House of Representatives.
Customs Act 1901-1910. - Regulation relating to the Maximum Weight of Packages of Wheat, &c, for Inter-State Transfer. -
Statutory Rules1911, No. 168.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Will the Minister for Customs lay on the table of the Library correspondence with his Department relating to the control of oversea fruit space by the Federal Government?
– The answer to the question is “ Yes.”
SenatorCHATAWAY asked the Minister representing the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Was Mr. P. V. Guerin registered for temporary employment as an excise officer on or about10th March, 1911?
Did the Department notify him in October that he was ineligible for employment?
If so, was it on account of age, or because he was not a unionist?
If because of age, why did the Department not notify him earlier?
If because he was not a unionist, what opportunity did the Department give him to become one?
– The answers to the questions are -
asked the Minister representing the Minister of External Affairs, uponnotice -
– The answer to each question is “ No.”
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The Deputy PostmasterGeneral, Hobart, has furnished the following information : -
Debate resumed from 27th October (vide page 1946), on motion by Senator Pearce -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Senator St. Ledger had moved -
That all the words after the word “ That “ be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words : - “ in the opinion of theSenate 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.”
Senator MILLEN (New South Wales)
– I might have felt called upon to apologize to the Senate for again intruding into the debate, but I venture to say that even Senator Givens, when he hears the purpose for which. I have :risen, will think that my conduct is amply justified. Senator Findley, in reply to my remarks, laid particular stress on what he alleged were the facts which induced him, and presumably the Government, to regard postal voting as a danger. In order that I may not do him an injustice, I shall quote what he said as recorded in Hansard -
The result of one election for Melbourne was in favour of a certain gentleman who died some time ago in the Old Country, but when the seat was again contested it was won by the previously unsuccessful candidate, mainly because of the undue influence exercised under the postal voting system at the first election.
At the first election a considerable number of votes were recorded by post, and at the second -election there was a very considerable diminution in the number of votes so recorded.
We have here speaking the responsible Minister in charge of this Bill, the object of which is to make a substantial alteration in our electoral system. We have a right to expect that when a Minister makes a statement of fact in a matter so easy of verification it shall be at least reasonably accurate. It is an obligation on every senator to make himself acquainted with the facts which he presents to the Senate, but that obligation is doubled when a Minister is speaking. I direct attention to the figures for the election, and I do not propose to do more than to quote from the official report presented by the Divisional Returning Officer for the electorate. On the first page of the report the following statement appears -
The postal votes also exceed those recorded on the last occasion by 168.
Here is a flat contradiction of the statement of the Minister, that the result of the election had been .turned from the success of Sir M. McEacharn at the first election to the success of Dr. Maloney at the second by reason of the diminution in the number of postal votes recorded. The official figures show that there was an increase of 168 in the number. Let us go a little further into the figures, and also the report on the election, and we shall have no difficulty in seeing what was one material contributing factor to the totals shown in the two contests. Dr. Maloney scored 3,667 votes against Sir M. McEacharn’s 7,808 votes. Of the postal votes at this contest the latter received 603, and the former 197. I do not want any reference to the figures to confuse, or, at any rate, to cause the Senate or the Minister, or, I hope, persons outside these walls, to forget that on a simple matter, capable of being verified by reference to the records, the facts contradict what the Minister, in all solemnity, asked us to accept.
– I do not think so.
– If the Minister will assure me that this is not an official document, but a forgery, or that I am misreading it, I shall resume my seat at once. Otherwise1 the Senate has a right to complain that he presented as an official fact that which is shown to be wrong, and presented it as one of the arguments in support of the Bill.
– From what volume is the honorable senator quoting?
– I am quoting from the second volume of the parliamentary papers for the session 1904.
– I was asked for proof, and, believing myself to be correct, said that at the election contested in Melbourne there was a number of votes recorded by post which should not have been recorded, but that is not what “moved the Government.
– I frankly accept the Minister’s statement that that is not the reason moving the Government. I have never said that it was. He knows quite well what I have alleged as the reason which moved the Government, but that is the reason which he gave.
– I admit that in quoting the figures I made a mistake as to the year.
– That is my point. In his speech, the Minister does not say that he spoke on the spur of the moment. He came down to reply to a speech which I had made some days before. With the staff at his disposal, he had had ample opportunity to verify the facts on which he proposed to rest his case.
– The honorable senator will admit that it was in reply to an interjection by Senator St. Ledger that I made the statement.
– What was my interjection? .
– The Minister, supported by the assistance which officials could give him, did not offer this statement as an opinion, but as proof.
– Senator Findley has stated that he made an error.
– Quite so; but we would not have heard anything about the error if it had not been detected. There is an obligation on the Minister to familiarize himself with facts. He has nothing to do but to ask an official to look up a matter, if he is too busy to deal with it himself.
– The question was asked by way of interjection, and that is the reply which I gave, believing at the time that it was right.
– I do not suggest for a moment that Senator Findley, hardened as he may be in political warfare, would get up here and tell a deliberate untruth. The point I am pressing is that there is an obligation on every senator, and doubly so on a Minister, to verify a fact before he offers it for acceptance here. If the Minister wants to know what was the big determining factor at the election in question, and he will look further down the report, he will find, under the head of “ Form Q, section 139,” the following statement : -
When U is taken into consideration that the Division of Melbourne is entirely a city division the number of “ Q “ forms, viz., 198, is large.
This system of voting appeared to be abused, as the polling places were all in close proximity to each other, and it seems to me that the privilege -was never intended to apply to those electors living within easy access by tram or other means of rapid conveyance to the polling places for which they are enrolled. I do not think this privilege should be allowed to be used unless the elector is at least 3 miles distant from the booth for which he is enrolled.
Let me remind honorable senators that the very basis of our present system, when it was proposed here, was, that as we were to an extent making the method of voting lax, it was necessary to localize electors to the polling booth in the neighbourhood of which they lived. It was the only check which was offered, and it was stated that as a man would have to vote in his own locality, being known he would not be likely to attempt to impersonate. But here is a case where official attention was drawn to the fact that the facilities provided for another set of circumstances were being abused. Why? The Minister is looking for the reason why the decision of one month was altered in the next. Let him look into the number of. those who voted on “ Q “ forms at polling places other than their own, and he will get a key to an impression which at any rate determined the flow- of votes on that occasion.
It does seem strange that the Minister, desiring only to insure the purity of our electoral methods, seeks to destroy the facilities accorded by postal voting, and at the same time is blind, deaf, and dumb regarding an abuse to which an official has drawn attention.
– There was no illegality under the “ Form Q “ vote.
– There was no illegality about the postal voting.
– Yes, there was.
– It is curious that this officer did not draw attention to it, but did draw attention to the abnormal number of persons who voted at polling booths other than their own. Any one who is experienced in electoral matters must know that the great door through which fraud can enter is the absent voting provision. Yet, whilst attention’ was directed here to the .great danger of allowing persons to vote outside their immediate neighbourhood, or allowing other persons to vote for them, Ministers are in no sense concerned about restricting, that facility; but they concentrate their attention upon postal voting, against which, hitherto, no official has reported.
– In one case in Queensland the very people in the cemeteries voted !
– Was the honorable senator there?
– I was not.
– If the honorable senator had been there, I could have understood the activity in the cemeteries. I should now like to deal with another argument on this point, brought forward bv Senator Findley. He seemed to regard it as an argument against postal voting that that system had been more largely used in Victoria, which is a thickly-settled State, than in States where settlement is more widely dispersed. That was one of the most extraordinary arguments I have ever listened to.
– There are more sick people in Victoria than in other States, 1 suppose.
– It is not merely a question of affording facilities for sick people.
– But the honorable senator’s supporters made a special point about the sick people.
– The honorable senator does not seem to be able to regard this matter from the point of view of more than one set of persons. The reason for the state of things described by Senator Findley is obvious. Tust as the facilities for voting at the ballot-box in closely-settled States are greater than in the more sparselysettled States, so the facilities for obtaining postal votes and securing the necessary witnesses are greater.
– If the increased number of postal votes in Victoria, as compared with other States, were an argument for the abolition of postal voting, the increased number of ordinary votes in proportion to population would equally be an argument against ordinary voting.
– Where is the necessity ?
– I do not say that the necessity was greater.
– Of course the honorable senator does not.
– I thought the honorable senator argued that it was an especial hardship to abolish postal voting in big areas, where the population is scanty?
– So it is. The hardship is great in such cases. Honorable senators opposite seem to think that, in regard to postal voting, there is nothing else to do than simply drop a piece of. paper into the post. As a matter of fact, there is a great ‘deal to do before that takes place. There were thousands of electors in the sparsely-settled portions of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia, who could not get witnesses to sign their applications for postal votes. In Victoria, however, it was different. The very fact that this is a closely-settled State means that witnesses are more easily obtained than in the wide areas to which I have referred.
– No one ever denied that.
– That is one explanation why postal voting was more largely availed of in Victoria than elsewhere.
– Where is the necessity ?
– The Minister seems to think it a good argument to say that, if I find it impossible to go to a polling booth because I live 20 miles away from one, I am helped in my difficulty because there is some other man who lives 50 miles away from a polling booth. But that is nonsense.
– Necessity has everything to do with it.
– And necessity has influenced the application for postal votes in Victoria, just as in other States. The facilities for postal voting, however, were greater in this State than elsewhere.
– No one denies that.
– The Minister says then -for this is what his argument amounts to - that, though the law gave people opportunities for voting by post the moment they attempted to use these facilities, a case arose for depriving them of their privilege.
– Suppose they used the facilities improperly?
– There is no evidence that anything of the kind occurred. In not one single instance has there been a definite statement made by any honorable senator opposite to show that there has been any abuse in connexion with postal voting. Moreover, the postal voting system has never been alleged by any official to have been improperly used.
– Because they would have no official knowledge of the abuses.
– If the officials whose business it is to know are not in possession of information which would enable them to make a charge against the postal voting system-, how is it that every honorable senator opposite pretends to be in possession of such information ?
– Personally I know, as a justice of the peace, that there was abuse in the particular electorate to which reference has been made. I could give the evidence.
– Was the honorable senator a party to it?
– I was a party to it.
– Now we begin to understand why honorable senators opposite are so confident that fraud has been committed. The honorable senator admits that he was a party to it.
– No ; a party to the knowledge of it.
– I do not dispute what Senator Barker says, that he was one of those who manipulated this thing, but this is the first time I have been brought face to face with a man who made such an admission.
– What I said was that I had personal knowledge that the system was abused.
– That is like the rest of the statements made by honorable senators opposite. They tell us that abuses exist, but they give us no evidence of them.
– I can give the evidence.
– Then why did not the honorable senator place that evidence in the hands of those whose business it was to initiate a prosecution?
– I did; but was told that it was not sufficient.
– Then it was no proof. Dealing with these figures as to Victoria again, I point out. that Senator Findley’s argument was that, because postal voting was more largely used in Victoria than elsewhere, therefore the system was abused. But the voting by the ordinary method in Victoria was, in proportion to population, in excess of the voting in other States. Is that also a proof of abuse? Again, I point out that the reason for the heavier vote in Victoria is that facilities are greater in this State than elsewhere. Moreover, facilities for travelling in this State enable people to be better organized.
– Hear, hear - better organized !
– The Minister of Defence may regard party organization with disfavour, if he chooses to do so; but we know perfectly well that the time has passed altogether when there can be an unorganized, and, at the same time, successful election. It is idle to attempt to deceive the people outside by pretending that superiority of organization is an argument against this system. The fact that there was a larger vote in Victoria was simply another proof that there was better organization, keener interest in the election, and greater facilities for recording votes. Turning again to the Melbourne election, to which reference has been made, I should like to make another comment upon the actual figures. Here, I venture to say, we. shall find the reason why this Bill has been introduced. On the occasion in question, Dr. Maloney polled 197 postal votes, and Sir Malcolm McEachern polled 603. There is the one simple reason which I can discover why the Government are seeking to abolish postal voting.
– In South Australia, the post-office stamp was used by people who had no connexion with the postoffice. That is proof enough.
– That is not proof at all. A mere statement is not proof.
– But it was proven.
– I do not know anything about the case to which the honorable senator refers.
– I can tell the honorable senator.
– Senator W. Russell is making a statement with which it is impossible for me to deal. If he means tosay that there are in the post-office men whoare capable of being used for corrupt purposes, while I may regret the fact, I canonly say. that, unfortunately, in all large collections of people, you will find somecases of that kind.
– This happened! to be a woman.
– There is no law which we can pass which will guard against a certain percentage of persons doing wrong.
– The poor woman did not think she was doing wrong. Shewas hoodwinked.
– The same remark applies to voting at the ballot-box in the ordinary way. Probably all honorable senators know of instances in which officials have not done all that they ought to have done.
– There was corruption in this case.
– There is also a certain amount of corruption in regard to the ordinary method of voting. But is the honorable senator prepared, because officials in some cases - according to him - act corruptly, to propose the abolition oftheordinary method of voting?
– I made the statement because I was challenged.
– That is the logic of the honorable senator’s interjection - that we should abolish postal voting because a postal official acted corruptly. The honorable senator should also propose, then, the abolition of the ordinary method of voting, because occasionally corruptionoccurs in connexion with it. He should propose to abolish everything in connexion with which corruption may creep in. Theanswer to that is that, because some peopleact corruptly, either in connexion with postal voting, or anything else, that is no reason why we should abolish a useful system. Instead of abolishing postal voting, we should endeavour to stop up every loophole by which corruption can creep in.
– We want to havesecrecy of the ballot, and purity at the same time.
– What the honorable senator wants is to create facilities which, while enabling those who favour his party to vote, will act as a prohibition against this political opponents.
– I wish to say a word or two in reply to some of the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition. It is true that I made a slight error in my statement with regard to the number of postal votes recorded at a certain election for the city of Melbourne.
– Does the honorable senator seriously call it a “ slight error”?
– I do call it a slight error, because, after all, what is a disparity in regard to figures? At the first election to which reference has been made, the postal votes were 647. At the second electionthey numbered 815. The Leader of the Opposition evidently laid himself out for a vigorous attack upon me because of the statement I made. I made it in reply to an interjection by Senator St. Ledger. It was made on the spur of the moment. I was under the. impression at the time that a larger number of postal votes was recorded in the city of Melbourne in the first election than in the second election. But it is common knowledge that, in connexion with both of those elections, numbers of votes were recorded by post that ought to have been recorded in the usual way, because there was every facility for voting at the ballot-box in the electorate in question. But that is not the only reason, let me repeat, that moved the Government to propose the abolition of postal voting. Senator Millen admits that it is true that there was a very much larger percentage of postal votes recorded in Victoria than in any other State. He gave as a reason for that the fact that Victoria is a smaller State.
– I did not give that as a reason.
– It was one of the reasons given.
– The honorable senator argued that, because Victoria is a smaller State, there are more facilities for votinghere than is the case in a large State. If that argument were true, the very largest percentage of postal votes recorded should have been in Tasmania.
– The honorable senator must take into consideration the size of the population.
– It is remarkable how honorable senators opposite jump about from one point to another. The main reason for the abolition of postal voting is not, as alleged, that it is harmful to members of the Labour party, and helpful to members of the Opposition party, but because the Government have set up a principle. Experience has- shown that for years the Labour party has advocated principles that have been unpopular; that for years they have been in a hopeless minority in regard to their advocacy, but that they have seen the minority turned into a majority in the course of time. It is because the Government believe, as a matter of principle, that no matter how many safeguards are placed around this system of postal voting, it can never give satisfaction to the Labour party or any other party, that they propose to abolish it. The main reason given by honorable senators opposite for the retention of the system is that it is a convenience to female electors at certain periods.
– And also to seamen and commercial travellers.
– Commercial travellers can vote under this Bill. A commercial traveller can record his vote at any polling-booth. A seaman can record an absent vote. Let us look at the argument with regard to depriving the female section of the community of voting facilities. This eleventh hour sympathy for suffering sisterhood on the part of honorable senators opposite can hardly be taken seriously. In my previous speech on this subject I quoted the number of votes recorded by post at the last election. The total was 29,249, of which13,490 were the votes of males, and 15,759 of females.
– Can the honorable senator give any reason for the fact that, in the city of Melbourne election referred to, though the personal votes for Dr. Maloney exceeded the personal votes for Sir Malcolm McEacharn, the postal votes for Sir Malcolm McEacharn exceeded the postal votes for Dr. Maloney? How is the discrepancy accounted for?
– At that election excitement ran high. There was very much at stake. A great deal of expense was incurred to get people to vote. People voted by post who would not have voted at all atthe ballot-box, and some who voted by post in a certain way would probably have voted another way had they gone to the poll. Senator Walker sought to show how seriously the abolition of postal voting would inconvenience womenfolk throughout Australia at certain periods. To obtain some idea of the number who would be affected, I have obtained some figures from which an inference can be drawn. In New South Wales in 1909 the number of births was 43,782. On an average we may suppose that each woman was indisposed for four weeks during the year.
– I estimated six weeks.
– Let us divide the total number by twelve. That gives 3,649 in any one month. That is the number of women who, if the estimate be reliable, would in a month be inconvenienced by the abolition of postal voting. But there are, as we know, many women who are able to move about a fortnight after maternity. On that basis of calculation the number who would be inconvenienced would be 1,684. The number of postal votes cast by women in New South Wales at the last election was 3,325, or less than the number who, according to Senator Walker, would be physically incapacitated from recording a vote at all.
– It is only fair to say that I allowed six weeks for a maternity case.
