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Thursday, 26 October 1911

Senator CHATAWAY (Queensland) . - One is almost tempted to think that the Government are really not very anxious to pass this Bill during this session. It was brought on early, and then put day after day below the famous Bill in connexion with the possibility of Tommy Atkins pawning his war medal. In view of these facts, one really fails to see why the Government are bringing forward the measure at all. Let me take first the portion which deals with the abolition of postal voting. It has been said that the Government are running away from the Women's National League in Victoria. As a matter of fact, the figures show that men have used this system very nearly to the same extent as have women. Indeed, in an electorate in Western Australia the other day, the majority of the postal votes went to a Labour candidate.

Senator Lynch - That was in a shearing electorate.

Senator CHATAWAY - That may be. I do not see why we should deprive shearers or any other persons of their votes. The amount of postal voting is really very small. If it is argued that the use of this system is growing and becoming a public scandal, as it were, if there is a scandal attached to it, the figures do not prove it. At the election in 1906, 1.4 per cent. of the ballotpapers issued to electors were issued in the form of postal ballot-papers ; at the next election the percentage was 2 per cent., while at the referenda in 1911 the percentage was only1.98 per cent. That shows that postal voting is not used to an immense extent. Therefore, I hold that the Government need not claim that its use is growing out of all proportion to the intention of Parliament. At the same time, I contend that we have no right to disfranchise one man or one woman if we can provide a system by which persons can fairly be enabled to vote, even though they cannot go to the polling booth. Let us consider who will be affected by the abolition of postal voting. It will not affect those who go to sea, because there is a provision which enables such persons to vote before they go out of the Commonwealth.

Senator Millen - Even though they do not intend to return.

Senator CHATAWAY - That is true. It does not affect either those who go up in an aeroplane, but a person who remains in the Commonwealth may possibly have to travel hundreds of miles to get to a polling booth or he will not be able to vote. It may be right enough to abolish postal voting because it is used to a very large extent in Victoria, but I would remind honorable senators that that State is only a part of Australia. In Queensland there are electorates, such as the Maranoa, which cover enormous areas, and many places where persons have to travel 40 miles or more to get to a polling booth. It is these persons, first of all, who should have an opportunity of getting their ballot-papers by post and eventually recording their votes. Indeed, the distances are so great that in 19 10 I came across, in Queensland, a place which was so far away from the polling booth and the Assistant Returning Officer that it was absolutely impossible, between the issue of the writ and the polling day, for the local persons on their own initiative, or prompted by somebody else, to send in their applications, to get their ballot-papers, to fill in the forms, and to send them back within the time allotted. If that is so in some cases, it must be infinitely more difficult for persons to travel the long distances which they have to travel in the larger States in order to be able to vote at a polling booth. My contention is that the amount of postal voting which is done is not very great. It would be very unfortunate if the Government deprived the old and the infirm, as well as those living at very long distances from the polling booth, of the opportunity of voting. We have been told that postal voting has led to a large amount of corruption, but I would point out that not a single case has come before the Courts, which has shown that there has been any serious corruption. Even supposing that one or two persons have been convicted, that only shows that we have a system which we can check and keep from being used corruptly to any extent. If we are to abolish a system because somebody or other is corrupt, we may as well abolish practically every rule or law that we have. If the Government will insist on abolishing the present form of postal voting, I think it would be well if they would find some other system which would meet the necessities of the case. It does not meet the necessities of the case to simply say to a person, " You can go and vote at some polling booth." That does not meet the case of scores and scores of persons who are too old to travel long distances. I think that before the Government disfranchises, say, 1 per cent, of the voters, whether men or women, they should try to introduce a system which can really take the place of postal voting. I have no objection to compulsory enrolment, but the proposal to compel the "transfer of votes will hit very hard the shearers, the cane cutters, and so forth, who are travelling through the country taking contracts. How can the Department follow up the nomadic population? If they carry out this method to its logical conclusion, what they could do would be to insist upon every man carrying a right, and then the officials would be able to demand the production of the right to show that the holder had himself enrolled for the particular district which he was in for the time being. But how many of my honorable friends opposite would suggest that we should compel the electors to carry a right ? Very few of them indeed. It would be'like going back to the old Victorian days, when the police chased men through the bush to see if they held miners' rights - the very scandal, the very tyranny, that created such an incident as the Eureka Stockade. The Government are proposing to create a new offence. In all probability it 'will not affect the more settled population, but it will affect those who have to travel in search of work. It is to be made a crime if a shearer fails to get his name transferred from one roll to another after he has been for six months in a district in Queensland, or even in Western Australia. A shearer cannot travel through a district and work from shed to shed for six months ; but it is to be made a crime if he does not transfer his name from one roll to another. I do not know for whose benefit the provision is made,, unless it is for the benefit of the Department. It seems to me that it will not create a rod for the backs of the Opposition, but a rod for the backs of the Government, and, more especially if the provision is carried out squarely and honestly, a rod for the backs of that section of the. people who, I believe, give their warmest support to my honorable friends on the other side.

