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Wednesday, 1 November 1911

Senator MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I might have felt called upon to apologize to the Senate for again intruding into the debate, but I venture to say that even Senator Givens, when he hears the purpose for which. I have :risen, will think that my conduct is amply justified. Senator Findley, in reply to my remarks, laid particular stress on what he alleged were the facts which induced him, and presumably the Government, to regard postal voting as a danger. In order that I may not do him an injustice, I shall quote what he said as recorded in Hansard -

The result of one election for Melbourne was in favour of a certain gentleman who died some time ago in the Old Country, but when the seat was again contested it was won by the previously unsuccessful candidate, mainly because of the undue influence exercised under the postal voting system at the first election.

At the first election a considerable number of votes were recorded by post, and at the second -election there was a very considerable diminution in the number of votes so recorded.

We have here speaking the responsible Minister in charge of this Bill, the object of which is to make a substantial alteration in our electoral system. We have a right to expect that when a Minister makes a statement of fact in a matter so easy of verification it shall be at least reasonably accurate. It is an obligation on every senator to make himself acquainted with the facts which he presents to the Senate, but that obligation is doubled when a Minister is speaking. I direct attention to the figures for the election, and I do not propose to do more than to quote from the official report presented by the Divisional Returning Officer for the electorate. On the first page of the report the following statement appears -

The postal votes also exceed those recorded on the last occasion by 168.

Here is a flat contradiction of the statement of the Minister, that the result of the election had been .turned from the success of Sir M. McEacharn at the first election to the success of Dr. Maloney at the second by reason of the diminution in the number of postal votes recorded. The official figures show that there was an increase of 168 in the number. Let us go a little further into the figures, and also the report on the election, and we shall have no difficulty in seeing what was one material contributing factor to the totals shown in the two contests. Dr. Maloney scored 3,667 votes against Sir M. McEacharn's 7,808 votes. Of the postal votes at this contest the latter received 603, and the former 197. I do not want any reference to the figures to confuse, or, at any rate, to cause the Senate or the Minister, or, I hope, persons outside these walls, to forget that on a simple matter, capable of being verified by reference to the records, the facts contradict what the Minister, in all solemnity, asked us to accept.

Senator Findley - I do not think so.

Senator MILLEN - If the Minister will assure me that this is not an official document, but a forgery, or that I am misreading it, I shall resume my seat at once. Otherwise1 the Senate has a right to complain that he presented as an official fact that which is shown to be wrong, and presented it as one of the arguments in support of the Bill.

Senator Givens - From what volume is the honorable senator quoting?

Senator MILLEN - I am quoting from the second volume of the parliamentary papers for the session 1904.

Senator Findley - I was asked for proof, and, believing myself to be correct, said that at the election contested in Melbourne there was a number of votes recorded by post which should not have been recorded, but that is not what "moved the Government.

Senator MILLEN - I frankly accept the Minister's statement that that is not the reason moving the Government. I have never said that it was. He knows quite well what I have alleged as the reason which moved the Government, but that is the reason which he gave.

Senator Findley - I admit that in quoting the figures I made a mistake as to the year.

Senator MILLEN - That is my point. In his speech, the Minister does not say that he spoke on the spur of the moment. He came down to reply to a speech which I had made some days before. With the staff at his disposal, he had had ample opportunity to verify the facts on which he proposed to rest his case.

Senator Findley - The honorable senator will admit that it was in reply to an interjection by Senator St. Ledger that I made the statement.

Senator St Ledger - What was my interjection? .

Senator MILLEN - The Minister, supported by the assistance which officials could give him, did not offer this statement as an opinion, but as proof.

Senator Pearce - Senator Findley has stated that he made an error.

Senator MILLEN - Quite so; but we would not have heard anything about the error if it had not been detected. There is an obligation on the Minister to familiarize himself with facts. He has nothing to do but to ask an official to look up a matter, if he is too busy to deal with it himself.

Senator Findley - The question was asked by way of interjection, and that is the reply which I gave, believing at the time that it was right.

Senator MILLEN - I do not suggest for a moment that Senator Findley, hardened as he may be in political warfare, would get up here and tell a deliberate untruth. The point I am pressing is that there is an obligation on every senator, and doubly so on a Minister, to verify a fact before he offers it for acceptance here. If the Minister wants to know what was the big determining factor at the election in question, and he will look further down the report, he will find, under the head of " Form Q, section 139," the following statement : -

When U is taken into consideration that the Division of Melbourne is entirely a city division the number of " Q " forms, viz., 198, is large.

This system of voting appeared to be abused, as the polling places were all in close proximity to each other, and it seems to me that the privilege -was never intended to apply to those electors living within easy access by tram or other means of rapid conveyance to the polling places for which they are enrolled. I do not think this privilege should be allowed to be used unless the elector is at least 3 miles distant from the booth for which he is enrolled.

