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Friday, 6 October 1911

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) (Minister for Defence) . - I move -

That this Bill be now read a second time.

This is, in the main, a machinery measure, and many of its provisions are matters for debate in Committee rather than at this stage, but it contains one or two very important principles which are proper subjects for discussion now. Perhaps the chief matters in that category are the proposals to abolish postal voting, to substitute a better and more comprehensive system of absent voting, and to establish compulsory enrolment. It may perhaps be well, before I make any general remarks on the clause, to read a statement which has been prepared by the electoral officers as to the reasons why a system of compulsory enrolment should be adopted. It is as follows : -

In consequence of the abolition of postal voting.

This course is not a matter on which the electoral officers express an opinion, but a matter of policy. It having been decided by the Ministry to abolish postal voting as a matter of policy, the officers point out the following advantages in the inauguration of a system of compulsory enrolment : -

In consequence of the abolition of postal voting provision has been made for the extension of absent voting, so that, subject to the regulations, electors who are within the Commonwealth on polling day will be enabled to vote at any polling place, and that those electors who will not be within a Commonwealth Division, but will be, say, at sea, or in New Zealand, or in a Commonwealth Territory on polling day, will be enabled, prior to leaving their States, to vote before an electoral registrar at any time after the date of the issue of the writ and before polling day.

Senator Millen - I am not quite clear as to whether an elector could vote outside his own electorate and yet in Australia.

Senator PEARCE - Anywhere in the Commonwealth.

Senator Millen - It seems to refer more to persons going out of Australia.

Senator PEARCE - The paragraph I have read does, but the Bill provides that an elector may vote anywhere in the Commonwealth, under regulation.

Senator Vardon - After the nomination ?

Senator PEARCE - Under this measure he can vote after the issue of the writ.

Senator Millen - Before he knows who the candidates are?

Senator Vardon - Before the nomination ?

Senator PEARCE - He will know who the candidates are going to be.

Senator Millen - You have great faith in the measure.

Senator PEARCE - An elector must take the risk of giving an informal vote. The statement continues -

The Act at present permits of a proclamation being issued (section 32) requiring the preparation of a new roll under a system of compulsory enrolment, but does not permit of the adoption of a continuous system of compulsory enrolment.

The provision in the amending Bill places an obligation upon every qualified person to secure enrolment, and thereafter to transfer or change his enrolment whenever such a course is rendered necessary by reason of his having changed his place of living; and is designed, with the aid of the card index system now being established, to secure a clean and continuously effective roll which will, at all times, be free from duplications.

Note. - The new rolls now in course of pre paration in the several States are being prepared under a proclamation, and regulations (copies attached), which impose an obligation on every householder to furnish information and render assistance; and on every qualified person to fill in, sign, and return to the proper officer a properly witnessed claim card if the card has been delivered to him or left at his habitation.

Senator Millen - I doubt if such a regulation would be legal to-day.

Senator PEARCE - Regarding compulsory enrolment, I will read an extract from a memorandum by the Chief Electoral Officer -

The adoption of a scheme of compulsory enrolment is both practicable and desirable.

Senator Vardon - Why should you force a man to enrol if he does not wish to do so?

Senator PEARCE - I shall presently give reasons why, in our opinion, persons should be forced to enrol.

1.   Il should be the duty of the electoral administration : -

(a)   To furnish the fullest information, provide every facility for enrolment, and generally to assist qualified applicants whenever required, through the agencies at its command ;

(4)   To utilize available agencies to the fullest extent in insuring compliance with the law, and in the prevention of duplication of enrolment through error or fraud.

2.   It should be the duty of all qualified persons to enrol within a (reasonable) prescribed period, and to transfer or change their enrolment when they remove from' place to place.

The existing system of voluntary enrolment during the currency of a roll, supplemented by official action to remedy errors and omissions due to public neglect, carelessness, and apathy, while the most effective that can be devised in the present state of the law is inherently weak, in that it creates something in the nature of a divided responsibility, and leads very many people to believe that it is the duty of the electoral administration to follow them from place to place, and relieve them of the obligation of taking action in the preservation of their electoral rights.

A system of compulsory enrolment would prove to be specially valuable in insuring the correct enrolment of the very large body of persons whose avocations cause them to move frequently from place to place, and who, under present conditions, lose their votes through neglect to comply with the law in relation to enrolment,

Senator Millen - Do you think they will comply with the new law any more readily than they do with the old law ?

Senator PEARCE - I think that it will be to their advantage to do so.

Senator Millen - You will not inforce the penalty.

