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Monday, 11 December 1905

Mr BATCHELOR (Boothby) - If we strike out the whole clause,we shall revert to the original Act, whichwould place us in an evenworse position. I suggest that the honorable member for Darwin, if he submits an amendment,would attain his object by moving that theword " repealed ' ' be substituted for "amended," and the re mainder of the clause struck out. Personally, I should vote for such an amendment.

Mr McWilliams - Would the honorable member disfranchise allseamen?

Mr BATCHELOR - Yes, Iwould, and in order to avoidwhat I conceive to be a very great danger. I admit that there are a great many personswho use postalvoting in a bonâ fideway. I should have been satisfied if the section, as originally intended, had applied only to seamen, commercial travellers, shearers, and others whose occupations cause them to travel ; but the system of postal voting has become a mighty engine of fraud, corruption, wholesale intimidation, and coercion.

Mr Lonsdale - I have not seen anything of these things.

Mr BATCHELOR - The honorable member must go through theworld with his eyes shut. It may be that there will be a considerable disadvantage to a number of people if this provision is struck out ; but, on thewhole, it is, I think, a great deal better that a few people should be unable to exercise the franchise than that the ballot system should break down. And it is being undermined by our method ofvoting by post. At the last Melbourne election, more persons exercised this privilege than exercised it in the whole of South Australia. Do whatwe will to prevent fraud and intimidation, oncewe do away with the necessity of the personal attendance of the elector at the ballot-box,we run a serious danger of leaving electors open to coercion. Ifwe are going to allow voting by post for personswho are absent from home, there is no logical reason for not allowing it to allwho will be inconvenienced by attendance at the ballot-box ; and, if that is permitted,we have a system under which the ballot may be entirely abolished and voting by post may become universfal. One of the greatest dangers threatening us arises from the fact thatwe have constantly added to the facilities for voting by post. I took a hand in the original proposal in South Australia. The idea thenwas to grant the privilege to personswhowere more than 25 miles from a polling place on election day.

Mr Crouch - Itwas originally a plank in the platform of the Labour Party.

Mr BATCHELOR - We have tried it, and it has failed most lamentably.

Mr Wilks - The honorable member has become conservative.

Mr BATCHELOR - Very likely.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The distance is limited to 10 miles instead of 5.

Mr BATCHELOR - That is a little better. The extension of the privilege to women who have "reason to believe" that they- will be ill on election day virtually means that there is no reason why women should attend personally at all. Then the privilege has been extended to those who had" reason to believe that they would be prevented by serious illness or infirmity from attending at the polling booth. The greatest danger of all has arisen from allowing th"e voting to take place in front of almost anybody. The multiplication ot authorized-- witnesses constitutes the greatest danger to 'the system.

Mr Robinson - Why not restrict their number ?

Mr BATCHELOR - Every time an effort is made to restrict the number of authorized witnesses, some honorable mem ber proposes that an additional class of persons be added to the list. Under the South Australian Act, the voting had to be performed in front of a postmaster at the post-office.

Mr Crouch - What about sick persons?

Mr BATCHELOR - How many sick persons are there who are not able to vote at a polling booth or at the post-office? Make what provision you will, there will still be some persons who, for some reason or other, will be-unable to vote. You cannot provide for every contingency. But my contention is that we have opened the door to wholesale fraud. It is proposed not only to authorize Commonwealth Electoral Officers, all returning officers, all electoral registrars, all postmasters, all persons in charge of post-offices, all police, stipendiary and special magistrates, but also all justices of the peace for the Commonwealth, the head masters of State schools, all officers of the Department of Trade and Customs, all members of the police force, all mining Wardens, Wardens1 clerks, medical practitioners, and quarantine officers, and all classes of persons employed in the Commonwealth who are declared' by proclamation to be authorized witnesses under the Act. We may saythat almost all the inhabitants of Australia are authorized witnesses. Bv, widening the list of authorized persons we have produced this effect - that each party can have its own justice of the peace or its own medi cal practitioner running round to get votes , because the authorized witness has the power of taking a vote, as well as of witnessing the application. When votes are handed to these persons, they may or may not post them. I object to the whole of these witnesses, except the postmasters. If we require the votes to be witnessed at a post-office by the postmaster, there is come guarantee for personal attendance, and there is not the same amount of danger from intimidation. As a matter of fact, instead of sailors and commercial travellers using the voting by post provisions, they have principally been used by servant girls and men servants, like grooms and coachmen, who, in many cases, have practically been roped up, and intimidated into voting as their employers wished. I will not say that this system works more against one party than another, but it makes for fraud all the time. It is immaterial whether the coercion is used in favour of a democratic or a conservative candidate. It is essential to purity in elections. that the votes should be recorded in the polling booth by personal attendance. If we are to allow wholesale voting by post., we might as well throw aside the whole machinery of the ballot.

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