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Tuesday, 28 November 1911

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I should like to say at once that in objecting, as I did, to this motion going as formal, it was not my intention to unduly occupy the time of the Senate, nor do I think that it is the intention of any honorable senator on this side to do so. But as the Opposition view the proposals in this Bill, and other matters connected with it, as of grave moment, it was thought desirable that we should, as briefly as the importance of the matter warrants, summarize the objections which we have endeavoured ineffectually to press upon the notice of honorable senators during the Committee stage. In doing this it necessarily follows that I shall be recapitulating to some extent the objections already voiced in this Chamber rather than breaking any fresh ground. Still, it is thought well to put in a precise and concise form the objections which have animated honorable senators on this side in the hostile course they have taken with regard to this measure. The first point I wish to present is that there has been no justification shown by argument advanced or evidence furnished for the very drastic changes proposed. We have heard vague unsupported statements of fraud and corruption under the existing law. There has been no serious attempt to substantiate them or to produce the facts which ought to exist before such statements are publicly made. The absence of this justification is one of the reasons why the Opposition, at what might have appeared to supporters of the Bill an undue length, considered it right to voice their ineffective protest. As no attempt has been made to justify the charges of fraud and corruption, the Opposition feel entitled, in view of the provisions of this Bill and theattitude of its supporters, to affirm that it has been drafted rather with a regard tothe interests of party than with any particular desire to afford equal facilities to the great body of the electors.

Senator Vardon - That is a very mild way of putting it.

Senator MILLEN - I am endeavouring, to make my statement without any heat at all, and to deal with the matter as one that: is entirely serious. With these preliminary remarks, I propose to summarize more in. detail the objections taken to this Bill. First of all, the Opposition strongly object to the measure because it withdraws from those who are distant from a polling placethe opportunity hitherto afforded them to exercise their citizen rights.

Senator Gardiner - It gives them moreample opportunity by extending the places at which they can record their votes.

Senator MILLEN - Then, according to Senator's Gardiner's logic, a man who is more than 5 miles from the nearest polling; booth is advantaged by being told that he may vote at a polling booth 50 miles away.

Senator Gardiner - He can vote at any polling booth in the State in which he lives.

Senator MILLEN - Of what use is it to tell a man who is unable to attend a polling booth within 5 miles of him that he is at liberty to vote at any other pollingbooth in the Commonwealth? If Senator Gardiner means to say that some other electors are given additional facilities, I am prepared to agree with him. Whilst the Bill withdraws a facility enjoyed by electors under the existing Act, it offers no substitute for it. In addition, this Bill withdraws the facilities hitherto afforded to women in maternity cases to. record their votes. They are unable at such a time to attend a polling booth, no matter how near it may be to them. It cannot be pretended for a moment that a woman who is unable to leave her room is compensated for the withdrawal of the postal vote by being permitted to roam all over Australia, and to cast her vote where she pleases. The third objection is that under this Bill it is deliberately proposed to withdraw similar facilities from the infirm, lt is idle to pretend that one whose infirmity prevents him from going 100 yards to recordhis vote is provided with a better system in being given the liberty to vote at any polling-booth he happens to be near on the day of election. His difficulty is to get to the nearest polling-booth, and it is no compensation to him to be told that he may, if he pleases, record his vote at the booth furthest from him. These are briefly the objections of the Opposition to the withdrawal of the postal voting facilities. In addition to this, the Bill, while providing for the holding of elections on Saturdays - in respect to which every one admits that a strong case can lie made out - makes no provision at all for those who, by reason of ^conscientious motives, are unable to vote on that day. The Government affirmed that by extending the hours of polling to 8 p.m. they have met that difficulty. I appeal to honorable senators to say whether the official clergy of the Hebrew faith, the particular denomination in question, are not better guides in this matter than is any member of the Senate, or any person outside their faith ? They have told us in a petition to the Senate that the extension of the hours of polling to 8 p.m. will not meet their difficulty. I am not going into their difficulty. I do not know enough about it, but I say that I am entitled to accept the assurance of the official heads of this church that the extension proposed will not meet the difficulty which arises from the forms of their religion. I contrast the denial of the .privileges asked for these people with the extraordinary provisions made in this Bill for the benefit of another class of voters. In Committee on the Bill, I proposed that, to meet the conscientious scruples of people of the Hebrew faith, a provision should be made to enable them to vote on the day previous to the day of election before the Electoral Registrar. The Government declined to accept that proposal, and, with the solid support of their party, turned it down. I wish the Senate to recollect what the Opposition then offered. There is in this Bill a clause which provides that a seaman or other person, who may be leaving Australia some weeks before polling day - before even the names of all the candidates are known - shall be entitled to go before the Electoral Registrar and record his vote. Yet, when we asked that a similar privilege should be extended to those who have conscientious objections to voting on Saturday, that privilege was denied them. In view of this circumstance, one cannot resist the conclusion that in the shaping of this Bill party interests have been allowed to exercise considerable and undue sway.

