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Friday, 20 October 1911

Senator VARDON (South Australia) . - I do not intend to occupy the attention of the Senate very long after the very able and' exhaustive speech of the Leader of the Opposition yesterday - a speech to which the Ministry, so far, have not thought fit to make a reply, probably because there is really no reply to be made to his criticisms. I wish to emphasize one or two points, and to suggest an amendment which I think will do away with a good deal of the necessity for some of the amendments which are proposed in the measure. On looking round, I found out the origin of this Bill. It seems to me to have emanated largely from the Electoral Department. The final paragraph of the report on the measure, signed by Mr. Oldham, reads -

A scheme of compulsory enrolment associated with a card index system for the prevention of duplication of enrolment and fraud would not only be of enormous advantage from an electoral point of view, both in relation to representation and administration, but would be of considerable value for purposes of public administration generally, and in particular might be expected to greatly assist the postal, defence, statistical, police, and other public systems having direct relations with the public. lt is claimed that the wonderful cardindex system is a. help. I hear of the system day by day in all sorts of directions. T admit that, up to a certain point, it is a very good system, but I am rather inclined to think that we are running mad on index systems, and probably will find them in the end more burdensome and troublesome than some of the old-fashioned ways of doing business. It recalls some lines which I read a little while ago by a writer who is troubled very much in the same way-

Oh, isn't it great to be " up to date ! "

And live in this year of grace,

With a system and place for everything,

Though nobody knows the place !

We've an index card for each thing we do

And everything under the sun :

It takes so long to fill out the cards

We never get anything done.

We've loose-leaf ledgers for saving time,

The Lord knows what they cost !

When half our time is spent each day

Hunting for leaves that are lost.

Stenographers who spell like h-

And make us swear and cuss,

When we are not dictating to them,

Why, they are dictating to us.

And sectional this and sectional that, (We'll soon have sectional legs) ;

I dreamt last night that I made a meal

Of sectional ham and eggs.

T dreamt I lived in a sectional house,

And rode a sectional "hoss,"

And drew my pay in sections from

A sectional " section-boss."

Oh, isn't it great to be " up to date,"

And live in this year of grace,

With a system and place for everything,

Though nobody knows the place !

There is a good deal of truth, I think, in these lines on the idea of running every mortal thing by a card-index system. The system may be all right, and I think it is up to a certain point; but we are inclined at present to go a great deal too far, and will eventually find that it is a great nuisance. I only want to refer, as I said, to two or three points in connexion with the Bill. The first is that dealt with by Senator O'Keefe with reference to voting by post. The memorandum to which I have referred says that, " in consequence of the abolition of postal voting, provision has been made for the extension of absent voting." I had no idea, that postal voting had been abolished. I do not think that it has been. A provision for it is still on the statutebook of the Commonwealth, and is a part of our electoral system.

Senator McGregor - Who said the system had been abolished ?

Senator VARDON - This memorandum says, " In consequence of the abolition of postal voting."

Senator Long - That refers to the amending Bill.

Senator VARDON - But no Bill has yet been passed abolishing postal voting.

Senator O'Keefe - The Bill proposes to do so.

Senator VARDON - Here is a definite statement: "In consequence of the abolition of postal voting."

Senator Long - By this amending Bill.

Senator VARDON - No reference is made to the amending Bill.

Senator Needham - We are discussing the Bill, not the memorandum.

Senator VARDON - Here is a definite statement of fact-

Senator McGregor - Is it the honorable senator's connexion with the Critic that makes him so critical ?

Senator VARDON - One has a right to be critical when statements of this kind, which ought not to be made, are contained in an official memorandum. The author of the memorandum had no right to assume that a certain thing was going to be done. It is for this Parliament to say whether postal voting shall be abolished or not.

Senator Long - Will the honorable senator read the heading of the memorandum?

Senator VARDON - I have read the whole of it, and know all that is in it,

Senator Long - It simply deals with the proposed amendments.

Senator VARDON - It starts off by saying that postal voting has been abolished. I say that it has not.

Senator McGregor - All right; we will let the honorable senator have his way.

Senator VARDON - It may have been decided, in a certain way, that postal voting should be abolished.

Senator Chataway - By the Caucus.

Senator VARDON - If this Bill is ma chinemade, and if the Caucus have decided upon it, the language of the memorandum should have been different. It should have read, " In consequence of the decision, of the Caucus to abolish postal voting." Then, I suppose, it would have been absolutely correct.

