6th Parliament · 1st Session
The President took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Has the Minister of Defence any objection to lay on the table of the Senate or the Library the papers in connexion with the cancellation of Caterer Creighton’s contract at Broadmeadows 1
– I will lay the papers on the table of the Library. It was not a contract for the Broadmeadows Camp, but a contract for a school of instruction.
– Is the Minister of Defence now in a position to answer the question I asked last week about the deferred pay to Tasmanians who have been in camp in this State for some weeks ?
– The reply to the question is dated 23rd August, and reads as follows: -
I am directed to inform you, for the information of the Minister, that the pay of the men concerned is being made to-day. It has been reported also that the delay has been occasioned by the absence of the last pay certificates from Tasmania, and as to this cause inquiries arc now being made.
– Will the Minister of Defence inquire into the accuracy or otherwise of a statement in the Sydney press that the wounded soldiers being returned from Brisbane to that portion of New South Wales which is in the Queensland military district are only furnished with a railway pass to the Queensland border, and that they have been left there stranded in consequence of the alleged failure of the authorities to provide them with travelling facilities?
– Yes. I ask the honorable senator to supply me- with a copy of the statement made.
Lieutenant-Colonel Ramsay Smith, Matron Bell, and LieutenantColonel Barrett.
– Is the Minister of Defence in a position to give to the Senate any information with regard to the recall of certain medical officers from Egypt, or from this front, which has been referred to in the press 1
– As the answer will be somewhat long, I ask leave to make a statement.
– There were some complaints which seemed to be well founded as regards the management of Australian hospitals in Egypt, ‘and these being reported, and coming from trust; worthy sources, the Government’ brought them under the notice of the Army Council. As honorable senators may know, all our military organizations in Egypt are under the control of the Army Council. Although the hospitals are organized here, and appointments made to them and sent forward by the Australian Government, still they are in active service, and therefore are under the control of the Army Council. We brought the complaints under the notice of the Army Council, and Brigadier-General Keogh, Chief of the Medical Branch, recommended that an inquiry should be held, and in that the Commonwealth.
Government concurred. We have not re- “ceived a report of the inquiry, but we have had cablegrams on the subject, and they have recommended that as a result of the inquiry Lieutenant-Colonel Ramsay Smith and Matron Bell should be returned to Australia, and that LieutenantColonel Barrett should be relieved of military duty in ‘connexion with the Army Medical Branch.
– And not recalled to Australia ?
– The further SUK gestion has come from Egypt that lieutenant-Colonel Barrett should be allowed to remain there, and take up the control of Red Cross work. That work, of course, is not under the control of the Australian Government. The Red Cross Society is peculiarly a voluntary organization with which the Government have no official connexion. We sent the suggestion on to the Red Cross Society.
– If he is not good enough in one place, what good will he be in the other?
– It is not our business. We have simply intimated to the Red Cross Society that we have no objection to Lieutenant-Colonel Barrett remaining in Egypt for that duty if they wish him so to remain.
– If it is a whitewashing business, I think that he ought to be allowed to return to Australia.
– So far as the Defence Department is concerned, the position is that Lieutenant-Colonel Barrett, Lieutenant-Colonel Ramsay Smith, and Matron Bell will relinquish their connexion with the Australian Medical Services in Egypt, and, so far as the Government are concerned, will return to Australia.
– Is the Minister of Defence yet in possession of any information regarding the arrangement made with Cook and Sons for the return of the effects of deceased soldiers to Australia?
– We have been in. correspondence with Cook and Sons on this matter, and I have been furnished by the Department with the following statement: -
With reference to the question asked by Senator Story regarding a complaint that Cook and Sons were demanding unreasonable charges in connexion with the effects of deceased soldiers, and to my reply on 20th instant, Messrs. Cook and Sons, Melbourne, have since advised this Department as under: - “ In reference to the letter of Mr. J. Hennessy, of Arthur-street, Unley, Adelaide, regarding the effects of his son (a soldier), who died at Malta, “ We regret to find that a misunderstanding seems to have occurred on the part of our Adelaide agent as to the arrangements made regarding the return of deceased soldiers’ effects. “ Sp far aa we know, the military authorities in Egypt have made arrangements with our Cairo branch for forwarding certain of the effects of deceased soldiers to Australia, and we presume the charges on these, such as freight, &a, will be paid by the military authorities, and not by the consignee. “ So far as we know, this only applies to effects which are under the control or are in the possession of the authorities in Egypt, and will not apply to effects in Malta or elsewhere, nor to effects which have been deposited by the soldiers with private firms for safe keeping. “ The charge of £2 referred to in Mr. Hennessy’s letter does not in any way refer to effects in care of the military authorities, but refers only to effects which have been stored in Egypt by soldiers with our Arm, or at other places. “ In connexion with effects which have been thus privately stored, and which the relatives may now be desirous of bringing to Australia, it is obvious that the charges which will be incurred’ in the transfer for storage, packing, freight, &c, will have to be paid by the consignee, and as the effects are usually pf small commercial value, we have only undertaken to arrange for their transfer to Australia on prepayment of a deposit of £2 on account of charges. This sum of £2 is credited in the account for charges, and any difference adjusted with the consignee on delivery of the effects. “ You will thus sec that the correct answer for our Adelaide agent to have made to Mr. Hennessy would have been, ‘ So far aa we know, no arrangements have been made for the return of deceased soldiers effects from any other place than Egypt,’ and he should then have referred him back to the Defence Department for further inquiry. “ We have written to Mr. Hennessy and our Adelaide agent, explaining the position.”
The Department has no’ doubt that similar arrangements exist in regard to return of effects of soldiers who have died at Malta as obtain in Egypt, but, in order to definitely determine the matter, the Department is makingtelegraphic inquiry.
– Will the VicePresident of the Executive Council ask the Attorney-General to consider the de- sirableness of introducing, before Parliament adjourns, either a Bill to amend the Acts Interpretation Act, or a general Bill, to provide that offences against the temporary war measures may be prosecuted and punished within a definite time after the expiration of those measures, and that any proceedings pending regarding such offences when the Acts expire shall not on such expiration ipso facto lapse ?
– I shall bring the matter. under the notice of the AttorneyGeneral.
– Is the Minister of Defence aware that serious complaints are made by the soldiers who returned to Melbourne this morning by the Hororata regarding the distribution of goods sent by the Australian people for the Australian soldiers at Heliopolis, Luna Park, and Mena Camp? Has he received a circular letter, signed by a large number of soldiers on board the ship, to the following ‘effect: -
We know that large quantities of stuff in the way of comforts have been sent to Egypt for the wounded; in fact, we bought the stuff in the way of cake and sweets, with enclosed notes from the senders. But we feel sorry that a good and generous public, which include our own relations, should be swindled in this manner. This is God’s own truth, and a hint that something should be done to insure further comforts reaching our wounded comrades behind us. Failing this, send no more. It docs not reach them.
If that statement, which the Minister will receive very shortly, if he has not already received it, is correct, will he take steps to see that some alteration is made in the organization of the Red Cross Society in Egypt or other places where our soldiers are stationed ?
– It will be obvious that I have not had an opportunity of receiving the letter or ‘hearing the complaint, but, in any case, the Defence Department is not responsible for the distribution of such gifts. They are sent forward by such organizations as the Red Cross Society in Melbourne and the War Chest Fund in Sydney. I understand that both these bodies received allegations of the kind a little while ago, and took action in consequence. Mr. Adrian Knox, of Sydney, and Mr. Norman Brookes, of Melbourne, were sent to England to look after the in terests of the Red Cross Society in this and other regards. Mr. Knox has arrived, and, I believe, Mr. Brookes is about to arrive. The New South Wales society has also sent forward a representative - Mr. Budden - charged with a similar mission. The Department, in order to assist, has given these gentlemen letters of introduction to the military authorities, and a general power enabling them to make necessary inquiries at hospitals or other places to which the gifts were intended to be sent. If the particular complaint mentioned by the honorable senator reaches me, it will be my duty to forward it to the Red Cross or any other society interested in forwarding the goods to Egypt.
– Is the Minister of Defence aware that the tents at the concentration camp at Claremont, Southern Tasmania, are shifted from time to time within the camp area, and that the men there have been singularly free from epidemic disease? If the Minister finds that this is true, will he bring the fact under the notice of the authorities in other military districts, so that those responsible for the medical organization of camps may follow the example ?
– I was not aware that what the honorable senator mentions was done at Claremont, although I know it is done in many camps, and is a rule expected to be followed in order to give the sun an opportunity to sweeten the soil. In order, however, to bring the matter under the notice of the authorities, as a good example to follow, I shall draw the attention of the various Camp Commandants to it,
– With regard to the questions which I have put to thi) Minister of Defence during the last fortnight, as to the practice in New South Wales of turning enrolled men adrift for a fortnight, has the Minister seen the statement signed by the custodian of the Sydney Night Refuge that, in consequence of the action of the military authorities there, men are seeking the shelter of the Refuge after having been enrolled, vaccinated, and sent adrift for a week or fortnight? The custodian makes no complaint on this head, but says he is called upon to find accommodation for the men. Has the Minister any information on the subject, and will he see that steps are taken to obviate the trouble?
– This is the first time the particular statement mentioned by the honorable senator has been brought under my notice. The general statement that in New South “Wales men were being enlisted and then discharged on leave was brought under my notice, and has been sent on to the District Commandant for report. So far his report has not been received. The only instruction issued is that issued on the recommendation of the Parliamentary War Committee that a conditional enlistment should be allowed under which men could enlist and be sworn in, and then fix a . date on which they would come up for service. No other authority has been issued to any Commandant in Australia to turn men away after having been sworn in.
– Has the Minister of Defence received any further information with regard to correspondence addressed to soldiers at Enoggera Camp, Queensland, by relatives residing in Tasmania ?
– I have already given the honorable senator the reply of the Military Department. That of the Postal Department is as follows: -
With reference to your communication of the 20th instant, asking that a report be furnished by this Department, in connexion with the complaint made in the Senate by Senator Bakhap of the non-delivery of correspondence, posted in Tasmania, addressed to members of the Australian Imperial Forces in camp at Enoggera, Queensland, I beg to inform you inquiry was made, and the Deputy Postmaster-General, Hobart, reported there was no doubt whatever that had the letters been addressed as stated, and posted in Tasmania, they would have been duly forwarded.
The matter was then referred to the Deputy Postmaster-General, Brisbane, who intimates that the postmaster at Enoggera Camp lias reported as follows in regard thereto: - “ All correspondence arriving at this office for the Tasmanian contingent was sorted into a separate mail bag and kept apart from correspondence for the remainder of the 20th Battalion, and would then be delivered to an orderly detailed for that purpose. Correspondence arriving after the unit had left would be redirected as soon as possible after arrival.”
It would appear that correspondence posted in Tasmania for members of the Forces at Enoggera, received prior to departure of the unit, was correctly delivered by this Department to the orderly detailed to receive it. and, if received later, was at once redirected in accordance with information furnished by the military authorities.
Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERT
GOULD. - I ask the Minister of Defence whether he has had an opportunity of considering the report and recommendations of Mr. Justice Rich in regard to the Liverpool Camp, and if he has decided to give effect to those recommenda-. tions ?