– I have shown that the number of births in New South Wales in 1909 was 43,782. If women were laid up for four weeks in maternity cases there would have been 3,649 unable to vote at the last election, or a greater number than the number who actually recorded postal votes.
– It is not to be assumed that every one would want to vote.
– I am putting the matter in this way because it has been urged that the postal voting system was introduced mainly to convenience women in maternity cases.
– Women might be unable to vote in the ordinary way for quite other reasons, They might be at a distance from a polling booth.
– That was one of the main reasons. When Senator Givens was speaking, he made a suggestion which was eagerly gripped by honorable senators opposite.
– Have the Government gripped it yet?
– That is another matter. In Victoria, the number of births for 1909 was 31,544, or lower than in New South Wales. Dividing that by twelve, assuming a woman in .a maternity case to be indisposed for a month, we should have a total of 2,628 who would be unable to vote. If we reckoned the time at a fortnight, the number would be 1,213, yet at the last elections in Victoria 7,708 recorded their votes by post. The number of births was considerably less in Victoria- than in New South Wales ; the number of women who voted by post in the former State was considerably higher than the number who voted that way in the latter State. In Queensland, the number of births was 15,552, allowing for a period of four weeks the number of women who would have been unable to vote in the ordinary way would have been 1,296; allowing for a fortnight the number would have been 598.
– They will be robbed of their votes, anyway.
– We shall not rob any one of the- vote. The number of postal votes recorded by women in Queensland at the last elections was 2,382. In South Australia the number of births in 1909 was 10,091. If women were indisposed for four weeks 841, and if they were indisposed for a fortnight only 388 would have been unable to record their votes in the ordinary way, and yet 791 women voted by past. In Western Australia the number of births was 7,602. If women were indisposed for a month 633, and if for two weeks 292 would have been unable to vote in the ordinary way, and yet the number of postal votes cast by women was 850. In Tasmania the number of births was 5,500; assuming women to be indisposed for a month, there would have been 458, and if for a fortnight 211 unable to vote, yet the number of postal votes recorded by women in Tasmania was 703. Repeating again that the main argument against the proposed abolition of postal voting is that it will seriously inconvenience and, as a matter of fact, wholly disfranchise the women folk who may be in a certain condition, we find that the total number of postal votes recorded by women at the last elections was 15,759, and the total number recorded by males 13,490. Now, what was the matter with the males?
– That is not the point. Why disfranchise the females?
– I wish to know what is the point. I have been trying to ascertain the point which the Opposition have been endeavouring to make in their objection to the abolition of postal voting. One objection urged against it is that women in a certain condition of health will be disfranchised. Another is that aged and infirm men will be disfranchised. But it does not matter what figures are quoted in order to show that the number who will be disfranchised by the abolition of postal voting will be comparatively very small, nothing, apparently, will alter the view expressed by certain honorable senators of the Opposition that the Labour party desired the abolition of postal voting mainly or wholly because they believed that more postal votes would be recorded by post against members standing in their interests than would be recorded against those standing in the interests of the socalled Liberal party. Let me repeat again that no such motive moves the Government in their desire to bring about the abolition of the postal voting system. We believe it to be a bad system.
– We might as well abolish the ballot altogether.
– I am sure that we might almost as well abolish vote by ballot as permit the postal voting system to continue.
– What nonsense.
– We know that men and women are employed, and well paid, by certain organizations, whose business it is to ferret out everybody who has a vote. They invade localities which, perhaps, would not be entered if the money element were not considered, to cause votes to be exercised, and to exercise influence over people that would not be brought to bear upon them if this postal voting system were not in operation.
– The Government proposal will not stop that.
– If it will not, then, not much harm will be done from the honorable senator’s point of view.
– The Government are proposing to abolish the system where no undue influence is employed, and people cannot vote in any other way than by post.
– I do not expect that we shall ever reach finality in the matter of legislation.
– I agree with the honorable senator that this is not finality.
– It is a step in the right direction.
– I agree with Senator Ready, that this is a step in the right direction.
– It is a retrograde step.
– That may be the opinion Of the honorable senator but, in our opinion, it is nothing of the kind. In our opinion there will be a much more independent vote cast as the result of the abolition of postal voting than is the case to-day.
– The Government are doing about 20,000 people out of their votes.
– That is a mere assumption. We shall do nothing of the kind. I quoted figures a moment ago to disprove such a statement, and I shall not weary the Senate by repeating them.
– In the figures quoted no allowance is made for electors at a distance from a polling booth, or unable to vote in the ordinary way, because of other forms of illness.
– Every possible convenience will be afforded electors to overcome the difficulty of distance from a polling booth, and every effort made to meet the case of those who will not be in their own electoral division on the day of election, and also the case of those who will not be in the Commonwealth on the day of election. I hope, and fully anticipate, that the amendment which has been moved, with respect to the proposed abolition of postal voting, will not be carried.
– I have already received letters in connexion with this Bill from people residing 50 miles from any polling place so far established in Queensland. You, sir, must be quite aware that there are people on stations and in the bush, at places where there is no polling place within a reasonable distance, who should be considered. During the referenda campaign, in common with many others, I found it impossible to secure a ballotpaper. The supply of papers for the referenda, and even for the census, was so limited that thousands of people in North Queensland, in the hinterland of Cairns, were unable to return themselves, as resident in that State at all. I refer to this incidentally to show the difficulties which people in remote districts have in securing papers, even for such a purpose. How are these people to record their votes if the postal voting provisions are abolished ?
– If the honorable senator will look up the figures he will find that, in the particular district to which he” has referred, a higher percentage of the electors on the roll recorded their votes than was the case in the city of Brisbane.
– I shall deal with that later on. I pledge my word for the truth of what I said. I could give the names of people who could not get censuspapers to fill in, and I am certain that the difficulties at election time will be ten times greater. Census-papers were supposed to be delivered at every domicile, and all that people had to do was to fill them in. In many cases it was found impossible for people to obtain those papers, and I want to know how those people will be able to record their votes under this Bill. It will prevent them from voting at all. I suppose that no honorable senator would expect a woman to travel 40 or 50 miles to record a vote. The postal vote was introduced to enable people at a considerable distance from a polling place, or otherwise unable to vote in the ordinary way, to record their votes. Honorable senators opposite claim that, they are progressive, but I say that this is a retrograde movement. We have been told that the postal voting system has been abused, but we have been given no proof of the statement. I say that if there are abuses under the system we should try to do away with them, but we ought not to disfranchise people. If the Government intend to establish polling booths everywhere, so that no one will be likely to be disfranchised, I can find some excuse for the proposal. We have had merely statements as to any abuse of the postal voting provisions of the existing Act. . * .
– They were backed up by proof.
– We have had no proof at all. The honorable senator has told us a nice tale about motor cars going around, but no cases were brought under our ‘ notice.
– I mentioned a specific Police Court case.
– I could mention a hundred Police Court cases of personation, but the honorable senator would not, on that account, advocate doing away with voting by ballot. Senator Givens must remember the California Gully case, in Queensland.
– There was .no Labour party in Queensland at that times - -
-I am not now talking about the Labour party, or any other party, I am alluding to the abuse of. the ballot system. The- honorable senator knows the scandalous case to which I referred, as well as I do, but the State Government did not, because of that case propose to do away with voting by ballot.
– It was an easy matter to guard against abuse of that kind, but it is impossible to guard against abuses of the postal voting system.
– We could very easily safeguard the postal voting system. Before submitting a proposal _ to entirely abolish the system the Government should have proposed means to safeguard it from abuse, if abuse exists in connexion with it. Honorable senators have complained that men and women have been induced to vote by post so that it might be known how they voted. I have witnessed a few postal votes, but I never knew how the people voted.
– Every one is not so honorable as is the honorable senator.
– If abuse has crept in under the “system we might provide that the postal vote should not be used unless the voter is at a certain distance from a polling booth. We might require the elector to sign a declaration to prove his bona fides, and impose as severe a penalty as honorable, senators please upon the signing of a false declaration. I cannot for the life of me understand why this proposal is made. It is common rumour that it is because . it does not suit honorable senators on the other side. That is public talk even amongst Labour sympathizers. It is claimed that they have lost a certain number of votes, but that the other side will lose more if the system is abolished. I do not say that that statement is true. We hear of many strange things done at elections. We are told that men and women have been induced to vote by post in order that interested individuals might know how they voted. I have been mixed up in politics for a good many years, and have never known that to be done.
– The honorable senator is still mixed.
– I think that a man would require even greater hardihood than the honorable senator who has interjected to ask an elector to vote by post, so that he might know how he voted. I have too high an opinion of the men and women of Australia to believe that they could be cowed into voting in order to suit any one. When I hear such things said from the other side I feel that those who make use of such statements belittle the manhood and womanhood of Australia. We are told that after elections people are punished in all sorts of ways because of the votes they gave. I have said to those who have made such complaints to me that unless they spread the truth about themselves no one could know how they voted. I do not believe that anyone would ask the electors of Australia to vote by post in order to find out how they voted.
– The honorable senator thinks that that is not possible.
– I do not say it is impossible. Senator Barker might have more hardihood than I have; but if I asked a person to vote by post in order that I might learn how he voted I would probably receive an answer that would make me look very small. If the honorable gentleman came to me and asked me how I was going to vote, or to vote by ballot in such a way that he would know for whom I had voted, I know the answer he would get; and I believe honestly that both the men and women of Australia are as independent as I am.
– Your living does not depend upon your answer.
– That is another old gag. No man’s living depends upon his answer. I ask the honorable senator, supposing a man on the West Coast of Tasmania voted for the Labour party, would he be dismissed ? If he were there would be a strike immediately. The same thing applies to Sydney, Newcastle, Charters Towers, or any other part of Australia. I know that men are not hounded down because they vote for the Labour party, the Liberal party, or any other party. It is abouttime that gag was dropped. I know the people of Australia are independent enough. I have heard the same old story after every election for the last twenty-five years. At one time, if any person had known of such a thing in my own district it would have been myself.
– It was done in your State, anyhow.
– I have never yet known of one instance of a person being dismissed from his employment on account of the way he voted.
– Every member of Mr. Tom Glassey’s first committee was sent away from his employment.
– I have heard this statement time after time. If a man gets dismissed after an election for any reason, it is immediately said that he was dis missed because he voted for the Labour party. I have asked people who make those statements how any one can tell for whom a man votes.
– Every one knew how Glassey’s committee voted.
– I am not talking about Glassey’s committee. Before the Bill is read a second time, I want to know from the Government whether they are going to take any steps to provide facilities for people at a distance from polling places to vote. Will they give the Senate and the country any assurance that people who reside 20, 30, 40, or 50 miles distant from pollingbooths will have some means of getting their votes recorded, without having to travel such a distance? I am certain that no honorable member on the Ministerial side of the Chamber would expect a woman, or a man who was not in good health, or who was crippled, to travel such a distance to vote. If the Bill passes without amendment, such people must be disfranchised ; and I want the Government to tell me what they are going to do to enable those people to vote. I will be satisfied if they tell me that, and if they will agree to accept an amendment -let it be guarded by all the machinery that they can bring in - which will give that class of people an opportunity of voting. I do not think the Ministry would like it to go forth to the country that, because people happen to live a long distance from a polling booth, they are not to be allowed to vote. The people I am referring to are practically our pioneers away in the bush. Honorable senators must remember that Queensland is not a small State like Victoria. Queensland is as large as New South Wales, Victoria and ten Tasmanias combined, There are thousands of people in Queensland who are not within reach of a polling booth, and it does not meet the case for the Government to say, “ We will give people facilities to vote where there is a polling booth.” The same thing applies to New South Wales, South Australia, and Western Australia as applies to Queensland, though it may be to a lesser extent. I am speaking of the State I know, and I say that, unless the Government bring in some provision which will give settlers who are far removed from any polling booth facilities to record their votes, they will inflicta great hardship on the very class of people we want. We are always crying outabout putting people on the land. We putthem oil farms, sheep stations, or small selections, and yet we are going to disfranchise them.
– They have no facilities for voting now. In many instances the trouble of getting a postal vote is greater than that of going to vote.
– Why does the honorable senator want to do away with postal voting? I admit that it is a difficult thing to get a postal vote. I would make it easier to get a postal vote, under strict regulations; but the honorable senator is going to do away even with the facilities which people have at present to vote by post. If there is a justice of the peace or a schoolmaster in a district, he can witness the papers, and the residents can vote by post. Under the proposal in the Bill, no matter whether there is a schoolmaster or a justice of the peace in a district, the people will not be able to get postal votes
At all. I know the honorable senator does not intend that ; and I hope that, with his assistance, some scheme may be devised by this Parliament whereby the people in sparsely-populated districts, who are remote from polling booths, will not be disfranchised.
– I did not intend to speak on this Bill ; but, as a matter has been mentioned in the debate with which I am perfectly well acquainted, and in connexion with which I took a very active part, I cannot allow the occasion to pass without giving my reasons for objecting to postal voting. I have been a magistrate for some nineteen years, and during that period I have been called upon, in the exercise of my duty, to witness a very large number of postal ballotpapers. The Leader of the Opposition quoted the case of the McEacharn election petition. That was the election in the Melbourne electorate. I had nothing to do with the first election for that seat, but in connexion with the second election, I was the honorary secretary of Dr. Maloney’s committee. All the matters connected with that election therefore came under my purview. There was great activity displayed on both sides in the desire to secure the seat, but the activity on one side was counterbalanced by the activity on the other. There were certain honorary magistrates who went round to the various houses in Lonsdale-street, and Little Lonsdalestreet, and the lanes in the vicinity to induce the women of easy virtue to apply for postal votes. These were not women for whom the postal voting provisions were intended. They were not about to be confined, nor were they sick and incapable of attending the poll on the day of the election. They were persons who were healthy and quite capable of going to the polling booths. I myself attended on one occasion and witnessed a signature, for which I was afterwards brought up, and fined £10. In that case a woman desired a postal vote. She was an invalid, and when I attended at her house, I was assured by her daughter that the woman wanted some assistance. I said, “What is the assistance required?” and I was told that it was to steady the woman’s hand. I said to the daughter, “Very well; hold your mother’s hand if you desire to do so, and help her to make her signature.” The daughter did so. It was afterwards found that the mother could neither read nor write. The magistrates who had issued the applications for the postal votes had signed blanks, and they were taken out, and’ distributed. The name of that woman was forged. When the two applications for postal votes came before Mr. Hunt, the electoral officer dealing with the matter, he found variations in the signatures, and he took the necessary steps to bring me, and the other man, before the magistrates. We have an honorable senator asking where corruption takes place, and saying that to ask a person for whom he is going to vote would merit condign punishment-
– Do you think there are many bad cases like that?
– I am only mentioning those cases I know of. Honorable senators opposite are very virtuous. They say that nothing of this kind is possible. They are perfectly oblivious of anything of the kind of which I have spoken. The Arcadian simplicity of it strikes me as evidence that they must know that it takes place. In one case I know of, a woman was induced to apply for a postal vote. She did so, and got it. A magistrate went to her house, and said to her, “ Have you got your postal ballot-paper ?” She replied that she had. He said, “ Showit to me. I will fix it up for you.” She brought it out, and he said, “ Of course, you are going to vote for McEacharn?” She said, “No; I am going to vote for Dr. Maloney.” The magistrate replied, “I will see you damned first,” and took the paper, and tore it across. I am not going to mention the name of that magistrate, but that actually occurred.
– Was he fined£10?
– The only cases I take notice of are those which are proved.
– The honorable senator knows as well as I do the difficulty of getting proof. If a person gets possession of a postal ballot-paper, and that paper is signed in the ordinary way, how are you going to prove that the person making use of it does not come under the provisions entitling him or her to a postal vote? When I was cited before the City Court, and fined by Mr. Panton for having witnessed a postal vote in an improper way, some thirteen other cases were brought forward, and it was proved that in fourteen instances, magistrates had signed blank forms, allowed them to be taken out, and names of electors had been forged on them. In my case, there was an appeal, and the higher Court immediately quashed the conviction because there was no evidence to show that I had done anything derogatory to my position as a magistrate. At the time I made the declaration I did not know that the woman was an illiterate woman. I was not told about that. So far as the Labour party are concerned, I have never known them, no matter how high excitement may be at election time, to get a vote by corrupt means.
– Three representatives of your side were fined in New South Wales the other day.
– That may be. I am telling honorable senators what I know of the possibilities of corrupt voting under the postal voting system. I desire that every one should have the opportunity of voting, hut of the two evils which exist, we must choose the lesser, and I say it would be wise to abolish a system which has been used so corruptly, and which has wrought so much harm as has the system of voting by post. I was a scrutineer for the postal votes recorded at the election of Sir M. McEacharn. The result could not turn on the number of these votes, because of the large number of the other votes recorded. We went through the 600 postal votes, and I am certain that 50 per cent, of the persons who availed themselves of this system were not entitled to do so. I was aware that persons had been going up and down the streets urging electors to secure postal ballot-papers, because if they did they would not have to go to the polling booth. This statement was commonly made, “ You do not need to go to the polling booth; all you have to do is to apply for a postal ballot-paper.”
– What of those persons who do need postal voting now ?
– The harm which will be done to a small number of persons will be more than compensated for by the benefit which will be secured to the country. There is a number of persons who, under every law, must be placed at a disadvantage. In this case I hold that lesser evil will be done by abolishing a greater evil. During the course of the election to which I referred, and in which I took an active part, as I desired to see Dr. Maloney returned, I witnessed much abuse of the postal voting system by reason of the fact that any amount of money was available, and the persons who were engaged for the other side were not particular as to what they did, as their only desire was to secure votes. From the facts which came under my notice at the time, I was quite convinced that postal voting was used corruptly with the intent to defeat the opposing can;didate by means other than fair and clean. To my knowledge the Labour party have always desired to have elections conducted, as far as practicable, in a clean, fair, and open way. In view of the fact that we cannot possibly get all people to record their votes, we are justified in abolishing postal voting, and I trust that the Bill will be carried almost unanimously.
