5th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Prime Minister if the Government has been influenced by the criticism of its policy, seeing that it has changed the order of the business on the notice-paper. Does it intend not to proceed, as Ministers said that they would proceed, with the important test Bills?
– The House is simply asked, following what was the invariable rule of my right honorable friend, to pass the formal stages of Bills, so that we can get business before the Chamber.
– I wish to know from the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, whether the Government intends to print, and make available to members, the evidence and the findings of the Board of Inquiry which investigated certain occurrences at a military encampment held at Liverpool in November last?
– I shall bring the matter under the notice of the Minister of Defence, and ask him to answer the question.
– I ask the Honorary Minister, what reasons actuated the Government in selecting a board of experts in England, to adjudicate on the designs for the Parliament House at Canberra. What disadvantages are thought to be associated with the appointment of such a board in Australia? .
– Competitive designs were invited from architects throughout the world, and we are providing a board of adjudication which will commend itself to competitors in every country in the world.
– That is a reflection on Australian architects.
– I suggest that the honorable member might, with some appriateness, ask his own leader why it was proposed, under the Fisher Administration, that the only arbitrator upon these designs should be an Englishman sitting in London.
– I ask the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs whether the architect who estimates that the kernel of the Federal Parliament House can be built for £250,000, an estimate agreeing with that of the late Mr. Vernon, has also estimated how long it would take to build the inner part of the structure, and to make it capable of being used?
– The time taken to construct the kernel of the building must depend largely on the plan adopted.
– The plan is known.
– We know briefly our requirements. Our whole effort is to economise time as much as possible.
– The Minister cannot give any idea as to how long would be needed ?
– Not at the present moment.
– I ask the Minister of Home Affairs if there is any truth in the statement published in one of today’s newspapers-
– The honorable member is not in order in asking a question of that kind.
– Is it true that the Government intends to invite tenders for the construction of another section of the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway, having a length of 132 miles?
– If the honorable member will put a question on the noticepaper, I shall be happy to give him the information.
– Seeing that the InterState Commission reports that under the present constitutional powers of the Commonwealth, the combination known as the Typothetae is one which can be dealt with only under State legislation, an indication that this Parliament has not sufficient powers, will the Prime Minister give every facility for the passing of the six Constitution Alteration Bills which will be sent to us very soon from the Senate ?
– I shall give no facilities for the passing of those Bills.
Mr.FENTON asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
How many officers have been appointed to professional positions in the Electrical Engineer’s Branch, Postmaster-General’s Department, within the last three years?
What are the names and reasons for so appointing these officers?
Is it a fact that offers of engineering positions on the Chief Electrical Engineer’s staff, Postmaster-General’s Department, at salaries of £468 per annum, have been made to three men outside the Public Service, i.e., in Great Britain, without examination, while there are several suitable engineering officers in the service applicants for these positions?
Was it necessary to negotiate with an electrical engineer in Ceylon to fill the vacant position of electrical engineer in Queensland, Postmaster-General’s Department, while one of the applicants for that position is considered capable to occupy the position of Acting Electrical Engineer for Victoria during the absence of Mr. Dircks for eight or nine months; and is not this position a more important one than the one for which he was an applicant?
Would the Postmaster-General lay on the table of the House all the papers in connexion with questions 3 and 4?
– Inquiry is being made, and replies will be furnished as early as possible.
asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– I had not observed the statement set out in the first question until the honorable member brought it under my notice. The matter, no doubt, will receive consideration by the Government so far as it affects Federal affairs.
Motion (by Mr. Groom) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a Bill for an Act to facilitate the proceedings of the Commissioner appointed to hold an inquiry respecting the operations of any person, combination, or trust tending to create any restraint of trade or monopoly in connexion with the export of meat from Australia.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– On account of the urgency of the matter, I will ask the permission of the House to make the second reading of the Bill forthwith the order of the day. The reason why I ask for leave is that doubts have arisen. I propose to formally move the second reading, and give reasons for submitting the measure, and then, if the House should desire to adjourn the debate, I shall be quite willing to agree to an adjournment.
.- I have no objection to leave being granted.
– We can have the second reading speech to-day.
– It can only be done by leave.
– I am sorry that the Government did not pay me the courtesy of handing to me a copy of the Bill.
– It has only just come from the printer.
– I am willing to allow the Minister to make his second-reading speech.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
By virtue of a recent decision given by the Privy Council, doubts have been cast upon the constitutionality of the machinery provisions of the Royal Commissions Acts which were enacted by this Parliament from 1902 to 1912, but it is open to question whether the Privy Council did not exceed the certificate of leave which was given to it by the High Court to decide the particular point at issue.
– We cannot hear a word at this end.
– Order! I ask honorable members to converse in lower tones.
– Inasmuch as doubts have arisen, and our desire is to endow Mr. Justice Street, who has been commissioned by us to institute an inquiry on the terms indicated, with full power to make the most searching investigation so as to ascertain the facts of the case, I am proceeding with the Bill at this stage. We desire the Commissioner to take up his work at the earliest possible moment. We do not want to have any doubts in the matter. We wish to feel that he has wide legal authority to make the most complete investigation. Honorable members have not had an opportunity of seeing the Bill, but it is now being circu lated. The preamble recites the fact that a commissioner has been appointed - to inquire into and report as to the operations of any person, combination, or trust tending to create any restraint of trade or monopoly in connexion with the export of meat from Australia.
Clause 2 of the Bill revives the whole of the law which has been called in question by the Privy Council. It enacts that the Commissioner appointed by the GovernorGeneral to institute this inquiry - shall have all the powers, rights, and privileges which are contained in the Royal Commissions Act 1902-1912, and that Act shall have effect in relation to the said Commission as if it were herein re-enacted, and in terms made applicable to the said Commission.
It is a short clause which practically revives, under our constitutional power, the complete powers, privileges, and rights conferred by that Act.
– You have just said that wehad none.
– The Privy Council did not say that.
– It said pretty near it.
– The Privy Council said that this Parliament had special power to authorize a Commission on the lines on which we are proceeding now.
– In your opinion, will it be necessary to pass a fresh Bill each time the Government appoint a Commission to inquire into a matter?
– We are dealing with only one problem at a time. This Bill has been drafted to comply with the decision of the Privy Council, and if it is accepted by the House it will give the powers, rights, and privileges conferred on a Royal Commission by previous legislation, and enable Mr. Justice Street to proceed with his inquiry at once. I ask the House to proceed with the Bill, as we are eager to pass it as quickly as possible, and allow the inquiry to be begun.
.- I move -
That the debate be now adjourned.
– I will consent to an adjournment if the honorable member desires it. Is he not ready to go on with his speech?
– No; I have not seen the Bill.
Motion agreed to; debate adjourned.
.- I propose to move that the adjourned debate be made an Order of the Day for a later hour of the day.
– No; to-morrow.
– As honorable members object to my proposal, I move -
That the resumption of the debate be made an Order of the Day for to-morrow, because our ‘desire is to deal with this measure as one of urgency.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
It will not be necessary for me to make very many observations. The object of the measure is clear enough on its face. A few words in regard to the position of affairs, however, will be advisable, I think. The establishment of Commonwealth Savings Banks throughout the Commonwealth was not contemplated, in my opinion, when the Constitution was framed. I think that there is a question, though I cannot speak with legal authority, as to whether the establishment of such banks comes within the intention of the Constitution.
– Did you not say at the Brisbane Conference that it ought to be done, and advocate it?
– I did not say so.
– What !
– I did not say so.
– Well, I will get it.
– Get it. I am dealing with this measure, and if the honorable member will say what he has to say after I have done, he will oblige me very much. Paragraph xiii. of clause 51 of the Constitution empowers the Commonwealth Parliament to legislate in regard to -
Banking, other than State banking; also State banking extending beyond the limits of the State concerned -
I was a member of the Federal Convention, and I have been looking up what was then said on this subject, but I have not been able to find much. I am quite sure, however, that it was not thought by any member of the Convention that the Commonwealth would establish Savings Banks throughout the States, or otherwise I do not suppose there was” one member who would not have taken means to prevent that being done. We framed the Constitution, and we had a right to do so in- the way we thought best for Australia; and my own opinion is that the people generally regard it as a very good Constitution. I make the statement without any reservation that it was never intended by the framers of that Constitution that the State Savings Banks should be interfered with in the way they have been by the competition of the Commonwealth; and the establishment of the Commonwealth Savings Bank, which came as a great surprise, was very much objected to by honorable members representing this side of politics. However, there is now power, by legislation passed by the last Labour Government - though I am not sure whether it has ever yet been tested - for the Commonwealth to establish Savings Banks throughout the States. By that Act the Governor of the Bank has power, altogether independent of any one, and subject to no control, to establish those banks where he chooses.
– The Governor is restricted in some respects.
– In my opinion, the Governor of the Bank may establish Savings Banks where he likes.
– Not overseas.
– I mean that he can do so anywhere in the Commonwealth.
– The right honorable member said there were no restrictions at all.
– The Governor of the Bank is restricted overseas.
– By the Government.
– Yes, by the Government.
– I only wish to assist the right honorable gentleman.
– That I know. In Tasmania the Governor of the Bank has made an arrangement with the State Government to take over the Savings Bank, and the necessary legislation to that end has been passed by the State Legislature. When the present Government took office negotiations were going on, at any rate, in Western Australia, and, perhaps, in other States - though they had gone further in Western Australia than elsewhere - with the object of the State ceasing to conduct Savings Bank business under an arrangement with the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank; but the present Government did not approve of that idea, and those negotiations were not proceeded with. In the opinion of the Government a great deal of harm has been done to the people of Australia by the duplication of work and expense in regard to the savings of the people.
– Owing to the stupidity of some of the States!
– I cannot follow the honorable member, who is usually so clear in what he desires to say. Where is there any stupidity on the part of the States?
– The States were offered certain conditions.
– But the Commonwealth came in and invaded the States’ sphere of business. Apparently, the honorable member’s argument is that if I, for instance, am carrying on business, and he sets up in opposition, I must rush into his arms, and give up my business. At the present time, wherever we go in Australia - at any rate, I can speak with authority with regard to my own State - we see a Commonwealth Savings Bank in the Post Office and a State Savings Bank in another independent building, or carried on- by the agency of some bank.
– That is the fault of the States.
– It is - healthy competition.
– I really cannot understand honorable members opposite, who seem to have a vendetta against their own States.
– We are Australians !
– Yes, and great Australians! At any rate, in my opinion, there was neither reason nor necessity for the Commonwealth to enter into competition with the State Savings Banks, which were going concerns, doing good work, and economically managed.
– The right honorable gentleman’ said quite differently at Brisbane, but that does not matter.
– If I spoke differently at Brisbane the honorable member will have an opportunity to quote my words directly. The honorable member may hold up that paper in his hand fifty times if he chooses; I do not say it now. The Bill itself is the result of a conference between the representatives of the Commonwealth and the States. The policy of the Government at the last election and since has been made very clear; and, in introducing this Bill, we are acting in accordance with our pledges to the people of Australia, and in accordance with a promise I made to the House in my Budget speech on 2nd October, 1913. I then said -
There was, in the opinion of the Government, no necessity for the Commonwealth to enter into competition with the Savings Banks of the States, which were beneficent and going concerns, whose operations greatly assisted the agricultural development of the Commonwealth.
I then added the following promise to honorable members: -
It is proposed to consult the State Governments with a view to placing the Savings Banks on a basis which will prevent duplication, and at the same time meet the requirements of the people.
The Bill is the result of that promise. The schedule has been agreed to by only four States, Western Australia and Tasmania not having yet signified their intention of joining in the proposal contained in the agreement. The representative of Tasmania, however, at the recent Conference, while he did not participate in the agreement, because the competition which is so much complained of and so injurious and expensive, is not in existence in his State, intimated that if the Bill should pass we might fairly expect Tasmania to join in the agreement.
– Give them back their Savings Bank and they will.
– If this Bill passes, the Commonwealth Bank will be precluded from taking any more savings in Tasmania or Western Australia, when a proclamation issues to that effect. The reason why that exception is made is that it would not do to prevent some institution doing Savings Bank business in those two States. Therefore, until an arrangement is made with Western Australia and Tasmania, the duplication of expense which we object to and oppose, will have to go on there. I hope, however, that it will not go on very long.
– In a word, you want a political power to hang over the heads of those two States.
– Nothing of the sort. We are acting in their interests. Will any one tell me that it is not in the interests of Western Australia to have her own Savings Bank, manage it in her own way, and have the receipts used in accordance with the wishes of her own Parliament 1
– She has been offered all the receipts she has, and 75 per cent, of the Commonwealth receipts.
– She does not want your 75 per cent. ; she wants the whole of it. The honorable member reminds me of what Gladstone once said in regard to the people of Ireland - “ We gave them good laws, but they said, ‘ We do not want your good laws, we want our own laws.’ “ So Western Australia says, “We do not want your 75 per cent., we want what belongs to us, the whole of it, and the right to manage it in our own way - not to have it managed by the Federal Parliament.”
I wish to refer to the advantage which we think will accrue from the agreement to the Commonwealth Bank itself. We do not think we are doing anything injurious to the Bank by prohibiting it from having its Savings Bank branches all over Australia and confining its operations to more legitimate banking. The Commonwealth Bank was begun without any capital of its own. It had the power to raise a capital of £1,000,000 by the sale of debentures, but up to the present the Bank has been able to carry on satisfactorily without any capital of the kind. By the arrangement which the States have made, so soon as the Commonwealth Bank ceases to receive further Savings Bank deposits, the amount of £4,000,000 now held by the Commonwealth Bank as Savings Bank deposits may be retained by the Commonwealth Bank, and need not be repaid to the States for ten years. The States undertake to deal with and pay the depositors in the Commonwealth Savings Bank from their own funds, as they apply for them. The Commonwealth Bank need not pay over any of the £4,000,000 to the States for ten years, but the States expect it to pay them interest on it.
– Has any State, as a State, deposits in the Commonwealth Bank?
– A few days ago Tasmania transferred the State business to the Commonwealth Bank, -and in South Australia the Bank gets a share of State business. The State Savings Banks will continue their business, and each will be liable for the amount of the deposits in the Commonwealth Savings Bank in its own State.
– Why should people who have deposited in the Commonwealth Savings Bank be compelled to transfer their accounts to the State Sayings Bank if they do not want to?
– They can demand and draw the money they have in the Commonwealth Savings Bank, from the States if they like. As part of the £4,000,000 which the Commonwealth Bank will retain for ten years, there is some cash in hand at its bankers at the present time, amounting to £653,845. Under this Bill the bank would not be required for ten years at least to hand out any cash in repayment of its Savings Bank deposits, and thus it would secure immediate control of a capital of £4,000,000, and be certain of this sum for ten years. It would have to pay interest on the amount, but would not be called upon to pay any of it out.
– They have that money now.
– But it is liable to be called out at any moment by the depositors. It is true that a large proportion of the money received by the Commonwealth Bank from depositors has been invested, and, though the investments may not be immediately realizable, they cannot fail to be a source of strength.
– What interest is the bank going to pay?
– For the period of ten years the Commonwealth Bank is not to be called on to repay any of its deposits, which amounted to £4,072,490 on the 31st March last, but it must pay to the States interest and expenses based on the average rate of interest and expenses paid by the “Savings Banks of those States. The Commonwealth Bank must pay to the States what the States have to pay. Honorable members will see in the agreement what we have to pay.
– It is a “ wibbly- wobbly” agreement.
– It is just as it came to us, and it is what we agreed to; we think we have made a good bargain. Certainly we have strengthened the position of the Commonwealth Bank to an enormous extent.
– What does the Governor of the bank think of it?
– Is the Governor of the bank running this Parliament?
– No; but like every man who does a good thing for the Commonwealth he is hated by members opposite.
– Order ! While an occasional interjection is overlooked, and sometimes may be helpful, experience shows, unfortunately, that one interjection leads to another, and then to a volley which is kept more or less continuously going during an honorable member’s speech. I ask honorable members not to interject.
– I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition should use such strong language as to say that we hate any one. I do not think there is anything of that sort on our part. It seems to the Government that the provisions of the Bill should be acceptable to the people, because the expensive competition will disappear, and the Commonwealth Bank will not only have a fixed capital, but will also have the very strong support of the States. We are to get all the business of the States into the Commonwealth Bank. It will be far better for the latter to have all the business of the States to manage and control than to pursue its opposition to the Savings Banks of the States, thus doing injury to the people, and making the people as a whole pay twice. This competition, in my opinion, does no good to the people, and is not doing much good to the bank itself. Honorable members will recollect that an offer was made to hand over to the States 75 per cent. of the money the Commonwealth Bank received. That would mean going to an immense amount of trouble to operate only 25 per cent. of the deposits, and it would not be as lucrative a business as the Commonwealth Bank will have when the State Governments use it as their bank.
– What business will that represent ?
– I cannot say exactly, but there will be current accounts, loan transactions, the management of loans when raised-
– And overdrafts?
– I suppose so. At any rate, the Commonwealth Bank will be on a very much stronger basis than now with its interference with the savings of the people in the States. What I said before I say again most deliberately - the system was never contemplated by any representative at the Federal Convention. The Bill will enable the Commonwealth Bank to carry on legitimate banking business in a far better way than at present. The agreement contained in the schedule to the Bill has been approved of by the Commonwealth Government. We undertook to “have the preliminary legislation passed and brought into operation by proclamation, and in pursuance of that undertaking we now ask Parliament to ratify the agreement. I have no need to say more. I cannot understand why those who are representative of Australia should wish to interfere with beneficent and going concerns like the State Savings Banks, which have grown up from small beginnings to great institutions, which are managing their affairs with prudence and safety, and which have been a great help to agricultural and horticultural development. But all this development is to be interfered with by the invasion by the Commonwealth of an arena in which it has no right to be operating. This invasion is only mischievous. I cannot understand how any one could agree to it. I cannot understandhow the Leader of the Opposition could have thought that he was acting in the interests of Australia in attempting to destroy the Savings Banks of the States and gather in everything for the Commonwealth, taking away from the control of the States the millions of pounds deposited by the people in the State institutions, and which the people of the States had the satisfaction of knowing were being used by the States for the development of their own industries, and for working out their own destinies in their own way. There are about £80,000,000 on deposit in the State Savings Banks, and I suppose that if the right honorable gentle- man had his way all those millions would be diverted into one pool and used for investment as the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank thought proper without any Ministerial or even Parliamentary control unless the Act is amended. It seems to me that the existing legislation is nothing more than mischievous. It is doing no good. On the other hand, it is doing a great deal of harm, and it has been very much resented by the people in the States. If honorable members wished to steer a course which would really be injurious to the States interests, and bring about a unified form of government, they ‘could not have made a better move with that object. I hope the Bill before us will become law ; I hope that the Commonwealth in its own interests will relinquish the Savings Bank business, because the provisions of this measure will give the bank a great advantage which it does not now enjoy, and will abolish dual control and double expenditure for no corresponding gain. I think that every honorable member who has regard for the people of his State must agree that the measure is a step in the right direction. The present position has no advantage to any one, and I trust that we shall do our best to endeavour to get back to the position of restoring to the States the Savings Banks in their entirety.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Fisher) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 3rd June, (vide page 1806), on motion by Mr. Joseph Cook -
That this Bill be now read a second time-.
.- When the honorable member for Werriwa was yesterday displaying his histrionic abilities in addressing himself to this question he said, amongst other things, that if honorable members on this side were not blinded by party spirit they could not but vote for this Bill. I should be only too pleased to support a sane system of postal voting, but if every honorable member on this side voted for the restoration of the system of postal voting in force in Australia previous to the 1913 Federal elections, I should still refuse to vote for it. If some honorable members on the other side were not blinded by “party spirit and bound hand and foot to the Government policy, they would condemn the system of postal voting which this Bill seeks to restore. The Prime Minister told us yesterday that under the old system no actual case of fraud was proved. The reason for that is that it was impossible to detect fraud under that system. There was moral fraud, but not legal fraud. We are told that this Bill will broaden the franchise, but the fact ia that it will open the door wide to legal fraud. We have been told that the absentee vote under the existing law opens the door wide to fraud, since under it a man may vote at more than one polling booth in any electoral division. But the difference between the existing system and the postal-voting system previously m operation is that the man who votes at more than one polling booth is, under the existing law, guilty of an illegal act and lays himself open to punishment under that law, whilst under the old system of postal voting a man might do much worse than vote more than once- at an election and still act within the law. I think I can claim to have had as large an experience of electioneering in its various phases as has any other member of this House. Since the Labour movement started in Australia I have taken an interest in it, and at the various elections I have been engaged as a scrutineer, a Deputy Returning Officer, or a Returning Officer. I have had experience also outside the polling booths as a canvasser. I have canvassed for many persons on many occasions, and always free of charge to those for whom I worked. I would not dream of receiving a penny for such work. I canvassed electorates for three gentlemen who occupied seats in this chamber and whom death has removed from amongst us, and also for many men holding positions today in the State Parliament of South Australia, or who have done so in years gone by. I have had special opportunities to ascertain the possibilities of the postal-voting system used at elections prior to 1913. Under that system any authorized witness, including a justice of the peace, might go about from house to house and practically collect votes for the side he represented, and he might do that without the slightest fear of the law, because although he would be committing a moral fraud he would not be guilty of au illegal act. The Aye this morning says that the members of the Labour party desire the adoption of strict regulations to prevent abuse of the postal-voting provisions because they think that they may be abused. I do not think it at all. I am positive that these provisions have been abused in the past, and I know that they may be abused with impunity. A man who under the existing law votes at an election more than once lays himself open to conviction and punishment, and such cases can easily be found out.
– How can they be found out?
– They can be easily discovered by going through the rolls again and seeing whether a man voted more than once.
– That would not secure a conviction. The ballot-papers are not numbered.
