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Wednesday, 25 October 1905

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH (Western Australia) - The tendency seems to be to penalize people in the country, and pamper up those who live in the city. The country residents are the real producers of wealth, on whom we depend in a great measure for our prosperity, and yet it is sought to deprive them of the facilities enjoyed by the people in the towns. Senator Pearce adopts a very extraordinary position when he practically declares that public servants are the only people who can be intrusted with this duty. In my opinion, a State public servant is amenable, or likely to be amenable, to certain influences exerted by a dominant party in State politics1 ; and it might mean, though I hope it never will, that a public servant of the State, or the State Service as a whole, might suffer if certain concessions were refused by them. We know the extent to which the policy of " spoils to the victor ' ' has been carried in the United States. It seems strange to provide that a police constable, who is, of course, just as reputable as any other member of the community, shall be entitled to witness these documents, and that a person who has charge of an unofficial postoffice shall not be permitted to discharge the duty.

Senator Croft - Is there a town in Western Australia where some of the persons mentioned in sub-clause b are not available?

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - There are quite a number of localities where none of these persons are found - mining camps and stations.

Senator Henderson - On every mining camp there is a State public servant.

Senator Givens - There are mining camps in Queensland where no such persons are found.

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - Why should we not in this matter give equality of opportunity, irrespectiveof where people reside? A person is penalized to a certain extent by having to live in an out-of-the-way place, and I do not see why he should suffer further disability because the postal business is not sufficient to justify the establishment of an official office. I am in favour of giving every possible opportunity to people to record their votes.

Senator STEWART(Queensland). - I am rather amused at some of the arguments which have been advanced against this very useful amendment. A number of honorable senators seem to have focussed their attention so exclusively on the late Melbourne election that they cannot see anything else ; but the amendment would not apply to people in Melbourne, where one can run against a public servant every ten yards. But in the bush, how many of the officials enumerated in the clause are to be found? There are dozens of mining camps in Queensland where there is neither warden nor warden's clerk.

Senator Croft - Is there a mining camp or bush camp where persons could not he found who are qualified under subclause b?

Senator STEWART - I could point out dozens of places if I had a map of Queensland here. However good the intentions of certain honorable senators may be, their actions seem to be directed to placing every possible obstacle in the way of the people in the bush recording their votes. Their attention seems to be concentrated on the big cities, where there is really no need for voting by post. It is provided that an authorized witness shall not witness the signature of any elector unless he is personally known to him. Who would be more likely to personally know applicants than the men and women who keep the post-offices in the country districts? The suggestion that the keepers of the unofficial post-offices are unreliable is a serious reflection, not only on the Commonwealth Administration, but on the people themselves.

Senator Millen - It has not. been said in this Chamber that these people are unreliable.

Senator STEWART - That was the inference I drew from the remarks I heard ; if the statement was not made in direct language, a suggestion was made in a worse way. If the keepers of unofficial postoffices are reliable, where is the objection to their acting as authorized witnesses? These people have charge of the correspondence of the people, and discharge responsible public duties. They issue postoffice orders, and sell postal notes and stamps, and, although there must be thousands of them in the service, we have heard of very few cases in which they have abused their trust. It is admitted that the amendment would give greater facilities to a number of people to record their votes, and I hope the Committee will not be led away by the opposition of Senator O'Keefe, who has distinctly told us that he wishes to place every impediment in the way of postal voting.

Senator Pearce - In the way of the misuse of postal voting.

Senator STEWART - It has been shown that the abuse of the system is not in the country districts, but in the towns, and the amendment applies only to the former.

Senator Pearce - There are contract post-offices all round Melbourne.

Senator STEWART - But in Melbourne, where there are numbers of public servants, there would be no necessity for applicants to go to unofficial post-offices.

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