Senator Givens - When the honorable senator's party decide to do anything, who decides it?

Senator VARDON - The intelligence of the people, of course.

Senator Givens - Stupidity sometimes.

Senator VARDON - I can quite understand Senator Givens laughing; but it is useless to try to laugh away proof. It is worth noticing what the provision of the Act with reference to this matter is. Section 109 provides -

An elector who (a) has reason to believe that he will not during the hours of polling on polling day be within five miles of any polling place for the division for which he is enrolled ; or (i) being a woman will on account of illhealth be unable to attend the polling place on polling day to vote; or (c) will be prevented by serious illness or infirmity from attending the polling place on polling day to vote may make application for a postal vote certificate and postal ballot-paper.

There are there three classes of people for whom special provision is made in the existing law. I am astonished that the Minister of Defence, in introducing this Bill, gave not a single reason of any kind as to why this provision should be abolished. When an important measure like this is introduced, under which it is proposed to take out of (he existing law a provision of great importance, I think that, in common courtesy to the Senate, the Minister should tell us why it is proposed to make a drastic alteration ; but the Minister made positively no reference to the subject. All he did was to say that the Government intended to abolish postal voting, and introduce in place of it a more comprehensive system of absent voting. Now, what is this comprehensive system which is to be substituted ? It is provided in proposed new section 139 a that -

On polling day an elector shall be entitled to vote at the polling place for which he Is enrolled or at any prescribed polling place for the subdivision for which he is enrolled, or he shall be permitted to vote at any other polling place within the Commonwealth under and subject to the regulations relating to absent voting.

It, therefore, appears that every elector within the Commonwealth will have to go tq a polling place to record his vote. Only two classes of people can be affected by proposed new section 139A, namely', sailors and passengers at sea. And this is described by the Minister as being " a more comprehensive system of absent voting."

The memorandum sets out that electors who are within the Commonwealth on polling day will be able to vote at any polling place ; but, apparently, they will be unable to vote anywhere else. Therefore, the new provision applies only to those who will be at sea. Apparently, any one else who wishes to vote on polling day must go to a polling place somewhere within the Commonwealth. If that be a " more comprehensive system," I must confess that I am unable to recognise that quality as pertaining to it. Because, while the two classes of people that I have mentioned are provided for, all the others mentioned in section 109 of the principal Act have their privileges absolutely wiped out. There will be no chance for them to vote at all. On polling day a destitute asylum and a home for incurables may be declared a polling place. I make no complaint about that. I do not wish to disfranchise any poor incurables or derelicts in any way. But, while provision is made for such people, no provision is made for others who will be unable to go to a polling place: A man may be a cripple and unable to walk 5 miles ; or he may be poor and unable to forfeit a day's pay to go and record his vote. Senator O' Keefe would say in such a case, " I am sorry for you, but I cannot do anything more; you cannot vote unless you walk to a polling place." A woman in a certain state of health ought to be the subject of veneration and respect from every man. She ought to be shielded in every possible way. But such a woman cannot exercise the franchise unless she can drag herself to a polling place.

Senator O'Keefe - Will not that affect the one side in politics as much as the other ?

Senator VARDON - I do not care whether people belong to the Labour party or any other party. I say that a woman in the state of health to which I have alluded has as good a right to vote as any other person I know of.

Senator O'Keefe - The honorable senator's party in South Australia, in both Houses, voted against the enfranchisement of women.

Senator VARDON - I am dealing with this as a great matter of principle.

Senator O'Keefe - The honorable senator will admit that women would never have had the franchise at all if the party with which he is associated had had their way.

Senator VARDON - Let us come down to tacts.

Senator O'Keefe - That is a fact.

Senator VARDON - In which State in Australia did women first obtain the right to vote?

Senator O'Keefe - In South Australia.

Senator VARDON - Who introduced and succeeded in passing women's franchise there ?

Senator O'Keefe - I do not know.

Senator VARDON - Exactly; not the Labour party.

Senator O'Keefe - Did the honorable senator's party support the proposal?

Senator VARDON - Yes, they did.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Not a man of them.

Senator O'Keefe - I know that they opposed it in other States.

Senator VARDON - Nonsense. And, after all, that does not touch the point. Suppose that the proposal was opposed by my party, or by the Labour party, or by any other party. If the Legislature has recognised the right of a woman to vote, that right ought not to be taken away. But I say decidedly that this Bill does take away from a woman in a certain condition the opportunity of recording her vote. It also deprives of opportunities of voting those who are old andinfirm and those who are so seriously ill as to be unable to go to the poll. They have the sympathy of honorable senators opposite ; but their sympathy does not take practical effect.

