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Friday, 27 October 1911

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - I beg to second the amendment. I think that the outstanding feature of this measure is the curtailment of voting power. It should be made quite clear to the members of each House, before it becomes law, that that is what the Parliament is asked to do. It will be clear to the electors throughout the Commonwealth, as it has been made clear to honorable senators during this debate, that although this is a Bill designed to amend the Electoral Act, its principal amendment, and apparently its chief and most important object from the point of view of those promoting it, is to abolish the system of voting by post. This system had been introduced, and was in force in Tasmania before the establishment of the Commonwealth. I think that it was in operation at the first elections for the Commonwealth Parliament in that State. If so, it was the only State in the Commonwealth in which postal voting was then an established practice. When we proceeded to lay down the electoral law for the Commonwealth this fact was noted, and we established a system of voting by post for Commonwealth elections. Since then I believe I am right in saying that each of the States has adopted the system, though they may not have adopted in detail the provisions of the Commonwealth law. They have, at any rate, affirmed the desirableness of the system, and have recognised its advantages. So far as I know, none of the State Parliaments has shown any outward disposition, such as is evidenced by this measure, to abolish the system.

Senator Pearce - Queensland abolished the system.

Senator KEATING - I am corrected in regard to that, but I was speaking as one who was not quite cognisant of what took place in all of the States.

Senator Pearce - The Queensland Parliament abolished it practically unanimously.

Senator KEATING - If so, I am quite certain that much more cogent reasons for its abolition must have been given in that Parliament than have so far been tendered here.

Senator Millen - The New South Wales Labour party supported it.

Senator KEATING - In connexion with its proposed abolition by this Bill a great deal has been said on both sides as to abuses that have crept into its use. I should imagine that, even if abuses had crept in to the extent indicated, though not stated in detail by those who support the abolition of the system, that should not of itself be regarded as a sufficient ground for its abolition. We must remember that we have had ten years' experience of the operation of the system in the Commonwealth, and it is a recognised, accepted, and established system, not only in the Commonwealth," but in all of the States with the exception of Queensland.

Senator Pearce - We have not had ten years' experience of it.

Senator KEATING - We have had practically ten years' experience of it. It was in 1902 that we passed our Electoral Act.

Senator Pearce - But not postal voting.

Senator KEATING - We made provision for postal voting.

Senator Pearce - In that Act?

Senator KEATING - Yes, in the Act of 1902. The only amendments we have since made have been in the direction of extending the opportunities, and increasing the facilities for voting by post, and. side by side with the increase of those facilities, of providing precautions against its abuse.

Senator O'Keefe - We claim that the increase of facilities for postal voting has led to an increase of corrupt practices.

Senator KEATING - If so, we should increase the precautions to prevent them. I am not one of those who think that, in order to convince the Senate that abuses exist, it is absolutely necessary that we should have a detailed list of particular instances. If that were required it would be impossible for legislators to pass legislation for the repression, say, of illegitimate and excessive drinking, gambling, or other vices of that character. But I certainly do think that, before we are asked to abolish the system, we should have had something more specific furnished to us in connexion with the abuses of the postal facilities provided by the existing Act than have so far been tendered. The Electoral Branch of the (Home Affairs Department is highly organized. It has every facility for ascertaining, where abuses have crept in in connexion with the operation of the existing system, and at law. and otherwise, it has the power to enforce compliance with the law. I have had some acquaintance with the work of the Department in the capacity of a Minister. I had acquaintance with it immediately after the election of 1906.

Senator Millen - Did not the honorable senator introduce an Electoral Bill ?

Senator KEATING - Yes, I did. I know that numbers of cases were brought before the Department, and through the Department before the Minister, of alleged abuses of the then existing law. What was done? If I. remember correctly, I believe that, wherever there was any justification whatever shown for a prosecution in any of the States for an offence against the then existing law of the Commonwealth, it was ordered, irrespective of party or of person. If was found necessary because of defects in the law to introduce an amending Electoral Bill. Such a Bill was introduced to make further provision for securing the purity of elections. If in connexion with the last election, or the election preceding that, it has become evident to the Administration that abuses have crept in in connexion with the use of the postal voting system, clearly it was their duty to prosecute in every instance. If prosecutions were ordered, what objection can there be to giving the instances, by way of illustration, on the floor of this chamber. The prosecutions themselves would have made public the abuses that are alleged to have crept in, and there could be no question of right or wrong in making reference to those matters which had already become public by means of prosecutions. If, on the other hand, prosecutions did not take place, surely we are entitled to claim that the Government should submit to us the cases in which abuses crept in, and the reasons why prosecutions did not follow. The position of the Minister argues one of two things : Either that the alleged abuses are only imaginary, or, if not imaginary, the Administration did not take in connexion with the last election, and in connexion with the referenda, the only course which duty dictated in regard to those alleged abuses. Is it unwillingness on the part of the Ministry, or ineptitude on the part of the Department, or an indisposition on the part of officers connected with it, to be associated with prosecutions?