– I have received the report and recommendations. I have not yet had time to go through all the recommendations of Mr. Justice Rich, but I am in a position to say that effect had already been given to many of them. I shall be prepared to make a further detailed statement, probably, on the Supply Bill.
– Is it intended to make any alteration in regard to the officers who are in charge of that camp ?
– An alteration in that respect has already been made, but, in order that my statement’ may be accurate and complete, I prefer to have the full facts before me. I shall then be in a position to make a statement on the Supply Bill.
Persons of Asiatic Extraction
– I ask the Minis ter of Defence whether, in - view of the fact that no fewer than thirty-seven AusT tralian-born men, of Chinese extraction, have been recruited from the Ballarat district alone, and that a large number of casualties have been sustained on the Gallipoli Peninsula by other Australianborn men of Asiatic extraction, who are members of our Expeditionary Forces, the Government will take advantage of the opportunity which will be afforded, whenever an amendment of the Defence Act is contemplated, to remove from that Act the apparently invidious and undemocratic reference to people of Asiatic origin-
– Order I The honorable senator must not make any comment in asking his question.
– Then I will retract the adjectives. Will the Government remove from the Defence Act at the first opportunity the reference to men of Australian birth but of Asiatic extraction, to whom I have alluded?
– If the honorable senator will read the Defence Act, he will find that it contains no such reference. As a matter of fact, there is no reference whatever in our Defence Act to persons of Asiatic extraction.
– Nor of any other nationality ?
– There is a reference to persons of European nationalities. I do not think it either wise or expedient that I should make any further statement on the matter.
The following papers were presented : -
Defence Act 1003-1915. - Regulations. - Statutory Rules 1015, No. 141.
Lands Acquisition Act 1906. - Land acquired under, at -
Amungula, New South Wales and Federal Territory - For Federal Capital purposes.
Goorooyarroo (Portion 138), Federal Territory- For Federal Capital purposes.
Gooroos’arroo (Portion 284), Federal Territory - For Federal Capital purposes.
Avoca, Victoria - For Defence purposes. Botany, New South Wales - For Postal purposes.
Kalgoorlie (2), Western Australia - For Railway purposes.
Warracknabeal, Victoria - For Defence purposes.
Public Service Act 1002-1913. - Promotions -
Department of the Treasury. - M. L. Bradley, as Clerk, 4th Class, Accountant’s Branch; and M. Richardson, as Clerk, 4th Class, Stamp Printing Branch.
Department of External Affairs. - D. B. Edward, as Clerk, 2nd Class.
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers are -
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
Regarding the purchase of horses for the Expeditionary Forces in Tasmania, the subject of replies by the Minister to Senator Ready in the Senate on 12th and 18th instant -
What average price was fixed by the Depa rtment?
What maximum age of horses was fixed by the Department?
What provision (if any) was made as to the passing of horses as sound before being handed over to the Forces?
What officer was intrusted with this duty?
Was such officer in Tasmania during the whole period of the purchase, or withdrawn for duty in Victoria, and for what -period?
How many of the horses resold were injured after purchase and before resale?
Will he furnish with regard to each of the other States a report similar to that furnished in regard to Tasmania?
– The answers are -
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers are -
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers are -
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
In regard to the advertising now appearing in the anti-Labour press of Australia in regard to recruiting, who authorizes such advertising, and does the Commonwealth bear the cost of same?
– The answer is-
The following procedure has been adopted in the various districts: -
A standard press notice for recruiting for the Expeditionary Forces was issued to all
Commandants on 3rd June, 1015, with instructions to distribute same to as many newspapers as possible in their district, with a request to maintain a standing notice, not as a paid advertisement. 1st and 2nd Military Districts. - No expenditure was incurred as regards any advertisement which appeared in newspapers. 3rd Military District. - Eleven provincial papers were paid for a tri-weekly advertisement, which has now been discontinued. Expenditure is incurred in connexion with insertions which appear under Government Notices in the Age, Argus, and Herald only. 4th Military District. - Expenditure is incurred in connexion with insertions which appear under Government Notices in the metropolitan, Port Pirie, and Broken Hill daily papers. 5th Military District. - No expenditure is incurred in connexion with advertising for recruits, other than for special advertisements at Geraldton, Bunbury, and Kalgoorlie. 6th Military District. - Expenditure was onlyincurred during the months of April and May, payment for advertising being discontinued after the receipt of Head-Quarters’ notice dated 3rd June, 1915.
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
Seeing that both vaccination and inoculation against enteric were made compulsory -
– The answers are -
– It is time they knocked off poisoning our soldiers, anyway.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers are -
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The Commonwealth Public Service Commissioner has furnished the following replies: - 1 and 2. Consideration is being given to reorganization proposals under which there will be an excess of supervisory officers in Tasmania, who will be provided for in other positions.
Motion (by Senator Turley) agreed to-
That there be laid on the table of the Senate a return showing -
The total amount spent in each. State of the Commonwealth in connexion with works, buildings, additions, &c, for the years 1909-10 to 1913-14 inclusive, by the following Departments: -
Debate resumed from 13th August (vide page 5755), on motion by Senator
That this Bill be now read a second time.
– Some little time has elapsed since this measure was introduced; but, in circumstances over which nobody in this Chamber had any control, I almost lost sight of it entirely, until I found it on the business-paper to-day. This is not a measure which calls for very protracted utterances on the part of any individual senator; but 1 should like to offer one or two objections to the proposal. I want to say, however, that I can indorse the Minister’s statement that he does not anticipate from this Bill any advantage to any political party. I share that view. Whatever may be the effect of the Bill, I do not think it will be of any party advantage one way or the other. As a matter of fact, I feel that the result of this proposal, if it becomes law, will be entirely negligible. I do not anticipate that it will alter the results of voting in any way whatever. Therefore, so far as the political aspect of it is concerned, we can dismiss it from our minds. Having said that, I am afraid I cannot indorse the rest of the speech made by the honorable gentleman in charge of this Bill. I must, however, express my admiration of the very great agility which he displayed in skating over some thin ice. He was at some pains to explain that this Bill really did not mean compulsion ; that it was not the desire to compel people to vote so much as to suggest that they should discharge their duty. I suppose one might regard a policeman walking up and down our streets in much the same way. On this line of reasoning, we might assume that it is not the duty of a policeman to compel a dishonest man to be honest, but we can certainly imagine that the presence of a policeman will mean very unfortunate circumstances for any evil doer if he commits his evil deeds in the full sight of the officer of the law.
– I cannot find those words in my speech.
– The honorable gentleman probably has not looked for them. As a matter” of fact, he did say that the Bill was not so much a compulsion as a suggestion, and he did show a certain amount of nervous apprehension about the effects which might follow anything in the nature of compulsion. If the Minister had no apprehension I cannot understand the efforts he made to tone down this word “compulsion,” which to him is naturally obnoxious. If compulsion, in connexion with voting, is a good thing, one naturally asks : Why is it only to apply to the referenda questions? It does seem that if the Government had any faith in their proposal they would have brought in a Bill applying the principle of compulsion, not merely to the vote to be taken in December next, but to subsequent elections.
– They are trying it on the dog first.
– Which is the dog - my honorable friend or the constitutional proposals? If it was thought that an experiment in this direction was necessary, that experiment should not have been tried on a proposal to alter the fundamental law of the Constitution, but should have been tried in connexion with a general election, because then the results, if found to be undesirable, could be corrected in the course of three years at the most. The action of the Government in applying this Bill to one of the more solemn obligations- of the people seems to suggest a want of sincerity. If it is intended to * make this part of a general law, it could have been done in the measure we are now dealing with just as well as by bringing in another measure subsequently to apply the principle to ordinary elections. It is quite evident that the Government have not yet made up their mind whether it will be applied to the purposes of ordinary elections or not. My chief objection to this Bill is that I have no faith in the principle of compelling electors to vote. We might add to the percentage of votes cast, but I do not think we shall alter the “judgment of the electors.
– You are against conscription ?
– Are those who support this Bill in favour of it?
– One honorable senator, at least, I think is.
– Is that Senator Story?
– No, Senator Bakhap.
– Senator Story now attempts to liken the principle of this Bill to compulsory service in regard to military matters; but I do not believe that he seriously wants to pursue that line of thought. I have no faith in the idea of compelling people to go to the poll for the purpose of casting their votes. The idea of compelling persons to give a judgment, which may effect important decisions, on matters which they have not studied, and in which they take so little interest that, if let alone, they would not record their judgment, seems to me to be repugnant to common sense. No honorable senator in business would allow his hands to be tied by the judgment of people for whose opinion he had no possible regard. In the same way I have no regard for the opinion of those electors who take so little interest in what is proceeding, and know so little about matters that come before the people for decision, (that many of them will not trouble to walk across the street to a polling booth. I decline to believe that the mere mechanical action of going into, a polling booth and filling in a ballotpaper will add to the sum total of thewisdom expressed at any poll.
– Compulsory voting had a good effect in Queensland recently.
– The honorable senator may generalize about the Queensland election, but his reference brings in the question of party. I do not wish to regard this matter in a party light. The recent Queensland election, which brought about the* downfall of one political party, was influenced by many causes quite distinct from compulsory voting. Senator Russell quoted certain percentage figures in regard to recent elections, but they are about the most deceptive that I have ever had the time to peruse, and they quite overlook the most important factor in any such calculation, namely, the state of the rolls. If a roll is absolutely pure, a high percentage of votes is polled. With an inflated roll, though the same number may vote, the percentage is lower.
– The statement that the Commonwealth rolls were inflated was denied, and yet there was a higher percentage.
– There has never been a denial that the Commonwealth rolls were inflated. The electoral officers do not dispute the fact that rolls are always inflated. The question is as to the degree of inflation. The fact that the percentage varied in the several cases referred to by Senator Russell merely shows that a comparison between one election and another cannot be trusted.
– I do not say that the figures were perfect, but they give a general indication of the position.
– They are not a general indication. Naturally, when an election takes place very shortly after rolls have been cleared up, the percentage of voters is higher, but when the rolls are in an unsatisfactory condition, though the actual number of voters may be the same, the percentage is lower. I have no desire to be led astray by any percentage returns as to voters to whom ballot-papers have been issued. The main point is whether rolls are perfect or not. In stating that I have no faith in the idea of compulsion in regard to voting, I wish to urge one particular objection to the Bill before us. If we are to have a law under which a monetary penalty will compel all electors to go to polling booths, we should insure equal voting facilities to every elector. Unless we do so we are manifestly inflicting an injustice on some citizens as compared with others.
– Always provided there is no abuse connected with those facilities.
– The honorable senator is probably referring to postal voting, but, leaving that aside for the moment, let me take the case of voters separated by distance from pollingbooths. There must be a point at which we agree that distance is a bar. How can we say that a law putting all citizens under an obligation to vote and penalizing them if they do not do so is equal in its application to a man 5 miles from a polling booth as compared with a man 5 yards away.
– The time of the year may also have some relation to the matter.
