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Wednesday, 24 September 1902

Mr WATSON (Bland) - I think there is something to be said in favour of allowing the details regarding the granting of this additional facility to voters to be prescribed by regulation. Some time ago I made a suggestion that the general principle could be safeguarded by providing a form of declaration which an elector would be required to sign before being permitted to vote. Of course, I admit that it might be found that such a system would not oiler a sufficient safeguard against impersonation. It might be a wise course, to have regulations sufficiently elastic to allow of alterations being made in the method of voting. At the same time, it might be found that while the Ministry of to-day were willing to grant additional voting facilities, their successors, a few months later, might wish to rush an election through under conditions -which would be to their own advantage, and might, therefore, refuse to issue the necessary regulations. It is very unwise to surround the exercise of the franchise with such conditions. I therefore move -

That the Senate's amendment be amended by the omission of the word "may," where first occurring in sub-clause (2), 'with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word " shall."

Whilst it. would then be imperative that . facilities for voting outside of any electorate should be provided, all the details relating to those facilities would be prescribed by the Minister under regulation. Thus he would still retain .control of the safeguards which, in his opinion, were necessary to prevent impersonation, and the electors would have some guarantee that the facilities, would be open to every one who desired to take advantage of them. In this connexion, I desire to call attention to a provision in the New South Wales Act. The Minister for Home Affairs was a member of the State Government in 1S93, when that Act was passed. In that measure a section was inserted providing that polling places for certain electorates might be proclaimed by regulation outside the bounds of those electorates. I ask the Minister to say from his experience whether that provision was availed of until the last general election ? I contend that it remained a dead letter, because the Ministry of the day were not particularly anxious that the extra facilities for voting should be given. At the last general election in New South Wales, Sydney was made a polling place for a number of country electorates, but in many cases a less number of votes for outside electorates were recorded in the capital than would have been recorded in other parts of the State. I know that in my own district quite a number of people who were there on business, and who were entitled to vote for other electorates, could not do so. This facility for the exercise of the franchise was restricted to Sydney apparently, because the Government desired to give their pastoralist friends who were attending thesheep sales there an opportunity of voting, although they did not wish any one else to enjoy the same advantage. It appears to me that while it is wise to allow the Executive to alter the regulations as frequently as may be found necessary, we should make it imperative that these facilities should be provided. . I would strongly urge upon the committee the desirableness of agreeing to the amendment. By so doing we should place it beyond the caprice of any Minister to determine whether or not this broad principle should be given effect to. With that object in view I submit the amendment.

Sir William Lyne - I hope that the honorable member will not do that.

Mr WATSON - Why ?

Sir William Lyne - Because it is a very serious amendment, which affects the principles of the Bill, and I should take it as such.

Mr WATSON - Surely the Minister will admit that there is a very considerable distinction between the clause in its present form, and the provision which was passed by this House upon his own initiative, and which gave to electors who might be absent from their own particular polling places an opportunity to vote at any polling place within their division ? The honorable gentleman should recollect that he is not going to remain in office for all time, and his successor may not be so sympatheticas himself towards the general principle of providing facilities for voting. At any rate, I hold that it is unfair to subject the people of the Commonwealth to the caprice of Ministers of the day. In the New South Wales Electoral Act a similar permissive provision was never taken advantage of.

Sir William Lyne - It was never there.

Mr WATSON - There is a provision in the New South Wales Electoral Act of 1893 - which is still in force - which allows the Executive to proclaim polling places for any electorate outside that electorate, but it was taken advantage of by the Government of the day only when it suited them to give their squatter friends an opportunity of voting. I have no objection to squatters being allowed such an opportunity, but I claim that equal facilities should be offered to all. At no general election prior to the last one was Sydney made a polling place for other electorates.

Sir William Lyne - Yes, it was, upon twenty different occasions.

Mr WATSON - It was not made a polling place for country districts under the new Electoral Act?

Sir William Lyne - I had to attend to the matter, so I know all about it.

