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Wednesday, 17 June 1914

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) (Minister of Defence) . - Senator O'Loghlin has done me a slight injustice. The purpose of the question, which I answered on a previous occasion, was to draw from me a statement that the Senate would be informed before it broke up of any new regulation framed to deal with absent voting, so that it would be in a position to take any action it thought fit in regard thereto. The fact that any regulation published to-day will be tabled to-morrow, and it will be within the competency of the Senate to disallow it, is the best possible proof of the intention of the Government to carry out the assurance I gave that no surprise would be sprung upon the Senate. Honorable senators clearly understood that no action would be taken after the session had closed.

Senator O'Keefe - The papers in Tasmania have been making statements during the past few days that the Government would issue regulations after the Houses had risen.

Senator MILLEN - If the papers would be a little less suspicious, they would be less perturbed when they get a definite statement such as I gave the Senate the other day. There is no necessity for me to repeat it now. Senator O'Loghlin criticised the regulation on the assumption that it lacks the very provision which it contains. His objection was that a person might leave his home before 8 o'clock in the morning and not return until after the poll in his own subdivision had closed, which is exactly what the regulation provides for. It is a prohibition against those who within the polling hours-

Senator Lt Colonel O'Loghlin - It does not say so in the newspaper from which I quoted.

Senator MILLEN - I am not responsible for that. The regulation meets exactly the objection which the honorable senator raised in the Chamber. It was found in the last election that congestion took place at certain polling booths, and it was thought not an unfair thing, not only in the interests of those absent voters who wished to vote there, but also in the interests of residents in the locality, that some restriction should be placed upon those who for no sound reason sought to use a polling booth other than their own. Therefore, this new regulation provides that before any one is entitled to vote as an absent voter - that is, outside his own subdivision - he must be in a position to say that he has not been there during the polling hours.

Senator Lt Colonel O'Loghlin - Not within a mile.

Senator MILLEN - That is so. I think I am correct in stating that the regulation received the approval of Mr. Fisher, the Leader of the Labour party.

Senator McGregor - I deny that.

Senator MILLEN - If that be so, all that I can say is that my information is quite incorrect.

Senator McGregor - It is absolutely incorrect.

Senator MILLEN - I accept the honorable senator's assurance, but I was led to believe that the regulation had been approved of by the Leader of the Labour party.

Senator McGregor - I have in my hand what was handed to Mr. Fisher by the Prime Minister, and it states, in effect, that the electorhas to declare that he would not be that clay within the subdivision at a time that would permit him to vote.

Senator MILLEN - That is exactly what the regulation provides for.

Senator McGregor - It provides for a limitation of a mile, and that is not included in this at all.

Senator MILLEN - That is making the thing still more liberal.

Senator McGregor - Oh !

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator surely misunderstands the regulation. The original proposition was that the elector had to affirm that he was not within the boundaries of his subdivision in these hours. The new regulation enables him to be a mile outside of them.

Senator McGregor - No; he does not have to affirm that he was within the boundaries, but that he was not within the boundaries under conditions which would permit him to vote.

Senator MILLEN - That is exactly what is provided for in the regulation.

Senator Rae - How can any person be sure of the exact distance?

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator will see that the original proposition, which received, so I was informed, the approval of the Leader of the Labour party, was a prohibition against any one voting as an absent voter who had been in his subdivision between polling hours. The only alteration made is to say, " Within a mile of the subdivision," which enlarges the boundaries within which he may roam.

Senator Rae - But look at the technical objections which could be urged, because you cannot measure a mile.

Senator MILLEN - The regulation does give a man a larger area to roam over, and therefore is more liberal than the old one. It is a little unfortunate that a statement should be made by Senator McGregor in that way. I venture to express the opinion that when the effect of the alteration is thoroughly understood there will be no re-affirmation such as that made by the honorable senator just now. I cannot say that I was surprised at the action of Senator Rae, but it is a little extraordinary that he should come here and say it is clear that nefarious practices are going on. He made that statement simply because he held in his hand a letter, for the accuracy of which he would not vouch. To-day we had some examples of the kind of statements that are brought here and put forward as if they were proofs. Take the two statements which Senator Russell gave with the utmost confidence to the Senate.

