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Friday, 20 October 1911

Senator HENDERSON (Western Australia) . - I desire at the outset to say that I heartily indorse the action of the Government in introducing this measure for the amendment of the electoral machinery of the Commonwealth.I go further, and complimentthem on some of the provisions submitted for that purpose. Every one will, I think, agree that it is the first duty of the Parliament and the people to secure that parliamentary elections shall be as pure as possible. I, personally, regard this measure as the only effort made up to the present time in that direction. I think there have hitherto been greater efforts made to prevent the exercise of a pure franchise than to encourage it. There is strong evidence of that in the history of past elections in Australia. Time and again we know that efforts have been made to place on our electoral rolls the names of people qualified to vote, and those who have been led to believe that they were enrolled have subsequntly found that, by political engineering, they have been prevented from the exercise of their right of citizenship. I do not intend to follow Senator Millen, in going through this amending Bill from A to Z, but I shall give my candid opinion on three or four of the most important amendments of the existing Act proposed with the object of securing something like purity of elections.

Senator St Ledger - Does the honorable senator not think that we have it at present ?

Senator HENDERSON - I am positively certain that we have not. I am satisfied that up to the introduction of this Bill every effort possible has been made to prevent it.

Senator St Ledger - By whom?

Senator HENDERSON - If the honorable senator will restrain his impetuosity, I shall relieve his great anxiety in this matter. The first attempt to really secure purity of elections is made in this Bill by the introduction of a system of compulsory enrolment. This proposal should be sup ported by every fair-minded man, because it should be agreed that it is the duty of every citizen of the Commonwealth to recognise his responsibilities to the State. In my opinion the greatest responsibility resting on the shoulders of any citizen is to have his name placed on the electoral roll in order that he may be able to exercise the right to select the men who will be called upon to make the laws of the country.

Senator St Ledger - Is not that futile unless electors are compelled to record their votes?

Senator HENDERSON - There is a great deal of difference between compelling men to record their votes and compelling them to shoulder the responsibility of seeing that they are enrolled. I have asserted that hitherto purity of elections has apparently been the very last thing considered or attempted, and, on the contrary, every effort has been made to prevent the proper exercise of citizen rights rather than to compel it. I invite honorable senators to consider what took place at the last Federal elections. Before those elections took place, although the roils were said to have been made up with the greatest care, it was discovered in the State of Western Australia that the names of a very considerable percentage of the qualified electors of the State were left off the rolls.

Senator St Ledger - Was not that their own fault?

Senator HENDERSON - I am not saying whose fault it was.

Senator St Ledger - Then it is not a question of the purity of elections.

Senator HENDERSON - Perhaps the honorable senator will permit me to make my point. The result was that a supplementary roll had to be prepared to place those whose names had been left off the rolls in a position to record their votes. A number of men and women were then found running all over the State of Western Australia collecting the names of those who were not on the original rolls, ostensibly for the purpose of having them placed on the supplementary rolls. Numberless application forms were filled in, and these people who were collecting the names carried these applications away. I cannot directly charge any one, but it is very strange that when the supplementary rolls came out, a considerable number of names that had been collected by these canvassers were not to be found upon them.

Senator Chataway - We lost a lot of votes in that way.

Senator HENDERSON - I am sure the honorable senator's party did, but I am also sure that they profited more than they lost by the proceedings to which I refer. This is why I think every one should recognise the honest attempt made by the Government in this measure to render that kind of thing impossible in the future. That can only be done by adopting a system of compulsory enrolment, making each and every individual recognise his own responsibility to be enrolled. Men and women have for years past been canvassing the country, not with a view to getting names on the rolls, but with a view to sorting out the names of those who would be likely to vote against their cause, and carefully leaving them off the rolls. This has been an experience common to all the States of the Commonwealth, and the Government are very wise in adopting a system of compulsory enrolment. Once the people are enrolled, we need have no fear about their exercising their votes. Yesterday afternoon Senator McColl was crying out for purity of elections. He wants a big vote every time. That is exactly what I want. I am sure that on the day when that big vote is recorded, and when we find 80 per cent, of the electors on the rolls exercising their right to vote, we shall see the last shreds of the weakly Fusion-Liberal party wiped entirely out of the political life of Australia.