– It would secure a conviction, and under the existing law people are careful not to lay themselves open to_a conviction for an offence of that kind. We know that most laws that are made are broken. We make laws against stealing, but some people still continue to be thieves. Whilst in commercial life and in other ways people will be found to break the law iu order to enrich themselves, or that they may benefit personally, they will not lay themselves open to conviction under the law for the sake of benefiting a political party. We know that it takes us all our time to induce electors to vote once, let alone more than once. The postal vote is on a different footing. What does the justice of the peace do? If he is a well-paid and unscrupulous individual, he can go from house to house, and all he requires to do is to get the signature of the electors on the ballotpapers. He call then take the papers to his own office, or the office of the Liberal League, or the Trades Hall, fill in the names of the candidates, and post the votes, and he is within the law. On the other hand, if the elector himself has marked the vote, the justice of the peace, if he is unscrupulous, need not post the ballot-papers. In my opinion, that is the reason why so many postalvoting papers, which were issued on the last occasion, were never found. They never reached the Returning Officer, because the votes which they contained did not suit certain persons. Intimidation is easy under the postal-voting systems. A canvasser from the antiLabour party may go to help a large number of female servants to record their votes, and how easily it is for him to persuade those girls to vote in the direction he indicates. We know, unfortunately, that even in these days, people have such little knowledge of political subjects, that within a few weeks of an election for the Senate, for which there are, say, twelve candidates, six to be elected, not 10 per cent, of the electors would know the names of all the candidates off-hand. Many people would be guided by any persuasive individual who was interviewing them at the time. The Prime* Minister said that no actual fraud has been detected, but fraud could not be detected under this system, because, though the canvasser may be committing an immoral action, he is well within the law all the time and does not lay himself open to conviction in a Court. The Leader of the Government expressed anxiety to broaden the franchise and to give the sick and infirm an opportunity of recording their votes. This new-born zeal on the part of the Liberal party makes one smile. Throughout our political history, what have the politicians of that party done, and what are they trying to do to-day? To take votes away from the people, rather than to broaden the franchise. We need only look at the Legislative Councils of the various States, all of whom are elected on a property qualification of some kind, and the endeavour in every instance is to withhold the franchise from as many people as possible. Honorable members talk about the motherhood of Australia wanting the vote, but what about the 80,000 female voters in South Australia who are debarred from participating in the elections of the Legislative Council? We need not go outside this Parliament for an illustration of the attitude of the Government on this matter. In the Bill introduced by them last session we found a proposition that the election should be held on any day of the week which the Government might choose. We know that if any other than a Labour Government were in power, Saturday would not be the day for voting, because that is a recognised half-holiday throughout
Australia. As such, it suits the great masses of the people as a polling day, but it would not suit the politicians on the Government side. Another clause in that Bill actually proposed that in future the electors should sign the butt of the ballot-paper. Does that show that the Government are very anxious to broaden the franchise and make it more easy to vote? Every honorable member knows that that would be one of the greatest obstacles to many people going to the poll at all. We know that female electors particularly would shrink from going to the poll if they knew that they would be required to sign their names on the butts in the presence of the Returning Officer. Besides, that provision would take away the secrecy of the ballot, because every vote recorded could be traced. Of course the Government dropped that clause like the proverbial hot potato.
– The honorable member is not discussing this Bill, but another Bill.
– I am showing the insincerity of the Prime Minister’s statement and the mockery of the whole measure.
– The honorable member is not in order in applying those terms to the action of the Government.
– That proposition is such as one might expect to be brought forward in the Duma of Russia, but not in the House of Representatives of Australia. As I stated before, I am only too anxious to extend the franchise and make it possible for every person who has reached the age of twenty-one years, and is outside a lunatic asylum or gaol, to vote. But we can have effective voting without this system of authorized witnesses travelling from house to house. Why not adopt the postal-voting system which is in existence in some of the States, and why not agree to the amendments which were proposed by me last session in all seriousness and good faith? If this were not a test Bill, and if it were not for the fact that the Government do not want the measure to be passed, I feel certain that the amendments I proposed last session would appeal to many honorable members on the Government side. I went to the trouble of having amend ments prepared by the draftsman, but I did not move them. However, what I had in mind then, I shall have the greatest possible pleasure in indicating now, and I feel certain that my proposals will appeal to the common sense of honorable members on the Government side. I propose, amongst other things, to submit an amendment declaring that an elector who has reason to believe that he will not, at any time during the hours of polling on polling day, be within 5 miles of any polling place, shall be able to record his vote by post. We have been told that people in the back-blocks have not an opportunity of exercising the franchise, because they are frequently required to travel 50 or 60 miles to a polling place. That is a very valid objection. These persons should not be under the necessity of travelling such distances in order to record their votes. They should be given as many facilities for voting as can be conferred upon them. They have to submit to quite enough hardships as the result of living in the interior of this country without being subjected to artificially created disabilities. My proposal would remedy the existing state of things. It would make it possible for nearly every elector to vote. We know perfectly well that it is impossible for every person to attend a polling booth on polling day. For example, a publican is compelled to keep his establishment open all day long. It is manifestly very difficult for him and all the adult members of his family to attend a polling booth in order to record their votes. I also intend to submit an amendment affirming that -
An elector who has reason to believe -
That he will, on polling day, he in quarantine within the Commonwealth; or
That, being a woman, she will not, by reason of ill-health or infirmity, be able to attend a polling place at any time during the hours of polling on polling day to vote, may vote before the postmaster before polling day upon complying with the provisions of this section and the regulations.
That will meet the case of the mothers of Australia. Those women who are expecting to be laid aside by illness on polling day should not be prevented from exercising the franchise. Under my proposal they would have an opportunity of going before any postmaster or postmistress prior to polling day to record their votes. The regulations read -
Of course, the vote itself would not be seen by the postmaster or postmistress. A somewhat similar system is in vogue in South Australia to-day, and gives general satisfaction, although the postal vote there is said to be always cast against the Labour party. I owe my election to this Parliament as the representative of Boothby to the postal vote. When the ordinary votes had been counted at the last State election, when I was defeated for the State district of Torrens, I had » majority of only one, but after the postal votes had been dealt with I was in a minority of 122. This defeat enabled me to become a candidate for the Federal Parliament. I am strongly in favour of the Commonwealth adopting even a broader postal vote than is in vogue in South Australia.
– The honorable member is in favour of the postal vote. With him it is only a question of the form which that vote shall take.
– Yes. I deplore the fact that the postal vote for the Commonwealth was abolished. But I am absolutely opposed to the idea of having authorized witnesses canvassing from house to house. The constituencies of Kooyong and Yarra have been referred to again and again as constituting proof positive of the way in which the postal vote can be manipulated.
– Does the honorable member allege manipulation?
– Will the honorable member give one scintilla of justification for his charge?
– If the honorable member had been present in the earlier stages of my remarks he would have heard me say that, under the system of postal voting which formerly existed in the Commonwealth, it was impossible to sheet home fraud.
– Then it should be impossible for the honorable member to slander the electors of Kooyong, as he is doing.
– The postal vote was not abused in the Yarra electorate. Why? Because it would not pay any political party to collect postal votes in that division, as no anti-Labour candidate had a chance of being elected there. But in Kooyong there was a chance that a Labour candidate might be returned, and consequently it paid to manipulate these postal votes.
– The honorable member was returned by manipulation of postal votes. That is what he has told us.
– The honorable member was not present when I began to speak “upon this question. It is idle for him to tear a few of my words from their context, and to put a wrong construction upon them. What I said was that there had been, not an illegal manipulation, but an immoral manipulation of the postal vote. I am positive of that. Some honorable members would never have been in this House had it not been for the postal vote. Take the electorate which I represent. Until I was elected, victory used to rest either with one political party or the other by perhaps a hundred votes. When the late Mr. Batchelor occupied the seat, he defeated the Liberal candidate on one occasion by 5,000 votes, but he did so only because nobody regarded his opponent’s candidature seriously. On his first election for that division, however, he secured a majority of only about 500 votes. In the elections for that particular division for the State Parliament, sometimes one political party would be victorious, and sometimes the other. I am prepared to say that if a party possessed of money chose to employ the service of unscrupulous justices of the peace, it could turn the result of an election in that district as easily as a man can fall off a log. If a sufficient number of justices were employed, it could easily be done. If all the electors understood as much about politi.es and elections as they ought to do, and as they will do in the course of time, then the occupation of the unscrupulous canvasser would be a thing of the past; but, under existing conditions, the practice to which I have referred is easily carried on, and it would therefore be wrong to restore such a system. In my proposed amendment, I go on to provide that -
The elector shall thereupon, in the presence of the postmaster, record his vote, place it in the envelope bearing the declaration, and addressed to the Divisional Returning Officer, and post it.
I propose that he shall post it there and then, instead of handing it over to an authorized witness, who, finding that the vote had been recorded for the other side, might throw it into the gutter.
– The honorable member knows that that would not be done.
– It has been done.
– Evidently the honorable member has been behind the scenes.
– I have been. I propose further to provide that -
The regulations relating to voting before a postmaster before polling day may prescribe all matters (not inconsistent with this Act) necessary or convenient to be prescribed for carrying this section into effect and in particular may provide for -
These, of course, are matters of detail which could be arranged by regulation. I think my proposal is a very liberal compromise, and am sure that many honorable members opposite would be pleased : to accept it, and to fall in with the ideas to which I have given utterance, if it were not that the whole Bill - as has been said, more than once - is a sham.
– The honorable member must not use that word in relation to the Bill.
– The Bill is merely designed to secure a double dissolution. I shall vote for the second reading, and when we go into Committee, I shall endeavour to insert the amendments I have read. Unfortunately, owing to the party lines which are being followed, I have not the slightest hope of carrying them. But in submitting them, I shall at least show my bona fides. Even if they be rejected, the people outside will recognise the justice of my proposals, and will see, as they cannot help seeing, that they would achieve all that the Bill proposes to do without introducing the particularly obnoxious feature in relation to authorized witnesses, who tramp from house to house, and try to cajole the people into voting on their particular side of the political fence.
– I should not have risen, but for the persistence with which some of my honorable friends opposite insist upon selecting Kooyong as an electorate in which corrupt practices have been indulged in with respect to the postal vote.
– No. We only say that there were an enormous number of sick people in the electorate on polling day. We cannot understand it.
– I find it very difficult to understand the honorable member, and I am not alone in that regard. The Opposition, politically, are absolutely wanton and reckless in the statements they make. They make all sorts of wicked suggestions as to what is done under the postal system, but when they are challenged to furnish a scintilla of proof, we find they are utterly unable to do so. As soon as they are challenged, they slink away from the original suggestion made by them. That is their invariable practice. Nothing is easier than to make wicked and vicious suggestions, and nothing is more cowardly than to slink away when proof of such suggestions is demanded.
– Can the honorable member account for the number of postal votes cast in his electorate?
– If the honorable member will permit me, I shall show how wrong it is even to suggest that there has been any improper use of the system. The history of the postal vote throughout the Commonwealth is one of success from beginning to end. There have been fewer prosecutions in connexion with it than in relation to any other important provision of the Electoral Act. It is all very well for the Opposition to say that proof of the abuse of the system cannot be obtained. Obviously, the necessary evidence cannot be obtained in every case to insure a successful prosecution. That applies to every offence. It cannot be suggested that, in respect of every crime that is committed and discovered, a successful prosecution follows.
– The conduct to which I have been referring would be not illegal, but immoral.
– The Labour party have never failed to suggest criminal conduct on the part of those who have utilized the postal vote system.
– The Government last year recognised the necessity for introducing more safeguards, and actually provided for them in the Electoral Bill which they brought down.
– I agree with my honorable friend that the system should be properly safeguarded. It is ridiculous of my honorable friends opposite to suggest that a system should be swept away because it is capable of being abused. In Victoria, and, indeed, throughout the Commonwealth - I refer to this State only because I am more familiar with the working of the system here - the postal vote has been most successfully exercised, and exercised practically without complaint by either party. There has been a fair exercise of this means of extending the franchise. It is idle therefore to say that, because a few abuses have crept in the. system should be abolished. If abuses do occur, then, instead of proposing to sweep away the whole system, we should rather, as the honorable member for Grey has suggested, increase the safeguards.
– Why not accept the amendment ?
– If the Opposition cau show that some additional safeguard is necessary to ensure the honest exercise of the system, we shall be called upon to provide that safeguard. But until a few days ago, honorable members opposite were denouncing, and using most unfair language in denouncing, the whole postal vote system. Their objection to it now, however, is of a more qualified character. I do not blame my honorable friends, but their present attitude is totally different from their original attitude, which was one of opposition to postal voting, root and branch. Some of them have emphasized the fact that in Victoria the postal vote was exercised more than in any other State. That happened because Victoria was accustomed to that means of exercising the franchise, and had found it a good way to extend the voting.
– Postal voting was first introduced into South Australia, and then applied to Commonwealth elections.
– Postal voting, I believe, was in force in Victoria long before it was applied to Common wealth elections, and has been popular in this State. What is essentially wrong in the exercise of the postal vote should the law permit electors to vote by post? The fact that 1,200 postal votes were cast in Kooyong during the referendum of 1911 has been referred to as an improper exercise of the postal vote. It is forgotten that in Kooyong resides possibly a larger number of business men than in any other electorate.
– Were they sick and invalid at the time of the referendum?
– Kooyong has its sick and invalid, but the proportion, I am glad to say, is small. Honorable members forget that section 109 of the Act of 1909 permits the elector who has reason to believe that he will not, during the hours of polling on polling day, be within 5 miles of any polling place for the division for which lie is enrolled, to make” application for a postal vote certificate and postal ballot papers.
– That provision was abused. Thousands who were in perfect health voted by post.
– How lightly and airily my honorable friend talks of abuse in this connexion. The section permitted voting by post, not only by women who might bo in ill-health, or by others who might bc prevented by serious illness or infirmity from going to the poll, but by any persons, sick or well, who had reason to believe that they would not be within 5 miles of a polling place on polling day. The Prime Minister has shown that in ten years there have been only ten or twelve prosecutions for breaches of the law respecting postal voting. The abuses in regard to enrolment have been much more numerous. The admissions of honorable members opposite show that.
– Although about 2,000,000 persons have been enrolled, the postal vote has never been exercised by more than 30,000 persons.
– When those on this side spoke of abuses under the absent vote, we were charged with slandering the people of Australia,, but honorable members opposite consider themselves at liberty to charge the people at large with fraudulent and criminal practices in connexion with the exercise of the postal vote. Wha t is slander on our part is commendable patriotism on theirs. From every platform they have abused us for our advocacy of the postal vote. When we have spoken of the possibility of fraud in connexion with the exercise of the absent vote, we have been charged with slandering the people; but the real slanderers are honorable members opposite, who, without a shadow of evidence, impute all sorts of crimes and frauds to the community in connexion with the exercise of the postal vote. The inconsistency and fallacy of their arguments are obvious.
– Explain the 1,200 postal votes cast in Kooyong.
– I have already stated- that the law permitted any elector who had reason to believe that he would not, within the hours of polling, be within 5 miles of a polling place for his division, to apply for a postal vote certificate, and many of these votes were cast under that provision. The people of Kooyong legitimately took advantage of the facilities for voting that the law gave them.
– Were there 1,000 electors of Kooyong over 5 miles from any polling place for the division during the polling day?
– I have not the slightest doubt that there were many more. The postal voting at Kooyong has been contrasted with that of Yarra, but let me contrast it with that of other so-called democratic constituencies. Honorable gentlemen opposite have conveniently picked out the 1911 referendum, when accidentally Kooyong happened to record a large postal vote. I propose now to take the returns for the election of 1910, and to contrast Kooyong with some radical constituencies. In Ballarat, which is now represented by a Labour member, the postal votes recorded tit the election held on 18th April, 1910, numbered 918, and at Bendigo, also now represented by a Labour member, 1,489. Neither constituency was then represented by Labour, but both must be regarded as democratic. The number of postal votes recorded at Bourke, another democratic constituency, was 925.
– How many were recorded for Liberals and how many for Labour?
– In 1910 there were 14,000 postal votes recorded, and the Liberals got the majority of them, hence the alteration of the electoral law in 1911.
– You know why it was altered. That was not the reason.
– We have always thought that it was the reason.
– We cannot help that.
– I hope that my honorable friends will listen while I show how the postal vote has been exercised in certain Labour constituencies. In the constituency of Bourke - a constituency quite as radical as Yarra, which has always been contrasted with Kooyong - the number of postal votes recorded was 925, as against 849 recorded at Kooyong, which returned, on that occasion, Mr. Knox. Gould anything more conclusively show the fallacy of the arguments of my honorable friends, who have picked out a mere circumstance to try to slander this side of the House, and to injure the proposal to restore the postal vote. In Maribyrnong, which is essentially a Labour constituency, 1,050 postal votes were recorded in 1910, as against 849 in Kooyong.
– Yes;, and I got the majority of the postal votes.
– Exactly ; hence all this hollow pretence, all these sham heroics which are talked on the other side, and all this suggestion of a wicked abuse by the money-bags in Kooyong utterly go for nothing, and the fallacy of my honorable friends is at once demonstrated by the figures to which I have referred, and by the admission of the honorable member for Maribyrnong that he got a majority of the postal votes recorded in that constituency in 1910.
– Yet, I do not believe in the postal vote without the safeguards.
– A similar admission was made by the honorable member for Boothby, who said that he also had the privilege of getting a majority of the postal votes.
– No; I said the opposite.
– I certainly understood my honorable friend to say that he was only one ahead previously, but when the postal votes came in, his majority was largely increased.
– No; after the postal, votes came in, I was 122 behind.
– I am sorry that I misunderstood my honorable friend. However, I have demonstrated that in the democratic constituencies of Bourke and
Maribyrnong, the postal vote exercised was largely in excess of the- postal vote exercised in Kooyong, which some of my honorable friends suggest is not a democratic constituency, but which I am prepared to contend is one in the truest and best sense.
– I think it is a fairly democratic constituency.
– I, therefore, say to my honorable friends opposite, that as. the postal vote has disclosed itself to be a reasonable means of offering facilities for the exercise of the franchise, the principle we are contending, for should at once be conceded. I congratulate them on their altered attitude, on their qualified’ approval, but I ask them to go one step farther, and assist us in increasing the safeguards if further safeguards are demonstrated to be necessary.
– Will you agree to it?
– If my honorable friends can demonstrate that additional safeguards are necessary, of course ib will be our duty to assist in securing them, bub their ideas of safeguards are safeguards of such a character as to strangle the vote.
– You will not agree bomuch of a safeguard.
– The safeguards provided by the repealed provisions of the Electoral Acb were practically sufficient for all purposes.
– Why did you increase them last session?
– It shows that wherever defects can be discovered we are prepared to remedy them.
– Will you agree to these amendments?
– For the purpose of strangling the postal vote, No.
– For the purpose of strengthening the Bill.
– I ask my honorable friends opposite to take courage in both hands, and accept the postal vote as a principle, and thus enfranchise a worthy section of the people.
.- I think that honorable members on this side must feel very surprised at finding the great interest which members of the Government are taking in this measure. We are told that it is one of the test Billa by which the Government propose to bring about the often-talked-of double dissolution. Yet this morning they have not sufficient interest in the measure toeven give it the slightest attention, nor are they prepared to- support it in any way.
– Your side do not give much attention to it, apparently.
– We know what the fate of the Bill is. We know why it has been introduced, and why should we give to it the attention which honorable members on the other side should giveto ib, bub do not?
– Why criticise us when we know exactly the same thing ?
– The honorable member is holding himself up to ridicule by not being prepared to support the Bill.
– I am prepared to support it; do not worry on that score.
– We want to hear from the Government the reasons why the Bill has been introduced. The honorable member for Kooyong has tried togive us an idea of their reasons, but I do not think that he has put forward, a. better case for them as bo why the measure should become law.
– When I said that the postal vote was introduced in Victoria prior to Federation my statement was disputed, bub I have been able bo verify ib.
– lt was introduced in 1900.
– I intend bo make some remarks on the subject, as. I have some statistics concerning the use of the postal vote in all the States-. In Victoria the electors seem to make a more extensive use- of the postal vote than is justifiable. This system was introduced for the purpose of enabling the sick and the aged to record their votes but we find that, immediately the writs are issued, practically every house iri the Commonwealth becomes a polling booth; and, under the circumstances, it is our duty to oppose the Bill at every turn. There is much important legislation awaiting attention; but, while the Government repeatedly tell us how anxious they are to get on with business, they showed us plainly last week that they have very little to lay before us.
-. - The Bill was never introduced with the idea of passing it.
– That is so; and the matter has been freely discussed both here and outside. There is no doubt that the Government are merely holding up business, and detaining honorable mem- ben for a purpose that should be foreign to this Parliament.
– The honorable member is out of order in saying that the Government are “ holding up business.”
– I should like now to quote the opinion of many leading newspapers, on which we are greatly dependent for our information, and which exercise powerful influence over the minds of the community. In a leading article in one of the morning papers today, there are a few lines that I shall read, commenting, as they do, on the action of the Government in connexion with this Bill.
– I submit that the honorable member is not in order in quoting from an article in the daily press on a matter which is the subject of discussion in this House.
– Standing order 268 is as follows -
No member shall read extracts from newspapers or other documents referring to debates in the House during the same session.
The honorable member for Oxley is, therefore, out of order.
– I am pleased to know that the Government Whip is so well acquainted with the leading article that I desire to quote.
– I have not read the article.
– I think the honorable member is acquainted with its contents, and I only hope that many people throughout the Commonwealth have the same knowledge of it.
– I hope the honorable member will accept my assurance that I have not seen a newspaper this morning.
– I accept the honorable member’s assurance. The Government a month or two ago appointed permanent Divisional Returning Officers, and now introduce a Bill which they say is to further safeguard the interests of the electors; and yet, at the same time, there is in existence a Royal Commission which is inquiring into the question of electoral reform. If the Government have any confidence in that Commission why have they not waited for its report and suggestions, which would probably have been of a practical character, and of some use to the country? We can only conclude that the Government have not that confidence which they ought to have in a body of their own creation.
– A postal voting Bill was introduced before the Royal Commission was appointed.
– All the same, I think it was the duty of the Government to wait until the report of the Royal Commission had been presented. This would have only been treating the Commission with some sort of decency and respect ; but the whole position shows that the newspaper, to which I have already referred, is quite right in its strictures on the Government. We are told by members of the Government and their supporters that there have been no electoral frauds where the postal vote has been exercised, but we have ample evidence that at Charters Towers, for instance, immediately the writs were issued, the managers of the mines in the neighbourhood made a personal canvass, and, under threat of dismissing the husbands, induced many women to vote for candidates of whom they disapproved.
– Does the honorable member know that of his own knowledge?
– The facts are on evidence, and the honorable member, as one of the Electoral Commission, ought to be aware of them.
– Where were these facts proved?
– They were proved before an electoral tribunal under the State law in Queensland. The honorable member for Kooyong . has told us that no prosecutions have taken place in connexion with postal voting; but Mr. Kidston, in 1908, when speaking on an amendment of the State Act, which had for its object the repeal of the postal voting provisions, said that although much corruption had taken place, and many frauds had been committed, if was very difficult to obtain proof. For that reason, rather than go to the trouble and expense of trying to prove the cases, he preferred to delete the section from the Act altogether. Later I shall quote his opinion on the postal vote. We have the experience of Queensland and the Commonwealth with regard to the vote, and statistics show that a greater percentage of votes has been polled in both cases since the abolition of the postal vote than Before.