Let me remind honorable senators that the very basis of our present system, when it was proposed here, was, that as we were to an extent making the method of voting lax, it was necessary to localize electors to the polling booth in the neighbourhood of which they lived. It was the only check which was offered, and it was stated that as a man would have to vote in his own locality, being known he would not be likely to attempt to impersonate. But here is a case where official attention was drawn to the fact that the facilities provided for another set of circumstances were being abused. Why? The Minister is looking for the reason why the decision of one month was altered in the next. Let him look into the number of. those who voted on " Q " forms at polling places other than their own, and he will get a key to an impression which at any rate determined the flow- of votes on that occasion.

It does seem strange that the Minister, desiring only to insure the purity of our electoral methods, seeks to destroy the facilities accorded by postal voting, and at the same time is blind, deaf, and dumb regarding an abuse to which an official has drawn attention.

Senator McGregor - There was no illegality under the " Form Q " vote.

Senator MILLEN - There was no illegality about the postal voting.

Senator McGregor - Yes, there was.

Senator MILLEN - It is curious that this officer did not draw attention to it, but did draw attention to the abnormal number of persons who voted at polling booths other than their own. Any one who is experienced in electoral matters must know that the great door through which fraud can enter is the absent voting provision. Yet, whilst attention' was directed here to the .great danger of allowing persons to vote outside their immediate neighbourhood, or allowing other persons to vote for them, Ministers are in no sense concerned about restricting, that facility; but they concentrate their attention upon postal voting, against which, hitherto, no official has reported.

Senator Givens - In one case in Queensland the very people in the cemeteries voted !

Senator MILLEN - Was the honorable senator there?

Senator Givens - I was not.

Senator MILLEN - If the honorable senator had been there, I could have understood the activity in the cemeteries. I should now like to deal with another argument on this point, brought forward bv Senator Findley. He seemed to regard it as an argument against postal voting that that system had been more largely used in Victoria, which is a thickly-settled State, than in States where settlement is more widely dispersed. That was one of the most extraordinary arguments I have ever listened to.

Senator Pearce - There are more sick people in Victoria than in other States, 1 suppose.

Senator MILLEN - It is not merely a question of affording facilities for sick people.

Senator Pearce - But the honorable senator's supporters made a special point about the sick people.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator does not seem to be able to regard this matter from the point of view of more than one set of persons. The reason for the state of things described by Senator Findley is obvious. Tust as the facilities for voting at the ballot-box in closely-settled States are greater than in the more sparselysettled States, so the facilities for obtaining postal votes and securing the necessary witnesses are greater.

Senator Pearce - Undoubtedly.

Senator MILLEN - If the increased number of postal votes in Victoria, as compared with other States, were an argument for the abolition of postal voting, the increased number of ordinary votes in proportion to population would equally be an argument against ordinary voting.

Senator Pearce - Where is the necessity ?

Senator MILLEN - I do not say that the necessity was greater.

Senator Pearce - Of course the honorable senator does not.

Senator Findley - I thought the honorable senator argued that it was an especial hardship to abolish postal voting in big areas, where the population is scanty?

Senator MILLEN - So it is. The hardship is great in such cases. Honorable senators opposite seem to think that, in regard to postal voting, there is nothing else to do than simply drop a piece of. paper into the post. As a matter of fact, there is a great 'deal to do before that takes place. There were thousands of electors in the sparsely-settled portions of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia, who could not get witnesses to sign their applications for postal votes. In Victoria, however, it was different. The very fact that this is a closely-settled State means that witnesses are more easily obtained than in the wide areas to which I have referred.

Senator Pearce - No one ever denied that.

Senator MILLEN - That is one explanation why postal voting was more largely availed of in Victoria than elsewhere.

Senator Pearce - Where is the necessity ?

Senator MILLEN - The Minister seems to think it a good argument to say that, if I find it impossible to go to a polling booth because I live 20 miles away from one, I am helped in my difficulty because there is some other man who lives 50 miles away from a polling booth. But that is nonsense.

Senator Pearce - Necessity has everything to do with it.

Senator MILLEN - And necessity has influenced the application for postal votes in Victoria, just as in other States. The facilities for postal voting, however, were greater in this State than elsewhere.

Senator Pearce - No one denies that.

Senator MILLEN - The Minister says then -for this is what his argument amounts to - that, though the law gave people opportunities for voting by post the moment they attempted to use these facilities, a case arose for depriving them of their privilege.

Senator Givens - Suppose they used the facilities improperly?

