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Thursday, 26 October 1911

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . -The honorable senator who has just sat down has made it appear that his own State is a very wicked place indeed, in 'reference to electoral affairs. W i th reference to giving cups of tea at election meetings, I may mention that I happened, some time ago, to be at a place in Tasmania where a meeting had been called in the interests of the Labour party - not of the wicked Liberal party, of which we hear so much.

Senator de Largie - Why does the honorable senator call his party a Liberal party ?

Senator SAYERS - Because I was a Liberal before the honorable senator knew what the word meant - before he left Scotland, in fact. At the meeting to which I refer it was announced that there would be a social and dance after political addresses had been delivered.

Senator Ready - The social and dance had to be paid for.

Senator SAYERS - The reason given was that the people would not attend a mere political meeting, and, therefore, there was to be a social and a dance, with refreshments.

Senator Ready - The honorable senator should state, in fairness, that a charge was made.

Senator SAYERS - The charge was not sufficient to cover the expense.

Senator Long - Where was it?

Senator SAYERS - It was at Kettering, in Tasmania. I was one of those who paid the charge, and I am, therefore, well aware that it was not sufficient to cover the cost.

Senator Lynch - Two shillings for a cup of tea?

Senator SAYERS - The charge was not a quarter of that amount. As to unfair practices, I know that there has been much intrigue and just as much personation on the one side as on the other. I have no fault to find with some parts of this Bill. I suppose that no Bill is ever brought before a Parliament that does not contain some good provisions. I do not object to the compulsory enrolment clauses, because I desire to see the largest roll that we can possibly to get. I do, however, wish our elections to be conducted on fair lines. We find from the speech of Senator Ready that he has been looking for all sorts of loopholes in the law. In fact, he has been acting as a detective for his party. He has laid cases before the Minister of Home Affairs, and has asked that prosecutions should follow. I wonder that anything wrong occurs in Tasmania at all, when the people have the honorable senator's eagle eye upon them. We read strange detective stories occasionally. I have no doubt that the honorable senator was an exceedingly vigorous detective in the interests of his party. He has instanced a document that was issued in Tasmania. I do not know where it was published. I think that he might have done better service to his party than to have that document put into Hansard. Had he had any discretion he would have realized how injurious it was to his own side.

Senator Ready - It will do us good.

Senator SAYERS - I do not think so. Mention was made in it about preference to unionists. That principle has been applied. I dare say that other practices mentioned in the document are also to be followed in due course. While I have no objection to compulsory enrolment, I hope that some scheme will be devised to compel those who are enrolled to vote. The Minister argued yesterday that it would be useless to try to do so, because people who were compelled to go to the poll might deface their ballot-papers. I do not believe that anything of the kind would, occur. As a rule, it is laziness that causes people not to go to the poll. It a scheme could be devised under which people would be compelled to exercise the franchise, unless they were debarred for good reasons, I have not the slightest doubt that the majority would vote properly. I feel very strongly concerning postal voting. I have known instances of men who have been in hospitals with broken limbs, or suffering from sickness, who could not possibly, go to a polling booth, but who have been glad to exercise their right as citizens by means of a postal ballot-paper. Much has been said concerning abuses, but they appear to have occurred principally in Victoria. We have had no actual proof.

Senator Ready - I gave proof.

Senator SAYERS - I do not think" that the honorable senator did. He merely made bald statements. The postal vote has been a great boon to a large number of people. If it has been wrongly exercised in some instances, let the law be amended to prevent abuses. I have not the slightest objection to that. I have no desire that people shall vote by post if they are not entitled to do so, nor have I any desire that the privilege shall be used in an improper manner. There are large numbers of friendly societies in Australia which are not political organizations, and at whose meetings political arguments are not permitted to be brought forward. I have made inquiries, and find that, roughly speaking, about a thousand of the members of such societies in this State alone would not be able to vote at election times if postal voting were abolished. Many of these societies are carried on in mining districts where accidents frequently happen. Many of the persons who sustain these accidents are strong political partisans, and take a keen interest in the affairs of their country. No matter what side in politics they favour, they ought not to be deprived of the right of voting at elections. They will be much surprised to know that the Labour party, which professes to be so solicitous for the sick and the infirm, are desiring to take this privilege from them. I am perfectly certain that had honorable senators opposite been of opinion that postal voting was generally favorable to them we should not have had a proposition to abolish it. 1 shall steadily oppose any provision to limit the opportunities for the recording of a free vote by a free people. No proof of abuse has been furnished to us. T have been speaking to people in Victoria since this Bill was introduced, and have told them about allegations made as to the abuse 'of postal voting in this State. Senator Ready has spoken of the abuse of the system in Tasmania. But the number of postal votes recorded in that State was a mere bagatelle.

