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Wednesday, 25 October 1905

Senator STEWART (Queensland) - There are some aspects of the question which do not seem to have presented themselves to honorable senators who are in favour of extending the distance. We have created an equal franchise, under which every man and every woman of full age is entitled to vote. Further, we have, as nearly as may be, so arranged the electorates that each vote shall, as far as possible, be of equal value. This is an important point; but what is the equality between the vote of a man or woman who lives 100 yards from the polling place in the city and the vote of a man or woman who lives twenty or thirty miles from a polling place in the bush ? If each vote is to be of equal value, then, as nearly as possible, each individual should have an equal opportunity to record his vote.

Senator Givens - If the honorable senator pushes that argument much further, he will make the whole proposal ridiculous.

Senator STEWART - Any argument pushed to its ultimate conclusion becomes ridiculous. The very purpose for which voting by post was instituted is to give this equal value and equal opportunity. No doubt voting by post has been abused ; but where? Not in the country districts, but right in the heart of Melbourne and other big cities, where the system ought not to apply. Because a number of people in Melbourne have abused the privilege, honorable senators ask us to penalize the very electors for whose benefit it was instituted.

Senator Best - Electors who live in cities may be away on polling day.

Senator STEWART - That is quite possible; but it has been proved that the principal abuses of the system occur in the cities. Voting by post is a great convenience to large numbers of people who live in the bush districts of Australia, and it is much more of a convenience and a necessity now than when the franchise was confined exclusively to males. A selector and his wife may have a family of young children, ranging from one to ten years. In existing circumstances, the man or his wife, or both of them, have the privilege of voting by post if they please. If that privilege is not given them the man must go by himself to the poll, leaving the wife at home in charge of the children, or the wife must go by herself to the poll, leaving the husband in charge. Otherwise the whole family must go to the poll together, and I leave honorable senators to imagine the kind of undertaking that would be. I ask the Committee to compare the position of those people with that of a family living in a town. Either the man or the woman can go to the poll without the loss of an hour's time, without the expenditure of a farthing, and, in fact, without any difficulty whatever. If the provision for postal voting is not continued, persons in outside districts must lose time in any ca»e in recording their votes, and if they have to come info a town 10 do so they must lose money. There are a hundred obstacles in the way of people living in the bush as compared with those who live in towns.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - What does the honorable senator think the distance ought to be?

Senator STEWART - I think ten miles is quite sufficient. I know of a number of places in the bush where it would be a serious hardship if the distance were increased. I am satisfied that, but for the abuses of the system which have occurred in the towns, the proposal to extend the distance even to ten miles would never have been made. I agree to that as a compromise only. I hope the Committee will not make the distance fifteen miles, as that would be a very serious handicap on a number of the most deserving people we have in Australia.

Amendment negatived.

Senator PEARCE(Western Australia).I am sure that honorable senators are agreed that the provision for voting by post should be safeguarded. Whatever our views as to distance and time may be, we are agreed that we should prevent any abuses of these provisions. The Committee would do well to bear in mind that in the largest metropolitan electorate in Australia' at the last election a greater number of postal votes were cast than in any other electorate in the Commonwealth. There were more postal votes cast in the last Melbourne election than were cast for the whole State of South Australia. On the face of it, that appears as if there must have been -some abuse of the postal voting provisions in Melbourne. The Government have in this Bill to some extent safeguarded these provisions by proposing that only certain persons shall witness applications for postal votes. But if honorable senators will turn to the clause proposed they will find that, while a certain number of persons are named as persons authorized to witness applications for postal votes, they are in no way made judges of the applications. If I am asked to go to a postmaster to witness my application for a postal vote, and to state reasons for it, he should surely be in a position to say, " Your reasons do not disclose sufficient ground for the granting of a postal vote, and I therefore decline to witness your application."

Senator Best - Would not. that be most dangerous ?

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