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Wednesday, 25 October 1905

Senator GIVENS (Queensland) - It is a curious thing that those who have cited the evils that have occurred under the system of voting by post, have alluded only to the big towns like Melbourne, where there is very little necessity for the system at all. There is no evidence of abuse in the country districts.

Senator Pearce - There were more cases in Melbourne than in the whole of the State of South Australia.

Senator GIVENS - Honorable senators who argue in that way are simply saying that we may make a postmaster or a postmistress an authorized witness, but that we must refuse to allow the keeper of a postoffice in a small township where postal voting facilities are required to be exercised, to witness signatures. Could anything be more ridiculous? If the postal voting facilities are to remain in existence they are mostly required in the large scattered districts of the Commonwealth, where the polling booths are few and far between, and where there are not many persons authorized to witness signatures. In very small places there is no official postmaster or postmistress, for the simple reason that the Post and Telegraph Department requires an office to have a revenue of ^400 per annum before giving it the status of an official office.

Senator Pearce - Are there no schoolmasters or policemen available?

Senator GIVENS - In Queensland we have travelling schoolmasters, who, however, may not be available at the time signatures require to be witnessed. If we are sincere in our desire to extend these postal facilities, it is essential that we should accent the amendment. It is in the big towns like Melbourne that additional safeguards are required, though I do not know that we can safeguard the provisions more than' we have done. The Committee has refused to increase the penalty, and therefore we should, at any rate, make sure that facilities to vote by post may be utilized where they are most required.

Senator CROFT(Western Australia).I am just as anxious as Senator Givens can be that the facilities for voting by post should be extended as far as possible. But at the same time I am not desirous of enabling the keepers of unofficial postoffices to witness signatures. I am opposed to that principle for the reasons advanced by Senator Pearce and Senator Millen. The other persons mentioned show, by the positions they occupy, that they are likely to be unprejudiced and unbiased in the discharge of their duties>. Senator Givens has pointed out that there may be no schoolmaster or -police officer available; but those who drafted ihe Bill have provided ira sub-clause b of this proposed substituted clause that the documents may be witnessed by public servants of the Commonwealth or State who have been proclaimed as authorized witnesses. That provision shows a desire to have as witnesses people who hold responsible positions, and whose training is some guarantee that they will perform the duties impartially. Later on, however, I shall object to the inclusion' of legally-qualified medical practitioners and justices of the peace amongst the authorized witnesses.

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