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Thursday, 26 October 1911


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - It is rather trying to get up and make a speech after the excitement which has prevailed. It is also trying to have been waiting several hour's to speak. But now I have secured the opportunity, I do riot intend to mince matters. I shall say on the floor of the Senate what I have already said by way of interjection. This is not a party question as far as the Labour party is concerned. Electoral reform is not on our platform. We have the freest hand to deal with it. '


Senator Millen - The freest hand to further the interests of the honorable senator's own party.


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - To further the people's interests. Renegades from the Labour party, however, are the worst of all Tories when they get to the other side. I have much pleasure in supporting the second reading of this Bill. The Government are in favour of compulsory registration. So am I. I am in favour of compulsory voting. The Government are not. Moreover, I will say now what I said before the electors about six years ago, that I am in favour of the compulsory attendance of members of Parliament, health permitting, at our sittings while the Legislature is in session. I have said so before the electors, so that it cannot be alleged that I have any particular reason for saying it now. I believe that if compulsion is necessary in reference to registration, 'it is also necessary in connexion with voting. No doubt, it seems difficult to compel people to vote. At all events, Senator Millen painted the difficulties in strong colours, pointing out the evils that might arise under a compulsory system. He suggested that the police, the soldiery, and other forces would be brought into requisition to carry out the law. But there is already compulsory registration of births, marriages, and deaths. The people are accustomed to that, and they carry out the law freely. I believe they would also become accustomed to compulsory voting. I am., a strong supporter of the proposal that Saturday shall be polling day for Commonwealth elections. 1 can speak both as an employer and an employe, for I am not only .an old farmer, but also an oldfarm labourer. I support this, proposal, because the farmers are accustomed to drive into the towns on Saturday mornings for their newspapers and letters. It will be easy for them to vote without disarranging their farm work, and they can bring their wives to the polling place with them. The change will be of great advantage to working men, and especially farm labourers, for this reason : Farming people do not work eight hours a day. Sometimes they work as many as fourteen. Some farmers do not want their men to vote because they do not know how they will vote. Instead of making it a convenience for them to be driven to the poll, they often keep them' working till sundown.


Senator Millen - Is the honorable senator speaking for himself?


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I was always a Democrat, and my men always voted right. By fixing Saturday as polling day, and keeping the polling booths open for an extra hour, the Government will give working men a chance to have their tea in comfort, go to the township, vote, stay a little, while to learn the latest news from other parts of the Commonwealth, go home in comfort, and have a little longer sleep on the Sunday morning. That is how my experience shows me that the new provision will work. At the genera! election in 1910, in the State of South Australia, when a Labour member was returned for the electorate of Adelaide, 10,300 votes were recorded for the Labour candidate. That election was on a Saturday. On Wednesday, 13th April- that grand day which we shall never forget - in the same district, practically the same electors had another opportunity of going to the poll, when Mi. E. A. Roberts was returned. I am proud to say that he is now an Honorary Minister. He is one of the ablest men in our party, and I often wish that he had occupied a seat, in the Senate so that he could dress down Senator Millen. Although Mr. Roberts was returned by an overwhelming majority, the number who voted was smaller by 900.


Senator Millen - Was that due to the day chosen for the election?


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I believe so.


Senator Millen - Was it not because the result was known to be a certainty?


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I have explained that farmers have less difficulty in voting on Saturday than on any other day.


Senator Millen - Adelaide is not a farming electorate.


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - But in some cities - at least, in Adelaide - the working classes have half -holidays on Saturdays. Men are better able, therefore, to vote on that day than on any other day. That is a sufficient reason for the provision proposed by the Government. We want to have a full poll of the electors ; and, therefore, we should have the election on a day that suits the great majority. Of course, Senator Millen does not like the idea of a Labour candidate getting much support, nor is he inclined to extend postal facilities for the farming community and residents in the back-blocks.


Senator Millen - The honorable senator need not talk to me about the backblocks.


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I have a great respect for the honorable senator, and am only sorry that our party has lost him. I am also in favour of the provision to abolish postal voting. I support it in the interests of the farming class also. I can quite imagine some one sent by Senator Millen, or by the National League, coming along with a trap, visiting the different farms, asking how many men and girls are employed, and telling them about the wickedness of the Labour Party, and of the harm that we would do if we got into office. I can quite imagine such people telling the girls - poor modest creatures - that it would not be right and proper for them to go to the poll and mingle with the Labour party, far better for them to vote by post. I can quite imagine a justice of the peace going round in that way, witnessing signatures, and, perhaps, providing at the same time postage stamps. That sort of thing has been known in South Australia. We want to do justice, and to insure the purity of the ballot. I am a strong supporter of the principle of the ballot, and that is another reason why I am. in favour of the Government proposal. I do not favour gagging the press ; but I do think that steps ought to be taken to prevent the publishing of wicked and untruthful statements about candidates. Names should be attached to political articles. I- am sorry that Senator Vardon is absent, because I am about to show what happened to me about five years ago when I was a candidate for the Senate. A few weeks before election day, the newspaper which I mentioned the other day - the dirty rag-


Senator Findley - Is that the name of the newspaper?


