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Thursday, 2 November 1911

Senator VARDON (South Australia) . - I am sorry that the Minister did not give a straight-out reply yesterday to the question of Senator Cameron, as to whether the Bill would deprive certain persons of a vote. He replied that the persons were given many facilities, and indicated what they were. I was touching on the question of depriving respectable mothers of their votes yesterday when an unfortunate disruption took place. 1 had shown that, according to the figures quoted by Senator Findley, even after he had watered them down as much as possible, there were still some thousands to be considered.

Senator Findley - That is hardly fair on your part. I did not water anything down. They were official figures, and I used them as such.

Senator VARDON - The honorable senator took what it would be, reckoning four weeks, and what it would be, reckoning two weeks. He took the lowest figures.

Senator Findley - I took both.

Senator VARDON - Yes, and we were given what was believed to be the actual minimum, and even at that it was shown that there were several thousand women, at any rate, who would be deprived of an opportunity of voting. I want it to be known that the Ministry and the Labour party deliberately intend to take away from these people, as well as from those who are old, infirm, and unable to get to the polling booth, the opportunity of voting. Senator Long made an extraordinary statement with regard to an abuse of the postal voting system which he alleged occurred in Tasmania. He said that in one constituency 300 postal ballotpapers - practically one-half the number of postal ballot-papers issued - had been sent to one address, where they were evidently manipulated, because they were signed and sent in without the persons who had applied for them receiving them. lj for one, cannot understand how that could be possible. Under the Act it was the duty of the Returning Officer to take the postal ballot-papers and to compare the signatures on the certificates with the signatures on the application. If he did not make that comparison to satisfy himself as to the validity of the postal votes, he altogether neglected his duty. If the Heturning Officer did make a comparison such a fraud as is alleged would have been detected, because no man could copy the signatures of 300 persons with such accuracy that the imitations would pass when compared with the genuine signatures. Such a thing would be utterly impossible. It is laid down in section 119 of the Act that the Returning Officer - -shall compare the signature of the elector on each postal vote certificate with the signature qf Uie same elector on the application for the certificate, and shall allow the scrutineers to inspect both signatures.

The Returning Officer has not only to compare the signatures himself, but he has to hand them over to the scrutineers so that they may inspect them. If 300 postal ballot-papers were manipulated in the way alleged by Senator Long, I fail to see how it was that the Returning Officer, if he did his duty, did not detect the fraud. It is also provided that the Returning Officer - if he is not satisfied that the signature on the certificate is that of the elector who signed the application for the certificate, and that the signature purports to be witnessed by an authorized witness shall disallow the ballot-paper without opening it or separating it from the certificate; but if he is so satisfied he shall accept the ballot-paper for further scrutiny.

If the Returning Officer and the scrutineers at one polling place passed 300 postal bal. lot-papers on which the signatures were forged they were not doing their duty, and they ought to have been punished in the way the Act provides. It is put forward as a reason for abolishing voting by post that there have been some abuses. No matter what system is adopted, it will be abused by some people, and to abolish the facilities for people to vote by post because of a supposed fraud is doing an injustice to the people who wish to vote by post. I have shown that if the provisions of the Act were properly carried out fraud would be reduced to a minimum. We are now asked to cast the whole voting by post system on one side. It is said that there is to be constituted a more comprehensive system of absent voting. Under the system of absent voting proposed there are not the same safeguards as are provided in the Act with regard to postal voting. The Government say they are going to. provide these safeguards by regulation. The safeguards in connexion with absent. voting should be provided in the Bill as are the safeguards in connexion with postal voting in the Act. Matters of such importance should not be left to regulation. All the provisions against fraud should be set out in the measure itself, and the regulations should simply deal with details. People who are unable to attend any polling booth are to be deprived of the opportunity of voting, and the Ministry are going to allow people who are away from the division in which they reside to vote at any polling place in the Commonwealth. Safeguards should be provided in the Bill in connexion with absent voting similar to those which are provided at present with regard to voting by post, so that the opportunities of fraud may be reduced to a minimum.

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