– Quite so ; but it is no great punishment to the man 5 yards away from a polling booth to go to thai booth and vote, whereas the conditions are not at all equal in the case of a man who is 5 miles away. In the one case, the man living a few yards away from a polling booth is under no great obligation, for he may vote on his way to his tram or his train; on the other hand, it is unjust to compel a man some distance away to undertake a journey of several miles in order to avoid being regarded as o breaker of the law. I need only remind honorable senators of the conditions which prevail in Australia to show thai a law which compels people to visit the polling booth at a given time is unjust in the sense that it is unequal. Little faith as I have in compulsory enrolment, the position in that regard is quite differentEnrolment need not take place on a given day; the elector can consult his own convenience as to the time and manner of making application to be enrolled, but voting must be undertaken on one particular day. When our voting facilities are so unequal it is monstrously unfair to impose an equal obligation on all citizens to vote on a given day and at certain places, regardless of the circumstances which may surround them. The objection was recognised by Senator Russell himself, for in the course of his speech he said -
I want to say this, and I say it deliberately, that I regret there is yet a limitation which prevents any person being permitted to cast’ r. vote. Compulsory voting necessarily implies- that adequate -provision shall be made for every person to cast a vote, but at present certain people who are ill will not be able to do that.
He went on to point out that provision was made in the Bill for those who could offer excuses, but I am not dealing with that point now - I am emphasizing his admission that the Bill would deal with citizens on an unequal basis.
– I think that every honorable senator recognises that fact.
– That is so. If tho Senate is determined to adopt the principle of compulsory voting, we cannot avoid the difficulties raised by distance and circumstances; but there is one difficulty which we can avoid, and that is what Senator Russell had in his mind, namely, the case of those people who, through illness, were so placed that they could not vote iri person, but could vote by post if facilities for voting by post existed. I do not desire to enter into a discussion of the merits or demerits of any particular system of postal voting, but I gathered from Senator Russell that he favoured a postal voting system covered by adequate safeguards. Other honorable senators have expressed a similar opinion. They are not against postal voting itself; the system of voting by post which will meet with their approval is one which will be free from all possible abuse. No one asks for anything more than that. But, seeing that Senator Russell, who is sponsor for the Bill, recognises the justice of the claim for postal voting facilities, I ask him why provision has not been made in the Bill for giving those facilities ?
– I could not rise to the occasion; the task was too big.
– The honorable senator could not rise to the level of doing justice, but he has sunk to the level of doing injustice. When he says that it is impossible to do it-
– I would not say that.
– It amounts to this, that, although the Bill on the Minister’s own showing will inflict an injustice on certain persons, he says, “ I will do that, because at the present moment I cannot find a remedy.” The correct thing to do would have been to say, “ Until we can find that system which is the necessary complement to this we will abstain from bringing in a compulsory law.*’ In my opinion, the two ought’ to go hand in hand.
– We will abstain from compelling such people; that is quite clear in the -Bill.
– It is not. The compulsion is there. All that the Government say is that a reasonable excuse will be accepted. Before dealing with what is going to be a reasonable excuse I wish to emphasize this point. Out of the Minister’s own mouth I think that I can establish a case that the necessary complement to a Compulsory Voting Bill is the provision of adequate voting facilities. There is the further admission of the Minister that those facilities are not existing to-day. Therefore, I repeat that the correct thing would . have been to abstain from bringing in this measure until such voting facilities could be provided. In that case, if the obligation placed on citizens was approximately equal, there would be less objection to the Bill than I entertain to it now.
– Every Act of Parliament seems to inflict injustice on somebody.
– Here is the statement out of the Minister’s own mouth that the national complement to this Bill would be the provision of adequate voting facilities, and no one will deny that.
– Or an adequate apology by an elector for not being able to vote.
– The question arises what is the apology to be. I do not think that I have ever read anything more farcical in a measure. I should like to see a definition of what is a reasonable excuse. Suppose that one man is 5 miles away from the nearest polling booth and he writes in, *’ On account of the distance I could not go “ ; while another man walks 15 miles to vote, can it be said that it is a reasonable excuse for one man that he could not come 5 miles or one mile, and that another man has trudged on foot, as many persons have done, 15 miles for the purpose of recording a vote? The authority who is to determine whether an excuse is reasonable or not is to be the Divisional Returning Officer. Now, there will be seventy-five officers of that class. What may appear to be reasonable to one is not going to be reasonable to the other, so that there may be seventy-five different opinions.
– There might be a flood in one electorate and not in another.
– There will not be a flood in all the electorates on the same day. I am not dealing with abnormal conditions, which answer themselves. There will be no difficulty if a bridge is washed away. The difficulty will come with the mass of the excuses, which may or may not be legitimate, and the determination is to be left to the Divisional Returning Officers.
– Is this the first time that you have seen the words “ without valid “ reason in a legislative measure ?
– It certainly is not, but I point out to my honorable friend that so far as this Bill represents compulsion it is only compulsion up to a point. If a man thinks that he has an excuse, he will send it in; and I venture to say that it will be accepted. The whole scheme will break down, and it will become a farce. One man may be perfectly justified in saying “ I could not go to the polling booth ; I was a mile away, and I was not well,” and probably the excuse will be accepted.
– That is a good excuse.
– It is. .
– That is an unreasonable excuse.
– Here is an example of the difference of opinion to which I have referred. If it takes place between two gentlemen who have many opportunities of exchanging opinions in the secrecy of the Caucus, what difference of view is likely to take place amongst seventy-five Divisional Returning Officers ? I agree with Senator Lynch, and I differ Wl th the Minister.
– The honorable senator was speaking of a man who was treating the provision with contempt, and making a nominal excuse.
– As hundreds will do.
– Senator Lynch made the mistake of taking you seriously : I did not.
– The Minister knows that I am quite serious when I am dealing with the very damaging admission he made just now as to the unfairness of the Bill in compelling persons to exercise the suffrage when no adequate facilities are provided. Dealing with the quesHon of an excuse, what do my honorable friends expect from that provision ? Is it an attempt to bluff the electors into doing something ? If not, some idea has to be given as to what is a reasonable excuse. There are many men who, because of the keenness with which they address themselves to political issues, will go to no end of inconvenience to attend a polling booth, and great credit is due to them. But what about those who, for quite nominal reasons, abstain from going ?
– The slacker ought to. do his duty.
– What is ai “slacker”?
– A man who takes no interest in politics, and will not go to any trouble.
– Who is a “slacker” on polling day ? A man who is 2 or 3 miles away from a polling booth may write, “ I was 3 miles away; it was toofar to walk, and I had no other means of getting there,” and yet another man who had tramped past his door may have come 15 miles. If one man can walk 15 miles to vote, the other man ought not to be excused, but he will be. Those are the difficulties which will present themselves. There will be hundreds, probably thousands, of different excuses put in, a.nd no individual Returning Officer can determine whether they are accurate or not.
– Each case will be dealt with on its merits.
– What knowledge is a Divisional Returning Officer going to have of the merits of a case? He notices that Senator Lynch does not vote, and drops a note to the honorable senator, who replies, “ I was not well,” or “ My horse fell down, and lay down until 8 o’clock at night.” What opportunities will he have of finding out the facts?
– If his horse lay down until 8 o’clock, I think that I would be inclined to let him off.
– The Minister does not ask for any proof to be furnished, nor is it possible to get any. The fact is that the Government wanted to bring in compulsion, and lacked the courage to make the measure effective. It is inviting subterfuge on the part of men who are not disposed to discharge their electoral duty. The main objection to the Bill is that we have no right to punish persons for failure to discharge their electoral obligation when the conditions are so uneven, and, in some cases, so onerous as they are to-day, With regard to the matter of the Divisional Returning Officers, I still urge that the Senate should give some indication as to what a reasonable excuse is to be. The task thrown on the officers is not only great in itself, but will be complicated by the fact that there will be seventy-five of them, and whilst one officer may regard an excuse as perfectly reasonable the officer in an adjoining district will regard it as unreasonable.
– Why not Have an Appeal Court?
– The suggestion of Senator Story, put forward seriously, is an admission that there is a defect in the Bill as it stands.
– Not necessarily.
– It must be a defect if the suggestion of Senator Story is intended as an improvement.
– I am suggesting that to allay your uneasiness.
– There is ground for that uneasiness.
– Will you glance at proposed sub-clause 13 of clause 4, and see if it does not meet the case?
– That does not get over the difficulty.
– It is an attempt to make the decisions something like uniform.
– The net result is going to be that, in a vast majority of cases, the Divisional Returning Officer will accept whatever excuse is put forward, and if he does not, he will bring a hornet’s nest round his head. I have just one other objection to offer, and that is in regard to the submission of the referenda proposals. It is known that there are many persons who strongly object to those proposals being submitted at the present time, some of them even being supporters of the proposals. It is very much like adding insult to injury to say to persons who sincerely hold that view, “ We will compel you to vote under the penalty of a fine.” I do not suppose that any opinions I may express on this subject will affect my honorable friends on the other side, but, at any rate, they are opinions held by a very large section of people outside. Although the Government and their friends may succeed in carrying, as they probably will, this measure, and have, of course, a chance of carrying the referenda proposals, I suggest to them that the course of wisdom is not necessarily to obtain a majority, but to leave the minority, at any rate, in a position to say, “ Although we were beaten, we were defeated by fair and decent methods.” In my opinion, the Government are flying in the face of a very large section of public opinion, not only in putting forward the referenda proposals, lout in adding to the intensity of that objection by compelling persons who think that no vote ought to be taken to go to the poll on this occasion under the penalty of a fine. So far as this Bill is concerned, I have only one suggestion to make in Committee, and I desire to outline it now because I hope that the Government will accept it. If they will look through the Bill, they will observe that, although it was the clear intent that the Divisional Returning Officer’s certificate that he regards an excuse as reasonable shall be final, it does not say so. That is, I think, a mere oversight. I invite the Minister to look into the matter, so that between now and the time when we get into Committee he may consider the advisability of preparing an amendment to meet the defect.
– Surely there will be some general instruction issued under sub-clause 13 of clause 4 -
Proceedings for an offence against this section shall not be instituted except by the Chief Electoral Officer or an officer thereto authorized in writing by the Chief Electoral Officer.
– It ought to be provided that the certificate of the Divisional Returning Officer shall be final and conclusive, and that no further action shall be taken in the matter. It is an oversight, I think, because no one who reads the measure can have the slightest doubt that that is the intention.
– Do you suggest that the certificate of the Divisional Returning Officer shall be sufficient?
– I think that it should be, provided that when the Divisional Returning Officer marks an excuse as reasonable the matter ought to be terminated as regards the individual elector.
– You certainly would have no uniformity then.
– It is not going to be obtained now. The only men whose cases may help to bring about uniformity are those who are prosecuted or appeal. I cannot conceive that the Minister or the Chief Electoral Officer will ever go behind the certificate of a Divisional Returning Officer, and institute proceedings against the elector*. The Chief Returning Officer might regard as reasonable what a Divisional Returning Officer regarded as unreasonable, but would not be likely to go to the other extreme, and institute a prosecution in a case where the local authority had accepted the excuse as reasonable. I have mentioned these matters to give the Minister an opportunity to think over what I regard as a defect in the Bill.
