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Thursday, 26 July 1906

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) (Honorary Minister) . - The honorable senator who has introduced this Bill endeavoured, when the Bill amending the Electoral Act was before the Senate, to introduce provisions 'having the same object as the first clause of this new Bill - namely, the adoption of voting machines, if both Houses of the Parliament, by resolution, approved of" them. On that occasion, I indicated that there was no objection on the part of theGovernment to the inclusion of his amendment, because it was of a purely permissivecharacter. There was nothing obligatory in it. It left the whole matter perfectly open to the Government of the day to investigate the merits of any voting machinethat might be submitted, and even if the Government approved of a machine, the whole responsibility of its adoption for election purposes was left with Parliament. Therefore, I think, that the criticism that I then offered to the clauses the honorable senator sought to introduce is equally applicable to this Bill. With reference to clause 3 of the measure, making provision for an amendment of section 51 of our last Electoral Act - which amended section 180 of the main Act - I may say that the particular defect referred to has already been under the notice of the Attorney-General's Department, which has had in hand the preparation of an amendment to the same effect as that intended by clause 3 in the Bill now before us. So far, therefore, I can see no reason for opposing the Bill. At the same time, I would point out to Senator Pearce that the provisions of our Electoral Act - that is, of the original Act and of the amending Act of last session - contemplate, of course, the existence of ballotboxes, ballot-papers, and all other appurtenances of our present system of voting. Of course, if such a thing as a voting machine were hereafter adopted, it might or might not be necessary to expressly repeal those particular provisions which would be out of harmony with the system that would then be in vogue. However, I do not anticipate that there would be any inconsistency ; and we could possibly adopt machines, if necessary allowing the present provisions applicable to the system of voting now observed, to have no operation or effect.

Senator Pearce - The provisions applicable to the present system might be required for less populous districts.

Senator KEATING - The measure before us is purely permissive. Speaking on behalf of the Government, all I have to say is that there is no desire to oppose the Bill, nor is there any particular inclination to adopt it. So far as the last clause is concerned, the Government do desire to rectify that particular defect in the existing Act. But. in so far as the Bill is purely permissive, and not obligatory, it is in no sense a party measure from the point of view of the Government.

Senator Sir JOSIAHSYMON (South Australia) [3.2]. - I do not quite understand the attitude of the Government, who declare that thev are not in favour of the Bill, and not against it. The_ uninitiated look to the Government for guidance in a great question of the kind.

Senator Keating - The Government say that there is no departmental objection to the Bill.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - When Senator Keating rose to address himself to the measure so ably expounded by Senator Pearce, I thought he would have assisted us, or that he would have held up a beacon indicating which way we were to go. Until some such light is held up, I can only say that the Bill appears to me to be very harmless, for, although it deals with an important matter, or affects an important matter, it decides or determines nothing. Anything that would facilitate and make more perfect the method of recording votes at elections - and putting an end to or lessening the possibility of error or informality - is very desirable; but I would1 rather Senator Pearce had waited until he could embody in a measure the determination of Parliament to adopt voting machines, or some voting machine, for the purpose of parliamentary elections. The Bill is really a kind of pious enactment; it places it on record that Parliament may 'hereafter do something, though Parliament may do that something without the necessity of placing the measure on the statute-book. The Bill merely provides that if both Houses of Parliament, bv resolution, approve of a 5VS.tem of voting by machinery, then the polling at any prescribed polling, places may be conducted without the use of ballotpapers.

Senator Mulcahy - The discrimination is the difficulty ; there would be two systems.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - That is a difficulty on which I intend to say a word. As to the adoption of machine voting, the Bill determines nothing; but it does pledge us to discrimination. Perhaps Senator Pearce may eliminate that part of the Bill, and leave the matter to regulation or subsequent determination. According to the Bill certain polling places may be selected at which voting machines shall be used, while all the other polling places in a division or constituency mav be subject to the existing system. That is a proposal which ought to receive very grave attention if the Senate thinks the measure of sufficient value to warrant it being placed on the statute-book. Is it desirable that one State's system of voting should be used at one polling place and another system of voting at another polling place?

Senator Stewart - Yes.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - That may or may not be desirable ; I am merely putting the question to myself and to the Senate, and Senator Stewart may be able to give some reasons why discrimination is desirable. I myself am not sufficiently informed of the details to express an opinion as to the advantage or disadvantage of the proposal. I think, however, -that honorable senators will agree that this is a very grave and vital incidence in a Bill of this description. As I have said, the Bill itself, as to machine voting, pledges us to nothing ; when the resolutions are introduced, Parliament may or may not approve of voting machines, or any particular machine. But, indirectly, we are placing on the statute-book a law that, in the event of voting machines being adopted, they may be employed at one polling place, and not at another. Senator Keating indicated that, of course, the Bill, if passed, would be of no use for the impending elections ; and, therefore, there is no particular reason why the Ball should be placed on the statute-book this session, or at all for the matter of that. _ Senator Keating is not sure, and neither am I, that the present regulations would be applicable to the use of voting machines, amd I direct attention to the fact that even if the resolutions were passed during this session, the regulations, which must be issued subsequently, would have to be laid before Parliament for thirtyone days, and to be subject, of course, to the approval or disapproval by Parliament of the whole or any part of them. For the reasons already suggested, with the addition of the reason just stated, it is quite obvious that the Bill could be of no service for the coming elections ; and I ask whether it is worth while to pass a measure which does not pledge us to the adoption of the system desired bv Senator Pearce, but does incidentally pledge us in regard to a question requiring very grave consideration - namely, whether we ought to continue two systems concurrently, using a machine at one set of poll ing- pi aces, and carrying on the ordinary system at the other.

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