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Tuesday, 22 July 1902

Mr POYNTON (South Australia) - I am afraid that if the proposal of the honorable member for Bland be carried he will injure the very men whom he desires to serve. The mere fact of giving an elector the right to vote at any polling booth does not by any means insure to every elector an opportunity of voting. The system of voting by post, however, will - if property administered - confer that opportunity upon every elector. Many years ago I advocated the adoption of that system in connexion with the shearers in the back-blocks. Even if they had the right to vote at any polling booth in the State, many would be unable to do so because they might be scores of miles distant upon polling day. Under the system of voting by post there may be abuses, but . I venture to say that for every one that occurs facilities will be given to twenty electors to exercise the franchise. In the district which I represented in the South Australian Parliament there were no less than 38 polling places, and yet there are scores of men there who have never had an opportunity of voting. Unless some more valid reason be given for expunging the clause I shall certainly vote for its retention. I have heard that abuses occur in South Australia, but I certainly have heard no proof of those abuses.

Mr Watson - Men have voted a dozen times at an election in New South Wales, but the offence could never be proved.

Mr POYNTON - But the very men whom the honorable member for Bland wishes to vote will not be able to do so, unless this clause be included in the Bill, and they are a class who have to put up with considerable hardship as compared with dwellers in centres of civilization. I regard this clause as an advance in electoral reform ; and any reference to alleged abuse in South Australia does not justify us in abandoning the principle of voting by post.

Mr Kingston - In South Australia the law was altered to prevent abuses.

Mr POYNTON - This clause ought to be retained if only in the interests of the large body of women who have now been given the franchise, and who should have an opportunity of voting without going to the polling booth.

Mr Watson - It is no worse for a woman than for a man to go to the polling booth.

Mr POYNTON - My experience of female suffrage, which has been the law in South Australia from 1.896, is that when in health the great bulk of the women go to the poll ; but a greater percentage of women than of men are frequently prevented by sickness from leaving their homes. I am not wedded to' the particular wording of the clause, and would support any amendment to give it a wider scope. I do not see how there could be any evasion of the secrecy of the ballot.

Mr Watson - If a postmaster happened to be an employer of labour he might insist on one of the employes showing him his vote.

Mr POYNTON - I do not think the few cases there may be of that kind are any justification for our rejecting this clause.

Mr. L.E. GROOM (Darling Downs).I am sorry the honorable member for Bland feels it incumbent upon him to oppose the clause, because I regard this part of the Bill, as exceedingly liberal. What we all desire to get is the expressed will of the people, and it is only by such a provision as that now before the committee that we can really get the expressed will of the whole of the electors. When I stood at the byelection for this House, many of the electors of Darling Downs experienced serious difficulty, and I have several letters in my possession from shearers expressing regret that on the polling day they . would be working at too great a distance to record their votes. Had these men been ordinary loafers about the city they could have voted, but because they were doing work which society requires shall be done, they were absolutely disfranchised, and they asked me to do what I could in the Federal Parliament to remove the injustice. It is utterly impossible to predict at what particular place in an electorate these vast bodies of shearers may be. The polling place may be fixed at one station, and at the very next election the men who had been working there are pursuing their avocation miles away. The seamen on the vessels along the coast are many of them absolutely out of their electorate on the polling day, and surely they ought to receive some consideration. It is a matter of history that in Brisbane men engaged in shipping were on election day ordered down the river to do lighterage work and thus pi-evented from voting, it being known by those, who -had control over them how their votes were likely to be recorded.

Mr Bamford - An elector must be more than 5 miles away from a polling place.

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