Senator Gardiner -- That is a most unfair thing to say.

Senator MILLEN - What else can I say? I have pointed out that seamen and others - whose votes my honorable friends opposite have a reasonable right to assume will be cast in their favour - are entitled to record their votes weeks before polling day, before even the names of the candidates who will seek their suffrages are announced.

Senator Lynch - What about the passengers ?

Senator MILLEN - More votes are represented by the seamen than by the passengers of a vessel.

Senator Lynch - Upon some vessels there are a hundred passengers to twenty seamen.

Senator MILLEN - Only on the big boats. The Bill contains this extraordinary provision - a provision which is not to be found in any other electoral law in the world - that before nomination day a certain class of electors may cast their votes, and cast therm under conditions as to which we are in absolute ignorance to-day. If the Government can safely put forward a proposition to enable one section of the electors to vote weeks before polling day, surely it is only reasonable to say that those electors who, from conscientious reasons, decline to vote on Saturday, shall be entitled, under the same regulations, to vote one day before polling day. The latter proposal, however, was solidly voted down by the supporters of the Ministry. That is one of the objections which impelled the Opposition to adopt a hostile attitude towards this Bill. Having dealt with the things which the measure does not do, I now wish to say a few words in regard to two radical alterations of the existing law which it proposes. I refer to compulsory enrolment, and to what, for want of a better term, I may describe as the ultra-divisional voting. Both these provisions may or may not be good. It will depend entirely upon how effect is given to them. Unless the new set of regulations which has to be framed has regard to all the circumstances, it must be obvious that the doorway to fraud will be opened wide. Whilst there is some merit in one of these proposals, it is obvious that that merit will be entirely destroyed unless it be hedged round with some safeguards which will wholly eliminate the liability of fraud. But concerning this, the Minister gave us no information whatever. He declined to explain how this compulsory enrolment is to be carried out. We were simply told that the card system is to be adopted. We were not vouchsafed any information as to what the regulations will contain, although the Minister was frequently asked to enlighten us upon that point. In regard to ultra-divisional voting, the Bill provides that an elector entitled to vote in one division, shall, if absent, be allowed to record his vote in any other division in the Commonwealth. No doubt the end i» view is a laudable one. Certainly the objective of the provision received the cordial approval of all sections of the Senate. But it must be obvious that the degree of safety with which that proposal can be adopted, will depend entirely upon the safeguards which surround it. Yet the Minister declined not only to say how it should be worked, but to set out in the Bill the nature of the safeguards to be adopted. They are to be left entirely to the Department, or to the Minister in office for the time being. I will now point out the particular danger which arises from the introduction of these new proposals, minus the safeguards which ought to have accompanied them. Under our enrolment and voting system, we have hitherto had the great safeguard of local knowledge. Our electoral law has proceeded upon the assumption that we should localize both the enrolment and the voting. Each elector was gathered round his own centre, and, consequently, the local policeman had a reasonable opportunity of knowing the local elector. Local knowledge thus constituted a great safeguard against corrupt practice. Even scrutineers were of some value under that system. But now we are to have a system under which an elector of Balmain, Sydney, will be entitled to vote in Brisbane, or anywhere else . in the Commonwealth. The safeguard of local knowledge will, therefore, be entirely eliminated. The Department has power to make regulations, as to which the Minister will not utter a single word. It has been said, " Surely we can trust the Government." As an abstract proposition, I would not dispute that contention. But when radical alterations in our electoral system are pro- posed - alterations which suggest the possibility of considerable fraudulent practice - it is an obligation upon the Government to' fully explain the proposals, which, if the Bill passes, they will be called upon to launch. I have already admitted, as an abstract proposition, that one may fairly trust the Government of the day. But there arespecial reasons why one may feel more than anxiety and doubt as to the wisdom of excluding from an Act of Parliament general directions as to the conduct of elec,toral matters. It will be within the knowledge of honorable senators that quite recently in two of the States there has been a considerable amount of corrupt practice,, which suggests the possibility of Governments, for their own purposes, condoning, offences against electoral administration. The first case to which I will refer is one which happened in my own State. There it was shown conclusively that an elector had been a party to an absolute forgery of an electoral claim - that he had induced a young girl to forge a claim for enrolment - and that he had wrongly witnessed that claim. He was proceeded against on twocharges, both of which were proved. The Attorney-General of the State then stepped in, and, referring to the offence as " the act of a well-meaning enthusiast," reduced the fine, which was a substantial one, to a paltry 2s.