Senator Ready - About the same proportion as in the other States.

Senator SAYERS - Not at all. _ New South Wales has the largest population of any State in Australia, but the postal votes recorded there were not half as many as those in Victoria. Are the whole of the people of the Commonwealth to be penalized because wrong is alleged to have been done in one State? I am prepared to assist the Government in doing anything to prevent wrong doing. I desire to obviate infringements of the electoral law. But I am not prepared to do away with opportunities for voting which have hitherto been accorded to the sick and the injured. The party opposite ought to be the last party in the Commonwealth to deprive any man of his vote, because they are always posing as sympathizers with the sick, the widowed, and the injured. Yet, in the first blush of their power, they are endeavouring to deprive a very large number of people of the franchise, because, according to the Minister, something wrong has been done in Victoria. Senator Ready has informed us about a case that he brought under the notice of the Minister of Home Affairs who has consulted the Attorney-General.' Why do not the Labour party give this young man a step that would satisfy his ambition for the time, and let him go round on their behalf scenting out any wrong doing in connexion with electoral matters ? I should be quite prepared to support the Government if they put a sum of money on the Estimates to send Senator Ready round on such a mission. He believes in himself as a detective. Let him then take on this job. Why do we allow voting by ballot? We know that it has been abused more than the system of - postal voting. I could give an instance of what occurred at a place called California Gully, where no less than 400 votes were polled, although it was impossible to raise more than fifty inhabitants within a radius of 100 miles. But should we do away with the whole system' of voting by ballot because there have been wholesale cases of personation? You, sir, will remember a case that occurred at South Brisbane, when, on a recount, the votes of persons who had been guilty of personation were thrown out, and Mr. Jordan, the candidate demanding the recount, was ieturned. We have tried by every means to protect the secrecy of the ballot, and why could not the Government submit some proposal for safeguarding the operation of the postal voting provisions of the existing Act? We are told from the other side that the system has been abused, but we are given no proof. Do honorable senators opposite think that the mere statement that the system has been abused in the past will satisfy the people who, under this Bill, will be deprived of the right to vote, because they may be sick, or infirm, or obliged to attend upon the sick or infirm? If the Government will submit proposals calculated to make it almost impossible to abuse the postal voting provisions, I am sure they will get ample support from both sides of this Chamber. I ask them nol' to disfranchise people who can only record their votes by post. If only one thousand persons are disfranchised as the result of a harsh law, that will be an injustice to the Commonwealth. Abuses will creep into the operation of every system, and though men are very foolish to do so, we know that some are prepared to risk imprisonment for personation. We have not, on that account, proposed to abolish voting by ballot, but have tried to put the system on a better footing. That is what honorable senators on this side ask the Government to do in connexion with postal voting. If it can be shown that the system is abused, no honorable senator on this side will oppose th"e most stringent provisions to prevent its abuse in the future. We have in this Bill a proposal made to permit an elector to vote in any part of the Commonwealth for any election, and I do not hesitate to say that that will lead to ten times the abuse of the postal voting provision. Honorable senators opposite may, perhaps, think that they will gain something by the proposal.