Senator O'Keefe - Every opponent of women's franchise in the Senate was an anti-Labourite.

Senator VARDON - I am not now discussing who supported or who opposed women's franchise. The position now is that, under the law of the Commonwealth, a woman has a right to vote. The party opposite are going to take that right away from some women.

Senator O'Keefe - We are not.

Senator VARDON - They are going to say to a woman, if she is not in a condition to go to a poll - if she is so situated that she ought to receive the utmost consideration, respect, and veneration from every man - " Unless you can drag yourself to the polling booth you cannot vote."

Senator O'Keefe - That is stretching it a bit.

Senator VARDON -I look upon the wiping out of these privileges as being cruel, heartless, and vindictive. I want the people of this Commonwealth to know what party it is which is taking away from those who cannot go to the poll the right to vote. It is the Labour party. I want the public generally to be able to sheet home that charge.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - But it is not a fact.

Senator Millen - Which party is taking the right away, if it is not the Labour party ?

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Who gave the vote to the women?

Senator VARDON - May I be allowed to make an interjection occasionally?I say that the party in power to-day are robbing these people of their rights.

Senator Needham - They have not done anything of the sort, and do not intend to do so.

Senator VARDON - Will the honorable senator tell me, then, how it is proposed to give these three classes of people the opportunity of voting? It is said that the right has been abused. If that be so, why has not evidence been brought before us in clear and specific terms?

Senator de Largie - The facts are quite evident to any one who wants to see.

Senator VARDON - I take it to be a fact that if honorable senators opposite had positive evidence of abuse, they would be the first to bring out the facts. But, when asked for his evidence, Senator O'Keefe simply said that he did not intend to mention names. I do not care which party is going to lose votes by this amendment of the law.

Senator de Largie - That is the sore point.

Senator VARDON -My point is that this privilege has been largely availed of. At the last election 29,000 electors availed themselves of the provisions of section 109. Those figures amply prove the usefulness of the existing law. Why should this privilege be taken away?

Senator Needham - The figures prove more than that.

Senator VARDON - I await the production of proof.

Senator de Largie - The servant girls will now have an opportunity of exercising their votes without the intervention of the mistresses.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator who is addressing the Chair has complained of interjections, and I trust honorable senators will allow him to proceed without further interruption.

Senator VARDON - I am only asking to be allowed to get in a sentence here and there.

Senator de Largie - The honorable senator has been asking questions all the time.

Senator VARDON - I did so only when interjections provoked questions. I have asked for evidence of corruption in connexion with the postal voting provisions. I do not believe that there has been such an amount of abuse as to warrant the taking away of this privilege. Under proposed new section 139A, to which I have just referred, it is provided that a man may vote at any polling place within the Commonwealth. If a man cannot sign his name, I suppose he can make his mark. I do not know how a mark could be proved to be a forgery, and I do not see how this is going to prevent fraud. I do not see how it will apply in the case of a by-election. There is one coming off in the district of Boothby presently. Under the existing Act, electors will be allowed to avail themselves of the facilities afforded by the postal -voting provisions, but, if this Bill were in operation, how would any elector of Boothby at present outside the electorate be able to record a vote ? There will be no polling places open except those in the district, and what are our honorable friends opposite going to do with the absent elector? Are they going to appoint polling places throughout the Commonwealth at every by-election, so that electors absent from the electorate can record their votes?

Senator Millen - The honorable senator has not to complain of interjections now.

Senator de Largie - It is not impossible to provide for that. There are plenty of post-offices throughout the Commonwealth which might be appointed polling booths for the occasion.

Senator VARDON - Does this Bill provide for that? The Government Whip ought to know what is in the Bill.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator can amend it.

Senator VARDON - Will the VicePresident of the Executive Council accept an amendment to that effect?

Senator McGregor - We shall see.

Senator VARDON - Then it is admitted that, as the Bill stands, there is no provision for any voting at a by-election except by people resident in the district.

Senator Findley - The honorable senator knows that it is proposed to abolish postal voting. That ought to be enough.

Senator VARDON - If that is enough, there is no use saying any more about it. If the machine has decided to abolish postal voting, it will be abolished ; but one would have thought that in an intelligent assembly like the Senate, if a man could advance reasons why that should not be done, they would receive some consideration and reply.