Senator Givens - As the honorable senator must know, charges may be well founded, though it may be very hard to sheet them home.

Senator KEATING - I was speaking just before the honorable senator returned to the chamber of my own experience as a Minister in charge of the Home Affairs Department immediately succeeding the election of 1906. I said that my experience was that sheaves of alleged violations of the then existing law were brought under my notice through the Electoral Office, and in every instance in which it was possible to present a case, irrespective of party or person, a prosecution was ordered in any of the States. I say that if these abuses in connexion with postal voting were so rife at the last Federal election and at the referenda, why have we not some evidence of them in prosecutions that took place consequent upon them? Either the alleged abuses were imaginary or they were not. If they were not imaginary, action should have been taken, and, 110 action having been taken, surely we are entitled to some explanation. It cannot be because the law was defective, and did not enable prosecution to be successful in many of the cases, because this Bill does not ask for the remedy of defects of the law which enabled the abuses complained of to exist.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes it does.

Senator KEATING - Not at all. It proposes the absolute abolition of postal voting.

Senator Givens - That means that no effective remedy for the abuses of the system is possible.

Senator KEATING - I said before, that in connexion with the Electoral Act, and the complaints made after the 1906 election, they were not confined to postal voting, and wherever it had been found that there was a defect in the then existing law, we came to Parliament and asked for an amendment of the law to enable the Department always to insure the purity of elections. ' If there have been real abuses of the postal voting system, what we should be asked to do is, not to abolish it, but to prosecute where the law enables that to be done, or, if the law be defective in that respect, to so amend it as to enable the Department to maintain the system and preserve the purity of elections which we all desire. It seems to me that it is a grave reflection upon the Ministry. It argues either their indisposition or their ineptitude in the matter of prosecutions for offences against the existing Act. We are being asked now to revert to a system which, I believe, has never found a place in the legislation of the Commonwealth or of the States. That is the system known as the wholesale disfranchisement of constituencies. I think it has been the practice in times past in connexion with election petitions in the Old Country, where in the case of a single constituency corruption has been shown to be exceedingly rife, to disfranchise the whole constituency for a certain period. That is a penalty which I think no longer exists in the Old Country, and I doubt if it ever existed in any of the States of the Commonwealth, certainly not in modern times. Here, now, on the assertion that postal voting has been abused by a number of individuals, though the proportion is not stated or even estimated, we are asked to commit an act which means the wholesale disfranchisement of electors, who at the last election numbered nearly 30,000.

Senator Millen - Equal to the quota for an electorate.

