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Friday, 7 October 1927

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - Yesterday I was dealing with an amendment in the bill which provides for a reduction of the hours during which polling is conducted from 8 p.m: to 7 p.m. I do not agree with the proposed amendment, which if adopted will place an unnecessary restriction upon a large number of electors. Honorable senators may say that as polling day is usuallyon a Saturday, when work finishes at 1 p.m., electors should be able to record their votes by 7 p.m. But those engaged in restaurants, at matinee performances at theatres, on football fields and other sports grounds are employed up to 6 p.m. As voting is now compulsory, we should increase rather than decrease the polling facilities. In Queensland polling ceases at 6 p.m. ami in Western Australia at 7 p.m. The. object, of the committee in recommending that the hours of polling in connexion with Commonwealth elections should be from 8 a.m. 'to 7 p.m., was to bring about uniformity. I would have preferred to see the hours of polling at State elections extended in order to bring them into line with the Commonwealth law.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why not have polling booths open for a week as they were in the good old days in the old land?

Senator NEEDHAM - They were bad old days in the old land when such conditions obtained. The bill proposes also to alter the existing provisions with regard to postal voting by reducing the distance from 10 miles to 5 miles; that is to say., the intention is to permit- an elector whose place of residence is five miles from a polling booth, to vote by post. At present the minimum is ten miles. I do not object so much to the shortening of the distance as to the principle itself. When the law was amended some years ago, I advocated the abolition of postal voting provisions, and for a time they were done away with. But subsequently they were reenacted and now greater facilities are to be provided. My objection is that, with postal voting, no matter how careful the administration may be, it is extremely difficult to preserve inviolate the secrecy of the ballot. Most honorable senators are aware that the principle has been abused in the past. For this reason I would have preferred to sue a recommendation by the committee in favour of the abolition of postal voting altogether, except in' extraordinary circumstances.

Senator Andrew - What about sick people ?

SenatorNEEDHAM.- I realize that, without an opportunity to vote by post, electors who . were ill at election time would be disfranchised; but in most cases sick people prefer not to be bothered with voting at all. Indeed it is a very sad spectacle to see authorized witnesses helping sick persons to vote and in some cases guiding the hand of a dying person in order that his vote may be recorded. The electoral system would be all the better if the principle were abolished, because then we should be able to preserve more effectively the secrecy of the ballot. Another provision to which I direct attention is contained in a proposed new sub-section 150a, which reads as follows: - (1.) No Member of the Parliament shall offer, promise or give directly or indirectly any gift, donation or prize to or for any club or other association or institution:

Provided that it shall not be a contravention of this section for a Member of Parliament to contribute, . or to offer or promise to contribute, to the funds of a hospital, a charitable body, an educational institution, a pastoral, agricultural. or horticultural society, a memorial, or a church of which he is a member, or to contribute to church collections.

Penalty: Ten pounds. " (2) No proceedings shall be taken for a contravention of this section except within throe months after the act complained c f . "

Senator Duncan - I am with the honorable senator against that provision.

Senator NEEDHAM - I strongly object to it. Why should members of Parliament put . a ring fence around themselves and, by passing this provision, say that they must not contribute to ft number of public institutions? I supposewe are all bombarded at times with requests for contributions and donations to various organizations, many of which are deserving of every support, and frequently it is difficult . for members of Parliament to keep pace financially with such requests. For my own part I do not try to' do so. I realized at the outset of my public: life, that it would be impossible for me to contribute to all societies and organizations within my State. This matter should be left to the discretion of individual members of Parliament. Each man should be the arbiter of his own destiny and be at liberty to . please himself whether or . not he gives contributions or donations to any organizations within his electoral division. We should not seek to make ourselves sacrosanct as regards such requests. I hope, therefore, that the proposed new sub-section will not be passed, because whilst a member of Parliament will, if this new provision be inserted in the act, be prevented from making contributions to certain bodies, other persons who may be aspirants for his place in public life, will have full liberty to do, a good deal of useful propaganda work by making donations. I admit that for a period prior to election day, as the principal act provides, candidates should, not be allowed to make donations to public bodies, and members of Parliament should be placed in the same category for that period of time only. .

Mr GREENE (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is the law today.

Senator NEEDHAM - And I have no objection to it; what I object to is this attempt to protect members of Parliament during the whole period of their membership. From time to time . we are informed, owing no doubt to the public position which we occupy, that we have been elected president or vice-president of certain organizations within our electoral divisions, and we should be at liberty, if we feelso inclined, to acknowledge the courtesy in the usual way. The proviso of the proposed new sub-section exempts contributions to the funds of hospitals, charitable and educational, institutions, pastoral, agricultural and horticultural societies, memorials, or churches of which we may bc members. I could mention quite a number of other worthy institutions which we should be at liberty to help. For instance, why should we not be allowed to make contributions towards the erection of a Trades Hall? That certainly is a very worthy object. I intend to vote, against the proposed new sub-section, as well as the others which I have mentioned.

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