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Friday, 3 November 1911

Senator VARDON (South Australia) . - It was said some time ago. that the members- of the Opposition were doing all they could to defeat or weaken the Bill. The Opposition did not oppose the second reading of the 'measure, and we have done nothing, so far, to defeat it. What we did was to endeavour to preserve some of the most humane provisions of our electoral law. When I read proposed new section 6ie, I begin to wonder whether I am living in a part of the British Empire where it is a fundamental law that a man shall not be held to be guilty of an offence until his guilt is proved, or whether I am living in France, where, as soon as a man is charged with an offence, he is treated as if he were guilty. Under this provision we are going to throw on a defendant the onus of proving his innocence, instead of putting the onus of proof on the man who makes the charge. That is contrary t.o all ideas of British justice. It was said that all persons are called upon to obey the law. That is so. The law says, " Thou shalt not steal," but if a man is accused of stealing a penny post-card, the person making the accusation must go to Court and prove the charge before the person accused is held to be guilty. It would not be sufficient for the prosecutor simply to make an averment. Yet, in this proposed new section it is provided that if any officer or any person acting under the direction of an officer simply makes an averment that a man is guilty of contravening the regulations, he is to be adjudged guilty unless he proves the contrary. If a man accused of not having given notice of his change of residence said in Court, " I posted the notice to the electoral officer, and the letter miscarried," how could he prove it? The whole thing is utterly absurd. The Minister says he is going to have the regulations printed and sent to every elector in the Commonwealth. It will mean .a big job for the Government Printer to print about 2,000,000 circulars, and it will give a good deal of work ,tO the Postal officials to deliver them, but when a man has got a copy of the regulations, will he fold it up carefully and carry it round about in his breast-pocket, so that he may 'examine them from time to time to see that he is not violating them in any way ? The whole thing is absurd from top to bottom. We are asked to pass a provision subjecting electors to penalties for contravening regulations of which we know nothing. There may be a dozen regulations. A man will have to bear them all in his mind, carry them about in his breastpocket, and study them daily for fear he should break one of them.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator is very innocent.

Senator Keating - Can the Minister tell us how many offences thereare under the regulations respecting postal voting?

Senator Findley - No, I cannot.

Senator Keating - How can the man in the street know if the Minister does not ?

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