– I regret that the Leader of the Opposition did not receive the Bill in a more thankful spirit. It seeks to leave still a certain amount of liberty to the subject, but, apparently, for that very reason it does not suit Senator Millen. This appears to be a contradiction of the traditions, as we have always heard them, of the Liberal party, of which, in this Chamber, the honorable senator is the gifted leader. The measure throws on the elector the responsibility of explaining why he could not vote on polling day, but Senator Millen regards it as not drawing rigidly enough the line of demarcation between a valid and a nonvalid excuse.
– I did not say anything of the kind.
– Then the honorable senator found fault with the elasticity of the penal clause, condemning it as so indefinite and vague that it would not clearly indicate the difference between a person who would be guilty in the eye of the law and one who would not. If we have understood the spirit of Liberalism aright, and the glorious traditions which the Liberal party claim to have inherited through the centuries, their object was to secure for the individual as much liberty as possible, and to minimize the control exercised over him by society. Yet, when a Bill such as this is introduced, retaining for the elector as much reasonable individual freedom as he is fairly entitled to, the Leader of the Liberal party objects to its elasticity in that direction. We have arrived at a time when we must recognise that the power of compulsion possessed by society is becoming more and more pronounced. There was a time when the individual had far more freedom than he has to-day, when men might build their houses how and where they pleased, whether they prejudiced the lives of their fellow-men or not, and when they could rear their children how they pleased, send them to school if they pleased, or keep them at home. That day has gone by. A man to-day must build a house in strict compliance with the requirements of society, and send his children to school within specified ages whether he likes it or not. That is so because it is recognised that an ignorant person is a menace to society. Liberalism in its early days might or might not have been against those innovations, but in this case is it going to act up to its professions? Here is a measure which, in the words of Senator Millen, is merely a suggestion.
– They are not my words; I quoted from Senator Russell.
– I find they are not mine either; they appear to have been taken from the Argus.
– The Bill, at any rate, is based on the principle of suggestion - a very good principle, because to an Act of Parliament we can well afford to impart some element of human nature. It need not necessarily be a stern, castiron proposition, bringing the citizen rigidly within the ambit of every one of its provisions, large or small. An Act of Parliament should be of the easy suggestive kind that will appeal to the better sense of human nature, rather than a document calling for implicit obedience to every letter. This is a suggestive measure, appealing to the better side of the individual, and telling him that it will be to his advantage to comply with its terms. We must recognise that some element of compulsion is just as necessary in regard to the casting of votes to shape the destiny of a nation as it is in regard to any other function exercised by the citizen. We are living in an age in which, for better or worse, the freedom of the individual has been largely encroached on. It is recognised by every branch of society that the freedom which the individual previously enjoyed is justifiably curtailable in the interests of the welfare of society as a whole. Here, then,’ is a proposal, largely experimental, of which the object is to require the electors of the Commonwealth for the first time to vote under a form of compulsion. T am not enamoured of compulsion in most things, but I believe that its experimental employment in this direction will have salutary results.
– Are you not in favour of compulsion in another direction?
– I am, and in many more directions also. I have come to think that the individual has had too much liberty for too long. At the same time I am free to confess that compulsion in a certain sense jars upon me, and it is only because I see an ultimate good that I agree to it in any shape or form. I favour its application only because the individual ought always to be made to realize that there are other interests than his own to be considered. It is like a mariner putting to sea with a port of destination in the distance. If he is to steer his ship into the distant harbor, he must look out for the shoals around him, and exercise a rigid form of compulsion over the men under him. These men might be disposed to follow their own inclinations, but they must submit to a form of compulsion for the sake of the welfare of the small community to which for the time being they belong. I foresee very salutary results from the enactment of the element ‘of compulsion contained in this measure. I believe it will wipe out as by the touch of a magic wand the very questionable practices that have sprung up in this country in connexion with elections. Persons associated with both parties have fallen into the habit of making the electors believe that they need to be carried to the poll in order to make their voice effective in shaping the political destinies of their country. That is a wrong habit for any party to fall into, and I regret to say that my own party, probably copying the example of the other side, have fallen into it themselves. We cannot afford to indulge in the expensive luxury of carrying people to the poll. There is no valid reason why any party should do it. It is the duty of every person who has the privilege of yoting to put in an appearance on polling day without assistance from others, and without luxurious conveyance in cabs, carriages, or motor cars, and cast his vote without being under compliment to any party or politician. This measure, therefore, will be a direct means of wiping out the abuses so long connected with elections in this country. Every movement that makes for generating a spirit of independence in the individual and awakening in. his mind a correct conception of his duty, is to be encouraged. Notwithstanding’ the strictures cast upon it by the
Leader of the Opposition, this is a movement in that direction. It will remind the elector for the first time that it is his plain- duty to appear on polling day and cast his vote without being appealed to to do his duty, and without having to be waited on by motor cars, to say nothing of the fact that many often cast their votes in a certain direction because they are driven to the poll in these luxurious conveyances. This innovation will have a salutary effect on the body politic in wiping out at one stroke the advantage which some political parties have derived from these means in the past. If - the Bill is passed there will be no obligation on either party to resort to these devices to bring electors to the poll.
– Do you not think they will do so ?
– I hope the Bill will be supplemented by an amendment of the Electoral Act to prevent a continuance of abuse in that direction. The measure will, therefore, be a powerful means of bringing about a more complete and purer record of the will of the people than has been the case in the past. I cannot understand why the Leader of the Opposition finds fault with the penal clause casting the obligation on the person who does not vote to show cause for his absence. The honorable senator, with his usual ability, has pictured many objections, most of which are imaginary, to the Bill ; but this is not the first time that a clause providing for the furnishing of a “ valid and sufficient reason “ has appeared in Acts of Parliament. Nearly every penal Act passed by this Chamber contains a provision allotting to the officer placed in a judicial position the task of deciding whether or not a valid excuse is put forward for non-compliance. In those measures that provision had Senator Millen’s approval, but in this Bill he finds fault with it, although we are breaking no fresh ground and making no violent departure from precedent. If it is wrong in this Bill, it must be wrong in the existing Acts, but the honorable senator did not find fault with them. He finds fault with this measure on the ground that it will not be effective, that it is not rigid enough, that it does not set forth in lurid language the penalties to be incurred by those who do not vote, and lastly, that it contains the plain words “ for sufficient or valid reason,” which are embodied in all previous Acts.
– I did not condemn it because it was not rigid enough.
– The honorable senator condemned it root and branch.
– I said that the fact that the Government had not made the Bill rigid enough showed that they were afraid of their own medicine.
– After listening to Senator Millen, 1 confess that I was almost afraid to discuss the measure. Indeed, I would not have risen but for the fact that I am buoyed up by the belief that the Ministry, bold as they are, would never dream of placing before us a proposition so unworthy of consideration as the Leader of the Opposition represented this measure to be. To my mind it is an honest attempt to secure the registration of the will of the people. The Bill will compel every elector to take his share in moulding the public policy of the Commonwealth on polling day. It will be his duty-
– It is his duty now.
– Under this Bill it will be bis duty to vote. “We shall thus compel him to do what he should voluntarily have done long ago. The measure is one which should be welcomed by Senator Millen and his party with open arms.
– I fear the Greeks.
– In each successive struggle the honorable senator’s party has blamed something for its defeat. One reason more than another which has boon urged for the defeat of the Liberal party was that the organization of the Labour party was so perfect that all its adherents went to the poll, whereas many supporters of the Liberal party did not take the trouble to exercise the franchise. This is n measure which will deprive the Liberal party of that excuse for ever. Under it every elector will be obliged to record his vote.
– The main contention of the other party has ever been that all unpolled votes were Liberal votes.
– Exactly. I am almost inclined to doubt _ the sincerity of the Government in bringing . forward this measure, in the light of the statements of the Liberal party. But for the scathing criticism of it in which Senator Millen indulged this afternoon, I would have allowed it to pass without debate. According to the reasoning of our political opponents, it will confer an inestimable boon on the Liberal party. It will compel all the untold legions of which we have heard so much to come out for the first time and vote for Liberal candidates. I shall support the measure as an experiment, particularly because it will bring about a much desired alteration in the recording of votes in the future. I believe that it will pave the way to our obtaining a spontaneous expression of public opinion throughout the Commonwealth, and if that result be achieved a very solid advantage will have been gained. I hope that after the referendum the operation of the measure will be extended to all future elections. 1
– I can fully indorse some of the observations made by Senator Millen, who stated that the figures quoted by the Assistant Minister, who introduced this Bill, in regard to the percentages of electors who exercised the “franchise at various Federal elections were more or less misleading.
– Do not the same conditions apply to Queensland ?
– Figures in respect to the number of persons who have voted at any election are always more or less misleading. In the first place, much depends upon the condition of the rolls. I am one of those who affirm that it is far better to have a Commonwealth roll on which the names are duplicated than one from which names are absent, because the desire of every person in Australia is that every qualified elector shall exercise the franchise. We have laid it down that all adults in the Commonwealth who are British subjects outside of a gaol or a lunatic asylum shall be entitled to full political privileges. Different Governments have, at different times, attempted to secure an absolutely reliable roll. But to attempt that, where electors remove from one district to another, and from one State to another, is to attempt the impossible. I well recollect an exsenator who declared in this Chamber that the Labour party were afraid of a full electoral roll, because a full roll would mean a big poll, and a big poll would spell disaster to that party. He tried his hand at securing a full roll in
OTder that he might insure a big poll. His party succeeded in getting both. They secured all that they wanted in the form of a full roll and a record poll; but they also suffered what they did not anticipate - a political knock-out. The Labour party have never feared the vote of the people. Why should they do so? Ought not the majority to rule? It ought to be the aim of every man to insure that the citizens of Australia shall exercise their political rights at election time. They should be compelled to do their duty. Under this Bill, they will be compelled to do it. But Senator Millen says that he does not believe in compulsion. He belongs to a political party which does not believe in interfering with the liberty of the subject; but any legislation in the way of reform must necessarily interfere with the liberty of the subject. Senator Millen and his friends do not like that. They believe that individuals should be free to do what they please in certain directions. I would remind them, however, that to-day we have compulsory training, compulsory . education, compulsory early closing, and compulsory enrolment. We all know the views that were expressed by Senator Millen in respect of compulsory enrolment. He objected to it because he affirmed it would be useless and because, in order to make it effective, we should require one-half of the population of Australia to be chasing the other half. But what has been the result of compulsory enrolment? Have we not secured a better electoral system?
– We have had several inquiries into the electoral system since then.
– Long before compulsory enrolment was enacted, we had Elections and Qualifications Committees in every State; and after every election those Committees invariably had to inquire into disputed elections. But although all sorts of wild and whirling statements were made regarding our Electoral Act, the fact remains that after the 1910 election no petition was lodged against the return of a successful candidate, either to this or the other Chamber.
– I think that a petition was lodged in one case, but that its allegations were not sustained.
– Where was it lodged ?
– In Western Australia.
– No petition was lodged there.
