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Thursday, 1 August 1912

The PRESIDENT - I remind the honorable senator that the Bill provides for the abolition of postal voting in connexion with a referendum.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - Senator Gardiner must bear in mind that, because a particular law has been passed, we are not precluded, at a fitting opportunity, from discussing it. Such an opportunity is provided by this Bill for discussing the abolition of postal voting. My feeling in this matter is that every elector should be given the fullest opportunity to record his vote. I should not be a party to taking away from one section an opportunity to record their votes, in order to secure an advantage for another section. I can recollect the time when the party opposite were most eager to provide for postal voting.

Senator Henderson - That is incorrect.

Senator Needham - Will the honorable senator mention the time?

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - It was in the old State Parliaments, and I remind honorable senators opposite that the Labour party originated in the old State Parliaments. Representatives of that party in the State Parliaments advocated postal voting in common with other provisions, which they have subsequently decided operate less in their favour than against them.

Senator Henderson - I never breathed a word in my life in favour of postal voting.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - The honorable senator will have an opportunity to reply ; but I shall be very much surprised if it can be shown that I am not correct in the statement I have made. My recollection is that in the old days one-man-one-vote, and also postal voting, were advocated. Honorable senators must bear in mind that it was only stage by stage that we reached the franchise we at present enjoy.

Senator McGregor - I remember the time when the party opposite advocated onemantwo votes.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. -No ; the progressive Liberal party was, I think, always in favour of one vote one value, and, ultimately, in favour of adult suffrage. I have availed myself of opportunities to record my vote in favour of those principles. It is proposed to abolish postal voting under this Bill, though it must be admitted that many persons will be unable to attend 'a polling booth. I think I am right when I say that it was shown that at the last referenda from 20,000 to 30,000 persons voted as absent voters, and a very large number recorded their votes in the same way at the Federal election held three years ago.

Senator de Largie - They will still be able to record their votes as absent voters.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD.- No, it will be found that a considerable number will be unable to record their votes under this Bill. We are asked deliberately to take away a privilege that the electors enjoyed for a number of years. We have been told that the reason for this proposal is that abuses arose under the postal-voting provisions. Abuses will arise under any Act of Parliament, and it is our duty to take steps to punish those who abuse the privileges given them. No one will say that at the present time there is no personation or dishonest voting. There is more or less of it at every elec tion. The provisions of our law for the punishment of offences of that character pre-supposes that such offences are, and will be committed. By the abolition of postal voting under this Bill many women and many infirm men and women will be unable to record their votes. I do not object to a provision for absent voting if it is carried out honestly and straightforwardly. I come now to the provision requiring the signing of articles published in newspapers, and dealing with any matter referred to the people at a referendum. The Government are in this connexion following the course adopted in connexion with the Electoral Act. No newspaper is to be permitted to express an opinion upon a matter referred to the people at a referendum unless the article is signed by the writer. A newspaper exercises influence by reason of the value of the articles contained in it, and the manner in which it is conducted, and not because Mr. Jones or Mr. Brown is the author of a particular article. If a newspaper publishes any libellous or defamatory matter the person libelled or defamed has a right of action against it.

Senator Pearce - Does the honorable senator think from the experience of the Werriwa election that the public suffered as a result of this provision of the electoral law ?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I think it would have been very much better if the newspapers, as heretofore, had been allowed to publish any articles they thought fit in connexion with that election.

Senator Pearce - How did the public suffer?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I say that the public must suffer from lack of information in connection with elections. The object of the law is not I think to make writers of articles published in the newspapers fear that proceedings will be taken against them for the statements they make. Take the questions to be considered at a referendum. Is it not desirable that the greatest possible facilities should be afforded to enable the public to realize not only the effect, but the intended effect, of any proposal to alter the Constitution? I say that we should allow the press an unfettered privilege to express opinions on these questions, always bearing in mind that newspaper proprietors are subject to prosecution if they publish what ought not to be published.

Senator Pearce - Why should they be given a privilege?