Senator PEARCE - or (if their names have not been removed from the rolls under the processes of the law) claim to vote for divisions in which they have ceased to live.

Note. - The migratory population of Australia is exceptionally large throughout the country, whilst in the cities at least 20 per cent, of electors change their places of living annually.

Here is a very important provision to which I ask the attention, especially, of the Senate. - The use of the same roll for the purposes of both a Senate and House of Representatives' election forms a very strong argument in favour of compulsory and correct enrolment, on the basis of residence ; thus, if an elector continues an enrolment under the voluntary system for a division in which he has ceased to live, and the law disqualifies him from voting for that division, he is disfranchised as a Senate as well as a House of Representatives' elector, or, on the other hand, if the law permits an elector to vote for the division for which he is enrolled, and in which he is no longer living, he may be enabled, as a consequence of his neglect to transfer his name when lie changed his place of living, to improperly influence the result of the House of Representatives' election for a division in which he does not live.

Note. - This difficult position arises from the fact that any attempt to differentiate between Senate and House of Representatives' elections on one roll in regard to the voting rights of electors would fail in practice.

It seems to me that two very strong reasons are given there for the adoption of this system.

Senator Millen - You can build up a string of reasons, if you will only put the word " if " before them.

Senator PEARCE - There is no " if " in this case.

Senator Millen - It starts off with "if."

Senator PEARCE - It is a question of fact, as can be proved by the experience of the Electoral Office. As the officers say, 20 per cent, of the electors do migrate from division to division, and therefore these cases are continually occurring. We all know, and Senator Millen himself knows, that when electors go from one constituency to another they do neglect to remove their names from the old roll or to get enrolled afresh.

Senator Millen - You propose to give a bonus on neglect.

Senator PEARCE - The statement continues -

The provisions of the law relating to the removal of names from the roll by objection incases where electors cease to be entitled to enrolment, by reason of non-residence within the division, when put into practice (as they must be in order to preserve a. proper roll for the House of Representatives' election) result in the disfranchisement of the electors for the Senate (unless they have again enrolled for another division), although they may not have left the State.

It may be taken that where a single roll isrequired to serve for elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives, and the constituencies are respectively : -

(a)   the State; and

(b)   Divisions of the State; a thoroughly efficient roll can only be continuously preserved under a system of compulsory enrolment, or bv the employment of an army of electoral inspectors to continuously watch the movements of the people throughout the Commonwealth.

A scheme of compulsory enrolment associated with a card index system for the prevention of duplication of enrolment and fraud would not only be of enormous advantage from an electoral point of view, both in relation to representation and administration, but would be of considerable value for purposes of public administration generally, and in particular might be expected to greatly assist the postal, defence, statistical, police, and other public systems having direct relations with the public.

I put that forward as the official view of this matter.

Senator Millen - Is the statement which the Minister has just read in print ?

Senator PEARCE - No, but I will have it printed. That is purely the official view - without any regard to the cost of administration - of the advantages which will be conferred by a system of compulsory enrolment.

Senator St Ledger - If we are to have compulsory enrolment, why should we not have compulsory voting?

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator is quite at liberty to place his views upon the question of compulsory voting before the Senate.

Senator Vardon - Why should there be compulsion in either case?

Senator PEARCE - I have given the official reason for the exercise of compulsion, and I will now put forward my own reasons for the change. In my opinionthe right to vote is a duty as well as a privilege. Too often it is looked upon merely as a privilege, because people throughout the world have had to fight for it - in some instances under distressing conditions - for many years, and because it has at last been granted as a concession to popular clamour, or has been the result of pressure brought to bear upon the Governments of the day. But I venture to say that in a country like Australia, where we recognise that every man and woman should have the right to vote, that right becomes more than a privilege - it becomes a duty. Hence we declare that the law should compel every citizen to discharge his duty in this connexion. In doing so we are by no means breaking new ground. There are many persons who still believe that it is a mistake to educate the masses, and who declare that the acquisition of knowledge beyond the three " R's " has the effect of making them dissatisfied with their position in life. We have all heard the argument that educated persons become discontented with their lot.

Senator St Ledger - Are those persons still at large?

Senator PEARCE - They are. I am comparatively a young man, and I have heard the statement made upon the floor of a Parliament House. I am glad to say that I have never heard it made here, because the Senate is elected upon too wide a franchise to permit of it, but I have heard it in the Legislative Council of Western Australia.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - In Victoria the Legislative Council has just had an important discussion upon the question of whether or not a shearer is entitled to a bath.