– So much has been said on the question of abolishing postal voting that there is no need, I think, for me to reiterate the argu-ments which have been used in that respect. The continual cry of members of the Opposition for safeguards against the corrupt practices alleged to occur under the system is an empty one, for the simple reason that, as they know very well, there are many things against which it is impossible to guard, and very much can be done under certain conditions which it is impossible to prove.
– What about the ballot system? Are not many tilings done, such as taking out clean papers, which ought not to be done?
– There are so many things which can be done, so many ways iu which postal voting can be abused - ways against which it is impossible to guard ah far as I know - that it is the duty of those who object to the abolition of the system to show where or how a safer method can be devised, and how it can be so safeguarded as to prevent corruption being commonly exercised. I know that the other provisions of the secret ballot system may in certain directions be abused, but that is no argument why we should increase the opportunities for abuses to arise.
– We do not abolish it, though.
– While we cannot abolish everything, yet, where one section of the law has been found to be practically unworkable on account of the abuses which have arisen thereunder, there is no course open to us, so far as I can see, but to abolish it. The system of postal voting has, of course, its genuine uses. We all know that there are instances where bond fide electors have voted under the system who otherwise would not have been able to vote. Therefore, we admit that by abolishing the system a certain number of the electors will inevitably be deprived of the opportunity to record their votes. But it is notorious, and it is idle for honorable senators on the other side to pretend that they “do not know anything about the matter, that the use of postal voting has led, not merely to one or two cases, but to a tremendous amount of abuse, and the parrot cry of “ Prove it!” “ Prove it !” is an idle one, because a system of that kind lends itself to abuses which, in the very nature of things, are beyond proof in the majority of instances. The abuses which arose under this system when it was a part of the Queensland law were so numerous and so flagrant that, by the common consent of all parties, it was abolished after a short trial. I defy any senator from Queensland to deny the statement that, by practically common consent, postal voting in that State was abolished because all sides had to admit that the abuses which were rampant under its operation were intolerable, and must not be repeated at a subsequent election. There is no difference between State and Commonwealth in the carrying out of an electoral law. Consequently a system which was found unworkable in Queensland, under a State law, must be equally unworkable under the Federal law. The cases which were proved only the other day in New South Wales do not show that the law can be maintained in its purity, but they show clearly enough that for one case which is susceptible of proof there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of cases in which proof would be impossible. I am aware that similar evils arise under the secret ballot system, but none so widespread as those which exist under postal voting. I freely confess that if there was any way in which postal voting could be “amply safeguarded, or as completely safeguarded as other provisions of the electoral law, I would be only too glad to see it operative. I can well believe that, in certain circumstances, postal voting might be established. I hope that if we adopt a system of elective members in the Territory of Papua we shall adopt the system of postal voting. No principle is involved. It is simply an expedient. In fact, the whole of the electoral machinery is simply a series of expedients for carrying the popular will into effect in the best way. And if any better method can be found for one country than would suit another, there is no inconsistency in adopting in one place that which would be wholly inapplicable iri another. Therefore, I do not go on any question of principle in regard to the matter, but postal voting has been found to be inexpedient, because of the way in which it lends itself to corruption to a greater extent than do any of the other provisions of the secret ballot system. While I intend, most reluctantly I confess, to vote for the abolition of postal voting, because I believe that whatever evil may be inflicted by the disfranchisement in this way of a few, will be more than compensated for by the greater purity of the elections generally ; if it could be shown that there was some certain and safe way of guarding the system against abuse, then neither I nor any one else would, for a moment, I think, ask for its abolition. Senator Vardon. - Is it not possible? Senator RAE. - I have not heard or found any method by which postal voting could be better safeguarded on paper than it is now. At present, on paper, there are ample safeguards, but the trouble is to render them effective.
Senator Vardon. Safer than the system which you are going to adopt?
– There is so much left to persons other than the would-be voters, and the various agencies which come into play in postal voting are so numerous, that many openings for abuse are left, and as fast as you attempt to close them up in one way, cunning and designing persons can open them in another way. Nothing which the Opposition have advanced so far has caused me to in any way alter my opinion. I desire to say a few words regarding one or two of the other leading principles of the Bill. I admit that the provision for compulsory enrolment is purely experimental. I do not know that any great good is going to be effected.
– The President pulled me up for referring to compulsory enrolment. He told me to talk about the amendment- only.
– Order ! Senator Vardon had previously spoken to the main question, and was speaking to the amendment when I directed him to confine his remarks to the amendment, whereas Senator Rae has not spoken to the main question at all until now.
– I beg your pardon, sir. I thought that he had.
– While I hold that compulsory enrolment is on a very different footing from compulsory voting, yet I, for one, am not enamoured of it I frankly admit. It seems to me that if eighty persons out of every 100 take sufficient interest in the politics of the day to go and record their votes they are the proper persons to govern the country, so far as votes can do, and that if there are 20 per cent, of the voting population who do not take that interest in public affairs that is their funeral. Proportionately it gives greater power to those who are more competent to use power. I take it that, broadly speaking, the electors who take a sufficient interest in politics to vote are those who have the most intelligent understanding of the questions at issue, and if we are to dragoon the remaining 20 per cent, into enrolling, and follow them round the country to see that their names are always on the roll, well, there is too much spoon-feeding about the system to me to recommend it altogether. I think that if they will not take the trouble to enrol no party is any the worse off from the fact that they do not take the trouble to vote or cannot vote when they desire to do so.
– The trouble is that some persons think that they are enrolled when they , are not.
– The man who thinks in that way is guilty of carelessness that experience shows can be avoided with a little effort.
– Not always.
– You are on the wrong track.
– That is a matter of opinion. I examine the electoral roll a few weeks before an election.
– That is of no use. You should do it a couple of months before:
– I examine the roll pretty frequently.
– Some men have not a chance to do that.
– Give them the chance to do so. There are few persons who cannot either go to a post-office or write to find out whether they are on the roll. If they take a, keen interest in elections, they will certainly do one or the other. I know people who have been resident in one constituency for thirty or forty years, who have voted at every election, and who, nevertheless, have found that, for some unexplained reason, their names have been omitted from the roll. These accidents do not occur only in connexion with supporters of the Labour party. I have known people in the highest circles of society to get their names left off the roll through the bungling of those who were responsible for its compilation. But if people took reasonable precautions, such mistakes would seldom happen. Certainly, they would rarely be disfranchised from that cause. I generally look at the roll myself, or, if I am unable to do so, write home to my people, and ask them to see to it that our names are all there. If we were to follow up the cases of those who, through indifference or carelessness, had their names left off a roll, or failed to transfer, we should give rise to an endless amount of trouble to attain no great amount of good.
– Suppose names are left off in compilation ?
– Then why not adopt the system used in New South Wales? There the person who enters up the name of an elector has to hand to him a receipt. In such a case, you can prove who was responsible for a mistake.
– But proving a mistake would not give the elector a vote.
– But it would make bungling much rarer’ in future than it has been in the past. ‘My opinion is that when names have been left off the roll, it has been impossible to sheet the bungling home to any particular person. That is the reason mistakes occur year after year. If the man who committed the error was sacked or punished by having his own name left off the roll for a given period, such mistakes would not occur so often.
– Why should he not get seven days “without the option”?
– I would give him seven weeks. If the name of a voter which should be on the roll is left off, it is a disgrace to the compilers. I am personally aware that the late Mr. Donald MacDonell, Chief Secretary of New South Wales; handed in his name at the proper time. It was left off the original roll, and also off the supplementary roll. Similar instances have occurred time after time where the elector has taken every precaution, and yet has found his name omitted. Mistakes of that kind would, in my opinion, be remedied by a system of receipts, by which the official who received the name of a voter, and failed to see that it was put on the roll, was punished for his neglect. Furthermore, I would enable a person having a receipt to vote with it just as if his name were on the roll. But while I would take these precautions to enable people to be enrolled and vote, I do not see why we should compel persons to be enrolled or to vote against their will. We are told that it is the duty of every citizen to vote. But does he injure his fellow-citizens by failing to carry out that duty? I do not think so. I say that every man who is opposed to my opinions, and who fails to vote, makes my vote of greater value. Therefore, I rejoice - I certainly do not resent it - when my opponents fail to vote. Other proposals in the Bill which have met with a great deal of adverse criticism, are calculated to do valuable work. I refer particularly to the proposal to limit the influence of money power when it is used unscrupulously, as we know it has been in the past. So far as penalties are attached to unfair actions on the part of an inspired press, or of those employed as paid canvassers, the provisions of the Bill meet with my hearty approval. The Leader of the Opposition dwelt at great length on the Labour press as compared with the daily press of Sydney, Melbourne, and other large centres. He devoted particular attention to that excellent little weekly paper, The Worker - or, rather, to the two Workers published in. Sydney and Brisbane. The honorable senator sought to show that the Labour press is subsidized. I know that my honorable friend is an adept at mental gymnastics, and can make a thing appear very different from what it really is.
Therefore, I was not surprised at the warmth that he threw into this portion of his speech. But, as a matter of fact, The Worker does not receive any subsidy in the true sense of the term. It is quite correct that - as shown by the rule quoted by Senator Millen - a certain amount is deducted from each annual subscription of a member of the Australian Workers Union and devoted to the purpose of running these newspapers. The honorable senator was wrong in the case of Queensland, where the subscription is very much less than is the case in New South Wales. The principle is, however, the same. But it is not a subsidy in the ordinary acceptation of the term. It is not a bounty given to encourage the production of the newspapers. These journals are the property of the unions which devote a portion of their funds to running them. In addition, every member of the union is entitled to have a free copy of The Worker sent post free to any address in the Commonwealth.
– As a matter of fact, the payment is really a subscription.
– It is really a subscription.
– That is the way the honorable senator gets over it, is it?
– I am not attempting to quibble in any way whatever ; but I say again that this payment is not a subsidy in the sense that, for instance, the Commonwealth subsidizes certain industries, in order to get them established.
– “ A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
– Just so ; and the honorable senator’s argument, couched in any other way, would be just as fallacious. His. argument was that, because a newspaper is owned by a particular organization, and is, therefore, naturally run in the interest of that organization, and advocates its policy, it is a “hireling “ journal.
– Instead of being hired, The Worker is owned by the Australian Workers Union.
– The Worker, instead of being on the same footing as that portion of the press which expresses opinions according to the money power behind it, is, as a matter of fact, in an entirely different situation. If any individual, by merely giving a big fat advertisement to a newspaper,’ can secure that his opinions will be more fully expressed in its columns, more favorably criticised and commented upon, than would otherwise be the case, then that news- paper comes within the category which mayfairly entitle it to be called a “ hireling “ journal. But to say that a newspaper which is openly and avowedly the property of a union, can be called a “hireling” because it advocates the principles for which it was established, is to subvert the whole meaning of the term as ordinarily employed. But I challenge Senator Millen to prove even what he alleged about The Worker. He said that that newspaper had no option but to advocate the claims of every Labour man.
– No; not as individuals.
– Not the individuals, but the actions of the individuals - whatever they did. I say, however, that, time after time, both the Queensland and the Sydney Worker - and I nave read both of them for twenty years - have been the severest critics of members of their own party when it was considered that they were not carrying out their duties properly. Members of the Labour party have been criticised for their sins of omission and of commission. These newspapers have even advocated the expulsion of certain members of the party on occasion. They have, in every way, given a kind of criticism which the daily press never gives. The daily press booms up a Labour man whenever it is suspected that he is weakening on his principles. If he does anything in the nature of what we call “ ratting,” they praise him as a man of moderate views and clear intellect - as a man marked out to lead - as a man who is clear-sighted, honest, and able above his fellows.
– Or as a man qualified to go to America?
– I have never been to America.
– Mr. Neilsen is on the road now, I believe.
– I know no more about that than the man in the street does. But while, this Labour press is frankly owned and conducted in the interests of the Labour party, I say that it is a pure misuse of terms to compare it with a newspaper press which, in response to, or in return for, big advertisements, colours its news or its comments. To what extent the big dailies of this country are open to purchase in respect of their opinions I do not know. I have never had either the means or the inclination to test the point. But I do say that we find a curious case to awaken suspicion in the Melbourne Age. That news paper last year continuously advocatedthose proposals which the Labour party submitted to the electors at the referenda. For weeks and weeks we read in the Age leading articles in which every argument brought forward in the other Chamber by the Leaders of the Opposition - Mr. Deakin and Mr. Joseph Cook - were trenchantly, exposed, and all their fallacies blown to the winds. Everything that could be said was said to knock those arguments to pieces, and that policy was maintained until the close of the session.
– That was “ the Age of reason.”
– But then, suddenly - within the twinkling of an eye - the position was reversed entirely. The Age “ bouted ship,” and nothing that could be said was too bad to say about our proposals.
– Some say that Senator Simon Fraser went down to the Ageoffice in the meantime.
– Every honorable senator knows very well that there must have been’ a cause for this change. The men who conduct the Age are not inexperienced, callow youths. They did not, for the first time after the Close of the session, consider the arguments in favour of our proposals. We know very well that there must have been big and powerful reasons behind to cause the change; and it is fair to assume that those reasons were mostly financial. Unless we are furnished with a full and comprehensive explanation, it is not unfair to assume that financial considerations were at the back of such a sudden change of front. But that is not the only case. The Sydney Daily Telegraph has occasionally published articles, day after day, and week after week, advocating principles with a distinctly democratic tinge. But this line of advocacy suddenly stopped when we came within reach of a decision upon a given question, and, in spite of all previous professions, the Daily Telegraph turned round and advocated the opposite course. That kind of thing goes on to such an extent that it is time, as far as the law can enable us/ to know what forces there are behind these articles and alleged letters that appear in the daily newspapers at election times. If the provisions of this Bill will do anything to blow out the false prestige which surrounds the great editorial “ We,” and inform people that it is only some fallible mortal, whose word is worth no more than that of the next man they ‘ may’ meet, it will clear the political atmosphere, and enable the electors to estimate at their true value letters from correspondents which probably have been written in the office of the newspaper in which they appear. There is a kind of superstitious reverence paid by many persons to views expressed by the newspaper press.
– Not nowadays.
– It is passing away, to some extent, no doubt; but there are still tens of thousands of people who believe a thing if they see it stated in a newspaper, or, at any rate, believe that there is a foundation of fact for it. If by compelling articles on election matters to be written in the first person, and signed by the author, we can assist to do away with the false prestige attaching to newspaper articles, we shall have done some good, since people will be then in a position to estimate them at their true value. For these and other reasons I welcome this measure, but I trust that, in Committee, the Minister in charge of it will permit amendments calculated to strengthen the efforts made in that direction. I trust there will be no insistence on every word and clause of the Bill, because, in some respects, we might make it stronger and we might eliminate some of the provisions. There is certainly ample reason for imposing penalties upon the misrepresentation which now so frequently appears in the daily press, for enforcing the signing of articles appearing during an election campaign, and for penalizing the efforts made by means of money to unfairly obtain votes. In connexion with the matter of canvassing, Senator Millen made a great point of the ability of trade unions to employ men as organizers for industrial purposes, and at the same time use them for political work. There is no objection on my part, and I think I can speak for others on this side also, to making the clauses dealing with that matter apply as fully to one organization as to another. I take, for instance, the case of the Australian Workers Union, a body that employs a number of organizers in each of the States. What does it amount to after all? There may be twenty men employed in this way for three or four months during the shearing season in a State like New South Wales. These men are for fully nine evenings out of every ten engaged in visiting sheds where the vast majority of the men they meet are Labourites, and need no can- vassing whatever. The holding of meet ings in towns at which to act the part of political organizers is beyond, not their ability, but their powers, because they have too much other work to do.
– But the honorable senator found time for it.
– During every shearing season an organizer may be going for weeks without ever entering a town. If he does enter one it may be only for a few hours, when he is off again to the next station. There is a great deal of difference between canvassing and general organizing work. I take it that if Senator Millen took the platform on behalf of a political party, though he might not be engaged in organizing work, he would not be canvassing in the ordinary sense in which the word is used. He would put the principles he believes in before his audience, and ask them, if they agreed with them, to vote for the candidates who would represent those principles. That is not what is generally understood by canvassing, which I take to mean the visiting of individual electors and asking them to pledge their votes for particular candidates.
– And telling them a lot of lies to induce them to do so.
– I should say so judging by the literature they circulate.
– They are not as bad as their literature.
– No; God forbid! I contend that general organizing work will not be interfered with in any way by this Bill, nor will one side be penalized as compared with another. If I, as an organizer for the Australian Workers Union, visited a town and held a meeting, I should be doing nothing which could be prohibited under this Bill.I could do no more in that respect than Senator Millen or those associated with him might do in similar circumstances. No one would ever dream of asking individual shearers which way they were going to vote. He would take it for granted that the majority were onhis side. Those who were not would not be worth questioning, because they would probably lie, anyhow, over the matter.
– I could give the honorable senator a few specimens of lies from his own side, if he wants them.
– I do not require any, I have already so many from the other side. I do not for a moment wish to make out that all the people on our side, are any more angelic than are those on the opposite side.
– I understand that the honorable senator’s side is the humanitarian side.