Senator Long - A shearer or anybody else can only have his name on the roll for the district where he is domiciled.

Senator CHATAWAY - My honorable friend comes from a mere fly speck on the map. He knows nothing whatever about the enormous distances that some electors have to travel in the larger States. There are large numbers of people in Australia who are not domiciled definitely anywhere. They live, for a few months in one electoral district, and a few months in another, travelling from place to place looking for work and earning an honest living. They are very useful persons indeed. But my honorable friends are willing to make it the law that when a man travels from a particular electoral district to another he must carry an electoral map in his swag, anr] may incur a fine of £2 if he does not send his name to the Registrar every time he shifts his abode. That is an unfair condition to impose. The Government would be very wise to drop it from the Bill. I do not intend to say much in connexion with the proposal to compel newspapers to publish returns as to amounts received by them for the publication of electoral information. I do not think the provision matters a row of pins. But there is something to be said about the wonderful provision intended to compel any person who has spent money in connexion with an election, or in the interest of any party or candidate, to make a. return. Is that to apply to members of State Parliaments who, in connexion with Federal elections, travel at their own expense to help Federal candidates who are standing in the interests of the parties whose policies they favour? I should also like to know how the provision is to affect individuals. During an election campaign a man may put me up for the night somewhere in Queensland. Is he to send in a return as to the expense he incurs in keeping me for that night ? Probably the Government do not realize how far this provision will go. Some of my honorable friends opposite will soon be out on the " stump " in connexion with the Victorian State elections. Suppose there were a State law providing that every penny spent in travelling round the country in connexion with an election should be included in a return ! It is assumed throughout this Bill that Australian electors are divided into merely two or three organizations: that there are on one side the Labour organization, and on the other the Employers Federation and the Liberal party. But there are sen'of organizations in this country the members of which have their little axes to grind or their little theories to advocate. There is the Single Tax League, for instance. Has it to make a return showing how much money it has spent in the course of an election? Have the Orangemen, the Roman Catholics, the temperance advocates, the licensed victuallers, the Warrego Shearing Company, the trade unions themselves, and numerous other associations to make returns ? We have not heard a single word from a responsible Minister as to how far this provision is intended to be carried. Under the Bill as it stands any person may be prosecuted, and made liable to six months' imprisonment for spending any sum of money in connexion with an election without furnishing a return. Do the Government intend to propose that any organized body that spends money upon an election shall certify the party in whose behalf the money was spent? Surely that is a fair proposal. There is nothing in the Bill to compel, say, the Single Tax League to show in what party's interest it has spent money. The Protectionist Association spent money at the last election. Probably they spent a considerable sum. I venture to say that they did not spend it on behalf .of any candidate sitting on this side of the Senate.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - They would have been foolish to do that.