Senator KEATING - Yes. This is a reversion to what might be called the barbarous system of wholesale disfranchise ment, not the penalizing of particular individuals guilty of offences, but the total disfranchisement of a number of persons, including those who have been guilty of no offence whatever. I think that it requires something more than a mere assertion that abuse has crept in to justify such an act on Our part. If at any election for a single constituency in the Commonwealth electoral offences were rife, and a petition was afterwards presented to the Court of Disputed Returns, and it was proved that even more than half the electors who went to the poll had been guilty of offences against the Act, would the Court have the power to disfranchise the whole of that electorate ? Would this Parliament be justified in disfranchising that electorate for a single Parliament, let alone for ever? I venture to say it would not. Yet we are asked to do more than that in this Bill. It is not even suggested that one-half of the 29,000 odd postal votes recorded at the last election were obtained corruptly or by means of the perpetration of offences against the electoral law. It is not suggested, what proportion of them was so obtained, and yet we are asked to disfranchise a certain constituency of the Commonwealth, the section voting by post throughout Australia, represented by the number of postal votes recorded at the last election. If we had specific instances of prosecution given to us we might be able to estimate what proportion of those 29,000 odd votes were wrongfully obtained, if so obtained. If we had specific instances brought before us of breaches of the law in spirit, though not technically, and therefore breaches which could not be successfully prosecuted in a Court, we should have some means of estimating the alleged corruption of these votes. But we have only a general statement that abuses have crept in. We should have specific instances where prosecutions lay, or specific instances of abuses where, through defects of the law, it was impossible to prosecute successfully. We have nothing whatever to guide us, and, even assuming that abuses did exist, we are asked to commit this wholesale disfranchisement. I say that it will take very much more than anything so far submitted here to justify in reason, fairness, and honesty to the electors of Australia such a proposition as we are now asked to agree to in this Bill. I do not wish to labour the matter, as I proposeto confine my remarks in criticism of the Bill to a very brief compass, but I do hope, that, before in Committee we agree to a course of this character, we shall reflect upon what it means, and shall endeavour to realize what the effect will be throughout the Common wealth. We shall have voting by post, which was introduced in the Commonwealth in 1902, wiped out, and it will be retained in all the States, with the exception of Queensland, for all State elections. So far as the question of compulsory enrolment is concerned, . 1 see no objection whatever to the adoption of such a proposal. It will simplify to a large extent the work of the Electoral Office. I believe with the Honorary Minister that in time the electors will begin to recognise their duty, and will carry out their enrolment and their transfers as required under this Bill just as they carry out their duties under various other laws. But I cannot hold with the Government in halting at compulsory enrolment. Why should we not go in also for compulsory voting ? The answer to that by the Minister is in effect that though we may take a horse to the water we cannot make him drink. We may compel an elector to go to the poll, but we cannot compel him to give a valid vote. But do not honorable senators see that if electors realize that at any rate they must go to the poll, and go through the form of voting, in time, no difficulties of that kind will arise. If they do exist they will gradually grow less and less. The advantage of voting validly, as against invalidly, would be so apparent and so overwhelming that time and practice would cure any such causes of objection if they existed.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Let the honorable senator move an amendment in that direction, and I shall support him.

Senator KEATING - I believe that time, use, and practice would overcome any difficulty of that character. The Government are taking a step in the right direction in proposing compulsory enrolment, but they should follow it up with a proposal for compulsory voting. I do not believe that after many elections we should find a very large proportion of the electors stultifying themselves in the discharge of their duty.

Senator Millen - What about electors who are remote from a polling place?

Senator KEATING - We should have to provide for cases supplying a just cause for refraining from voting.

Senator Millen - Should we do as is done under the Defence Act-- cut out onethird of the population from the compulsory provision ?

Senator KEATING - I am not prepared at the moment to say in detail what should be considered a just cause for refraining from voting under a compulsory voting provision. This Bill provides for the abolition of postal voting, but I have said that I should like to see that system retained.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator's remarks are on the supposition that postal voting would be retained ?

Senator KEATING - Just so. Another matter which has been dealt with briefly though I think it is important, is the proposal to have all elections held on a Saturday. This may not suit some people. It should be remembered that for most people, Saturday, or a portion of it, at any rate, is a holiday. That portion which is not now availed of as a holiday is generally the portion of the day when work is conducted under pressure in order that persons may take advantage of the remaining part of the day which is given as a. holiday.

Senator Findley - Election day is a special kind of holiday.

Senator KEATING - That may be so, but I do not suppose that the Minister will go the length of proposing to make one of the other days of the week a public holiday throughout the Commonwealth. A large number of persons in all the States cease work at 1:2 or 1 o'clock on Saturday, and immediately hie themselves off to some distant place to take advantage of the Saturday and Sunday for a week-end rest. Up to the time of knocking off on Saturday they are generally working under pressure, because it is a short day. I fear that, to make Saturday polling day, would be disadvantageous to such people, and would not lead to an increased poll as some suppose.

Senator Givens - Saturday has proved satisfactory as polling day in some States for a great number of years.

Senator KEATING - Still it might not be so satisfactory as another day of the week would be.

Senator Givens - Most satisfactory, as practical experience has shown.

Senator McDougall - In New South Wales there has been a movement to do away with Saturday work altogether.

Senator KEATING - I know that a similar movement is proceeding in other States as well. In my own city, for instance, advertisements have been published calling for hands, and one of the inducements offered to them is five days' work per week, Saturdays and Sundays to be total holidays. If Saturday were invariably chosen as polling day I fear that many persons employed under such conditions would leave home on Friday and be away from home entirely on Saturdays.