– I certainly think that the principles we advocate are very much better than those advocated by honorable senators opposite. I have never contended that human nature differs very much in individuals, no matter on which side they may be. But principles do differ very widely ; and I should not be on this side if I did notbelieve that ours are immeasurably superior to those mythical affairs which are called principles on the other side. The fact remains that so far as canvassing is concerned, this Bill will not penalize one side more than another. If in Committee it can be shown that anything can be done to make that more clear than it is as expressedin the Bill at thepresent time, I shall be only too pleased to vote for any amendment which will put the matter beyond doubt. We have not been very much in the habit of canvassing for money, and I trust we shall not dovery much in that way, because I do not think the results are satisfactory. The temptation to either side in such a case is undoubted. We should have no more compulsory legislation than can be avoided ; but we should make it easy to do right and difficult to do wrong ; and that iswhy I think it is absolutely necessary to abolish postal voting. I shall defer any further remarks I have to make upon the Bill until we get into Committee.
Question - That the words proposed to be left out be left out - put. The Senate divided.
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 -
Section 2 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting therefrom the words “ Part X. - Voting by Post.”
– I would like to suggest to those who, like myself, are entirely opposed tothe nullification of the voting by post provisions, that, should any further discussion be desired upon that point, it should.be left over until the latter portion of the Bill, though it will be noticed that this clause strikes out of the interpretation section of the principal Act the words “ Voting by Post.”
– Better have the discussion now.
– It is immaterial whether we take the division on this clause or later on. I merely wish to avoid having a double discussion on the matter. I have no desire to add anything further to the discussion. All I wish to say is that I shall invite the Committee to divide on one of the clauses dealing with the abolition of voting by post. I think it would be better if we were to have the debate on any subsequent clause which specifically strikes out the voting by post provisions.
– After the vote taken this afternoon, of course any attempt to test the question of the abolition of voting by post again would be futile. At the same time, I would like to call attention to the speech of the Minister in charge of the Bill this afternoon, which to my mind was somewhat extraordinary. It was not a political speech. It was an obstetric speech. He dealt with a phase of this question which grated on my ears in the way it was elaborated. According to the Minister’s own showing, reducing it to its narrowest limits, he is disfranchising from 8,000 to 10,000 electors by eliminating voting by post.
– I did not narrow it down like that.
– It was narrowed down in that way by the Minister. There is a certain time in a woman’s life, and if there is any time that ought to appeal to whatever is chivalrous or manly in man it is that time. To assume for a moment that a woman could go to the polling booth: during those three or four weeks, or, it might be, three or four months, is assuming something which is extremely unfair, and is not to be expected. I was shocked at the Minister’s speech. Nothing we can say will change the minds of the Ministry ; but even looking at the effect of the abolition of voting by post from the narrowest stand-point - narrowing it down to the women in the condition referred to, without considering people living at a distance from a polling booth, and people who are infirm, or who are unable to get to a polling booth owing to many other reasons - on the Minister’s own figures he is disfranchising from 8,000 to 10,000 people in the Commonwealth. I think this provision striking out voting by post is unjust.
Senator ST. LEDGER (Queensland) (5.7]. - One would have thought that the Minister straight away, after the expressions of some of his own supporters, would have been convinced that this clause should be postponed. One of his own supporters has pointed out the fact - and not a single member on the Minister’s own side, or the Minister himself, has disputed it, because it could not be disputed - that, in a particular case - a case which is sufficiently familiar to us - a large number of women are going to be disfranchised. The Minister takes up the position now of saying, “ Let them be disfranchised.” That is the position which is being taken up by a Government which pretends to be democratic, and which pretends that Parliament should be elected by adult suffrage.
– You are hardly doing justice to me, because honorable members on your own . side of the Chamber made that point, and I endeavoured to show how many women would be affected.
– One of the Minister’s own supporters gave a strong reason why, in particular cases, the postal vote should be retained; but the Minister has not even had the courtesy to say to the Committee whether or not he will consider such a provision as will enable the people concerned - in this case women - to vote by post. Notwithstanding the fact, which he cannot repudiate or minimize, that a certain class of adults in the community will be disfranchised, he says that voting by post must be abolished. Have we had from the Minister, or from a single Ministerial supporter, a complete explanation as to why it is impossible to provide for those cases? We might provide that every woman in that position should be entitled to go before an officer, make a declaration as to her condition about which there could be no dispute whatever, and become entitled to a postal vote. Such a woman, of all the people in the community, is entitled to have that facility extended to her. Does the Minister mean to say that he cannot frame conditions to provide for that? Does he say that a woman in the condition which has been mentioned should not, if she goes before a medical officer in conjunction with a justice of the peace, and complies with such strict conditions as I have indicated, be allowed to vote by post? There is silence on the other side. The thing is so unblushingly unjust that, from the Minister down, there is no one who is capable of defending that position.
– The honorable senator is making enough noise.
– Why not? What is the good of Parliament, if, when an injustice of this kind is about to be perpetrated, there are not men in it who will make a noise about it? I am not going to apologize for the noise which I am making, if the honorable senator likes to call it noise, nor do I apologize for the length of time I am taking, because the statement of the Minister this afternoon proved that this proposal, root and branch, is unfair and indefensible, and is striking a blow at adult suffrage.
– Are you in favour of adult suffrage?
– The honorable senator cannot defend the position which the Government have taken up. They say that if they allow the privilege of voting by post in the case which has been mentioned, it will have to be allowed in other cases, and that abuses will occur. . If you admit that argument, there is not a single institution, from this Senate down, that you cannot abolish.
– You say we are going to disfranchise thousands of women. Were you in favour of women suffrage?
– That has got nothing to do with the position in front of us. The position is that an injustice is being done, by depriving of their franchise certain women, who are honorably entitled to vote. That is proved by the Minister’s own statement. Let me point out that not a single word has been said on the other side as to the steps that might be taken, to enable these women to exercise the franchise by means of postal voting. It is the greatest humbug to say that the Minister or the officers of the
Electoral Branch cannot provide a form to meet cases of this kind. In every town throughout the Commonwealth medical officers could be appointed to deal with the matter. The medical officer, as a State or a Federal official, would take the responsibility of the statement which he would make in each case. We can easily make provision for the class of women in question to vote by post. It is simply an insult to our intelligence to say that the privilege of voting by post cannot be retained for these women. There are other considerations which arise in connexion with the clause. After a division has been taken in which the overwhelming strength of the Government has been shown, of course, the Minister and his supporters may say, “ We will vote down the Opposition.” Is that worthy of a democratic Government? Is it worthy of a Government which professes to exercise and to base their parliamentary rights and privileges upon adult suffrage. Is that a decent attitude to take? Will a single senator, on the other side, say that if he were allowed a quarter of an hour for the purpose he could not frame a schedule by which the persons to whom reference has been made so often would be protected? Not one of them. There is not a senator opposite who would insult his intelligence or the Government by saying that it could not be done within the time. Without allowing the Opposition, or even his own supporters, an opportunity to frame a provision, however strict or stringent it might be does not matter, the Minister wants to rush the Bill through Committee, although many senators on his side have expressed sympathy with our desire to retain postal voting for a certain class. He declines to afford to any honorable senator an opportunity to frame an amendment which would meet that particular case.
– This is an awful waste of fireworks.
– Of course, the honorable senator thinks that anything which concerns adult franchise is fireworks.
– What he meant to say was that, inasmuch as this matter has been decided elsewhere, it is useless to discuss it here.
– Exactly. The political death-warrant of a certain class of women has been decided upon, not by Parliament, but by the Caucus. If honorable senators on the other side had any real sympathy with that which they have expressed here, they would join with us in asking for time to see that those persons shall not be disfranchised ; in other words, to see that effect, is given to the speech of the Minister in charge of the measure. In a deliberative assembly proper reasons should be given for a proposal of this kind. There is no reason why a single senator on this side should not continue the battle on behalf of a class of women, and, indeed, of others, who live in the country. Ours is a reasonable request, but I hope that we shall not be thrown back on a parliamentary practice by which, sometimes, if we cannot get effect given to a reasonable request, we can show the Government the consequences of resisting our appeal.
– Are you alluding to a “stonewall”?
– No j that is, 1 may remind the Minister, an unparliamentary expression. . .
– I did not understand your vague allusion.
– It was not so vague that its intent was not understood. The Government and their supporters know that they are about to do an injustice.
– I would noi insult the honorable senator’s intelligence, however little or great it may be, by saying that he does not know that an injustice to a particular class is going to be perpetrated by the Government. “ O, franchise t how many crimes are committed in thy name.” Honorable senators opposite will not even tell us that, after consultation with the officials, they have found out that they cannot draw up forms to prevent this, injustice to a class of women. They know that if the Minister, or an official, said they could not draft a schedule to meet this class of cases, they would say a thing which was not correct. No official dare to make such a statement.
– What about the lawyers ?
– There is not a lawyer worth a cent, who could not, within ten minutes, frame a clause and a schedule which would enable this injustice to be averted-
– That is why the measures Of the last Government, composed mainly of lawyers, have been thrown out by the High Court?
– That has nothing to do with this question. The last
Government never attempted to take away the franchise from women, as this Government is doing.
– If you feel this alleged injustice so keenly, how is it you have not framed a clause?
– Our suggestion is to leave the law as it stands.
– What was the object of my amendment to the motion for the second reading but to secure to the House a further opportunity of considering the matter? The supporters of the measure on the other side admitted the injustice of disfranchising this class of citizens, and the Minister accentuated it. Naturally, one would have thought that a Minister or a supporter would have had an amendment prepared. If an amendment is in the mind of the Minister, or a supporter, what harm will be done by postponing the clause? I would remind honorable senators that men in outlying districts will be struck at by this clause just as severely as women will be. The very argument which is being used on behalf of women applies with added force to adults who are aged and infirm. It is absolutely unnecessary to say’ that there are men and women who are not so aged and infirm that, on polling day, if they are more than 5 miles away, they cannot exercise their votes. This clause is, so to speak, the political death-warrant, so far as voting is concerned, to a considerable portion of the community. Apart from women, and a particular condition relating to them, every honorable senator opposite knows that there are other men and women to whom it is a. physical impossibility to vote except by post.
– The poor widow !
– Every time the honorable senator goes on the hustings he has the poor man, and the poor widow, too, on his lips; but when an argument is turned against him, he holds the poor or infirm man, or somebody else, up to derision. Never have I based an argument on class distinction, rich or poor, married or single. I have always tried to discuss a measure on bed-rock principles. There are many persons, women as well as men, who, by reason of distance, and age, and infirmity, cannot go to the polling booth, and these are the very persons who have not abused postal voting, if it has been abused at all. There are in the Commonwealth thousands of women who cannot get to the polling booth, and who can only exercise the suffrage by means of the post. It is not contended that settlers in the back- blocks have abused the privilege. If there is anything in the criticism from the other side, it is that citizens, male and female, in the towns have abused postal voting. When I asked for proof of their statement there was no sufficient proof forthcoming. How can we ask a woman or a man, old and possibly suffering from infirmity, which would not be technically designated as illness, to go 40 or 50 miles to a polling booth? In Queensland, I have known persons who were never able to exercise their right to vote, even for their particular district, by reason of distance, although, for the purpose of State elections, polling booths were amply provided. It was not until the Federal Parliament adopted the postal voting system that they were able to exercise their privileges at all. Have the Government any realization of the difficulties which confront settlers in the back-blocks? I have known a- man who, not having facilities for postal voting, travelled with his wife and daughters a distance of 80 or 100 miles in order to exercise the franchise. As postal facilities are extended - and we are spending thousands of pounds to extend them - the benefits which can be conferred upon the people by their means should be extended also. What benefit to the people is more substantial than a means of exercising a voice in the government of the country? Not a single atom of proof has been cited in justification of the abolition of postal voting as exercised in the back-blocks districts. No abuse or corruption has been hinted at. I hope that the Minister will give us some information as to whether hie is going to drive this proposal right through, or whether he will afford facilities for preparing a modification in accordance with which the aged, the infirm, and women may be enabled to vote by post.
– The honorable senator has had the whole of last week in which to prepare an amendment.
– I have something else to do than put Government Bills right. It is the Minister’s business to do that.
– Cannot the honorable senator frame his own amendments?
– If the Government are satisfied with their Bill they cannot be expected to frame amendments.
– If a little time were allowed, I believe that I should be able to prepare an amendment which would meet the case. But what is the use of doing so if the proposals of the Government are to be pushed through despite evidence and argument?
– I did not intend to speak again, but the irascible and excitable speech of an honorable senator opposite has brought me to my feet. He demands proof that improper practices have occurred in connexion with postal voting. I have already quoted a case that occurred in my own State.
– The honorable senator has made statements, but he has given no proof.
– I quoted the report of a Police Court case in which a man was fined for a breach of the law in connexion with postal voting. But that does not satisfy honorable senators opposite. They say they want evidence from the backblocks. I will quote a case in point. If this does not satisfy them, I shall have to be content with applying the old proverb, “ There are none so blind as those who will not see.” This case is reported in the North-western Advocate and Emu Bay Times - the leading Liberal newspaper of the north-west coast of Tasmania. It was published on 24th April, 1910, and is headed “ Referendum Notes.”
If Liberalism does not gain success on Wednesday it will earn it. Everywhere throughout Tasmania Liberals are organizing to secure the defeat of the referenda as never was the case before. Not only will thousands of vehicles be employed in the Liberal interests on Wednesday, but Liberal workers have been for days past devoting their attention to securing postal votes.
Not the least energetic of workers in the Emu Bay district is Cr. J. Bramich. Mr. Bramich has undertaken to organize the postal votes in Oonah and Hampshire, and probably some thirty votes against the referenda will be in this way recorded that would not have been cast at all. Mr. Bramich, as a justice of the peace, is an authorized witness, and therefore his undertaking the work of canvassing and collecting ballotpapers is peculiarly effective. Four hard days’ work are being put in by this enthusiastic Liberal, two days in securing applications for the postal votes and two more days in getting the papers marked and collecting them. Oonah and Hampshire districts are more than five miles from a polling place, therefore residents are entitled to vole by post. It is found that the average settler is in strong opposition to the Labour party and their pet referenda schemes. So are many farm labourers and those who are not so easily converted. Mr. Bramich has made a number of such converts. The 8s. per day arguments is the most effective for the settler and farmer. “Did you want to pay 8s. per day, wet and dry”? is the query. The answer of the settler and the farmer is not hard to guess. Of course, they cannot afford it.
But how does the argument affect the farm labourer? It is explained in his case that what affects his employer affects him. That the payment of a higher wage will mean a higher price- for necessaries, with a lessened chance of employment. If farmers cannot afford to employ men to-day, what will happen when the wage is 8s. per day, “ wet or fine,” for any and every sort of farm labour - and without any variation? That is 8s. for the best man 8s. for the worst. The argument tells. Throughout the district named there will be practically a unanimous no to the referenda proposals.
– What is there startling about that statement ? It is simply a newspaper comment.
– It is an. admission that a justice of the peace, empowered to witness postal votes, acted as a party canvasser for the purposes of promoting voting by post in the interests of a party.
– Votes that would not have been cast at all except for the postal voting provisions.
– That does not follow.
– Did not justices of the peace on the honorable senator’s own side act in precisely the same way ?
– Undoubtedly not - not in Tasmania.
– I hope the honorable senator will take a friendly suggestion - that he should attend a political kindergarten for a little while - if he believes things of that kind.
– The Government in Tasmania took precious good care that members of my party were not made justices of the peace. Any unbiased person will admit that this instance shows that there was gross misapplication of the privilege of postal voting. If there were no other instance than this, I should feel justified in voting for the abolition of the system. I wish to inform the Senate that if postal voting is done away with the result will be to disfranchise one of my own parents, who will be unable to go to the poll.. I quite admit that many persons will be unable to vote. But in view of the abuses that have occurred, I can see nothing for it but to abolish the system, believing that this policy will be to the advantage of Australia generally.
– The extraordinary statement which Senator Ready has read furnished no reason whatever why postal voting should be abolished. It simply showed that a justice of the peace went round a certain district in Tasmania and witnessed applications for postal votes.
– That is not all. He canvassed for a political party while witnessing signatures.
– I never listened to a more cold-blooded statement than that made by the Minister with regard to the voting of women in maternity cases. I suppose he was speaking from a statement which had been prepared for him. The figures were worked down to the lowest possible minimum. But even so they showed that a great number of women will be unable to vote if postal voting be discontinued. I have no objection to polling places being established at destitute asylums and homes for incurables ; but while honorable members opposite are prepared to take the ballot-box to the bedside of a person whose usefulness as a member of the community is ended, they are prepared to say that the delicate woman who is about to become, or has become, a mother, shall not vote. That is a plain statement of what is intended.
– We say to everybody, “ You cannot vote by post.”
– If we put the number of these women at the lowest figure quoted by the Minister to-day, I ask what right has he to take their votes away? How can any man with any sense of justice say to these women, “ Because you are not in a fit state to go to the poll, you shall not have a vote at all.” What about those who are prevented by any form of serious illness from voting in the ordinary way? Why should they be robbed of their votes? Why should the infirm, who are unable to go to the poll, be robbed of their votes ?
– That is a very dif”ferent argument from those which the honorable senator used to make use of in opposing adult suffrage for the South Australian Legislative Council.
– Do not let us get on to side tracks.
– That is where the honorable senator has been so often that he does not like it.
– At the right time and place I will argue that matter with the Vice-President, or anybody else. This is not the time to do it; and I imagine that, if I attempted to do so now, the Chairman would call me to order. At the right time I will argue that with anybody. Senator W. Russell. - I will take the honorable senator up.
– Oh; I will argue with somebody who is intelligent and respectable. I will make that qualification.