Senator PEARCE - If a shearer has been engaged in shearing greasy sheep he certainly will require one. The community long ago decided that education is not merely a privilege, but a duty - that it is in the interests of the State itself that its people should be educated - and consequently parents are compelled to send their children to school for a certain number of years. The same remark is. applicable to the much more debatable question of vaccination. There are many individuals who refuse to have their children vaccinated because they do not believe in it. But in most of the States the law is that they must have them vaccinated. Again, in regard to the question of defence, we have affirmed within the last two years that it is the duty of our citizens to defend the country. There are many who urge that it is not, who declare that the principle of military training outrages their conscientious opinions and religious beliefs, but nevertheless we compel them to undergo military training. Therefore, when we come to regard the duty of electing repre sentatives to our Legislatures - a duty which affects the very foundation of our national life-

Senator Millen - The Government dp not propose to make voting compulsory.

Senator PEARCE - We propose to provide for compulsory enrolment.

Senator Millen - If there be any logic in the Minister's argument, the Government should introduce compulsory voting.

Senator PEARCE - I am sure that if there are any illogical points in my speech they will not be overlooked by the Leader of the Opposition. It seems to me that the duty of voting carries with it an obligation on the part of every elector to enrol himself. Passing away from that phase of the question, a distinct advantage will be conferred by the method which is laid down in the Bill, because we shall, by coupling the system of absent voting, under which electors will have to sign their names for the purposes of identification, with thf card system, obtain the signature of every elector throughout the Commonwealth. Thus we shall have a ready means of defeating all attempts at impersonation. Another advantage of these proposals is that they will apply to voters who move from one electoral division to another, and who fail to obtain electoral transfers. The Bill will stop the immense leakage from the rolls which exists in this connexion, by overcoming the failure of 20 per cent, of the electors who move from one electoral division to another to secure transfers. It will, therefore, assist the Electoral Office to maintain a thoroughly up-to-date and pure roll. When an elector moves from one division to another, although he will be disqualified from voting in his old division, he will not be disqualified as an elector for the Senate.

Senator Millen - The Minister stated that it would be obligatory upon an elector to secure a transfer. What is the penalty provided for his failure to do so?

Senator PEARCE - The penalty is £2. I do not wish to labour this point, but it seems to me that I have said enough' to show that there is a justification for this rather big alteration in our electoral law. If honorable senators will look at clause 32 of the measure, they will see there another very important feature of the amending law, and one which is novel. Proposed new sub-section 172 (a) provides that a return shall be furnished of expenses incurred by political organizations or persons on behalf of any candidate. Then trie proposed new sub-section 172 (*) reads -

The proprietor or publisher of a newspaper published in the Commonwealth shall, in accordance with this section, make or cause to be made a return setting out the amount of electoral matter in connexion with the election inserted in his newspaper in respect of which payment was or is to be made, the space occupied by such electoral matter, the amount of money paid or owing to him in respect of such electoral matter, and the names and addresses of the organizations, leagues, bodies of persons, or persons authorizing the insertion thereof.

Senator St Ledger - Is the term " political organization " denned in the Bill?

Senator PEARCE - No; but if the honorable senator's legal knowledge tells him that it is necessary to define it, we have no objection to doing so.

Senator Millen - Will the term cover unions ?

Senator PEARCE - Certainly, if they are political. My own acquaintance with trade unions has taught me that they have nothing to conceal. They will willingly comply with this provision.

Senator Millen - But it is so easy to send out an organizer of a union who is a political canvasser.

Senator PEARCE - We are not afraid to show from where our pennies come.

Senator St Ledger - Why not define " political organization " ?

Senator PEARCE - We will do so if it be necessary. I wish now to deal with the filing of a return of the expenses incurred by political organizations. First of all, we have to recollect that, under our Electoral Act, we compel all candidates for Parliament to make a return of their election expenses. What is the object of that compulsion? Simply to insure that each candidate has complied with the conditions imposed by the law, with a view to preventing corruption, bribery, and fraudulent practices for the purpose of securing his return. But we know that to-day the candidate plays a very small part in the conduct of an election. Under our party system, especially on account of the extent to which it has grown in Australia, party organizations have become more and more the factors which conduct and finance elections. Consequently, a candidate can furnish a return of his election expenses which is absolutely bond fide, and which shows that he has complied with the law in every respect, notwithstanding that in his election corruption, bribery, and fraudulent practices may have l-een ram pant. That must be patent to everybody. Therefore, in this Bill the Government say that if the candidate should be obliged to furnish a return of the expenses incurred by him, so also should every organization which takes part in an election, and thus the people will know exactly how an election has been conducted. It seems to me that this proposal is merely the complement of the section in the existing Act which requires each candidate to furnish a return of his election expenses. In the absence of such a provision, the section of the Act to which I refer must be a dead letter.

