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Wednesday, 30 July 1902

Mr McDONALD (KENNEDY, QUEENSLAND) - I, for one, desire to give the Minister for Home Affairs credit for having introduced one of the most liberal electoral measures that we have had in Australia, if not in any part of the world ; but, on the other hand, I think that it can be made even more complete by the insertion of this proposed new clause. There is a large number of people in the western districts of Australia who, because of the peculiar nature of their occupation, have constantly to shift from place to place. We certainly have the voting by post provisions, but any one who has a knowledge of the westernbushmen - and,I am sure, that the honorable gentleman has had sufficient experience of them to enable him to judge of their manners and habits of life - must know that, rather than go to the trouble of signing declarations or writing letter in order to secure their votes, they would give somebody else £1 to do the work for them. A number of them are not accustomed to writing, and it will be a difficult task for them to fill in a form of any description to enable them to vote. Apart from that, we have to consider the case of men like the carriers at Hughenden. There are about 400 carriers who make Hughenden their headquarters, but who in the course of a fortnight may be scattered over a dozen different districts. They may start out with a desire to vote in the district in which they live, but probably owing to the way in which the mails are run - and in some parts of Queensland there is a mail only once a fortnight, or once a month - it is impossible for them to ascertain the exact time within which they should make application to vote by post. If a clause similar to that now proposed is not inserted in the Bill a large number of these men will be disfranchised. What I have said applies also to a number of miners, but especially to shearers and general bushworkers who have to depend for a livelihood upon getting work from station to station in the large pastoral districts. These men will have no opportunity of recording their votes, because they will be outside of the electorate in which they are enrolled. I do not see that the proposed clause will load theBill in any way at all. An arrangement similar to that suggested was carried out very successfully in the referendum upon the Commonwealth Bill in Queensland, and as the honorable member for Bland has pointed out, at the last federal election Brisbane was made a polling booth for every electorate in Queensland. In each of those cases the provision appeared to work satisfactorily, and I do not know of a solitary case of personation under it which cams publicly before the authorities. In the case of electorates like Kennedy, which contains 170,000 square miles, and Maranoa, which contains 300,000 square miles, it takes from four to six weeks from the date of an election before the poll can be declared. I think that at the last election it took nearly six weeks. In the matter of time, therefore, it would really make no difference to allow electors to vote in any part of Queensland. So far as the result of an election is concerned, the voting at each polling place is telegraphed to the central polling place, and, though the members are not declared elected they know, from the telegrams received by the principal returning officer, that they have been virtually elected, and their anxiety of mind upon the subject is in that way set at rest. While this will not lead to delay in any way, it will be the means of giving a vote to a large number of men who must be disfranchised under the Bill as it stands, with all its liberal provisions. I quite realize that the Government have made great efforts to try to give every man a vote ; but the insertion of this clause will render the Bill more liberal than it is at present, and under it voters will have an opportunity of recording their votes which they are not given under the Bill as it stands.

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