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Thursday, 26 July 1906

Senator MULCAHY (Tasmania) . - Senator Keating furnished the most effective argument in opposition to the Bill when he declared that, while he saw no good he saw no harm in it. Are we to waste our time in dealing with such measures? I should be sorry to oppose any reform or improvement in our electoral methods ; and I believe that what Senator Pearce desires is a simplification of the manner of recording votes. The great blot in the measure is that it applies only in a partial way - that we are to have different systems at different polling places - and that the discrimination is to be left in the hand of returning officers, or, possibly, in the hands of Ministers.

Senator Stewart - What danger is there in that?

Senator MULCAHY - There may or mav not be any great danger. At some polling places there is a comparatively small number of electors, and the great principle we have adopted, and intend to preserve, is the secrecy of the ballot. How can we effectively observe or protect the secrecy of the ballot if we use a machine, which takes a record of only one particular place, and does not permit of the record being blended with the records of other places ?

Senator Pearce - What does that mean ?

Senator MULCAHY - Under the Bill the machine may be used at any prescribed polling place, and I am inclined 10 believe that if it were used at a polling place at which a comparatively small number of votes were recorded, and ballot boxes were used at other polling places in the same district, the effect might be to interfere to a certain extent with the secrecy of the ballot. What we should all like to see is an improvement of our electoral law, which would provide for even greater secrecy than is now secured. I remember that on one occasion a candidate in Tasmania professed to have discovered at an election that there were exactly 200 liars in a particular polling district, because he had been promised 202 votes in that district and only two had been recorded for him.

Senator Pearce - Does the honorable senator say that no machine can safeguard the secrecy of the ballot?

Senator MULCAHY - I do not say anything of the kind, but if a voting machine were used at one polling, place and the ordinary ballot papers at another, when the returns were brought together at a common centre, it might be possible to discover how electors using the machine had voted. If it were used at a place where only a few votes were recorded, and all in one direction, the secrecy of the ballot would be destroyed. The question of electoral reform is a very great and important one, and, I think, should not be tinkered with lightly and without serious consideration.

Senator Pearce - Does the honorable senator say that I introduced this Bill without consideration ?

Senator MULCAHY - No ; I do not. Tt is only a very small Bill, and is, perhaps, so small that it will noi receive the consideration which the importance of the question with which it deals demands. I am very much in accord with the honorable senator's desire for an improvement of existing methods in the conduct of our elections. That is a matter in reference to which there is great room for improvement. For instance, in connexion with the ensuing general elections we have made no provision to give, effect to the principle of elec- tion by the majority which we have already adopted, though I may say that I do not approve of that principle. I look upon the Bill as a chip in porridge, and I shall have to vote against, it.

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