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Tuesday, 22 July 1902


Mr WATSON (Bland) - I move-

That the word " Any," line1 , be omitted.

I do this with a view to test the question whether voting by post is acceptable to the committee. I have a very strong objection to voting by post. It is desirable that the fullest possible facilities should be given to voters, but this should always be consistent with a minimum of influence being exercised upon the voter. Under the old system of open voting, we know that very few votes were recorded without undue influence. Voting by ballot, which was designed to overcome this difficulty, first saw the light in South Australia, and it has proved very effective, because it leaves the decision of the voter absolutely secret. Notwithstanding its obvious advantages in some instances, voting by post makes an attack, although not with an evil intention, upon the system of voting by ballot, because the elector has to record his vote in the presence of certain people.


Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - We can liberalize that.


Mr WATSON - I do not know that that would affect the objection I have to any great extent.


Mr Salmon - There is no disclosure made.


Mr WATSON - The honorable member evidently has in mind the system in force in Victoria, but that does not apply everywhere. I am given to understand that in some places the system of voting by post has not been a great success, because a considerable number of persons have been induced to disclose the name of the candidate for whom they were voting, because of the knowledge on the part of the employer that a certificate entitling them to vote by post had been obtained.


Mr Isaacs - Has the honorable member evidence of that?


Mr WATSON - Not such evidence, perhaps, as would be accepted in a court of law. I am informed that what I describe has taken place in South Australia.


Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - I do not think it has occurred in Victoria.


Mr WATSON - The opportunity did not occur in Victoria, because the franchise was not extented to women in that State. I am told that a great amount of influence was exercised on young women, particularly domestic servants, who were induced to obtain these postal certificates, and to vote in the presence, and practically under the control of the individual employing them, or of a parent, or some other person.


Mr Isaacs - But that is forbidden under the Bill.


Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is not possible under the South Australian law.


Mr WATSON - I am informed that it has been extensively practised in South Australia, and it may occur under this Bill. It is provided that any elector who has received a postal ballot-paper shall " in the presence of a postmaster, officer, police stipendiary magistrate, or head-master of a State school," record his vote. Now, I know of several instances in New South Wales where the postmaster is a squatter.

An Honorable Member. - That is a bogey.


Mr WATSON - The honorable member may say that it is a bogey, but I know of some squatters who use their influence in that way. In one case, in my own electorate, a squatter, who was acting as presiding officer, when he found that I was obtaining a majority of votes, kicked the ballot-box to pieces. Still, I was returned, and that squatter discharged every man employed on his station the very next day. It is unfair to subject any man to the temptation to which he would be exposed if he had an opportunity of witnessing the votes of the persons employed by him, and over whom he might exercise a great deal of influence. The only way to effectively protect the secrecy of the ballot is by insuring that the electors shall exercise their votes only in the polling booth under the supervision of the officials appointed for the purpose, and free from any influence as faras outsiders are concerned. I have suggested a provision in lieu of voting by post, under which an elector would be enabled to vote at any polling booth, whether in or out of his electorate. If an elector were 100 miles away from his electorate on polling day, he would be able to go to the nearest pollingbooth and record his vote. The only objection to that plan is that it would involve in some cases a delay of a few days, perhaps in the declaration of the poll. Therefore, we have to weigh the desirability of relieving a number of candidates from a state of uncertainty against the advantage of offering additional facilities to the voters and, at the same time, preserving the secrecy of the ballot. In Tasmania, the voter who finds himself outside of the district in which he is registered can go to the nearest pollingbooth and make a declaration stating that he is on the roll, and that he has not previously voted. This declaration is made subject to penalties. This plan is similar to that proposed by the Minister for Home Affairs for meeting the case of a man who finds himself unable to vote at the particular booth at which he is registered. I ask that this principle should be extended. In Tasmania the voter presents himself and signs the declaration, and his voting paper is placed in an envelope andforwarded to the returning officer for the division in which he has a vote. Later on the returning officer ascertains whether the voter is entitled to have his vote recorded, and if he is satisfied he includes the vote in his return. The delay of a day or two thus involved is of very small moment compared with the necessity of keeping the ballot free from any suspicion of undue influence on the part of interested individuals.


Mr Glynn - How would that affect paragraph (c) ?


Mr WATSON - There will always be a certain percentage of voters who cannot go to the poll on account of ill-health, but I do not see why we should imperil an election on that account. It is desirable to place beyond all considerations the free exercise of the voter's will at the ballot-box, and it is because I fear that voting by post will be used improperly to influence elections that I regard its disadvantages as outweighing the importance of extending voting facilities to the small percentage of persons who are unable to attend the polling booth.







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