Senator Gardiner - Is it not a fact thai the young lady merely signed her mother's name in the presence of her mother ?

Senator MILLEN - No; if it were a fact, Mr. Holman, who was somewhat on> his defence in this matter, would have mentioned it.

Senator Gardiner - He may have mentioned it; but the press which supports the honorable senator's party would not publish it.

Senator MILLEN - The less Senator Gardiner says about the press the better.

Senator Gardiner - I happen to knowall about the case.

Senator MILLEN - The facts are as I have stated, and the secretary of the Political Labour League was fined on two serious charges before the Police Court, the fines amounting in each case to £5 or £6. But although the crime of forgery was involved, the Attorney-General of the State referred to the act of the accused as that "of a well-meaning enthusiast," and reduced the fine to a nominal amount. In a second case, Mr. Holman refused to proceed against a man named

Bridge, who had been committed for trial on another offence against our electoral law. He had been committed for trial, but the Attorney-General declined to proceed against him. In that case also I am justified in saying that the offending persons were attached to the party represented by the Government of the day. While I make no personal charges against my honorable friends opposite - I should be sorry to do that - I say nevertheless that when we see a tendency on the part of a Government in this country, to abuse a power that is given to them at the call of party interests, and always to take a more or less warped view of things when those party interests are involved, this Senate will be proved to have been entirely wrong in allowing a. Bill of this kind to pass from it without insisting on necessary safeguards and precautions with regard to compulsory enrolment and absent voting being inserted in it rather than being left to regulation. As showing to what an extent these possibilities of corruption may take place, even under our democratic system of Government, let me refer to what has occurred in another State than my own. In this case absolute proof has been put forward of gross irregularities amounting to forgery and the stuffing of rolls. A Committee was appointed in South Australia, to investigate the circumstances. A minority of that Committee consisting of members of the" Labour party, whilst in no sense denying the facts set forth, attempted to palliate them.

Senator McGregor - There was nothing in the facts.

Senator MILLEN - The mere fact that certain electors had done wrong I should not have regarded as being in itself worthy of comment, because in any considerable number of people you will always find some who will tamper -with the law, but the seriousness of the matter lies in the fact that when this wrong-doing occurs in the interests of a particular party, prominent members of that party openly state that they do not see anything serious in what is done, and even defend the law-breakers whose practices were to their party's advantage.

Senator McGregor - I would break that kind of law myself.

Senator MILLEN - When, I find a man occupying the position that Senator McGregor does, prepared to stand up, and say that because a law does not suit his particular party he is justified in breaking it, I am entitled to believe that Sena- tor McGregor or any Government of which" he is a member would believe that it would be a right and proper thing to break a law of any kind when it did not suit them. The honorable senator and those who sit behind him, therefore, ought not to object to my statement, that in this instance they are shaping a law purely in their own party's interests. As the statement has been challenged as to whether there was anything in the facts of the case to which I have referred, may I make a quotation, not from the report, of the majority of the Committee, but from the report of the minority, signed by two members of the Labour party of South Australia. They do not deny a single fact alleged in the majority report, though those facts were flagrant enough. In order to show what they were, let me first quote a few words from the majority report -

The evidence taken so far has been of a startling nature, and has disclosed the fact that gross irregularities have taken place -with regard to claims lodged in respect of the electoral roll for the Legislative Council Central District, and that in some instances the signatures of alleged claimants for insertion on the roll have been forged. The claims of some electors, which would otherwise be in order, are invalid by reason of the fact that their signatures were not attested by the Justice of the Peace purporting so to do.

What do the minority say in answer? They do not deny the allegations. They simply say -

We are of opinion that the report, as agreed" to by the majority of the Committee, fails in some respects to convey an accurate impression of the facts brought out in the evidence, and that a modification in the language employed would have rendered it more in keeping with the mode of expression usually adopted in the drawing up of a document of its nature.

Senator McGregor - Hear, hear !