Mr WATSON - However, that consideration does not touch the general principle, that the permissive sections of the New South Wales Act were not availed of in respect of those districts in which it was most necessary that they should be given effect to. Therefore, we should make it imperative that these regulations should be issued, subject always to the right of the Executive to alter the form and number of safeguards which they may consider necessary to prevent impersonation.

Mr Ewing - Voting by post helps the honorable member a little.

Mr WATSON - My impression is that voting by post does not help at all. Voting by post is a conservative dodge all the time, and I am not in favour of it. At any rate, we are not discussing that at the present time, but another question altogether. In my opinion, this matter should not depend on the will of individual Ministers, no matter who they may be or which side of politics they represent.

Sir William Lyne - I cannot accept the Bill with the amendment.

Mr WATSON - I cannot help that, but it is very peculiar that the honorable gentleman should assume such an attitude. A few weeks ago the Minister introduced a clause allowing a man, on making a declaration to vote in anypart of his division, and it must be remembered that some divisions are as large as Tasmania. The honorable member for Coolgardie has a division as large as Queensland, and the constituency of Maranoa is big enough to take in several Tasmanias. That clause was very properly passed, and now when the Minister is to be given control of all the safeguards, and allowed to vary those safeguards, time and again, after every general election, just as he thinks fit, he informs the committee that he will drop the Bill sooner than consent to my amendment.

Sir William Lyne - I shall.

Mr WATSON - This strikes me as the case of a man " straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel."

Sir William Lyne - No ; it is not.

Mr WATSON - In any case, I intend to press my amendment.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member wants to wreck the Bill.

Mr WATSON - I do not want to wreck the Bill, but I want to wreck the opportunity of a Minister or anybody else using this measure for his own ends. It should not be left in the hands of a Minister to proclaim polling places at his own sweet will, in order to suit his own particular shade of politics. The Chamber should insist that this provision be fixed, and not subject to the will of the Ministry of the day. One of the worst features of every electoral Act so far is that Ministers are allowed to fix up these matters to suit themselves or the party to which they belong, and as a matter of principle such a condition of things should be prevented. In this instance I do not go to the extreme I proposed a few weeks ago.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member goes a little further in this amendment than ever he went before.

Mr WATSON - I proposed a few weeks ago that an elector, on signing a declaration, should be allowed to vote for his electorate in any part of the State. I now suggest that it shall be imperative to provide by regulation, facilities by which an elector may vote wherever the regulations allow him to vote, and under whatever safeguards the regulations may provide. There is a very wide distinction between that and the former proposal, though the present amendment is in favour of the Minister's contention to the extent that a large amount of power still remains with him. But it ought to be imperative on the Minister to provide some facilities, it being left to himto say what the facilities shall be, and the manner in which they may be taken advantage of. I trust the committee will see that it is proper to take out of the hands of the Ministry the regulation of these matters pertaining to the whole of the elections. Such a power is a prolific source -of corruption in some places. I do not say it is a source of corruption in Australia, because we can pride ourselves on reasonably honest administration of these matters in this country. But in some places the power is admittedly a prolific source of corruption and gerrymandering, and experience has shown that these matters should not be left to the control of Ministers, who may act according to the circumstances of the moment.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member knows what the effect of his amendment will be ?

Mr WATSON - I shall take all the consequences ; if the Minister adopts a certain attitude, other people can do the same. Honorable members will see that all details still remain in the hands of the Executive of the day, but the duty is made imperative that they shall provide facilities.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I regret very much that the honorable member for Bland has taken the extreme course of submitting this amendment. I have done all I can to meet the desires of what is called democracy, which the amendment, it seems to me, will have a tendency to destroy. There is a vast deal of difference between a division for the House of Representatives and a division for the Senate, the latter consisting of a whole State.