Senator St Ledger - The honorable senator is charging past Administrations with actual corruption.

Senator HENDERSON - I am simply stating facts. Let honorable senators consider the election which recently took place in Western Australia. It is one of the brightest examples of the truth of what 1 say. The State roll had been very carefully looked after, and at the election the percentage of votes polled was the highest ever recorded at an election in that State. The result has been that there are only a few shreds of so-called Liberalism and an impossible Opposition left as a sort of relic of bygone days.

Senator Walker - Was not Western Australia the only State that accepted the referenda ?

Senator HENDERSON - Western Australia is the only State that takes an independent and sensible view on all national matters. I am, therefore, not surprised that it should have decided in favour of the referenda.

Senator Findley - Western Australians are pioneers in the path of political progress.

Senator HENDERSON - That is so. I wish now to refer to another matter in connexion with which Senators Millen and McColl expressed feelings -of soreness.

Senator Needham - Where are they now ?

Senator Findley - They have laid their eggs and gone away.

Senator HENDERSON - They are not here now. Those honorable senators evidently feel very sore about the proposed abolition of postal voting. Ever since I entered the Senate I have battled against postal voting, and have consistently and strongly opposed it whenever the question came up for discussion. On the first opportunity afforded me here to raise my voice in opposition to the postal voting system, when I found I was beaten, I tried to make the Senate realize the ridiculous nature of the system by suggesting provisions to enable any member of the general public to witness applications for postal ballot-papers. However, that was not done. The Government now recognise the absurdity of the postal voting system, and propose its abolition. In very sympathetic tones Senator McColl tried to make out a great case for the poor sick woman who will not be able to record her vote by any means when postal voting is abolished. That, to my mind, is a hypocritical form of argument, and I have no hesitation in emphasizing the fact.

Senator Needham - Is Senator McColl a hypocrite?

Senator HENDERSON - I do not know what he is, but the argument which he used was undoubtedly hypocritical.

Senator St Ledger - That is not the point. You said that some of the women who used the postal vote were hypocrites.

Senator HENDERSON - I said nothing of the kind. I said that the man who opposed the Bill on the assumption that it would prevent a sick woman from registering her vote was using knowingly an intensely hypocritical argument. Senator McColl vouchsafed some information which he had gathered showing the number of men and also of women who voted by post at the last election in Victoria. He did not go beyond the confines of his own State, but he fell into a sad error in merely stating the total in each case. If he had wanted to prove clearly his point, which I am satisfied he did not desire to do, he would have stated the percentage of sick women who were included in the total of postal voters. I venture to say that the experience of most persons in this respect is similar to mine, and that is that the postal vote has never been used very largely in the interest of sick persons. On the contrary, it has been used by the healthy, the strong, and the vigorous, at the instigation of the agents who travelled the country to try to prevent persons from having their names placed on the rolls.

Senator St Ledger - You are letting a number of cats out of the bag.

Senator HENDERSON - I am letting the honorable senator know what I have seen and what I think. I rejoice that we now have an opportunity to remove from our law a provision which is useless for any purpose other than that of corrupting the elections from time to time. There is no honorable senator on this side who would be wanting in sympathy for sick women or sick men. I regret that afflictions do come to prevent either men or women from exercising the suffrage. The abolition of the postal vote will compel a good many persons, whatever else they may do, to vote cleanly and not corruptly.

Senator St Ledger - What provision does the Bill make for enabling a man or a woman who is sick to vote?