Senator Millen - Many Sydney people do that now.

Senator McDougall - Most people cannot afford to leave home for a week-end holiday.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator does not care about the others.

Senator McDougall - It is only the privileged few who can afford week-end holidays.

Senator KEATING - I am glad that my remarks are provoking discussion, which I hope will be followed by careful consideration of this proposal in Committee.

Senator O'Keefe - Is it not the main point that, in States where elections are conducted on Saturday, it has proved satisfactory, and that there is no desire to substitute any other day?

Senator KEATING - Saturday may have proved satisfactory in some States, but they have had little opportunity of testing whether any other day would be equally satisfactory, or more so. For many years past there has been a growth of interest in political affairs in the whole of Australia. That interest would be manifested if any other day of the week were selected as polling day, just as much as if Saturday were the day selected. These are, however, considerations which must certainly occupy attention in Committee. Senator Walker has drawn attention to the fact that there are persons in the Commonwealth who, from religious reasons, would be compelled to refrain from voting on Saturday during ordinary hours. It might not be possible, even by extending the hour of the closing of the poll, to enable electors so situated to vote, especially where they live some distance from polling booths. If we decide upon Saturday, it appears to me that the Minister and those in charge of the Bill should insert some provision to meet cases of the kind, enabling such persons to avail themselves of the absent voting privileges. Otherwise there is a probability of their not voting at all.

Senator Givens - Could they not get a special dispensation to enable them to vote on Saturdays?

Senator KEATING - I am not sufficiently familiar with their practices or observances to know. Another matter - to which Senator Vardon- has referred - and one to which attention will be directed in Committee by way of amendment-

Senator Givens - If the honorable senator's amendment be carried the Bill will never get into Committee.

Senator KEATING - I am providing for all contingencies, even for the worst. If the worst comes to the worst, the Bill will get into Conrmittee, and I hope that when it reaches that stage the Minister will give serious and earnest consideration to the amendment in relation to proportional voting for Senate elections that has been indicated By Senator Vardon. I am not disposed at this juncture to enter fully into the matter, but I hope to address myself to it at some little lengthin Committee. In the meantime I would point out that the system outlined by Senator Vardon is intended, while maintaining the principle of equal representation of the Senate for all the States as provided by the Constitution, to secure that the representation returned for each State should effectually represent, not simply one dominant majority, or one preponderating party, but, as nearly as possible, the State as a whole.

Senator Millen - Not to represent the State as a whole, but sections of a State.

Senator KEATING - No, I am speaking of a proper representation of" States, each having six representatives, and these regarding each six as a whole, being as nearly as possible representative of the whole State. They each should reflect the mind of the State. I trust that the Minister will give this subject his very favorable consideration, because he must be aware that two of his colleagues have already committed themselves to the principle that there should be proportional representation in connexion with Senate elections. The Vice-President of the Executive Council, early in the history of the Senate, placed a motion upon the noticepaper with this object in view. That was in July, 1901.

Senator Findley - Times change, and opinions change with time.

Senator KEATING - For and until 30th August, 1901, if not later, the Vice-President of the Executive Council had the notice on the paper affirming the desirableness of the HareSpence system of voting being applied in all future elections for the Senate. The Minister tells me now that times have changed, and that opinions change with them. But the Vice-President of the Executive Council has not changed on this point. He has never since then, so far as I am aware, intimated a change of opinion in the Senate or elsewhere. . We had a discussion on the proposal in connexion with the first Commonwealth Electoral Bill submitted to Parliament in 1902. The debate was of considerable interest, and most of the States were fully represented by speakers who took part in it. Arguments were adduced, pro and con, and the Minister of Defence strongly affirmed the principle that we should endeavour to make provision for proportional representation in our electoral law.

Senator Findley - Is it not a fact that the first Federal elections in Tasmania were conducted on a system of proportional representation, and that there is now no desire on the part of that State to return to the system?

Senator KEATING - No, it is not wholly a fact. Does not the Minister know that a system of proportional representation is in force in Tasmania to-day?

Senator Findley - Not in connexion with the Federal elections.

Senator KEATING - Because the State does not regulate Federal elections. Under the Constitution, however, each State had power to regulate the first Senate elections. That matter was left by the Constitution to each State.

Senator Millen - The Minister's statement that there is no desire on the part of Tasmania to adopt the system is refuted by the fact that it is a Tasmanian representative who is asking for it now.

