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Tuesday, 22 July 1902

Mr BROWN (Canobolas) - I am in sympathy with those who wish to extend the facilities for exercising the franchise ; but, at the same time, I wish to guard against possible abuses. Our experience in New South Wales shows the necessity for care in this direction. The honorable member for Bland cited an instance which occurred inthe electorate in which the presiding officer went; to the extreme of kicking the ballot-box to pieces, because the votes were not recorded in the direction which he desired. I have had a somewhat similar experience. At one station in my electorate, the manager ascertained the direction in which the men intended to vote, and when polling day arrived, he sent out to the back of the run those who would have voted in opposition to his desire, so that they could not exercise the franchise, whilst the others were brought in to the home station. These illustrations serve to show the extent to which feeling is sometimes carried. In other instances, a number of men have been discharged from their work after ah election. Their employers have said to them - " You voted for So-and-so ; go to him for a job." Like the honorable member for Bland, I fear that if the Government proposalbe carried, it will lead to the exercise of a great deal of undue influence. I recognise, however, that additional facilities for the exercise of the franchise must be given. In every centre of any importance in New South Wales pollingplaces exist. . In many districts, indeed, it is much easier to go to the polling booth than to find a justice of the peace to witness one's signature. I should like to see the polling booths thrown open to every elector.

SirW illiam Lyne. - It is impossible to do that.

Mr BROWN - I do not think so. When we elected our representatives to the Federal Convention, we required each elector to possess an elector's right, and he was thus enabled to vote at whatever polling booth he chose. A similar provision could he inserted in this Bill. No person who is not compelled by circumstances to be absent from his own district will go to another districtto vote from merelove of the change.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The difficulty is with those wholive miles away from any polling places.

Mr BROWN - One of thegreat obstacles with which people who live in the remote country districts haveto contend is that of obtaining the necessary form. Having obtained it, electorsare required to communicate withthe returning officer, whomaybe a couple of hundred miles away. Possibly their means of communication consists of a weekly, or fortnightly, post. The returning officer may be inundated with applications of this character, with the result, that he is unable to reply immediately, and thus the necessary authority isobtainedtoo, late for the elector to exercise his vote.I do not see that the Government proposal will overcome that difficulty. If this provisionbecomes operative, it willbemadean excuse for closing a large number of polling booths in New South Wales. Thus the facilities for voting will be decreased, whilst the difficulty which exists in obtaining, forms from the returning officer who may be some hundreds of miles distant, will practically disfranchise alarge number. For these reasons I shall support the amendment.

Mr. WATSON.(Bland).- The Minister for Home Affairs has urged that under my proposal there would be a difficulty in identifying electors who present themselves at polling booths and wish to vote upon signinga declaration. I shouldlike to direct attention to the fact that under his own scheme, people who present themselves at a polling booth in a division which is not the one for which they are enrolled, will be allowedto vote upon, signing a declaration. Does he mean to say that a man who resides some hundreds of miles from the place at which he desires to record his vote is more easily identifiable, because he happens to be in a certain division, than is the man who is permitted to vote anywhere? Moreover, what chance would there be of obtaining a reply upon polling day to a wire sent for the purpose of ascertaining whether any individual was registered or not? Like the honorable member for Gippsland, I am anxious to give every possible facility to country electors. I amglad to hear the eulogy that he passed upon the country voter, because I represent a rural constituency, and I owethe electors adebt of gratitude for the manner in which they have repeatedly returned meto Parliament. Under the Government proposal there is a risk of influence being brought to bear upon individual voters - not by ordinary election canvassers - but by others who wield influence on account of the position which they occupy. Thehonorable member for South Australia, Mr. Glynn, says he cannot conceive of anything beyond canvassing, butI know, andit is strangethatheasan old politician does not know, of frequent instances in which employers have made it clearly understood that unless a certain man were returned, there would not bemuchwork a little later on. When an employer will go tothat extent to enforce his opinions on his employés, he will use means such as are presented by the clause to find out how theyvote.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - How would he do it? mr. WATSON. - Supposinga postmaster were on employer of labour, as many are, he could ask his men who went to him to register how they were voting. It may have been at his suggestion that the men obtained the certificates, and therewould be no one else in the room when the vote was. being exercised.

Mr.G. B. Edwards. - Penalize him.

Mr WATSON - Does the honorable membernotknow that inNew SouthWales, before electoral rights were introduced, there were several well authenticated instances in which men were driven from polling booth to polling booth and voted in each ? In 1891, in West.Sydney, a mantoldme he had voted. six different times under as many different names in different compartments at one booth. When we know that these things were done in defiance of extreme penalties, there is not much encouragementfor the hope that offences under a system of voting by post can he prevented, and the best course is not to give people the opportunity to personate. If the clause could be safe-guardedI should regard it as a good provision, and if Iwere not in extreme doubt on that point I should not be found submitting the present amendment. I see, however, that the committee are not favorable to my proposal, but are anxious to give a trial to voting by post, and, as I indicated two or three months ago on the second reading that I was prepared to accept this Bill in order to have a measure applying to all Australia, I shall ask leave to withdraw the amendment. These postal certificates can be obtained only between the issue of the writ and the day of polling, and the minimum period of fourteen days is very short in country districts, where the mails are infrequent.

Mr Crouch -When I was elected I found that some of the postal votes came too late.

Mr WATSON - If this minimum period be availed of in every instance, it will, in many cases, be impossible to get votes through in time. In my own district there are places with a mail only once a week or once a fortnight. I regret the committee are not in sympathy with the amendment, but I reserve to myself the right later to agitate for an alteration if my views are borne out by experience. In any case, there is necessity for a considerable number of alterations with a view to safeguard, not so much the application for a certificate, as the exercise of a vote. The conditions under which the vote is exercised are such as to make it necessary to provide that no undue influence shall be brought to bear, and that the receiving of the votes shall be restricted to some official person. The place should be confined to the office of the official, though I am not certain whether the class of postmaster before whom the vote must be exercised is clearly provided.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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