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Thursday, 16 November 1911

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - Hitherto it has been optional with every Government controlling elections to fix whatever day they pleased for the polling. Whether this clause is agreed to or not, the Government will still be able to fix Saturday as the polling day. Then what is the object of it ? It is not intended to. determine the course of action of the present Government, because they can fix Saturday as the polling day in the proclamation ordering the elections. It will not act as a restraining or compelling force upon them; and it is clear, therefore, that the Government hope that, by putting it in the Bill, they will be able to exercise some compulsion in this matter over a succeeding Government, who might find it difficult to alter the law.

Senator de Largie - Would not any succeeding Government have a majority to carry out their will ?

Senator MILLEN - Is it not possible that, as a result of the next election, a Government may have a majority in another place, and not in the Senate?

Senator de Largie - The honorable senator wishes that a subsequent Government, being in a minority, may govern the majority.

Senator MILLEN - There could be no such Government. Every Government must stand as representing the majority. If this clause were defeated, the present, or any subsequent Government, could still fix whatever day they liked for an election. A number of persons who are firm believers in the appointment of Saturday as polling day, express the greatest sympathy with those whose conscientious beliefs prevent them from voting on that day. They would not hurt the consciences of those people in any way; but they will not, on that account, refrain from insisting upon having this clause passed. The statement that the extension of the hours for polling to 8 o'clock will give those who object to vote on the Jewish Sabbath two hours in which they may record their votes, is not true of any Saturday in the year, and is certainly not true of any Saturday in the middle of summer.

Senator McGregor - We will not have elections in the middle of summer.

Senator MILLEN - We have decided to hold our elections in April, but an extraordinary event may compel the holding of elections at any time during the year. We have no guarantee that even the next elections will be held in April. If I am correctly informed, the Jewish Sabbath terminates only with the rising of the first star, and it is, therefore, perfectly clear that, if an election were held in the middle of summer, Jewish electors would be unable to record their votes, even if they resided only a short distance from the polling place. I suggest that, even if the Government do not relinquish their idea to hold all elections on a Saturday, they will still make some provision to meet the views of conscientious objectors to that day as polling day. They can still fix Saturday for polling day, or, if necessary, select another day. The Minister knows that previous Governments have been free to select any day for polling day, and so W1 the present Government without this provision.

Senator Findley - And so will the next Government.

Senator MILLEN - Why does the Minister want to put on the succeeding Government the obligation to repeal this provision? It is hoped by the Government that, in some way or other, the provision will leave some shackles on their successors. The Government have full power to hold the election on any day without the clause, and circumstances may arise when even they may see the desirability of varying the day. There can be no wisdom or advantage, or sense, in passing a provision which is not necessary to bind the present Government, and which will bind their successors only so long as they like to be bound.

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