Senator KEATING - Tasmania adopted a system of proportional voting for the Legislative Assembly some years since.

Senator Long - In a modified form. The expression of preference is limited to indicating a choice of one, two, or three candidates.

Senator KEATING - That was the system which was proposed in the Senate in


Senator Givens - Is the whole State treated as one electorate?

Senator KEATING - No. There are five Federal electorates for the House of Representatives in Tasmania, and they have been adopted as five divisions for the State Legislative Assembly, each returning six representatives. That is the system which Senator Vardon intends to propose in Committee. In Tasmania, for the purpose of co-ordinating with the Federal authorities, as far as is possible and consistent, the Federal electorates were adopted for the State. Each division, as I have explained, returned six members, so that the Legislative Assembly consists of thirty members. The system adopted is a modification of the Hare system. The result is in one division, for instance, that three-fifths of the representation is secured by Labour representatives, and two-fifths by non-labourites. Each party is returned in proportion to its voting strength.

Senator Walker - Is there any one divivision in Tasmania that returns members, all of whom are of one political colour ?

Senator KEATING - No, not one. The highest proportion is in the Darwin electorate, which includes, on the one hand, Mount Lyell and Zeehan, which are mining centres ; and, on the other hand, Burnie and Devonport, and the north-west coast, where there are chiefly farming communities. In that division there are two nonLabour representatives out of six.

Senator Vardon - The Labour people are entitled to their four representatives in that electorate.

Senator Givens - The honorable senator would depart from the principle of majority rule.

Senator KEATING - No ; this system does not depart from that principle at all, because the majority in the division to which I refer is four, as against two. Tasmania has gone back to this system deliberately, and I think we are well justified in saying that there is no inclination, either in Parliament or in the electorates, to depart from it. It must not be supposed that Tasmania formerly adopted the proportional voting system and afterwards abandoned it. She did nothing of the kind. When Tasmania adopted the system before it was tried only tentatively in the two cities of Launceston and Hobart. It was tried there because Hobart returned six members, and Launceston returned four in groups. It was realized that the geographical contiguity of the constituencies so grouped enabled the system to be given a fail trial there. In those two places the Hare-Clarke system was tried. When a more liberal electoral law was passed for the whole State it was determined to apply the system to the whole State. ' It was because the proportional voting system was not previously enforced throughout Tasmania that its limited use was tentatively abandoned. But now it has been adopted throughout the State, and I think I am correct in saying that there is no party which shows any disposition to depart from it.

Senator O'Keefe - Was not the Tasmanian Legislature largely influenced by the fact that by adopting the Federal divisions expense might be saved?

Senator KEATING - I do not think that that consideration had any influence, because, if the desire had simply been to adopt the Federal electorates, it would have been quite easy to divide up the five Federal constituencies into subdivisions. The saving of expenditure in that particular was quite paltry.

Senator O'Keefe - It was admitted that it would be impossible to have one division returning six members, and, therefore, the block system would not work if the Federal electorates grouping was adopted.

Senator KEATING - Of course it would be intolerable, under the circumstances, to have electorates each returning six members in a block. No one would have dreamt of that. The matter is one upon which we might have a profitable and fruitful discussion in Committee.

Senator Long - The existing system of Senate election is a perfect one. It must be so, because it returned the Labour party to power.

Senator KEATING - My honorable friend's criterion is apparently different from mine.

Senator de Largie - The Government, for which the honorable senator was Whip in the Senate, was responsible for the present system of voting.

Senator KEATING - The honorable senator should recollect that the Government of that day submitted to Parliament a system of proportional voting for the Senate. That system was supported by the present Minister of Defence and the Vice-President of the Executive Council. I supported it myself. But the Senate defeated us, not having then overcome its prejudices, or having insufficient information before it.

Senator O'Keefe - The large majority of those who knocked out the proposal were sitting on the Opposition, benches.