If the Government persist in its reintroduction, after taking those figures into consideration, they must have some ulterior motive than wanting to benefit the people of the Commonwealth. The postal voting provisions are open to malpractice and corruption of every description, and these have been practised extensively throughout the States, and during Commonwealth elections as well.
– That is merely a bald statement. It does not refer to New South Wales. Confine yourself to Queensland, and you will be on safe ground.
– New South Wales has no postal vote.
– It had.
– They found the evil of it, and that is why it has been abolished, just as happened in Queensland.
– Too many people voted for our side under it.
– It is the power of money that compels people to vote on the right honorable member’s side under the postal voting provisions. To re-introduce the postal vote is to bring in something pregnant with corruption and malpractice of every description. If a referendum of the people were taken on the question, I am sure they would not agree to it. People are worried and harassed enough now for three or four weeks previous to an election, and the absent voting provisions are all that are necessary. Experience shows that the people prefer the absent vote to the postal vote. In the 1910 Commonwealth election only 62 per cent. of the people voted, with the postal vote in existence. At the last election 72 per cent. voted, and there was no postal vote to assist them.
– The vote would have been larger if they had had the postal vote.
– There is nothing in the whole history of the postal vote to justify that assertion. Since its abolition, both in State and Commonwealth politics, the percentage of votes recorded has been greater. In 1907 the percentage of votes recorded in the Queensland State elections was 71.61. In 1908 it was 68.39. That was the last year in which the postal vote was in existence in that State, although it has lately been re-introduced, and will be used at the next election. In 1909, without the postal vote, the percentage of votes recorded was 72.39, and in 1912 it was 75.52. Where is the evidence that the postal vote was of any value to the people of Queensland? Has it assisted them in any way in recording their votes, or has its abolition taken away from them the opportunity of voting?
– Can you give the percentage increase in the town populations during those years?
– I can tell the honorable member, for his own information, that in 1908, when the postal vote was in existence, fifteen town electorates in Queensland polled 13,000 odd postal votes, and fifty-seven country electorates polled only 7,000 postal votes, showing how extensively the people of the towns used the system as compared with the country people. If the country people can do without it, surely the people in the towns do not need it to the extent which the Government allege?
– Where is the harm in their using it?
-There is great harm in any elector using it if he can go to the ballot-box. It was not introduced for that purpose.
– More than one-tenth of the postal votes were used in one town alone - Charters Towers.
– And at Warwick, in 1908, Mr. Barnes polled 1,299 votes, of which 570 were postal votes. His majority was only ninety. There is also a property vote in Queensland, which for bad qualities is practically on all-fours with the postal vote. During the last State election a Mr. Corser was elected, and Mr. Mitchell lodged a petition against his return. The matter was contested in the Law Courts for about a week, and then it was agreed to fight the election again. Whilst the case was being heard, I think Mr. Corser had some sort of idea that the election might be fought over again, and forty-four electors in the Wide Bay electorate transferred their votes to the Maryborough electorate. On the night of the second election the result was announced as a tie, but after a recount Mr. Corser won by two votes. It will, therefore, be seen that the people who were enabled to transfer their property votes from Wide Bay to Maryborough gave the Government candidate an unfair advantage over the Labour candidate, and helped him to win the election.
– Have not Labour supporters in Queensland any property i
– They have some, but they do not go in for that kind of practice. In 1907 the proportion of women who recorded their votes in Queensland was 68.64 per cent., and in 1908 it was 69.5 per cent. In 1909, after the abolition of the postal vote, it was 69.36, and in 1912, 75.2, so that there is no evidence that the women folk want the postal vote, or that it was in any way helpful to them in recording their votes. Without the aid of the postal vote the percentage of women voting was more than with the aid of it; proving that the postal vote is of no use to the majority of women who are desirous of recording their votes in the proper manner. We, on this side, admit that there is a small percentage of women who require the aid of the postal vote at different periods, and we are prepared to see provision made to enable these women to record their votes by post; also to enable old folk who cannot travel to polling booths to vote, so that they may not be deprived of a privilege they had previously enjoyed. Every honorable member on this side would agree to amendments giving these people the right to vote by post, whilst safeguarding the privilege to such an extent that it could not be abused as it has been in the past; and, if the Government would reintroduce the postal vote to that extent, with proper safeguards, I think they would find that that is all that is desired by a majority of the people of Australia. Unless Ministers show some desire to meet the wishes of the people in this way, we may conclude that they have some ulterior motive in introducing this Bill.
– Do not forget that it was your party that disfranchised those old people.
– Our party has not done so. More old and sick people were able to use, and must have used, our system of voting at the last election, because there was a 10 per cent, higher vote than at any previous Federal election. I am in a position to prove that malpractice and corruption of a very extensive nature took place in Queensland under the postal voting system. I refer, first of all, to the Warwick election, held on 5th February, 1908, and I propose to submit the names of canvassers who assisted Mr. Barnes in his campaign. I have in my possession the Queensland Parliamentary Papers which include the evidence taken before the tribunal which dealt with the Warwick election, the case that was responsible for the Queensland Government amending the Act by deleting the postal voting provisions. Honorable members can see these statements if they wish to do so. The names that I shall use are only some of the canvassers who worked for Mr. Barnes. They are Messrs. Selke, Fern, Smith, Collins, Robinson, McDougall, Thompson, Pugh, Rose, Morgan, Suter, and Whitman. It was proved during the hearing of the case that each of these canvassers was instrumental in offering bribes or money to different electors at different periods for the purpose of securing postal votes in the favour of Mr. Barnes.
– Were those men prosecuted ?
– No. It is my object to connect these different persons with the securing of postal votes and the offering of money for them. Mr. Alfred John Wilson, of Canning-street, Warwick, swore, during the hearing of the case, that he was induced to go to a certain hotel, where he was made drunk, and induced to sign a postal vote, and that he received 30s. for himself, his wife, and for his sons for votes for Mr. Barnes. This evidence can be found on page 37 of the Queensland Parliamentary Papers. This Mr. Wilson had to be taken out of the electorate on the day of the election, otherwise his vote would have been challenged, and, in all probability, not allowed. It was stated in evidence that a day or two before the election, he was taken out of the electorate with the object of keeping him out on polling day. On page 70 of the same papers is the evidence of John Self, of Glenroad, Warwick. He swore that he was offered and refused £5 for his postal vote by Collins and Smith, whom he recognised as canvassers for Mr. Barnes. These are some of the abuses that occurred under the postal voting system in Queensland, and which will be repeated under the Commonwealth system if this Bill is passed. On page 67 of the Queensland Parliamentary Papers is the evidence of Charles Bishop, of Morgan
Park, Warwick, who admitted having received £1 for his postal vote for Mr. Barnes. On pape 72 is the evidence pf Andrew Hackett, of Palmerin-street, Warwick, who swore to Having been paid 2s. by Selke for his postal vote for Barnes. He was not very well paid. Here is something else which took place in connexion with the Warwick election, iu Queensland, in December, 1908. This will be found on page 52 of the Queensland Parliamentary Papers. William Kyling, cab-driver, swore that he went to Mr. Barnes’ committee rooms at 6.30 ou the morning of the election, and was there directed by Selke and Fern to go to the School of Arts Hotel and get a case of beer and spirits, and then go to Comino’s restaurant and get a case of victuals. He was then to go to the Commercial Hotel and get four persons who had recorded their postal votes, and whom ib was necessary to get out of the electorate on election day for the purpose of making their postal votes valid. The following are the names of the men WhO had to be taken out of the electorate on the day of the election in order to validate their postal votes: - Bas Stevens, Frank Graig, James1 Graig, William Chandler, and Perrin. They were taken out to Mr. McDougall’s farm at Sladevale, 6 or 7 miles from Warwick, and had to remain there until the election was over. Geo. Hocking, a cab-driver, gave evidence to show that he had to do the same kind of thing in connexion with many persons who voted by post at that election. When we are told by our honorable friends opposite that the postal vote is not subject to abuse, the evidence of its operation in Queensland should be quite sufficient to controvert that statement. Edward John Page, a cab-driver, whose evidence appears on page 54 of the Queensland Parliamentary Papers, swore that he was sent out to Sladeville on the evening of the day of election, and after the poll was closed, in order to bring the postal voters back to the town. This evidence shows the way in which Mr. Barnes’ committee used the postal vote on the occasion referred to. James Fern and Selke did the major portion of the canvassing work at the election, and Fern admitted in his evidence before the elections tribunal that he had received £5 per- week for canvassing. Several other persons received the same wages for canvassing. Fern admitted giving the cabmen their instructions to go to the hotels and other places to pick uppostal voters, and take them out of the electorate, and also giving the instruction to the cabman to go to Sladevillein the evening in order to bring those voters back to the town. It was admitted that the election cost £535. The total votes polled were 2,512, and of this number Barnes polled 1,299 votes, so that hisvotes cost him 8s. 4d. each.
– That was cheap.
– It was cheap for Barnes. The Prime Minister asked why, we are afraid qf the postal vote, and it is not unreasonable to say that we are, afraid of it for the same reason that the Labour party in Queensland had to be afraid of it in the 1908 State elections. When a Liberal candidate could spend £500 or £600 in contesting a State election, how much would he spend in con-r testing a Federal electorate five or six times as large? We could not expect to compete against Liberal candidates with- £3,000 or £4,000 at their disposal, if they were allowed to manipulate the postal vote in the manner I have described, We must oppose the Bill in its present form,, although we have explained that we are prepared to assist the Government to provide for postal voting under proper/ conditions, which will prevent the abuse of the system. When we find that it iB the intention of the Government to restore the old postal voting provisions of the Commonwealth Act, and adopt practically the system which led to so muchabuse in Queensland, it is our duty tooppose such a proposal in every possible way. Mr. Selke admitted, in connexion with the Warwick election in 1908, that on the day of election he had drawn a cheque for £50, which he said was for distribution amongst the canvassers, to enable them to cope with the expense of conducting the election.
– Those are Liberal tactics.
– They are; but it. is still hard to imagine why the canvassers should want so much on the day of election, when it was admitted before the elections tribunal that some of them had been receiving for some time 30,s., £2, and £2 10s. per week.
– The honorable member forgets that they have 6d. drinks in Warwick.
– Evidence was given of the great quantity of beer and spirits that was consumed at the election, though Mr. Barnes is recognised as a staunch teetotaller, and probably he did not drink much of it. As money was spent freely on the day of election, and lavishly for some time previous to that day, it must be concluded that a great deal of it was not expended for refreshments. We cannot agree to accept the postal vote in the form proposed by the Government, but if they are prepared to accept the amendments of the Bill suggested by the Opposition, they will have little trouble in carrying the measure. We have been told that it is reasonable to assume that in districts or States in which the highest postal vote is recorded the birth rate should be the highest. I have collected a few figures which show the fallacy of that assumption. In 1908, the percentage of electors who recorded their votes in Victoria was 53.4, and in 1911 63.61, “out the birth-rate in Victoria during 1910 was, I find, only 24.51. In South Australia, in 1910, the percentage of electors who recorded their votes was 64.3; in 1912, it was 68.93; and the birth rate in that State was 26.28. Tasmania supplies the best figures in this connexion, and no doubt the honorable member for Wilmot will have something to say on the subject. In 1909, the percentage of electors who recorded their votes in Tasmania was only 46.67, and in 1912 it was 69.73; whilst the birth rate was the highest of any of the States, namely, 39.25. I have not the percentages for Western Australia, as I received a wire giving the number of votes recorded only a few hours ago. In 1908, in Western Australia, 75,823 votes were recorded, and in 1911 91,635. The percentage of postal votes on each occasion was very small, as I find that in 1908 only 6,216 were recorded, and in 1911 only 7,576.
Sitting suspended from. 1 to 2.80 p.m.
– Before lunch I was quoting the percentage of figures polled during the last two elections in the Commonwealth and State elections, showing the percentage of votes polled, and the percentage of the birth rate. The figures show plainly that when the postal vote has not been in existence we have polled a very much heavier vote for the State and the Commonwealth. Under those conditions, I do not think our opponents can have any argument for the restoration of the postal vote on those grounds. It has been proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the postal vote was of no use during an election for the purpose of increasing the number of votes recorded.
– The honorable member must admit that there were a number of sick people who were unable to go to the poll.
– We are prepared to give those people an opportunity of recording their votes, but not under the. conditions which the Government desire to re-establish. We are not prepared to revert to the old system, by which those who had the most money could get the most votes. We want all candidates and all parties to have an equal opportunity of getting votes ; but when the postal vote system was in existence only the people with money were in the position to collect those votes, because immediately the writs were issued every house in the State where there was a postal vote became a polling booth, and from those houses many votes were collected. That is the reason why our opponents are anxious to re-introduce that old system of postal voting. They know that it is not a particular candidate or policy that is likely to be successful at an election, but that the” party with the greatest amount of money to spend will succeed. For that reason we are not going to permit the Government to carry this Bill. If they are anxious to bring forward a measure to give the sick and invalid people an opportunity of recording their votes, let them agree to the amendments suggested by honorable members of the Opposition. We will then give them an opportunity of placing this Bill on the statute-book in a reasonable and decent form, but not under the conditions which we were accustomed to in the past, or under the conditions which the Queensland Government propose to re-introduce in that State to-day. During the Federal election of 1907 21,904 postal vote certificates were issued,, and of that number 20,624 were polled, and 1,280 were not returned. During the 1910 election, 36,820 postal vote certificates were issued, and 29,249 were polled; 2,166 were returned too late to be counted, and 5,445 were not returned at all. I will quote the figures for the different States in order to show that the State of Victoria is a “whale” on the postal voting system ; ‘ they are New South Wales, 6,219; Queensland, 4,020; Western Australia, 1,977; South Australia, 1,751; Tasmania, 1,233; and Victoria, 14,049.
– What year are you quoting?
– The general elections of 1910, the last occasion when the postal vote was in operation. In 1910 the number of votes recorded in the Commonwealth was 62.80 per cent, of the enrolment, aud in 1913, without the aid of the postal vote, but with the assistance of the absent vote, the percentage was 73.42. The latter election took place on a wet day. In face of those figures, where is the argument in favour of postal voting? Can my honorable friends _on the Government side produce an argument which will show that the postal vote was of any use to the Commonwealth? We on this side will not deny a vote to our sick and invalid friends, but they shall have it only with safeguards, and under conditions which will prevent the malpractices and corruption which prevailed in the past in connexion with the postal vote.
– That was under State auspices.
– No, under Federal auspices. The absent vote is much more popular with the people of the Commonwealth, having regard to the fact that, during the election of 1913, the number of absent votes applied for was over 193,000. From those figures it will be seen that the absent vote is much more acceptable to the people than the postal-voting system that previously existed. Those figures cannot be denied, and are sufficient evidence to prove that the postal vote is not necessary in any form, and certainly not under the conditions which the Government propose in this Bill. We’ have been told that the Queensland Government are re-introducing the postal vote, and I should like to quote to honorable members what took place in the Queensland
Assembly immediately after the election which preceded the repeal of the postal vote. This is a clause from the Governor’s Speech at the opening of the first session after the 1908 election, and, of course, that clause had the sanction of the Government -
The last two elections have demonstrated that, in some respects, our electoral law is defective. In particular, the postal vote has been found to be a serious invasion of the secrecy of the ballot, and to afford facilities for practices which interfere with the expression of the opinion of the electors. It is therefore the intention of my Advisers to re-submit for your consideration the Bill introduced last year for removing these defects.
The Home Secretary in that Ministry - I think it was Mr. Hawthorne at the time, and he is not a Labour man, as honorable members are aware-
– It was a Liberal Government that repealed the postal-voting provisions in Queensland.
– But they had the assistance of the Labour party on that occasion. This is the opinion expressed by Mr. Hawthorne -
It has been found in practice that the provisions for the postal vote are of such a nature that fraud is made easy. It is known that there was considerable abuse of the provisions during the last election, and it is, therefore, suggested that the best way to deal with the postal vote is to wipe it out altogether. Personally, I know the system was abused, and that it was open to great abuse.
We are told that Mr. Kidston, who was then Premier, was not opposed to the postal vote, but he took the same view, as will be seen from these remarks -
Every one of us knows quite well that the way in which the postal vote was carried out in many cases made it, to all intents and purposes, open voting. To all intents and purposes, if we continue our Electoral Act, with this blemish in it, we abolish the protection of the ballot, as far as women are concerned, and certainly as far as the majority of the women are concerned. I consider it is the duty of the House to wipe out the postal vote root and branch, and wipe it out at once.
I have given honorable members the opinions of two members of the Queensland Cabinet at the time. I have also the opinion of Mr. Grant, who was Minister of Education in the present Queensland Government until a few months ago -
No one who had had the least experience of the postal vote at the last election would desire to retain it. . . . It destroyed the secrecy of the ballot. . . . There had been so much bribery and corruption that he thought it better to wipe the postal vote out altogether.
Then Mr. Roberts, the member for East Toowoomba, said -
The secrecy of the ballot was only possible by the abolition of the postal vote. Nothing else would make it secret. . . . He was satisfled that if the postal vote was retained at the next election it would just be one system of canvassing and taking the postal vote at the same time. For that reason he would oppose the postal vote.
The honorable member for Carnarvon said -
At the last election the provisions of the postal vote were greatly abused, and sooner than see that abuse continue it would be better to wipe it out altogether.
Those are the opinions of members of the Queensland Liberal party to-day. Yet, in face of their view that the postal vote should be wiped out, the present Government in Queensland, finding they are losing their power, and knowing that the postal vote will give them greater voting strength, have agreed to re-introduce it. They find that the present system of recording votes is not as favorable to the Liberal party as when the postal vote was in existence. They are not prepared, however, to go back to the old system of allowing justices of the peace to witness postal votes, and they have agreed to introduce an amendment debarring justices from witnessing the signature of a voter under the present Act. I desire to read for the information of honorable members the list of persons whom the Queensland Government have agreed shall witness the postal voter’s signature during the coming election -
A postmaster not being in charge of a re ceiving office only, a police magistrate or a head teacher of a State or provisional school, a railway stationmaster, a night officer in charge of a railway station, a warden or mining registrar, an officer in charge of a lighthouse, a police officer in charge of a police station or above the rank of acting sergeant, or also, in case of a sick or infirm voter in addition to any of the foregoing persons, the duly qualified medical practitioner or qualified nurse in attendance on the voter.
Justices of the peace are no longer allowed to act as witnesses, but the Act is quite bad enough. The Federal Government are trying to imitate it. They know that Labour candidates will not have the assistance of financial institutions in collecting postal votes, and, for that reason, they favour the system. The abuse to which the system has been sub-‘ jected should be sufficient to deter honorable members from restoring it. Having regard to the evidence of abuse which has been submitted, the Government should recognise that they are making a mistake in submitting this Bill in. itS present form. The Opposition are prepared to accept a fair and reasonable amendment of the Act, to enable the sick and infirm to record their votes. Further than that we are not prepared to go. We are not prepared to give the Government an opportunity to declare every house in the Commonwealth a polling booth as soon as the writs are issued. That, however, is what the Government and their supporters desire. That is the practice to which they have been accustomed, and from which, on different occasions, they have gained power.
– Why did not the Labour Government, when in office, proride opportunities for the sick and infirm to vote?
– If the honorable member wishes to enlighten the House, we shall gladly give him an opportunity to do so. The silence maintained by honorable members opposite is evidence of their insincerity.
– Order ! The honorable member is not in order in reflecting on the sincerity of honorable members.
– Then I shall conclude with the statement that we shall be glad to hear the views of honorable members opposite, and to learn whether they have any evidence calculated to justify the action of the Government in seeking to restore the postal vote.
.- If the honorable member for Oxley and his party, as they now affirm, are in favour of affording the sick and infirm an opportunity to vote, they should explain why in 1911 they failed to amend the Act in that direction. Why was it that they swept away the whole system of voting by post? That is a fair question to put to them. Before they can go to the country and claim to be in favour of facilitating the exercise of the franchise by the sick and the infirm, they must explain the action which they took in 1911. I should not have spoken to this question but for the references that have been made to Queensland’s experience of the postalvote system. Any one listening to this debate, would come to the conclusion that the Bill is identical with the State Act which gave rise to the abuses that were brought to light in 1908. As a matter of fact, it is not.
– And honorable members opposite know that.
– I believe that they do; but for the information of those who are not conversant with the facts, it is desirable that the actual position should be stated and recorded in Hansard. The Queensland Act of 1904 gave the right to all women, irrespective of what their condition might be, to vote by post. There was no limitation as to health or infirmity. Then again, an application for a postal-vote certificate under that Act could be witnessed only by a Returning Officer, or a justice of the peace, while the ballot-paper itself could be witnessed only by a postmaster or a justice of the peace. In order to make the Act of any value, it was necessary, in view of this limitation of witnesses, that a large number of justices of the peace should be appointed. That is the simple explanation in regard to the appointment of so many justices. An immense addition was undoubtedly made to the commission of the peace.
– But no Labour supporters were appointed as justices of the peace.
– Order ! The honorable member for Oxley has just concluded his speech.
– As a rule, I listen attentively to the honorable member for Oxley, and I think that he should extend to me the same courtesy. He has had a full opportunity to state his case to the House.
– And this is a matter that we desire to have cleared up.
– Quite so. We all admit that abuses occurred under the Queensland Act of 1904. There was a very fierce election - one of the keenest we had ever had in Queensland - at the end of 1907, and the Ministry of the day was so badly defeated that it resigned without waiting to meet Parliament. As soon as the Parliament met in 1908, it did exactly what the Commonwealth Parliament did in 1911 - it swept away the postal-vote system. Mr. Kidston was then Premier of the State, and his first act was to take advantage of his commanding majority just as the Labour party did in this House, in 1911, to abolish the postal-vote system. He had the whole of the Labour party behind him. As a matter of fact, he had been a member of that party, and to this day the belief is entertained in Queensland that one of the conditions under which the Labour party of that time agreed to support him was that he should sweep away the postal vote. He did so. He made no attempt to improve the Act by introducing necessary safeguards. He and his party thought it better that the sick and the infirm, as well as people in the back-blocks, should be deprived, practically, of the right to vote rather than that the postal-vote system should continue.
– Rather than allow the corruption which had occurred to continue.
– Corruption has occurred in connexion with every system that has been devised. There has been corruption under the absent vote system, and it will occur again unless effective safeguards are employed. Mr. Kidston was a colleague of the present Leader of the Opposition in this House, in what honorable members opposite grandiloquently term “ the first Labour Ministry the world had ever known.” In Queensland, however, that Ministry was regarded as one of the greatest political fiascos in the history of the State. The political fiasco which occurred in Victoria a few months ago, when a Labour Government was formed, only to go out of office in a few days, was as nothing compared with it. This Queensland Ministry remained in office only six days, and I do not believe that the members of it occupied the Treasury bench for more than six hours.
