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Monday, 11 December 1905

Mr WILKINSON (Moreton) - I trust that the postal voting sections of the Act will not be wholly repealed, because I think that, in view of the fact that we have conferred adult suffrage upon the people of Australia, they are very necessary. But J. would point out that under the Act as it stands too much power is placed in the hands of servants of the States. I had rather a bitter experience in this respect at the last general election, which, as honorable members will recollect, took place towards the end of December, after the State schools had broken up for the holidays. The State schools are under the control of the States Governments, which are not always in sympathy with the policy of the Commonwealth Parliament, and some persons make it their business to avail themselves of the services of female school teachers just over twenty-one years of age, who are entitled to witness applications for postal vote certificates. Wives of Ministers of the Crown have been known to drive them round in their buggies to the homes, of working men, while the latter were at work, and to induce- the women-folk to apply for postal vote certificates. This happened at the last general election in mv own constituency,, as well as in others. The requisitions were taken to the returning officer - the postmaster in my electorate - and were granted. The forms were then taken back to the women, who were guided in voting by the way in which their interviewers spoke of the several candidates. The result was that between 200 and 300 postal ballot papers were lodged by women who were not sure how they voted. A school teacher, who was just over twentyone years of age, and was, therefore, qualified to witness applications 'for postal vote certificates, and also to witness postal ballot papers, was driven round in buggies by members of what are known as " the Silvertail push." She was under the dominance of the Department at the time, and as the res.ult of this arrangement between 200 and 300 votes were lodged before the other party knew anything of what was going on. Whenthey did become alive to the fact, the result was that the system was abused on both sides. Hundreds of women who were able to go to the polling booths signed applications for pos.tal votes. I consider that the system of voting by post is necessary,. but that it should be so safeguarded that these abuses will not be permitted. Postal voting is necessary, for instance, in connexion with those engaged in the dairying industry. That is a point which ought not to be overlooked. In many cases there is not a polling booth within les.s than fifteen, miles of a dairy holding or farm. The husband may choose to travel to the polling booth in the morning to record his vote, but the wife must remain to milk the cows and supervise the dairy during his absence. By the time that he has returned - after travelling thirty miles - it is too late for the wife to be able to reach the booth before the closing hour. There must be some means of enabling women so situated to record their vote, and I, therefore, think that the postal voting system is necessary, provided that it be so safeguarded that it cannot be abused and subjected to manipulation. I hope that the Minister of Home Affairs, in administering this measure, will take care that the abuses which have been brought under the notice of the Committee will not be repeated at the next election, which, I presume, will take place during, or immediately prior to, the Christmas holidays of next year.

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