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Thursday, 16 November 1911

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I again suggest to the Government that what is being urged from this side is, not the destruction of their policy in regard to Saturday voting, but the provision of a fair and reasonable outlet by which these electors, whether their number be large or small, can record a vote, and discharge their duty as citizens without violating their con- science.The Minister has very successfully talked all round the subject. He has never once come closely to grips with the real problem which fronts him. Is there any difficulty in making provision for conscientious objectors to vote on Saturday ?

Senator Findley - They can do it under the provision of the Bill which deals with the hour of closing.

Senator MILLEN - Of what use is it to tell a member of the Jewish faith who lives 25 miles from a polling place that he will have an opportunity to vote ? Let us see to what an extraordinary degree the Government have provided for the men whose votes they think will be cast for their party.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That has brought vou to your feet.

Senator MILLEN - Exactly, and the honorable senator is showing largely what underlies the provision. The Government have gone so far in their efforts to secure the votes of those who they think will support their party that they have enabled persons to vote even before nomination day comes round.

SenatorFindley. - Will not that provision apply to everybody?

Senator MILLEN - Yes, but it happens to apply particularly to seamen.

Senator Findley - Are they the only persons who will be on the water?

Senator MILLEN - I venture to say that there are ten seamen on the water to every passenger.

Senator Findley - On some boats there are twenty times as many passengers as seamen.

Senator MILLEN - I am speaking of the whole shipping community. We have an extraordinary provision that, before nomination day, and before they can know the names of the candidates, some electors may vote. But when the Government deal with another class, where conscience should be the determining factor, they not only submit a. hard-and-fast provision, which shuts out all prospect of hope, but even turn a deaf ear to the appeals from Senator Gardiner and Senator Lynch. Surely it is much easier to frame a provision enabling conscientious objectors to record a vote than it was to hammer out a provision enabling voters who may be leaving Australia for good to vote, and without resorting to the method of postal voting? If it is fair and reasonable to allow a sailor who is leaving a port of the Commonwealth before nomination day to go to an Electoral Officer, obtain the necessary paper, and, in his presence, or under his direction, cast a vote, why can it not be provided that, on the day before the poll, any one who cannot conscientiously vote on a Saturday shall be able to vote? I ask the Minister to tell me what solid reason there is against putting a provision of that kind in the Bill ?

Senator Findley - In one case there is no chanceof a man recording his vote unless the provision is in the Bill; but in the other case there will be every opportunity for a man to record his vote.

Senator MILLEN - No. The Minister is evidently unaware of the strength which can be asserted by a conscientious objector.

Senator Findley - We have met this class by extending the closing hour to 8 o'clock.

Senator MILLEN - When it comes to a question of what constitutes the Jewish Sabbath, I prefer to take the word of Jewish clergymen rather than the word of the Minister. So far as I know the latter would not know one end of a Synagogue from the other.

Senator McGregor - But they are exaggerating.

Senator MILLEN - In their official capacity they have set out in a petition to the Senate certain facts in all solemnity. They have assured us that even with the extension of the polling time, it will not be possible for Jews to vote without doing injury to their conscience.

Senator de Largie - Let us extend the time for polling stillfurther.

Senator MILLEN - Why does not the Minister in charge of the Bill submit a proposal of that kind? He makes no proposition, but merely says, " We have done it." Who {made Senator Findley the keeper of any other man's conscience?

Senator Findley - I like this attitude in regard to the Bill. I never heard the honorable senator speak in this way regarding compulsory training.

Senator MILLEN -I should not insult the intelligence of the Senate as the Minister is doing by supposing that a matter of convenience is to be placed on the same parallel as a matter of public safety. What I am urging is not that the Government should disturb the convenience of the great body of electors, who may find Saturday the better day for polling, but that since they have been so liberal, in the provisions which they have designed for electors who may be leaving Australia, a little of that liberality should find expression in a clause enabling those who cannot conscientiously vote on a Saturday to vote at some other time, or in some other way. I suggest the insertion of a clause empowering the GovernorGeneral in Council to make a regulation for that purpose. I am not concerned as to how it is done, but an opportunity to vote should be provided. There is a great principle at stake. We have no right, unless the national safety is concerned, to ruthlessly thrust aside the conscientious objections of any class in the community.

Progress reported.

Sitting suspended from 6.26 to 8 -p.m.

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