– No; the Opposition would not let them live at all.
– Why should a Ministry whose supporters comprised only onethird of the House be allowed to live?
– The electors said that they should not remain in office.
– Precisely. They gained office by assuring the Governor that they could carry on the government of the country when they must have known they could not do so. In these circumstances they were deprived of their political lives. The head of the Ministry was cut off, so to speak, just as occurred recently in Victoria. Since then, the postal- vote system has been re-established in Queensland, but on lines very different from those which prevailed under the Act of 1904.
– In what respect?
– To begin with, under the present State Act every woman has not the right to vote by post.
– Why not?
– If the honorable member has studied the Act, he must know that the conditions are different. An elector, to be entitled to vote by post, must reside at least 5 miles from a polling booth, and on polling day must be unable, either through infirmity or ill-health, to record his or her vote at a polling booth. It is provided that a person may vote by post if he believes that on polling day he will not be within 5 miles of a polling booth. Then again, the Act widens the list of persons who may witness a postal vote, but does not permit justices of the peace to do so. Another safeguard, and a very good one, is that no candidate or agent of a candidate, or of any organization, engaged in promoting, or intending to promote, the election of any candidate, shall attest or receive, or take from a voter any postal vote.
– Hear, hear!
– I say “ Hear, hear,” also.
– That is not provided in the Bill.
– Whose fault is it that no proposal of this kind was carried here last year? Did not the unfair and unreasonable opposition of the Labour party render it impossible? This is an amendment which I think a wise one. The trouble in Queensland was that women who could well go to the poll were pestered for postal votes by professional agents and magistrates. Both political parties there fought shy of the postal vote system in the beginning, and it was little used at the first election after its adoption, but both parties recognised its possibilities when the second election came, and I am sorry to have to admit that both of them made an unscrupulous use of it. The law to-day is quite different, and it is unfair to try to east odium on the State in respect of it. Reference has been made to the increase in the votes cast by women since the abolition of the postal vote. Every one knows that, not only in Queensland, but throughout Australia, the women of late years have shown a greater interest in public affairs. Certainly in Queensland they vote in much larger numbers now than used to be the case. This accounts for the increase that has been alluded to. But if all that has been said about the Queensland postal vote were true, what would it prove? It would not prove the Commonwealth system to be wrong. Several elections took place with postal voting, and the fact mentioned by the Prime Minister, that in ten years there were only ten prosecutions for breaches of the law, is conclusive proof that the system was a good one.
– It was the same as the Queensland system that the honorable member condemned.
– I differ from the honorable member. One would think that it would be absolutely wicked for a man to take advantage of a postal vote. I do not see why an elector who would have to lose a day or half a day in going to a polling booth to record his vote should not, if he were permitted by law, vote at home, and post his ballot-paper to the Returning Officer. The talk that we have heard about the invasion of the secrecy of the ballot is moonshine. Postal voting takes place in Queensland in connexion with shire council elections, some of the shires being larger than the average Commonwealth electoral division in Victoria, and it works well. There has been no outcry about the invasion of the secrecy of the ballot there. Indeed, I think that the shire council system would break down without postal voting. Unless honorable members have made up their minds to deprive of the franchise sick women, infirm men, and women living in distant parts of the country helping their husbands to make homes for themselves and families, they must provide for voting by post. You cannot throw dust in the eyes of the people. The postal vote is demanded by them, because experience has shown that without it there must be disfranchisement.
– And with it, corruption.
– Corruption could be guarded against. The postal voting system offers fewer opportunities for corrupt practices than any of the other systems established by law.
– We know differently.
– Honorable members opposite have not a monopoly of knowledge. They do not represent all Australia. Personally, I find that the older
I get the more I have to learn. The postal vote has been demanded by the women of Australia, and they are entitled to it. It may be said in an offhand manner that only 77,000 persons are now disfranchised; my contention is that, if only 7,000 persons were disfranchised, the evil should be remedied. In the constituency of Oxley, at a place called Dunwich, is an institution where several hundreds of persons who have become too old to support themselves are well cared for - and rightly so - by the State. We bring the franchise to those persons.
– Hear, hear.
– I, too, approve of that. We set up a polling booth in the institution, but at the same time honorable members opposite deny the right to vote to many other persons who cannot get to the poll, and who, by their contributions as taxpayers, help to support that institution. Yon deny that right to sick women and to women living in distant parts of the country. A great deal has been said about a proposal that was made by the Labour party last year; that proposal shows one of two things, either that honorable members opposite do not know the conditions under which the younger States are being settled, or that they do not wish to enfranchise those who are living in remote situations. What would be gained by allowing any female elector who had reason to believe that she could not on polling day, on account of ill-health or infirmity, attend any polling place, to make a declaration, after the issue of the writ, before a postmaster, and to vote before him as an absent voter, under the provisions of section 139?
– That is the provision that would cause all the trouble; it is open to all manner of abuses.
– Well, it is the provision that was put forward by the Labour party last session. It was their remedy. They proposed that votes made under this provision should be recorded only at the post-office of which the postmaster before whom the declaration was made was in charge. Would it not be almost inhuman to ask the mother of a family to leave her children at home while she went to the nearest post-office to vote? But that is what the provision meant.
– Where did the honorable member get it?
– It was the amendment inserted in the Bill by the Labour party in the Senate.
– The proposal was to take the ballot-box round to those who could not come to the polling booth.
– A perambulating Returning Officer, to visit the sick and infirm, was suggested; but I do not think that any honorable member would contend that that would prove practicable in a country like Queensland or Western Australia. The proposal that I have read was that, if a woman through being sick or infirm could not go to a polling booth, she could apply to a postmaster to vote as an absentee voter, and must then record her vote before that postmaster at the post-office of which he was in charge.
– But would she not have to go to the polling booth, otherwise?
– Under the provisions of the Act of 1909, she could apply for a postal vote, and have her vote witnessed by persons living much nearer to her than the local postmaster. There are many places in Queensland where settlers are more than 5 miles from a post-office. I shall support the Bill with the greatest pleasure.
– You have to.
– I am more independent than the honorable member. I have not signed a pledge or bound myself to vote as the majority of a Caucus determines.
– Your side holds Caucus meetings.
– Of course. But if any member of our party, in the free exercise of his judgment, cannot fall into line with the others, he is not crucified as some of the foremost men in the Labour party, like Mr. Glassey, Mr. Hoolan Mr. Kerr, and others, were. Where are those, and other leading Queensland Labour men now? They have been thrust out of the party because they would not surrender the right of private judgment. I support the Bill because I believe it to be the right measure to pass. I know that the postal vote is demanded by the people, and that the proposals of the Labour party for remedying the injustice done to the women of Australia in 1911 are utterly futile.
– I heard only the latter part of the utterances of the honorable member who has just sat down, but I associate him with the honorable member for Calare, and suggest that both of them have “let the cat out of the bag.” A few moments ago the honorable member for Lilley referred to women who had to leave their families at home in order to vote, and yesterday the honorable member for Calare dwelt on the great handicap imposed on the people in the back-blocks, who, in many instances, had to travel for days in order to perform this public duty. It was on these grounds that the two honorable members urged the adoption of the postal vote, and they thereby show that it is not desired to accommodate the invalid and the aged, but to save people the trouble of attending at the polling booths, thus, of course, frustrating the purpose of our electoral law. The Bill ostensibly gives to invalids and others the opportunity to record their votes, and we, as a Labour party, I say at once, are quite prepared to make the necessary provision, provided there be such safeguards as will, and must, prevent the prostitution of the Electoral Act itself and the violation of the principle that underlies our electoral system. In a democratic community the desire and purpose must be to give to every individual the opportunity to record his vote, and that we on this side are ready to do. But no legislation, whether here, in Great Britain, or any other country where democratic rule obtains, can make full provision for all situations and contingencies that may arrive. No less an authority than Thomas Henry Buckle, who wrote the History of Civilization, has pointed out that all successful legislation is based on expediency and compromise. If the Government and their supporters are really sincere in their desire to extend the postal-voting system to invalids and the aged, they should be prepared to accept such amendments of the Bill as will insure the safeguards to which I have referred. When a similar Bill was before the Senate last session amendments of the kind were proposed, but they were bitterly fought by the Government, who, consistently with their purpose, now absolutely refuse to pro vide any safeguards. Is it not evident that the Government are desirous, not so much of passing this Bill, as of using it as a means to attain some political end of their own - of making it a stalking horse to enable them to obtain the object they have in view? Personally, I am favorable to the invalids being afforded every facility to record their votes. In my own electorate I have seen such scenes of what I might term brutality in the taking of invalids to the poll as to excite my very loathing. On one occasion, in my own electorate, a poor paralytic, while being carried into the booth, fell head forward into the roadway, and had to be picked up and conveyed inside. Further, I saw a poor old dame with one leg, who had to be assisted, partly by myself, into the polling place; and there was a poor soul, crippled with rheumatics, who fell to the ground owing to her affliction. Their votes having been recorded, the poor people were left in the gutter, to get home as best they might. I do not blame one party more than I do another. On the day of election, when the fighting forces are out, we are prone to forget ourselves, and do injustice to those on whom we rely for assistance. In another case, I found a poor old soul, who, having been to the booth and voted, had been left crying in the street. She told me that she had not wanted to vote, but that she had been brought from her home, and had been left where I found her. I had with me a conveyance with other voters in it, but I sent these away, saying I did not require their votes, and had the old woman carried home. It may be urged that these cases represent good grounds for postal voting, and I admit that I would sooner have postal voting than such horrors in any electorate. The question arises, however, whether invalids really desire to vote. When men are seriously ill, or women are on the verge of child-birth, they are not much concerned with politics or parties; and where there is indifference there is not the proper knowledge, so that such votes are not of any value to the country. The voters we require are not those who are weak in physique or in intellect, but a fighting force of the manhood and womanhood, fitted in every way to understand and appreciate the issues, and willing to work day by day for the confirmation of their social ideals. Yet we hear from honorable members opposite all this piffle about votes for invalids!
– Why did the Labour party give the vote to inmates of hospitals ?
– I am not going to say anything as to what my party did, but, speaking for myself, I regret that that vote was ever given, and I say this with due respect to the inmates of the hospitals. I cannot conceive that such people are so immersed in politics as to desire to leave their beds, or to record their votes by post, in relation to questions of which it is quite possible they know nothing. This system of voting leaves it open to political agents on either side to torture the poor souls ; not to put the facts before them, but to urge that their candidates represent the living truth, and that they must be voted for if success and prosperity is to be the lot of Australia. Such procedure as this is a shame and a sham, and I ask this House not to accept the Bill. If I could be assured that invalids who desired to vote would be safe from the hands of political organizers and undue pressure, chicanery, and cunning, I should be ready to afford them the means of voting. I am afraid, however, that that is not the object of the Government, but rather that they are actuated by the knowledge that the postal vote goes their way rather than ours. I see in this proposal some danger to the proper administration of our Electoral Act, and I strongly oppose the Bill unless it be amended to contain proper safeguards. The Bill is introduced as a mere cloak to shroud the ultimate and hideous purpose of the Government. They are seeking to bring this House and the country into a state of disruption in order to obtain a double dissolution, which may or may not give them some advantage. Had some great constitutional question arisen, I could have understood the attitude of the Government ; but we have placed before us two petty measures, with the idea that we on this side are afraid of an appeal to the country. There is, however, no fear on this side ; we are prepared to meet the Government and their supporters at any time. I should prefer, however, that they came into the open, and declared their purpose, declining to shelter themselves behind the crippled and the sick. It is not manly, fair, or honorable; it is a dirty piece of tactics - a. dirty political job.
– I withdraw the words, sir, and say that this Bill represents a political action that does not stand in any way to the credit of the Government. I hope that honorable members on this side will repudiate the measure, unless the Government are prepared to introduce such reforms and safeguards as will extend and maintain the sanctity of our electoral laws and the purity of their administration.
.- I rise to support this Bill.
– Go on!
– I propose to go on. If I refrain from addressing myself to a Bill I am charged with being “ gagged,” and if I rise to address a few remarks to it I am charged with “stone-walling” the measure. I do not know what game my honorable friends opposite are attempting to play. In any case, they are not playing the. game fairly. I rise to support the Bill from the broad point of view that I wish to see the electoral law so framed that every elector may have an equal opportunity of expressing his opinions at the ballot-box, which equal opportunity is not given under the present Act. We have listened to a great many harrowing expressions of the evils perpetrated in the past, evidently largely due to the ineffectiveness of some State electoral law; but I have listened very carefully in order to find some concrete case whereby it can be shown that the Federal law, in which alone we are interested, has broken down. The only illustration we have had came from the mouth of the. Prime Minister, who pointed out in his second-reading speech that during ten years there were only ten prosecutions for offences under the Federal postal voting provisions. I have no wish to touch on the harrowing scenes of which the honorable member for Dalley has just given instances of a. most deplorable nature ; I do not wish to traverse the arguments of my friend the honorable member for Oxley, which were largely based on the State law, and do not apply to the Federal law ; but I do wish to say that I. have noticed that most of the objections raised during this debate to the rein troduction of the postal voting provisions have come from representatives of city constituencies that can be measured by acres, and not by square miles, and which in some instances could be covered by good-sized counterpanes. From the point of view of these small constituencies, probably there may be something in the arguments advanced.
– It is in those constituencies that the postal vote is mostly used.
– What we propose to reintroduce is comprised in three sections. Let us first turn to the Act of 1909, which was repealed in 1911. There were three classes of electors who were permitted to vote by post. First, any elector who had reason to believe that he would not, during the hours of polling on polling day, be within 5 miles of any polling place for the division for which he was enrolled, was permitted to vote by post. If that method was carried out under proper supervision - there were ample safeguards, and it was the fault of the public if they were not brought into effect - there would be very few people in city electorates who would be affected except those who were absolutely away from their homes; and I claim that they are justly entitled to vote when they are away. We may argue as much as we like, and say exactly what we like with regard to our Federal law; but I say, without fear of contradiction, that it is a monstrous thing to have compulsory enrolment without giving to those who are compelled to be enrolled under a penalty of £2, the opportunity of recording their votes.
– Are you in favour of compulsory voting? It is a good thing.
– If the honorable member cau show me how it could be enforced, I should be prepared to support it, but we are not dealing with that matter now. The law now provides, for compulsory enrolment, and every person compelled to enroll should have reasonable opportunity to record a vote. The figures that the Prime Minister gave are simply unanswerable. They were not his own. He quoted Mr. Knibbs, who. points out the daily average of sick and infirm in Australia. It is a difficult matter to overcome the law of average. Every day, on an average, in Australia there are 22,000 women sick, 3,Q,000 other people sick, and 25,009 people infirm, making a total of 77,000 people who, under our electoral law, are physically unable to go to a polling booth and are thus disfranchised. Yet the whole of them have been compelled to enroll under a penalty of £2. Notwithstanding this, there is no method by which they can exercise the franchise. I support the proposal to give to all qualified electors the opportunity to exercise the franchise, whether sick or well; and if their physical condition does not allow them to go to polling places, I maintain that the law should be altered to permit them to vote by another’ method, and I know of no other method so amply safeguarded that gives this opportunity better than the postal-voting provisions that the Government seek to reintroduce. There are honorable members opposite who represent country electorates, and they know that in many of the country districts it is the exception, for an elector to be within 5 miles of a polling booth ; also, that there are certain districts where, after a fall of 50’ points of rain, it is impossible to travel over roads by any means of conveyance. The honorable member for Gwydir knows that two-thirds of his electorate are known as the “ Black Country,” and he knows, from his experience,, as I know it, that a person cannot travel over that country immediately after a fall of 50 points or 60 points of rain. It is not reasonable to prevent people from exercising the franchise because they are shut off from personal attendance at polling booths by reason of climatic and other conditions over which they have no control. It is only a reasonable aud democratic proposition that we should secure from, every qualified elector an expression of political opinion, so that we can once and for all have in this Parliament a representation of the political views of all people in regard to the candidates before them. The second class of people who were permitted to vote by post were women, who would, on account of ill-health, be unable to attend a polling place on polling day. Am I told that any honorable member of any party claims that our womenfolk all belong to one side in politics? Most of us, certainly those on this side of the chamber, are great advocates of equality of opportunity. Am I told that it is wise and proper to disfranchise the 22,000 women who. are daily sick, and so incapacitated that they cannot walk to a polling booth? Is it democratic or solicitous on the part of men, who desire to give the fullest opportunity to persons to express their political opinions at a polling booth, to deprive these women of that opportunity ? Surely that is not so. The same remarks can apply to the third class of people who were permitted to vote by post - those who would be prevented by serious illness or infirmity from attending a polling place on polling day.
– What safeguards would you have?
– The safeguards in regard to voting by post were more ample than those in force to-day. The provisions for postal voting that the Fisher Government repealed were infinitely more satisfactory than those they provided in other portions of the electoral law now in existence. In regard to the sick and infirm, how many pioneers are there who, through no fault of their own, but as a result of their pioneering efforts, find themselves in such a state of health that they cannot leave their chairs - men and women who have borne the heat and burden of the day and helped to make Australia what it is? The penalty for their efforts is that, under the present law, they are disfranchised - not allowed to give an expression to their political opinions because there is no method by which they can have their votes put into the ballot-box. Is that in accordance with our advanced and boasted Democracy?
– Did they vote previously?
– I do not know what they did. I am arguing on a principle. I maintain that the safeguards were provided, and if any honorable member knew that they had not been carried out, he, as a guardian of the integrity of this Federal House, had an undoubted right to step in and see that the delinquents were properly punished. But we find that during ten’ years’ experience of postal voting under the Federal law the only punishable incidents were ten in number. Yet we bear so much talk in regard to maladministration or the misuse of the postalvoting provisions. Now let me deal with the safeguards. The authorized witnesses are specified in section 109(a) of the Elec toral Act of 1909. I need not read them all. They start with all Commonwealth Electoral Officers for States, all Commonwealth Returning Officers, and all Commonwealth Electoral Registrars. There is a whole list of officers, widely spread, so that there should be few localities without them. Further than that, all persons or classes of persons employed in the Public Service of the Commonwealth or of a State may be declared by proclamation to be authorized witnesses. And these authorized witnesses have a very solemn and proper function to perform, guarded in a way that does not apply in portions of the present Act. The next section provides that an authorized person shall not witness the signature of any elector to an application for a postal-vote certificate and postal ballot-paper unless he has satisfied, himself as to the identity of the applicant.
– What is the honorable member reading from?
– From a section that we are proposing to restore.
– You are wrong.__
– I am right. ‘The second clause of the Bill provides that certain sections of the Act are to be repealed and certain provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1902-9 repealed by those sections are to be revived and re-enacted. That is what we are restoring.
– It is not the same; ask the Attorney-General.
– I am trying to pointout that that is one of the safeguards we have not got to-day.
– That safeguard has been broken through.
– There is a greater safeguard where application is made for a postal vote, in view of the fact that the witness has to satisfy himself as to the identity of the claimant, than exists in our claims for enrolment. What do we find under the card system to-day? That there is no method of identifying the person of the applicant for enrolment with the signature on the card. I say, too, with some regret, that there is nothing to prevent a man who cares to take a risk, getting on to the electoral roll, and there is no method by which he can be detected.
– Do you” suggest that there are men who do that ?
– I am not going to suggest anything. I leave that to the honorable member’s wild and lurid imagination. I am trying to point out that we cannot identify the person of the applicant and the signature on the card, and in that way the door is left open for every subterfuge that the mind can conceive. There are other matters which must be taken into consideration in connexion with the postal vote. First of all, the Returning Officer has to be satisfied with what comes before him, and after the election the applications for postal votes are on exhibition, and any person may see them. If there is anything wrong with these postal votes, why do not honorable members opposite take action against the offenders? We have a Committee of Disputed Returns-
– No, we have not. That shows how much you know about the electoral law.
– Well, an appeal can be lodged with the High Court, and I would sooner trust my case to a Judge of the High Court of Australia than to some Committees of Disputed Returns. I have ho hesitation in saying that, and I think that some of my friends on the Opposition side would declare the same thing.
– We tipped one of your men out before.
– I have no doubt the honorable member did, and it would give him the greatest possible pleasure to tip some of us out again; but, unfortunately for him, we are not going to have any of that sort of tipping. In the reintroduction of the postal voting provisions, the Government are not” actuated by the base motives which honorable members opposite would insinuate. We desire, primarily, that there should be an equal opportunity to vote given to all electors. The Bill is not introduced merely for the sake of bringing about a double dissolution, although I am hopeful that we shall get before the people by means of a double dissolution, as the result of either this or some other measure. I am always prepared to trust the people, but honorable members opposite seem to have the greatest dislike to going before their masters and mistresses. My desire is to have the whole situation cleared up by the people, by any proper and legitimate means that can be adopted. Let the whole 111 of us go before the people, and let the people decide between us. I have nothing to fear, and I do not think any other honorable member ought to fear either. When honorable members attribute motives for the introduction of a measure like this, and suggest that the Government are hopeful of getting some advantage out of it, they are shooting wide of the mark, and saying things which are unworthy of their mental capabilities. I say at once that the restoration of the postal vote will be of great advantage to a large number of worthy settlers, who, to-day, are practically disfranchised, although they have had to be enrolled under the compulsory clauses of the Federal law, or make themselves liable to a penalty of £2. I cannot follow honorable members when they . say that it is a fair thing to compel a person to be enrolled under pain of a penalty, and then not to give him or her an opportunity to vote. The sooner we get the postal provisions of the Electoral Act restored to the statute-book the better it will be for the reputation of all parties, and I have no hesitation in saying that we shall have an increased vote as a result of this Bill, because it will give an opportunity to vote to a number of electors who at the present time are unable to exercise their full political rights. In conclusion, I desire to say that so far as a number of those electors are concerned it seems to me to be little short of outrageous that they have been so long denied their political rights. I cannot understand for the life of me why honorable members opposite, who pretend to be the advocates of democracy with a capital “ D,” should be so strongly opposed to the reintroduction of the postal voting system. The safeguards are ample and satisfactory if they are carried out in their entirety, as they evidently have been in the past. I do not suppose that under any other Act on the statute-book there have been so few as ten proved cases of malpractice in ten years, and if that is not evidence of the safety of these particular provisions I do not know what conditions could be introduced to make them safe.
