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Thursday, 16 November 1911


Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - I was rather surprised to notice that the Honorary Minister, when he addressed himself to this subject, entirely ignored the sug- gestion which was thrown out by Senator Gardiner. 1 anticipated some time ago that this Chamber, and the House of Representatives, would be asked to consider the unfair position in which the Jewish portion of the community, and other religious sects, would be placed, if we made it a rigid statutory rule that, in connexion with general elections, Saturday should be fixed as polling day. In speaking upon the motion for the second reading of the Bill, I pointed out that if the Government were irrevocably committed to that course, they might, in Committee, recognise the wisdom of extending, as far as possible, the provisions of proposed new section 139 to persons who, for conscientious reasons, were unable to vote on Saturday. In that proposed new section, it is provided that electors who will be absent from their electoral divisions upon polling day, may vote at any time after the issue of the writ, and before polling day, if they attend before any prescribed Commonwealth Registrar, and make a declaration in accordance with the prescribed form. If it be competent for an individual to exercise his franchise in advance of polling day, merely on the assertion that he will be absent from his electoral division on that day, surely it ought to be equally competent for persons who cannot conscientiously vote on a Saturday, upon making a declaration to that effect, to vote in exactly the same way. I know .that the proposed section to which I have referred is open to a good deal of adverse criticism on the ground that it leaves so much to prescription by regulation. But if the Government intend to adhere to it, either in its present or any modified form, surely its -benefits ought to be extended to persons of the Jewish community, to members of the Seventh Day Adventists, and to others who, from conscientious reasons, are precluded from voting on a Saturday. It is not proper, after we have received a petition from the Jewish community, after the Minister of Home Affairs has been waited upon by a deputation from that body, and after a petition has been presented to another Chamber from the Seventh Day Adventists, for this Parliament to ignore the requests which have been made to it. Neither is it for us to answer those requests by attempting to discover what percentage of these bodies devote themselves to sports on Saturday, and thus outrage the conscientious convictions of the majority of them. Hitherto, there has been too much disregard of the conscientious scruples of certain sections of the community. I entirely disagree with the statement of the Honorary Minister in that connexion; and, upon reflection, I think he will realize that that statement was most ill-timed. He declared that the paramount consideration in matters of this kind must be the interests of the majority. Let me remind him that that ought not to be the paramount consideration where matters of conscience are concerned.


Senator Findley - I said that in framing Acts of Parliament consideration for the majority must rule.


Senator KEATING - Whenever matters of conscience arise in legislation conscientious scruples should be respected.


Senator Findley - Why was not that attitude taken up in regard to the question of compulsory training?


Senator KEATING - Did the Honorary Minister wish to take it up ? ' Who hindered him? I am not aware that there was any objection offered to conscientious scruples being considered on that occasion.


Senator Needham - There were very strong objections.


Senator KEATING - Still, that circumstance cannot obscure the fact that considerations of conscience should not be ignored simply because of a view which is entertained by a majority of the community. I do hope that the Minister will intimate his willingness to adopt the suggestion which I made upon the motion for the second reading of the Bill, namely, that the provisions of it which are applicable to absent voters should be made applicable to members of the Jewish community and others who entertain conscientious objections to voting on Saturday. If that be done, it will be easy to prevent the abuse of such a concession - far easier than it will be to prevent its abuse in the case of absent voters. The reasons which underlie the introduction of proposed section 139 apply at least with equal, if not with ten times greater, force to those persons who hold conscientious objections to recording their votes on Saturday.







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