– I ask if that is in order? I object to such a statement - that I am not respectable or intelligent.
– - On the point of order, might I say that I understood Senator Vardon’s statement to be that he would argue with anybody who was intelligent or respectable. If Senator W. Russell claims to be intelligent and respectable, Senator Vardon has expressed his willingness to argue even with that honorable senator.
– No matter what our feelings may be in regard to any question under discussion, I hope such remarks will not be allowed to be made without the Chairman calling upon the honorable senator who makes them to withdraw. Unless my hearing has deceived me, Senator Vardon said that he would argue with one who is intelligent and respectable.
– Any one.
– The inference was that Senator W. Russell was neither intelligent nor respectable.
– On the point of order, I think my hearing is as keen as that of Senator Millen. When Senator W. Russell interjected that he would argue with Senator Vardon, the latter said, “ No, I will argue it with any one who is intelligent or respectable.”
– I did not use the word “No.”
– When Senator Vardon was speaking about arguing something that was outside the scope of the Bill, Senator Russell interjected, and Senator Vardon then said, “ I will argue that question with any one who is intelligent and respectable.” I was immediately about to ask him to withdraw the statement, when Senator W. Russell rose to a point of order. I now ask Senator Vardon to withdraw the statement, as Senator W. Russell has stated that it is objectionable to him1.
– Does not Senator W. Russell think that he is intelligent and respectable ?
– I ask that Senator Millen be requested to withdraw that statement, too.
– Order ! Will Senator Vardon withdraw the remark he made?
– I said I would argue with anybody who is intelligent and respectable. I repeat it. I did not say that I would argue with anybody who is not intelligent, nor do I say that any person is not intelligent.
- Senator W. Russell stated that the remark was objectionable to him. It appeared to me to be objectionable, and I ask the honorable senator now to withdraw the remark.
– I made no reference to Senator W. Russell.
– Will Senator Vardon withdraw the remark? Senator W. Russell has stated that it is objectionable to him. In my opinion, it was objection^ able; and I now ask the honorable senator to withdraw it.
– I do not see how I can withdraw an innocent remark like that.
– That is absolutely hypocritical.
– I said I would argue with anybody who is intelligent and respectable. There is nothing disorderly about that.
– I have stated that, in my opinion, the remark was disorderly. I may be wrong, but I ask Senator Vardon now to withdraw it.
– Will you say, sir, in what sense I am to withdraw it ? Just say what I am to withdraw.
– I ask the honorable senator to withdraw the remark he made in reply to the interjection of Senator W. Russell.
– I did not mention any honorable senator.
– The honorable senator made an objectionable remark, and I ask him if he intends to withdraw it?
– Withdraw, and no shuffling.
– No : I will not withdraw.
In the Senate:
The Chairman of Committees. - I have to report that, in Committee, in discussing clause 3 of the Bill, Senator Vardon was speaking, and Senator W. Russell interjected that he would debate with the honorable senator a Question which was outside the scope of the clause before the Committee. Senator Vardon immediately stated, “ No, I will debate that question with any one who is intelligent and respectable.”
– When the honorable senator was in the Chair he did not use the word “No.”
The Chairman of Committees. - Senator Vardon immediately said, “ No, I will debate that question with any one who is intelligent and respectable.”
– I did not.
The Chairman of Committees. - Senator W,. Russell immediately took exception to the words, and asked that they he withdrawn. I asked Senator Vardon to withdraw them, and he refused to do so.
– Under standing order 433, it has been reported by the Chairman of Committees that Senator Vardon wilfully disregarded the authority of the Chair. Under standing order 435, I call upon Senator Vardon to make an explanation to the Senate, and offer an apology.
– I was discussing the proposal to do away with the postal vote. In the course of the discussion I was claiming that it was intended to deprive mothers of the vote. The Vice-President of the Executive Council interjected something about’ my having denied people votes in connexion with the South Australian Legislative Council. I do not remember his exact words ; but I said that that did not refer to the present question, but that I would be prepared to argue that question in the right time and place. I think Senator W. Russell said, “ I will argue it,” and I said. “ I will argue that with any intelligent and respectable person.” I did not use the word “ No.”
– I can swear that the honorable senator did.
– No, the Chairman of Committees has put that word in since.
– That is the whole position. I said “ I will argue the question with any intelligent and respectable person.”
– I should like, first of all, to invite Senator O’Keefe to correct an error into which I am convinced he has fallen. I believe the honorable senator will recognise that himself when I direct his attention to it. He says now that the words used by Senator Vardon, and to which exception was taken, were “ No, I will debate that matter with any intelligent and respectable person.” I invite Senator O’Keefe to recall the fact that, when he was in the chair, he did not use the word “No.” The words which he asked Senator Vardon to withdraw were, “I will debate that question with any intelligent and respectable person.” The word “ No “ was never introduced until
Senator Rae declared that he heard it, and Senator O’ Keefe, when in the chair, in stating the matter to the Committee, did not use that word at all. Honorable senators will see that everything depends on whether that word was used or not.
– I can swear that I heard Senator Vardon use it.
– I did not hear it used. Senator Rae says that he heard the word. But my point is that the Chairman of Committees did not use the word “ No “ at all in quoting in Committee what he alleged had been said by Senator Vardon. I point out that the objection to the words, if any, must rest upon the use of the word “No.” If, when Senator W. Russell interjected, Senator Vardon had replied, and had used the word “ No,” he would have stated practically, “ I am not willing to discuss the matter with you, but with any intelligent and respectable person.
– That is what the honorable senator meant, and Senator Millen knows it.
– The whole point is in the introduction of the word “ No.” The use or failure to use that word “No” makes all the difference. So certain am 1 that it does make all the difference that I am prepared to suggest to Senator Vardon now that, if he has the slightest recollection of having used the word “ No,” his words were offensive, and they ought to be withdrawn. I did not hear the word “No” used by the honorable senator, though I was sitting just in front of him. I say that the words that were actually used by Senator Vardon could not be taken in the objectionable way in which, in the heat of the moment, they were taken by honorable senators opposite.
– I quite admit that the use or failure to use the word “ No “ does, as Senator Millen has said, make all the difference. I distinctly heard Senator Vardon use the word “ No,” and then add, “ I will discuss it with any one who is intelligent and respectable.” The honorable senator may not recollect using the word “ No,” but I can also appeal to the tone of his utterance to show that the implication was that Senator W. Russell was neither intelligent nor respectable. No one could fail to tell from the tone of Senator Vardon’s voice that that was what he intended to convey.
– I tell the honorable senator honestly that I did put that interpretation upon it.
– I was sirring here all the time Senator Vardon was speaking. The Vice-President of the Executive Councilreferred to something which he said Senator Vardon did not do when he was in the Legislative Council of South Australia. Senator Vardon replied that if he entered into a discussion of that question then he would be out of order, and that the Chairman would pull him up. Then he said he was prepared to discuss the matter- with “ the honorable gentleman,” meaning the Vice-President of the Executive Council, at any time. Sena* tor Russell said, “I will take that up.” Senator Vardon- answered, “ I am pre-, pared to discuss it with any intelligent or respectable person.” Although the word “No” was interjected both by Senator Rae and the Honorary Minister, I think the Chairman will bear me out in saying that when he put the question from the Chair, he did not mention the word “ No “ at all. The word “No” came from an interjection on the other side of the chamber. The Chairman put the phrase before the Committee without the word “No.” Now, sir, on that, Senator Vardon said he had not said anything that he thought was objectionable to any person. It is now put before you by the Chairman that Senator Vardon used the word “No.” I think the Chairman will bear me out in saying that when he put the phrase from the Chair, he did not use the word “No.” When he put the phrase to you, sir, he used the word “ No, ‘ ‘ and that word makes a great difference. I do not like to hear any strong personalities. I did not take it from Sena-; tor Vardon’s manner that he meant anything offensive to Senator W. Russell. He was slightly irritated, perhaps, at the interjec-lion of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, but I do not think he meant any. offence to any person. If the word “No” was not prefixed to the phrase used by Senator Vardon, I do not think any member of the Senate could take any exception to his remark.
– The question is very easily decided. Senator Vardon was making an appeal for women in a certain condition to be allowed to vote by post. I said that he was in a very different mood to what he was when women, and men, too,were clamouring for votes for the Lexis.Iative Council of South Australia. He said my interjection was out of place, and I admit that it was, but it was only made to show his inconsistency. He then said he would debate that question with the
Vice-President of the Executive Council, or any one else, at the proper time. Then Senator W. Russell said, “ I will debate it with you.” I distinctly understood Senator Vardon to reply, “No; I will discuss it with any respect able or intelligent person.” The question is easily settled. Senator Vardon is prepared to discuss the question referred to with any person who is reasonable, intelligent, and respectable, and all that sort of thing. Now, if he did not mean to say “ No,” when he replied to Senator W. Russell, he is, I take it, prepared to discuss the question with Senator Russell.
– He said so.
– Then that settles it. If Senator Vardon is prepared to say now that he will discuss the question referred to with Senator Russell, Senator Russell can appoint a time and a place. Let us see if Senator Vardon will do it. That is exactly the position. I distinctly understood Senator Vardon to say “ No,” and to point out why he would not do it. No honorable senator who paid particular attention to the matter when it arose could understand anything from Senator Vardon’s remarks, but that Senator Russell was not intelligent and respectable enough to discuss the question with Senator Vardon.
– I only wish to say one or two words before you give your decision, Mr. President. What difference will it make whether Senator Vardon admits making use of the word “ No,” or denies making use of the word ? The facts of the case are that Senator Vardon was making a speech, and the Vice-President of the Executive Council made an interjection which was not apropos to the remarks Senator Vardon was making. Senator Vardon said he would discuss the matter with the Vice-President of the Executive Council, and Senator Russell said he would discuss the matter with Senator Vardon. I want to ask what difference it can make whether Senator Vardon said, “ I will discuss it with an intelligent or respectable person “-
– He said with “ any intelligent or respectable person.”
– Senator Vardon said, “ I will discuss it with any intelligent or respectable person.” Does it make any material difference whether the word “ No “ was used or not? If Senator Russell had not challenged Senator Vardon to discuss a question with him, the remark of Senator Vardon that he would discuss the question with an intelligent or respectable person would not have been made. What difference does it make whether the word “ No “ was used or not? If it were left to a jury of a thousand men, would not nine hundred and ninety-nine say that the man who made that statement intended that it should have application to the man who interjected?
– I think that the whole position is quite clear.
– The Chairman of Committees is prepared to speak.
– The honorable senator was not here when the point arose.
– I was here, but you were not.
– The honorable senator will admit that I am in just as good a position as he is to discuss the matter, because he has said that he did not hear the words used.
– You were not in the chamber, and why should you try to persuade the President that you were?
– I know as much as the honorable senator about what occurred. It is charged that insulting and offensive words were used to Senator W. Russell, and the customary course, when a remark is taken exception to, is for the senator who has made it, to withdraw. If the senator who has used words tq which exception is taken says that he did not mean them in an offensive sense his statement is accepted, but the words are always withdrawn, whether they were meant to be offensive or not. It does not matter whether the word “ No” preceded the phrase used by Senator Vardon or not. The implication was as plain as the nose on one’s face. We all know full well the feeling that exists between Senator Vardon and Senator W. Russell.Senator Vardon would have acted much more fairly if he had withdrawn the statement when the Chairman called on him to do so, than by having a wrangle when every one in the chamber knows what is at the bottom of the whole affair.
– We are having a moral lecture.
– If I were as often on my feet lecturing the Senate as is the honorable senator, I might pose as lecturerinchief of the Senate. The honorable senator arrived in the train to-day in a very bad mood, and has not got out of it yet. The words used by Senator Vardon having been taken exception to, the Chairman was per*fectly right in asking that they be withdrawn.
The Chairman of Committees. - I have been asked by the Leader of the Opposition to again state the exact words as I heard them used by Senator Vardon. Before referring to that, let me say that the reason why I left the chair, and submitted the matter to you, sir, was that I gave a ruling that Senator Vardon, in my opinion, should withdraw the words. I asked him, I suppose half-a-dozen times, in the ordinary courteous way in which any Chairman of Committees speaks to a senator, to withdraw the words, and Senator Vardon, after apparently hesitating for some time, stated definitely, “ No, I will not withdraw.” According to my reading of the Standing Orders, if any senator disputes a ruling of the Chairman of Committees he has only one course to pursue, and that is immediately to put in writing his reason for disputing the ruling. Senator Vardon did not propose to take that course at all. He definitely refused to obey the ruling, arid therefore I thought that, in the interests of the proper conduct of business, I should bring the matter before you, Mr. President. I submit that if the Chairman’s ruling is neither to be obeyed nor the proper course to be taken, of putting in writing the reasons for disputing the ruling, the conduct of business will be considerably hampered. Every honorable senator knows - as does Senator Vardon - that there is only one course for an honorable senator to take who disputes the Chairman’s ruling. I know of no feeling between Senator Vardon and Senator W. Russell, or between honorable senators and myself ; but, in my opinion, Senator Vardon having disputed my ruling, should have taken the proper course of putting in writing the reasons for disputing it.
– You did not give him an opportunity.
The Chairman of Committees. - I think Senator Vardon will admit he had ample opportunity of doing it, but he refused to do so, and I took the only proper course. As regards the use of the word “ No,” it seems to me that it is quite immaterial whether it was used or not. I admit right away that in first putting the question I did not use the word “ No.” The word “ No,” or a word like it, certainly was used by Senator Vardon so far as my hearing served me. It did not appear to me that that had the slightest material bearing on the question.
– Now you are stating the case for the guidance of the President.
Whether the word “ No” has any bearing on the question or not is for him to state.
The Chairman of Committees. - In stating the question in the first place, it appeared to me to be absolutely immaterial to the point at issue - that Senator Vardon should withdraw the statement regarded as objectionable - whether the word “No” was used, so much so that I did not use that word in putting the question. Quite a number of honorable senators have asserted that the word “ No “ was used, and so far as my hearing served me the word “ No,” or a word very much like it, was used. After all, is there anything in the point as to whether that word was used or not ? What we have to decide is not any dispute between myself and Senator Vardon, or any other honorable senator, but a question affecting the conduct of the business of the Senate. The point is whether the Chairman’s ruling should be obeyed, or if there is a reason for not obeying it, whether the proper course should not be taken by the honorable senator disputing the ruling, of putting in writing his reasons for objecting to it.
– I was not in the chamber when the incident under discussion took place. I think that the simplest plan will be for Senator Vardon to state, without any question of withdrawing the words he used, that they were not meant to refer to Senator W. Russell. I feel quite sure that if he will make a simple statement before a decision is given from the Chair honorable senators generally will be satisfied.
– I do not intend to say more than a few words. - When Senator McGregor interjected to Senator Vardon the latter said that he would argue the point with the former or any one else at the proper time. I can swear that after I interjected that I would meet Senator Vardon and argue the question with him, he said “No.” I will swear that anywhere as what I believe.
– You are hardly an impartial judge in this matter.
– I want to know if Senator Millen is more impartial than I am. I do not believe that he is j but I am not here to discuss that matter. My honour is at stake. What have I done politically, morally, or otherwise, or what have I said in the Senate or elsewhere, which would justify an honorable senator on the other side in saying that I was neither intelligent nor respectable? Is the Senate going to brand me in that way ? What evil have I done ? These words come from a man who has been for twelve years president of the Young Men’s Christian Association. Could hypocrisy go further?
– Order ! The honorable senator must withdraw that word.
– I withdraw it, sir. I do not want to be insulting, but it is terrible to have one’s word doubted. Where is the man, in South Australia or elsewhere, who can brand me as immoral or charge me with anything pertaining to immorality, or say that I am a fool, as Senator Vardon, and Senator Millen, too, would like to do for party purposes alone? I leave my case in the hands of the Senate. I want justice; I want a withdrawal of the language complained of.
– You want mercy, too, I think.
– No. There is the honorable senator again saying “mercy.” I challenge any one to bring anything against my moral character. I am not going to bet, but I will give to a hospital which is in need of funds £20 if any member of the Senate can prove to me that I have in any instance branded myself as an immoral man or a fool, as Senator Vardon would like to paint me. I do object to such remarks coming from any man in the circumstances. I know, if I dare go back into history, what is at the bottom of this -business ! At the Coronation in England, Senator Vardon’s claim was overlooked. He expected probably to be Sir Joseph to-day.
– The Chairman of Committees has reported to the effect that Senator Vardon made a statement which he regarded as being out of order. Under the Standing Orders the Chairman of Committees has the same power as the President to take exception to a statement, and to demand the withdrawal of any words if considered to be out of order. There is another aspect of this matter, and that is that when a member of the Senate makes a statement which is considered by another senator to be applicable to himself personally, and to be offensive, it has. been the custom in the Senate for the former to withdraw the statement. I think that Senator Vardon should withdraw the statement which he made. There is evidently an impression amongst a large number of honorable senators that the words which he uttered did apply specifically to Senator W. Russell, and I think that the only action which can be taken by Senator Vardon to maintain the dignity of the Senate is to withdraw the remarks which have been objected to, and which are considered by Senator W. Russell to be personally applicable to himself.
– Mr. President, at your request I withdraw the words - simply and solely at your request.
– Is it competent, sir, for an honorable senator to make a withdrawal of words in that form?
– At the request of the President.
– I think that something more than- that is due to the Senate.
– It is unusual for an honorable senator to withdraw words objected to in that manner. He may say, “ At the request of the President I withdraw the statement.” To add other words seems to me to be as bad as the offence itself.
– At the request of the President I withdraw the statement.
