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Monday, 11 December 1905

Mr HUTCHISON (Hindmarsh) - I trust that the Minister will agree to provide for the inspection of applications for postal votes, bothbef ore and after election day. The provision for voting by post was first adopted in South Australia, in order to enable seamen and others, who could not possibly attend the polls,to record their votes. The facilities thus afforded were, however, most improperly used. I have known of dragloads of applicants for postal votes having been taken to post offices by the agents of certain political associations. Many ladies have told me that they had not intended to vote, but were induced to sign applications for postal votes. They had no idea that they were doing any wrong. When women were first enfranchised, many of them strongly objected to going to the polling booths, and the election agents presumed upon this fact.

Mr McWILLIAMS (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - What did it matter, if their votes were not recorded more than once?

Mr King O'Malley - The postal vote system is destructive of the secrecy of the ballot.

Mr HUTCHISON - Apart from that, it has been greatly abused. I should not, of course, dream of taking legal proceedings against women who had acted in ignorance of the law, but I should immediately prosecute a male voter who had abused the Act. The provision as it stands is dangerous.

Mr Mahon - Would the honorable member be in favour of striking it out altogether ?

Mr HUTCHISON - No, but I should limit its application to the cases of seamen, shearers, and others, who, owing to the nature of their occupation, are often absent on polling day. I would urge the Minister to adopt my suggestion. If an elector knows that his application will be open for inspection both before and after polling clay, he will be careful not to make a false declaration.

Mr Page - Strike out the provision altogether.

Mr HUTCHISON - No, I am not in favour of adopting that course, because the postal voting system is of great convenience to shearers and seamen, for whose benefit it was originally adopted. I do not believe in disfranchising any elector, but neither do I believe in leaving a loop-hole for fraud.

Mr. GROOM(Darling Downs- Minister of Home Affairs). - I hope that the honorable member for Hindmarsh will not press the proposal he has indicated. I do not believe it is desirable in the interests of particular classes ofpersons. that it should, previous to an election, be known who are in possession of postal-vote certificates. My object in this clause, as in other clauses dealing with postal voting, is to restrict and safeguard the system as much as possible, having in . view the desirableness of preserving the secrecy of the ballot. It would be most undesirable that persons holding these certificates should be subject to all sorts of influences and annoyances at the hands of canvassers and others. The object of the amendment is, I understand, to make it possible to discover whether a false statement has been made, and, if so, to have an. immediate prosecution ; and to that object we should confine ourselves. We have been told that on the occasion of the Melbourne election domestic servants and barmaids made sworn declarations that they would be away from the electorate on polling-day. whereas, by virtue of their contracts with their employers, such reason must have been false. In my opinion, the modified amendment which I have accepted will meet all the reasonable conditions of the case.

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