Senator MILLEN - There is no denial of the facts, which are indeed set down in the report signed by the political friends of the men who had been convicted. The minority also say -

Of the claims for registration on the Legislative Council roll for the Central District received bv the Electoral Department on 8th July, there were twenty-seven regarding which .the Deputy Returning Officer was not satisfied that they were properly signed and attested. These claims were put into the hands of the police for investigation with the following result in respect to them : - In eleven cases the persons whose names were attached to the claims stated that they did not give any one authority to sign their names.

Those statements were witnessed by members of the Labour party and by a member of the Legislative Council in his capacity of justice of the peace. There is no denial of the fact. There is an admission of it. There is an admission with regard to those eleven cases that the claims were not signed by the persons whose names were attached to them, and that they had not given any one else authority to sign them. That is the kind of thing which Senator McGregor says he himself would do.

Senator Mcgregor - There was no evidence that the persons were notentitled to be on the roll.

Senator MILLEN - That is not the point.

Senator McGregor - It is the point with me.

Senator MILLEN - Senator McGregor says that the law is nothing to him. He himself is the authority to say who should be entitled to be on the roll. But surely it is the Parliament of South Australia which has the determination of that matter, not any individual in South Australia. Let us go further -

In two of these cases the persons concerned did not possess the necessary qualification.

That meets Senator McGregor's statement. The persons were not entitled to be on the roll at all. Yet his friends and political associates by fraud put them on the roll.

In five cases the claimant admitted having attached their signatures to blank forms.

Those blank forms were subsequently witnessed by a member of the Labour party.

Senator Gardiner - After they had been filled in?

Senator MILLEN - Exactly. The applicants signed blank forms, which were taken away and witnessed by a justice of the peace, who ought never to have witnessed them, because they were not signed in his presence.

In three cases the signatures were not those of the claimants.

That is absolute forgery. Yet that is the kind of case that the Vice-President of the Executive Council is now defending.

But Mr. F. F. Ward had been asked by the claimants to put their names on the Legislative Council roll; in two cases Mr. Ward had been directly authorized by the claimants to sign for them ; in two cases the signatures were not the claimants', but they had been told by Mr. Ward that he was going to put them on the Legislative Council roll ; in one case the applicant stated that the claim was signed by her husband for her ; in one case the applicant stated that he did not give any one authority to sign his name, but he admitted that the claim was filled up in his presence by Mr. P. E. Bibby, who said that he was going to put his name on the roll (in evidence this claimant stated that he gave his consent to his name being placed on the roll. -

Q.758). In two cases the Returning Officer for the State was not satisfied as to the signatures, and refused the registration - in one of these the police were unable to ascertain " whether the ' claimant was existent or non-existent."

Let honorable senators pay attention to what follows -

None of the applicants had appeared before the justices of the peace whose signature were attached to the claims as attesting witnesses, namely, the Honorable E. L. W. Klauer, M.L.C. (i); Messrs. W. D. Clough (9); F. C. Hahn (9); and T. B. Merry (8).

The whole twenty-seven, in fact, were fraudulent. These are not the statements of the enemies of the dominant party in South Australia. They are the admissions of its friends. When we find not only that these things can be done, but that when done they are defended and sought to be justified by gentlemen holding such a responsible position as the Vice-President of the Executive Council does, I say that we may reasonably look for a repetition of this sort of thing if we allow the present Bill to pass from us as we are doing, without insisting on the insertion of safeguards in it, instead of leaving them to the Electoral Office or to the Ministry of the day. It is for that reason rather than any hostility to the provision for widening the facilities for voting, or for compulsory enrolment - it is because of the absence of necessary precautions, and because it is evident that there is a tendency on the part of certain individuals in the ranks of the Labour party to view with such tolerance any fraud against the Electoral Act which may help their party - that honorable senators on this side of the Chamber have felt justified in persisting in their opposition to these proposals. I have endeavoured as far as I could to deal with cold facts, because I have sought to make my few remarks a summary of the reasons which have justified the attitude of the Opposition. I recognise that it is too much to hope that any alteration of the Bill will take place here. It is, perhaps, too much to expect that even in another place better counsels will prevail, but I have still sufficient faith in the honesty of public opinion as a whole to believe that the average elector desires to see equal facilities afforded, irrespective of political views. And because I am firmly convinced that all electors want honesty in legislation and administration, I have ventured again to utter a protest in the hope that if nothing can be done in Parliament, the time will arrive when they will assist us to put right that which is wrong.

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