Senator CHATAWAY - They must have been very much more foolish to spend money on behalf of the present Government and the party supporting it, who have repudiated all their promises in respect of protection. It is a serious defect in the Bill that no provision requires particulars to be furnished as to the party in whose behalf money is spent.

Senator Rae - The honorable senator is confusing organizations with individuals.

Senator CHATAWAY - I am not. Proposed new section 173 (a) reads as follows : -

Every organization, association, league, or body of persons which has, or person who has, in connexion with any election, expended any money or incurred any expense (a) on behalf of ot in the interests of any candidate, or (b) on behalf of or in the interests of any political party, shall in accordance with this section make a return of the money so expended or expense so incurred.

I do not suppose that the Government are prepared to tell us how they intend to apply this provision if it becomes law. The term "organization" might apply to the Employers Federation, or it might apply to the Political Labour Leagues. " Association " might apply to any body of persons. It might apply to the Single Tax League, which might support either party to suit its own purposes. " Body of persons " would cover everybody. All the rest of the provision is surplusage. The remaining words are not necessary. ".AH persons" would cover every one. All that the Government need to say to attain their end is that every individual, no matter whether he be a member of a State. Parliament, or a member of a church, or a member of any league or association, who chooses to go out at election time and spend any sum of money which he has in his pocket, shall furnish a return. Any number of persons who desire to have their political views exemplified in Parliament through the instrumentality of a certain candidate will be called upon, under pains and penalties, to furnish particulars of expenditure or go to gaol. New crimes are being created under this Bill, the title of which ought to be, not " Commonwealth Electoral Bill," but " Creation of Crimes Bill." It will be a crime for a man not to send his name within a certain time to an electoral registrar. It will be a crime not to send in a return if he spends half-a-crown in connexion with an election. There is no provision in the Bill limiting the expenditure. Whether a man spends five shillings or twenty pounds, he has to furnish a return just the same. If there were a limit there might be some sense in the provision. I venture to say that at every election thousands of pounds are spent, a half-crown, five shillings, and ten shillings at a time, on behalf of all political parties. If the Electoral Office think that they are going _ to save themselves trouble by the provisions regarding compulsory enrolment, I venture to say that they .are going to give themselves fifty times as much work in another direction, by chasing people all over Australia to find out how much money they have spent on elections. I do not intend to touch upon a number of the questions dealt with so ably by Senator Millen in a speech which elicited a somewhat ambiguous reply from Senator Findley. But I wish to refer to one other point. There is a curious provision in the Bill which, apparently, would deprive electors of a voice in the recasting of electorates. Under the present law Commissioners are appointed to divide up electorates, and they have to exhibit maps showing the boundaries of electoral divisions. These schemes of divisions have to be approved by Parliament. One House may reject a Commissioner's recommendation, sending it back to him for further consideration. The Commissioner, then has to re-arrange the electorates, in accordance with the objections that have been raised. But there is no provision compelling him to give the electors an opportunity of studying the new scheme of division. A member of Parliament from Queensland and a member from Western Australia have a voice in determining the electoral divisions for Tasmania, but the electors of Tasmania have no say in the matter whatever. Under the present law the Commissioner has to exhibit a map showing what he proposes under his amended recommendation. But under this Bill the electors are not considered. I think a. proviso ought to be inserted enabling the local people, who are chiefly affected, to see what the Commissioner proposes to recommend. The Government would be well advised if they would agree to insert an amendment to that effect. My complaints against the Bill are, first of all, that it unnecessarily deprives about 1 per cent, of the electors of their facilities for voting;, and next that it contains provisions which seem to me to be more or less nonsense. I doubt whether the Government are serious about the Bill. There is only one reason which causes me to think that they may have a serious motive, and that is that a Ministerial supporter in another place, when the last referenda results were mentioned, said : " We will carry our proposals when we have amended the Electoral Act." The session has not much longer to run, and I hope the Government will allow the Bill tostand over until next session. If they do, I think that by that time they will find that they will be well advised if they drop it. altogether.

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