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Wednesday, 1 November 1911

Senator BARKER (Victoria) - I did not intend to speak on this Bill ; but, as a matter has been mentioned in the debate with which I am perfectly well acquainted, and in connexion with which I took a very active part, I cannot allow the occasion to pass without giving my reasons for objecting to postal voting. I have been a magistrate for some nineteen years, and during that period I have been called upon, in the exercise of my duty, to witness a very large number of postal ballotpapers. The Leader of the Opposition quoted the case of the McEacharn election petition. That was the election in the Melbourne electorate. I had nothing to do with the first election for that seat, but in connexion with the second election, I was the honorary secretary of Dr. Maloney's committee. All the matters connected with that election therefore came under my purview. There was great activity displayed on both sides in the desire to secure the seat, but the activity on one side was counterbalanced by the activity on the other. There were certain honorary magistrates who went round to the various houses in Lonsdale-street, and Little Lonsdalestreet, and the lanes in the vicinity to induce the women of easy virtue to apply for postal votes. These were not women for whom the postal voting provisions were intended. They were not about to be confined, nor were they sick and incapable of attending the poll on the day of the election. They were persons who were healthy and quite capable of going to the polling booths. I myself attended on one occasion and witnessed a signature, for which I was afterwards brought up, and fined £10. In that case a woman desired a postal vote. She was an invalid, and when I attended at her house, I was assured by her daughter that the woman wanted some assistance. I said, "What is the assistance required?" and I was told that it was to steady the woman's hand. I said to the daughter, "Very well; hold your mother's hand if you desire to do so, and help her to make her signature." The daughter did so. It was afterwards found that the mother could neither read nor write. The magistrates who had issued the applications for the postal votes had signed blanks, and they were taken out, and' distributed. The name of that woman was forged. When the two applications for postal votes came before Mr. Hunt, the electoral officer dealing with the matter, he found variations in the signatures, and he took the necessary steps to bring me, and the other man, before the magistrates. We have an honorable senator asking where corruption takes place, and saying that to ask a person for whom he is going to vote would merit condign punishment-

Senator Millen - Do you think there are many bad cases like that?

Senator BARKER - I am only mentioning those cases I know of. Honorable senators opposite are very virtuous. They say that nothing of this kind is possible. They are perfectly oblivious of anything of the kind of which I have spoken. The Arcadian simplicity of it strikes me as evidence that they must know that it takes place. In one case I know of, a woman was induced to apply for a postal vote. She did so, and got it. A magistrate went to her house, and said to her, " Have you got your postal ballot-paper ?" She replied that she had. He said, " Showit to me. I will fix it up for you." She brought it out, and he said, " Of course, you are going to vote for McEacharn?" She said, "No; I am going to vote for Dr. Maloney." The magistrate replied, "I will see you damned first," and took the paper, and tore it across. I am not going to mention the name of that magistrate, but that actually occurred.

Senator Millen - Was he fined£10?

Senator BARKER - No.

Senator Millen - The only cases I take notice of are those which are proved.

Senator BARKER - The honorable senator knows as well as I do the difficulty of getting proof. If a person gets possession of a postal ballot-paper, and that paper is signed in the ordinary way, how are you going to prove that the person making use of it does not come under the provisions entitling him or her to a postal vote? When I was cited before the City Court, and fined by Mr. Panton for having witnessed a postal vote in an improper way, some thirteen other cases were brought forward, and it was proved that in fourteen instances, magistrates had signed blank forms, allowed them to be taken out, and names of electors had been forged on them. In my case, there was an appeal, and the higher Court immediately quashed the conviction because there was no evidence to show that I had done anything derogatory to my position as a magistrate. At the time I made the declaration I did not know that the woman was an illiterate woman. I was not told about that. So far as the Labour party are concerned, I have never known them, no matter how high excitement may be at election time, to get a vote by corrupt means.

Senator Millen - Three representatives of your side were fined in New South Wales the other day.

Senator BARKER - That may be. I am telling honorable senators what I know of the possibilities of corrupt voting under the postal voting system. I desire that every one should have the opportunity of voting, hut of the two evils which exist, we must choose the lesser, and I say it would be wise to abolish a system which has been used so corruptly, and which has wrought so much harm as has the system of voting by post. I was a scrutineer for the postal votes recorded at the election of Sir M. McEacharn. The result could not turn on the number of these votes, because of the large number of the other votes recorded. We went through the 600 postal votes, and I am certain that 50 per cent, of the persons who availed themselves of this system were not entitled to do so. I was aware that persons had been going up and down the streets urging electors to secure postal ballot-papers, because if they did they would not have to go to the polling booth. This statement was commonly made, " You do not need to go to the polling booth; all you have to do is to apply for a postal ballot-paper."

Senator St Ledger - What of those persons who do need postal voting now ?

Senator BARKER - The harm which will be done to a small number of persons will be more than compensated for by the benefit which will be secured to the country. There is a number of persons who, under every law, must be placed at a disadvantage. In this case I hold that lesser evil will be done by abolishing a greater evil. During the course of the election to which I referred, and in which I took an active part, as I desired to see Dr. Maloney returned, I witnessed much abuse of the postal voting system by reason of the fact that any amount of money was available, and the persons who were engaged for the other side were not particular as to what they did, as their only desire was to secure votes. From the facts which came under my notice at the time, I was quite convinced that postal voting was used corruptly with the intent to defeat the opposing can;didate by means other than fair and clean. To my knowledge the Labour party have always desired to have elections conducted, as far as practicable, in a clean, fair, and open way. In view of the fact that we cannot possibly get all people to record their votes, we are justified in abolishing postal voting, and I trust that the Bill will be carried almost unanimously.

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