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Thursday, 1 August 1912

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) . - I move -

That this Bill be now read a second time.

This measure is not of a very important character, but it is very necessary in order to bring the provisions of the Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Act into conformity with the Commonwealth Electoral Act. It will be remembered that during last session Parliament passed a Bill amending the Electoral Act in important features. We abolished postal voting, extended the principle of absent voting, imposed obligations on political organizations and on individuals to disclose expenditure incurred in behalf of, and in the interest of, a candidate or political party in connexion with an election, and also provided for the signing of articles published in newspapers commenting on candidates or political issues submitted to the electors. It is obvious that our law regarding referenda should, for public as well as for administrative reasons, be brought into conformity with the Electoral Act on these points. If we had separate provisions dealing with the election of members of Parliament and with questions submitted to the electors at a referendum it would be very confusing both to the public and to officials. There is a further provision in this Bill which will be of some value. In order to avoid confusion, a clause has been inserted to allow the referendum questions to be submitted on one slip of paper instead of on several. That will prevent a good deal of confusion in the minds of electors. Those who witnessed what took' place in polling booths when a previous referendum was taken at the same time as a general election, know that confusion resulted, and many ballot-papers were spoiled. We wish to simplify the procedure. I shall not make any further remarks, anticipating that the Senate will be prepared to go into Committee on the Bill. In order that honorable senators may be able to follow the alterations made, we have distributed handy copies of the Electoral Act, and also a memorandum showing in. bold type the alterations proposed to be made.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [5.53]. - I understand that it is the desire of the Government to proceed with this Bill at once?

Senator Pearce - Yes. I have stated clearly that it embodies no new principles.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - I recognise that both in taking a referendum and in holding an election for members of Parliament, it is just as well that our legislation should run cn parallel lines as far as possible. But at the same time assent to that principle does not prevent one from taking exception to certain proposals that it is now intended to re-enact. In the first place, this Bill is intended to make the taking of a referendum effective in the same way as the taking of a vote for an election of members of Parliament. Amongst other things, it refers to the abolition of postal voting, the insertion of absent voting provisions, the signing of articles in newspapers, and the submitting of a return of expenses incurred in connexion with the taking of a referendum. All those are matters which are still open to a great deal of debate. I recognise the right of the Government with their majority to determine on what lines our electoral law shall be framed. "Whichever party may be in power, it is essential that the electoral law shall provide opportunities for the fullest expression of the opinion of the electors. They may be in favour of the present Government or of the Liberal party, but they should, in either case, be given the fullest possible opportunity to record their votes. By the abolition of the postal vote, the Government enacted a law which is unfair and unjust to a considerable section of the people. They are attempting to repeat that enactment in this measure, and under it a very large section of the community will be precluded from recording their votes.

Senator Needham - The Werriwa election did not prove that.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - It proved that the Labour majority was reduced. Since postal voting was not permitted at that election, it was impossible to say how many people would have voted in that way, had the postalvoting provisions been in existence.

Senator Needham - There was an increased vote.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - Because there was an increase of population in the electorate, and the holding back of the date of the election gave an opportunity to a number of people to record their votes who would not, otherwise, have been able to do so. If it were pertinent to the question at the present time, I might have a great deal to say with regard to the desirability-

Senator Gardiner - I rise to a point of order. I wish to know whether the honorable senator is in order in discussing postal voting in connexion with this Bill? If he is, I shall feel obliged to follow the same Line of argument in replying to him.

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