Senator KEATING - There was a mixture. I believe that Senator de Largie voted against it. It was the Barton Government, in 1902, that brought in the first Electoral Bill containing the provision for proportional representation in connexion with Senate elections. It was found, however, that we should be defeated upon it, and we were, and in anticipation of the defeat, which was clearly foreseen from the course of the discussion, the then Leader of the Senate, Senator O'Connor, submitted a block system which had not originally been introduced by the Government, but which was forced upon them by the necessities of the case. There are one or two other proposals in the Bill to which I wish to allude. One is proposed . new section 139, which makes provision for absent voting. I do not wish to elaborate my criticism at this stage, because much has been said by Senator Millen, and others, as to the extreme undesirableness of omitting so much from this Bill that ought to be in it, and simply making provision for regulations to contain the principles applicable to this system. It is proposed to abolish postal voting. In its place, what - I may say it without offence - we are given is a ludicroussubstitute - a system which amounts to the extension of absent voting. We are asked practically to affirm the principle that all the details of a system, whichis, at least, as much open to abuse as postal voting is. shall be provided by regulation. Senator St. Ledger has drawn attention to this thing. It has been a repeated source of complaint in the Senate in connexion with other legislation. But I have never known in connexion with a Bill such a wholesale proposition for future legislation by regulation as is contained in this measure. It has been answered by the Honorary Minister that the law provides that any regulations made under it must be submitted1 to Parliament, and that it is open to either House, within fourteen days of their presentation, to take exception to them. But what about regulations which are passed out of session? Under the Act those have only to be submitted within fourteen days of the next assembling of Parliament. What of the multitude of regulations which may be found necessary on the eve of an election, when there is no Parliament sitting, or, indeed, in existence? That is the time when regulations are found necessary. Regulations in respect to electoral matters should, as far as possible, be reduced to a minimum. I do not care what Government may be in power, as election day approaches it will be found emphatically necessary to minimize the need for regulations required to provide for contingencies; not foreseen.

Senator de Largie - How many regulations are ever altered by Parliament?

Senator KEATING - Why should we multiply the possibilities? Who is to blame for that?

Senator de Largie - I am not blaming anybody or saying that any one is to blame.

Senator KEATING - If regulations were not so voluminous and frequent as they are, I venture to say that they would receive far more criticism than they do. If instead of regulation by the Governor-General in Council we had Bills submitted containing the principles, many of the principles would receive scant courtesy from honorable senators in their criticism. So far as electoral matters are concerned, I do not think that we can too strongly realize that very much will depend on regulations within a month or so of election day, and that Parliament will have no chance of considering them. No Government, whatever its political complexion may be, should have such an extensive power put into its hands on the eve of an election.

Senator Findley - There is no ground for the honorable senator imagining that the regulations will be framed on the eve of an election.

Senator KEATING - The honorable Senator must know that, as a matter of practice and experience, it is found that as the election day approaches there arise circumstances for which there is no guiding principle in the Act, and which the regulations, complete as they are, have not contemplated. So it becomes necessary at the last moment to frame regulations.

Senator Findley - Unimportant regulations; but not as to the matters you are speaking about.

Senator KEATING - The regulations may or may not be very important indeed to the candidate, and to the community. At any rate, the framing of an undue number of regulations on the eve of an election, 110 matter how unimportant or formal, justified or fair, they may be, must necessarily in the minds of some persons create feelings which we do not care to see generated. The only other matter which I wish to refer to at this stage is the limitation of the time for prosecuting in respect of election offences. I think that we shall make a grave mistake if we extend the time to three years, not because a. person should escape the consequence of his action by the lapse of time, but because in the interests of justice it is desirable that all the documents, all the correspondence it may be, and all the other data which would necessarily be tendered in evidence should, as far as possible, be available. Persons may have removed or died, or for some reason or other they may not be available. It is usual in the case of offences against a Statute to limit the time for a prosecution, and it is not unusual to limit the time to six or twelve months. We would be well justified in fixing the time at six months from the return day of the writ, if not six months from the date of the alleged commission of the offence. I do not know what justification, if any, has been given by any supporter of the Bill for the repeal of section 206d. I imagine that it did not originate with the Electoral Office, but rather with the Post and Telegraph Department. It reads -

Telegrams relating to elections and containing only the names of divisions, names of candidates, and the numbers of votes polled for each candidate, and lodged for transmission on Hie day oi or before noon on the day after the day of election may, subject to regulations, be transmitted on payment of the rates prescribed in the Second Part of the Second Schedule to the Post and Telegraph Rates Act 1902.

That provision was inserted in the principal Act by an amending Bill, which was introduced by me in 1905, and the object was to facilitate the transmission, as news, of the results of elections throughout the community. The telegrams were limited to such details as the names of the candidates, the names of the division, and the numbers of votes for each candidate, and they had to be lodged for transmission on certain days. I hope that in Committee the Minister will be able to show some reason why we should abolish such a concession as that.