Senator HENDERSON - I do not know that it makes any provision, but I think that the percentage in that respect is very low indeed. Even if no provision is made, it is much better to prevent a small percentage from doing a thing which they ought to have the right to do than to leave a licence to those who are continually Studying how they may effect wrongdoing. The Bill makes another amendment of the Electoral Act, and that is in respect to newspapers. I do not know that my honorable friends on the other side need be very sorry about this amendment. It is one which ought to meet with the' direct approval of every member of the Senate. We should all rejoice at the opportunity to enact an amendment of this character. It will render a very great service to my honorable friends on the other side, as well as to our party. It will prevent injustices from being perpetrated at the eleventh hour, or probably on the very morning of polling day.

Senator St Ledger - Will you kindly indicate the injustices which it will prevent ?

Senator HENDERSON - It will, for instance, prevent a lot of misrepresentations, and, in this respect, it may affect the honorable senator. It will prevent misrepresentations from being laid before the public gaze on the morning of an election.

Senator St Ledger - It does not touch that at all.

Senator HENDERSON - It touches not only that, but several other things. It deals, for instance, with the question of expenses. The provision on that subject will probably save the honorable senator a few pounds, and consequently, to that extent, he ought to be very glad that the Bill has been introduced. I also heartily compliment the Government on their attempt, in proposed new section 181 c, to prevent the possibility of paid canvassers being sent out. It ought to save the friends of Senator St. Ledger a considerable amount of money, because, at previous elections, the country has been flooded with paid canvassers. The alteration, if adopted, will prevent my honorable friends from sending men round - and women too - for five or six weeks prior to an election, with a pocket full of money in order to do the best they can in the interest of the candidate by whom they are employed.

Senator McGregor - What about addressing the Women's National League?

Senator HENDERSON - I have no objection to an honorable senator addressing the Women's National League, in fact, I have no objection to any legitimate organization. Let our opponents do all they possible can by honest organization. I have no complaint to make in that respect, but I do object to the persons whom they have sent out for weeks and weeks together, and who, in many instances, told the most audacious untruths. I believe that many women belonging to the Women's National League have gone so far that, on Resurrection Day, God Almighty will deny that ever he had a place in His house for them. In that respect Ananias and Sapphira were gentle folks in comparison with some of these women. The suppression of these canvassers will have a wonderful moral ininfluence upon the community. It will prevent persons from going to such excesses as have been resorted to. To that extent, I think we can safely claim that the Government are proposing a change which every one ought to applaud. If we wish to secure purity of elections we shall have to shut out those influences for evil which have been so rampant hitherto. Last night a great deal of trouble was occasioned to Senators Millen and McColl by the proposed amendment, which will practically compel the retention of the ballotpapers used at an election for a period of three years, that is, from election to election. They suggested that, if the provision were enacted, a man might hold over the head of a member of Parliament for three years a threat to bring a case before the Court - which might lead to the loss of his seat - and, on the eve of an election, pounce down upon him. Can any honorable senator say for a moment that there is any strength in a statement of that kind? It is the most ridiculous stuff to which I think a man could listen. It may be taken for granted that, if a candidate were elected on grounds which were questionable, the man who wanted him put out would not wait for three years, but would try to have him put out in three days if he could.

Senator St Ledger - If that is sufficient, why adopt the period of three years ?

Senator HENDERSON - Because, at times it takes a little longer than the prescribed time to collect the evidence which is required. In the case of a member of this Parliament, for instance, there was a very strong suspicion that something was wrong. In fact, the events of the subsequent election showed clearly that something was wrong. There was strong evidence that, indictable offences might have been charged against several persons. What happened when an inquiry was made in another place? When the question was asked whether the ballot-papers used at the election, and so forth, would be forthcoming, the answer was that they had been destroyed. The evidence which might have been used to punish severely those who had been guilty of very questionable practices had been destroyed, and therefore the perpetrators of the offences went scot free.

Senator St Ledger - This Bill will prevent that evidence from being produced in time.

Senator HENDERSON - It is only right that the evidence should be preserved from one election to another, so that those who sin may always be liable to suffer a just penalty. I do not desire to debate the

Bill at greater length. I am pleased that it has been submitted, and I hope that it will have a speedy and safe passage.

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