– A lot of statements were made by the individual in question, but he would not take the responsibility of lodging a petition.
– That is so. I admit that, even when this Bill becomes law, it will not be possible to secure effective votes from individuals who are compelled against their will to go to the polling booth. But I am also of opinion that if electors know that they are under a statutory obligation to record their votes, and that neglect to do so will render them liable to a penalty, they will hesitate to disregard their obligation. A list of those who refrain from votingon polling day will be prepared, and, when completed, it will be the property of the Electoral Department for the time being. There will be nothing to prevent any honorable member of this Chamber, if those names are not published, from obtaining a printed copy of that list, and forwarding it to those newspapers whichwill publish the names of individuals who have offered no good and valid reason for not exercising the vote.
– What value will it be when that is done?
– The publication of such names and the excuses given will, in my opinion, have a very big effect on the lazy and indifferent voters.
– Does the honorable senator say that the 10 per cent, of people who did not vote at the last Queensland election will be prosecuted ?
– Does the honorable senator say that 1 per cent, will be prosecuted ?
– I would not be so foolish as to make a statement on that matter. Do honorable senators opposite really believe that this Bill will be noneffective, and that it will be impossible to induce indifferent and lazy people to realize their responsibility on election day?
– We admit the argument that compulsory voting induced about 7 per cent, of extra votes in Queensland, as compared with the last Federal election, but, nevertheless, 10 per cent, refrained from voting.
– That is another statement which can be taken for what it is worth. I will guarantee that if a minute examination were made of the rolls in Queensland - and that would take a long time - it would be shown that considerably less than 10 per cent, had refrained from voting. The estimate of 10 per cent, was arrived at’ by a comparison of the number of voters with the names on the roll; but every one knows that on every roll there appear names which ought not to be there. I do not mean that they are improperly on the roll, but no system can absolutely guard against transfers or deaths.
– If there is duplication, this Bill will give us an opportunity to get a clean roll.
– It was denied that that was possible by the honorable senator’s party in this Chamber.
– No member belonging to our party would make such a foolish statement as that it was impossible to have names on the roll that ought not to be there, because, as I have shown, you cannot provide against transfers, and you cannot anticipate, so far as the compilation of rolls is concerned, people leaving any one State and going to another.
– The honorable senator knows that a transfer ought to be concurrent with the taking of the name off the old roll. “ Senator FINDLEY. - I do not know that that is possible.
– That is the theory, anyhow.
– If this could be done automatically, we could be sure of having an almost perfect roll. This Bill, if it becomes an Act of Parliament, will result in a bigger percentage of the people recording their votes than has ever been the case since the Commonwealth was established.
– I am inclined to agree with that argument.
– We were told not long ago by an honorable senator sitting opposite, that there was a feeling of resentment on a part of the community against the referenda proposals being submitted to the people during the currency of this war, because, so it was said, these proposals were calculated to arouse party feeling at a time when it should be entirely eliminated. Our reply to that was that the referenda proposals were not party questions at all, but that they affected all sections of the people.
– Any question does that.
– True. But we went further, and said to those who charge this party with being anxious to create party strife, that these proposals are not specially in the interest of the people supporting the Labour party, any more than those supporting those opposed to the Labour party. We challenge our opponents to prove that these proposals will advantage the Labour party any more than they will advantage our opponents.
– That does not prove that they are not party questions. Are they on your party’s platform?
– Many proposals of a non-party character are on the platforms of both political parties. For instance, the defence proposal was on both platforms, and can it be said that defence is a party question? If it were true - which I do not admit - that the submission of the referenda proposals would create party strife, does it not follow that as a result of that much greater interest will be taken in the forthcoming appeal on the referenda proposals? If the people are so much concerned about these questions, which our opponents say mean drastic constitutional amendments, is it not reasonable to assume that every person in the community will take an interest in altering, or preventing the alteration of, the Constitution under which they live, breathe1, and have their being?
– Why not apply it to ordinary elections? Why do you make this tentative proposal?
– Senator Lynch answered that. "”Senator FINDLEY. - Do I understand now that the1 opposition is not to the Bill itself so much as to the fact that it is not general in its application?
– They say it is bad, and now they want to make it worse.
– The principle is either good or bad, says Senator Millen. We say it is good, and that it is a corollary to compulsory enrolment. We affirm, the principle that the people of Australia should be compelled to enroll as voters, and having been compelled to do that, we go further and say that, on election day, they should be compelled to go to the polling booth.
– No. You do not say “ on election day.”
– Well, we say that on referenda day they shall vote. We will say the other afterwards. One thing at a time. We declare in this Bill that on referenda day the people shall go to the poll, and record a vote either for or against the proposals that are to be submitted to them, or else show good reasons why they did not go.
– You do not compel them to vote. You may take a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.
– I dealt with that a moment ago, and I used very much the same words as the honorable senator. I repeat now, however, that the people who “will be compelled to go to a polling booth or else show a reasonable excuse why they do not go, will, in the majority of cases, exercise an effective vote. And I say, also, that every member of the Australian Parliament ought to be concerned about having the fullest voting in regard to the referenda questions.
– Then why do you not compel every member of Parliament to record his vote? Why is legislation carried here by a two-thirds majority?
– For the reasons I have indicated, I fail to understand why those who are opposed to the submission of these proposals in December next should oppose a compulsory vote in. connexion with the questions, and above all, I fail to understand opposition from the gentleman who has made a number of speeches in favour of military compulsion.
– I am in favour of that, make no mistake about it.
– I know the honorable senator is, and I listened with a great deal of pleasure to the speeches lie made on the subject. But I say that if it is good to have military compulsion it is good also to have compulsion in respect to the franchise privileges of the people of this Commonwealth on matters affecting their very existence.
– Will you reverse that argument?
– These referenda propositions are all-important to every person in Australia.
– So is the war.
– The war is still more important.
– That is true, because, if this war goes against us. - though I do not think there is any possibility of that - we may not be here in the future. These referenda proposals concern everybody in Australia, and particularly those people in the community who, ever since the war, have been seriously handicapped because their purchasingpower has been reduced in many directions by the increased price of commodities. I know, however, that they need no compulsion to vote.
– What is your trouble, then?
– I want those people who, according to some honorable senators opposite, are so indifferent about their own affairs and the future of this Commonwealth that they refrain from going to the polling booth, to get a “ shake up “ in the interests of the party opposite. I wish these people to realize their responsibilities to the full, and if they will not go to the polling booth the penalties provided in the measure should be imposed.
– Do not worry about that; they will not be enforced.
– The honorable senator is echoing a statement that was made when I happened to have something to say with regard to the compulsory enrolment provisions of the Electoral Act. Statements were then made that the Government would not bother about persons who would not enroll; that it would be impossible to enforce the provisions for compulsory enrolment, and that thousands of policemen would be needed to run after people who would not enroll. But what has been the result of the operation of the provisions? Thousands of prosecutions have been instituted, and thousands of fines have been inflicted on persons who have failed to do their duty in the matter of enrolment.
– I think that if a return is called for, -it will be found that the number of persons fined is less than 1,000.
– Prosecutions have been instituted in every State against persons who have been indifferent about their responsibilities in regard to enrolment.
– The Royal Commission did not suggest the abolition of the compulsory enrolment provisions.
– No, because compulsory enrolment is inexpensive, and has proved to be about the most effective system we have had in the Commonwealth, notwithstanding the criticisms that were levelled against it when the Bill was introduced.
– The facts to-day justify that criticism.
– I do not think so. If our opponents were in office tomorrow they would hesitate a long while before they would dream of abolishing compulsory enrolment.
– That is quite true, because it is not a party grievance.
– I have never at any time shared the belief of those who object to measures because there is in them an element of compulsion. We would never have had any early closing Statutes had it not been for the fact that men were determined to interfere with the liberties of the subjects when those subjects sought to interfere with the liberties of the majority of the people. The compulsory closing of factories and workshops at certain hours of the day was brought about despite the violent opposition of representatives of the party opposite. When legislation was suggested to compel employers to provide decent sanitary conditions and a healthy atmosphere conducive to the longevity of those engaged in factories and workrooms, the cry was raised that such legislation would interfere with the liberties and rights of the subject. The same cry was also raised even against the proposal to compel employers to whitewash the walls of their factories. Legislation bringing about industrial reforms which have battered the lives of the men, women, youths, and girls engaged in our factories would have been impossible without compulsion behind it. Electoral matters are just as important. I believe that any person unable to vote will forward an excuse to the responsible officer. Senator Millen asks what are reasonable excuses. If he were an electoral officer, he would not take any flimsy excuse submitted as a reasonable one. Knowing the honorable senator well, I know that he would do justice to his position and to himself, and he -would say, “ Here is an Act which, whether I believe in it or not, has been passed by the majority of members of the Common wealth Parliament, and which I am called upon as a responsible officer to faithfully administer. It empowers me to call upon those who did not record a vote at the election to give reasons why they did not do so,” and when A, B, C, D, and E would forward in writing their reasons for not voting, he as electoral officer would examine them.- These reasons would need to be backed up by proof.
– Where is the provision for that
– I think that it is in the Bill.
– It is not.
– There must be proof by a neighbour.
– The only occasion when a third party comes in is when the elector himself is unable to give an excuse.
– If the elector says that on election day, on his way to the poll, something happened to hi3 vehicle or to his horse, would it not be a reasonable excuse; would any man make such a statement unless it was correct? If a flood prevented a man crossing a river, would it not be a legitimate excuse ? But if a man advances as an excuse the fact that on polling day he was engaged in doing something and the necessity to vote escaped his mind, would that be a reasonable excuse?
– Supposing a man says, “ I was too busy; I was unable to get away “ ?
– If the honorable senator were the electoral officer, he would require to know what the elector meant by the term ‘ ‘ too busy. “ If a man could escape punishment by sending in such a flimsy excuse, the Bill would not be worth the paper on which it is printed.
-Colonel Sir Albert Gould. - It might be a perfectly valid excuse.
– It would not be a legitimate excuse unless the elector advanced reasons for having been “ too busy.” While the measure is not revolutionary, and even does not contain provisions as drastic as the compulsory enrolment sections of the Act, it is in the best interests of the citizens of Australia and of the Commonwealth itself. I therefore give it my support, and trust that it will be followed later on by a Bill establishing compulsory voting in respect to Commonwealth elections.
Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD (New South Wales) [5.2].- Senator Findley and Senator Lynch, who preceded him, have displayed a vivid imagination in regard to the reasons advanced, and the instances quoted, by Senator Millen in opposition to the Bill. From these honorable senators we heard a great deal that was quite beside the measure, but which could not be held to be out of order in that it had some remote connexion with it. An attempt is being made to compel every elector to vote, yet provision is not being made to enable every elector to do so. It has even been said that the Government would be prepared to take steps to enable men in the trenches to record their votes.
– Who said that?
– I believe that the AttorneyGeneral said something to that effect, and that the instance of Canada was quoted. It was said that a Canadian election had been held after the departure of the Canadian troops, and that the Canadian soldiers were given the opportunity of recording their votes. A moment’s consideration shows the hollowness and sham of this proposal, but, in order to fix the matter definitely from the mouths of Ministers, I submitted a question the other day.
