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Thursday, 19 October 1911

Senator McCOLL (Victoria) -- I am somewhat astonished that, after the scathing criticism of this Bill by the Leader of the Opposition, to which the Senate has just listened, there was not a rush of honorable senators opposite to answer him.

Senator McDougall - There was nothing in the attack.

Senator Rae - Fireworks.

Senator McCOLL - Nothing in it? I think that if honorable senators opposite have any honour left in their composition, they ought to be ashamed-

The PRESIDENT - Order !

Senator McCOLL - The Government ought to be ashamed of submitting such legislation as this. If there is one species of legislation that ought to be sacrosanct from party feeling, and as to which the interests of the whole community ought to be the first consideration, it is legislation with regard to voting ; because the exercise of the choice of the electors is the foundation of all our legislation. It is the putting of little pieces of paper into the ballot-box that registers the views of the electors, and, in a country such as this, where universal suffrage prevails, every possible opportunity should be afforded to every man and woman to exercise the vote as freely as can be. One views the Bill before us with mixed feelings. One must have a certain amount of admiration for the audacity of the party which supports such a measure. But I am shocked at the injustice which the Bill seeks to perpetrate. I am sorry that Senator Pearce is not present, because it was he who moved the second reading. . In so doing he delivered a somewhat attenuated speech in support of the Bill. He passed over the major portion of it very loosely indeed, and characterized it as in the main a machinery measure. He admitted, however, that there were three main principles in it - one to abolish plural voting, one to substitute what he called a better and more comprehensive system of absent voting, and, thirdly, a provision to establish compulsory enrolment. The main feature of the Bill, however, is its absolute want of principle. It seems to me, reading it very carefully, to have been dictated by a policy of revenge. The whole measure is designed to support the party that is now in office. In my opinion the Bill cuts across all the rules of political honesty, and is, as Sena tor Millen aptly said, the worst specimen of legislative gerrymandering ever submitted to any Parliament in this country. It is a brazen attempt so to shape legislation affecting the electoral machinery as to keep in power the political party that is now enjoying office.

Senator Needham - I rise to order. Senator McColl has just said that this Bill is a brazen attempt to keep the present Government in power. I do not think that he ought to have used such language.

Senator de Largie - What does it matter?

Senator Needham - It matters a great deal.

The PRESIDENT - The only word used by Senator McColl that might be out of order was the word "brazen." Otherwise I do not think that there was anything in what the honorable senator said to take exception to.

Senator McCOLL - The proper title of this Bill - which is entirely misnamed - should be " A Bill to secure Trade Union and Socialistic Domination in Australia." That is the real purpose of the measure. The most important part of it, and that which most affects the community, is that it proposes to make, a clean sweep of the postal voting system.

Senator Rae - The last stronghold of the Opposition.

Senator McCOLL - This is only, however, one direction in which power is being used so to shape administration and legislation as to carry out the purposes of the party which I have just named. We have had introduced into this country preference to unionists, one of the most pernicious principles, and the most subversive of liberty - the strongest attack on individual 'freedom ever made in Australia. The attempts made to bolster up the party in office constitute a political scandal. The party itself is entirely driven by political' bosses. At a recent meeting of the Political Labour Council in Sydney, the chairman said - " This is the Parliament of Australia." He told the members of the Federal Parliament that they were simply sent here to carry out the commands of that body. And the party opposite are carrying out the will of their political bosses in the legislation they are introducing to-day. If the Bill is to be driven through the Senate, it will be driven through at the cost of the honour and self-respect of its supporters.

The PRESIDENT - Order ! The honorable senator is our of order in stating that if the Bill passes it will pass at the expense of the honour of those who support it. I ask lim t to withdraw the statement.

Senator McCOLL - In obedience to your request, sir, I withdraw the statement. In this measure the Government are taking away facilities for voting, and therefore it does not provide for compulsory voting. To me it is not so much an essential that we should have a full roll as that we should have a full poll. Men and women should have the chance to enrol, and those who do should have every possible opportunity to vote, so that we may have a large poll. But we know that the Labour party do not want a large poll. If it were possible to get a large poll, they would be swept out of existence.

Senator Needham - At the recent elections in Western Australia, there was the largest poll on record.