Senator SAYERS - It is of no use for Senator W. Russell to become indignant. I am here to criticise the Bill, and the honorable senator will later have an opportunity to say what he thinks ought to be done. Under the old practice affecting absent voters an elector claiming to vote for another constituency was required to make a statement to the Returning Officer, and sign it. He had to sign a declaration under Form Q, and he was then given a ballot-paper, and had the right to vote. But now the Government are, in this Bill, opening the door wide to wholesale personation. A person will be able to say that he is an elector for Kennedy, for North Melbourne, or South Melbourne, or somewhere else, and will at once be able to demand the right to vote. There is nothing in this Bill to prevent abuse of that system. The Government are, in this Bill, shutting the little wicket to prevent abuse of the postal voting provisions, while they are opening the gate wide to abuse in the other directions. That will not tend to the purity of elections. No doubt, Senator Findley, in speaking yesterday afternoon, had all the information which he could get from the heads of the Electoral Office, and I venture to say that if they could have supplied him with specific instances of abuse of the postal voting system they would have done so. I say that the Minister should have submitted specific instances of its abuse before he asked us to alter the system. When we challenge the vague statements made by honorable senators on the other side, we are told merely that the system has been abused, and we are given no proof of the statement. In the circumstances, we have only to do our duty to the country as well as we can, and leave it to the electors to judge whether the action of the Government is right or wrong. We should be betraying our trust if we did not express our views on the matter, and, in the circumstances, we are justified in expressing them more fully than would otherwise be necessary. I come now to the provisions with respect to a recount. These are contained in clauses 25 and 26 of the Bill. The Honorary Minister asked whether we would give every candidate the right to ask for a recount. I interjected that we should, on the condition that he should put up a certain sum of money, which he would forfeit if, on the recount, it was proved that his charges were not true. I thought the honorable senator was playing a little too low when he asked whether we would give a candidate who received only a few thousand votes a right to a recount. Do honorable senators believe for a moment that if a candidate received 50,000 votes - I shall not make the matter ridiculous by saying 6,000 - and the successful candidate received 250,000 votes, he would put up his money for a recount? No man in his senses would do such a thing. But if a candidate is prepared to pay up £25, £50, or ^100 in order to secure a recount he will have a good reason for doing so. He may be beaten by only fifty votes.

Senator Findley - A candidate can get a recount without putting up any money at all.

Senator SAYERS - I maintain that under this Bill, although a candidate may ask for a recount, he cannot demand it as a right. He may have polled within twenty votes of his opponent, and if the Divisional Returning Officer is a partisan, he may be refused a recount. The Chief Electoral Officer may subsequently also refuse a recount. The candidate may be satisfied in his own mind that if he could get a recount he would win the seat. He can go to the Court, but he must satisfy the Court that he has a just case. How is he to satisfy the Court before a recount takes place ?

Senator Findley - If he cannot satisfy the Court, surely the honorable senator would not expect the Court to grant him a recount.

Senator SAYERS - I have contended that a candidate should be given the right to ask for a recount, and I have suggested that he should be required to deposit a certain sum of money, and should be penalized by its forfeiture if it were shown that he asked for the recount on insufficient grounds. But in this Bill the Divisional Returning Officer and Chief Electoral Officer are made the sole judges in the matter. 1 am not suggesting that the gentlemen who now fill those positions will do what is wrong, but they will not live for ever, and this Bill will continue in force until it is repealed. We may have men filling such positions who may be strong partisans, and if they refuse a recount the candidate will have no remedy. If a candidate is prepared to put up £25 or £50 in order to secure a recount he should have the right to demand it. So far as the Court is concerned, a recount is the only way in which a candidate can secure evidence of personation or other wrong- doing to put before a Court.

Senator Findley - The honorable senator would give a premium to the man with means.

Senator SAYERS - I would do no such thing. 1 am not fighting in this matter for one side more than another. Under my suggestion, if the recount went against the candidate demanding it, he would forfeit his money, whilst if it proved his case, he could approach the Court, and the other party would then have to pay. I have been a Divisional Returning Officer, and I know the powers possessed by any one acting in such a position. He could do a lot of harm if he chose. We should be satisfied that men appointed to such positions, no matter how strongly partisan they may be, will, like a Judge on the Bench, give fair play to both parties. I have acted in the position at many elections. The Speaker of the House of Representatives will recollect that I did so in connexion with an election for the Kennedy electorate, and he can verify my statement that from the issue of the writ to the polling day I did my duty as a returning officer to the best of my ability, and never showed favour to one candidate any more than to another. In spite of this, I should not like, when in such a position, to be charged with the responsibility of having to say to a candidate, *' I will not grant you a recount." I should prefer that such a matter should be provided for in the Act, and to be in a position to say, " You are entitled to a recount if you put up £25 or £50, and abide the consequences. ' ' Under this Bill, if the Divisional Returning Officer refuses a recount the matter may be referred to the Chief Electoral Officer. But I point out that whilst appeal for a recount may take place in connexion with an election in Western Australia or in Northern Queensland, the Chief Electoral Officer will be, perhaps, in Melbourne; he will know nothing of the surrounding circumstances, and will naturally say, " I have every confidence in the Divisional Returning Officer, and I therefore refuse a recount."

