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Wednesday, 30 July 1902

Mr CROUCH (Corio) - I should like to say in support of the new clause that although the Minister says that this is a very liberal measure, that is no reason why we should not make it still more liberal. We want this measure to be the best the Federal Parliament can turn out, and we desire to avoid the necessity for amendments of the law after the next election. This is the first Federal Elections Bill, and we desire that it should bear the impress of this Parliament as a thoroughly radical measure.

Mr Mauger - How would the honorable and learned member punish the man who did wrong under this clause?

Mr CROUCH - I remind the honorable member for Melbourne Ports that my electorate is 60 miles, and I understand that the electorate of Maranoa is about 400 miles from one end to the other. Under the Bill as it stands, a man is permitted to vote in any part of the Maranoa electorate, though it extends practically from the Gulf of Carpentaria down to the New South Wales border. No one appears to see any difficulty about that, but when under this clause it is provided that a man may vote a ' little outside of a division in Victoria, it is objected to. But the whole of Victoria is not so large as the electorate of Maranoa. Honorable members appear to fear that personation may take place under the new clause, but if we allow a man to vote 60 miles away from his ordinary polling booth* we may as well allow him to vote 600 miles away from it. I wish particularly to meet the case of shearers, which I know would be met by the new clause. I am told that the voting by post provisions meet that case, but I do not think they do. Any one who has had experience of that system knows that it is not availed of unless there is a large amount of electoral interest awakened. In the first place a man has to write an application to a returning officer ; in the second place he has to wait until it comes back ; in the third place he has to go before a postmaster ; in fact, the process is such that very few persons voted by post at the last Victorian election, although there was a great desire, and also a necessity, for the introduction of the system here. In Victoria we have not a shearing class such as exists in Queensland. We have a number of cockatoo farmers and farmers' sons who only take to shearing in the slack farming season. These men cannot leave their work in the western district to go before a postmaster, but on polling day, which is a national holiday with them, they could go to vote, and it is of very great importance that they should be able to do so. In view of the experience of this system in Queensland and New South Wales, it is absurd to say that this provision is a great .advance on present legislation, or 'that the Bill will break down if it is inserted. I do not sup- pose that the people of Queensland have been greatly inconvenienced by men voting in Brisbane. If occasionally they have to wait for returns to come in, I think it would be right to declare the state of the poll in the immediate locality, and it would only be in the case of a very closely contested election that a-man need have any doubt as to what the result would be, because only 200 or 300 men would vote in this way for. each division. I believe that if this provision is not made now, a time will come when an amendment of the law will be necessary, because it is a reform wise, useful, and necessary, for which we have been waiting for many years.

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