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Tuesday, 12 December 1905

Mr GROOM (Darling Downs) (Minister for Home Affairs) . - Section 137 deals with the fastening of a ballot-box after an election has taken place. But, if the clause were passed in its present form, it would mean that the returning officer would have to fasten the ballot-box, and not to seal it. It is desirable that the seal should be affixed, and, therefore, I move -

That the words "and seal" be left out.

Hitherto, the difficulty has been that the ballot-box really consisted of an outer box and an inner box, and, necessarily, the Commonwealth has been put to very heavy expense.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 39 -

Section one hundred and thirty-nine of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-sections (1) and (2) and inserting in lieu thereof the following sub-section : -

(1)   In an election, an elector may vote only -

(a)   at the polling-place for which he is enrolled, or a prescribed pollingplace for the subdivision for which he is enrolled ; or

(b)   at any other polling-place for the same Division, if he makes and signs before the presiding officer a declaration in the Form Q in the Schedule.

Mr. DUGALDTHOMSON (North Sydney). - I have given notice of an amendment in this clause, but I think that in order to save time it had better be moved in another form. Owing to the difficulty of ascertaining exactly what are the amendments of the law contained in this Bill, I thought, when I gave notice of my amendment, that it was intended to abandon the " regulation ' ' form, which allows an elector to vote at any polling place in his State for any division therein to which he belongs. As I recognise that the debate should really be on the " regulation " form, which I now see is proposed to be retained, and as there is no use in debating the Q form if the other is to be adopted, because the greater includes the less, I move -

That after the figure " (2)," line 3, the word " and " and the figure " (3) " be inserted.

It is sub-section 3 which provides that there shall be a form to be fixed by regulation, and under this form an elector, upon signing a declaration, can vote at any pollingplace within his State.

Mr Batchelor - Was it not the practice at the last election to allow a man to vote at any polling place in which there was a divisional returning officer?

Mr Groom - No; wherever there was an assistant divisional returning officer.

Mr Batchelor - But in some States there were only three or four assistant divisional returning officers.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I know that a desire has been expressed that the number of assistant returning officers should be increased. Provision has already been made in that direction to some extent, and additional officers will doubtless be appointed. That, however, is not altogether the point. My objection is based upon the fact that the regulation forms can be abused. I do not desire to repeat what I said upon the motion for the second reading of the Bill. I then spoke very fully in order that honorable members might not be taken unawares. I desire to afford the fullest facilities for voting if we can discover a safe means of permitting electors to vote at the most convenient polling place. But I contend that the regulation form presents opportunities forserious frauds. The law can be safely evaded because it is easy for unscrupulous parties to ascertain the names of a considerable number of electors who will not be able to record their votes in a given electorate, and to arrange with their supporters in various parts of the country, far from the electorate, to personate the electors whose names are sent to them, and who are voted for with the regulation form. All that a person claiming to vote is required to do is to sign a declaration. He can then vote with perfect safety. Those who are willing to incur some risk can proceed still further. The votes of a large number of electors in, say, the Wimmera division, could be recorded in the suburbs of Melbourne, or vice versâ Of course, that fraud would be discovered if the votes were checked afterwards. No such check was imposed at the last election, and no one can say whether frauds were or were not then perpetrated. Irregular practices of that kind would be brought to light if sufficient scrutiny were provided for after an election, but it would then, probably, be too late to discover and punish the offenders. In the other way, however, it is not necessary to incur any risks. Unscrupulous persons need only ascertain the names of those who cannot vote in electorates in which close contests are anticipated, and then arrange for dummies to record the votes.

Mr Watson - I think that the regulation form presents smaller opportunities for fraud than do the provisions for voting by post.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Personally, I should be quite willing to abolish the whole of the special facilities now provided, and merely group the elector's around specified polling-places. The original intention was to create small areas around specified polling-places, to compile rolls for such areas, and to require the electors to record their votes within them. It was thought that, by that means, a close scrutiny could be exercised over the voting. But if Parliament declares that opportunities to vote shall be presented to those who are unable to reach the pollingplaces on election day, I prefer a system of voting by post, because if it be properly carried out, the voting can be checked.

Mr Batchelor - Voting by post would not entirely meet the case.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It will not meet the convenience of electors who, at the last moment, find themselves unable to reach the poll. Those who avail themselves of the provisions for voting by post have to make preparations beforehand.

Mr Batchelor - I have seen 400or 500 men blocked from voting by being compelled to work late on polling day.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have had no experience of that kind. I consider that there is grave danger to be apprehended in connexion with the use of the regulation form.

Mr Watson - We shall have to go back to the elector's-right system.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The elector's right system worked admirably at first, but when it was discovered that electors removing left their rights in the hands of unscrupulous persons, who could make use of them by employing dummies, the New South Wales authorities decided to abandon it. I will now take the other aspect of the matter. If the regulation form can be safely used, seeing that we now give the opportunity for an unscrupulous person to make use of it, we could and ought to give an opportunity to all electors to use it. In fact, no other method of voting is necessary. An unscrupulous man will sign a declaration and record his vote. A scrupulous man will not do so unless he has the right. Consequently, if we make this the system of recording votes, we should incur no greater danger than we do at present. We should thereby greatly simplify our electoral machinery. An honorable member suggested last night that if we adopt postal poting at all, we might adopt it as a universal method. But that argument will not hold water, because voting by post is a clumsy system on account of the precautions taken to prevent fraud ; and it would be very inconvenient to apply that clumsy system to the whole of our voters. But this system which I recommend requires no precaution, except the simple signing of a document. There is no dufficulty about recording votes under it. Polling places could be established at the most convenient places ; and voters could enter those polling places and record their votes for whatever division they were enrolled. It would save expense and prevent a duplication of polling places. It would simplify the Act enormously in other directions. I intend to take a division on the question, though I am afraid that the slight amount of attention that one can secure for an amendment on a measure of this character at this late stage of the session will make it difficult to carry such a proposal. I have no wish to delay the Bill. Some of the amendments of the law which it makes are very desirable, and should be adopted at the earliest possible moment, so that the Minister may make arrangements in his Department to meet any contingency. I very much regret that the Bill was not brought forward at an earlier stage of the session, when an important matter such as this could have received that attention which I think it deserves, if we are to have a satisfactory electoral system.

Mr Fisher - What would the honorable member substitute for the sub-section which he proposes to omit?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I would not substitute anything. I would leave the postal voting provisions to afford an opportunity for voters absent from their electorates to record their votes.

Mr Fisher - They do not meet all cases.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I admit that. But if the system proposed is sufficiently safe to meet all cases to which the regulation form applies, it is safe to adopt it as the one principle of the Act in regard to voting. It would save an enormous amount of duplication, and it would give no more opportunities to an unscrupulous man than the present provisions do. If the present system is as dangerous as I believe, it ought not to be continued; but if it is held to be safe, we should simplify our whole electoral law byadopting it as the one system of voting. That being so, I content myself by moving the amendment.

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