In Committee :
– I ask the Government to consider whether it would not be well to adopt the electors’ right system, which I believe would provide a way out of this difficulty. In New South Wales, electors’ rights were only issued to men. The signature of an elector was obtained on the butt of an elector’s right before the right was issued. Suppose that we adopted the system, but with the elector’s signature on the right, it is quite evident that wherever a man might go he would have to produce an elector’s right. The officer could ask the man to sign his name, and if the signature did not agree with that on the elector’s right, the elector could not vote. With such a system in use, we should be able to retain the postal voting system, and so get over the difficulty with which we are faced. As regards the case of persons who are ill and cannot attend personally, surely an arrangement could be made by which a person could send his electoral right to the returning officer and get from him a postal ballot-paper. We must all admit, I think, that it is very undesirable that innocent persons should be punished because others have been guilty of wrong-doing. There is no doubt that this clause, if passed, will deprive thousands of innocent persons of a right, because certain other persons have behaved dishonorably. I do not think that that is in accord with British ideas of justice. We should see that we do no harm to well-behaved, honorable people because others act dishonorably. I am surprised that this point has apparently not been considered by the Government. Even if only 100 innocent persons were concerned, they should not be punished because others have done wrong. I beg the Government to reconsider the matter, and to postpone the clause.
.- This clause calls for a little more discussion. We ought to let the people understand the part of the electoral machinery which the Government seek to do away with. What makes me feel very sore is that no remedy is proposed for the defect that will be created. Nothing is proposed to take the place of section 109, which reads -
An elector who -
These are the persons who are to be disqualified from voting by this measure.
– Oh, rot !
– The honorable senator is all rot. Is it not a fact that these persons will be deprived of the privilege of postal voting? Here are the Act and the Bill.
– These are just the persons who never have voted.
– I take it that the honorable senator is misinformed.
– I am correctly informed.
– Either the honorable senator does not know what he is speaking of, or he is misinformed.
– I am correctly informed.
– These, the honorable senator says, are the only people who have never voted. I think, sir, that when I am making a speech no honorable senator has a right to tell me that I am wrong. If he is man enough, let him get up afterwards and tell me where I am wrong, and not sit there yapping like a dog which has lost a bone. With all due deference to the honorable senator, I assert that the people mentioned in section 109 of the Act have voted. I have known them to vote. I have witnessed postal ballot-papers for them to vote, and I think that my statement will be taken as true. I do not say that Senator Henderson has never met with any of these people, but I have. I am quite prepared to call in any witnesses whom he thinks necessary to prove my statement. Why should these persons be disfranchised? Certainly, if they have not voted, it has been through their own fault ; but this clause will deprive them of a facility to vote.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
– During the secondreading debate a great many excuses were made for the abolition of postal voting. I think I shall be able to show that there was no foundation for many of them. The existing law prescribes that a form shall be signed by a person who desires to vote by post, and his signature has to be witnessed by an authorized person. Before the referenda in April last, I applied for a postal ballot-paper, as I was leaving Australia, for England and found that my ship would reach Fremantle on the 25th April and sail on the same day. Had I not been able to vote by post, I could not have taken part in the referenda. I should not be entitled to do so in similar circumstances under this Bill.
– Yes; a person between ports could vote.
– A similar privilege should be accorded to every person who is unable to go to a polling booth. Allegations have been made as to the improper use of postal voting ; but no evidence has been adduced. If improper practices occurred, why was not the penalty of £50 enforced? Surely we should not abolish a great convenience simply because it is alleged that it has been misused on some occasions. We do not abolish a law simply because some persons break it. There is a law against thieving and murder. Nevertheless, those crimes are committed, and nobody proposes to abolish the law which is intended to restrain them. Because certain individuals have done wrong under the postal voting provisions of the Electoral Act. that is no reason for depriving of this privilege persons who may be sick, or too distant from a polling place to vote by ballot. I recently received a letter from a lady who has accepted an engagement to teach in a private family in a distant part of the country. She pointed out that, under the Bill now before the Senate, she would be deprived of her vote on election day because her home is 50 miles from the nearest polling place. She said, “ 1 have always taken a great interest in elections, and I feel sure that there is no man in the Federal Parliament who would take the vote away from a woman who is trying to earn her livelihood.”
– She did not know enough.
– She will find out later. It must be remembered that only certain persons are authorized to witness signatures to applications for postal ballotpapers. The authorized witnesses are - All Commonwealth electoral officers, returning officers and registrars ; all postmasters, postmistresses or persons in charge of post-offices; all police, stipendiary or special magistrates; all justices of the peace ; all head teachers in the employment of a State Education Department ; all officers of Trade and Customs ; all members of a police force; all mining wardens and mining wardens’ clerks in the Public Service of a State; all legally qualified medical practitioners ; all officers in charge of quarantine stations and lighthouses ; all pilots, telegraph line repairers, railway station-masters and night officers in charge, who are permanently employed in the Railway Department of any State; all superintendents of mercantile marine and their deputies ; and all persons employed in the Public Service of the Commonwealth or of a State who are authorized by proclamation. I point out that the authorization to police officers and line repairers is particularly useful to persons living in far distant parts of the country. There may be police patrols going from station to station, and line repairers in isolated districts often visit stations for supplies. It is a great convenience for such persons to witness an application. There are large numbers of persons employed in the mercantile marine trading around our coasts, and provision should be made for them.
– They can vote under the present Bill.
– I very much doubt whether they can.
– Does not the honorable senator think that it would be a good idea to read the Bill before criticising it? Look at clause 39.
– I know that there is a clause in the Bill entitling a person to vote at any polling place in the Commonwealth, no matter whether it be in his own electorate or not. That is to say, a person temporarily in Melbourne can vote as if he were in an electorate in Tasmania or Western Australia. But that does not touch the point with which I am dealing. There is no clause in the B’.Il entitling a person to vote unless he can reach a polling place. It is useless’ to say to a man who lives 50 miles from a polling place that, if he were, in Melbourne, he could vote as if he were in the Kennedy electorate in Queensland. I wish ti extend facilities for voting, not to restrict them. At Dunwich, in Queensland, there are from 1,200 to 1,500 people, many of whom are very old and infirm. I suppose that some of them can hardly discriminate between one party and another. Dunwich is made a polling place, and the whole of those people can vote. Yet other people who are young and take a keen interest in political affairs will be debarred from voting under this Bill. Some honorable senators opposite have urged that the Opposition should draft a clause to meet such cases as I have instanced. What are the Crown Law Officers for if they cannot draft a clause for the purpose? I do not think that the officials are such dunderheads as to be unable to draw up a simple provision like that.
– Nobody wants such a clause except the honorable senator himself.
– I am glad to hear the admission that nobody on the Ministerial side wants to have a clause entitling a sick woman, or a person resident 50 miles from a polling place, to record a vote-
– That is not the point at all.
– This Bill has been drafted, not to give facilities to people to vote, but to prevent them from voting. If ir were entitled “ A Bill to prevent certain people from voting,” I could understand it. The various persons who, under the existing law, are authorized to witness applications for postal ballot-papers and postal votes, are liable to a penalty if any abuse of the system has been due to their action. We have heard that the system has been abused, and I ask why no penalty has been enforced. One swallow does not make a summer ; but with all the outcry about the abuse of the system, honorable senators opposite should have been able to produce two or three cases of the kind. If the postal voting system is to be abolished on the ground that it has been abused, the ballot system should be done away with for the same reason. I have known a case in which a man, on being given a ballot-paper, retired into the box to vote, came out, put a dummy paper into the ballot-box, which I afterwards found there when counting the votes, and took the clean ballot-paper out of the polling booth to. the committee conducting the election for a particular party. That clean ballot-paper was then marked by the secretary of the committee looking after a particular candidate’s interests, and the next voter took it into the booth, received another paper, went into the box, came back again, put the marked paper into the ballot-box, and brought out the new ballot-paper given to him, in order that it might be marked in the same way.
– The honorable senator has had great experience.
- Senator McGregor has also had experience, and I should say is as good at the business as anybody I know of.
– That is why the honorable senator is here.
– If that is so, then God help us ! People were punished for the abuse of the ballot system to which I have referred, but we did not, on that account, hear any clamour to do away with the system of voting by ballot.
– I should like the honorable senator to mention the case in which he says this was done, because the ballotpaper has a special water-mark.
– It was in the days before there was a Labour party.
– Senator Givens knows all about it. I speak of what happened in my own district of Charters Towers. There were thousands of voters polling there, especially at the change of shifts, and it was a very difficult thing for any scrutineer to watch every man who was voting. In the case to which I have referred, a man was detected by a policeman, he was brought back to the booth, and a clean ballot-paper with the water-mark was taken out of his pocket.
– That was a very long time ago.
– It was at the first Federal elections. No law can be passed which some one will not be able to abuse. A case referred to in connexion with the postal voting system was that of a postal ballot-paper being signed by a voter while another held his hand. In such a case, the voter should have been questioned and asked to make a declaration. The signature of a person upon an application for a postal ballotpaper could be compared with the signature on the ballot-paper itself, and it would be easy to detect whether they were the same. If a man misuses a postal ballot : paper which he has witnessed, it should be very easy to find it out.
– Who is to find it out ?
– The Returning Officer.
– Is that his business?
– Decidedly it is. It is his business to compare the signature on the ballot-paper with the signature on the application form. If the existing Act were properly administered, no very great abuse of the postal voting system could occur. I have counted postal ballot-papers in the presence of the honorable member for Kennedy, and I know that no great amount of abuse could arise in connexion with the system. The best man might pass one or two irregular votes, but if there is any putcry about an abuse of the system the officials will be careful to see that the signatures on the postal ballot-papers and on the application forms are alike. However, if honorable senators opposite have made up there minds to disfranchise people, no matter what is said on this side, we cannot help it. They are strong enough to
Larry any proposal in spite of us, but it is our duty to. make the best fight we can in the interests of the people who will be disfranchised if the postal voting provisions cf the existing Act are repealed. The Minister has only to turn his head around to the electoral official behind him to discover that there are many other ways in which the abuse of the system, if any, might be dealt with. If the Returning Officers and Divisional Returning Officers did their duty under the existing system there could be no great cause for complaint. A case was alluded to which arose in connexion with an election in South Australia four and a half years ago, in which an electoral official said that certain ballot-papers had been burnt, or otherwise destroyed, though many months afterwards they were found. No law that we could pass would entirely prevent that kind of thing. Though there have been abuses of the ballot system, involving thousands of votes, we hear nothing about them, but in connexion with_ alleged abuses of the postal voting provisions we have hearsay evidence that some one told some one else that there had been something wrong with the operation of the system. I ask the Government to retain the system, and see that the Act is enforced, and if any fraud is perpetrated let them double the existing penalties and make the term of imprisonment three months instead of one. The people who will have to suffer under the Government proposal are the last people on God’s earth who should be deprived of the privilege they have under the existing law, and, in the circumstances, I ask the Government to hesitate before they decide to abolish the postal voting system.
– He who hesitates is lost.
– When people become tyrants they also are lost, and if honorable senators opposite carry this proposal to take votes away from people they will have to pay the penalty eventually as all tyrants are brought down in the long run.
.- We can understand the virtuous indignation of our friends opposite, because we know that they realize that a system is about to be repealed from which they have derived great political benefit in the past. I wish to say that the only political party responsible for the introduction of this measure is the party represented by our honorable friends opposite. If the supporters of that party had not abused the postal voting provisions to the extent to which every one knows they have been abused, there would have been no call for this amending Bill.
– Let the honorable senator prove it.
– Senator Sayers occupied several hours of our time to-day in proving nothing, but, if he will give me five minutes, I shall endeavour to prove something. Ever since I was able to appreciate the operation of the postal voting system, that is to say, since the elections of 1906, I determined that if ever I got the opportunity - and thank Heaven it has arrived - I would do my best to bring about the repeal of a system which has lent itself to so much abuse in the past.
– Anybody can destroy ; we want some building up.
– I make an assertion which can be backed up by reference to official documents. During the election of 1906, for the division of Denison, this system of postal voting was abused to an extent unequalled in any other part of the Commonwealth. It is no exaggeration to say that several hundred postal ballot-papers were sent under cover to one address, and people were induced to make application for these postal ballot-papers through a certain individual. The people who applied for them never saw them. They were used by the individual in question, and sent oh to the Divisional Returning Officer. A senator on the other side of the chamber said that the Returning Officer’s duty is to compare the signatures on the counterfoils with the applications. Now, although that is part of the Returning Officer’s duty, none of the officers is an expert in handwriting, and it is not a very difficult matter to closely imitate the signature of an ‘applicant.
– To imitate several hundreds ?
– I say that several hundreds were imitated. In the Denison election in 1906, out of a total of 10,700 votes recorded, there were, roughly, 650 postal votes,. I will not offer the figures, because I am not quite sure of their accuracy, but the margin between the male vote and the female vote was very small. There was a small army of paid individuals touring the town with the object of inducing people to make application through them for postal ballot-papers. When an application was signed, the Divisional Returning Officer was requested to send the ballotpaper to care of Mr. Jones, and it is a well known fact that at least 300 of these ballot-papers reached that individual.
– One-half of them?
– Yes. In all conscience, one-half is bad enough. It came under, our notice, in a number of instances, that people who in good faith sent in applications for ballot-papers did not receive ballot-papers. Consequently, they attended the polling booth with the object of casting their votes. Their names were checked, and they were told that, having voted previously by postal ballot-papers, they could not vote again. Of course, those people were very indignant, and a number of them complained to me. Several of them were men, and at least a dozen were ladies. Of course, their postal ballot-papers had been used. Honorable- senators opposite have time and again asked, “ Why was not action taken against the people offending?” Let nae tell them that the best advice that could be obtained in Hobart was obtained in connexion with these matters, and we were advised that no case would stand, because there was no absolute proof of intention to commit a fraud.
– Though your own lawyers advised that there was no proof, you advance this as proof.
– The honorable senator is an artist in splitting straws. As a lawyer, he knows very well what I mean. He understands and appreciates my argument.
– I do. When your own lawyer, whose tendency would be to advise you to go ahead, told you you had not a case, then you had not a case.
– We got the best advice we could in Hobart. My colleague, Senator Ready, this afternoon gave a striking instance of the manner in .which ‘ postal voting is abused in one part of Tasmania. It is quite a common occurrence to have complaints from different parts of the island, north, south, east, and west - particularly south - where certain people travel about weeks and weeks before an election, and not only get hold of postal ballotpapers, but absolutely intimidate people into making application for postal ballotpapers.
– Where is the evidence of intimidation?
– I may tell the honorable senator that there has been so much discussion, assertion, and denial during the last few days about these cases, that to-morrow I intend to move that all papers be laid on the table of the Senate which have any bearing upon these matters, or upon questions of this character, which have been brought under the notice of the Government. I am confident that those papers will make very interesting reading. Senator Sayers appealed to the Government a few minutes ago to delay dealing with this electoral reform. I appeal to the Government not to delay it for one minute more than is necessary, because, if there is one electoral reform that is more sought after, more desired, and which will be more commendable to the people of Australia than any other, it is the reform indicated in this proposed amendment of the electoral law. Senator Sayers, a few moments ago, stated that some people at sea would be prevented from exercising the franchise. I interjected that he ought te* read the Bill before he criticised it, and if he had looked at proposed new section 139,. which is to take the place of old section. I39> he would have seen that provision is made there for people to record their votes immediately after the writs for electionshave been issued.
– That is if they wilh not be in the Commonwealth.
– A man cannot be inthe Commonwealth if he is at sea outside the territorial limit. If those honorable senators who wish the passage of the Bill postponed are alive to their responsibilitiesas representatives of the people, and are satisfied that the Bill calls for radical amendment, then it is their duty to present an amendment to take the place of the section which it is proposed to amend. I sincerely hope the Government will not listen tothe pleading of honorable senators oppositeto delay the passage of the Bill, and that it will not be delayed one moment more than is necessary.
.-‘ The honorable senator who has just resumed his seat has made some wild and whirling statements as to some very, nefarious doings in some constituency iriTasmania, and he has not brought forward one atom of proof.
– Could you find anylegal proof that, the sun will rise tomorrow ?
– Senator Long: started off by saying that he would bringbefore the Senate proof as to the way in which postal votes had been manipulated,, but he has not brought forward any proof.
– The honorable senatorhas been overwhelmed with proof, but it has been wasted on him.
– We have had noproof at all. The honorable senator said tha* some hundreds of postal ballot-papers were signed, and were sent to the Divisional Returning Officer, but that they had not beensigned by the persons by whom they purported to have been signed. He said that those people went to the poll, not having received their postal ballot-papers, and found that their postal ballot-papers hadbeen voted on, and that, their names having been struck off, they were unable torecord their votes. Is not that the statement of the honorable senator ?
– If is an extraordinary statement, and it is an extraordinary thing that the whole Commonwealth did not ring with such a doing as that.
– It was not my fault that it did not.
– It is the fault of some one that the Commonwealth did not ring with it, and the fault of some one that the people who acted in that way were not punished.
– It was the fault of the defective system, for which the honorable senator is in a measure responsible.
– I do not say there is any defective system. We have in the Act the most stringent regulations for the conduct of elections in regard to voting by post, and very severe penalties can be imposed. The honorable senator says that legal advice was taken, and the opinion was given that no case would stand. Is not that a proof that there was no case, and that what he has been telling us tonight is really not correct? We find that there is a proper mode of procedure by which the postal votes can be checked. It is provided in the Act that an authorized witness shall not witness the signature of any applicant for a postal voting ballotpaper unless, first of all, he has satisfied himself as to the identity of the applicant, has seen the applicant sign the application in his own handwriting, and is personally acquainted with the facts, or has satisfied himself by inquiry from the applicant that the statements contained in the application are true. Under that provision, there is a penalty of £50, or one month’s imprisonment. Does the honorable senator mean to say that no effort was made to sheet the charges home and to endeavour to trace who had signed these papers and witnessed the signatures? It is also provided that -
All applications for postal votes certificates and postal ballot-papers received by a returning officer shall be kept by him, and shall be open to public inspection at all convenient times during office hours until the election can be no longer questioned.
