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Thursday, 23 November 1911

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - The explanation of the Minister means that the Government have not altered the position that they took up when this Bill was introduced. Upon a former occasion, the Honorary Minister did hold out some hope that he would be able to frame a proposal which would meet the views of those who entertain conscientious objections to voting on Saturday. His answer is that, having considered the suggestion, the Government decline to adopt it. I very much regret that decision, and I think that, on longer reflection, the Minister will see the inadvisability of the course which he is taking. It would be as easy to make provision in this clause for the class of people whom we are considering as it was to make provision for seamen to record their votes. . It is a curious thing that the Government have singled out seamen, and persons who are leaving our ports, and who, I repeat, may never return.

Senator McGregor - Do you think that they may be drowned?

Senator MILLEN - They may be leaving Australia because they have had enough of it under Labour domination, and their last act here may be to cast a vote against the present Government. While the Government make this extraordinary provision, which is properly safeguarded, and to which I do not object, to enable seamen and others to vote before nomination day, because they will have an assurance from their leaders as to who the candidates will be-

Senator Findley - Why do you harp on seamen? Do you not know that passengers also take trips?

Senator MILLEN - I know that in the organization to which I refer there is a practice of selecting candidates very much longer ahead than is the case with any other political party. In New South Wales they are selecting the candidates for the next election for the Senate.

Senator Findley - There is nothing to prevent the Liberal party from doing the same thing.

Senator MILLEN - Exactly ; but the Minister knows that our party does not.

Senator Pearce - Why not?

Senator MILLEN - Why should we alter our methods to suit the machinery of the Labour party? What is clear is that they have shaped their machinery to handicap their opponents. Here is a clear case where the Government absolutely scorn to extend consideration to those whose religious convictions prevent them from voting on Saturday, but enable other persons, who, they believe, are their friends, to vote before nomination day. Such an extraordinary provision is not to be found in any other Act.

Senator Findley - The Hebrews are not shut out from voting.

Senator MILLEN - They are. A very large number of these persons, on a summer day, when their Sabbath does not expire until shortly before 8 o'clock, will be unable to vote if they happen to live at any distance from a polling booth.

Senator Findley - The next election will not be held in the summer time.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator does not know when the next election will be held. There are half-a-dozen things which may precipitate an election, quite irrespective of what parties want in the Senate or in the other House. If the honorable senator is in .such a position that he can give a definite assurance as to when the next election will be held, that will not settle the question. He does not know when the election following that one will take place. So far as the Hebrews are concerned, we have an assurance from their clergymen that the mere keeping of the poll open till 8 o'clock will not meet their needs. If the Government are willing to allow seamen who are leaving Australia to vote before nomination day, why can they not enable the members of religious bodies to vote, not before nomination day, but a day or week before the poll in the presence of the Electoral Registrar, under the same precautions and regulations as are to be provided in the case of seamen? The Hebrews would vote with this difference, that they would be able to vote on properlyprepared ballot-papers, and would know the candidates who were offering themselves for election, and, therefore, would be able to make an intelligent choice. 'The Minister spoke about the abuse of postal voting. If one-half of the abuse which he talked of had been practised it would be nothing to the abuse of which, this provision is capable. It will not be very long, I venture to predict, before it will be found that this is the clause under which abuse will creep in. It is little short of a public scandal that while the Government make provision for a body of men whose political sympathies are supposed to be with their party to vote before nomination day - it does not matter whether the seamen spell the names of the candidates correctly or whether they know the Christian names so long as they can write, in some way or other, the names which have been recommended to them before nomination day - they deny similar opportunities to men who, for the highest of all reasons, decline to participate in an election when it takes place on a Saturday. How long is it since a Government in Australia ventured to take upon itself the right to thrust aside the religious convictions of any section of the people? In this discussion Senator Findley has referred to the question of defence. He said that we have not allowed the scruples of certain persons to exempt them from their obligation under the Defence Act. But he must know, as every one can see at a glance, that there is a big difference between the question of defence, which involves the safety, and it may be the national life, of Australia, and a mere question of voting. Voting is not compulsory, because the Government recognise the difficulty of enacting that principle, and because there is a great doubt in the minds of a large number of persons that the in terests involved are not sufficiently great to justify that interference with individual liberty.

Senator Findley - Under this Bill we do not compel a man to vote, but under the Defence Act we can tell a man to serve his country.

Senator MILLEN - Under this Bill the Government compel a man to abstain from voting, and say that so long as he worships his God in a particular form, so long will they shut him out from the right to vote. What we ask is not any loose system under which Hebrews and others could commit any fraud. We only ask that the Government should extend to them, under closer conditions, in a shorter period, and under whatever supervision they like, the same right to cast their votes before a high official as they have extended to seamen. Is not the declaration of a member of the Hebrew faith as good as the declaration of a seaman or other person who is leaving Australia before nomination day.? The Government are prepared to take the declaration of men leaving Australia before polling day, the bulk of whom will be seamen, whose sympathies will be in - favour of the dominant party. But their declaration is no more entitled to respect, and no more free from taint, than a declaration made by any other body of citizens. Why do they withhold this right from a body of people who, because of their religious convictions, are unable to participate in electoral functions on a Saturday?

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - They have plenty of time to vote on a Saturday.

Senator MILLEN - According to a petition which was signed by the head clergymen of the Hebrew faith, and presented' to the Senate recently, they have not; and I submit that their clergy ought to know what they are talking about. Their position in this country is sufficient to cause their statement to be accepted absolutely. They say distinctly that the extension of the polling hour to 8 o'clock will not meet their requirements.

Senator Findley - The prayer of that petition was against Saturday being declared a polling day.

Senator MILLEN - Yes, and for that reason. I recognise that the Minister cannot accede to the prayer in that form; but he can meet their requirements in the wa.v I have suggested. I ask Senator W. Russell to tell me candidly whether the Labour party do not select their candidates considerably in advance of an election?

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Sometimes.

Senator MILLEN - Invariably.

Senator Findley - Do not the Liberal party select their candidates after the issue of the writ, and sometimes before that event ?

Senator MILLEN - Invariably after the issue of the writ. One of the great difficulties of the Liberal party is that our organization has not been sufficiently developed to enable us to select candidates at a reasonable period in advance of an election. The Labour party, on the contrary, select their candidates in a reasonable, businesslike way ; that is, at a period sufficiently ahead of nomination day that it gives to electors who wish to support them an advantage over those who hold the views of their political opponents. If the Minister can see his way to adopt my suggestion in regard to affording an opportunity to Hebrews to vote, there will be no need to disclose the votes until polling day or afterwards. No one can pretend that there will be any difficulty in devising a scheme under which Hebrews can vote with absolute safety to the rest of the electors', and with absolute secrecy so far as they are concerned. I propose to test the feeling of the Committee on the subject. If the amendment which I intend to move be adopted, it will be necessary to recast the whole of the first sub-clause. I will not detain the Committee by redrafting it now, but may state roughly that, as amended, the sub-clause would read as follows : -

An elector whose religious beliefs debar him from voting on Saturday shall be permitted to vote on the day before polling day if he attends before any prescribed electoral officer and makes a declaration in accordance with the prescribed form.

For the present, I move -

That after the word " elector " in sub-clause 1 of proposed new section139 the following words be inserted, " whose religious beliefs debar him from voting on Saturday."

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