Senator Rae - I have a letter here, too, concerning statements.

Senator Maughan - Will the Minister allow me to read the regulation to him?

Senator MILLEN - After I have dealt with the statements on which honorable senators venture to found charges of corruption against the Government. As far as they have made definite statements, and we have been able to inquire into them, they have been refuted. Senator Russell, for instance, gave the names of two electoral registrars who he said he knew had refused to receive objections to enrolment from representatives of the Labour organization, whilst they were receiving similar objections from the representatives of the Liberal organization. To that definite statement the two officials gave an emphatic denial.

Senator Rae - How do you know that they are speaking the truth? A denial is not disproof.

Senator MILLEN - It is quite true that I cannot prove whether a statement made by an electoral official is correct or not, but I do venture to say that the statements made by these two electoral registrars in black and white are worth a dozen times as much as the letter which the honorable senator brings here.

Senator Rae - It is in black and white, too.

Senator MILLEN - Yes, but the honorable senator will not vouch for the accuracy of the statements of the writer.

Senator McGregor - I vouch for the accuracy of the memorandum I presented here to-day.

Senator MILLEN - If Senator Russell made his statement with any substance underlying it, let him produce the evidence of those who he said were sent to lodge objections. We have two responsible officials, who have made a report. One of them has declared that he neverreceived any objections from either Liberal or Labour organizers. Yet Senator Russell's statement was that he had received objections from the Liberals whilst refusing them from Labour. These are matters of fact which it ought to be possible to sheet right home. I invite Senator Russell now to bring for ward the evidence which he said he possessed to substantiate his charge.

Senator Maughan - He has got some more.

Senator MILLEN - Then it is was brought forward. These wild and reckless charges, involving alike the honour of officials and the Government, ought not to be allowed to go on unless honorable senators are prepared to bring evidence here which justifies them in their opinion in making the statements.

Senator Rae - There is no doubt that the Liberal organizations, so-called, are doing all kinds of " crook " work.

Senator MILLEN - That is the sort of statement which the honorable senator goes on making.

Senator Rae - I know it.

Senator MILLEN - I challenge the honorable senator to bring here evidence of what he calls " crook " work.

Senator Rae - You will not accept it when you hear it.

Senator MILLEN - Is the statement in the letter to which the honorable senator referred to be accepted as evidence? Is the statement made by Senator Russell evidence ?

Senator Rae - I am not responsible for it.

Senator MILLEN - Is a letter for the accuracy of which the honorable senator will not vouch evidence ?

Senator Rae - I vouch for the truthfulness of the writer.

Senator MILLEN - Those who state that the electoral officials did wrong ought, if they have a spark of regard for the decency of the Senate, if not for their own reputation, to bring forward the evidence so as to let us see whether the officials have failed in their duty or not.

Senator Senior - You are challenging a man when he is away.

Senator MILLEN - That is not my fault. When honorable senators bring forward these matters and attack the Government on them I have a perfect right, on the only opportunity provided to-day, to deal with them.

Senator Rae - You cannot deny that there has been more bother over this matter than over anything else.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator is seeking to make political capital out pf it. That is why there is a good deal of bother.

Senator Senior - It is happening all over the country.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator will spread it all over the country regardless of whether there is an atom of truth in it or not. Let me take another statement which can be clearly refuted by a reference to public records. Senator Russellsaid that at Swan Hill, with a population of 2,000 people, no fewer than 500 objections to enrolment had been lodged. That is the kind of statement which has been thrown broadcast about this country.

SenatorRae. - He distinctly said that he only gave that statement for what it was worth.

