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Friday, 7 October 1927

Senator FINDLEY (Victoria) . - This bill is the outcome of the appointment of a select committee to inquire into electoral law and procedure.. Having perused the report and recommendations which were submitted to Parliament by that committee, and read portion of the evidence, 1 have no hesitation in asserting that its appointment waa unwarranted and an unjustifiable waste of money, although the committee did its work conscientiously and well. Upon its appointment we were led to believe that it would delve into matters of major importance to the people. Possibly the Government had in view the likelihood of gaining some party political advantage. Opponents of the party to which I belonghare said on many occasions that the age of miracles is not yet passed ; that we have succeeded in resurrecting the dead and securing their votes. The charge has also been made that supporters of the Labour party frequently act on the advice which was tended to electors in another part of the universe, to vote early and often. I can recall an historic election that was held in Ballarat, when the candidates were Mr. McGrath, the present member, and Mr. McKay. The charges then made against the Labour party by its opponents were of such a serious nature that the Government appointed a royal commission to investigate them. It was said that proof could be furnished of some men having voted nineteen times.

The commission's inquiries, however, demonstrated that the wild statements which emanated from those opposed to the Labour party's platform, were groundless. It is true that one person claimed to have voted nineteen times that day, but when his claim was investigated it was found that the only foundation for it was that he had placed nineteen crosses on his ballot -papers ! At the election electors had the opportunity to vote for a considerable number of candidates for the Senate, two or more candidates for the Ballaarat constituency, and also some referendum proposals. I am glad that the committee has expressed the unanimous opinion that the allegations and rumours as to the wide-spread practice of impersonation and duplication are without foundation, and that such instances are practically negligible throughout Australia. I hope that we shall hear no more of the charge that the Labour party has been guilty of. nefarious practices in connexion with elections.

Senator Thompson - The report makes the position clear so far as Federal elections are concerned, but not in regard to State elections. - " -

Senator FINDLEY - The committee investigated electoral reform only as affecting the Commonwealth. I thought that it would make some reference to the practice of canvassing, which, in my opinion, should be abolished. No one who believes in voting by ballot can justify ' canvassing. 'The system is a violation of the secrecy of the ballot.

Senator Thompson - It is impossible' to prevent canvassing.

Senator FINDLEY - In view of the struggles of the past to establish the principle of voting by ballot, I cannot understand why a system- which enables armies of paid canvassers to go from door to door, pleading for votes for this or that candidate, is tolerated in Australia.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - "Would the honorable senator prevent the newspapers from publishing anything connected with elections?

Senator FINDLEY - I was referring to house-to-house canvassing, by which the party with the biggest purse gains a decided advantage. That, however^ is not the only reason for my opposition to the system ; I desire to make that clear.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Has the honorable senator read in the newspapers/this week what the licensed victuallers have dona in New South "Wales?

Senator FINDLEY - With its almost inexhaustible financial resources, the National party before each election engages thousands of canvassers at .good salaries to canvass for its candidates. This practice should not be permitted. At one time elections were decided by open voting. Honorable senators are familiar' with what took place in those days. The man with the biggest purse, who was able to engage professional pugilists and boxers to intimidate electors, or worse, always won the election. The voting was by show of hands. Woe betide any elector in those days who held up his hand for a candidate opposed to the one who had employed these bruisers ! The system of canvassing achieves the' same result, but in a more respectable way. T.f it was wrong in. those"' days to brow-beat electors into voting in a certain way, it is wrong today for canvassers to go from door to door trying to make people promise to vote for certain candidates. Some canvassers will not leave the door until they get a definite answer " Yes " or " No ". I consider that it is an inpertinence for any person to visit the home- of an elector to ask him how he intends to vote. Why should electors practically be. compelled to tell canvassers how they propose to exercise the franchise? I regret that the committee has not dealt with this question, and that there is no reference to it in the bill.

Senator Thompson - How could canvassing be prevented?

Senator FINDLEY - It could be made an offence for any political party to engage canvassers, or for persons to go from door to door urging electors to vote in a certain way.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable senator suggest that no person should ask another privately how he intends to vote?

Senator FINDLEY - Legislation prohibiting canvassing would not' entirely abolish private canvassing; but it would minimize a growing evil.

