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Wednesday, 1 November 1911

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . - I have already received letters in connexion with this Bill from people residing 50 miles from any polling place so far established in Queensland. You, sir, must be quite aware that there are people on stations and in the bush, at places where there is no polling place within a reasonable distance, who should be considered. During the referenda campaign, in common with many others, I found it impossible to secure a ballotpaper. The supply of papers for the referenda, and even for the census, was so limited that thousands of people in North Queensland, in the hinterland of Cairns, were unable to return themselves, as resident in that State at all. I refer to this incidentally to show the difficulties which people in remote districts have in securing papers, even for such a purpose. How are these people to record their votes if the postal voting provisions are abolished ?

Senator Givens - If the honorable senator will look up the figures he will find that, in the particular district to which he" has referred, a higher percentage of the electors on the roll recorded their votes than was the case in the city of Brisbane.

Senator SAYERS - I shall deal with that later on. I pledge my word for the truth of what I said. I could give the names of people who could not get censuspapers to fill in, and I am certain that the difficulties at election time will be ten times greater. Census-papers were supposed to be delivered at every domicile, and all that people had to do was to fill them in. In many cases it was found impossible for people to obtain those papers, and I want to know how those people will be able to record their votes under this Bill. It will prevent them from voting at all. I suppose that no honorable senator would expect a woman to travel 40 or 50 miles to record a vote. The postal vote was introduced to enable people at a considerable distance from a polling place, or otherwise unable to vote in the ordinary way, to record their votes. Honorable senators opposite claim that, they are progressive, but I say that this is a retrograde movement. We have been told that the postal voting system has been abused, but we have been given no proof of the statement. I say that if there are abuses under the system we should try to do away with them, but we ought not to disfranchise people. If the Government intend to establish polling booths everywhere, so that no one will be likely to be disfranchised, I can find some excuse for the proposal. We have had merely statements as to any abuse of the postal voting provisions of the existing Act. . * .

Senator Ready - They were backed up by proof.

Senator SAYERS - We have had no proof at all. The honorable senator has told us a nice tale about motor cars going around, but no cases were brought under our ' notice.

Senator Ready - I mentioned a specific Police Court case.

Senator SAYERS - I could mention a hundred Police Court cases of personation, but the honorable senator would not, on that account, advocate doing away with voting by ballot. Senator Givens must remember the California Gully case, in Queensland.

Senator Givens - There was .no Labour party in Queensland at that times - -

Senator SAYERS -I am not now talking about the Labour party, or any other party, I am alluding to the abuse of. the ballot system. The- honorable senator knows the scandalous case to which I referred, as well as I do, but the State Government did not, because of that case propose to do away with voting by ballot.

Senator Givens - It was an easy matter to guard against abuse of that kind, but it is impossible to guard against abuses of the postal voting system.

Senator SAYERS - We could very easily safeguard the postal voting system. Before submitting a proposal _ to entirely abolish the system the Government should have proposed means to safeguard it from abuse, if abuse exists in connexion with it. Honorable senators have complained that men and women have been induced to vote by post so that it might be known how they voted. I have witnessed a few postal votes, but I never knew how the people voted.

Senator Ready - Every one is not so honorable as is the honorable senator.

Senator SAYERS - If abuse has crept in under the "system we might provide that the postal vote should not be used unless the voter is at a certain distance from a polling booth. We might require the elector to sign a declaration to prove his bona fides, and impose as severe a penalty as honorable, senators please upon the signing of a false declaration. I cannot for the life of me understand why this proposal is made. It is common rumour that it is because . it does not suit honorable senators on the other side. That is public talk even amongst Labour sympathizers. It is claimed that they have lost a certain number of votes, but that the other side will lose more if the system is abolished. I do not say that that statement is true. We hear of many strange things done at elections. We are told that men and women have been induced to vote by post in order that interested individuals might know how they voted. I have been mixed up in politics for a good many years, and have never known that to be done.

Senator Gardiner - The honorable senator is still mixed.

Senator SAYERS - I think that a man would require even greater hardihood than the honorable senator who has interjected to ask an elector to vote by post, so that he might know how he voted. I have too high an opinion of the men and women of Australia to believe that they could be cowed into voting in order to suit any one. When I hear such things said from the other side I feel that those who make use of such statements belittle the manhood and womanhood of Australia. We are told that after elections people are punished in all sorts of ways because of the votes they gave. I have said to those who have made such complaints to me that unless they spread the truth about themselves no one could know how they voted. I do not believe that anyone would ask the electors of Australia to vote by post in order to find out how they voted.