– Prior to that, Senator Ready asked a question on the point, and the Ministry said they would take it into consideration.
– My question was -
Though we were told that all these men would have full opportunity, here was the reply - 1, 2, 3, and 4. The law does not permit of voting under the conditions indicated by the honorable senator’s question. It would be impracticable to provide members of the Defence Forces serving abroad with voting facilities which would have uniform application.
This indicates that the Government have really awakened to the fact that a large body of men who have left Australia will have no opportunity of voting on the Referenda Bills, though we are told by Senator Findley that it is of vital importance to the people of Australia that every elector should record his vote on these proposals. Many of our soldiers are under twenty-one years of age. But we can say that there are 50,000 who will be deprived of the privilege of voting on the referenda proposals. My honorable friends opposite want to be able to say afterwards, “Yes, we made provision that every man should record his vote, and by that means we have obtained from the public an expression .of opinion with regard to our proposals.” Surely that shows what a sham the Bill is ! We have been told that Queensland has adopted compulsory voting, and that at a recent election, held under that system, there was a great addition to the number of votes recorded. That is very true, but are honorable senators aware that ample provision is made in the State law to allow persons who cannot attend a polling booth to record their votes through the post? It must be borne in mind that in Queensland the Government adopted the statement made by the Leader of the Labour party years ago, that postal voting was the necessary corollary of adult suffrage, so that every man should have an opportunity to record his vote.
– Bte is an older and a wiser man now.
– Hie is older, but I do not think that he is wiser, if he has changed his views on that question.
– He has had a very painful experience of postal voting in Queensland since he made that statement.
– The honorable senator means that there have been abuses of the system; but I remind him that there have been such abuses in connexion with every voting system which has been tried in Australia. I believe that Mr. Fisher went so far as to say that not one man should be deprived of the right to vote, notwithstanding any abuses which might creep in. But why do we pass legislation from time to time dealing with matters of that character ? We want to correct any abuses which are found, but certainly not to deprive persons of the right to record a vote. If the Labour party are determined to introduce compulsory voting, they cannot be fair unless they enable electors who, by reason of illness, or distance, or for other reason, are unable to go to a polling booth to record their opinion, whether it be at a referendum or the election of members of Parliament. My honorable friends on the other side must pass that provision if they desire to act fairly and justly towards the individual. It has been argued that this Bill is a mere pretence, and I am inclined to think that it is. Every person is required to record a vote subject to a penalty not exceeding £1, but, -instead of allowing postal voting, this Bill enables persons to make excuses. Clause 4 provides^ -
It shall be the duty of every elector to record his vote at the referendums to which this Act applies.
It shall be the duty of each Divisional Beturning Officer at the close of the referendums to which this Act applies to prepare a list (in duplicate) of the names and descriptions of the electors enrolled for his Division who have not voted at the referendums to which this Act applies, and to certify the list by statutory declaration under his hand.
All such persons have, within a prescribed period, to be communicated with by the Divisional Returning Officer, and also a certain time within which they may give a reason for not having recorded their votes. But take the case of men who are at Gallipoli or Flanders. It is very evident that it will not be possible for the authorities to communicate with those persons directly; they may be able to communicate with the residences on the electoral rolls, but the men will be prevented from giving any reason for not voting, because they will be in a far distant country. But one of the grounds on which an elector will become subject to the penalty will be the failure to furnish a valid and sufficient reason within the prescribed period. It will be seen that we are confronted with a position which certainly is not an ordinary one.
– Why do you not state the whole case ?
-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD. - I did not want to go through the whole of clause 4, but just to give the pith of it.
– Suppose that a man is at Gallipoli, his mother, or his sister, or his uncle can send a reason to the Divisional Returning Officer.
-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD. - Provision is made to meet a case of that kind, but it must be remembered that a great many men will not be able to get that service rendered because they have no relatives.
– There are people not entitled to be on the roll, but to whom we have to deliver objections.
-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD. - Whether an excuse is valid or not, there is necessarily no means by which it can be tested right away. I understand that there are 2,000,000 electors in the Commonwealth. Suppose that 80 per cent., which I think is a very large percentage, record a vote. It will mean that 400,000 electors failed to vote. Are the Divisional Returning Officers going to communicate with those persons, and if they do, how are they to deal with the excuses which are sent in ? One elector may say, “ I was too ill to go to the polling booth,” but how is his excuse to be tested in the absence of any provision for that purpose? One man may have been ill, and given a valid excuse, while another man may have had a slight headache, or a bit of a cold, and have been disinclined to go to the polling booth. The question is, what is to be done when all the excuses are made?
– You can get a man to produce a doctor’s1 certificate at an expense of- half-a-guinea.
-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD. - Is that a fair charge to lay on the people of this community? Why do not the Government provide that if a man is sick he shall produce a doctor’s certificate?
– If they do, they should pay for the certificates.
-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD. - Such a provision, of course, would increase the cost of administering the Electoral’ Act to a fabulous sum. We are told that the submission of the referenda proposals is likely to cost £90,000. We are now asked to compel every elector to vote, and throw on the Divisional Returning Officers additional work, the amount of which one can hardly conceive, because they will have to communicate with many electors, consider the replies, and submit them to the head office, where a prosecution may or may not be determined on. So far as we «san judge, although it is not definitely stated in the measure, if the Chief Electoral Officer is satisfied with the excuse put forward by an elector, no prosecution will take place. As there are many men so there are many minds, and we shall not be able to get uniformity of its administration.
– Do you not think that there will be an understanding arrived at among the Divisional Returning Officers as to what, in their opinion, will be fair grounds of excuse ?
– It has been suggested here that the Minister ought to lay down a hard-and-fast regulation on this subject, but I do not think it would be just to the electors to take that course. In the administration of a law of this character we must rely on the good sense of the Divisional Returning Officers. We cannot tie them down and say, “ You shall take certain things as excuses, but certain other things shall not be held as excuses,” because in each the circumstances will be absolutely different. If the provision is retained the greater elasticity we allow to the Divisional Returning Officers to exercise their discretion, the more satisfaction is likely to be given to the people.
– Is not the present arrangement very elastic?
– Why should compulsory voting be applied to a referendum and not to anything else? In connexion with our first referendum there was not a general election proceeding. There was no cause to create great excitement and so bring the electors to the polling booths. A very small vote was recorded, and, remembering that fact, the Government now say, “We arc going to make you people vote who did not vote before. You will not bo allowed to exercise your own judgment as to whether you will go to the poll.” There are persons who, while believing in compulsory voting. do not believe in the referenda proposals.
– Will you be surprised to learn that there is on the stocks a general Bill containing this provision ?
– If my honorable friend tells me so, well and good. The Brisbane was on the stocks years ago, and she is there still. It may be the same with the’ Electoral Bill. The object of this Bill is to compel electors to record their votes on the referenda proposals of the Labour party; but there are many persons who consider that this is a very inopportune time indeed to raise such an issue. Whether they are opposed to those proposals or not, they are against a reference of them to thu electors at this juncture. Their opinion was expressed very tersely a little while ago by the London Times in these words-
Undoubtedly if the Labour proposals are forced Australia will be plunged into a violent contest, and the stream of abuse, innuendo, and recrimination which already has flooded the House will overflow into the whole of Australia. Meanwhile, in the trenches of Gallipoli, Australians will be fighting for freedom under an alien sky. The contrast may not seem as strange to the Australian leaders as to us, but is it worth while ?
Is it worth while to bring forward such a measure at a time like this, when so many of our best men are away fighting for the independence of Australia? Not another Parliament amongst the Allies is engaged in considering matters involving such great differences of opinion on the part of the people.
– We are not discussing the referenda proposals.
– We are discussing what is practically an addendum to the Bills already passed, in order to insure a thorough and satisfactory vote, if it is possible to get it.
– The Canadian Parliament is dealing with party legislation.
– Not with legislation of this character, dividing the people into two hostile camps. It would be better to put the whole business on one side until the people can give their undivided attention to it. They are hearing day by day of the deaths of those near and dear to them, and should not be called upon, under threat of penalties, to give their attention to contentious political matters.
– If peace were declared, would you support the passage through this Parliament of a proposal to alter the Constitution ?
– If peace were declared, and Parliament determined to submit referenda proposals, I should not raise my voice against their submission. I opposed them before, and would oppose them tomorrow if they were brought forward again.
– Peace or war, you would oppose them?
– If they were carried by Parliament, and peace were declared, it would be quite right that they should go before the people, and I would be prepared to facilitate their submission in order to get an intelligent vote upon them. If the Government are really honest in the matter, let them deal with this question by means of a general amendment of the Electoral Act. The Assistant Minister says there is a Bill on the stocks at present. If so, let us see it and deal with it. Does it contain proper provision to enable every individual in the community to record his vote, by post or otherwise ? Senator Millen reminds me that Senator Russell a little while ago said that, while he believed in the postal vote, the Government could not devise machinery at present to carry it into effect. re we to understand that the Bill on the stocks will be equally barren of facilities for postal voting? I had hoped that the referenda proposals would be postponed to a more suitable occasion, but the Government appear to be determined to persist with them, and I suppose we must face the issue and hope for the best, but I most earnestly protest against the proposal now before the Senate. A certain amount of objection might be obviated if proper provision for voting by post were made to meet cases where people are unable to attend on polling day, but, apparently, we are not to have this, and it is doubtful whether any such proposals will be submitted to us in the future. I am strongly opposed to the introduction of compulsory voting .-with regard to the referenda proposals, and shall, therefore, record my vote against the second reading.
– I support the Bill for two or three reasons. For a number of years, after every Federal election at which the Labour party have been victorious, one particular section of the press has raised the same old cry about the “ apathy of the electors.” This can be seen from the files of the chief newspapers in every capital city in Australia, and certainly in the capital and other cities and towns of Tasmania. After the elections of 1910 and 1914, the Liberal newspapers asserted that the apathy of the ©lectors had once more been manifested in the return of the Labour party to power. If that is so, it is remarkable that the only opposition offered to the Bill in this Chamber comes from two members of the Liberal party. They ought rather to welcome it, because it certainly goes a step further towards assuring a full vote.
– Why do you not take all the steps? Is there any guarantee that the measure will be made to apply to a general election if the referenda are defeated ?
– All the steps will be taken, but experience of compulsory voting may reveal unexpected difficulties. A largely increased vote may not be cast, and the party in power may decide, after the experiment has been tried, that it is not wise or necessary to repeat it at a general election. I do not think that will be so if the Labour party remain in power, because it is certain that, believing in the principle, they will give effect to it at every succeeding election. This Bill deals only with the referenda poll, because that is the only appeal to the people immediately in sight.
– The referenda are taken under the Electoral Act, and the Government could have made this Bill apply to everything.
– They could; but I understand that there was considerable difficulty in the way of getting the necessary papers issued.
– Why should there be any difficulty in issuing papers if the Bill was made to apply also to future elections ?
– I believe there are very good departmental reasons. There is no reason for our opponents to fear that the Labour party are not going straight on with the compulsory voting principle. Honorable senators opposite ought to welcome this measure, even if it is to be applied only to the referenda Surely Senator Millen, Senator Gould, and Senator Bakhap do not want to see them decided by a minority of the people?