Senator Reid - Has the honorable senator never, asked an elector how he proposed to vote ?

Senator FINDLEY - I have never asked a person for a vote, nor has, I believe, any Labour candidate. Supporters of Labour vote for the party, not for individuals. There is nothing wrong in candidates at meetings urging electors to vote for the candidates supported by a particular political party; but I protest against the system of engaging paid canvassers.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Would the honorable senator's objection be removed if the canvassers were not paid?

Senator FINDLEY - The canvassers should be required to prove that they are not paid. House-to-house canvassing should be prohibited. That would not be difficult.

One of the committee's recommendations refers to signed articles. For a number of years. I have been associated with various newspapers. I know something of newspaper life, and of the men who day by day supply the public . with . well-written articles on various subjects. I subscribe to the principle that during a certain period prior to an election the writers of political articles published in the newspapers of the Commonwealth should be obliged to attach their - signatures to them. I am satisfied that the existing legislation requiring articles on political subjects to be signed has been in' the interests of candidates, tie newspapers and. their writers, and the general public. Writers and publishers of articles are more careful if they know the name of the writer must be attached.. In my opinion the day is not far distant when literary men will be proud to attach their names to the articles they write. Books and magazines containing the writings of well-known authors find a more ready sale than do books and magazines containing articles written by anonymous writers. I have before me an article from a newspaper published in one of our large cities It is a veritable tonic to me to read it. It is stimulating to find a writer so well off the old beaten track, and I have made inquiries as to his name. If, on the approach of an election, he is still engaged iu his present sphere and if he writes similar articles in the same or in any other paper, his name will bo attached to them and he will become better known and perhaps better established than he is to-day. The average man should ' not hesitate to attach his name to his articles. In the main it is the newspapers and not so much the journalists who are the objectors to the signing of articles during election campaigns. Not the slightest reason has been advanced for the discontinuance of the practice.

In regard to the proposal to reduce the hours of polling, our aim should be to place every facility in the way of voters and not to inconvenience them. The people of Australia have been educated to the present Commonwealth polling hours. It is before them every time an election approaches, that the booths are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It takes some little time to educate the electors, speaking of them as a whole, but to-day the people of Australia are fully acquainted with the Commonwealth polling hours, and unless substantial reasons are advanced for making any departure from the present practice, it is not right to alter the system. We know- that when the preferential system of voting was first introduced into Commonwealth elections many voters were not thoroughly educated up to it and as a result thousands of informal votes were recorded. The probabilities are that those informalities will become less and less with every new election. Those who watch events in connexion with federal elections know that the busiest time in the polling booths is from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.

Senator Reid - Why should that be so on Saturday, which is usually a half holiday ?

Senator FINDLEY - To many housewives Saturday is the busiest day of the week. They are fully engaged in shopping and domestic work, and in all the many tasks incidental to housekeeping. There are thousands of men who, knowing that the polling booths do not close until S o'clock, choose the time between 6 o'clock and 8 o'clock as the most convenient for the recording of their votes.

Senator Thompson - Many organizers of the honorable senator's party recommend that ' the polling booths should be closed at 7 o'clock.

Senator FINDLEY - The average Australian is a sport and engages in different fields of sport. During the cricket season thousands play cricket or attend cricket matches. I suppose that more people play cricket in Australia than in any other part of the world. There are also, probably, more footballers in Australia in proportion to the population than there are in any, other part of the world. Thousands play tennis, golf, croquet or bowls. Thousands also follow the slow or the fleet-footed quadruped. In the spring and the summer the last race is usually run a little after 0 o'clock, and the means of communication, in Sydney are not as up to date or as speedy as those in Melbourne. World travellers have said that in no place in the world is race traffic handled as expeditiously as it is at Flemington, Victoria. Take, for instance, Randwick, which I visited last ,week. As in the field of politics, so at that famous race-course. there are consistent and inconsistent performers; out-and-outers and inandouters. The out-and-outers are those who can, like the Labour party, always be relied on. If you support candidates standing on behalf of Labour in any political contest, you can always depend on getting a fair and square run for your money. The in-and-outers and inconsistent performers invariably belong to the Nationalist party.

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