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Thursday, 22 April 1915

Mr THOMAS (Barrier) .- I oppose the motion, because, in my opinion, every vote given by representatives in this House ought to be an open vote. For elections outside I am heartily for the secrecy of the ballot, in view of the fact that, with open voting, men and women might be penalized on account of the manner in which they cast their votes. Here, however, we represent the people, and our constituents have a right to definitely know how we vote.

Mr Watt - There could be an open exhaustive ballot.

Mr THOMAS - But this motion proposes a secret exhaustive ballot.

Mr Mcwilliams - That is so.

Mr THOMAS - In the New South Wales Parliament, of which I was at one time a member, the Public Works Committee is elected on a secret ballot; and I venture to say that in connexion therewith there is a considerable amount of intriguing and engineering. Of course, honorable members will understand that I cannot give names or cases in support of that statement; but honorable members may accept it as true. The State Government of New South Wales nominate members for the Committee, and their names are submitted to the House, when, on the demand of any one member, a secret ballot must be taken. Of course, if all the names are acceptable t.;> every member of the House there is no ballot, but I cannot remember an occasion on which appointments were made without a ballot. In one case a member of the House, who thought his name ought to have appeared on the list, complained to a member of the Government, who said to him, " Oh, well, old chap, it is like this: I did my best in Cabinet to have your name selected, but was out-voted. Anyhow, when the ballot is taken you shall have my vote." Whether the Minister voted as he said, I do not, of course, know.

Mr McWilliams - If that Minister thought the member was the best man for the position, why should he not vote for him?

Mr THOMAS - The State Government, as a Government, submit the names of men whom they consider to be the best fitted; and the honorable member is suggesting that the Minister should go behind his own Government and vote for some one who has not been nominated. Would a Minister do that if the voting were open?

Mr McWilliams - With open voting he might vote for a man he regarded as quite incompetent.

Mr THOMAS - The honorable member is really suggesting that members should have an opportunity of voting secretly in a different way from that in which they would vote openly.

Mr McWilliams - I am asking that members should have an opportunity to select the best men.

Mr THOMAS - The honorable member says that if a man is selected in caucus by, say, 20 votes to 21, and the whole party in the House support that man, the selection is really made by 21 members; whereas, if there were voting by ballot, another selection might be made.

Mr McWilliams - My object is to break down the present system, under which selections are so made in caucus.

Mr THOMAS - Then it would appear that the only reason the honorable member has for submitting the motion is that he cannot depend on the members of his own party to vote according to the decision arrived at in party meeting. Of course, the proposal does not affect the party to which I belong, because I believe we are all honorable men; but I take it that the honorable member speaks with authority when he says that if his party, at a meeting, agree amongst themselves by a majority to support a certain man--

Mr McWilliams - They do not do that.

Mr THOMAS - But if they did so.

Mr McWilliams - They do not.

Mr THOMAS - Then what difference does it make whether the voting is secret or open?

Mr McWilliams - If there were an exhaustive secret ballot, a nominee of neither party might be selected.

Mr THOMAS - With an exhaustive open ballot the result would be exactly the same as at present; and the only difference the motion could make would be to enable members of the Opposition to vote secretly in a way different from that in which they would vote openly.

Mr Watt - Why impute that kind of conduct to the Opposition ?

Mr THOMAS - It is the inference of the remarks of the honorable member for Franklin.

Mr McWilliams - In the Labour room, for instance, two candidates are put up.

Mr Page - We never put up any one.

Mr McWilliams - Well, one of two is selected by a narrow majority, and what happens?

Mr THOMAS - Then we come into the House, and, as honorable men, vote for the man who has been selected, as we would also do with a secret ballot. However, I take the stand that every vote we give as representatives should be known by our constituents, whether the vote be for the Speaker, on the Tariff, or any other question.

Mr McWilliams - Surely you see the difference between the election of the Speaker and a vote on the Tariff.

Mr THOMAS - The principle is exactly the same. What the honorable member means, if anything, is that, with the secret ballot, members would vote according to their conscience, whereas with open voting they might not do so. If it be a good thing that people should always vote according to their conscience and convictions, let us have secret voting on the Tariff and every other question. I fancy that, under such circumstances, we should see altogether different results from those at present obtained. Every one of our votes ought to be given openly, and, therefore, I am against the motion.

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