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Tuesday, 28 November 1911

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) - - I think that every reasonable man in the community will share Senator Gardiner's regret at the repeal of certain faci lities for voting. He can scarcely defend the repeal of postal voting by directing his remarks to the scathing criticism of the Leader of the Opposition. He seeks to defend the action of the Government on a plea which is ever put forward when certain persons have to defend an iniquity > and that is that it is for the good of the State, for the good of the people. Unable to specify charges of fraudulent practice at elections, which have been proved against the party to which he belongs, he palliates them, he excuses them; indeed* he almost goes to the length of saying that in all cases they are perfectly justifiable. That supports our statement that this measure is framed in such a way that it will strike heavily against our side. When we give sufficient proof of fraud on the other side, it is somewhat ominous that such a defence is made and that such excuses are put forward. What have honorable senators on the other side to say with regard to the abolition of postal voting? They have practically admitted that it is proposed because it has been found comparatively useless to a certain section of the community. That is not the argument that Senator Gardiner used previously. The reason he gave previously for the proposed abolition of postal voting was that it had been used as an . engine of fraud, presumably against his own party. The two arguments are utterly inconsistent. May we ask that before the Bill leaves the Senate, honorable senators opposite will, at least, endeavour to understand enough about it to enable them to be consistent in their defence of it. Does not every member of the Senate know that postal voting must of necessity have been a great convenience to very many of the electors, male and female? Senator Gardined mentioned the instance of a fencer in a remote district, who might be unable to go to the poll on the day of an election. But it was exactly for that class of men that postal voting was intended.

Senator Henderson - lt was exactly that class of man who never had the use of it.

Senator ST LEDGER - A cursory analysis of the figures with regard to postal voting will show that the system was used by fencers,, boundary riders, shepherds, and others who were miles away from a polling booth. It was a great convenience to such people to be able to apply for a postal ballot-paper, it might be six weeks before the day of the election, in order to enable them to exercise the franchise. It must be obvious that postal voting was a tremendous advantage to all classes of electors in scattered districts. When the franchise has been given to women it is surely an inherent right that they should be allowed to anticipate their approaching motherhood, and that it should not be a bar to their exercise of the franchise. I do not care on which side the majority of the postal votes were cast, I speak now in the highest interests of woman, and especially to guard her privileges when she is approaching motherhood.

Senator Lynch - Does the honorable senator think that this measure will lead to a further decline in the birth-rate?

Senator ST LEDGER - Senator Lynchmay be as flippant as he pleases on this matter, but the fact remains that the Government propose to deprive a woman of the franchise at a time when, because of her approaching motherhood, every man respects her most. Honorable senators opposite cannot regard that provision of the Bill without a blush of self-reproach or of regret. If they are not sorry for what is being done they must be beyond all sense of shame in this matter.

Senator Pearce - The State, with the lowest birth-rate, showed the highest number of postal votes recorded by women.

Senator ST LEDGER - It displays a warped intellect, or the absence of any sense of relevancy to drag the question of the birth-rate into this matter at all. Honorable senators opposite have, in spite of warnings inside and outside this Chamber, decided to deprive women in a certain condition of the right to record their votes. They know that they have done that* and their inconsistent arguments show that they are aware that the position they have taken up is indefensible, and that they regret it, or are more or less ashamed of it. Let us look now at the contrast which the Government have presented to the world so far as the franchise to women is concerned. It is a fact that, under this Bill, a woman is disfranchised at a time when she is about to become a mother, whilst the prostitute of the streets is enabled to walk triumphantly to the polling booth and vote.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - No, that is one of the troubles. They have to. go. They voted in advance in Melbourne.

Senator ST LEDGER - An honorable senator on the opposite side points out that, so far as certain more or less infamous women are concerned, additional facilities are to be given to them to vote, whilst the woman who, because of her condition of maternity, rightly claims the greatest respect of the nation, is to be deliberately disfranchised.

Senator Needham - The honorable senator is twisting the interjection as he twists everything.

Senator ST LEDGER - I understand the interjection in that sense, and whether I have twisted it or not, the fact remains that, in this Bill, there is a remarkable contrast between the treatment meted out to the most deserving of women, who are disfranchised by reason of their condition of maternity, and the infamous women, who are not touched, and may take the place of the others at the polls.

Senator Gardiner - The honorable senator's class created them, and yet are always holding them up to ridicule.

Senator ST LEDGER - That is a characteristic interjection, and a characteristic defence of the Government position. I have stated the case as it stands, and honorable senators opposite cannot . rub it out. Senator Gardiner referred to what he called trivial offences against the electoral law, and objected to our saying that they were cases of fraud. I point out that, under this Bill, the most trivial offences, even against regulations of which we know nothing, are punishable by remarkably heavy fines. In one case the Government propose the heaviest penalties for a purely artificial offence. If the proprietor of a newspaper .does not print in a certain kind of type a statement to the effect that certain matter is an advertisement, he is to be liable to a penalty of £500. In answer to some criticism by the Leader of the Opposition, Senator McGregor interjected that there are some laws which he would break. If ever there was a law which, by reason of its oppression, would excuse its breach by the community, it is a law of this kind. The Bill creates a purely artificial crime in order to strike at the proprietors of newspapers who are supposed to be powerful assistants of a certain political party. Does Senator McGregor suggest that the proprietors of these newspapers should break this artificial law, or does he justify the heavy penaltyproposed for what may be merely an act of negligence on the part of a newspaper proprietor? The Labour party, because certain guides of public opinion- have made their influence felt with the electors of this country, entertain a desire to strike at them.

Senator McGregor - Moses said, " Thou shalt not bear false witness."

Senator ST LEDGER - I am bearing true witness, and the facts which I am stating are irrefutable. Honorable senators opposite have admitted, time and again, that one reason why this provision was inserted in the Bill is that the press of Australia is opposed to them.

Senator McGregor - It was inserted because the newspapers are unfair.

Senator ST LEDGER - Everybody who is opposed to the party opposite is charged with being unfair. In face of such strong corroborative evidence, is it wrong to say that this Bill has been deliberately framed, not for the purpose of doing justice to the electors of Australia, or to extending to them facilities in every proper direction, but for the purpose of enabling the Labour party to avenge itself upon a political foe? I believe that it was conceived in a. spirit of political vengeance, that it was born in political iniquity, and that, sooner or later, it will meet with the fate which it deserves.

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