Senator St Ledger - The proposal of the Government assumes that a large number of the electors of Australia are corrupt.

Senator PEARCE - Nothing of the sort.

Senator Millen - It means that the Government desire the right to do, by means of their unions, what they will not allow others to do by means of their organizations.

Senator PEARCE - I can assure the honorable senator that the Government have no such intention.

Senator Millen - That will be the effect of the clause.

Senator PEARCE - If the honorable senator can show me that I can assure him that every union which spends money on an election-

Senator Millen - A man is sometimes sent out as a canvasser for a union when he is really a canvasser for a political party.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator will be able in Committee to suggest means of strengthening this clause, if he thinks it necessary. I have already said that it is the intention of the Government that this provision shall apply to unions as well as to other organizations.

Senator Rae - Will it apply to the Employers' Federation?

Senator PEARCE - Yes, and to every organization that takes any part at all in connexion with an election.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - If a union is affiliated with a political organization, is it not obliged to file returns as a political organization?

Senator PEARCE - Of course it is. I come now to another clause, which deals with a form of electoral expenditure which is the most powerful of all, and that is press expenditure. Honorable senators will see that we propose to provide that the proprietors of newspapers shall publish a return showing exactly what they have been paid for in connexion with any election. I venture to say that this form of electoral expenditure is the most insidious of all.

Senator Millen - Is there any limit to the expenditure which may be incurred in this way?

Senator PEARCE - No.

Senator Millen - All that is required is the information concerning it.

Senator PEARCE - Yes, that is all. The object is that people shall be informed of the nature of atricles and reports published in the newspapers in connexion with an election. They will under this provision be informed, for instance, that what purports to be a report of facts is really a political opinion that has been paid for. We say that people should have an opportunity of knowing that many of the statements published in the press in connexion with elections are not reports of facts or circumstances, but opinions paid for with the deliberate object of influencing the election.

Senator Walker - What about leading articles?

Senator PEARCE - If they are paid for they will have to be included.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Will this cover a misreport of a speech by a candidate paid for by an opponent? Senator PEARCE.- I think I shall have to ask for notice of some of these questions. I need not labour the matter, because it is obvious that organizations and the authorities of newspapers should be called upon to disclose what they have been paid to do in connexion with an election. I give honorable senators notice that it is intended, when we get into Committee, to negative clause 34. The clause was inserted in the Bill to strengthen the provision governing the use of vehicles at elections, but, on reconsideration, we have decided to stand by the Act at present in force.

Senator Millen - Do not the Government intend to deal with the abuse of the army of motor cars used by their friends at the last election?

Senator PEARCE - It is our privilege at elections to have the satisfaction of seeing our voters go to the polls in the motor cars of our opponents. One of the chief amusements we get out of elections is to witness the trouble taken by our opponents to convey our electors to the polls.

By clause 35 it is proposed to insert in the Act a new section, 181 (a), which reads as follows : -

The proprietor of every newspaper shall cause the word " advertisement " to be printed as a head-line in letters not smaller than long primer tj each article or paragraph in his newspaper containing electoral matter, the insertion of which is or is to be paid for or for which any reward or compensation or promise of reward or compensation is or is to be made.

Penalty : ^500.

Senator Vardon - Why " long primer " ?

Senator PEARCE - In order that public attention may be directed to the matter. I think this is a perfectly fair proposal. I do not see why the press should be utilized to enable people to put forward party statements under the guise of the statement of the publicist or the opinion of the press. We all know that considerable importance attaches to statements appearing in the press, especially if they are not plainly associated with the work of candidates or political parties at an election. We all have absolute knowledge that many statements published under the guise of expressions of public opinion are really advertisements inserted by political parties. We say that the people should be informed of the real nature of these statements, and' should know that they are merely advertisements inserted by political parties or candidates with the object of influencing an election, . and that they are published in this insidious way in order to mislead. When people can see for themselves that these statements are merely advertisements, they will be informed of the source from' which they come, and will be able to estimate their value. By clause. 35 also we propose the insertion in the Act of a new section 181c to the following effect : -

1.   A candidate or a person acting on behalf of or in the interests of a candidate, shall not employ, for reward, any person as canvasser or committee man or in any capacity in connexion with an election, unless the expense incurred could be lawfully incurred by the candidate under Part XIV. of the Act. Penalty One hundred pounds.

2.   " Reward " in this section includes any payment or promise of payment, direct or' indirect, to the person employed, or to the wife or husband or any relative of that person.

