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Tuesday, 22 July 1902

Mr BROWN (Canobolas) - There is some force in the contention of the honorable member for Grampians The object of this clause is to extend certain privileges to electors residing in remote districts ; but if only postmasters who are classified public servants can deal with postal ballot-papers in the manner provided for, its operation will be limited to the more populous districts. I admit that there is a grave objection to squatters, who are also postmasters, being allowed to act ; but in the State of New South Wales there are a number of non-official postmasters, who performthe duties of deputy registrars with very satisfactory results. If these officers are to be debarred from dealing with postal ballotpapers, the electors in the outlying districts will be placed at a disadvantage. I prefer that the persons charged with the performance of this duty should be appointed by the Electoral department. I am not prepared to go to the extent of limiting its performance to official postmasters to the exclusion of all other suitable persons. The Government proposal will do a grave injustice to a large number of electors.

Mr. BATCHELOR(South Australia).I really do not see what objection there can be to limiting the discharge of this duty to officials. In my judgment it would be a great mistake to extend this provision to country postmasters who are not servants of the Commonwealth. If there is no official postmaster at some remote settlement, the State still has the head-master of the public school, the special magistrate, or the police or stipendiary magistrate to fall back upon. Surely amongst all these individuals we can secure some official before whom the absent voter may exercise his franchise? I ask the honorable member for Bland to temporarily withdraw his amendment to enable me to move a prior one. To my mind it would be a mistake to multiply the places at which absent votes may be recorded. Let us limit the duty of receiving such votes to officials, and let the work be done at their usual office. I admit that under my proposal the sick would be disfranchised, but if we attempt to legislate for every possible case, we shall immediately open the door to all sorts of abuses. I am extremely anxious to avoid even the suspicion that undue influence may be brought to bear upon absent voters by the person charged with the duty of receiving their votes. One of the chief reasons which led to the extreme disfavour with which the Electoral Act was viewed in South Australia was that at one election a certain postmaster was carted round by members of a political organization for the purpose of securing votes for its candidates. There is nothing in this Bill to prevent a repetition of such and occurrence. I do not think that it is worth our while to risk spoiling the whole measure by attempting to attain the ideal. It is far better for us to confine our attention to providing reasonable facilities for the exercise of the franchise.

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