Senator McCOLL - One swallow does not make a summer. In Western Australia the electors were simply- renewing the votes which they gave at the referendum. But in the other States, on that occasion, the electors voted in a different fashion.

Senator Needham - The larger the poll the better for us.

Senator McCOLL - That is not the case. There is nothing in this Bill to enable the true will of the people to be ascertained ; to give the large number who do not attend the poll an opportunity to vote. At the last election a combination of circumstances put the Labour party in power. But since then they have received a very serious warning that they are not on solid ground. Finding that they are on thin ice, they realize that they must bolster up their position. Hence we have preference to unionists, and this measure introduced. Warned by the voting at the referendum, they set themselves to consider where lay the danger of the party being defeated at the next election. They attributed the danger to two causes, namely, the women's vote and the influence of the press, and so they said, "We must take away the women's vote; we must deprive that section of the community of the full opportunities which they now have to record their votes. And we must curb the press in order that there may not be such a full expression of opinion in regard to us as there has been in the past."

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Can you substantiate the statement that Labour men attributed the defeat of the referendum to the women's vote?

Senator McCOLL - The whole Labour party attributed their defeat to that cause; otherwise, why is this attempt made to abolish voting facilities? It was in South Australia that the Labour party first brought in the system of voting by post. In Victoria the Trades Hall party was not in favour of granting womanhood suffrage.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - That is not correct.