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I think we ought to have a quorum present. [Quorum formed.']

Senator SAYERS - I was asking the Minister whether he would not agree to provide in the Bill that a candidate should have a right to demand a recount. He might be within 50 dr 100 votes of the successful candidate, and might be satisfied that on a recount he would win the seat. I have maintained that under clauses 25 and 26 a candidate could not claim a recount as a right. He must appeal first to the Divisional Returning Officer, who may be a partisan. The appeal is then to the Chief Electoral Officer, who, in ignorance of the circumstances, will accept the view of the Divisional Returning Officer. I say that there is then no remedy for a candidate who desires a recount. I mentioned tha case in which, on a recount, an Elections :ind Qualifications Committee allowed certain voles to the unsuccessful candidate, and he eventually won the election. Senator Millen referred the other night to a case that occurred in the Riverina, where, if a recount had been granted, there would have been no appeal to the Court. We all remember what was done by the returning officers in the contest between Senator Vardon and Mr. O'Loghlin. The ballot-papers were supposed to be burnt, and all sorts of political intrigue and ingenuity were resorted to to oust Senator Vardon. We maintained here that a fresh election should he held. When the Government found, at the last moment, that they could not qualify Mr. O'Loghlin for the seat, they agreed to send the case to the High Court, which decided that the election was null and void, and ordered a fresh election, which Senator Vardon won. Surely honorable senators on the other side do not want to debar a candidate from getting a recount. Under clauses 25 and 26 a candidate is debarred unless he can induce the Divisional Returning Officer or Chief Electoral Officer to grant him a recount as a matter of grace. It should be given as a matter of right. If. on a recount, a man finds that he has a good case, he should be free to appeal to the. Court. I would not object to a provision requiring £2° or £25> or even £s°> to De Put up. If a man is made liable to a fine of from ^25 to £50, he will not ask for a recount unless he feels that he has good and reasonable grounds. When I was a returning officer, I always had a recount before I sent down the return. It was made in the presence of the candidates or scrutineers chosen on their behalf. We often found discrepancies in the figures from each presiding officer - enough to make a big total, but not enough, perhaps, to affect the result of the election. It was found that, in the hurry of counting, many votes were made informal which were really not informal ; in fact, all sorts of mistakes were made, especially in connexion with the Senate election, for which there is a large number of candidates. At the first Senate election in Queensland, I think that there were sixteen candidates for six seats, and it was very hard indeed for an ordinary elector, who had been used to State elections, to correctly mark his ballot-paper. He might have left five or seven names on his ballot-paper, and, of course, all those votes were informal. Of late we have not had so many candidates. At the last Senate election in Queensland we had eight candidates, though at a future election we may have ten or twelve. If the voting is close, a recount is necessary, and there ought to be a provision in the Act enabling a candidate to demand a recount on depositing a certain sum. That would be only fair and just to him, and the privilege would only be used in those cases where a man had a reasonable ground for suspecting that something was wrong. It could inflict no hardship, and it 9'ould save candidates from moving the Court. I hope that, if not here, in another place, a provision for that- purpose will be inserted in the Bill. We have heard a lot about the provision requiring a return to be furnished by newspapers. I do not intend to object very strongly to the provision, but' I do not think it is required. Most of the newspapers, I know, make very little money out of electioneering. Take the position of my honorable friends opposite. There may be an advertisement in a newspaper costing 5s., or, at the most, 10s., and saying that Mr. So-and-so will address a meeting at Selheim, Black Jack, or Charters Towers. The owner of the newspaper sends a reporter to the meeting, ar$ I. am sure that his expenses amount to four times as much as the price of the advertisement.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - In South Australia a Labour candidate gets reported once. The newspapers take care of that.

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