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Monday, 11 December 1905

Mr PAGE (Maranoa) - I shall vote for the repeal of this clause, because I know how the postal vote was abused at the last Melbourne election. The experience gained on that occasion satisfied me that the system was absolutely rotten.

Mr Storrer - The wrong-doers were punished.

Mr PAGE - The honorable member cannot name one who was punished. Several were brought before the Police Court, but every one of them got off. The candidates at that election had nothing whatever to do with the abuse of the system, but their agents had, and I do not blame them for doing what the law permitted them to do. We had abuses of the system in two keenly-contested elections, and I shall give honorable members some idea of the value of the postal vote, when I say that at the Riverina election the postal votes recorded were 172 for Mr. Blackwood', 177 for Mr. Chanter, and 162 informal votes - nearly as many as were recorded for either of the candidates. That shows the value of the postal vote in a keenlycontested election where every vote on both sides was whipped up.

Mr Crouch - Such a thing could not happen in an intelligent constituency like Maranoa.

Mr PAGE - No; because the honorable member for Maranoa told the electors not to use the postal vote, but to come to the ballot-box. I say that if we wish to preserve the secrecy of the ballot, the electors must record their votes at the polling booths.- The honorable member for Boothby told the Committee that almost any one might witness an application for a postal vote certificate, and I should be irĀ» favour of the postal vote if it were , safeguarded as it is in South Australia.

Mr Batchelor - It is the practice of canvassers going round to collect these votes that causes the trouble.

Mr PAGE - That is so. If we take this postal vote system as applied to electors on stations, I may tell honorable members that in nearly every instance the postmaster is a general storekeeper under the patronage of the station boss. He must do what the boss tells him, or he will get his walking ticket.

Mr Hutchison - And most of the squatters are justices of the peace.

Mr PAGE - Every one in my constituency who wears a starched shirt is a justice of the peace; no one who wears a soft shirt is a justice of the peace in Western Queensland. The Minister of Home Affairs knows that what I am saying is perfectly true, and is as well aware as any member of the Committee of the trickery practised in Queensland in regard to electoral matters. Every employe on a station can be intimidated under this postal vote system. The order may go forth that the station hands must all apply for postal vote certificates. Under these provisions the boss would be present to witness the applications, and the result would be worse than the present State system in Queensland, under which the votes are counted on the station immediately the poll is declared. What chance would a candidate who was opposed to the squatting interests have? I am surprised at the Minister suggesting that justices of the peace, &c, should have power to deal with this matter.

Mr Groom - I say that we should adhere to the original Act, which provides for postmasters.

Mr PAGE - The justices of the peace in Queensland are such a nice, intelligent body of men, that I would not even think of asking them for advice in regard to the purchase of a walking-stick.

Mr Groom - I think that the honorable member's suggestion was that they should be authorized to attest affidavits for the High Court.

Mr PAGE - That is a different matter. We know that nine-tenths of those in Queensland are politically rotten; they have been elevated to the magistracy for political reasons.

Mr Groom - I would not say that the percentage of "politically rotten justices" is as large as the honorable member asserts.

Mr PAGE - If the honorable member had had as much experience of them as I have had in Western Queensland, he would recognise the truth of my statement. What sort of justice is meted out in some of the Courts there?

Mr Groom - I know that in some cases it is far from equity and good conscience.

Mr PAGE - I am not particularly keen about the repeal of the provision for voting by post; but I agree with the honorable member for Boothby that we should hedge it round with as many safeguards as possible. We should either do that or go " the whole hog." If it is right for domestic servants, shearers, shed-hands, and bush workers to enjoy the voting by post facilities, every one else should have the same privilege, and we might as well do away with the ballot-box. If it suits his purpose, any man can believe that he may be ill on election day. The honorable member for New England says that such things as have been mentioned during the debate on this clause have not come within his ken. He must have been walking about the country with his eyes shut. Such cases are rampant in New South Wales;, and we have taken our cue from that State as to the means of defeating electioneering dodges.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Far greater facilities are extended to such persons under the regulation and "Q" form.

Mr PAGE - I am opposed to legislation by regulation.

Mr Batchelor - But even those who avail themselves of the regulation form have to attend personally at a polling booth.

Mr PAGE - I think that even if it be only for our own benefit these provisions should be safeguarded. We are all equally interested in this matter. I wish to be returned at the next general election, and have no desire to commit political suicide by inserting a provision in the Bill which will cause me to be rejected. I do not think any other honorable member wants to do so. I hope that the honorable member for Darwin will not press the amendment, which he has suggested; but that we shall so safeguard this provision that a recurrence of the abuses to which reference has been made will be impossible.

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