– Why should important questions be decided here by less than half the Senate ?
– Two wrongs do not make a right. The honorable senator has his remedy if what he says is true. Both times the referenda questions were submitted previously, nothing like 75 per cent, of the people voted, but they are too important to be decided by a minority of the people. The merits or demerits of the referenda proposals are not at issue on this Bill. The whole issue is that we want as full a vote of the people as possible. If the alterations of the Constitution are bad for Australia, it will be a good thing that the majority of the people should vote against them, and that the majority should be as large as possible. If they are beneficial to the Commonwealth it will be a good thing that they should be carried by a majority representing as nearly as possible the whole of tlie voting strength of the Commonwealth. It is surely better that their acceptance or rejection should be decreed by 90 per cent, than by 50 per cent, of the electors. Another reason impelling me to vote for the application of compulsory voting to the referenda poll is that it will encourage the electors to find out what the referenda really mean. On each of the other occasions large numbers did not vote because they did not understand the issue, and a number of those who did vote said afterwards that they did not quite understand what the questions really meant. It will surely be better to encourage the electors to find out their meaning for themselves than to stay away or vote according to the advice of some paid canvasser. Numbers of these are already going round on behalf of one party asking the electors to sign petitions against the submission of the referenda to the people. Only three days ago a lady who is doubtless a paid canvasser for the Liberal party came to my house asking for signatures to a petition for this purpose. When I asked her why she was doing so, she said, “ Parliament has too much power.” That was all she knew. She did not know what questions were to be submitted to the people, or what they meant, yet she was obtaining signatures right along tlie street to a demand that they should not be put to the people. Of course, she was a paid canvasser of those who do not want the referenda to be put to the people, or, if put, carried. When the referenda questions are put to the electors - if compulsory voting be operative - a large number will say, “ On this occasion I do not intend to accept advice as to how I shall vote from the paid canvassers of either political party. I propose to inform my mind as to whether it, will be a good thing in the interests of the Commonwealth for the Federal Parliament to be granted the increased powers which it seeks.” That, I submit, is a very strong reason why the principle of compulsory voting should be applied to the forthcoming referenda. The elec-‘ tors will be face to face with the fact that if they do not exercise the franchise they will be liable to a penalty, and, consequently, they will say, “ Seeing that I am obliged to vote, the best thing I can do is to ascertain whether I ought to vote Yes ‘ or ‘ No,’ in preference to accepting the advice of the paid canvassers of the Liberal party on the one hand, or the unpaid canvassers of the Labour party on the other.”
– Was not Mrs. Felstead paid?
– I am secretary of the organization, and she was not paid through me.
– I do not think Senator Bakhap will find that to-day there is one paid canvasser of the Labour party seeking to influence electors in favour of the referenda; but there are paid canvassers of the Liberal party who are endeavouring to induce them to vote against the Government proposals. Of course, both political parties will use their best efforts to secure the adoption of their own views. The Liberal party do not desire this Parliament to have the increased powers for which it asks. They do not want to trust the people in the first place, and they do not wish to trust the Federal Parliament in the second.
– Some of them believe .in compulsory voting.
– Some of them believe in compulsory fighting. Senator Millen and Senator Gould are both opposed to compulsory fighting - compulsory enrolment for military service. They both object to conscription, and their attitude on this occasion, is, therefore, perfectly understandable. On the other hand, the position taken up by Senator Bakhap is absolutely illogical and inconsistent. He is in favour of compelling every man who is physically fit to fight for his country; but he is not in favour of compelling every man who stays at home to go to the ballot-box and vote “ Yes “ or “ No “ upon proposals which, his own party affirms, strike at the very heart of the Federal compact. His leaders have said, over and over again, that if the referenda be carried the Federation will be destroyed. Yet he will not compel electors to vote “Yes” or “ No “ upon these questions. ‘
– The honorable senator seems to think that all- those who otherwise would not vote would be opposed to the Government proposals.
– If I said that all the unrecorded votes would, if recorded, have been cast in opposition to the Government proposals, I would merely be repeating what the newspapers which support the Liberal party have said after each election. The Launceston Examiner and the Hobart Mercury have persistently attempted to gull the people with that fiction. Personally, I do not believe anything of the kind. But I think that every man and woman in the country should be compelled to take sufficient interest in important political questions to enable them to vote intelligently upon them.
– Is not every election important?
– Exactly. As the result of compulsory voting, the electors will inform their minds upon these questions. They will be obliged to go to the poll, and, consequently, they will ask themselves, “ What do these referenda questions mean ? Will the granting of the powers which are sought by the Federal Parliament be good for the Commonwealth, or the reverse?” It is very easy for them to secure sufficient information to enable them to form an intelligent judgment on these matters. I have no hesitation in affirming that thousands of people will fail to record their votes if they are not obliged to do so. One party in this Parliament maintains that it is a good tiling to submit the referenda questions to the people, for the third time, in the immediate future. The other party contend that those questions ought not to be referred to the electors because Australia is at war, and because the people are in no mood to vote upon them.
– Order! I must ask the honorable senator not to discuss the referenda questions.
– Of course, I obey your ruling, sir; but, with all humility, I would suggest-
– The honorable senator is perfectly entitled to discuss the referenda questions so far as they relate to this Bill, but not in so far as they do not relate to it.
– I was not aware that I was doing that. I was endeavouring to show that the object of compulsory voting is to secure a full expression of the opinion of Australia. In the absence of compulsory voting, numbers of people would not bother to exercise the franchise. At any rate, that is what our opponents say. If there be any substance in their statement, it will be a good filing if compulsory voting causes them to bother about these questions to the extent of informing themselves whether the increased powers for which this Parliament asks ought or ought not to be granted to it. During the course of his remarks this afternoon, Senator Gould spoke of the cost that will be incurred in taking the referenda. He affirmed that it was wrong to put these questions to the people at the present time, and pointed out that the act of putting them will involve the Commonwealth in an expenditure of £90,000 or £100,000. Seeing that we are going to spend that money in an effort to obtain from the people of Australia an expression of opinion as to whether or not the increased legislative powers sought by this . Parliament ought to be granted to it, surely we should do our utmost to insure that as large a number of electors as possible shall vote. If we cannot get 100 per cent, to record their votes, we should aim at getting 90 per cent., and if we cannot get 90 per cent, we ought to endeavour to secure 80 per cent. This Parliament has already decided that the referenda questions shall be submitted to the people, and, consequently, it will be a good thing if we can insure that every elector shall vote either “Yes “‘or “No” upon them.
– If we are to have compulsory voting in connexion with the referenda, why should we not have it in connexion with our ordinary elections?
– That is a question for the future.
– It is a question of consistency, and not of expediency.
– Compulsory voting at ordinary elections will come.
– I will give £10 to any charitable institution if it comes.
– Then I understand that Senator Bakhap has no objection to the Bill, save that it does not go far enough, inasmuch as it is not applicable to all future elections. If that be so, why should he not accept this first instalment of the principle ? We are now dealing only with the referenda. When another appeal to the people is made, Senator Bakhap may rest assured that compulsory voting will be enforced. If the honorable senator wishes to insure a full vote of the electors being taken in respect of the referenda, he must support the measure. I believe that compulsory voting will go a very long way towards encouraging those electors who at present are indifferent to discuss the merits or demerits of questions brought before them.
– This somewhat hypocritical measure reminds me of a passage in the Scriptures in which it is stated that a certain man “drew a bow at a venture.” This Bill is certainly a bow drawn at a venture. If, from the Labour party’s point of view, it is successful in its incidence, it will undoubtedly be applied to the forthcoming general elections. I have not the slightest doubt about that.
– What do you mean by its “ successful “ application ?
– I mean that if the Bill has the effect of increasing the votes polled in the affirmative on the referenda questions, as compared with the figures on. the last occasion, it will undoubtedly be regarded as successful in its incidence, and then, unquestionably, it will be applied to the general elections in 1917.
– Will you answer this question : Do you mean to say that if 100 per cent, of the electors record their votes, and the referenda questions are rejected, that compulsory voting will not be adopted?
– There is no human possibility of 100 per cent, of the electors recording their votes.
– Well, say if 90 per cent, record their votes?
– What then? I wish to be fair. I agree that the effect of the Bill will be to increase the number of voters probably by 7 or 8 per cent. I understand that in Queensland the number was increased by from 8 to 12 per cent.
– Thirteen per cent-
– Nevertheless, over 10 per cent. - I believe about 12 per cent. - of the voters on the roll failed to record their votes, notwithstanding the fact that the Queensland measure included also facilities for postal voting. This Bill does not provide for that form of voting, and, consequently, it is hypocritical in so far as the assertion that it is designed to secure a full and complete poll is concerned. Honorable senators know that postal voting operates fairly to both political parties.* That has been the experience in my State, at all events, and I know that in one or two by-elections the percentage of postal votes recorded bore a fair comparison to the percentage ->i ordinary votes. Now, I have said, and I repeat, that if the referenda proposals are defeated, I will give £10 to any charitable institution if the Cabinet then applies this principle to the forthcoming general election.
– Do not be rash.
– Surely you must believe that the referenda proposals are going to be carried.
– On the contrary, I have a reasonable belief that they will be defeated. Why will not the Government at this juncture apply the principle to the Electoral Act in general? Why ? Because, Mr. Deputy President, the political skins of members of the Cabinet are involved. If it is seen that the principle in operation will be likely to defeat the Labour party, we can quite safely wager that it will not be included in the form of an amending measure to the Electoral Act. When we are told that the intention of the measure is to secure a full and complete vote, surely common sense and fair play should urge that the principle should be general and complete, just as the principle of compulsory enrolment is general and complete. Why will not the Government abide the hazard of the venture? Why is there to be only a partial application of the principle? I may say that it might have been convenient for me to be down the street this afternoon while this measure was under discussion, and had I chosen I need not have recorded my vote on it. I know, however, it would then have been said that I was afraid of the logical consequences of my own action ; that I was afraid to record a vote against the principle of compulsory voting while I urged the principle of compulsory service bv the nation.. But I am always prepared to make a clear distinction between the principles of true and false logic. It is a great mistake to compare things which are unlike, and I say there is nothing analogous in the principle of compulsory service to maintain the safety of the nation and the principle of compulsory voting, for while without force in the one case, and without intellect in the other, a nation will go down, the principle of compulsory voting as sought to be applied in this Bill will not insure the predominance of intellect in the councils of a nation’s affairs. It does not follow that everybody will cast a philosophic and intelligent vote. If only 30 per cent, of the electors recorded their votes at an election, the ordinary parliamentary operations would proceed as usual. Members would be elected. It is the privilege of every man and woman of adult age in this community to exercise a vote for the Parliament of the Commonwealth. If he or she does not exercise that right there can be no cause for complaint. Legislators will be elected nevertheless. If honorable senators believe that this is a truly valuable principle, why do they not translate it into effective legislative action ? Why not have a call of the Senate every time there is going to be a division? One of the rules of this Chamber is that twelve members - one-third of the total number - constitutes a quorum. Twelve members - sometimes only six or seven - may sit here and discuss business brought before the Senate, but twelve members is the minimum number that may transact business in this branch of the Commonwealth Legislature.
