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Tuesday, 31 October 1905

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH (Western Australia) - He would be a bold senator who would say that we will never have parliamentary elections conducted by means of a voting machine far the purpose of recording the votes. It seems to me to be perfectly possible that even in the near future an invention will be perfected for recording votes at elections without the possibility of making mistakes. It will not be denied that on some occasions under the present system of voting, mistakes, and sometimes roguery, occur. During the last Canadian elections, certain individuals, who were known to be voting against the Government party, had the votes which they put into the ballot-box conveyed to some other place, votes in favour of the party being recorded: in their stead. I fully believe that an automatic machine will be perfected which will" lead to a saving in expense, and even to greater security. That being so, it will surely do no harm to insert in this Bill a clause to make the use of a voting machine permissible at elections, if at any time the Government, with the consent of Parliament, proposes the adoption Of such a machine.

Senator Givens - Will it not be time to provide for that when the machine is submitted ?

Senator STANIFORTH SMITH - No ; because when a machine tried at other elections, has been proved to be accurate in its working, and it is thought desirable to use it at a Commonwealth election, there may not be time to alter the Electoral Act to permit of it being so used. Surely honorable senators do not desire that, in order to enable us to make use of such a machine it should be necessary to pass another Bill amending the principal Act? If we insert the proposed clause, when the time arrives at which, by general consent of Parliament, a voting machine may be usefully adopted in conducting our elections, it can be. used without the necessity of passing another amending Bill.

Senator KEATING(Tasmania- Honorary Minister). - I see very little objection to the insertion of a clause of this character, and especially one drawn in the way in which this clause is drafted. It throws no obligation upon the Electoral Department. It is permissive in every sense. Before anything can be done under the clause, both Houses of Parliament must take the initial steps of approving by resolution of the use of a certain machine, which must be described in the resolution. Then the polling places at which the voting is to be conducted by means of the voting machine, instead of bv ballot papers, must be prescribed, and it is further provided under the clause that the Governor-General shall make regulations prescribing matters incidental to the use of the machine. Provision is further made that the regulations must be laid before both Houses of Parliament for thirty days before they can have force or effect, and they are not to have force or effect if, within that time, a resolution is carried in either House of Parliament disapproving of them. Honorable senators will see that the clause is permissive in every sense of the word. It is left to Parliament to take the initial steps, and bv resolution passed in both Houses to approve of the use of a voting machine, which is to be described in such resolution. The Select Committee of the House of Repre sentatives made a reference to the use of voting machines, which will 1 be found at page 9, paragraph 18, of their report. They say - :

In considering the complaints of delay in expediting the making up of results of elections, your Committee took evidence as to the use of voting machines. Several different mechanical contrivances were placed before the Committee by Messrs. King Hedley,, F. A. Peters, J. F. Higgins, and Horace Harding. It is apparent that such contrivances may be of great value in populous polling places in securing economy, expedition in the making up of results, and avoidance of informalities ; but for various reasons they are difficult to utilize in the outlying districts. Your Committee are not in a position to adjudicate satisfactorily upon the practical results of- the use of such contrivances in other countries, or upon the value of the respective machines submitted to them ; but consider that the Electoral Department should institute immediate inquiries to see if it is possible to adopt any of the machines in the large centres of population. The adoption would, of i course, need statutory authority.

The effect of that recommendation, briefly stated, is that the use of voting machines in populous- polling places is well worthy of consideration, but that they cannot be adopted for electoral purposes at any polling place without statutory authority.'

Senator Dobson - Is it wise to provide that this may be done by the passing of a resolution which does not secure the attention which would be given to a Bill?

Senator KEATING - That is a matter for the Committee to consider; but I am personally inclined to think that more attention would be concentrated upon a resolution of this character than upon, a Bill to give effect to such a proposal. As I have pointed out, the clause throws upon both Houses of Parliament the responsibility of taking the initial steps to give effect to the proposal. If those steps are at any time taken, it seems to me that the safeguards provided in the clause are sufficient to prevent the adoption of any machine, unless the general body of members of Parliament have been supplied with satisfactory evidence that it will be capable of doing the work iti is designed to do.

Senator Dobson - Is such a machine used in any other country?

Senator KEATING - I am not aware whether such -machines have been used for voting, purposes, but they certainly have been experimented with. If the amendment were incorporated in the Bill, I point out that a resolution approving of the use of a machine in a populous centre might also prescribe that the electors should vote at that centre in both ways, by means of the machine, and by the ordinary method at present in use.

Senator Millen - Which would be authoritative ?

Senator KEATING - That would be a matter for regulation, but I should say that the voting by ballot-paper should be authoritative. At all events, that would be one of the best ways of testing the value of the machine.

Senator Styles - Was this machine invented 'In New Zealand ?

Senator KEATING - I am not speaking of _ any particular machine. If the Committee were asked in this clause to agree to the adoption of these machines for voting at elections, I should oppose the clause most strenuously. But I see no harm in assenting to the introduction of a purely permissive clause.

