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Tuesday, 31 October 1905

Senator BEST (Victoria) - I approve of what has been said by Senator Styles, and partly of what has been said by Senator Clemons. I admit that it is somewhat unusual to enact that upon a resolution being passed at a future date a certain thing shall take place. That is a most unsatisfactory mode of procedure.

Senator Guthrie - Yet that is how the Victorian Parliament framed its Factories Act. >

Senator BEST - That provision was the result of a compromise, and not a very satisfactory one eithe*r. We are asked to enact that if the voting machine should prove a success it shall be competent for the Parliament to sanction its use. It is absurd for us to attempt to legislate in advance in this fashion. It will be quite time enough when the voting machine has been proved a success for us to enact a provision that in view of that fact it shall be the means whereby the voting at elections shall be recorded. It is most inopportune at this juncture to contemplate the success of an instrument which may be a failure. Under these circumstances I' ask Senator Henderson not to press the clause.

Senator HENDERSON(Western Australia). - I am somewhat astonished at the tone of the last three speeches. Senator Clemons has described the act of passing the amendment as grotesque, while Senator Styles has imagined the possibility of a dire calamity occurring if the voting machine be used. But it should be remembered that in the previous clause we have provided that if for any reason the polling be adjourned at any polling place, the electors who are enrolled for that polling place may vote on a subsequent occasion. Senator Best has urged that to introduce a provision of this kind into our electoral law would be to do a farcical thing. I believe that he has been a party to the passing of legislation which was just as much anticipatory as this provision will be. Has not each State encouraged prospecting, with a view to induce men with knowledge and courage to unveil the hidden treasures of the earth ? By that means it has induced men of talent to make the country richer and happier than otherwise would have been the case.

Senator Dobson - I do not see the analogy.

Senator HENDERSON - If we enact this provision, will it not induce men to persevere with their efforts to produce a perfect voting machine.

Senator Pulsford - Is the honorable senator asking us to insert his amendment in order to encourage invention?

Senator HENDERSON - No; but the enactment of the provision will undoubtedly encourage the spirit of invention. Even' man with an inventive mind will certainly try to produce a perfect voting machine and! to gain the reward offered to him in the promise of its adoption by the Commonwealth.

Senator Best - When he has succeeded let the honorable senator bring down a Bill sanctioning its use.

Senator HENDERSON - If we enact the provision it will do that which I think ought to be done. We ought not to encumber the Electoral Act by one thousand and one amending Acts. We ought rather to endeavour to make our electoral law assimple and as nearly perfect as we can make it. '

Senator Clemons - It appears that we are to have an original Act, am amending; Act, a resolution, ' and regulations - a simple form of electoral machinery !

Senator HENDERSON - We have power to pass a resolution without amy amending Bill, but there is the clear distinction, that a resolution will be necessary to put the proposed new clause in operation. Sub-clauses 2 and 3 provide for regulations, but leave the Parliament entirely free to act according to the will of the majority of both Houses. If the regulations are rejected by one House, the whole proposal will fall to the ground. In the event of a satisfactory voting machine being invented, we ought to make provision so that it may be brought into- operation at once.

Senator STANIFORTHSMITH (Western Australia). - The amendment, irĀ» my opinion, embodies a simple businesslike proposal to provide for what I conceive to be a probable eventuality ; and, personally, I see none of the dangers which have been suggested. I examined with some care the voting machine which was on exhibition recently within this bulding, and it seemed to me, as one who has no mechanical knowledge, to be a very useful contrivance. No one would be foolish enough to think of applying such a machine to a Commonwealth election, extending over the whole continent, without having first obtained expert opinion, and subjected it to the most exhaustive trials in municipal, shire council, and, perhaps, State elections.

There are mechanical contrivances of various kinds which do their work better than would be possible with the most careful human endeavour. The totalisator is a machine by means of which' are invested tens of thousands of pounds, and the public have greater faith in it than they have in the older system of recording clerks. There are also turnstiles and similar machines, which register more carefully than could any human beings. If we have not at present a voting machine which does the work better than under the present method, we shall probably have one in the near future. I believe it is the opinion of many experts that there is at the present time a ballot-box which answers all the requirements of a properly conducted election ; but, as I have already said, nothing will be done in this direction without exhaustive trials. There is no harm, however, in inserting a clause which will remain inoperative unless there be forthcoming a voting machine in every way suitable for a Commonwealth election. The clause offers the. advantage that if an effective voting machine be invented, it can be brought into operation by a simple resolution of both Houses. The bane of. Federal legislation is the constant introduction of amending Bills, of which we already have a large number, and many others are proposed to rectify hasty or immature legislation. If we do not adopt the clause, and a machine is invented, it will be necessary to introduce a second amending Bill.

Senator PULSFORD(New South Wales). - If Senator Smith has succeeded in doing anything, it is in showing the absurdity of the proposed new clause. The honorable senator has told us that the machine he saw " seemed " to be a good one, and his whole speech was punctuated with " ifs." I submit that this is playing with legislation. Such a discussion might be appropriate in a small debating society, but scarcely in the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. I suggest that Senator Henderson, now that he has fully done his friendly duty for' Senator Pearce, ought not to proceed further.

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