Senator de Largie - What is the use of arguing with a machine?

Senator VARDON - None, I admit. However good a machine may be, one cannot argue with it. Then, I suppose, I had better say that the machine, having made this Bill, and having decided that this particular piece of mechanism is to be cut out, and that no other piece of mechanism is to be provided for doing the same work in a better way, there is nothing more to be said on the question.

Senator Millen - Some persons outside of this Chamber will probably have something to say.

Senator VARDON - I have said that I wish the people outside to know who is responsible for this Bill, and especially for the proposal to abolish postal voting.

Senator Needham - The press that supports the honorable senator will give them the information.

Senator VARDON - If I had a press, 1 might get them to do it. As the decision has been made, I need not discuss this matter any further.

I come now to the next important proposal, that of compulsory enrolment. I am not going to say anything against compulsory enrolment. It is a very good thing so far as it goes, but we ought to be told why the Government do not propose its corollary, which is compulsory voting.

Senator Barker - That will come.

Senator VARDON - I am glad to hear that. I take it that that is authoritative, that the honorable senator has the authority of the machine to say that it will come?

Senator Barker - It will pass the machine.

Senator VARDON - This is one step, but, if we are going to carry compulsory enrolment in this Bill, why should we not also include in it provision for compulsory voting ?

Senator Barker - The machine cannot go just as fast as the honorable senator would like.

Senator VARDON - -Probably the bearings require oiling. Evidently the machine does not run fast enough for Senator Barker, who tells me that compulsory voting will come. I do not know why we should compel men to enrol, or why we should compel men to vote, but, if we are going to have compulsory enrolment, its concomitant is the compulsory vote.

Senator McGregor - Better compel them to enrol than to compel them to work.

Senator- VARDON.- It would be hard on the Vice-President of the Executive Council if he were compelled to work.

Senator Findley - The Vice-President of the Executive Council has done as much work in his time as has the honorable senator.

Senator VARDON - The Honorary Minister evidently knows all about it, and is a very hard worker himself, I dare say.

Senator Findley - I have known the work done by the Vice-President, of the Executive Council for the last twenty-five years.

Senator Millen - That is the one thing which Senator Findley is not a judge of.

Senator VARDON - If we are going to compel men to enrol, and if, later on, as Senator Barker says, we are going to follow that up by compelling them to vote, we ought to assure them of representation when they record their votes. I know that there are people who have conscientious objections to voting. The members of a very considerable sect in my State never enrol their names, and never go to a polling booth. They have told me that they do not think it right that they should take any part whatever in either political or municipal affairs. They have a religious belief that they ought not to do so. The Government intend to compel those people to enrol their names. 1 suppose they could not compel them to vote. They might be' compelled to go to a polling booth and to take ballot-papers, but they could not be compelled to mark them, or to refrain from putting so many marks on them as to make their votes informal. What is the use of this proposal unless it can be actually carried into effect? I wish to know how compulsory enrolment is going to be enforced? If I remember rightly, the Minister, in introducing the Bill, told us that 20 per cent, of the population are continually moving about from one district to another. They have not enrolled their names, or have neglected to have their names transferred from one roll to another. How are we to find out these people in order to enforce compulsory enrolment? If one-fifth of the 20 per cent, of the population referred to by the Minister have neglected to enroll their names, or to secure transfers, do the Government intend to send the police after them?

Senator McGregor - No, to send the military after them.

Senator VARDON - I am glad that we know now what is going to be done. In the event of people failing to comply with the provisions for compulsory enrolment, the military are to be sent to hunt them out. I am glad to know that the military are going to be made some use of.

Senator Millen - We have no other force numerically strong enough for the work.

Senator VARDON - It will be a nice occupation for the military to be sent round to hunt up these defaulters.

Senator de Largie - The Minister administering the Act will be the Minister of Defence.

Senator VARDON - Will this part of the Act be handed over to the Minister of Defence to see that it is carried out ? Will he send out a squad of men to scour a certain district to find out those who are not enrolled or have neglected to have their names transferred from one roll to another? When they have found them out, will they serve them with informations, hale them before a Court, and have them fined under this measure? Unless the Government are prepared to do that, what will be the value of this proposal after all ? I understand that Ministers have some business to do before the usual hour for the adjournment of the Senate, and I therefore ask leave to continue my remarks when this debate is resumed.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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