Senator MILLEN(New South Wales). - Honorable senators who have seen the machine itself must at once recognise its ingenuity of construction, and, so far as one can judge from external evidence, the comparative safety which it affords.

Senator Clemons - "Comparative" is good.

Senator MILLEN - If Senator Clemons had occupied only the small measure of time which I took to make an examination of the machine, he would have ascertained that it is constructed practically on the principle of the interlocking gear of railway signalling systems, and, though it might come to a standstill, it could not go wrong.

Senator Dobson - Could it not be bribed ?

Senator MILLEN - Unfortunately, I am unable to hold out any hope to the honorable senator in that direction from the use of the machine. With reference to the report of the Select Committee from which Senator Keating has quoted, I am sorry that what the Committee recommended has not been done.

Senator Keating - Inquiries are now being made.

Senator MILLEN - We have not the benefit of the result of those inquiries. And in the absence of such evidence as the Select Committee suggest, it appears to me that this is a somewhat unusual clause to adopt. The Minister has said that the clause is permissive only, and that it would be quite harmless to pass it. That is perfectly true, but I object to legislation of this kind, which practically says that if Parliament at some future time directs that something shall be done it can be done.

Senator Henderson - Would it not be an advantage in this case ?

Senator MILLEN - I am unable to see that it would.

Senator Henderson - Would it not prevent the necessity for the passing of an amending Bill ?

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator will see that, though an amending Bill might not be necessary, it would be necessary to pass a resolution through both Houses of Parliament agreeing to the adoption of a voting machine. I may say at once that I am entirely in favour of these machines, but I regard it as idle to say that Parliament at some future date may pass a resolution in favour of their adoption. Senator Henderson, as one of those who support the use of the machine will recognise that its advocates are not satisfied that Parliament would lie prepared at the present time to sanction its use, or they would submit an amendment to the proposed new clause.

Senator Henderson - We might ask Parliament at a very early date to adopt the machine.

Senator MILLEN - When the honorable senator does that he will no doubt be able to demonstrate that the machine can be properly worked,, and it will then be time to propose its adoption, not by means of a resolution, but by a Bill. Such a proposal should be adopted in the form of a Bill, passed through all its regular stages in the ordinary way, so as to give an opportunity, not only to members of Parliament, but to the public, to know what is proposed to be done. It is a matter of very great importance that public opinion on such a subject should find expression in Parliament.

Senator Henderson - That would mean . that ih about three years' time we should require to pass an Electoral Law Consolidation Bill.

Senator MILLEN - We shall always be passing some laws. It seems to me somewhat dangerous to enact legislation of this character, under which, at some future time, when public attention was diverted, a resolution might be passed without receiving the attention to which it would be entitled. It is better that we should wait until we are in a position to say that a voting machine could be adopted1 at our elections, and we could then pass a Bill in the ordinary way authorizing the use of such a machine. By the adoption of that course we should be in a position to leave very much less to regulations than is proposed in this clause. While I am a firm believer in the use of voting machines, and consider that before very long they will be adopted, with a saving of time, money, and convenience to electors, I am not at present prepared to vote for a clause which conflicts so much with the ordinary procedure of legislation.

Senator CLEMONS(Tasmania).- I do not care whether a voting machine is absolutely perfect or very faulty. It is verging upon the grotesque to insert in the Bill a solemn permission for the Senate, or the other House, subsequently to pass a resolution in favour of the use of the invention. I venture to think that there is no parallel in English legislation for such a provision as we are asked to pass. If it is not inserted in the Bill, it will be possible at any time for any one to submit a motion in favour of the use of a voting machine, and a test vote can then be taken. I could understand a private senator asking the Senate on a Thursday to consider a pro position of- this kind, or the Senate asking the Government to investigate .the working of a voting machine, with a view to subsequently submitting a motion for its adoption by the Commonwealth.

Senator Staniforth Smith - We sometimes pass a Bill to be brought into force by proclamation.

Senator CLEMONS - That is a very different thing. In this clause we are simply asked to permit ourselves subsequently to consider a motion.

Senator Best - It will enable, not permit, us to consider a motion.

Senator CLEMONS - Does the honorable and learned senator mean to say that without the provision, a motion could not be submitted at any time?

Senator Best - A motion, if carried, would not be effective unless it were authorized by a provision of this kind.

Senator CLEMONS - Does the honor-' able and learned senator -mean to contend that if the clause be enacted, a resolution passed thereunder would be as good as an Act of Parliament?

Senator Best - Yes.

Senator CLEMONS - I contend that a resolution of Parliament is not identical with an Act of Parliament. Does Senator Best contend that if a resolution were passed by both Houses nothing further would be done ? I do not imagine that the Ministry contemplates that no further step would be taken. I do not suppose that Senator Henderson would be content with a mere resolution.

Senator Henderson - Something further is provided for in the amendment.

Senator Best - In the regulations.

Senator CLEMONS - I hope that every honorable senator will be against the proposal, if it means that' we are to substitute a resolution plus regulations for an Act. I am not against the adoption of the voting machine, because I know nothing about it. We should become the laughing stock of every legislative body if we were to agree to this provision.

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