Senator McGregor - Any one who issues a pamphlet or circular is obliged to put his name to it.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - The name of the printer of it is attached to a pamphlet, and if it contains anything defamatory, the person defamed has his redress. The old law was found sufficiently effective in the case of newspapers. The provision requiring the signing of press articles is intended to inform the public that the statements made in a particular article do not represent the opinion of any newspaper, but of the writer, whose opinion may not be considered as of much value. But honorable senators opposite must bear in mind that when an article is published in a newspaper the opinions expressed therein are adopted as the opinions of the newspaper. I might ask in connexion with such a provision as this, why the Labour party, above all other parties, should so much object to criticism ? In many ways we find the same objection to straightforward criticism of their action. If in this chamber an honorable senator expresses opinions which are not in accordance with those held by honorable senators on the other side, there are many indications suggesting that such opinions should not be expressed.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - The honorable senator surely would not describe as criticism some of the statements which are published in newspapers?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - Those who object to such statements have their remedy. I would ask honorable senators opposite to say what will be- the advantage of this provision. The Minister informed us that, under the Bill, a return of expenses must be supplied, and that it is required for public and administrative purposes. What value is there in that? I can understand that when a restriction is imposed upon the expenditure of a candidate for Parliament it is necessary that returns should be sent in, and that means should be provided for verifying those returns. But, in this case, so far as I am aware, there is no limitation of the amount of money which either party may spend in advertising its views and opinions. Is it any direct concern of the public, or of the administrative departments, that this information supplied?

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - It is a matter of concern for the public.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD .- In what way?

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - If they knew that the trusts were providing some of the funds, it might be very useful knowledge.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTCOULD. - I would ask the honorable senator how he proposes to discover anything of that kind. A newspaper sends in a return showing that a very large sum of money has been paid for advertising. What are my honorable friends opposite going to do then? Do they propose to prosecute any one for having advertised in a newspaper? Suppose the plan adopted by the Labour unions is followed. We know that they spend enormous sums of money in connexion with elections. It may be that twelve or eighteen months before an election they send men out to advocate the cause of unionism, and those men may be the selected candidates of the Labour party when the election takes place, lt has not been their money, but the money of the unions, which has been spent in the advocacy of the cause of unionism. But, singularly enough, it happened that the men who engaged in this work appeared as parliamentary candidates, having had an opportunity to traverse the State at the expense of the unions whose servants they were.

Senator Rae - Do you mean to say that the unions covered up that expenditure?

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD. - I do not say that, but that the money so spent was to the advantage of the men who were selected as advocates, and were also the selected candidates of the party for the Senate. If other candidates were to go round the State and incur the same expenditure, they would fmd that it was very considerably in excess of that which is allowed by the Electoral Act. Of course, honorable senators may say that it is only a return of the expenditure incurred between the issue of the writ and the date of election which has

Senator Henderson - Have not unions to send in any returns?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I know that unions have to send in certain returns, but they can V>e prepared in such a way as to cloak up what has been done. It is perfectly legitimate, I admit, for unions to send men round the country advocating the cause of unionism, and bringing as many persons as possible into the fold. In doing that they use their own money.

Senator Long - Did the Pastoralists Association show the levies they made from time to time to fight the Labour party?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD .- I do not know.

Senator Long - You do know that they made such levies ?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I do not know that, nor do I belong to the Pastoralists' Association. I have not had an opportunity of carefully examining the provisions of this Bill, because it has been brought on rather suddenly, but I heard the remarks of the Minister, and have briefly dealt with these particular principles. I think that our electoral machinery should be simplified, whether it is to be employed at an election or at a referendum, but I should be only too pleased to see certain principles cut out of this measure. I realize that if that were done it would be for the Government to consider whether it was not desirable to cut them out of the electoral law, which, I think, ought to be made perfectly plain and clear, so that, as far as possible, every elector in the community can understand its provisions, and, at the same time, feel sure that no person, no matter what his political opinions may be, will be left without an opportunity to exercise the franchise.

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