The object of that provision is clear. It is to prohibit the payment of persons to act as canvassers which, after all, is an indirect form of political bribery. We prohibit a man from paying another to vote for him, yet we permit him to pay that man to canvass for votes for him.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - There will be a lot of unemployed in Adelaide if this is carried.

Senator Millen - Will this cover the work of an organizer soliciting persons to join a union in order to secure their votes for a particular candidate?

Senator PEARCE - It will, unless the expense incurred could be lawfully incurred by the candidate under Part XIV. of the existing Act. That part of the Act deals with the limitation upon election expenses. Honorable senators will find that section 170 of the existing Act provides that-

No electoral expense shall be incurred or authorized except in respect of the following matters : - (i.) Purchasing electoral rolls; (ii.) Printing, advertising, publishing, issuing, and distributing addresses by the candidate, and notices of meetings; (iii.) Stationery, messages, postages, and telegrams ; (iv.) Committee rooms; (v.) Public meetings and hall therefor; (vi.) Scrutineers.

If a candidate makes use of the services of a canvasser the expense incurred must come within the expenditure set out in the section I have quoted. This, I think, is a necessary complement to the prohibition we have provided in the principal Act against bribery and corruption. I have now dealt with the principal clauses of the Bill, and shall skim through some of the less important clauses. Clause 5 provides for the appointment of a divisional returning officer or assistant returning officer in case of emergency. It has happened that at a time very close to the date of an election a divisional returning officer has been taken suddenly ill or has died. Under the existing law a fresh appointment can be made only by the Governor-General by an Order in Council. What has had to be done in such cases has been to permit the Electoral Officer for the State to make an appointment, which was afterwards validated by an Order in Council. This clause makes provision for such appointments by the Commonwealth Electoral Officer. Clause 6 is intended to simplify the process of reconsidering the adjustment of electoral boundaries. Under the existing law, commissioners have to prepare a map, which has to be exhibited, and a certain time must elapse within which the proposals made may be objected to. They have then to come before Parliament, and if Parliament should disagree to any of them the whole process has to be gone over again.

Senator Millen - It is proposed to eliminate that.

Senator PEARCE - Yes, to simplify the process and secure the readjustment of boundaries within a reasonable time. Clause 9 provides facilities to prevent names being on more than one roll. Power is given to the Chief Electoral Officer in each State to rectify these anomalies. Clause 10 gives power to returning officers or registrars to add to a roll the names of persons he is satisfied are entitled to be enrolled. If honorable senators will look at sub-section 2 of section 62 of the principal Act, they will see that it is clearly intended that that should be done, but under the law as it stands the power is not actually given to the Chief Electoral Officer to rectify obvious errors in the rollsThis clause will make it clear that in future that can be done. Clause 12 extends the time for the return of a writ from sixty to ninety days. This is necessary to amend an obviously unworkable provision of the present Act. There has never been a general election since the inauguration of the Commonwealth when the writs have been returned within sixty days. It will not follow on the adoption of this clause that in all cases the full ninety days will be taken. In the case of a by-election, where it is practicable to return a writ in thirty days, that will be done. But the clause will give power to the Electoral Officer to fix ninety days for the return of writs. Clause 13 provides for a merely administrative alteration in the nomination form which has been found necessary in practice. Clause 11 fixes Saturday as the day for polling.

Senator Walker - What about Hebrew electors? Saturday is a strict Sabbathday with them.

Senator PEARCE - I understand that the Hebrew Sabbath lasts until 6 o'clock on Saturday evening. The hours for polling will be extended until 8 o'clock, so that adherents of the Hebrew religion will be able to vote. The reason for choosing Saturday for polling day is that in the great majority of cases it is the most convenient day. In the country districts the farming class usually make their visits to the town on Saturdays. In many towns market day is Saturday, and Saturday afternoon is also usually a holiday for the working class.

Senator Millen - There will be art awful suspense on Saturday if the Government shuts up the telegraph offices.

Senator PEARCE - I quite admit that that is rather a painful proposition for the candidates. But on the other hand, it may sometimes be a blessing, because candidates will not know the evil" fate that awaits them. Many of the questions arising under the Bill are rather suitable for discussion in Committee. We believe that though some of the proposals may be revolutionary as compared with what has been the practice in the past, they are nevertheless the result of the observation of certain abuses which have gradually been growing. These amendments are intended to remove those abuses. It is believed that they will secure to the people a better means of registering their opinion, and of coming to a decision on fair grounds. We also believe that the amendments will give every political party and every candidate a chance of having a fair straight-out fight, and of laying his views before the people.

Debate (on motion by Senator Millen) adjourned.

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