Was not that done in the case the honorable senator mentioned? Was there no one on the honorable senator’s side checking, and looking after these things? The applications and certificates have to be numbered, and the Returning Officer has to testify as to the number issued. Explicit directions are also given as to the manner in which an elector must record his vote. What the honorable sena tor has told us is astonishing to me, and I can. hardly believe it to be true.
– It is true, none the less.
– Then some one should have been brought to book and severely punished. I shall be pleased if the honorable senator moves that all the papers be laid before the Senate, in order that we may find out if these practices have been going on. If they have, I, for one, will join in putting a stop to such a state of affairs.
– I propose to move two short amendments, not to do away with voting by post, but to so amend the clause as to make it read -
Section 2 of the Principal Act is altered so that “Part X.- Voting by Post” shall read “ Voting by Post with the use of electoral rights.”
In the first place, I move -
That the words “ amended by omitting therefrom the words” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ altered so that.”
I am quite aware that in days gone by in New South Wales many persons mislaid or lost their electoral rights. That, I understand, was one of the commonest objections to the system. When a person got an electoral right he had to sign his signature on the butt retained in the office, but not on the right itself. The consequence was that manipulations of electoral rights took place. If a man’s autograph were on the butt of the electoral right he could vote, but, if asked, he would have to write his signature to show that he was the person entitled to vote, and it could be compared there and then with the signature on the right. The electoral right, if the signature were, evidently, a forgery, could be retained and the man’s name taken down, and no doubt he would be prosecuted. With regard to persons who were situated at a great distance, or who were ill, we could surely regulate the voting by post so that they could send in’ their electoral rights some days before polling day, the returning officer could keep the documents in his possession, and send them voting papers in such a manner that no one but the persons entitled to them would be able to use them. How that could be done I shall explain. In the election of the directors of an institution I belong to the voting paper is sent out in an envelope, and attached to that is the person’s signature, which can be detached. If my proposal were adopted for electoral purposes the signature of an elector could, if necessary, be compared, and persons who could not attend, through sickness or by reason of distance, would be able to vote by post. I know that there is a great prejudice against the use of electoral rights, because, in days gone by, in New South Wales, persons often made a wrong use of them. Under my suggestion we would have a great check on the misuse of the documents. I have no wish to press the matter, if the Government say that they are willing to postpone the clause and to consider my suggestion. I feel quite sure that public feeling will grow very greatly against a Government which ^brings in a Bill to make the innocent suffer “for the guilty, and certainly that is what will take place under this measure, if it is not amended in some such manner as I suggest. Thousands of persons, both men and women, will be unable, through illness, to vote. Why? Because other persons have misused their opportunities, and the witnesses, whoever they were, presumably lent themselves to what was very much like roguery. I do not think that in any circumstances we ought to punish the innocent for the faults of the guilty. After what we have heard from Senator Sayers and others, it is quite evident to me that there has been a great lapse or ignorance on the part of persons witnessing *postal ballot-papers. I have no wish to inconvenience the Committee, but I feel very strongly on this subject. I feel persuaded that public feeling will rise in indignation, and very rightly so, against the innocent being made to suffer for the guilty.
– I recognise that voting by post has proved itself a most deplorable failure so far as the purity of elections is concerned, but I think that if we were to adopt the .proposal of Senator Walker, we should find ourselves in a more deplorable position than we would were postal voting retained as it is. I have had some experience of the glorified system which he is endeavouring to import into this measure. I am satisfied that he is perfectly honest, and would never traffic with electors’ rights as persons in New South Wales have been guilty of doing. The elector’s right bore on its face all kinds of things. It was tried in all shapes and forms, and it was usually bought on polling day at any price from is. to £x, and used to advance party interests. I sincerely hope that the system will not be introduced into this Bill. I quite understand the position taken up by the Opposition, and sympathize with them. I recognise that, from the commencement of Australian history, politicians of a like creed have had the framing of the electoral laws, and consequently this is the first time when they find themselves unable to put one impress on the electoral law of the Commonwealth. In these circumstances I can sympathize with honorable senators on the other side, inasmuch as previously they always took good care so to frame the law that it would serve their purposes.
– That is what you are doing in this Bill.
– That is what the Opposition tried to do before, and that is what they did. Whether they are satisfied with the evidence that has been produced is a matter of no consideration, because if we were to bring forward evidence which was so clear that at the judgmentseat every man who had assisted in building it up would . be condemned, still they would not be satisfied. They are satisfied that so long as the provisions for postal voting remain as they are in the Act, so long will they be utilized by their side in politics, and so long will that side be in a position to utilize them very effectively. Consequently they are not likely to give very much support to the clause, but rather to do as they are doing, that is, fight as long as ever fight is left in them, to cling to a weapon which they know has served them very effectively. In his usual bluff manner, Senator Sayers lamented over the men who are 50 or 60 miles away from a polling place. That is a thing over which we have no right to lament. Every member of the Opposition ought to endeavour with me to see that no person shall be 50 or 60 miles away from a polling booth where there are voters in any number.
– Any number?
– Yes. I recognised, when the party of which the honorable senator is an honoured member were in power, that they took good care to fix the polling places in such positions that they would get the greatest number of votes for themselves in nineteen cases out of twenty.
– You have not the slightest justification for making that statement.
– I have ample justification.
– No, it i°. a most reckless statement.
– What we want to do is to make the polling booths serviceable to the electors, wherever there is a number of them, and not to do as the other side have done. We ought not to say, “ Unless you have one hundred voters in the locality you shall not have a polling booth. If there are only eighty voters there you will have to go 65 miles to record your votes at the nearest polling place.”
– We left them the system of postal voting.
– No, we do not want that system.
– We had it then.
– It was not the persons I am speaking of who used the postal voting system, but the people in the main streets in the big cities, residing close to a polling booth, and many of them having three or four polling booths within a quarter of an hour’s walk. It was these persons who utilized the system, while sixty or seventy persons who were at a place 50 or 60 miles away from a polling booth had no facilities given to them to vote. I hope that we shall take care to provide such facilities as will enable persons in outlying places to cast their votes in a polling booth. Senator Sayers made a most pitiful appeal concerning the number of persons who were likely to be disfranchised by this Bill, and Senator Walker is making an effort to save them. I want to charge the Opposition with exactly the position with which they have charged us. They have not shown one vestige of evidence that we shall disfranchise any one. Senator McColl tried to show that 29,000 persons would be disfranchised by this alteration of the law, half of whom reside in Victoria. But he did not observe that the probabilities are that a large percentage of those who voted by post at the last election were servant girls in Toorak, whose employers induced them to vote by post in the interests of the honorable senator and his party.
– What evidence is there of that?
– There is the self -same evidence for it as honorable senators opposite have given for their charges as to the people we are going to disfranchise. The number of votes recorded by post at the last election is no kind of criterion as to the number of people likely to be disfranchised by wiping out this deplorable system. I sincerely hope that the
Committee will stand faithfully by the proposal of the Government, and that everything possible will be done to purify our electoral system.
– I wish to direct attention to certain statements made by the honorable senator who has just resumed his seat - statements which, disguise them as you may, amounted to a charge of absolute corruption against the late Administration. That charge was to the effect that the previous Government had, for purely party purposes, created certain polling places where it suited them, and had withheld polling facilities where they ought to have been granted. I invite the Government either to prove or to disprove that charge. In fairness to those whose honour has been reflected upon, they ought to do the one thing or the other. If the charge be true, every man in the late Administration ought to be branded throughout Australia as absolutely unfitted to occupy any place in the public life of the country ; but if the charge be not true - if there be no justification for it - I have no hesitation in saying that the man who made it ought to be drummed out of public life.
– What an exhibition of heroics !
– I have no doubt that, finding that there is no evidence whatever to justify such a charge, the honorable senator would like to make it appear to be a subject for jocularity. But I challenge honorable senators opposite, here and now, to make good their allegation. The Minister who was responsible for this particular work, in the late Government did exactly what was done by all previous Administrations, and followed the only course that was open to an honest administrator. That was to leave the matter entirely in the hands of the responsible officers. No Minister in the last Administration, nor,. I believe, in any previous. Administration, who had charge of this Department, attempted to dictate to the officers as ,to where polling places should be established. There is a member of this Senate, who was the Minister who initiated the policy which has been followed by all of his successors. He will be able to say whether what I am stating is not the truth. Let me point out, further, that if the charge made by Senator Henderson were, true, and polling places were arranged in the manner he has described, it was his duty to make a statement to that effect at the time: Butthere is not the slightest evidence in support of what he has said. He has been entirely actuated by a desire to vilify his political opponents. I invite Ministers tosearch the records of the Electoral Office, and to see if there is anything whatever to justify what Senator Henderson has said I think I am warranted in saying that no action whatever was taken by the official head of the Department with reference to the country officials under his control, except in so far as he was acting upon the advice of his responsible officers. I say, moreover - repeating my invitation to the Government - that they ought to search the records of the Department, and bring forward proof, if they can find any, in support of the charges to which we have listened.
– What is the use of going into the past offences of the Opposition? They have been punished for them.
– Why did not Senator Long make his protest against this resurrection when Senator Henderson was making his libellous statements? But no protest came from the honorable senator then. He never said a word.
– Senator Henderson was able to justify his statements, as he always is.
– Here, again, we have a member of the Ministerial party reaffirming the same libel. ‘ I say, once more, to the Government, that in fairness to their political opponents they ought to search the records of the Department, and tell the “Senate whether there is the slightest justification for it.
– Come tothe rescue of the Opposition?
– Come to the rescue of honesty in public life - a thing of which the honorable senator appears to have no conception, or he would not be making these interjections now. It is becoming a deplorable state of affairs when honorable senators opposite are prepared to get up and make a charge of political corruption against their opponents without having the manliness to produce a tittle of evidence when challenged to do so.
– I warn the honorable senator not to push his request too far.
– I am pushing it right home. I repeat my statement that if it can be shown that the late Ministry, for purposes of party or for self - for that is what it amounted to- wereguilty of such a breach of political honesty as
Senator Henderson has alleged, they ought to be drummed out of public life. But if; on the other hand, the charge cannot be proved, the Government, in fairness tothose who have preceded them, ought to tell us frankly that there is no foundation; for it. Turning to Senator Walker’samendment, I have to say that, howeverstrong his desire may be to revive a system, which I personally hope has disappearedfor ever from Australia - namely, the electoral rights system - I cannot give him any support. I saw too many bundles of these documents in the hands of my political opponents to make me feel comfortable about the system. More than that, I suggest that the clause under consideration is hardly the proper place for the discussion of the subject. This is merely an index clause; it is not even an interpretation clause. Whether the words proposed are added or not, the term “Voting by Post “ should becomplete as a reference in itself.
-Colonel CAMERON (Tasmania) [9.10]. - I should like to ask the Government whether it has been absolutely decided by them that no opportunity whatever shall be afforded to women, or topersons who are indisposed, to vote unlessthey go to a polling booth? Do I understand that that is absolutely the position taken up ? I suggest that the Government: have power by regulation to bring in a system that would enable two classes of persons who are in every way entitled to our respect to have their rights regarded, nomatter what party may sit upon the Government benches.
– One would really think, judging by the amount of heat evoked during the discussion, in respect to the provision for the abolition of postal voting, that thousands of men and women willbe disfranchised if the Bill becomes law. But everybody who has read the measure knows that little, if any, inconvenience will be caused. Rightly or wrongly, the Government believe that there will be considerable additions to the electoral rolls under this Bill. We believe that a larger percentage of votes will be recorded, and that there will be more facilities for recording votes under this Bill than exist under the present law. It is true that voting by post will not be permissible. Reasons have already been given why the Government are anxious to abolish that system. I have nodoubt that Senator Walker is actuated by a desire to do his best for the electors, but nobody who has had any experience of electoral rights can be anxious to have that system restored. Undoubtedly, they were used as they were never intended to be used.
– Is it not a fact that the signatures of the electors appeared on the rights?
– Whether the rights were signed by the electors or not, improper practices were resorted to. It was known to be a common boast that, by means of the electoral rights system, certain persons could control 50 or 100 votes at any election.
– If my system were adopted persons could only do that by committing forgery.
– We say that there are the strongest objections to the system of voting by post, and I believe similar evils would spring up under Senator Walker’s proposal. Therefore, the Government cannot entertain the amendment.
– A distinct question was put to the Minister by Senator Cameron. To a certain extent it has been answered by the statement that postal voting is going to be abolished. But the Minister has not answered the statement that under the system proposed numbers of electors will be excluded from the exercise of the franchise. I do not think that at any time in the history of the development of the franchise, until now, in the Commonwealth, where we have absolute adult suffrage, any community has gone back on the progress made. The present Government are the first to ask Parliament to go back. These points were raised on the second reading, and have been emphasized in Committee; and, although the supporters of the Government are aware that it is intended by this Bill to deprive people of votes, by reason of their age and infirmity, they still persist with the proposal. The Minister in charge of the Bill has heard the reply of the Leader of the Opposition to a charge of corruption on the part of a previous Administration, and he has not a word to say.
– The Minister of Defence can laugh.
– Entrenched behind the numbers opposite, the Minister of Defence can continue tosmile all the time. But to-day is for honorable senators opposite, and to-morrow, possibly, for honorable senators on this side. . I have not had much parliamentary experience, but within my reading and experience of parliamentary usage and practice I never heard of a charge of corruption against a previous Administration, refuted by a Leader of the Opposition with a challenge to the Government to say how true it was, being left unanswered by Ministers. The Minister in charge of this Bill has resumed his seat without a single word in reply to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition ; and his colleague, the Minister of Defence, smiles at the position.
– I was not smiling at that, but at the honorable senator’s tragic gestures.
– There is something to be indignant about.
– I did not make any charge against the Leader of the Opposition.
– The Minister introduced this Bill with a knowledge of past administration of the electoral law.
– I do not carry the Electoral Office about in my pocket.
– Of what use is it for the honorable senator to try to get out of the difficulty in that way? He has introduced an amending Bill, founded, it is to be presumed, on alleged defects of past administration. One of his supporters made a charge against a past Government of administering the Act corruptly. The Leader of the Opposition, who was a member of that Government, asks that that charge shall be substantiated.
– According to the honorable senator, whether the charge was correct or incorrect, I am responsible for it.
– Again the honorable senator is trying to evade the point. He has introduced an amending Bill, with a knowledge of past administration ; a charge of corruption in past administration has been made, and he has not a single word to say about it ; though he can reply to an honorable senator who made a charge from this side. The position, I should say, is unprecedented.
– The attitude the honorable senator is taking up towards me is unprecedented.
– It may be that, in the heat of debate, the honorable senator overlooked the strong charge made by Senator Millen.
– I did not. overlook anything. I did not make a charge, and I am in no way responsible for the charge that was made, whether the previous Administration was corrupt or incorrupt.
– The charge was made by one of the honorable senator’s supporters.
– And it was made as a justification for the introduction of this Bill.
– By whom; not the Government ?
– By the honorable senator’s colleague.
– I am not responsible for everything my colleague says. The Leader of the Opposition is not responsible for everything which an honorable senator opposite says.
– May I remind the Minister of the old proverb, “ Silence gives consent’ ‘ ? He has consented by his silence to the charge. He will not, or cannot, refute it, and he will not even go so far in connexion with a matter affecting parliamentary honour, as well as the honour of the Government, as to say that he will look into it. If this is the way in which the franchise is to be handled, and criticism from this side is to be met, deliberation in Parliament becomes a farce.
– I think the honorable senator might leave the Leader of the Opposition to defend himself. He is quite capable of doing so.
– With all respect for the Minister and Senator Millen, whether either or both can look after themselves, I have my case to look after. This matter, which should be conducted entirely free from party considerations, is being made the strongest of party issues. During the debate, the grossest charges of personal, as well as Ministerial corruption, are made, abuse of the postal voting system is alleged, and when no notice is taken of criticism, we have a right to ask whether Parliament is to be a deliberative assembly or a place in which, when the word goes forth from those who have the numbers behind them, a measure is to go through whether it is right or wrong, just or unjust. This is putting the franchise as it used to be put before - practically at the point of the bayonet.
– But without the gag, as the party opposite used to give it to us.
– It was the honorable senator’s party who introduced the gag.
– But we never used it.
– No ; honorable senators opposite were not -game to use it.
– Are we to take these references to the gag as a hint that it is to be applied to those who are venturing to criticise this measure?
– The honorable senator wishes to become a martyr.
– I hope that no one is trying to make a fool of himself. There is one thing which stands out very prominently in the discussion on this Bill. In Queensland, and probably also in the other States, it is the practice to proclaim polling booths in certain State institutions in which the aged and infirm are gathered together, so that by walking only a few yards, they may be able to record their votes. That practice is adopted at Dunwich, in Queensland, where there are, perhaps, over 1,000 aged and infirm people. Similar facilities should continue to be given to such people. It ought not to be a crime in the eyes of the State to be poor, and it ought not to be a cause of punishment that one is infirm. If we give 1,000 or 10,000 aged and infirm persons gathered together in public institutions facilities for recording their votes by providing polling booths at their very doors, surely we should extend a similar privilege to the aged and infirm who are not gathered in such institutions. The Minister will not take the trouble himself, nor will he give us the necessary time’, to consider some amendment which, in the face of the alleged abuses of the postal voting system, would providenecessary facilities for such persons to record their votes.