Senator MILLEN - There is no evidence that anything of the kind occurred. In not one single instance has there been a definite statement made by any honorable senator opposite to show that there has been any abuse in connexion with postal voting. Moreover, the postal voting system has never been alleged by any official to have been improperly used.

Senator Barker - Because they would have no official knowledge of the abuses.

Senator MILLEN - If the officials whose business it is to know are not in possession of information which would enable them to make a charge against the postal voting system-, how is it that every honorable senator opposite pretends to be in possession of such information ?

Senator Barker - Personally I know, as a justice of the peace, that there was abuse in the particular electorate to which reference has been made. I could give the evidence.

Senator MILLEN - Was the honorable senator a party to it?

Senator Barker - I was a party to it.

Senator MILLEN - Now we begin to understand why honorable senators opposite are so confident that fraud has been committed. The honorable senator admits that he was a party to it.

Senator Barker - No ; a party to the knowledge of it.

Senator MILLEN - I do not dispute what Senator Barker says, that he was one of those who manipulated this thing, but this is the first time I have been brought face to face with a man who made such an admission.

Senator Barker - What I said was that I had personal knowledge that the system was abused.

Senator MILLEN - That is like the rest of the statements made by honorable senators opposite. They tell us that abuses exist, but they give us no evidence of them.

Senator Barker - I can give the evidence.

Senator MILLEN - Then why did not the honorable senator place that evidence in the hands of those whose business it was to initiate a prosecution?

Senator Barker - I did; but was told that it was not sufficient.

Senator MILLEN - Then it was no proof. Dealing with these figures as to Victoria again, I point out. that Senator Findley's argument was that, because postal voting was more largely used in Victoria than elsewhere, therefore the system was abused. But the voting by the ordinary method in Victoria was, in proportion to population, in excess of the voting in other States. Is that also a proof of abuse? Again, I point out that the reason for the heavier vote in Victoria is that facilities are greater in this State than elsewhere. Moreover, facilities for travelling in this State enable people to be better organized.

Senator Pearce - Hear, hear - better organized !

Senator MILLEN - The Minister of Defence may regard party organization with disfavour, if he chooses to do so; but we know perfectly well that the time has passed altogether when there can be an unorganized, and, at the same time, successful election. It is idle to attempt to deceive the people outside by pretending that superiority of organization is an argument against this system. The fact that there was a larger vote in Victoria was simply another proof that there was better organization, keener interest in the election, and greater facilities for recording votes. Turning again to the Melbourne election, to which reference has been made, I should like to make another comment upon the actual figures. Here, I venture to say, we. shall find the reason why this Bill has been introduced. On the occasion in question, Dr. Maloney polled 197 postal votes, and Sir Malcolm McEachern polled 603. There is the one simple reason which I can discover why the Government are seeking to abolish postal voting.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - In South Australia, the post-office stamp was used by people who had no connexion with the postoffice. That is proof enough.

Senator MILLEN - That is not proof at all. A mere statement is not proof.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - But it was proven.

Senator MILLEN - I do not know anything about the case to which the honorable senator refers.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I can tell the honorable senator.

Senator MILLEN - Senator W. Russell is making a statement with which it is impossible for me to deal. If he means tosay that there are in the post-office men whoare capable of being used for corrupt purposes, while I may regret the fact, I canonly say. that, unfortunately, in all large collections of people, you will find somecases of that kind.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - This happened! to be a woman.

Senator MILLEN - There is no law which we can pass which will guard against a certain percentage of persons doing wrong.

Senator McGregor - The poor woman did not think she was doing wrong. Shewas hoodwinked.

Senator MILLEN - The same remark applies to voting at the ballot-box in the ordinary way. Probably all honorable senators know of instances in which officials have not done all that they ought to have done.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - There was corruption in this case.

Senator MILLEN - There is also a certain amount of corruption in regard to the ordinary method of voting. But is the honorable senator prepared, because officials in some cases - according to him - act corruptly, to propose the abolition oftheordinary method of voting?

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I made the statement because I was challenged.

Senator MILLEN - That is the logic of the honorable senator's interjection - that we should abolish postal voting because a postal official acted corruptly. The honorable senator should also propose, then, the abolition of the ordinary method of voting, because occasionally corruptionoccurs in connexion with it. He should propose to abolish everything in connexion with which corruption may creep in. Theanswer to that is that, because some peopleact corruptly, either in connexion with postal voting, or anything else, that is no reason why we should abolish a useful system. Instead of abolishing postal voting, we should endeavour to stop up every loophole by which corruption can creep in.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - We want to havesecrecy of the ballot, and purity at the same time.

Senator MILLEN - What the honorable senator wants is to create facilities which, while enabling those who favour his party to vote, will act as a prohibition against this political opponents.

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