.- I do not intend to occupy the time of the House very long, but I desire to point out, in answer to the honorable member who has just resumed his seat, that the advocates of democracy with a capital “ D,” as he termed us, have been mainly responsible for all the advantages of the extension of the franchise that we enjoy to-day. It is not our desire to rob any elector of that right which is inherently his. We are prepared to see that, as far as possible, every voter in the Commonwealth has the right to exercise his or her franchise. We have nothing to fear from the greater vote that may be given by virtue of the fact that every eligible person in the community is given that opportunity of expressing his or her opinions at the polls. In asking for fair and adequate safeguards against fraud and deception, and methods which are not too clean, we are accused by members on the Government side of belittling the integrity of the general public. But there was never an Act placed on the statute-book for the regulation of the general public that did not assume everybody to be innocent until proved guilty. We do not know- of half the crime that is perpetrated; only that which is discovered comes within the purview of the law. And an Act is placed on the statute-book to regulate the life of the community so that any person who transgresses may be brought to book, and made to pay a penalty for his breach. During an election, people necessarily take a keen interest in what takes place; but if you ask them to come forward afterwards and relate incidents that occurred within their knowledge, so that those who have done things they ought not to have done may be brought to book, they are always backward in coming forward, and, consequently, it is difficult to get proof of any offence. The figures are significant in that regard. After the last general election the newspapers were going to flood the country with instances of personation, dual voting, and the dead rising from their graves to record votes in favour of the Labour party. From all the hullabaloo that took place, one would have thought that all the gaols would have been filled with those who took advantage of a lax Electoral Act, and inflated the vote on that occasion. At the declaration of the poll for Adelaide, when my predecessor, the late Hon. E. A. Roberts, was elected, his opponent made the same complaint from the public platform; but when he was asked why he did not move to have people prosecuted on the knowledge he then possessed, he replied that he was prepared to do so at
Mr. Yates. ,___ js_..S.52*§i the right time. I desire to ask the present occupants of the Treasury bench if they have done anything to create “ the right time” for Mr. Craig to bring forward his evidence as to the wrong-doing which he was positive took place at that election ? -Mr. Shannon, who was formerly a member of the Senate, made a similar statement - that he had knowledge of malpractices during the election, and be would bring forward his1 evidence at the right time. “ Not now, O Lord, not now,” if I may paraphrase the honorable member for West Sydney. It was not then, hot upon the deed, that he was going to prove his words; he would do it at the right time; but, notwithstanding that the Electoral Commission has paid two visits to Adelaide, those two gentlemen, who were so desirous that the electoral machinery should be above suspicion, did not voluntarily go before the Commission and state who were the persons who had done those things which ought not to have been done. Those gentlemen threw suspicion on innumerable electors, and the newspapers were very liberal in their denunciation of the practices which they considered at the time were putting the Labour Government back into power. Had the newspapers thought that the Fusion party would be returned with a majority, they would not have made those threats; but it looked odds on the Fisher Government being again returned to office, and that hurt the Liberal organs so much that they made extravagant statements as to what had been done under the Electoral Act. No honorable member on the Government side has taken the press to book for the way the general public was maligned on that occasion; but when, in the face of evidence we possess as to what can be done under the postal-voting system, we ask for safeguards, we are accused of being afraid to trust the people. We are not afraid to trust the people. So much was said about the likelihood of depriving the sick and invalid’ of a vote by the abolition of the postal vote, that the Fisher Government agreed to establish polling booths in the hospitals. Such a booth was established in- the North Adelaide Hospital, a private institution, which a workman could not enter, except at a risk of plunging himself into debt so deeply that he might never be able to get out of debt again.
But at the Adelaide Hospital, which probably contained many who would vote for Labour, the State Government, which represented the Fusion crowd, refused to permit a polling booth to be established. Yet we are told that the Labour party would not allow the sick to vote. It is even suggested that we are restricting the franchise, although, as a matter of fact, the Constitution declares what shall be the franchise for the Commonwealth Parliament, and there can be no restriction of it without an’ amendment of the Constitution itself. The sole question at issue, therefore, is whether there is any attempt to restrict the exercise of the franchise. My contention is that the Fisher Government did everything in its power to facilitate the exercise of the franchise by the people. At the last general election, to which the Act, as amended by the Labour Government, applied, the percentage of voters was larger than ever before. The Prime Minister has told us that, according to Mr. Knibbs, at the last general election there were on the rolls 175,216 names which should not have been there. That represents, approximately, 6 per cent., and, allowing for that percentage, we find that, according to the Senate returns, 79 per cent, of the electors voted. In these circumstances, it cannot be said that many were deprived of the right to vote. In the last analysis it would probably be found that those who were actually deprived of the vote were persons whose votes could not possibly have been obtained under any circumstances. Seeing that 73.66 per cent, of the electors on the roll, or, allowing for the number which, according to Mr. Knibbs, should not have been enrolled, 79 per cent., exercised the franchise at the last election, at which the Fusion party was returned with a majority of one, how can it be said that the exercise of the franchise has been restricted in any way by” the Labour party ? Newspapers and supporters of the Fusion party made wild statements as to alleged malpractice’s at the last general election, but they were not prepared to prove their assertions. They have not been prepared with evidence to support a successful prosecution. In my own State there were one or two convictions in cases which showed that new citizens - immigrants - had, perhaps, been more enthusiastic than discreet, and had secured enrolment a few days before coming of age. They were evidently enthusiastic in the desire to become citizens of the Commonwealth, and to exercise the rights of citizenship. The honorable member for Hume has said that the greatest outcry against the postal-vote system has come from representatives of the city constituencies. When he made that statement I interjected that the greatest number of postal votes were recorded in city constituencies. The actual figures bear out my statement, and go to show that the argument that the system facilitates the exercise of the franchise by those who are far removed from the polling booth has no substantial foundation. Let us look at the figures in respect of the general election of 1910, when the postalvote system was in operation. In the electorate of Adelaide, which is commonly called “ the square mile,” although it covers a little more, since it crosses the Torrens, there were 340 postal ballotpapers issued, while in Boothby, another metropolitan constituency there were 276. On the other hand, in Wakefield, which comprises the mid-northern area of the State, and covers a wide extent of country, only 286 postal votes, or ten more than were recorded in the metropolitan constituency of Boothby, were polled. In the electorate of Barker, which runs from Mount Gambier, in the south-east, to Glenelg, within 7 miles of Adelaide, and which covers a wide tract of country, 299 postal votes were recorded, as against 340 in the congested city constituency of Adelaide. These figures go to show that the system is largely availed of by those whom it was not designed to help. It is hard to prove the existence of these abuses, but it is as plain as a pike-staff that they do exist. The figures I have quoted support my contention. In the electorate of Brisbane, at the 1910 election, 620 postal ballot-papers were issued, whilst in the vast country electorate of Maranoa there were only 146. Yet honorable members opposite tell us that representatives of city constituencies should not complain of the operation of this system. If there are in the cities people who are too lazy to go to a polling place–
– The voting by post system is impracticable in country districts unless organizers go round with the postal-vote certificates.
– I am rather in favour of the postal-vote system if proper safeguards be provided. On this occasion, however, we are asked, not to accept, but to reject, a proposal to re-introduce the system. The Age put the position very clearly- this morning. The Government wish us to vote against this Bill. . They wish us to reject it so that they may ask the Governor-General for a dissolution. The honorable member for Hume spoke of the Democracy of Australia, and I am proud to know that we represent the democratic section of Australia, and represent the Democracy, if the honorable member likes, with a capital D. To return to the figures as to the postal voting in 1910, I find that in Maranoa only 146 postal ballot-papers were issued, although the electorate is a widely scattered one, whereas in the city constituency of Brisbane there were 620. Does this not prove that advantage was taken of the system iu a way that was not intended by the framers of the Act? Coming to Victoria, I find that in Melbourne 397 postal ballot-papers were issued, while in the rural electorate of Echuca, 414, or only seventeen more than in the city electorate, were issued. In Maribyrnong, which also comprises a thicklypopulated area, 527 postal ballot-papers were issued, as against only 480 in the country electorate of Corio. The same sort of thing obtains throughout the list. It is hard, however, to induce people to come forward to support prosecutions for au abuse of the postal-vote system. According to this morning’s newspapers, a representative of the Typothetae gave evidence before the Inter-State Commission yesterday that it was most difficult to induce members of that organization to give evidence. They cannot be induced to come forward to give evidence which is really necessary to show in what respect the printing industry needs to be stimulated. That being so, how can we expect persons having no direct interest in the matter to be prepared to give evidence regarding the abuse of the postalvote system ? Many persons may know that the system is abused, yet not be prepared to make a criminal of a man who has violated it. The figures I have quoted are sufficient, I think, to show that the system was abused in 1910. I hope that politics are becoming cleaner in Australia, and I should not fear the postal-vote system to-day to the extent that I would have done a few years ago. The organization of the two parties is so complete that I do not think there could be anything like the same abuse of the system. The honorable member for Boothby has indicated his intention to move certain amendments to bring this measure into line with the South Australian Act. We have in that Act the best safeguards yet devised. It provides that if a woman has reason to believe that on polling day she will not be able to go to a polling booth, she may go to a post-office, and there record her vote by post. In most country places the residents can once in three years make it their business, if likely to be incapacitated on polling day, to go to the post-office in advance to record their votes. The votingpaper that would be used in such a case would be a long slip of paper, which the elector would have to show to the postmaster, so that he might see that it had not previously been used. The elector would then turn away, and write down the name of the candidate for whom he intended to vote, sealing the paper up, attaching his name, his electoral division, and his address; and, having- had the postmark stamped on it, could put it into the letter-box himself. Under this system, there would be no possibility of interference by any partisan or agent. I do not deny the existence of political partisans. I hope that our supporters will always be party men. Should partisan enthusiasm weaken, our party would be unmade. I trust that the proposals of the honorable member for Boothby will be accepted by the Government. If they are, I shall not feel as much distrust about the efficiency of this measure as I must otherwise feel. The honorable member for Werriwa alluded to the number of unionists that we represent. I would inform him that it is not only unionists that we represent, but all the electors who have voted for us. If we represented only unionists, we should stand in a parochial light, such as the honorable member for Werriwa always appears in when addressing this House. Another member of the Liberal party has told us that we should have some consideration for the poor; that the rich can use motor cars to get to the polling booths. To twit members of the Labour party with want of consideration for the poor was surely irony. Honorable members opposite know that if it were not for them we should have no poor.
– If it were not for us, the poor would be dead, I suppose.
– No; there would be no poor, because all would be happy and smiling. Australia would no longer have to buy immigrants, and the earth would be a place worth living on. To twit us with a want of commiseration with the poor is so puerile an argument as to be laughable. Never can the Labour party be accused of the desire to inflict hardship on any section of the community in respect of either industrial conditions, social conditions, or electoral conditions. Our aim has always been to pass laws for improving the conditions of the people. By having the best conceivable Electoral Act, honestly administered, we shall get the best Parliament. I hope that in Committee the Government will be amenable to reason, and will consent to the insertion in the Bill of amendments safeguarding the exercise of the postal vote.
.- I do not suppose that any Liberal is anxious to speak, but if there be any man on the opposite side desirous of speaking, I shall sit down. The Attorney-General having appeared on the scene, I have a few observations to make regarding the aim of the Bill. As far back as August of last year, ‘a well-informed journalist mentioned that it was the intention of the Government to introduce two short test Bills, of one or two clauses each, in order to secure a double dissolution upon their rejection by the Senate. The Prime Minister the other day got the. surprise of his life because of the treatment given to one of these Bills, and said that within a few hours he would approach the Governor-General to ask for a double dissolution. We thought that honorable members opposite were in earnest; but, after holding a Caucus meeting, they decided that they would not push matters, and would wait until this other test Bill had gone through. This Bill is going through, I hope, with certain necessary amendments. Why does the Government propose to amend the electoral law? It is because, finding themselves after the last election with a majority of only one in this House, Ministers came to the conclusion that there must be something radically wrong in our electoral system. Accordingly, they made all sorts of accusations against the electors, and alleged that the electoral system was defective. But the only man of any political importance who has admitted that he broke the electoral law is a Liberal- ex-Sena to1Chataway. He stated before the Electoral. Commission that on polling day he entered fourteen polling booths. The Act says -
No candidate shall in any way take part in the conduct of an election; and no one, other than the presiding officer, the poll clerks, doorkeepers, and scrutineers, and the electors voting and about to vote, shall be permitted to enter or remain in the polling booth during the polling except by permission of the presiding officer.
How did ex-Senator Chataway get permission to enter fourteen different polling booths? He stated that he voted in one booth for the Senate, in another for the House of Representatives, and in another on the referendum. How did he manage to do that?
– The conduct of the elections was controlled by the Labour party.
– The facts only show how difficult it is for any Government to get an election properly carried out. I am glad that the Prime Minister is now going to give me the benefit of his attention. Ex-Senator Chataway also said that he had got several sets of official ballot-papers, and had taken them to his office. An elector has no right to take any ballot-paper out of the polling booth. How did ex-Senator Chataway get these papers from the Returning Officers?
– He did not say that he had got them from the Returning Officers.
– When he approached the first Returning Officer he must have been asked his name and number on the roll, and when he had been given his set of ballot-papers his name must have been ticked off. Intending to vote only for the House of Representatives, he should have returned the Senate and referendum papers.
– He did not get them.
– Did he tell the Returning Officer that he wanted a ballot-paper for the House of Representatives only ?
– He did say that, and got the ballot-paper that he asked for.
– The members of the Electoral Commission should have asked for the names of the Returning Officers whose booths the ex-senator visited, who, I venture to think, were not carrying out their duties properly. One of the reasons given for the introduction of the Amending Electoral Bill was that many more persons voted than were thought to have the right to vote, and that there had been a duplication of votes. If exSenator Chataway voted before three different Returning Officers his name must have been ticked on three different rolls. But the amending Bill that was introduced last year has, for some reason of which I am not aware, been abandoned by the Government. We have shown today that when the Government bring d’own measures of which wo can approve, we are willing that they shall pass. Two second-reading speeches were made this morning, and leave was granted for the introduction of two Bills. Apparently the Government abandoned the amending Electoral Bill and introduced the Bill now before us because Ministers would not tolerate any interference with their proposals. That surely is wrong. The thirty-seven representatives on this side are entitled to the consideration of their proposals. Last session we passed the Norfolk Island Bill, the Pine Creek to Katherine River Railway Bill-
– The Audit Bill.
– The Audit Bill did not get through Parliament.
– This House passed it; but the Government, notwithstanding the passing of these measures, object to any interference, and insist on introducing two test Bills for the purpose of obtaining a double dissolution. I agree with the honorable member who said that as Parliament was returned for three years it ought - to use a word I have heard - to “function” for that period. I remember that word, because an objection was taken to the honorable member for West Sydney being a member of the Wharf Labourers Union by some one who said that he did not “ function “ as a wharf labourer. However, the case has been put very clearly by a well-known critic, who says that the attempt of the Government to make an issue is -
Hollow and unsubstantial, simply because the principle of postal voting is not in dispute between the parties, and because the Labour party contest the Bill only on the ground that they believe- the system^ when re-established, ought to be surrounded with safeguards against dishonesty.
– I know where the honorable member got that from - the Age.
– Yes, it is from the Age of 3rd June.
– The Age is a great deal kinder to the Labour party nowadays than it is to us.
– That is because the Prime Minister and his supporters have forsaken their pledges. The Age is, above everything, a Protectionist paper; and, as the Prime Minister’s Victorian followers have, as I say, forsaken their pledges, it looks to the National Labour party to give Protection. I wish to assist the Prime Minister in his desire to get to Government House, but I have the right to say that we are in favour of postal voting if it be properly protected. It seems to me that the greatest defect in the system is that the canvasser, under the Act, is an authorized witness, and he may take charge of the ballot-paper for posting purposes. Some one asked for an illustration of wrong-doing in this connexion, and I may say that at Coleraine a Mr. Lesser, who is a justice of the peace, a storekeeper, and, I suppose, a Liberal, was prosecuted for an infringement of the Act. It transpired, from inquiries made by a constable, that Mr. Lesser had asked no fewer than eleven healthy young women, who lived within 300 or 500 yards of a polling booth, to use the postal votes, and collected the papers from them. That is the sort of thing we wish to stop; and we suggest that the Act should be amended so as to provide that the authorized witnesses shall be permanent employes in the Commonwealth or State Service, or even municipal officers. If that were done, there would be no objection on the part of the Labour party to postal voting.
.- I do not think that such a Bill has ever before been introduced in a Parliament of this kind. It does not explain itself, and I am sure that no one on looking at it could understand it. It sets forth that, “Sections 3, 4, 14, 23, 35, and 38” of the Act of 1911 are repealed; but when we look at that Act we find that the sections mentioned are not there, for the simple reason that they had been repealed previously. Section 14, which is the bone of contention, is represented in that Act by a row of stars, so that by the Bill before us we are asked to repeal stars. Honorable members opposite who have been quoting sections which they believe to be in existence, have really quoted clauses in the Bill which was introduced last year and abandoned. What is the history of postal voting ? Those who have been in this House since 1901 will remember that voting by post was introduced in the first Electoral Act. Prior to that, the system had been introduced in South Australia in 1896, in Western Australia in 1899, and in Victoria in 1900; but in the Commonwealth Act the sections were adopted only from the Acts of South Australia and Western Australia. In the Act of 1909, to the part devoted to voting by post, we find the following foot-note: -
The whole of Part X of Act No. 19, 1902, as amended by Act No. 26, 1905, is repealed by Act No. 19, 1909, s. 18, and this Part is substituted in lieu thereof
The postal-voting provisions have been amended in every Electoral Bill introduced. Postal voting was first instituted in 1902, and the sections were amended in 1905, 1909, and 1911; and I ask honorable members opposite to give another instance of any measure passed in this or any other Parliament that has been so chopped about.
– There are very few cases where so much effort has been spent to perfect a measure.
– The measure was perfected by some honorable members, and, of course, the people were becoming more used to voting by post. We have been told by the honorable member for Kooyong that postal voting is not only for the infirm, but for business people. J remind the honorable member that if business people are able to get about, they can go to a polling booth, and the. absent vote is provided for them. No evidence has been produced that the absent voting provisions were abused at the last election. The Honorary Minister, when introducing the amending Bill last year, said that some 80,000 persons had been deprived of their votes in the absence of voting by post, and he, at the same time, told us that voting by post was not safe. However, as a matter of fact, there have never been more than 30,000 postal votes at any election. In 1910 there were 29,249 postal votes returned; but the danger lies, not in the ballot-papers re turned, but in those that are kept back. Let the Honorary Minister ask his own officers as to the number of postal ballotpapers that are missing. Most honorable members have had experience as scrutineers, and have otherwise assisted at elections, and they know that the utmost care is taken to account for every ballot-paper provided. In the case of voting by post, however, there are many ballot-papers never returned. In 1910 there were 36,820 postal ballot-papers issued, and only 29,249 returned and counted. There were, however, 2,000 returned after the close of the poll, and too late to be counted ; but there were 5,445 never returned at all. No trace of these ballotpapers can be found; and it is admitted by the electoral officials that 15 per Gent, are missing.
– It may be that the votes were never exercised.
– It may be, but I know 6f a case where a woman, ill in bed, desired to vote, and the doctor who was attending her declined to witness the ballotpaper because she insisted in voting in a certain way. However, the woman got some one else as witness; and I ask how we can be sure that if the doctor had witnessed the ballot-paper, it would ever have been sent back to the Returning Officer. At the election of 1913 the Federal Government offered to make every hospital in the Commonwealth a polling booth ; but the Victorian Liberal MurrayWatt Government refused to allow that to be done.
– The State Government have not absolute control of the whole of the hospitals.
– Word was sent to every hospital by the Commonwealth Electoral authorities as to the desire of the Government, but at one hospital the secretary told the Committee that the Victorian State Government had written urging them to refuse the application. The Victorian Government sent word to every hospital committee, urging them to refuse to permit a polling booth to be established.
– I do not think that is right. The privilege was granted by many hospitals in Victoria.
– I am glad to hear it, but I do not know of any.
– If it is a good thing to give patients in hospitals the right to vote, why do you object to giving the postal vote to sick people who are not in hospitals?
– Because it means handing the matter over to irresponsible people. In his speech last session the Honorary Minister said that the postal vote was not amply safeguarded.
– I said that the first of the offenders was a Labour supporter. The first case was that of Stephen Barker, J.P.
– When the information was dragged out of the Honorary Minister lie had to admit that there was no fine imposed in that case, and that the Supreme Court held that the magistrate had given a wrong decision. What has the Honorary Minister to say about Mr. Lesser, of Coleraine, who ought to be in gaol for fraudulently using the postal vote, or about Mrs. Humble, of Geelong, a member of the Australian Women’s National League, who, I believe, was fined for some other offence in 1906. Honorable members claim that the postal vote will be of great advantage to people in the country districts. I have the official return issued by the Electoral Office of the last occasion on which the postal vote was in operation. There were the following votes recorded in the different States -
It will be seen that in regard to absent voting the percentage of electors to the population of the States was fair, but we find a different state of affairs in regard to voting by post.
– To what vote are you referring?
– To the 1911 vote on the referenda. Victoria is the most densely populated State, and has more polling booths to the square mile than any other part of Australia, yet this State polled 54 per cent, of all the postal votes recorded in Australia. Now let us see whether these votes were polled in the country or in the town. In New South Wales the highest number of postal votes recorded was in North Sydney. Is there likely to be more ill-health in North Sydney than in South Sydney? Yet 310 postal vote3 were recorded in North Sydney as compared with 19 recorded in South Sydney. In Victoria, at the 1911 referenda poll, there were 3,028 postal votes recorded in the three city constituencies of Balaclava, Fawkner, and Kooyong, as compared with 2,048 postal votes recorded in the six Labour electorates of Batman, Bourke, Yarra, Melbourne, Melbourne Ports, and Maribyrnong. There were 876 in Balaclava, 926 in Fawkner, and 1,226 in Kooyong. In the last-named electorate 4.4 per cent, of the people voted by post.
– Do you say that it is wrong for people to take advantage of a privilege the law gives?
– If honorable members desire this privilege for the country electorates alone, they can have it; but they are not country electorates that I have quoted.
– We desire it for all the electorates.
– The honorable member is honest enough to admit that he is anxious for these provisions for town and country, and they are used far more extensively in the city electorates. But when he goes to his electorate he will not say that he has urged the privilege for the town people as well as the country people.
– Why discriminate between the country and the city?
– Persons have to be more than 5 miles away before they can apply for a postal vote.
– Not in the case of sickness or illness.
– I shall speak directly in regard to sickness and illness, and to the maternal duty that the Argus spoke of on Monday last. The honorable member for Hume also spoke this afternoon in some high-flown language about the women of the country. I shall show the birth rate in the districts which mostly use the postal votes.
– They get more “buds from heaven “ down my way than in Kooyong.