Mr Brown -But some of the divisions for the House of Representatives are as large as some States.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - That may be so. I thought I was going too far when I agreed to a proposal of the kind in connexion with divisions for the House of Representatives. But now we have to deal with South Australia, including the whole of the Northern Territory, and with the whole of Western Australia and Queensland, with immense seaboards. If the amendment were carried we might have a repetition of what has taken place in New South Wales to a great extent. In New South Wales men have been taken from ships-


Sir WILLIAM LYNE - That may be so ; but men have been taken from ships in order to vote, and when they were wanted next day they were far away. If that can be done in New South Wales, how much more could it be done along the long sea- boards which I have indicated 1 I do not wish my name associated with a Bill which willl break down by reason of its leading to personation and other ills. My wish is to pass a Bill which will be a credit to the Ministry and to this Parliament. I say un- hesitatingly that the amendment makes it impossible to exercise any restriction where a State is the division.

Mr Watson - The safeguards will still lie with the Ministry.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - If that be so, the amendment is of no effect.

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - The difference is between Parliament bringing this provision into effect and the Ministry bringing it into effect.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - If the honorable member for Bland means only such polling places a& the Minister may decide, there is no necessity for the amendment, because the Minister could make only one polling place. But that is not the object of the honorable member ; the object is to make this provision compulsory for a whole State.

Mr Watson - There are the safeguards.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Of what good are safeguards, when men may be at a place one day, and 50 miles away the next ?

Mr Watson - That is an argument against the whole clause.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The honorable member has gone a great deal too far in this amendment, which I cannot accept.

Mr Watson - Then the honorable gentleman does not intend to carry out the provision. He says the safeguards ' are of no avail.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The safeguards are of no avail if it be compulsory to open every polling place in the whole State to every elector. It may be that a large portion of the State could be worked under this amendment, and that a fringe of a State could not, and there should be power within the executive authority to see that iniquities, such as I have indicated, are prevented. What is the use of regulations, however stringent, if they cannot be put into force? This is a power that has been exercised only tentatively on one occasion in each of two States. It has been tentatively exercised in Queensland and Tasmania ; but there has been passed in the latter State a new electoral law from which the provision is omitted.

Mr O'Malley - That is to kill me.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - No, it is not. Let me also refer to the extra expense which this amendment would involve. I shall not refer to the question of divisions for the House of Representatives, because that matter has already been settled ; but I cannot agree to this plan being adopted in regard to a whole State. The amendment will lead to excessive printing.

Mr Watson - Nothing of the sort.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - It will be necessary for every roll to be in the hands of every returning officer throughout the whole State, and that must lead to additional printing expenses. That, however, is a minor question. The great question is whether it is possible to control elections in large States with great sea-boards, such as Western Australia, South Australia, and Queensland, without the introduction of personation and attendant trouble. Then, again, the amendment will entail great delay in arriving at finality at elections. If there were an election in the neighbourhood of Adelaide, no return could be given until the full figures had been received for the Northern Territory. I have discussed this clause in Cabinet, and also with the Vice-President of the Executive Council, and I went as far as I possibly could when I agreed to a permissive clause, with power to alter or restrict if necessity arises. I cannot go further in the interests of the Bill, and I do not think *it is fair to ask me to do so. I have very reasonable cause for complaint against the honorable member for Bland for pressing this point to extreme lengths, before we know what may be the outcome or the result of innovations of a serious character extending over the whole Commonwealth. I do not feel disposed to link my name with a Bill which will be troublesome, if not dangerous, to work. I have gone so far that I am prepared to extend polling places as much as is possible and reasonable, but I do not wish my hands tied. I do not desire to be bound to make every polling place in the State a place where any elector may vote. The honorable member for Bland stated that only on one occasion had the Government of New South Wales created a polling place in Sydney, and that it was then done in order to meet the convenience of pastoralists at show time.

Mr Watson - It was during the sheep sales.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I do not say that polling places for other electorates have always been proclaimed in Sydney, but that arrangement has been made in the great majority of elections during my1 parliamentary experience, for the convenience of the many electors who have business in Sydney on polling day, and who leave their own divisions at hours which make it irksome for them to vote there. If the honoraMe member's interpretation of the effect of his amendment were correct, there would be no need for it, because the Rill will make provision for the proclamation of polling places for a division outside the boundaries of that division in certain cases where it is thought desirable to make that arrangement. This amendment, if it means anything, will mean that every polling place shall be a polling place for every division in the State. That I strongly object to.

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