Senator de Largie - The provision cannot do any harm there.

Senator KEATING - It apparently does no harm, and I hope that some justification can be shown for its repeal.

Senator Findley - In place of the existing provision it is proposed to insert a provision enabling those who are interested in elections to send messages at press rates.

Senator Vardon - There is no provision of that kind in the Bill.

Senator Findley - Yes, there is.

Senator KEATING - I hope that the alternative provision will not have the effect of restricting or reducing a very legitimate concession. It is not available to everybody, as it is to persons in the metropolitan areas and large centres, to learn from morning newspapers the results of elections. I think that in a community where everybody is closely interested in elections the Post and Telegraph Department, which is under the control of the people, should be availed of, as far as possible, to enable persons, without practically any expense to that Department, to learn as much as they can when they are cut off from ordinary facilities.

Senator Findley - If the honorable senator will refer to page 50 of the document containing the principal Act and the amending Bill "he will find that it is proposed to strike out section 206d of the Act and to insert a provision in lieu thereof. The new provision is not printed in black type, as it ought to have been.

Senator KEATING - That is what has misled me. I trust that the amendment of Senator St. Ledger will receive the consideration of honorable senators. I hope that before the question is put it will be realized that the step which we are asked "to take - the main step apparently from the point of view of the Government, as disclosed by the debate - is a retrogressive step. It means, as I said before, penal disfranchisement for a large number of persons, not in a single State, but throughout the Commonwealth, who may be regarded as a constituency, which certainly, as far as numbers are concerned, is equal to any constituency' in the Commonwealth. About 29,000 persons voting at the last election represent that Commonwealth constituency, and now, because of alleged abuses - abuses which were not followed by prosecutions, because the Government was either unwilling or indisposed to prosecute, and not because the law was defective and would not enable them to do so effectively, since we are not asked to amend the law to enable them to do so in future - we are asked to disfranchise the whole of that electorate. It has not been suggested for a moment what proportion, if any, of that extensive electorate is corrupt. It has not been suggested that the proportion is a half or a tenth or a hundredth, but we are asked to take this step. «I venture to say that if we were asked to disfranchise an electorate for one election because one-half of its electors had proved to be corrupt, we would hesitate before we decided to punish the half who were innocent with the half who were guilty. Why should we for ever practically disfranchise more than one electorate of the Commonwealth for alleged abuses existing amongst a portion of that electorate to an extent not disclosed ?

Senator Givens - They will not be disfranchised in any way. They will have ample opportunities to record their votes.

Senator KEATING - They will not.

Senator Givens - They will have ample opportunities to vote, as I shall show directly.

Senator KEATING - I hope that the honorable senator will do that, because, sofar as I can see from the Bill, these persons will not have ample opportunities to record their votes.

Senator Givens - There are none soblind -as those who will not see.

Senator KEATING - That does not apply in my case. I have been very anxious to find a provision of that kind. If the honorable senator has seen it, he has seen a thing which no supporter of themeasure has attempted to disclose.

Senator de Largie - It has been stated over and over again that the proposed extension of absent voting will answer the whole purpose.

Senator KEATING - That will not supply what the system of postal voting provides.

Senator Millen - How can a person confined to his room through illness vote?

Senator Givens - Were the whole of the 29,000 electors ill?

Senator Millen - Let the honorablesenator answer that one case.

Senator Givens - Were half of thosepersons in Victoria?

Senator Millen - -Never mind ; you said that they could vote.

Senator KEATING - I am waiting tohear Senator Givens show how many persons who have used the postal voting, facilities will be able to avail themselves of what I have referred to as a ludicrous substitute.

Senator O'Keefe - It is not denied that some of them will not be able to doso.

Senator KEATING - Exactly. I did not say that the whole of the 29,000 per.sons would be disfranchised, but I believe that is not the full number, and the number of such persons is growing.

Senator Walker - If we do away with postal voting the number will be muchlarger.

Senator KEATING - It will be much larger in years to come. I think that Senator St. Ledger is well minded in using in his amendment words which indicate that in passing this measure we shall be taking a step backwards. We shall be getting out of step, not only with ourselves, but with practically each State. While we shall have abolished an accepted system it will remain for State elections in practically every State but Queensland. Why we should step backward or get out of- line it remains for the Government to show. It has not even sought to establish a reason for taking this course, and I hope that the amendment will be carried.

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