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Thursday, 26 October 1911

Senator READY (TASMANIA) - It was scathing, but not effective. As a younger member of the Senate I always listen with pleasure and respect to the Leader of the Opposition whenever he rises to speak. But I never heard him make a speech in which there was so little real argument and somuch noise as the speech which he delivered on this Bill. After listening to the honorable senator for three hours and twenty minutes, I must say that I was very much disappointed with his effort.

In submitting this proposed amendment of the electoral law, the Government are fulfilling a public duty to the electors. An attempt is being made to purify our electoral machinery and prevent its manipulation for party purposes. Honorable senators opposite have urged that the matter should not be dealt with from any party point of view, but they have contradicted themselves at once by considering it entirely from a party point of view. They have, for instance, asserted that the proposal in this Bill for the abolition of postal voting is made because it will enable the party on this side to secure more votes, or will prevent the party opposite from securing some votes.

There is need for the greatest care in the conduct of our elections. I cannot speak with much knowledge of the other States, but it is well known in Tasmania that much-needed reforms are necessary in the conduct of elections. I have a vivid recollection of what occurred at a small country polling place in Tasmania. It was quite a common thing for electors to drive up to the pollingbooth, and the obliging Returning Officer, in response to a whistle, would run out to the carriage with ballot-papers and ask whether the occupants desired to vote. The occupants of the carriage marked their ballot-papers while sitting in state. These gentlemen took very fine care to bring their workmen and domestic servants along in the carriage, and they also marked their ballot-papers in the roadway.

Senator St Ledger - -I have known the dead to arise on election day in my State.

Senator READY - The honorable senator is a good exemplification of that himself, as some of the remarks he makes are unworthy of the living. The instance to which I have referred shows that there has been no decency in the conduct of elections. Since the Labour party have been in power they have endeavoured to put an end to many of these objectionable practices.

The most important principle embodied in the Bill is that of compulsory enrolment, and I venture to say that it has not been so far effectively criticised. In the past I can say that in Tasmania the work of enrolling electors has fallen upon party organizations. They have had to make special efforts to see that the electors were enrolled. Hundreds of residents of the country .districts were not enrolled, and it fell to political parties to provide means by which they might be enrolled. I maintain that this is a work whichshould not be left to any political party, but should be undertaken by the Electoral Branch of the Home Affairs Department itself.

Honorable senators will probably recollect a very striking case which occurred during the Federal elections of 1004 in Tasmania, in the electorate of Darwin, represented by the Honorable King O' Malley. At a small place in that electorate, called Penguin, the Returning Officer, who evidently was a political partisan, allowed thirty or forty persons whose names were not on the roll to exercise the franchise. The reason given was that he knew that they would vote against Mr. King O'Malley. As it happened, Mr. King O'Malley was returned at the election; otherwise, on challenging what had been done, he might easily have upset the return of his opponent. As it was, a thorough investigation into the case was made by the Electoral Officer, with the result that the Returning Officer in question was discharged.

Senator de Largie - Was he not punished in any way ?

Senator READY - I understand that on the dismissal of the Returning Officer the matter was allowed to drop. But for an accident that occurrence would never have been discovered, whilst under a proper system of compulsory enrolment it would have been impossible, since every resident of that small town of Penguin would have been enrolled. It is in the interests of the Commonwealth that every one entitled to vote should be in a position to exercise the franchise. If honorable senators will loot at the proposed new section 61 (d) they will find that it provides that -

Any officer who receives a claim for enrolment and who without just excuse fails to do everything necessary on his part to be done to secure the enrolment of the claimant in pursuance nf the claim shall be guilty of an offence.

Penalty : Ten pounds.

That means that while electors under this Bill will have the responsibility cast upon them of having their names enrolled, a responsibility in the matter will also devolve upon electoral officers who, if they neglect their duty, will render themselves liable to a heavy fine.

I come now to the proposed abolition of postal voting. That is a sore point with honorable senators opposite, and even my honorable colleague from Tasmania, Senator Cameron, has condemned it very strongly. I say, without hesitation, that in my State the manipulation of the postal vote has become nothing short of a public scandal. Liberal friends with whom I have conversed on the subject have admitted that the system of postal voting has been much abused in Tasmania.

Senator St Ledger - By only one party ?

Senator READY - Particularly the party represented by our honorable friends opposite.

Senator Walker - How can the honorable senator know that?

Senator READY - We know that in the country districts of Tasmania it has been a common practice of large pastoralists to drive round a district with a justice of the peace, and to ask the working men in their employ to vote by post. These men have been between the devil and the deep sea.

Senator Walker - Who was the devil in that case?

Senator READY - The devil was the employer and the deep sea was represented by the " Order of the Sack." It is never a very pleasant thing to receive the " Order of the Sack," and there is no. honour attached to it. The working men in the country districts have often been coerced into voting by post. Every corner of one district was scoured by large land-owners with their carriages. They took along with them an obliging justice of the peace, and collected from workmen applications to vote by post. They brought the postal ballotpapers around later on and secured the votes in their own particular interest.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I have known that to be done on the day of an election.

Senator READY - It has been a scandal in Tasmania. We are often asked by honorable senators opposite to give specific instances of this kind of thing, but it is very difficult to give instances.

Senator ST LEDGER (QUEENSLAND) - Charges of the kind should not be made unless an honorable senator is prepared to give specific instances.

Senator READY - Does the honorable senator think so?

Senator St Ledger - I do. It is my habit not to make a charge unless I can give a specific instance.

Senator READY - If specific instances of the practice followed in connexion with the exercise of the postal vote are required

I am prepared to give them. I have here a report of a case that occurred in Victoria, which gives a pretty conclusive instance and should satisfy honorable senators opposite. It is as follows-

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