– Do you only perform public service while you are in this Chamber ?
– Sometimes it is inconvenient to perform public service in this Chamber. Sometimes I go down the street in the exercise of my public duties. That being the case, should not the sama principle be applied to the electors? Why should we compel them to go to the polling booth ? Any honorable senator may absent himself for two months if he likes without interfering with the legislative proceedings of this Chamber, and he will still retain his seat.
– The honorable senator has done that, so he ought to know.
– I did it with the consent of this Senate, although the honorable senator and his friends endeavoured to bring about my dismissal from tin’s Chamber.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- Order ! I have allowed the honorable senator a fair amount of latitude, but he must go no further. He must not pursue that line of argument.
– While I accept your rebuke, Mr. Deputy President, I want to say that I was provoked by the fact that the honorable senator -referred to my absence from this Senate for two months.
– You invited it.
– I am not objecting to the interjection, to which I replied. I wish to emphasize the fact that in comparing this principle to that of compulsory military service, honorable senators are comparing things which are unlike.
– They are absolutely alike.
– Although the Liberal party is opposed to the principle of compulsory voting, the party has not refused to allow me to exercise my own discretion in this matter. If I thought, that the Government were acting with political honesty, if they were prepared to make this principle absolute in regard to all electoral matters as a logical conclusion, and a corollary of the principle of compulsory enrolment, I would vote for the measure, because I recognise that all Democracy is in a stage of experiment.
– Is it not right lo take the hurdles as you come to them ?
– But it is not right to take the hurdles and then., if they are difficult, to make the event a flat race in future. That is what the Government are doing in this matter. All democratic experiments must be carried out to an absolutely logical conclusion; aud when I fought, as I did in a humble way, to secure the adoption of the principle of one adult one vote, I thought then it was logical to compel people to exercise the vote; but that is about the only article of my original political faith on which I have changed my opinion. I have come to the conclusion that the best thing to do is to allow everybody to take part in the government of the country, and to allow the government to be exercised by those individuals who, through their parliamentary representatives, have sufficient interest in the affairs of their country to express their political opinions at the ballot-box.
– Will you say that if the principle is applied to elections you will vote for the Bill ?
– I repeat that in these matters the principle must be carried to its logical conclusion; and if compulsion in voting is to be applied all round immediately, I will vote for the Bill, to allow the experiment to be made as speedily as possible. But in this measure the principle of compulsory voting is being submitted only in a tentative, if not a hypocritical, manner, and I do not intend to allow myself to be made a legislative tool. If honorable senators opposite are willing to show their adherence to the principle - I am addressing honorable senators collectively - by applying this compulsory voting to all elections as the corollary of compulsory enrolment, we will then know where we are; but at present they only say, “ We will make it apply to the referenda questions.” Why is that so? Because they believe it is possible, in view of recent events, to increase the affirmative vote on those questions. If, however, their anticipations are not realized, they will take care that the application of the principle goes no further. Therefore, there is something hypocritical in the introduction of this Bill. That being the case, I do not intend to allow myself to be made a political tool, and so far as my vote is concerned, I do not intend to allow legislation to proceed in this chamber in a hypocritical atmosphere.
– The honorable senator is inconsistent in that he favours compulsion in one sphere and opposes it in another.
– If the nation has not sufficient physical military forces exhibited on its behalf, down it goes, but though only 25 per cent, of the electors may vote, yet the whole of the operations of government proceed without a hitch. Will honorable senators deny that if only 15 per cent, of those on the roll exercised their votes there would still be 111 representatives and senators in the National Parliament ?
– We would still have government of the good old Conservative sort.
– I have told the Liberals time and again, when they said that they were suffering from the apathy of those who professed Liberal political opinions, that if those holding Labourite opinions were sufficiently energetic in the espousal of them, and took sufficient trouble to represent them at the ballotbox, it was, to use an ordinary expression, “up to them “ to govern the countryand I say now, that those who have the right to vote, and value it most, are the people who, according to the doctrines of Greek philosophers, if not of modern politicians, should govern this Commonwealth or any other nation which has the principle of election of its parlimentary representatives in full force.
– Is this Bill not a very good expedient for obtaining the views of the majority?
– I did not think that the members of the honorable senator’s party were opportunists. I thought that, on its own assertions, it was a party which had great principles, and believed in the wholesale and unflinching application of them.
– Hear, hear ! On the mountain top all the time.
– Then how is it that the party is now in the morass or on the foot-hills? Why is it not crying “Excelsior!” and saying, “We shall scale the peaks with this principle of ours. We shall apply it all round, and make it the complete corollary of compulsory enrolment “ ? I charge the honorable senator’s party with being political hypocrites. This Bill is but a range-finder. If a bull’s-eye is scored in regard to the referenda proposals, we shall have this range-finder on every political target, but if the bull’s-eye flag is not hoisted there will be no more of this compulsory voting so far as the Labour party is concerned. I shall never vote for such a headsIwintailsyoulose application of a political principle. My position is quite logical. I have no hesitation in saying that if a division is called for I shall vote against the measure.
– I do not care to give a silent vote nor to delay the Senate, but the inconsistency of Senator Bakhap is so glaring that I cannot allow the opportunity to pass without drawing’ attention to it. One cannot understand how an honorable senator who exhibited so much “ Dutch “ courage, if I may so describe it, in bringing forward a proposal for the adoption of the compulsory principle in connexion with Defence matters, should lapse into the deplorable position in which we find him to-day in opposing the same principle, when it is proposed to apply it in order that every elector may be compelled to do his duty.
– Apply it equitably to every electoral measure and I shall vote for it.
– Duty was the one thing on which the honorable senator founded the motion for compulsory service which he moved the other day; he said that duty must govern our determination in military service as in other things; yet, when a Bill is brought forward to insist upon every elector doing his duty, the most eloquent opponent to the enforcement of this part of a citizen’s duty is the honorable senator who the other day lauded compulsion to the skies. He thinks this Bill is a mere political try-on, merely a kite which we are sending up for the purpose of ascertaining how the political wind is blowing, or how it will work.
– An excellent illustration.
– I do not care whether it works for or against the referenda proposals to which it is applied for the time being. That it will be the permanent law of the Commonwealth is my hope and, so far as I know, that of my colleagues on this side of the chamber.
– Be careful; speak for yourself.
– I think that I am speaking for quite a number of honorable senators on this side.
– Evidently all honorable senators on that side of the chamber are not of the honorable senator’s opinion.
– All may not be of my opinion. We are not compelled to vote as a party on this matter, but I think that I am speaking within the bounds of reason when I say that the majority of the members of the Labour party are in favour of the Bill. It is the logical sequence of compulsory enrolment, which the Labour party put on the statute-book, and of the efforts of our party to ascertain what is exactly the opinion of the people. Why should not the opinion of the people be known, and if some persons are so indifferent as to allow others to accept the responsibility of electing Parliament, why should we not insist upon their going to the polling booth when the nation is put to all the expense and trouble of holding an election? It is argued that when these people do go to the polling booth they will spoil their ballot-papers, and that we shall fail to secure their votes. We cannot help that, though, if it were possible to learn exactly who these persons are, I would take the further step of declaring that they should be disfranchised. Such a step would be but a logical sequence to compulsory voting. Any person who deliberately spoils a ballot-paper in order to defeat the compulsory voting provisions of an Act should be disfranchised if any means can be devised of ascertaining his identity.
– That can only be done by destroying the secrecy of the ballot.
– I am not speaking of what it may mean. I am merely saying that if it should be possible to discover the identity of people who would wilfully destroy ballot-papers, it would be the right thing to disfranchise them. The principle involved in the Bill is well worthy of trial in the light of our past experience of the evils of minority rule. Time and again our political opponents have claimed that Labour representatives are elected because of the apathy of the electors and because their supporters refrain from voting. If their claim be true, they should show some honesty of conviction by helping, instead of retarding, the exposure of that minority rule which they claim is due to the fact that the electors are apathetic, resulting in the election of Labour representatives - they should be helping Ministers to put the matter right, and should insist on taking steps so as to compel the majority of the people to accept the full responsibility for the making and administration of the country’s laws. The loud talk we have heard in the past has been sufficiently exposed by the attitude taken up by honorable senators to-day, for they now oppose the adoption of the only means that they have often declared would result in re-establishing them on the Treasury bench. They show so little faith in their past declarations that they would defeat this Bill if they could. I am pleased that the Government have tested this hypocritical cry, that the Labour party are the mere creatures of a minority of the people, of which we have heard so much in tlie past. If the Labour party are in power through minority rule, it is right that we should be displaced, but, though honorable senators claim that they suffer from the lack of the opportunity to ascertain the views of the majority of the people, they oppose it when it is offered to them.
Question - That the Bill be now read a second time - put. The Senate divided.
Majority . . . . 15
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 (Compulsory voting).
– 1 would like to get from the Minister an explanation regarding the proposal to give an opportunity to electors to send in a statement of the reasons why they are unable to vote. In his second-reading speech he said -
Compulsory voting necessarily implies that adequate provision shall be made for every person to cast a vote, but at present certain people who are ill will not be able to do that, and provision therefore is made in this Bill to the effect that where a person cannot attend a polling booth, a neighbour or relative knowing tile exact position will be able to send along a written excuse, which I trust in all casus will be accepted.
There is one matter which has come under my notice in connexion with compulsory voting in Brisbane, and that is the anxiety to which elderly persons are often put. Every person who is not well informed regardsthe fine prescribed in the Act as that which will be inflicted in contravention of the provision. I know of one or two cases where elderly persons who, knowing very well that they would not be able to get to the polling booth at the recent election in Queensland, and believ ing that probably not one of the parties would call and take them there, were very concerned indeed as to whether they would be subject to the penalty or not. If they had known that on election day, or a day or two previously, they could send in reasons for not voting, ‘the validity of which could be inquired into afterwards, they would have been under no anxiety. I desire to ascertain from the Minister whether in the operation of this measure provision will be made to relieve persons from anxiety on that score.
– The point mentioned by Senator Turley has been considered in the Department. The intention is only to fix the last day on which fi reply can be sent to a demand as to why an elector cannot vote. Between the issue of the writ and the day before the poll many opportunities will be afforded to persons to send in an excuse. It has been pointed out to me that sometimes elderly persons worry as to what the result will be if they fail to go to the polling booth. After the issue of the writ, and prior to the election, it will be possible for their friends, under the regulations, to send in an excuse for not voting. But it will not be possible for the staff at that stage to consider whether excuses arc reasonable or not. All such grounds will be considered on a convenient day after the elections are held.
– They can inquire afterwards into the validity of the excuses ?
Clause agreed to.
Clause 5 and title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
– I move -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
I hope that by to-morrow we may have some measures which are now before the House of Representatives.
– What measures?
– The Income Tax Bill and the Supply Bill; otherwise we will have to go on with the consideration of the Insurance Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Semite adjourned at6.28 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 25 August 1915, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1915/19150825_senate_6_78/>.