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Tuesday, 28 November 1911

Senator VARDON (South Australia) - - Standing order 209 provides that a Bill may be re-committed on its third reading. I wish to ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council whether he will consent to the re-committal of the measure for the purpose of rectifying certain omissions of a consequential character ? Clause 32 provides, in proposed new section 172A, sub-clause 1, that " every organization, association, league, or body of persons " shall do certain things. On the motion of the Leader of the Opposition, in Committee, the words " trade union, registered or unregistered," were inserted. The same words ought to appear in sub-clauses 2, 4, and 5. I understood from the Chairman of Committees that the alterations were consequential, and would be made in the Bill. But they have not been made. Will the Vice-President of the Executive Council consent to the re-committal of the measure for the purpose of rectifying the omissions ?

Senator McGregor - No; it can be done in another place. We have spent enough time on this Bill already.

Senator VARDON - I shall not move for the re-committal, because I know that the motion would not be carried, and I do not desire to waste time. I have no doubt that the Bill will leave the Senate with the benediction of the Government and the party supporting them. But it will certainly not leave with the benediction, nor do. I think that it has the approval, of any other ' considerable section in the Commonwealth.

Senator Barker - The Bill will get a parting kick from the Opposition.

Senator VARDON - Yes, with both feet ! The Labour party have always claimed to be anxious to extend the franchise, and to give people opportunities for registering their votes. But they have not maintained that attitude in regard to this Bill. The principal Act provided that any person who was more than 5 miles from a polling booth might have the privilege of recording his vote by post. When it was proposed to repeal that provision, certain honorable senators said that the farmers had horses and traps, and could easily record their votes although living 5 miles or more from a polling booth. I quite admit that; but what about the farmer's man, who cannot afford to lose a day to go to record his vote ; and what about the wife of the farmer's man, who ought not to be compelled to walk 10 miles for the purpose? These people are to be deprived of their votes. A woman in ill-health, or in a certain condition, who ought to receive the utmost respect and veneration from every man, is also told that she cannot vote. Then, again, the man who is old and feeble and unable to walk, is denied his vote. If a man or a woman is in a hospital or suffering from illness at home, the exercise of the franchise will be impossible. I desire it to be known throughout the length and breadth of the Commonwealth that the party opposite are depriving these persons of their right to vote. Senator O'Keefe has quoted figures to show that the difference between the number of males and of females voting by post was comparatively small. That is quite correct. But is that a reason for taking the opportunity of exercising the franchise away from 15,759 women ?

Senator O'Keefe - I never gave it as a reason.

Senator VARDON - Let it be supposed that a number of those men and women were lazy, and voted by post because of that. Supposing that one half of them were affected that way, is that a reason why 19,600 people, who are honestly unable to go to the polling booth, should be deprived of their votes? Yet that is what this Bill proposes to do. Why? The reason given is that there has been some abuse of postal voting. I do not say that there has not been abuse. I never knew of any system, however good, that was not abused to some extent. But Senator Rae mentioned that, in one or two instances, when postal votes were counted, it was found that they turned an election against the Labour party; and Senator Lynch also said that it was found that three out of five postal votes were against that party. Those were the only reasons which I heard given for the abolition of this system. As a matter of justice, these people have no right to be deprived of their votes.

Senator Guthrie - Nor have the people who are disfranchised for the Legislative Council in South Australia.

Senator VARDON - I understand that the State Government in South Australia intends to introduce a Franchise Bill ; and, indeed, means to stake its life as a Ministry upon the measure. When that Bill is brought in, I shall be glad to go on any platform and state my views with regard to it.

Senator Pearce - Will the honorable senator support it?

Senator VARDON - I shall express my views ; but I do not intend to say now what I mean to do, because this is not the proper time.

Senator O'Keefe - The honorable senator intends to support adult suffrage for the Legislative Council of South Australia, does he not?

Senator VARDON - Under certain conditions, yes. It has been said by the Minister that although the Bill abolishes postal voting, it introduces a more comprehensive system of absent voting. It is a splendid system of absent voting so far as sailors and passengers at sea are concerned, because they will be able to record their votes even before the writs are issued. They are the only persons who will be able to vote in that way. Persons who are not within their own division on polling day may vote at any polling place in the Commonwealth. I do not intend to Object to that provision. The Electoral Act contains about four pages of provisions to safeguard the use of the postal vote. But what precaution is taken in this measure? There is not a provision of any sort to safeguard absent voting. When the time came to hold a scrutiny of postal votes, the duty of the Returning Officer was to open the votes before the scrutineers, compare the signatures on the applications with the signatures on the ballot-papers, and so see that no fraud was perpetrated. What is to be done with absent votes? Will the Minister tell me if they are to be compared in a similar way.

Senator McGregor - If I reply now the debate will close.

Senator VARDON - We must wait until the Minister does reply, but I venture to think that it is not intended even to open the absent votes and compare the signatures before the scrutineers. In that case, what is the use of them? A man who is enrolled for the Melbourne division may go to the Returning Officer and say, " My name is John Thompson, No. hi on the roll," and get a voting-paper. If a man in North Queensland goes into a polling booth and says, " My name is John Thompson, No. 111, on the Melbourne roll," and makes a declaration, or signs a form, he will receive a votingpaper. If the votes are not to be compared before the scrutiny takes place, who will say whether a fraud has been committed or not?

Senator McGregor - We shall see.

Senator VARDON - We have heard quite enough of that kind of thing. The fact is that the Ministry have brought in a measure at the dictation of the Electoral Department. It knows something of the details, but the Ministry know very little of it.

Senator McGregor - We know everything about it.

Senator VARDON - I would have been very glad if we had been told everything about it.

Senator McGregor - You have been told everything.

Senator VARDON - We have not been told what regulations will be put in force to safeguard absent voting. It is not fair to the Senate or the people for the Ministry to decline to put in such safeguards as are to be found in the present Act. These are conspicuous by their absence. With regard to Saturday polling, I do not believe that even the Department or anybody else had a thought of the Jews when the polling time was extended by one hour. I think that the extension was made for another purpose. We have received from the leading Rabbis in the Commonwealth a petition in which they, speaking for the whole of the Jewish community, asked for some consideration. We on this side proposed to meet them by giving them an opportunity of recording their votes on the day previous to the day of election, but the Ministry and their supporters refused to grant the privilege. That is doing a distinct injustice to persons who have a conscientious objection to voting on a Saturday. I believe that under the new system of absent voting the door for fraud will be opened in many cases. I look upon this as a party measure pure and simple. The Labour party have the power to alter the Act as they please. They say, " We can amend the Act so that it will suit us better than it has done," and therefore it H.s to be altered. I believe that that, and that only, is the reason for the alteration, except the one fact that the Department wants to institute a card system which they know will be imperfect and this they have admitted, by introducing certain provisions to meet every expected breakdown.

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