– I shall compare the honorable member’s electorate with such places as St. Kilda and Brighton. We were told by the Argus on Monday that “ by denying the vote to women laid aside by maternal duty that party sought to diminish the following of its opponents,” but in those electorates where they make most use of the postal vote the birth rate is twenty per thousand, as compared with thirty-six per thousand in Footscray. If honorable members claim that the postal vote is used on account of ill-health, can they say that there is more illhealth in Kooyong than in the electorate of Yarra? Do the conditions under which the people of Kooyong live compare less favorably with those under which people live on the other side of the Yarra in the district that I happen to represent? Every honorable member knows that the conditions in Kooyong are far more favorable than those in the Yarra electorate. Whereas about 4 per cent, voted by post in the electorates of Kooyong, Balaclava, and Fawkner, only 1.6 per cent, voted by post in the Labour constituencies of Batman, Bourke, Maribyrnong, Melbourne, Melbourne Ports, and Yarra. More than 5 per cent, of the electors of Ballarat voted by post in 1911, and at that time Ballarat was a compact electorate. Will honorable members say’ that it is right to have a system of voting whereby 15 per cent, of the ballot-papers could go astray, as was the case in the 1910 election? The officials admit that there is no means of tracing 15 per cent, of the postal ballotpapers issued at that election. This statement is taken from official figures given in a return prepared to the order of Senator McColl, and laid on the table of the Senate in 1910. Fifteen per cent, of the votes were not returned. Honorable members will understand that once a man applies for a postal-voting certificate he cannot get an ordinary ballotpaper without handing up the postalvoting certificate. Every presiding officer asks, “ Have you applied for a postal-vote certificate ? Have you voted anywhere else in connexion with this election?” If any postal ballot-papers were returned in that way, they would have been credited by the officials and checked off, but in Ballarat at the 1911 Referendum 5 per cent, of the people voted by post - 1,009 out of 17,023.
– And there were about 150 votes not accounted for?
– These .votes do go astray, because it is known that partisans can witness ballot-papers, and, having done that, can destroy them if the votes are not to their liking. Honorable members opposite speak about the women desiring to vote. In some electorates nearly as many men as women voted by post, and those men could have utilized the absent vote. The marvellous unanimity of the postal vote is a feature’ that strikes one all along. I find, in connexion with the referenda, that in Kooyong there were 1,115 cast in a certain direction in reference to one proposal, and 1,114 cast in the same direction in reference to another proposal. Right through the whole of the divisions the same thing applied; but there was nothing quite like those figures for Kooyong, where the postal voters were all so well-tutored, or had the votes made out for them.
– Your objection is that more voted Liberal than voted Labour.
– I have never said anything of the kind. I guarantee that in my electorate I will get far more postal votes than are recorded against me, and I always have done; but, naturally, if one is getting three or four votes to every one that his opponent receives, he is likely to get a majority, even of postal votes. Honorable members argue that the postal vote is for the benefit of the country constituencies. Is it not wonderful that all the big postal votes are recorded in the towns? The metropolitan constituencies of Balaclava, Fawkner, and Kooyong recorded more postal votes than any half-dozen country places. In New South Wales, North Sydney, which is not a country electorate, topped the list with 310 postal votes, whilst Cowper, a country electorate, had only 25. In Queenlsand, Brisbane, the city electorate, recorded 1,069 postal votes out of a total poll of 18,962; and Kennedy, an electorate twice the size of Victoria, 166 postal votes out of a total poll of 10,774.
– How many did not vote at all? They are not accustomed to the system.
– It has been in existence for twelve years.
– What is the total percentage of votes recorded in Kennedy?
– The percentage of votes recorded to enrolment was 46.
– That is very low.
– It was lower during the 1911 vote than in the elections of 1910 or 1913. There was a smaller average vote in 1911 than there was afterwards. The only country electorate that used the postal vote more than the city electorates was Swan, in Western Australia, but the total for Swan, which was the highest in the State, was only a few greater than Perth. In all the other States it was the city and town electorates which used the postal vote most. Honorable members on the Government side are always sneering at the town electorates, and saying they are only as big as pocket handkerchiefs or counterpanes, and they desire to disfranchise the people who dwell in the towns. The honorable member for Hume said this afternoon that the postal vote was of great advantage to women, who, on account of child-birth, were unable to attend a polling booth to record their votes. I have already said that the birth rate was higher in the districts which had the lowest percentage of postal votes than in the constituency of Kooyong. What is the position in regard to the birth rate? In Malvern, Camberwell, and Hawthorn - which are in the Kooying electorate - and in St. Kilda, Balaclava, and Brighton - Henty electorate - and all of these are Liberal electorates - there is a population of 96,730. The number of births, according to the Statistical Register of Victoria, during the year 1912, was 2,096, and the birth rate is only 21 per 1,000. In Richmond, in the Yarra electorate; Brunswick, in the Bourke electorate; and Footscray, in the Melbourne Ports electorate - these are Labour electorates - with a population of 99,570, the number of births was 3,129, and the average 31 per 1,000. In other words, the birth rate in the working-class suburbs was 50 per cent, higher than in the aristocratic districts. It is not the working classes, as exPresident Roosevelt said, that, are going in for race suicide. Is it not the idle rich who are doing that?
– That is a cruel thing to say.
– No; it is not. The figures speak for themselves. The adult population in those aristocratic suburbs is higher than in the workingclass districts I have mentioned. In the latter there is a large population of chil dren, yet the birth rate in Richmond was 29.33 per thousand; in Brunswick, 29.47; and in Northcote, 32.70.
– How do the far-back rural constituencies compare?
– The average for the metropolis is 27.48, for the urban places like Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, and Warrnambool, 33, and for the rural districts, 22 per thousand. That is how the far-back rural places compare.
– A lot of the country people come into the towns.
– I know they do. Then where is the argument of honorable members opposite, if the country people come into the towns ? The birth rate in Footscray was 37.53, and in Fitzroy, 28.42 - these are all in Labour electorates, which do not use the postal vote- as compared with St. Kilda, 23.69; Brighton, 29.61; Hawthorn, 19.86; Malvern, 22; and Camberwell, 19.85, the electorates which used the postal vote extensively.
– You are over-proving your case.
– No, I am not. I am showing that the birth rate is 31 per thousand in the working places, whilst in the’ districts represented by my honorable friends opposite, who say that they desire to restore the postal vote for the benefit of women who are performing the highest function of their sex, the rate is 50 per cent, lower.
– You must remember that the electors have to travel longer distances in the rural electorates.
– I have surely proved that the postal vote was not exercised in the rural constituencies to the same extent as in the towns and cities. In Yarra, where the birth rate was about 30 per thousand, 181 persons used the postal vote in connexion with the 1911 referenda. In Kooyong, with a birth rate of only about 20 per thousand, 1,226 persons used the postal vote. In other words, more than six times as many people voted by post in that district compared with an electorate where the birth rate was 50 per cent, higher. Where, then, is the argument of honorable members that the vote was taken by the Labour party away from women when they are performing their highest function?
– Suppose you prove your figures, you do not then prove that there was any illegal use of the vote.
– If the argument for the postal vote is that it is required by mothers at the period when they are unable to get to the polling booth, surely we as a party would be doing ourselves an injury by taking away that vote. For instance, we know that in the constituency represented by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports the birth-rate is 50 per cent. higher than in the constituency of Kooyong. We know that the postal vote was abused, as was admitted by the Honorary Minister, and that it was used by people whom the Act never intended to use it. The adult population is higher in the electorates of Kooyong and Henty than in such electorates as Melbourne, Yarra, Batman, or Bourke, yet the latter are the places where the birth-rate is highest. These figures prove that the arguments of honorable members on the Government side are not correct. They profess to be desirous of extending the franchise, but in State politics which is the party that restricts the franchise of the Legislative Councils ? Is it not known by every honorable member that less than one-third of the persons who are enfranchised for the Federal Parliament are enfranchised for the Legislative Council of Victoria? Yet has any Liberal stood up and advocated the liberalization of the Upper House franchise in any of the States ?
– The present AttorneyGeneral has done more to liberalize the franchise than any other person.
– The Attorney-General has a great record in regard to the enfranchisement of the people! He has done more to restrict the franchise than has any man in politics to-day. I regret that he is not in the chamber. If he were I should have more to say about him in this regard. Honorable members opposite profess to be in favour of extending the franchise, but they cannot point to a speech made by any member of their party in favour of extending the franchise for the Legislative Council of’ Victoria. They complain of the composition of the Senate, where we have twenty-nine members of the Labour party as against seven Liberals. They say that the Constitution needs to be amended, and that the people are not properly represented in that Chamber. But have they ever said a word in favour of broadening the franchise for the Victorian Legislative Council, where there are thirty Liberals to four members of the Labour party? The honorable member for Melbourne conclusively proved last night that members of the Liberal party in State politics have always blocked the way to the reform of the Victorian Legislative Council, and that they will continue to do so until the State Labour party becomes strong enough to assert itself.
– Who framed the Commonwealth Constitution? Did the Labour party have anything to do with it?
– There was only one Labour man in the Convention. The rest of the delegates were anti-Labourites.
– And they gave us the present franchise.
– They did not. As those who were in the first Federal Parliament know, the franchise for this Parliament was fixed by the Parliament itself.
– What nonsense!
– The honorable member was not a member of the first Federal Parliament. At that time he was being tossed out of politics in Western Australia. This Parliament determined the franchise.
– But the Federal Convention framed the Constitution which enabled the widest possible franchise to be given.
– This Parliament framed the franchise.
– Under the Constitution.
– There are so many interjections that it is difficult to follow the honorable member who is addressing the Chair. I ask honorable members to cease interjecting.
– It would be a good thing, sir, if some of the interjectors opposite were put out. It would teach them a lesson. It cannot be denied that the franchise for this Parliament was fixed by the Parliament itself. At the first general election for the Commonwealth there was only one State - that of South Australia - in which females were allowed to vote. The first Parliament of the
Commonwealth, however, deliberately extended the franchise to all adults, and increased the facilities for voting. In conclusion, I wish only to say that the Bill is so drafted that no layman, looking at it, could understand what it means. It professes, first of all, by one word to do away with a blank in the Act of 1911, and to restore no fewer than four pages of legislation relating to the postal vote, providing only the safeguards which a member of the present Ministry has admitted were quite ineffective, and proved disastrous when previously applied. That is what the Government are proposing, not for the good of the country, but for a purely party purpose. It is admitted by them that this Bill has been introduced solely for a party purpose, and I feel sure that but for that fact they would be prepared to listen to proposals brought forward by us to render it a more perfect piece of legislation.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker-
– Why this “stonewall”?
– When the supporters of the Government refrain from occupying the time of the House, they are accused of a conspiracy of silence; and when they rise to speak, they are charged with “ stone-walling.” The measure before the House goes much further than many honorable members appear to imagine. . It is somewhat remarkable that, .whilst honorable members opposite profess a great anxiety to extend the franchise, they are fertile in objections to a measure having for its object the extension of facilities for the exercise of the franchise. I am not going to say that the Bill is perfect, but- it will at least bring” us up to the position which existed in this respect between 1901 and 1910. Having regard to the result of the elections held from time to time during that period, it is difficult to understand why the Opposition should oppose this measure. It was at the general election of 1910, to which this system of postal . voting applied, that Labour achieved its greatest success. The honorable member for Yarra and the honorable member for Oxley have quoted certain statistics as to the percentage of postal votes cast, but it is worthy of note that the figures they submitted related in every case to the referenda, and not to the general election of 1910. To me the figures relating to the referenda in 1911 are easily explainable. We are all aware that the supporters of the Labour party were by no means unanimous as to the wisdom of proposed amendments of the Constitution, whereas the Liberal party of Australia were united in their opposition to them.
– All the Liberal voters 1
– Yes. In these circumstances, the poll was very largely a Liberal one. The proposed amendments of the Constitution as put forward by the Labour party were defeated by something like 250,000 votes. Many supporters of Labour absolutely refused to vote. For that reason, the percentage of persons who made use of the postal-vote system in Labour constituencies was comparatively small; whereas in the Liberal constituencies, the Liberals having decided to vote against the proposed amendments of the Constitution, there was a much larger percentage of ballot-papers issued. It will be found that at the 1910 election the percentage of postal votes recorded in Labour constituencies was larger than that in the case of Liberal constituencies. A great deal of attention has been given to the use of the postal-vote system in the electorate of Kooyong. But, as the representative of that electorate pointed out this’ morning, the number of postal ballotpapers issued there in 1910 was less than in many other constituencies within the metropolitan area. In the electorate of Bourke, for instance, 925 postal ballotpapers were issued, whilst in Kooyong there were only 849.
– What is the explanation 1
– According to the honorable member for Oxley, the man who had the most money to spend got the most postal votes. We must apply that explanation to the other side.
– The honorable member for Bourke has a lot of money !
– The argument is not mine, but that of the honorable member for Oxley. Coming to the rural constituencies, we find that at the general election in 1910, 1,122 postal ballot-papers, were issued in the electorate of Wannon, which, so far as Victoria is concerned, was second only to Ballarat in this respect. On .that occasion, the Labour candidate, Mr. McDougall, was successful in the fight for the Wannon seat. These figures dispose of the contention that the postal-vote system is of greater service to one section of the community than it is to another. I hold that we a should be prepared to adopt any amendment of the Act which will increase the facilities for voting.
– Subject, of course,- to proper safeguards.
– The honorable member’s reference to safeguards reminds me that under the Electoral Act of 1911, which was passed by the Fisher Government, it was provided that any elector who had reason to believe that he would be out of Australia on polling day should be at liberty to vote at any time after the issue of the writs.
– Before whom ?
– Before an Electoral Registrar. Under that Act it was not even necessary, in such circumstances, for a ballot-paper to be issued. The elector had merely to enter an Electoral Registrar’s office, state that he was on the roll for such-and-such a constituency, and, without furnishing any proof of his statement, he was allowed to vote.
– Just as he would do on polling day.
– Quite so. I am not objecting to the provision. All that I contend is that if it was right to make that provision for the exercise of the franchise by one section of the’ community - by people who were going out of Australia, many of them, never to come back again - surely it is fair to provide for the exercise of the franchise by taxpayers who are remaining in Australia but who, because of sickness or infirmity, cannot go to a polling booth.
– We agree with that idea, provided that the voting takes place before such an officer as an Electoral Registrar.
– That provision was not inserted for the benefit of people permanently leaving Australia.
– I am not speaking of what was intended, but I have no hesitation in saying that some of the first votes which I received were cast by persons leaving Australia, who, although they intended to return, have not done so, but have taken up their abode in another part of the world. Honorable members opposite made it possible for any amount of fraud to take place. I do not say that there was fraud. This Government is proposing an amendment of the law which widens the franchise for those who live in the country, and at the same time necessary safeguards are provided. Honorable members opposite provided no safeguards. No doubt it suited them to pass the legislation that they did, and to benefit certain sections of the community. I desire that the amendment now proposed shall become law, because it will make it easier for the primary producers, especially those who live in remote and rough parts of the country, to record their votes. The constituency which I have the honour to represent covers a fifth of the area of Victoria, and is probably the most rugged and mountainous in Australia.
– And the most neglected by the State.
– I am not now discussing State matters. The State Government and Parliament are able to deal with State affairs.
– Things would be worse if the Labour party got into power.
– Yes. _ The first thing that the Labour party did last Parliament was to repeal certain sections of the Electoral Act of 1909, and thus preventing a large number of electors from voting at the election of 1913. Last session the Government submitted an amending Electoral Bill, but the opposition to it was so great, the talk lasting for weeks, that it had “to be abandoned, notwithstanding that the Attorney-General had promised the fullest consideration for amendments in Committee. Then the short amending Bill, which we have now before us, was brought in. The honorable member for Melbourne yesterday mentioned incidents which reflected no credit on those concerned in them. But the electoral law was amended after the Committee whose report he quoted had made its recommendations.
– Yes, and in consequence of them. Furthermore, the amendments were accepted by the Labour party, which was satisfied then with the postal vote.
– Serious penalties were provided for any breach of the law, and care was taken to prevent fraud. I have been closely connected with elections for many years, and I cannot cite an instance of undue or improper use of the postal vote in either State or Commonwealth elections. It is an insult to the honesty and intelligence of the community to suggest that our people areso weak-minded that they could be influenced to vote against their convictions, or so dishonest that they would attempt to use improper influence. Honorable members opposite, when it suits them, accuse their opponents of slandering the country, but they do not hesitate to slander it themselves. The restoration of the postal vote will give to electors in remote places facilities for the exercise of the franchise, of which they were deprived by the Labour party, and in a democratic community every elector should have an opportunity to vote. The honorable member for Bendigo recognises the need for amending the law in this direction, though he opposes the proposal of the Government.
– We wish to propose another amendment.
– I maintain that the Government is doing the right thing. The Bill may not be perfect, but it will make the electoral law better than it is now, and I hope that it will soon be placed on the statute-book.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I ask for a quorum. [Quorum formed.]
Clause 1 -
This Act may be cited as the Postal Voting Restoration Act 1913.
– I do not know why this measure should be cited as the “ Postal Voting Restoration Act 1913,” seeing that this year is 1914.
– A Bill may be postdated.
– The first year of the Hegira might be used in the title.
– The honorable member was away when the Bill was introduced.
– That may account for my not knowing the reason for dating the Bill 1913. My impression is that the Bill of 1913 disappeared when this Chamber refused to accept the amendments made in it by the Senate. I do not know who is to blame for this evident error in regard to the date.
– It is not an error; it is intentional.
– I see; this is a test Bill, and must be a copy in every particular of the Bill introduced last session. This shows that the Government do not introduce the Bill to give the postal vote, but only to bring about a double dissolution. Why did the Government not date last year’s Bill 1912 instead of 1913 ? I am not surprised, however, to find this Ministry a year behind the times; but the plan adopted will be very misleading in the future to people who desire to look up the legislation of the present year. Further, there is the absurdity that, while the Bill itself is indorsed as having been read for the first time on the 29th May of this year, it is to be cited as an Act of last year.
– It was read a first time this year.
– Then why cite it as an Act of last year?
– Because we like the title - it is a very good title.
– The records of every Australian Parliament might be searched in vain for a precedent of this kind.
– The Government Preference Prohibition Bill was so dated.
– And no objection was raised.
– We did not notice the fact, and we never imagined that the Government would do such a thing.
– Never mind, the Bill will become law in . 1915 !
– I do not believe that the Bill will become law by 1955, because the people have to pronounce judgment on it, and the sooner the better, especially as far as this House is concerned. It is remarkable how silent honorable members opposite were a little while ago, and how, now when there is an opportunity for the Bill to go through, they are talking against time.
– Let the Bill go through now.
– What, with this glaring anomaly in it? I agree with the old Chartists who, in their petition to Parliament, demanded universal suffrage, exemption from the corruption of the wealthy, and the violence of the powerful, and secrecy of the ballot. I suppose the Government are afraid to go to the GovernorGeneral and ask him for a double dissolution on a test measure that is not an exact copy of the measure of last year. However, I move -
That the figure “ 3 “be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the figure “ 4.”
.- I ask the Attorney-Generalwhether it would make any material difference to any purpose that he or his Government have in introducing the Bill, if the amendment were agreed to?
– We prefer the present title.
– That may be, and I have no doubt that, under the powers of Parliament, the Bill might be dated 4,000 b.c., or given the number of the beast, 666. Why say that this is to be cited as an Act of 1913, when it really, if it passes, will be an Act of 1914 ? The present title certainly makes the real object of the Bill most apparent. Does the AttorneyGeneral think that the section of the Constitution is so technical, or so devoid of substance, as to necessitate the citing of this Bill as an Act of 1913?
– Does the honorable member think it pleasant or material to suggest a double dissolution?
– I do not know whether it is pleasant to the AttorneyGeneral, but it is pleasant to me to discuss the matter, because I think the real object of the Government is emphasized by the citation. On what grounds does the Attorney-General think it necessary to date the Bill “ 1913,” when such a citation is utterly irrelevant to any part of the measure? I hope that our Constitution is not such an absurdity as to require a procedure such as this. I hope that the amendment will be carried, in order that the sincerity of the Government in introducing this Bill may be made apparent, and that it will be made, more apparent that the Bill, and that preceding it, are simply a part of a scheme to commit a fraud on the Constitution.
.- As the Government are making a desperate effort to remain on the Treasury bench, and as it is their object to stay there as long as they can, and seeing that any alteration to this clause would aid them in that object, I trust the honorable member for Ballarat will withdraw his amendment. The other day the AttorneyGeneral challenged us in a most emphatic way. He said, “ Do so-and-so, and we will show you what we shall do.” But the honorable member, when he got the opportunity, failed to do anything, and I have not the slightest doubt that if this Bill goes through in the present form he will take as little action as he took in relation to the Government Preference Prohibition Bill. I do not think that he is sincere. If I thought that he was sincere I would be anxious to see the Bill go through, but Ministers are simply marking time, and are prepared to be sat on whenever the Senate care to do so. We should not play with legislation merely to satisfy the Government. The honorable member for Bendigo has just shown that the Bill is a fraud on the Constitution. Every one knows it. The honorable member raised a very important point in asking whether an alteration from “1913” to “1914” would make any difference in the matter of obtaining a double dissolution. I do not think it will make any difference, because there is no possible hope of a double dissolution being obtained. The AttorneyGeneral will take no action so long as he gets the measure through. It is one of his pet schemes. The amendment suggested would make no difference, because later on legal gentlemen, in citing this measure, will not bother much as to whether it is dated “1913” or “1914.” In the circumstances, we might let the clause go.
.- I was going to suggest that the honorable member for Ballarat might withdraw his amendment temporarily, while I propose one. I am sure honorable members opposite would not refuse leave to withdraw the amendment.
– Try us.
– Surely after all the Opposition have done for them they would not turn us down. I cannot understand how the Attorney-General is clinging to the figures “ 1913.”
– They are lucky.
– We thought so at one time, but it was a delusion, and out of sympathy with honorable members opposite I am doing them an act of kindness in pointing out that it is not wise to adhere to them. How can an Act of Parliament passed in 1914 be designated an Act of 1913? We cannot legislate retrospectively. The Attorney-General, with all his wisdom, his marvellous concentration of mind, and ability to detect little technical details and flaws in legislative enactments or constitutional proposals, with all his skill, training, ability, circumspection, and alertness, fails on one of the simplest propositions which it is possible to conceive. He surmounts mountains, yet falls over a molehill. He fails to recognise that the present year is 1914. The Treasurer, who is usually good at figures, has also failed to perceive this error inthe title of the Bill.
– I have a suggestion to make to get over this great difficulty.