Senator Barker - The honorable senator thinks that that is not possible.

Senator SAYERS - I do not say it is impossible. Senator Barker might have more hardihood than I have; but if I asked a person to vote by post in order that I might learn how he voted I would probably receive an answer that would make me look very small. If the honorable gentleman came to me and asked me how I was going to vote, or to vote by ballot in such a way that he would know for whom I had voted, I know the answer he would get; and I believe honestly that both the men and women of Australia are as independent as I am.

Senator Long - Your living does not depend upon your answer.

Senator SAYERS - That is another old gag. No man's living depends upon his answer. I ask the honorable senator, supposing a man on the West Coast of Tasmania voted for the Labour party, would he be dismissed ? If he were there would be a strike immediately. The same thing applies to Sydney, Newcastle, Charters Towers, or any other part of Australia. I know that men are not hounded down because they vote for the Labour party, the Liberal party, or any other party. It is abouttime that gag was dropped. I know the people of Australia are independent enough. I have heard the same old story after every election for the last twenty-five years. At one time, if any person had known of such a thing in my own district it would have been myself.

Senator de Largie - It was done in your State, anyhow.

Senator SAYERS - I have never yet known of one instance of a person being dismissed from his employment on account of the way he voted.

Senator de Largie - Every member of Mr. Tom Glassey's first committee was sent away from his employment.

Senator SAYERS - I have heard this statement time after time. If a man gets dismissed after an election for any reason, it is immediately said that he was dis missed because he voted for the Labour party. I have asked people who make those statements how any one can tell for whom a man votes.

Senator de Largie - Every one knew how Glassey's committee voted.

Senator SAYERS - I am not talking about Glassey's committee. Before the Bill is read a second time, I want to know from the Government whether they are going to take any steps to provide facilities for people at a distance from polling places to vote. Will they give the Senate and the country any assurance that people who reside 20, 30, 40, or 50 miles distant from pollingbooths will have some means of getting their votes recorded, without having to travel such a distance? I am certain that no honorable member on the Ministerial side of the Chamber would expect a woman, or a man who was not in good health, or who was crippled, to travel such a distance to vote. If the Bill passes without amendment, such people must be disfranchised ; and I want the Government to tell me what they are going to do to enable those people to vote. I will be satisfied if they tell me that, and if they will agree to accept an amendment -let it be guarded by all the machinery that they can bring in - which will give that class of people an opportunity of voting. I do not think the Ministry would like it to go forth to the country that, because people happen to live a long distance from a polling booth, they are not to be allowed to vote. The people I am referring to are practically our pioneers away in the bush. Honorable senators must remember that Queensland is not a small State like Victoria. Queensland is as large as New South Wales, Victoria and ten Tasmanias combined, There are thousands of people in Queensland who are not within reach of a polling booth, and it does not meet the case for the Government to say, " We will give people facilities to vote where there is a polling booth." The same thing applies to New South Wales, South Australia, and Western Australia as applies to Queensland, though it may be to a lesser extent. I am speaking of the State I know, and I say that, unless the Government bring in some provision which will give settlers who are far removed from any polling booth facilities to record their votes, they will inflicta great hardship on the very class of people we want. We are always crying outabout putting people on the land. We putthem oil farms, sheep stations, or small selections, and yet we are going to disfranchise them.

Senator Gardiner - They have no facilities for voting now. In many instances the trouble of getting a postal vote is greater than that of going to vote.

Senator SAYERS - Why does the honorable senator want to do away with postal voting? I admit that it is a difficult thing to get a postal vote. I would make it easier to get a postal vote, under strict regulations; but the honorable senator is going to do away even with the facilities which people have at present to vote by post. If there is a justice of the peace or a schoolmaster in a district, he can witness the papers, and the residents can vote by post. Under the proposal in the Bill, no matter whether there is a schoolmaster or a justice of the peace in a district, the people will not be able to get postal votes

At all. I know the honorable senator does not intend that ; and I hope that, with his assistance, some scheme may be devised by this Parliament whereby the people in sparsely-populated districts, who are remote from polling booths, will not be disfranchised.

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