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I have given it that name; it calls itself The Critic. I do not wish to be unfair to Senator Vardon. Far be it from me. At one time, however, I know that he had an interest in that newspaper. That he was interested in it at the time to which I refer I am not disposed to say. He told me that he was not; I must take his word. It is a remarkable thing, however, that Senator Vardon was an opposing candidate at this particular time. At least, he printed the paper, if he had no further interest in it. There appeared in it a statement to the effect that William Russell, who was a candidate for the Senate, was so cocksure of being returned that he had already made arrangements to move to Melbourne with his wife and family. Was that fair? Should not the person who wrote that statement have been made responsible for it? Except for the accident that a friend met my wife and daughters and asked them, "Is it true that you are going to leave South Australia, and take up your home in Melbourne.?" I might not have been able to contradict this untruth. What was the object of publishing it? I leave that to honorable senators. It was a dirty piece of work. Moreover, when I wrote to the newspaper stating that the information was not true, my denial was not inserted. Surely the time has come when some alteration should be made with reference to the practice of certain newspapers in connexion with political candidates. It has been said that we in this party have been bitterly opposed to giving women the franchise.


Senator Millen --No; what was said was that the honorable senator's party are trying to prevent women from voting.


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Senator Vardonhimself said that he wanted to have it put in black and white that the Labour party are opposed to postal , voting, and, therefore, to the interests of humanity. Senator Vardon also said that I was always a partisan in politics.


Senator Millen - The honorable senator does not deny that, does he ?


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I do deny it. I was for seven years in the State Parliament of South Australia without belonging to any party.


Senator Millen - The honorable senator was waiting to see which party was going to be top dog.


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I was not one of that sort. When the question of adult suffrage came on, those who knew me knew where to find me. Senator Vardon said that I was always a party man, but I was nothing of the kind. I was considered by the present Mr. Justice Gordon - and I think Senator Vardon quoted the reference - to be a dangerous Radical. I did not belong to the Labour party, because I thought then that they went too far. My objection was that they wanted an allround increase of the land tax. I did not believe in that. I always fought for the farmers, being one myself. I had a good large estate too, and it was all my own. I fought for the farmers, and I said to the Labour party, " I cannot join you while you have that plank on your platform."


Senator de Largie - And while the honorable senator had the land.


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No, that was not it. I said, " If you make an alteration in the platform, I will join you." They eventually did so, and I naturally joined with them, and I am very glad I did.


Senator Millen - Was it because of the honorable senator's estate that the Government put the exemption in the Land Tax Act?


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable senator should not talk such nonsense. It has been said that we have no sympathy with women, and that we desire to prevent them voting. I am going to show that nothing can justify Conservative members of the Senate making such a charge. In 1894, when the Kingston-Holder Government were in office in South Australia, we had a big fight over the question. We had the required number in both Houses to carry the measure, and not one to spare. We got the measure through, and I wish Senator Millen to take notice of the fact that not a single member of his party voted for that measure.


Senator Millen - Which party does the honorable senator mean?


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Tory party. They are the Tory party, and nothing more. The Liberals have been mixed up a little by the Fusion, but they are the Tory party all the same.


Senator Millen - The honorable senator got his land exempted, did he not?


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No, I did not. I am going to give the Senate and Senator Millen a little information. I am sorry that Senator Vardon is not here, because he is one of those who said that we were going to do women an injustice, and he wanted the country to know it. The honorable senator was a member of the Legislative Council in South Australia. He was in the Tory Government, and he was one who opposed the franchise for- women all the time. The honorable senator did not oppose the extension of the franchise merely to women. Of the electors on the rolls for the State Parliament in South Australia not one in three who can vote at an election for the House of Assembly has a vote for that autocratic House of Lords - the Legislative Council of South Australia. This matter has been before the country for years, and, having fought for women's franchise all the time and adult franchise also, I must be forgiven if I refer to it. While the late Mr. Kingston held office, he was repeatedly asked to test the feeling of the people on the matter, and in this connexion I quote the following

In consequence of the resolution passed by the House of Assembly on December 22, 1898, u referendum was taken on April 29th, 1899, to obtain the will of the electors on the question of the extension of the franchise for the Legislative Council.

The question referred to the voters was :

Are you in favour of extending the franchise for the Legislative Council to all householders as provided in the Bill passed by the House of Assembly in 1898?

Section 111 of the Bill provided that when a man and his wife -

Where is brother Vardon now?-<- live in the same dwelling of which either is the householder then each shall have a vote.

I do not speak of the honorable senator personally, but I say that the party that Senator Vardon belonged to, and of which be is now president, was then opposed, and is still opposed, to any extension of the franchise. Lovely woman, whom Senator Walker delighted me by speaking so nicely of the other day, was the one that suffered. Not only did the party fight bitterly to prevent women having votes for the House of Assembly, but also to prevent the extension of the franchise for the Legislative Council. The members then in Opposition often said to the late Right Honorable Charles Cameron Kingston - I like the name, because it sounds Scotch - " Take a referendum of the people. Let us understand where we are, and what the people want." A referendum was taken on . the question, and I have before me the result. The number who voted "Yes" was 49,208, and the number who voted " No " 33,928, giving a majority in favour of the question of 15,380. That is the position in which Conservatism was placed by that referendum. The Legislative Council of South Australia went on strike when the motion was carried in the House of Assembly, deciding to take a ballot of the people without their sanction. Now I ask, " Who are the friends of humanity ? Who are the friends of women? Who have fought their battles in season and out of season?" Has it not been the Labour party? I say advisedly that Senator Vardon is president of the party that objects to the further extension of the franchise to women.


Senator Walker -That was many years ago.


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - And even now. It is hard to understand how the honorable senator can talk on the floor of this chamber as the champion of women's rights while he is president of the Tory party that refuses women a vote. Senator Vardon said that he would place his reputation against mine. I have nothing to say against the honorable senator.


Senator Millen - But the honorable senator is always saying it.


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am not.


Senator Millen - The honorable senator has never made a speech yet without attacking his colleague from South Australia.


Senator St Ledger - I think we should have a quorum present while these interesting references are being made to Senator Vardon.







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