Mr.WEBSTER. - I am glad to hear that we are to receive something in the shape of a materialized idea from the AttorneyGeneral. He has been so satisfied through getting a certain Bill passed that we did not expect anything of the sort. He made a promise that when he got that Bill passed he would soon let the country know what the Government would do. He said they would act quickly. I wish him to act quickly in this regard. Knowing that it is dangerous to hold him back when he is anxious to say something, I shall be kind to him, and give him the opportunity he desires.
– It is my duty to do everything that I can to meet these great constitutional difficulties, and I desire to point out that a proposal to amend the Bill by substituting “1914” for “ 1913 “ is a little premature, because the measure may not be. passed until 1915, or 1916, or even 1917. However, I can tell honorable members what I shall do. If they allow the Bill to go through in its present form, and if it goes through another place, and is sent back to this House with an amendment from that place substituting “ 1914 “ for “ 1913,” the Government will accept it.
.- I desire to move a prior amendment.
– In that case, I ask leave to withdraw my amendment.
Honorable Members. - Object.
– I do not understand the figures 1913. I thought the Attorney-General would have been kind enough to those honorable members who entreated him to do so, to explain how it is possible for this measure to have in its title the year 1913, when it is only introduced in the year 1914.
– The honorable member for Bendigo has already told you.
– I know the AttorneyGeneralhas told us that, if another place merely alters the figures to 1914, he will accept the amendment. But why the Attorney-General should leave his work to be done by another place, I do not know. Remembering the honorable member’s past political actions, I have some suspicion that he has an intention, in regard to this title, that is likely to be disastrous to those whom I represent. It appears to me that if, when the Bill is passed under this title, it suits the AttorneyGeneral and his party, they will allow it to remain as it is; but if it does not suit them-
– They can get the GovernorGeneral to alter it.
– I believe they could even get him to do that if it suited them. Is this a case with the Government of “Heads we win, tails you lose”? I have never seen a Bill bearing a date earlier than the year in which it was introduced. When the Government can deprive honorable members of privileges, which we are supposed to have, and which are just as necessary to us as any Act, there is nothing to prevent a majority on the Government side from passing the Bill in such a form that, if it suits them, it can be accepted, and if it does not suit them, they will object to it. There seems to be some such intention on the part of the Government in putting the year 1913 in the title. As a rule, the AttorneyGeneral gives honorable members all information that is required, and I should like to know why he is so oyster-like in regard to this Bill? I do not believe that even the Government members know why 1913 appears in the title. I doubt’ if the title was ever discussed in the Liberal Caucus. It emanatedfrom the mind of the Attorney-General, who, no doubt, wondered if honorable members on that side would discover this peculiar feature of the title. There does seem to be something peculiar in using 1913 instead of 1914.
– What do you mean to insinuate? Do you mean peculiar in the drafting ?
– I do not blame those who drafted the Bill. No doubt they carried out their instructions. The idea of the Government was, I suppose, that, with a view to making this measure a means of bringing about a double dissolution, the short title should be the same as that of the Bill of last session: They might just as well have given the measure any other short title. They might equally as well have called it “ The hope to keep the Treasury Bench Bill.”
.- In these days, the people expect us to pass Bills which will be understood when they become law, without an army of lawyers being required to interpret them. I am satisfied that if this Bill is placed on the statute-book, the Court will decide that it is not properly drawn up and placed before Parliament, and on that ground it will be wiped out. I do not know whether the Attorney-General has drafted the title in this way for that purpose. When there is a Government composed of a large number of legal men, they consider that their first duty is to their own calling, and that they are bound to make as much work as possible for the legal profession. This Bill bears on the face of it the words “Read a first time, May, 1914,” and under that appears the short title “ Postal Vote Restoration Act 1913.” I cannot understand that contradiction. It does seem strange that we cannot have Bills so drafted that the outside public will be able to understand them without the aid of members of the legal profession.
Sitting suspended from 6.80 to 8 p.m.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 2 -
Sections three, four, fourteen, twenty-three, thirty-five,and thirty-eight of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1911 are repealed, and the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902-1909 which were repealed by those sections are hereby revived and re-enacted.
.- Clause 2 provides for the restoration of the system of voting by post, for which the Act of 1902-1909 provided, and which was repealed in 1911 because of the abuse to which if had been subjected. I take the view that party considerations should not be imported into the discussion of electoral questions. Our electoral machinery should be designed to give those who are entitled to vote the fullest opportunity to do so. We should divest ourselves altogether of party feeling in discussing a question of the kind. I have always held this view, believing that the electoral law is a people’s question. We cannot compel people to vote, but we should give them every facility to do so. Experience having shown that our system is not all that we could wish it to be, we should try to remedy its defects. We should profit by our experience and try to prevent the recurrence of incidents which no one can justify. Finding that the postal-voting system was abused and did not meet the real purpose for which it was designed, we abolished it. In the light of later experience we are justified in making whatever amendments may be necessary in our electoral system, but as a deliberative Assembly we ought not to restore provisions that were found to be obnoxious and unsatisfactory. Instead of a recognition of the fact that this question should be dealt with on its merits, we have had a party significance attached to it. We all know that the Bill has been introduced by the Government to secure a certain definite object. I hold that there is no justification for any party to introduce a measure of this kind merely to achieve the particular purpose that we know the Government have in view. This question affects every adult in Australia, and we should approach it as reasonable men, anxious to provide facilities for the exercise of the franchise by all who desire to do so. When this Bill was before the House last session I submitted an amendment with that object in view. It was not, however, acceptable to the Government and was rejected. The Bill has been re-introduced in its original form. Many amendments of the Electoral Act which are certainly necessary have been allowed by the Government to remain in abeyance. They have centred their attention on the question of the restoration of the postal vote. No one has a keener desire than I have that every person shall have ample opportunity to record his vote, but to resubmit a measure for the restoration of a system which has proved to be unsatisfactory, is to ask us to take a retrograde, rather than a forward, step. If the Government are prepared to meet us in our effort to arrive at a reasonable solution of the problem as to the best means of enabling the sick and the infirm to vote without, at the same time, leaving the door open to abuse, they will have my whole-hearted support, and; I think I may safely say, the support of the party with which I am identified. We are, and always have been, in favour of every opportunity being given the sick and the infirm to record their vote.
– Is that why the Labour Government repealed altogether the postal-voting provisions of the Act?
-We repealed them because they were open to abuse. We found that they were being used by many who were neither sick nor infirm.
– Only scheming.
– Quite so. We found that they were being used most freely in thickly populated centres of population, where certain persons appointed under the provisions of the Act were able to get to work in a systematic way. People who were capable of doing their daily work, when recommended to apply for postal-vote certificates in very many cases did so. Hundreds of those who availed themselves of the system were not sick. For instance, can it be said that there was a larger proportion of sick persons in Kooyong than in any other electorate ?
– The birth-rate there is the lowest.
– Yes, yet more applications were made for postal votes there than in any other electorate. Is it reasonable to believe that there were more sick people in Kooyong than in the rest of Victoria? I think not, and the fact that so many applications were made for postal-vote certificates in that electorate suggests that many who were able to go to the poll adopted the suggestion made to them that they should vote by post.
– The Labour party would cure a cold by cutting off the patient’s head.
– We sympathize with the sick and the infirm.
– Why did not the Labour party’s sympathy with them take political shape during the three years that they were in office?
– We would give the sick and the infirm every facility to vote. We cannot go back to the old system which so lent itself to abuse, but if we find that there is room for improvement, surely we should be prepared to make the necessary amendments of the law. We should devise some means of meeting the position which has since arisen even if we have to send the whole matter to a Committee. I think we ought to endeavour to provide a means of enabling the sick and infirm to vote without opening the door to any abuse of the law. With that object in view, I propose to move an amendment. It must necessarily be a lengthy one since this is practically a Bill of only one clause re-enacting a large number of sections in the Act of 1902-1909, providing for voting by post, which were repealed by the Act of 1911. My amendment is designed, as far as possible, to provide the machinery to enable the really sick and infirm to exercise the franchise. It is in two sections. I would eliminate clause 2, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following : - 1. (a) An elector who, owing to serious illness or infirmity, has reason to believe that he will not be able to record his vote at any polling place during the hours of polling on the clay of election, may, at any time after the issue of the writ, and up to within seven days preceding the day of election, make application to the Returning Officer of the Division in which he is enrolled that he be allowed to record his vote.
Commonwealth or of a State; and such persons so appointed shall and may exercise all the powers of the Presiding Officer as set forth in (b) of this clause.
Any elector who has reason to believe -
Provided that -
– The amendment is not in order. The honorable member practically proposes the insertion of a new clause. Before that can be done, clause 2 must be negatived. May, dealing with Bills in Committee, page 487, says -
Neither may an amendment bo proposed to insert words at the commencement of a clause with a view to proposing an alternative scheme to that contained in the clause, or to leave out from the first word to the end of the clause, or, in order to substitute other words, such amendments being in the nature of a new clause. In such a case the regular course is to negative the question, that the clause stand part of the Bill, and to bring up a new clause at the proper time.
– I wish to know whether we are to be ruled by May or by our own Standing Orders?
– The honorable member for Hunter intimated that his amendment would be a new clause.
– He did not. He moved the insertion of certain words. I ask whether the Standing Orders do not -permit a member of the Committee to move to insert certain words, or to leave out words, or to insert a new clause. If we are not to do this, let it be said distinctly that the Chairman is going to assist others to prevent the proper course of business. Then we shall know where we are.
– Where our Standing Orders do not expressly provide a rule, recourse must be had to May’s Par
– Our Standing Orders expressly apply in this case.
– So far as my recollection serves, it has always been the practice to negative a clause before substituting for it some other provision, and I can conceive of no other procedure as being proper. I have ruled in accordance with our Standing Orders and with May’s Parliamentary Practice asI understand the authorities to apply.
– Is it not possible to move the omission of certain words, with a view to the insertion of other words, when the amendment is relevant to the question before the Committee ?
– What is proposed to be inserted is practically a new clause. The amendment cannot be moved in substitution for the existing clause.
– I would point out that the clause differs from ordinary clauses. It does not contain any definite enactment in the ordinary sense, but repeals a number of sections of an Act, and substitutes for them already repealed sections of an earlier Act. The amendment is in order, because it is relevant to the clause, and it is not a new clause.
– I rule that the amendment is in the nature of a new clause, and therefore cannot be moved until the clause before the Chair has been negatived.
– I move -
That the Chairman’s ruling be dissented from.
My reasons for taking this step are - first, that the amendment which isnowruled out of order was moved last session and accepted; second, that it is competent for any member of the Committee to move the omission of words in a clause for the insertion of other words. To show the absurdity of the contention that the amendment is a new clause, I would point out that if the clause were- carried there would be no use for the amendment. The proposal is to amend the clause in certain respects. The proper course is to put from the Chair the question that certain words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause.
– Will the honorable member put into writing, according to the Standing Orders, his objection to the ruling?
– I have merely to dissent from your ruling; but if it is wished to waste “time, I have no objection to doing what is suggested. As I have pointed out, it is only in cases in which our Standing Orders are silent that recourse is to be had to May’s Parliamentary Practice. Standing order 128 says, speaking of amendments -
A question having been proposed may be amended (1) by leaving out certain words only, (2) by leaving out certain words, in order to insert or add other words. The Chairman ruled the amendment out of order on the ground that it is a new clause.
– The honorable member for Hunter, in moving the amendment, distinctly stated that he proposed it in substitution for the provision in the Bill.
– As I understand the amendment, it would partly amend the provisions proposed to be re-enacted, restoring the postal vote to sick persons and persons in a delicate state of health, whereas the clause, as it stands, restores the postal vote in its entirety, and allows its exercise by persons who may not be sick, but who may, on polling day, be more than 5 miles from a polling place for the division for which they are enrolled. There is a vital difference between the two proposals. I take objection to the ruling that we cannot amend this clasue I say that it can be amended so long as the amendment is relevant to the clause.
– The honorable member himself gives a reason why I should not accept the amendment. He states that there is a vital difference between it and the clause. If there is a vital difference, that puts the amendment out of order, because any amendment must be relevant to the clause.
– Although there is a vital difference, I did not say that the amendment differs totally from the clause. It deals with exactly the same matters. The honorable member for Hunter would prohibit voting by post by persons who may be able to go to the polling booths.
– Did not the honorable member for Hunter say that the amendment was a new clause?
– I do not know; I only know that it was attempted to get rid of the amendment without discussion and without a vote. May’s Parliamentary Practice is one of the worst authorities for the guidance of an assembly like this, because it states, first, the general practice, and then gives eX.ceptions. with the result that a Speaker or a Chairman, having ruled in accordance with the general practice as therein laid down, is confronted with the exceptions, which are generally pressed, and one party fights against the other, each using the same authority. The very amendment which is now ruled out of order was moved by the honorable member for Hunter, and accepted, last year.
– By the same Chairman.
– With all due respect, I ask why has this been done? By way of protest, I have moved dissent from the ruling. Even if the honorable member for Hunter said that he intended to move the amendment in substitution for the clause without directly proposing to do so, there is no justification for ruling it out of order. There may have been justification for pointing out that the honorable member had not indicated where he desired to insert the amendment, but to rule his proposal out of order is not in accordance with our practice and procedure. However, my main contention is that our Standing Orders, apart from May, permit our making this amendment, and as an exactly similar amendment was moved by the same honorable member on an exactly similar Bill last year, I maintain that it is in perfect order now.
– I recognise that this amendment is brought forward in a perfectly *bond fide** way, and that there is a serious point of difference between the two sides; and, therefore, we are desirous of granting the honorable member for Hunter every opportunity under the Standing Orders. It is a pity to test these questions more than is absolutely necessary by a motion to disagree with’ the ruling of the Chairman; but my difficulty arises from not knowing exactly the form in which the honorable member, wishes to have his proposal carried into effect. In the first place, I point out to the honorable member for Kennedy that this is not the same amendment that was moved last year.
– One or two words are different.
– There is very material difference. And in the second place, this amendment is not brought forward in the same way as the amendment was last session. There was then a somewhat similar scheme, though differing in detail, and the amendment was, “That the following words be added to the clause.” Standing order 128, to which the honorable member for Kennedy has referred, governs, I think, the proceedings. That standing order provides that a question may be amended, in the first place, by leaving out certain words only ; in the second place, by leaving out certain words in order to insert or add other words; and, in the .third place, by inserting or adding other words. It does not appear to be the honorable member’s intention to leave out certain words only; and if he proposes to take the second course we are entitled to ask him what words he proposes to leave out. The only thing he is prepared to do is to propose to leave out the whole clause with a view to insert other words. I am sure that the honorable member for Hunter will recognise that this clause repeals a number of provisions in a previous Act, the effect of which was to repeal provisions in a still prior Act, and thus, in effect, reinstate the postal-voting provisions, not only as applicable to the sick and the aged, but also to those absent from their homes. If the honorable member now wished to do what he did on the last occasion I should not take the objection, which does not appear to have been then taken, namely, that the addition of the words would not be relevant, but entirely inconsistent with the clause before the Committee. The honorable member now desires to leave out certain words in order to insert others, and we have a right to ask the honorable member to say what words he proposes to omit. I think he will find that he cannot consistently omit any without omitting the whole, which is really the test of the ruling of the Chair.. It would be. impossible to omit the first word, because that would leave the clause meaningless.
– That could be altered later on.
– It is clearly -evident that May represents the commonsense and only possible way of dealing with the matter. This amendment is an absolute reversal pf the whole scheme and the substitution of another. Can the honorable member comply with any one of the three alternatives in the standing order t
– Does the AttorneyGeneral contend that we cannot leave out words with a view to insert others?
– What words could we leave out of this clause?
– Leave out all the words after “ section.”
– Then what should we have left? I ask honorable members to endeavour to carry on the business according to the rational meaning of the rules. It may be proposed to leave out certain words because they are objectionable while not desiring to negative the whole of the clause. Under the third alternative certain words may be added, and the intermediate alternative is that, while agreeing with certain parts of the clause, it is desired to leave out certain words in order to add other words. I ask the honorable member for Hunter to admit that he cannot, on the common principles of English and common sense, leave out any portion of the clause and get his scheme in. Some questions commence with the word “ That,” and an amendment may be moved* to leave out all the words after “ That “ ; but even then there is left a skeleton on which to hang something,. Can the honorable member for Hunter suggest any word of this clause that can remain consistently with his amendment?
– I shall be very pleased to suggest to the Attorney-General a commonsense and rational method of dealing with this clause. According to standing order 122, it may be ordered that a complicated question shall be divided.
– In the first place, that is, in the House, under the control of the Speaker.
– I point out that the rules which apply in the House apply also in Committee; and, according to May, when two or more separate propositions are embodied in a motion, the attention of the Speaker may be called to the circumstance. Apparently the AttorneyGeneral is desirous of crippling discussion by introducing the Bill in this form. The postal-vote sections of the original Act run from 109 up to 121, and each section is a separate question. I am going to ask you, Mr. Chairman, when the present matter is out of the way, to separate this complicated question, and permit us to deal with it as it ought to be dealt with. The Attorney-General talks about common sense, rational methods, and yet he submits a clause repealing a whole number of sections by which voting by post is to be re-enacted. The clause is submitted in such a way that the honorable member for Hunter is not permitted to submit an amendment; but if the question is divided he will be able to propose an amendment that will be relevant.
– The honorable member for Kennedy is under a misapprehension in regard to the present position. The honorable member stated that this was the same amendment that had been accepted last session.
– Practically, with the exception of one or ‘two details of no importance.
– It is quite a different amendment. That which was moved by the honorable member for Hunter last session was different in substance, inasmuch as there are a great many provisions covered by the new amendment that were not covered by the older one, and the latter was moved as a proviso to be added to the clause. Now, the honorable” member for Hunter distinctly states that his amendment is a substitution for the existing clause, and it is moved in that form, and not as a proviso. It will be seen, therefore, that the two amendments are entirely different.
– I have no wish to press the matter, but the trouble was,* Mr. Chairman, that you promptly ruled the amendment out of order, and that was what I resented. It is now admitted by the Attorney-General, and everybody else, ‘that the amendment can be moved - that it is not irrelevant.
– We know the substance, but we 4% not know how the lion.orable member desires to move the amendment. >’
– The impression left on my mind by the ruling was that the amendment could not be moved in any form, and, under the circumstances, I naturally, with all due respect, resented the ruling. Now I find that there are several ways in which the amendment can be moved. The honorable member for Hunter may not have indicated the precise method in which he would submit the amendment, but that is not sufficient justification for ruthlessly ruling it out of order.
– Why not? Surely the Chairman must have regard to the forms of the House ?
– It might have been pointed out that the honorable member for Hunter had not made himself clear on the point; but the amendment could not be ruled out of order. The sections involved cover four pages of the original Act, and it will be seen, therefore, that there is presented a question very broad and of vital importance. It is very difficult to say exactly where the amendment should come in. It is a reasonable request that we should be permitted to take a test vote on the matter. Though the Attorney-General argues that if this amendment were inserted after the word “ sections,” the clause would not read well, he must know from his parliamentary experience that it is the common practice to have clauses so mutilated by amendments that it is necessary to postpone them, and have them re-drafted and brought forward again to meet the views of honorable members.
– If the honorable member for Hunter can put the amendment in any form that is acceptable to the Chairman, I shall assist him, because I wish to have a decision upon the matter.
– There would be nothing to prevent a consequential amendment to strike out the word “ sections.” That is a common practice. All we desire is to get an expression of opinion on the matter. There is a good deal in what the honorable member for Capricornia has said - that we should have the clause split up into sections, so that we might know that with which we are dealing. However, I do not wish: ‘to press my motion.
Motion to dissent, by leave, withdrawn.
.- Do I understand the Attorney-General’* to say that he will assist the honorable member for Hunter, so that there may be an expression of opinion on the proposal that the honorable member has brought forward ?
– Then the honorable member for Hunter can move to strike out the word “sections,” and take that amendment as a test on his proposed provision as against the clause in the Bill before us. That is a practice that has been frequently followed where similar complications have arisen.
– I am quite willing to accept that suggestion. I think it is the only way in which it can be done.
.- I can see a way out of the difficulty by accepting an amendment striking out all the words after “ repealed “ in line 2, with a view of inserting a new clause.
Mr.W. H. IRVINE (AttorneyGeneral - Flinders) [8.52]. - That course could not be followed; because if the words as far as “repealed” stand, the whole of the postal-voting provisions will become law, and an amendment making further provisions will not be consistent with them. The honorable member for Grey has suggested the only way, according to the practice of the House, in which the matter can be tested. I am prepared to assist him in doing that.
.- I would like the Chairman to treat the clause as a complicated question, and divide it so that honorable members can deal with the various provisions embraced in it. Standing order 222 provides that every question in Committee shall be decided in the same manner as in the House itself, while standing order 227 provides that the same rules that regulate the conduct of business in the House shall be observed in Committee. To bring a question before us in the present fashion may suit the Government, but it is not the regular method of conducting business. The Attorney-General has said to himself, “ We will not tolerate interruptions in the way of criticism from the Opposition. We object to the Opposition having any say. We shall curtail their speeches, and embody a dozen clauses in four lines.” He wishes to ride rough-shod over the Opposition. On a former occasion I referred to the danger of submitting the civil servants to his tender mercies.
– Order !
– We are getting a taste of his qualities now. He brings down a clause of four lines dealing with, perhaps, thirty odd questions on which there could be thirty or forty divisions. I admit that he is now willing to allow the honorable member for Hunter to get his amendment tested, but I offer these few remarks in a kindly way as a caution to him not to bring forward a Bill in this way again, because, if he does, I shall ask the Chairman to deal with it as a complicated question.
.- 1 am particularly anxious to have this amendment tested, so that the country may see the exact position, and I may safely follow the course adopted last session, namely, that of adding a proviso instead of eliminating words in the clause.
– That will not give effect to what honorable members desire. There is nothing inconsistent in giving people away from home a vote, and your scheme of giving invalids the right to vote, but there will be two schemes standing together.
– The amendment is of the same substance as that I submitted last session, and if it was relevant last session it should be relevant on this occasion.
– I am not taking objection to it on that ground. I merely point out that it will not achieve what you wish.