– The Bill has been before the Senate for two or three weeksHonorable senators opposite evidently require a good deal of time to work out their suggestions.
– As the Minister will not do what is desired, we must conclude that if we had time to prepare suitable amendments, he would turn them down in just the same way as he has ignored our criticism of the Bill, no matter what arguments we might use in support of them. One might speak with the tongues of men and angels, but it would be of no. use.
– If I were in the honorable senator’s position, I should suggest: an amendment, and not talk about it.
– Then in a deliberative assembly, those in power should speak, and those whose duty it is to criticise should not talk at all. The fiat hasgone forth in this matter of postal voting, and the Minister refuses by one word to- meet the challenge thrown out by the Opposition. In this particular case where a charge has been made he will not say he thinks that it is unfounded, or that he will inquire into it. It is characteristic of the method in which this thing is being bludgeoned through. It may be said that it is futile to speak, as it is impossible to get the Ministry to alter their decision, but still one must persist, because some of what is said will leak out, and some of it will be considered by the people outside. Apart from the injustice that the Government are doing knowingly, and without a shadow of defence for their shameful act, not one scintilla of evidence has come from the Ministerial side to support the charges that have been made.
– I think the honorable senator has referred to that matter very frequently.
– I will now proceed with another point. I have sometimes complained to the Department officially with regard to its administration of some portions of the Electoral Acts. I think the centralized administration which has prevailed for such a number of years has made the officials, and sometimes the Ministers, unable to appreciate the vast difficulties people in the back-blocks have to overcome in order to exercise the franchise. We have in our country as large a territory as Great Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal, with some other place thrown in, and only one small portion is settled. Settlement is going slowly but surely into the back-blocks, and it is an absolute impossibility, without spending hundreds of thousands of pounds, to provide polling places in those parts into which settlement is gradually going. Under the present Act a person residing over 5 miles from a polling booth is able to vote by post. Is there any one in his senses who is prepared to say that that is not exactly what ought to be done? Here is a rather extraordinary position. The Ministry have provided that every adult person in Australia who is away from his or her division on polling day, if strong enough to get to any polling booth anywhere in the Commonwealth, shall be allowed to vote. At first sight that is a generous application of further voting facilities. I have no objection to that under proper safeguards. The Ministry give to persons who are strong and healthy, who may be thousands of miles away from the division in which they are enrolled, the opportunity to vote; whereas persons who are in their division, but who are 30 or 40 miles away from a polling booth, are being deprived of’ an opportunity of voting. It frequently happens that a man and his wife have a farm 5 or 6 miles away from a polling booth. It is absolutely impossible for the woman to. leave her children and go with her husband to vote. Either the man or his wife must stay at home for the purpose of looking after the household, and because of that, one of them is deprived of the opportunity of voting. On the other hand, able-bodied men and women who are travelling are to be allowed to vote at any polling booth. These people may be about to shake the dust of Australia off their feet, and they may be able to vote just before departing, whereas thousands of people in Australia who are bound to their little farms or holdings, will not be able to vote. In those cases either the wife or the husband must stay away from the polling booth to look after the household. If we disfranchise only a dozen people we do an injustice to that dozen people. We know that it is a physical impossibility for hundreds of men and women to get to the polling booths. The Ministry practically say to those people, “’ If we concede to you the privilege of using a postal vote properly, and of using it without the slightest undue influence, other persons will abuse it or use it corruptly.” To take away the right of a man or a woman to vote is to inflict the greatest political or social injustice that can be inflicted on that man or woman. It is “utterly ridiculous for the Ministry to pretend that in this Bill they are acting in consonance with the spirit of Democracy or the spirit of the Constitution. Time after time we have asked, “ Give us specific instances of abuses under the postal voting system.” If the Ministry were to give those specific instances of abuse, the Committee might be able to devise some conditions by which those abuses would be guarded against. We have asked for specific instances, and we have had charge after charge made, and those charges have broken down. Then the last refuge is the suggestion of personal corruption - first, through one’s self; second, through one’s party ; and finally and most dastardly, through the Government which we supported. Surely the
Minister has some reason for his action in introducing this proposal. Apparently he is going to bludgeon it through in the face of this criticism. Let us take it that there are 30,000 postal votes exercised at an election. By passing this clause we will actually disfranchise a number of electors equal to a large constituency. The average constituency has under 30,000 electors. In connexion with the representation of the back-blocks electorates, which is most important to us, not a shadow of proof of any charge of abuse has been put forward. It is at the people in those electorates that this clause strikes. By this clause settlers in the back-blocks, and especially the small ones, with 300 or 400 acres, who are some distance away from a polling booth, will be deprived of the opportunity of voting.
– More postal votes are exercised in the big towns than in the country.
– Is that any reason why the people in sparsely-populated districts should be deprived of the privilege of postal voting? It does not matter whether or not the people in centres of population have abused the postal voting provisions, we ought to give every facility to the people in the back-blocks to record their votes. Abuses of the postal voting provisions may have been perpetrated in Melbourne or other places, but is that any reason why we should flog the backs, politically speaking, of the sellers in the backblocks ? That is the statement of the Minister of Defence now. Say there had been three or four, or a dozen, elections upset in large centres of population owing to corrupt practices in connexion with the postal voting system, does the honorable senator say that that is a reason why people elsewhere should be punished ? Is not that a Chinese method of dealing out punishment? In China, if something goes wrong in the Customs at Hankow, they cut off the head of a man at Canton. What is the burden of the song of the Minister in charge of the Bill ? He said that something went wrong in Melbourne, and because of that he is going to punish the people in the country districts. Even at this late hour I ask the Government to withdraw the clause, and give us time to consider the matter, if the amendment of Senator Walker is not acceptable to them. Their attitude towards the Opposition shows a spirit of almost Caesarism. I feel sure that the public will recognise that we on this side are standing by the franchise as it was laid down in the Con stitution. I have not imported any political or party issues into the debate, I have charged no Government with corruption or failure to administer the Act, but I have pointed out that this measure will do a gross injustice to many persons. What have we got from the other side? Only smiles. There was a time when people had to’ fight for the franchise, and when it was obtained it was so used as to make our Empire what it is. But this is the first time in the history of a constitutionallygoverned country, either within or without the Empire, where the Government have sought to curtail a franchise based on adult suffrage, and to curtail it on such grounds as would be scorned and laughed out anywhere outside, say, of China, which has its own method of doing justice.
– I confess that a serious pass has been reached when I have to recognise that after a trial of nearly nine years this method of enabling absent voters to record their votes on polling day has broken down. I can well remember, and it is “not many years ago, when it was the dream of very many progressive spirits in this country that a time would come when a method for enabling those who could not attend on polling day to vote would be devised by the Legislature. I can well remember that the Labour party in those days looked forward to a time when shearers and seamen would be accommodated with a means te vote, and that the privilege would be extended to those who, by reason of sickness or other disability, could not attend on polling day to record their votes. I think I can fairly claim that the Electoral Act of 1902 was passed largely, if not exclusively, by the assistance of the Labour party, and that a prominent object of that measure was to give an opportunity to vote to those who could not conveniently attend on polling day. I am sure that the most violent partisan, either here or outside, will not say that the great party which has possession of the Treasury bench to-day would have suddenly turned their backs on a policy which they had advocated for a long time, and hoped would work a lot of benefit, without having some very good ground for their decision. Not only did this proposal to give a fuller and freer franchise to the people originate with the Labour party, but it was advocated by them in season and out of season.
– In Tasmania it was in force before the .Commonwealth was established.
– To what extent?
– More largely than here.
– It was in force in Victoria, too.
– I know that in South Australia the late Mr. Kingston was first associated with the real endeavour to give absent voters a chance to record their votes.
– In 1896.
– I can well remember when we were looking forward in New South Wales to the chance of a voter who went to sea, or was engaged in shearing, being allowed to record his vote. It was not possible in that State in those days, and as a member of the Labour party I looked forward with ardent hope to the time when it would be possible. As the idea grew in popularity the Labour party continued to give an unfailing support to its enactment. Is it not strange, dien, that we should suddenly have turned our backs on a proposal with which we were so long associated, and from which we expected so much public benefit to flow ?
– In the first instance, and as far as I know right through the history of the Federal Parliament, the Labour party has been opposed to postal voting.
– That is not so-.
– If that is so, I entirely misunderstand the position.
– If the Minister of Defence says it is not so, I have been under a wrong impression.
– The Electoral Act of 1902 was passed by a Government which perhaps to a very great extent owed its existence to the support of the Labour party, and it contained the provisions for postal voting.
– It was passed at the instance of Sir William Lyne.
– The Act was passed over nine years ago with the full concurrence of the Labour party; it has been tested, and I have been forced to the conclusion that the system of voting by post has been greatly abused time and- again.
– You propose to punish the innocent for the faults of the guilty ?
– We do not propose to do anything of the kind, but suppose that under the law as it stands ten persons have, through the facilities for absent voting, been able to record their votes in a legitimate way, and that in opposition to them ten persons have been intimidated, or caused to cast their votes in a direction against their consciences, then the ten whose interests the honorable senator wants to safeguard have had their votes neutralized by the fact of the other ten votes having been cast against the will of their owners.
– That does not answer the interjection.
– It answers the point, I think, fairly well. If it has been possible in the past to enable ten persons to cast their votes by reason of a legitimate disability, and at the same time ten votes have been recorded which should not have been recorded, the ten voters whom Senator Walker wants to safeguard have been disfranchised. The Opposition have been asking all along the line for proofs of abuse of postal voting. When the system was in full blast in Western Australia one vote was recorded in the name of a person who was an inmate of a gaol. At the same election votes were recorded for persons who had not been heard of for years, and persons who it was known were residing in South Africa. Senator Buzacott can coil’ firm my statement that the scrutineers burst into a fit of laughter at the votes coming forward with the alleged signatures of these persons.
– Why did they not punish the men who recorded the votes ?
– Because, as has been stated, of the impossibility of getting sufficient proof.
– What difficulty was there in getting hold of the authorized witnesses ?
– It was not pushed to the extreme.
– You did not try to get proof.
– The candidate who attempted to procure these postal votes was one of the most rabid opponents of the Labour party. On that occasion he receiver! about three postal votes to every two received by the Labour nominee. In fact, a person in .the western State has only “to recall the practice of postal voting in any division to be quite satisfied that an overwhelming majority of postal votes have been obtained by opponents of the Labour party.
– That is the trouble.
– I do not object to that. What I complain of is that postal voting has been associated with gross injustice for which- there was no warrant. Persons have, been employed to go round as postal vote officers, and as justices of the peace, to collect the votes of those who were not entitled to vote, and at the same time have used every possible means to win votes to their side. We know that undue influence has been exercised over and over again by those who were sent out to collect votes. It was because of this practice that the Labour party came to the conclusion that, in the interests of a pure and clean system of politics, postal voting should be wiped out once and for all. I want to draw the attention of Senator Walker to the fact that so long as he helps to maintain a system under which votes can be cast in a direction which the owner does not intend, so long will he be a party to a system which will to some extent disfranchise those who would have their votes cast in a legitimate way. Hitherto the Labour party have been very staunch supporters of this system, from which they expected great benefits to flow. It has had a trial for nine years, and one unfailing result has been that it has been associated with practices of a most questionable kind. While I recognise that there will be hardships inflicted under this clause, still we shall secure that greater benefit of a purer, a cleaner, and a more systematic recording of votes in the future than has been our experience in the past. I was once a believer in postal voting ; but as one who has watched its Operation and noted its results, although we could not get positive evidence of abuse and misuse, I feel perfectly satisfied in my mind that it is a system which ought to be abolished, and which must go.
Bill received from House of Representatives, and (on motion by Senator McGregor) read a first time.
Bill returned from House of Representatives with a message intimating that it had agreed to the Bill with amendments.
That the message be taken into consideration in Committee to-morrow.
Motion (by Senator McGregor) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I desire to submit a matter for the consideration of the “Vice-President of the Executive Council. During his absence, when the Senate was in Committee, Senator Henderson made a statement, which was an accusation against the past Administration, of having appointed polling places, or withheld the appointment of such places, merely to suit its own party purposes. I then stigmatized that as a charge of corruption against the late Administration, and invited Ministers to take the necessary steps to put them into a position either to affirm the statement officially or to deny it. Neither of the Ministers then present responded to that invitation. I now invite the Vice-President of the Executive Council, as the merest piece of fairness which the Government can extend to their political opponents, to make inquiries in the Department, to search its records, and to take whatever steps they like to probe the matter to its depths, and say whether there is the slightest justification for this gross imputation upon the honour of their predecessors?
– Senator Millen seems to be so agitated that one would almost be compelled to think that there was something new in the statement that I made in Committee in regard to the polling facilities offered to the electors. What I said then I still maintain. I say that the electoral laws have up to the present time been absolutely ineffective in regard to the provision of facilities to vote for electors residing in many parts of Australia. I speak particularly in regard to my own State, where I know that polling facilities have not been granted in anything like the proportion that they ought to have been, if people were to have such opportunities of voting as were enjoyed by those who reside in the large centres. I know of large numbers of men, living in the bush, timberhewing and following the usual avocations of bushmen, who have been denied those facilities for voting simply because their numbers, in the eyes of the administrators of the electoral law, were not sufficient to justify the establishment of poll- -ing booths at which they could exercise the franchise.
– The honorable senator said that this was done for party putposes.
– I say now that the whole of our electoral machinery up to the present moment-
– The honorable senator made a personal charge.
– My statement concerned the administration of the electoral law from the beginning of Federation up to the present moment ; and it is only now - I repeat the statement - when honorable senators opposite see the impossibility of being able to make their own impression upon the electoral law, so as to cause it to work out to their own advantage, as it has hitherto done, that they resent the action taken by this party.
.- Senator Henderson has now tried to wriggle out of the charge which he made some time ago. He certainly spoke about the electoral laws, and complained that they had been administered to the advantage of parties opposed to his own. But he also said that polling places had been established, or had not been established, for the special purpose of obtaining votes for the party to which he is opposed, and of depriving the opposite party of voting facilities. It is a personal charge made against a previous Administration. That was taken up by the Leader of the Opposition. I hope that the matter will be cleared up, and that the Government will extend this measure of fair play to their political opponents. Senator Henderson has tried to crayfish out of his previous statements, but he cannot be allowed to do so.
– Is the honorable senator in order in attributing to Senator, Henderson a desire to crayfish out of anything?
– I did not hear the statement made, but if it is considered offensive it should be withdrawn.
– I withdraw the word if it is objected, to, but I point out that what Senator Henderson is doing is what the crayfish always does. I trust that the Governmentwill investigate this matter, because it is not only the honour of a previous Administration that is at stake, but the honour of the officers of the Commonwealth Electoral Department. Honorable senators know that polling places are fixed on the recommendation of the returning officers, after being submitted to the Chief Electoral Officer, and that these officers, and not the political head, are responsible. The political head of the Department really knows nothing whatever about it.
– I also hope that the VicePresident of the Executive Council will look into the matter raised by Senator Millen. A definite charge of maladministration has been made against those who happen today to be sitting in opposition. I join with my Leader in asking that that charge shall be fairly met and investigated,’ and that we shall hear from Ministers an official statement either in refutation or confirmation of the allegations of Senator Henderson.
– I hope that the Government will not undertake any such gigantic task as to clear up charges made by people against the late Administration.
– A specific charge of maladministration.
– If all the charges of maladministration made against the late Administration are to be investigated we shall be occupied with nothing else throughout the present session. Nothing is more common than for charges of this kind to be made by one political party against the other. It is because honorable senators opposite for the first time find the Labour party in power and able to take a hand in framing the electoral laws of the country that We have been treated to this display of feeling.
– I have listened to all that has been said on this subject. I wasnot absent from the Chamber when the statements were made by Senator Henderson. I heard them. I recognise them as being similar to statements that have been made for the last twenty years. I am sure that there is no section of the people of Australia who would ask the present Government to be the guardians of the virtues and the graces of the Conservative section of the community, who had the government of this country under their own control for so long. A task of that kind would be far beyond our limited capacity. Senator Henderson, in his original statement, said nothing more thanhe has repeated.
– Yes, he said a great deal more.
– He said nothing more than I have said a dozen times, and he has said nothing half so bad as the Leader of the Opposition said when speaking on the second reading of the Electoral Bill.
– I never charged the present Government with corrupt administration.
– The honorable senator distinctly stated that the present Government were abolishing the postal voting provisions of the existing Act because, as a rule, the postal votes were cast against them, and consequently they were doing it for party purposes.
– Does the honorable senator draw no distinction between legislation and administration?
– Senator Millen, in regard to electoral rights, this evening charged us with having bundles of them up our sleeves.
– I am not concerned with rambling statements made by members of our own party, or by honorable senators opposite. Senator Henderson made it as clear as the noonday when he was speaking, that past rulers of the country made and administered the electoral laws to suit themselves, and, as for referring directly to any special Government, the honorable senator did nothing of the kind.
– He specially mentioned the last Administration.
– He made a general statement, and if Senator Millen finds that the cap fits himself rather neatly, of course he can take the blame, and try to defend the administration of the Government of which he was amember, but I do not think there is any obligation on the present Government to do anything of the kind.
– Will the honorable senator, before he sits down, answer a question ?
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate ad journed. at 10. 18 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 1 November 1911, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1911/19111101_senate_4_61/>.