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Wednesday, 23 October 1912

Senator STEWART (Queensland) - - I have no intention of entering into the general question of the redistribution of Queensland. I do not suppose that it is ideal. Personally I do not believe in this community of interest business. The only, interest in which I believe is that of common citizenship of the Commonwealth. It does not matter whether I am a miner, or a pastoralist, or a shearer, or a farmer, or a city workman, or a storekeeper, or a professional man, or an agent j whatever I may be, my interest in the Commonwealth is, or should -be, that of the common good of all. If we have antagonistic interests cropping up here and there, and bringing their influence to bear upon Parliament, it will be mischievous ; and we assist antagonistic interests by encouraging them to form little knots. With regard to Senator Millen's complaint that country electorates were not up to the quota, and that city electorates were above it, I interjected that, in my opinion, that was only fair and reasonable. I intend to show why I think that the quota should be smaller in country districts than in towns. The ideal we have all set before us is that of one vote one value. But before that principle can be realized to the fullest extent we must have equal populations in equal areas. In the towns, a vote is much more valuable than in the country. In a town a voter has a much greater chance of being able to record his vote than a country elector has.

Senator Millen - That is, since the honorable senator's party abolished the postal vote.

Senator STEWART - If I were asked to mention, in a spotting phrase, the odds in favour of a town elector being able to record his vote, as compared with a country elector who lives, say, from 20 to 50 miles from a polling booth, I should say at once that the townsman's chances were very much greater than the countryman's. The countryman is severely handicapped. He may be living many miles from a polling booth. Will any one tell me that a man so situated has an equal chance of recording a vote with a man who lives only a mile - perhaps only 100 yards - away from a polling booth? In the first place, the weather may be wet. There may be blinding rain. The countryman will not go through that to the poll. But it does not matter to the townsman what the weather is like. He can go to the poll if he wishes. Again, a man may have a headache on polling day, or he may be otherwise indisposed. That would not keep him away from the poll if he lived in a town, but the probability is that it would if he lived in the country. The further he happened to be away from a polling booth the greater would his difficulty be.

Senator Keating - It might be harvest time.

Senator STEWART - Any one of a hundred things might prevent a countryman from going to the poll. For that reason, I say that the quota for country electorates should be smaller than for city constituencies. Another reason is that people living in large centres have greater opportunities of bringing their political power to bear upon the Government than have people living in the outlying portions of the Commonwealth. They can organize more rapidly and more effectively. In fact, they are placed in a much superior position as compared with electors living in the outside portions of a State. An interjection has been made about the postal vote. I am very sorry that the postal vote had to be abolished. I believe in it. I think it is absolutely necessary to give every citizen of the Commonwealth an opportunity to record his or her vote. To carry out that idea in full a system of postal voting is only fair and reasonable. But it has been found that the postal vote, like a great many other things, has been abused.

Senator Walker - We should not punish the innocent for the sins of the guilty.

Senator STEWART - That is a most excellent principle, and if the honorable senator would bring his influence to bear upon the people of his own party, who, I believe, are more responsible than any others for the abolition of the postal vote, he might do great good.

Senator Keating - The abuse of the postal vote has been alleged, but has never been proved.

Senator STEWART - I am not going to enter into that.

Senator Millen - Why does not the AttorneyGeneral set the law in motion?

Senator STEWART - I am not responsible for the Attorney-General.

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