Senator MILLEN - Yes, and I know what the honorable senator is giving it for. Itis made clear against the honorable senator and others that they are throwing these statements about in order to impress the public mind with the idea that something wrong is going on. The facts are not only that the population of Swan Hill is not 2,000, but that there were no fewer than 3,364 enrolments. Therefore, it can be taken for granted that the population of the place is more than double 2,000. . Yet, in spite of that fact, the number of objections lodged was 164. That is a sample of the gross exaggerations which honorable senators opposite are proposing to throw about this country as facts- as evidence of some corrupt practice on the part of the Government?

Senator O'Keefe - One hundred and sixty-four names seems to be a pretty large number there.

Senator MILLEN - I do not think it is a large number, when we remember that Swan Hill is in a district which has a large nomadic population.

Senator Rae - Can you deny that in the Cook division there were11,600 objections, and that the member himself got the number from the Returning Officer?

Senator MILLEN - Unlike the honorable senator, I am not going to deny any matters until I have had an opportunity of looking into them. All that I ask ia that honorable senators should make statements in such a definite form that it is possible for the authorities to inquire into them, and see how far they are true or not, and cease this resort to wild generalities, which are simply imputations upon the honour of public officials.

Senator Senior - A scrutineer at Moonta told me a fortnight ago that he had been objected to.

Senator MILLEN - Suppose that he had been, what does it prove ? Let us look into the circumstances of the case.

Senator Senior - The man had never moved from his home, yet he was objected to.

Senator MILLEN - It is quite possible that that may be so.

Senator Rae - It is always happening, though. Where is the screw loose that it is happening to so many?

Senator MILLEN - Where so many ?

Senator Rae - Five hundred objections in one case. Senator McDougall read out specific cases.

Senator MILLEN - I want an opportunity of looking into those specific cases. I am not prepared to take statements which Senator McDougall has never had an opportunity to verify, but which have been given to him by others. Let. me now turn to the regulation. Senator Maughan proposed to read out to me what I assume was a copy of the original draft. Perhaps he will check his with what I have -

That I have not been, nor shall be to-day, within the subdivision for which I am enrolled under conditions which would permit of my voting at any polling-place prescribed for that subdivision.

Senator Maughan - That is correct, with the exception of the substitution of "and" for "nor."

Senator MILLEN - That, I understand, has been approved of by Mr. Fisher.

Senator McGregor - That portion.

Senator MILLEN - The Government! instead of putting a man in a position to declare that he is not or would not be in his subdivision, have given him the area within a mile of it to roam over. To that extent we have liberalized the old regulation, and made things a little easier for the elector, who might not know his exact boundaries, but would know them within a mile.

SenatorRae. - Is a man to carry a chain with him?

Senator MILLEN - There are hundreds of electors who do not even know the exact boundaries of their subdivision, and by putting the distance a mile farther out we give him that margin, and therefore make it easier for him if he has a tender conscience to make the declaration. At any rate, if he does know the dividing lines he has a greater margin within which he can roam about without placing himself beyond the provisions of the regulation.

Senator Findley - Who is going to define the mile?

Senator MILLEN - Who defined the 5 miles when my honorable friends had that distance?

Senator Findley - Is that to be left in the hands of the Presiding Officer?

Senator MILLEN - No, to the man himself. I venture to say that my honorable friends are not doing justice to their common sense.

Senator McGregor - Is this a substitution ?

Senator MILLEN - It is an addition.

Senator McGregor - Oh, well, there is nothing in it.

Senator MILLEN - Exactly. Suppose, for instance, that I have to sign that I am not in this chamber between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., I am limited to a very small space; but if I have to sign that I am not within a mile of the chamber it leaves me a big area of country in which to roam round outside the chamber.

Senator Rae - Surely the honorable senator cannot logically maintain that contention.

Senator MILLEN - I think the matter is very simple.

Senator Rae - I am sure the honorable senator is wrong.

Senator MILLEN - Senator McGregor is apparently quite satisfied, and I think I can afford to be satisfied also.

Senator Findley - Who is to say what is a mile and what is not a mile?

Senator MILLEN - Well , let honorablesenators disallow the regulation proposed by the Government, and accept the other one.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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