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Thursday, 16 November 1911


Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - It is remarkable what curious positions Senator Millen gets into at times. On this occasion he finds fault with the clause before the Committee for not giving the Government sufficient latitude, but on a previous occasion he took up quite an opposite position. If he would only allow the Committee sufficient time to forget his contradictory attitude of a few days ago there might be a chance for him to escape our attention. On the clause providing that the averment of an Electoral Officer should be sufficient to secure a conviction in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the honorable senator insisted that the administration was being given too much power. His complaint at the present time is, I understand, that the clause before the Committee is too rigid, and does not give the Government sufficient liberty. Our aim should be to secure the greatest measure of public convenience. It is well known that in every centre of population - mining,' agricultural, and pastoral - the best time to get a large number of visitors together is Saturday evening. It is then that people who are far removed from the townships come in to do their shopping, and, perhaps, to have a jovial hour, to which, of course, they are quite entitled after a week's hard toil. This measure would be very defective if it did not take heed of the general usage of the country. This clause makes Saturday the polling day for the Commonwealth, and takes it out of the power of the Government to fix a day to suit their own purposes. Unquestionably, Saturday is the most convenient day for securing the maximum attendance at the 'polling booths. I agree that we should be very careful before we compel any section, however small, to run counter to the voice of conscience in discharging a citizen's duty. We ought to respect, as far as possible, the conscientious scruples of every section, large or small. Seeing that the last general election was held in April, and that the next general election will be held in a later month, when the day will be very much shorter, the Hebrews will have an opportunity of recording their votes without doing violence to their consciences. Of course, there are the Seventh-Day Adventists, and, perhaps, another sect or two whose peculiar positions need to be considered.

A very convenient way of overcoming the difficulty would be to insert in the Bill a clause providing that the members of any religious sect mentioned in a proclamation to be issued by the Governor-General, who conscientiously object to voting on Saturday, would be afforded an opportunity of voting in the same way as absent voters may do. If, for example, they were permitted to vote on the day preceding polling day, no harm could result. Of course, the provision would be limited to members of dissenting bodies, whose conscience forbade them voting on polling day.


Senator Vardon - Will they agree to that course ?


Senator LYNCH - I do not know. Up to the present, the only complaint which has readied us has emanated from the Jewish community.


Senator St Ledger - And we must respect it.


Senator LYNCH - I quite admit that. If the Government intend to recognise the conscientious objections of citizens, special provision should be inserted in the Bill to meet their views. To compel any section of the community to subordinate their conscientious convictions to the will of a Government, no matter how strong that Government might be, would be an act of tyranny. We have had too much of that sort of thing in the past, and it is about time that we took some notice of the genuine conscientious objections of a considerable element in our midst. This difficulty can be overcome in the way I have indicated. So far, I repeat, the only complaint which has reached us has been from the Jewish members of the community. But we know that there are other religious bodies which have an equally strong ground for consideration in this matter. Until we have discovered their wishes, it would be exceedingly hard if we closed the door irrevocably upon them. I therefore suggest to the Government the wisdom of providing for their cases as they arise in the future. I do not think that such a provision as I have outlined would be liable to abuse. It is inconceivable that, for the mere purpose of being enabled to cast an easy vote, an elector would declare himself to be a member of a religious body to which he did not belong. For that reason, I hold that there would be no danger of the provisions of the Bill being nullified if humane consideration were given to the position.







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