Senator McCOLL - It is absolutely correct. In this measure, the Labour party are attempting to abolish the female vote, which they think is not in their favour, and to curb the press, in order that we may not have a free expression of opinion. How has the postal vote operated? In 1903, when women first voted under Federal law, 527,997 males, or 53.09 of those on the roll, voted ; while 359>3J5 females, or 39.96 per cent., voted. At the election of 1906, 628,135 males, or 56.38 per rent., voted; while 431,033. females, or 43.30 per cent., voted. In 19 10, 802,030 males, or 67.58 per cent., voted; while 601,946 females, or 56.17 per cent., voted. From 1903 to 1910 the number of females who voted increased from 359,315 to 601,946, or nearly double ; while the percentage of voting increased from 39.96 to 56.17 Yet it is this great vote which the Government are attempting to trammel, and preventing from being exercised in the way in which it ought to be. The postal votes issued in 1910 were as follow : - Males, 12,690 ; females, 15,459 ; total,29,253 ; showing that a very much larger percentage of females than males voted. At the recent referendum, the voting was as follows: - Males, 10,540; females, 14,257 ; total, 24,797. One peculiarity is that nearly one-half of the votes polled in Australia under this postal system have been polled in Victoria. Out of. I5> 459 postal votes, 7,708 were polled in Victoria. At the referendum, out of 14, 257 postal votes issued, 7,748 were polled in Victoria. Because it does not see fit to become a Labour State, and return a majority of Labour members to Parliament, a distinct blow is aimed at Victoria in this measure. The proposal to introduce the postal vote was made here in 190a. At first, a radius of 10 miles was fixed upon, but that was altered by the Senate to 5 miles. Is it fair or humane to withdraw this voting facility from the weaker persons in the community - women who are unable to go to the poll, and those who are ill and infirm? That is what the Bill seeks to do. It is really an attack on the crippled, the helpless, and the infirm, and, of course, on the women of Australia. That is not playing the game fairly. There has been no public demand for the abolition of the postal vote. Its abolition has not been advocated in the press, or- by any party in Australia. This is purely a move in order to strengthen the Labour party. When the postal vote was first proposed here, the Senate was practically unanimous. Both Labour men, and other senators, voted in favour of its enactment. In the other House, although some objections were taken by Labour men, on the whole there was a fairly unanimous vote in favour of postal voting. But as time passed, the Labour party realized that it was the postal votes which turned elections. When the postal votes came in, after the first poll was declared, it was found that a majority of them were against the Labour party, and so it . was decided to try to abolish the system. In 1909, when the last revision of the Electoral Act took place, almost every Labour man in the Senate, with the exception of Senator E, J. Russell, voted against the retention of the postal voting system. The names of those who voted against its retention were Senators Croft, de Largie, Guthrie, Henderson, Lynch, Needham, Pearce. W. Russell, Story, Findley, Trenwith, Turley, Stewart, and McGregor. At that time, the Labour party had not the necessary number to abolish postal voting, but now that they have a majority, they bring in this measure. When the last amending Bill was sent down from the Senate to the House of Representatives, the same unanimity was shown there on the part of the Labour party to try to abolish postal voting. They gave practically a solid vote against the principle. But, at that time, they were not able to achieve their purpose, and now they have renewed the attempt. It involves not only a question of party feeling, but a question of humanity. We ought to--consider the feelings of those who are feeble and ill, and especially women, who are unable to go to the poll. Women are under natural disabilities ti* which men are not subject. They have on their shoulders the care of the household, and of children. If postal voting is abolished, it will deprive invalids of a right of citizenship. It will deprive thousands of voters in remote districts of the opportunity to record a vote. Of what use is it to compel a man or woman to travel 15 or 20 miles to be enrolled when you do not give them the privilege of voting unless they travel a like distance? The provision in this Bill for compulsory enrolment should be followed up with a provision for compulsory voting. I am not too fond of compulsion in any way. But there might be some merit in this proposal of the Government if it were followed up with a greater extension of voting opportunities. This is not a time to curb or cripple voting facilities. On the contrary, it is a time when they ought to be extended in every possible way. Under this measure compulsory enrolment is to be introduced by proclamation, so that the Government will have the right to act as they please. I take exception to the fact that the administration of nearly the whole of the measure is made subject to regulations, which, of course, may be framed in such a way that they can be used to the Labour party's advantage. The Bill also pro'vides that the poll shall be taken on a Saturday. We ought to hesitate before we take that step. Saturday is very near Sunday, and we do not want to encourage Sunday labour. This provision cuts across the conscientious convictions of many members of the community. We have no right to interfere with the conscientious convictions of the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jews. We have no right to compel them either to vote on Saturday, and, perhaps, break a rule, or to be disfranchised. The provision ought, I think, to be reconsidered, with a view to appointing a suitable day for taking the poll. Under what the Minister called a comprehensive system of voting, a man or woman will have to attend personally on the Electoral Registrar. That may suit persons in the cities and towns, but it will impose a very great hardship on persons in the country. How can we scatter electoral registrars broadcast over Australia ? They must be established in centres of population. Under this measure, persons who live miles away will be compelled, under a penalty of £2, to come in and register. That will inflict a great hardship upon them, as well as on feeble persons and women. There are many respects in which the Bill is defective. It does not contain details, but the application of the provisions is largely left to regulations. The provision which enables a man to vote all over Australia is a very dangerous one, because it will open the door to personation and double voting. How a check is to be kept has not been explained by the Minister, and certainly is not indicated in the measure. At present, a man has to obtain a postal certificate or a " Q" form. In the latter case, the applicant must mention the division in which he lives, and his number on the roll, otherwise a form will not be supplied to him. That presupposes a knowledge by the applicant of his position with regard to enrolment. .But under this Bill a man can go to a polling place anywhere in Australia, make a declaration, and then record his vote. That will open the door to all sorts of corruption and personation. When introducing this legislation, the Government might have improved our voting facilities very much. The opportunity to do so seems to have been lost, and only one thing appears to be aimed at by this measure. The sending of a number of ballot-boxes to one place is wrong, in my opinion. Every ballot-box ought to be opened where the votes are polled. There would then be a means of checking the votes that we have not now. On the question of the returns of expenses, there is nothing said in the Bill as to how far these are to go back. It is not stated whether they are to cover the period between the issue of the writ and the polling, ot some period anterior to the. issue of the writ. The provision with regard to newspapers seems to me to be an attempt on the part of the Government to get. even with newspaper proprietors for their opposition on previous occasions. From the definition of electoral matter, it is very difficult to understand what will lae regarded as a breach of these provisions. It is the duty of the Opposition, having in view the enormous interests involved in this Bill, the interests of the freedom and liberty of women especially, who will be deprived of a great privilege given them under the existing Act, to fight this measure throughout on every line of every clause.

Debate (on motion by Senator Henderson) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 6.25 to 8 p.m.

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