– I move-
That the following words be added : - “ Provided nothing in those sections shall be inconsistent with the following provisions : -
(a) An elector who, owing to serious illness or infirmity, has reason to believe that he will not be able to record his vote at any polling place duing the hours of polling on the day of election, may, at any time after the issue of the writ, and up to within seven days preceding the day of election, make application to the Returning Officer of the Division in which he is enrolled that he be allowed to record his vote. (b)The Returning Officer on a day previous to the election, and after the time for receiving applications has expired, shall instruct a Presiding Officer who shall, prior to or on the day of election, call at the address of the person who claims a vote, and if satisfied that the applicant is entitled to vote under the provisions of this section shall supply the applicant with a ballot-paper which the voter will mark in the prescribed manner in the presenceof the officer, and if the voter so desires, of a relative or other person, but so that the officer cannot see the manner in which the ballotpaper is marked, and shall then fold the ballotpaper so as to hide the vote, and then in the presence of the officer deposit the ballot-paper in a sealed ballot-box which shall be provided and remain in the custody of the officer until it is given into the charge of the Divisional Returning Officer. . The ballot-paper shall be opened by and counted by the Returning Officer at the scrutiny sifter the closing of the Ballot.
Provided that in the case of any elector who resides more than five miles from a polling place, and who owing to serious illnessor infirmity has reason to believe that he will not be able to record his vote at any polling place during the hours of polling on the day of election may, at any time after the issue of the writ and up to within seven days preceding the day of election, make application to the Returning Officer of the Division in which he is enrolled that he be allowed to record his vote. The Returning Officer may, if the elector makes application to record his vote, appoint any of the following persons to wait upon the elector, viz. : - Postmasters or postmistresses or persons in charge of post offices; head teachers in the employment of a State Education Department; officers of the Department of Trade and Customs; members of the Police Force of the Commonwealth or of a State; and such persons so appointed shall and may exercise all the powers of the Presiding Officer as set forth in (&) of this clause.
Any elector who has reason to believe -
That he will not on polling day, during the hours of polling, be within five miles of any polling place; or
That he will on polling day be in quarantine within the Commonwealth ; may after the issue of the writ, upon making a declaration in the prescribed form before a postmaster, vote under the provisions of section 139 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902- 1911 or as an absent voter.
Provided that -
The declaration shall be made and the vote shall be recorded only at the post office of which such postmaster is in charge; and
The declaration shall not be valid unless such postmaster stamps the declaration with post office letter stamp of the date upon which the declaration is made.”
My object is to make provision for the sick and infirm recording votes. Last session the Prime Minister and the AttorneyGeneral raised objection to my proposal on the score of expense, and it was claimed that there was no provision for limiting the area over which Presiding Officers would need to collect votes. On this occasion I have limited the area, and I have provided that where an applicant resides more than five miles from a polling booth certain other persons specified such as police constables, school teachers, postmasters, and others, may be permitted to take the votes of the sick and infirm, thus obviating the necessity for the Presiding Officer being sent beyond the radius of five miles to collect votes. Exception was also taken last session to the use of the words. “Assistant Returning Officer.” It was pointed out that this would mean fresh appointments for the purpose, and would add to the expense, but I pointed out that I intended to use the” words, “ Presiding Officer,” and I have amended my proposal on this occasion by providing that Presiding Officers shall be instructed by Returning Officers to wait on the different persons who wish to vote. These Presiding Officers will not be specially appointed persons. . They are already appointed to the different booths in the various electorates. Previous to the last week before the election they will have time to collect these votes. Some honorable members will say that if this scheme were adopted there would be a large number of applications, and the system would be very expensive. I venture to say that when you remove the element of the canvasser and leave it to the genuine sick person to apply for a postal vote, the number of applications will be much less than in the past. The officer who will collect the votes will be the one appointed by the Returning Officer to preside at the nearest polling booth, and he will be a man of repute. He will know his responsibilities, and when he goes to collect a vote he will see that the person is entitled to vote and is really qualified. When he has obtained the vote he will put it in a sealed box, which will not be opened until the counting of the poll. Such a system is not going to cost so much as honorable members expect. Honorable members have referred to the probable difficulties of collecting the votes in remote parts of Australia, but in such cases I have provided that the vote may be collected by the nearest constable or other officials referred to. How many persons are there in remote parts of Australia, where the population is sparse, who will apply for a postal vote?If this system were put into operation as an experiment such applications would be few indeed. Therefore, I anticipate no difficulty in collecting the votes in sparsely populated districts.
– Is there any limit to the distance which the Presiding Officer would go ?
– I provide that he should go not more than five miles from his polling booth.
– There are over 2,000 electors in my constituency residing at a greater distance than five miles from a polling booth.
– I have provided that when they are more than five miles from a polling booth the Returning Officer, on receipt of an application, can instruct a police officer, a school teacher, a postmaster, or certain other officials in the employ of the Commonwealth Government, men whom we can trust, to collect the votes. So far as the thickly populated centres are concerned, I suppose that most of the electorates in the city are not more than five miles across. In such electorates there would be probably fifty or sixty polling booths, and thus the Returning Officer could collect all the postal votes in his district in a few hours.
– Would he carry the ballot-box with him?
– Yes, and the same thing would apply in regard to” the collection of votes outside the fivemile area. Whatever we do, we must maintain the secrecy of the ballot. The expense may run to one or two thousand pounds, but what is that, if by such expenditure we can give facilities and prevent abuses of the Act? In order to get a clean roll we propose’ now to spend over £100,000 every three years, and surely if. that expenditure is justified, we ought not to cavil at the expenditure of a few thousand pounds in order to give a vote to the sick and infirm. The system can be tried, and if it fails defects can be remedied or the system can be wiped out altogether. It is preferable to give a trial to this proposal rather than to revert to the provisons of the old Act, which were so open to abuse. I hope that the amendment, will be discussed, and that members on both sides, seeing that this should not be a party question, will try to come to some terms. I am suggesting the amendment as a proviso to the clause, in the hope that the Committee may see their way clear to agree to it, either in its entirety or in some amended form that will be acceptable to both parties.
– I interjected during the honorable member’s speech that tile course he proposes is not likely to carry out his views, and I want to make that clear before the amendment goes to a vote. If this amendment is carried as an addition to the clause, clearly the result will be that, first of all, we shall have reinstated the whole of the postal provisions , of the Electoral Act applying to sick and infirm persons, women who are unable to attend polling booths, and persons who will be absent from their homes, and then we shall be [tacking on this amendment, which appears to give additional facilities to a certain class of persons to whom thosefacilities have already been given.
– Would that be inconsistent ?
– No; but weshould be giving advantages by the clausein the Bill to all classes, and then, by the amendment, repeating them to certain, classes.
– The amendment limits the power.
– But it applies to only one particular class of the community. In a measure of this sort, all sides ought to have an, opportunity of discussing the provision; and last session I intimated that in the Committee stagethere would be such an opportunity.
– I remember that opportunity.
– So do we on this side. But even honorable membersopposite, have admitted that it was not altogether the fault of members sitting behind the Government that the matter was not fully debated at that time. However, we need not go into ancient history. The Committee can, in a Bill in this form, make any modification in the votingsystem which we desire to introduce by adding words at the end of the clause to amend any of the provisions that have been reinstated, providing that so much of the provisions which have been reinstated be amended by leaving out certainwords.
– Is not that the effect of this amendment?
– No. I do not wish to mislead honorable members in this matter. First of all, this repeal clause is merely repealing a previous repealing section, and the effect is to reinstate all the sections contained in Part X. of the Act, which set up a scheme of postal voting, and applied, not only to sick persons, but also to absent persons. If we add on the words of this amendment, we shall be adding that “any elector owing to serious illness, who has reason to believe,” and so on. What will be the effect of the amendment? Nothing. It will be repealing portion of the privileges in a very much limited form, to persons to whom the clause has already given the whole of the privileges. If the honorable member had desired to test the opinion of the Committee, he would have been very much better advised to have adopted the suggestion of the honorable member for Grey. In regard to the substance of the amendment, the Government cannot accept it. The Government do not admit for one moment that the charges which have been relied upon by members of the Opposition in regard to abuse and fraud in connexion with this measure have been substantiated. Charges of that kind have been made broadcast in this Chamber and throughout Australia! and no evidence worth anything has been brought forward to substantiate then.. One or two instances have been raked up, after most diligent search, but they substantiate nothing. We believe that the machinery of voting by post, as it existed before the repealing Act of 1911, was as honest and useful a piece of electoral machinery as exists anywhere, and was not more open to abuse than is any other electoral machinery. Human nature is imperfect, but the charges of misconduct in regard to the exercise of the postal vote are so flimsy that the Government are not prepared to accept any material alteration of a system which worked well, and afforded opportunities for voting to hundreds and thousands of persons who otherwise would have been unable to vote. We shall insist, so far as we can insist upon anything, upon maintaining the provision as it stands. Whilst that is the attitude of the Government, honorable members must be permitted an opportunity, if they desire it, to test the feeling of the Committee. I have shown how that can bc done, and I do not wish to throw any difficulty in the way of doing it. The amendment that has been moved, with a sincere and earnest desire -to secure a test vote on a substantive motion, which the honorable member for Hunter thinks of great importance, will not effect the object in view.
– I ask whether the Bill is a measure intended to assist persons who are unable to get to the polling booths to vote by post? If that is its object, the Government ought not to propose the reenactment of sections which were framed in 1909, and. have proved ineffective. The Attorney-General intimated that he would accept some modification of the Government proposals.
– No. I said that I would give every opportunity to test the feeling of the Committee in regard to any modifications that it might be desired by any honorable member to propose.
– Does the honorable gentleman contend that the postal-voting system which was devised five years ago cannot, in view of our experience, be improved ?
– I do not say that anything is impossible of improvement, but I contend that the postal-voting system has worked well.
– Then why does the honorable gentleman refuse to permit the amendment of the system?
– Let us know the amendments proposed.
– If the honorable and learned gentleman wishes to give to the sick and infirm the necessary facilities for voting without going to the polling booth, he will not re-enact, without modification; the postal-voting provisions of the Act of 1909. He should agree to the omission of all the words after the word “ repealed” in the second line of the clause) with a view to the insertion of an amendment which would make the necessary modifications. I shall not detain the Committee more than a few minutes, but I wish to show that the postal-voting systern of the Act of 1909 was absolutely and radically defective, and did not give persons living’ in the remoter parts of the Commonwealth adequate opportunities for voting by post. If there is any class whose interests should be protected, who should be able to make their opinions, felt in Parliament, and have effect given to them by the statute-book it is the pioneers who are opening up the country. In the old division of Coolgardie, which I repre:sented, the Divisional Returning Officer was stationed at Coolgardie, but the residents of Broome and other parts of the north-west coast of Western Australia had communication with the outer world only by means of a steamer running, perhaps, every fortnight. Now, section 109 of the Act of 1909 says-
An elector who has reason to believe that he will not (luring the hours of polling on polling day be within. 5 miles of any polling place for the division’ for which he is enrolled
Many of these persons are 50 miles from a polling place.
– Some of them are 100 miles away, and more.
– Yes. Any such elector - may make application for a postal-vote certificate and postal ballot-paper.
The application may be in the prescribed form, and must be signed by the elector in his own handwriting, in the presence of an authorized witness, and must be made and sent, after the issue of the writs, and before the polling day for the election, to the Returning Officer for the division for which the applicant elector is enrolled.
In many cases the interval between the issue of the writs and the polling day is about three weeks. How could persons in such remote places as I speak of make, within that period, application in the prescribed form for a postal-vote certificate and postal ballot-paper? It takes three weeks to get in the electoral returns from some parts of Western Australia.
– There is the absent vote.
– The party that is to be thanked for the absent-voting provisions of the law is not that to which the right honorable gentleman belongs. Will he associate himself with the disfranchisement of many persons in Western Australia who regard him as the saviour of the country?
– Until we can get better, we shall keep what we have.
– The right honorable gentleman knows that it would be impossible for many persons to take advantage of the provision that I have read, and that it is humbugging the people to pretend that postal-voting facilities are being given to them.
– We can give postal-voting facilities to a good many, though they may not be available to all who are far away.
– Does the right honorable gentleman say that any one living north of Carnarvon would be able to get a postal-vote certificate and postal ballotpaper from the Returning Officer at Northam in time to make use of it under the provision that I have read”? It is nonsense for the Government to pretend that it is providing facilities for postal voting for the most deserving class in Australia.
– The honorable member has named only one place.
– What I have said applies to many parts of Australia. I am referring to districts with which the right honorable gentleman and myself are familiar. Other honorable members can testify that the provision that I have read will not be applicable in districts with which they are familiar.
– The postal vote was very much used in my division.
– The right honorable gentleman has had a polling booth provided at every cross road in his division.
– Under the Bill, he will have one at every house.
– No doubt he has looked well after his electorate in this respect. I am willing to assist the Government, so far as I can, to give proper facilities for voting by post; but that cannot be done by re-enacting the postal-voting provisions of the Electoral Act of 1909. After the lapse of five years, we are in a position to devise something better than the clumsy machinery which the Government seeks to bring into operation again. If there is a genuine desire on the part of honorable members opposite to extend the facilities for voting by post, they will provide proper machinery, and will have the support of those on this side to a man.
.- I thank the honorable member for Kalgoorlie for the kindly interest he has taken in those who live in the back country of Western Australia, but I ask why it is that, when honorable members opposite had an opportunity to extend the franchise to those who are developing Australia, they scrupulously refrained from using it? It is the principle of the postal vote that we want.
– Fraud is all that these provisions will lead to.
– The honorable member may be a judge of fraud. Last session the Government introduced a Bill for the amendment of the Electoral Act generally, but was any effort made by honorable members opposite to assist in improving our electoral law? On the contrary, they boasted that they would prevent us from passing the Bill, and the impossibility of doing so made necessary the introduction of the measure now before the Committee. We are determined to have the principle of postal voting. I realize as well as any honorable member the difficulties thathave to be faced by those who live in the back country. If it was not for the producers out in the back-blocks there would be no big cities. Some honorable members opposite represent constituencies whose electors can get to a polling booth by walking a few hundred yards, but in the Dampier division there are persons who motored 200 miles, there and back, to record their votes, and many who travelled 70 or 80 miles to get to the poll. Why should such persons be disfranchised ? We have compulsory enrolment, and yet no provision is made for the voting of large numbers of electors. Thousands were disfranchised by the measure passed through Parliament by the Labour Government, although honorable members opposite claim credit for the so-called absent- voting system.
– The voting at the last election was the heaviest that we have had.
– Knowing the method of enrolment, I can understand that. It is essential that in the near future there shall be a thorough amendment of the electoral law. I believe that at present the door is left open to all sorts of wrongdoing. The Act requires amendment almost from beginning to end. I admit that the old sections will not give us all the facilities we require, and which we should have under a .proper postal-vote system; but I am prepared to accept the principle, and that is what we are fighting for now. I have not spoken before on the subject, but I feel very strongly regarding it, for I know that a large number of people, including the sick and infirm, not to mention the maternity cases - of which there are 130,000 every year - suffer very much in this regard. The position is certainly most acutely felt by those who live in the back country; but under the Bill any person may write to the Returning Officer for a postal vote, and the only delay will be between the application and the reply. No doubt there will still be some who, owing to distance and difficulties of transit, will still be disfranchised; but the Bill represents a great advance, and I am content to accept it for the present. I feel sure that my constituents will regard it as a move in the right direction; and I support the measure in the hope that, in the near future, we shall have a Parliament prepared to pass electoral laws which will enable every person to exercise the franchise.
Mr. MCDONALD (Kennedy) [9.35J.- I wish to bear out what has been stated by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. It is perfectly true, at any rate in my electorate, that, under the present system, there are large numbers of people in the country who will not be able to obtain a postal vote.
– Why did the honorable member not think of that when the Labour Government were in power?
– That Government made the necessary provision in the absent vote, and it minimized the inconvenience to the lowest possible extent. When I say that the postal vote permits of fraud, I know that fraud has been committed in ‘ connexion with it. To begin with, the system practically wipes out the secrecy of the ballot, and that is the one thing that members of Parliament, and the community generally, should cherish. Throughout the civilized world, our system of voting is envied, and the very moment we institute a postal vote, we shall begin to undermine the principle for which rivers of blood have been spilt. The honorable member for Dampier regards this Bill as an assertion of the principle of postal voting; but it is just that principle that the House and the country should not tolerate. Already such men as Chief Electoral Officers have talked of schemes to permit of all -the people voting by post; but, in my opinion, that would be simply going back to the conditions of open voting of fifty or 100 years ago.’ If we are not prepared to progress, we must retrograde; and I can speak from experience regarding the -postal vote. I was a member of a Select Committee which inquired into the Melbourne election, when, owing to the corruption in connexion with the postal vote, Sir Malcolm McEacharn was unseated, and the present member came into this House. I am prepared to sacrifice anything to maintain the secrecy of the ballot; and not for mere party purposes, but as a matter of principle. Does the honorable member for Dampier mean that this Bill represents the first step to universal voting by post?
– Hardly !
– I am glad to hear the honorable member’s denial, for he was not clear on the point when he spoke.
Why is this and another Bill introduced ? Do honorable members not know that the day after their introduction, facsimiles appeared in the Argus, and they were described as the two “test” Bills? There was no idea of this measure being introduced in order to give the postal vote; st was merely a measure to be used as a step to a double dissolution. The Attorney-General has said to-night that the Government are prepared to accept modifications in the Bill; but, as a matter of fact, we know that they are not prepared to accept any whatever. The date of the Bill is stated to be that of last year, simply because of a fear on the part of the Attorney-General that the alteration of one word or figure might interfere with its value as a “test” Bill to be presented to the Governor-General. We know, at any rate, that the Treasurer was never in favour of extending the franchise.
– I gave womanhood suffrage in Western Australia.
– That was only when the honorable member was forced to do so by the realization that the Goldfields desired separation in order to join Federation, and that it was necessary to strengthen the vote on the coast. For a good many years past I have taken an active interest in the franchise, and the bitterest fights I have ever known have been in connexion with proposals for its extension. Even to-day, in Queensland, the State Government are introducing a reactionary measure, which means disfranchisement to thousands and thousands of people. It has been pointed out that if the figures of the Queensland Government are correct, and represent the number of people that should be on the rolls, that State is receiving £130,000 more than it is entitled to under the distribution of 25s. per capita. Further, if that is a true reflex of the adult electors of Queensland, that State is not entitled to ten members in the Federal Parliament. However, we know that the suggestion is wrong, and that these statements are made because of the large number of people who are disfranchised in Queensland.
– How are they disfranchised ?
– Through the residence qualification. Each magistrate puts his own interpretation on the word “ residence.”
– The . honorable member is wandering from the question.
– It is idle to say that the Bill is framed with the object of giving certain people votes. The original Bill introduced last session was dropped.
– We could nob make headway with it.
– Instead of continuing with that Bill, Ministers brought down two test Bills, and, by a subterfuge, tried to re-enact the postal-voting provisions without discussion. But I have no desire to discuss that matter. If I had my way, the whole Bill could go right through. I have gone over the subject so many times, and repeated myself so often, that I am tired of discussing it. I do not wish the honorable member for Dampier to think I was speaking personally when I said that a certain action was fraudulent.
– I understand that.
– I have witnessed hundreds of claims for postal votes, and I could tell how people voted if I so desired, so it can be readily understood that it is practically open voting. This leads me to protest as strongly as I possibly can against any re-enactment of the postal vote. The amendment of the honorable member for Hunter makes the necessary provision to give the sick and the infirm the opportunity of voting, and if the Government are sincere in their statements, they can give these people the opportunity to vote by accepting the amendment.
.- I am strongly opposed to the postal vote as it was in existence previously. There has been a great deal of corruption under the postal-voting system.
– For instance, a man remaining on the roll of an electorate from which he has been absent for three years.
– Judging by the honorable member’s acquaintance with such things, I suppose he knows some who voted for him in that way.
– They voted for you, most of them, and you know it.
– If they voted for me, they showed very good judgment. The anxiety of honorable members on the
Ministerial benches to secure people the opportunity to vote amuses me. These honorable members have been associated with a party that has always denied the working people the opportunity to vote. They belong to the great Liberal party who, in Victoria, disfranchised the inmates of charitable institutions, and it ill becomes them to pose as advocates of extending the franchise. However, I wish to ask the Treasurer why the Government have included in this Bill the provision by which the elector voting by post hands the ballot-paper to the person who witnesses the vote. The fact that the Electoral Bill introduced last session omitted that provision shows that “the Government recognise that this practice leads to corruption and unfair play. In fact, the Honorary Minister, in introducing the Bill last session, said that the Government had omitted this provision because it led to a great deal of corruption. Its omission would give to the individual voting by post the right to post his own ballot-paper or hand it to his friends to post, and it is an error on this occasion on the part of the Government to reintroduce the old provision. I therefore ask the Treasurer whether he is prepared to accept an amendment which will give to the voter who votes by post the right to post his own ballot-paper. It has been said that we are opposing the postal vote because the majority of the postal votes are cast for anti-Labour candidates. I have had to contest elections where the postal vote has been in operation, and I have never been defeated by it. I know just as much about the postal vote as honorable members opposite. It only needs a little organizing to beat the other fellow.
– You are not bad on absent voting.
– I guarantee that the roll now being compiled in the Ballarat district will show as many voters as that issued prior to the last election, and will be a complete answer to those who said that it had been unfairly enlarged. But if the honorable member for Wannon knows of anything that was wrong in connexion with the compilation of the last Ballarat roll, let him go before the Royal Commission that is now sitting and prove his wild and unfair statements. There was the fullest investigation after the last election, and a detective who made in quiries reported that in every case the enrolment was genuine. The Royal Commission is going to Ballarat next week, and we will take care to see that all those who made statements concerning the last election shall have an opportunity of proving them. Now that the Prime Minister has entered the chamber, I ask whether he will accept an amendment that I shall move to strike out the sections in the Act of 1909 which compel the elector who votes by post to hand his ballot-paper to the person who witnesses the vote. The honorable member for Yarra has said that 15 per cent. of the ballot-papers that were sent out in the Ballarat district were not returned. That is easily understood when that section is left in the Act. Many people who witness these votes are partisans, and when they know the vote is given against their candidate the vote never reaches its destination. The Ministry admitted that by their Bill of 1913. Surely the Prime Minister has not changed his views so quickly. Are the Ministry prepared to accept an amendment allowing a voter to hand his vote to his friend, instead of compelling him to give it to the justice of the peace or policeman who may be witnessing the signature?
– I think that was in the Bill last session.
– It was in the Bill of 1913. But if we carry this measure the provision I am referring to will still remain on the statute-book. It is remarkable that the Government should have abandoned the principle contained in the previous Bill.
– You know that we had to abandon that Bill because we could not get it through.
– Nothing of the sort.
– During the. session of 1912 the Prime Minister spoke for altogether 44 hours. The thirty-seven members of the Labour party in this House last session spoke for only 200 hours. Had each of us spoken as long as the Prime Minister we would have spoken altogether 1,665 hours.
– After that I will give you the adjournment.
House adjourned at 10.3 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 June 1914, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1914/19140604_reps_5_74/>.