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Wednesday, 10 June 1914

Senator O'KEEFE (Tasmania) .- Senator Gouldasked Senator Rae this afternoon, "Do you blame the Minister for what has taken place in connexion with the electoral rolls?" I do blame a Minister. I blame the AttorneyGeneral for having made a statement in another place which practically amounted to an invitation to outside organizations - which may or may not be corrupt - to enter objections to names on the rolls, with a view to getting them removed, arid with the understanding that theAttorneyGeneral would wink at and connive at the breaking of the law.

Senator Findley - And he speaks for the Government.

Senator O'KEEFE - Yes, he speaks for the Government. The law lays it down that a deposit of 5s. shall be paid in connexion with each objection.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - The law makes the Chief Electoral Officer responsible, not the Minister.

Senator O'KEEFE - I am not to be drawn from my statement by a red herring of that description. My charge is, that a member of the Government gave this broadcast invitation some months ago to organizations to object to names on the rolls, and said that the organizations would not be asked to deposit the 5s. which, the Act provides, may be forfeited if an objection is found to be frivolous. It is an outrageous thing that any member of a Government should make a state- ment which practically means that he is willing to allow the law to be broken. For what reason? Is it for party purposes or not?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - Whatever it is for, the same course is open to both sides.

Senator O'KEEFE - That does not do away with the gravity of the charge.

Senator Needham - It was stated in sworn evidence before the Select Committee that the section referring to the deposit is practically a dead letter.

Senator O'KEEFE - And it was made a dead letter practically at the invitation of the Attorney-General. It was nothing short of a scandal that the AttorneyGeneral, tlie responsible legal adviser of the Government, should have issued such an invitation to outside organizations, and that he should have told them that they would not be asked to make the deposit. Why did not the Attorney-General and the Government have the courage to proceed with the Bill which they first introduced into another place ? And why have they not the courage to make a definite proposal in a Bill to do away with this deposit, and see if they can get that measure through both Houses of Parliament? Because they know they could not do it. I blame, not the Vice-President of the Executive Council, but the AttorneyGeneral, who is supposed to be the actual, although not the nominal, head of the Government. I desire to call attention to a reply I had from the Minister of Defence this afternoon. I asked Senator Millen if it was intended to give the Senate an opportunity of voting on the regulation, which, it is said, is to be made in connexion with absentee voting at the coming election. I was not satisfied with the answer I received, nor do I think any honorable senator was satisfied. Senator Millen said that the Senate would be informed of what it was intended to do; but this Chamber and the country have a right to know, and will know, something about the regulation which the Government intend to frame, in order to practically kill absentee voting. That is what it means. According to the evidence given by Mr. Oldham, the Chief Electoral Officer, if that regulation is framed, the provisions for absentee voting might as well be wiped out altogether. Here is

Mr. Oldham'sevidence before the Select Committee of the Senate -

I fear that there will always be difficulties under the existing absent voting system, but I think that the right to vote at any polling place, subject to regulations, is of the greatest possible advantage to the community, and that it ought not to bo withdrawn. I think a method can bc devised which would be more satisfactory to the Department, whilst at the same time giving the electors greater security than does the present one. I refer to the system of requiring the elector who desires to vote as an absent voter to make application for his form of declaration and ballot-paper after the issue of the writ and prior to the day of polling.

If that system comes into effect we might as well sweep away the absentee vote for all the use it will be in regard to allowing electors who are travelling to exercise their franchise. The very spirit of the absentee vote is that the man who is travelling, who has to leave his place of residence suddenly, and finds himself on the clay of election in another part of the country, may be able to record his vote. He may have to leave his district only a day prior to the election. If we are going to change the existing system and bring in one providing that a man who is travelling must carry with him a certificate issued by the Returning Officer, it will take away from more than half the absent electors the right to exercise the franchise on the day of election. How many thousands are there in Australia every day of the year who are travelling, wl to, perhaps, are suddenly called upon to leave their districts, and have not the opportunity to go to Returning Officers and get absent voting certificates? Wc should have the absentee vote in a form which will be. of some use to absent voters or not have it at all; and if Mr. Oldham's evidence is to be accepted as an indication of 'the intention of the Ministry in this regard the Senate should demand that the new regulation be laid on the table, so that honorable senators may discuss it, and see what effect it will actually have. Mr. Oldham's evidence continues -

He could bc required to make his application in writing, and to have his signature duly attested. The Divisional Returning Officer would then, subject to regulations, issue the ballot-paper and declaration, and file the application for future reference. The elector could walk into any booth outside his own subdivision, exhibit his ballot-papers in blank, make his declaration, and vote as an absent voter in the ordinary way.

We must not lose sight of the central fact that the elector will need to have his voting paper with him. The absent voting provisions were not put in the Electoral Act with that idea. The idea was that electors who on election day find themselves away from the subdivisions for which they were enrolled should be able to record their votes. What is there wrong in that system? Despite all the talk about corruption and irregularities at the last election, nothing has been proved, practically speaking.

Senator Findley - It was the first time in the history of the Commonwealth that no objection was lodged against the return of a successful candidate.

Senator O'KEEFE - We have not heard or read of a large number of prosecutions against persons for having used the absent voting provision corruptly. What is wrong about an elector away from his subdivision who wishes to vote being able to walk into the nearest polling booth on election day, and record his rote ? Tlie idea at the back of the provision when it was adopted was that if circumstances suddenly arose which took an elector away from his subdivision, he was to have every facility to record his vote; but if we can accept the statement in the newspapers, the Government intend to alter this provision. If the alteration is on the lines laid down in Mr. Oldham's evidence, the Government are seeking to take away from the absent voters a facility which they had at the last election, and a facility which they should have, and without which the absent voting provision is practically null and void.

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