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Friday, 27 October 1911

The PRESIDENT - I have listened very carefully to Senator McColl, and he has, so far, confined himself to what I think is the subject-matter of the amendment. It is not competent for any honorable senator who has already spoken on the main question, in discussing the amendment, to go beyond the subject with which it deals.

Senator McCOLL - The instance to which I was referring related to postal voting. The matter was brought up by Senator Givens, who said that the postal vote had been used in such a way as to strike terror into electors. Since the honorable senator made these remarks I have been informed that the case occurred al Charters Towers, and was afterwards the subject of a judicial inquiry. I have had the report of the proceedings placed in my hands. They are recorded in the Queensland Parliamentary Papers for 1908. It appears that a petition was filed by John O'Flynn, accountant, Charters Towers, who stated -

1.   Your petitioner is a person who voted and had a right to vote at the above election.

2.   Your petitioner states that the election was liolden on the eighteenth day of May, One thousand nine hundred and seven, when John jiurrows, Joe Millican, Wm. James Paull, and Vernon Winstanley were candidates, and the r:turning officer has returned the said Joe Millicuu and Wm. James Paull as being duly e lected.

3.   And your petitioner says that at the said election the whole or, alternatively, great numbers of the postal votes recorded and counted in favour of the said Joe Millican and Wm. James Paull were informal and invalid, and should not have been so counted, as postal ballot certificates were not obtained or given, and - the said votes were not recorded or given, in the manner provided by the Elections Act Amendment Act of 1905 ; and that, if the said Votes so improperly counted in favour of the said Joe Millican and Wm. James Paull are eliminated from the said count, the said John Burrows and Vernon Winstanley had, and have a majority of votes at the said election, and should have been declared to have been duly returned for the said election.

Wherefore your petitioner prays that it may be determined that the said John Burrows and Vernon Winstanley were duly elected, and ought to have been returned; 6r, in the alternative, that the said election was void.

The case was heard before the Chief Justice of Queensland and six assessors. I shall show what the result was. At the conclusion of the evidence the Chief Justice addressed the assessors as follows -

Mr. Feezsays that these votes are invalid because they were not stamped as required under sub-section (vii.) of section 780 of the Election Acts. Now sub-section (vii.) says -

The postmaster or justice of the peace shall then place such envelope in the envelope addressed to the returning officer, and upon receipt from the voter of the proper postage stamps shall, in the presence of the voter, affix them to the envelope.

Now, I am of the opinion that it makes no difference at all whether the voter affixes the stamp or whether the canvasser or justice of the peace does it. The thing which the Act requires is that the envelope shall be stamped, and that it shall be posted and recorded. That is what the Act wants - that these votes shall be recorded. Then the sub-section goes on -

If the justice of the peace has attested the vote, he shall forthwith deliver it to the voter, who shall post it on the same day.

Now, if the voter hands the document back to the justice of the peace or canvasser and requests him to post it, then, in my opinion, the voter has posted the document. That is my ruling as to the construction of that section. Now, here are some votes on which the assessors shall give their findings. Mr. Shand points out that there is no evidence that the voter did not provide the stamp, and that the justice of the peace did not affix the stamps in the case of any particular vote. That is a question for you to answer.

Mr. Plunkett.There is nothing in it.

His Honour.- You find there is no evidence of that?

Mr.Plunkett.There is no evidence of it.

His Honour.- That disposes of that. Nor is there any evidence of the number of votes to which the objection can apply to the voter at all.

Mr. Gunn.There is no evidence of that.

His Honour.- It seems to me that there is no evidence.

Mr. Barnes.We are quite agreed on that.

His Honour.- Then it seems to me that we have nothing more to do but to decide whether the respondents were duly elected and returned or not. I put that to you, too. On these findings of the law and fact, are you of opinion that the respondents were duly elected and returned ?

Mr. Gunn.Yes, I think so. There were a few votes disallowed, of course.

His Honour.- But they will make no differ ence to the result of the election.

Mr. Gunn.No difference "at all.

His Honour.- There were about eighteen hun dred votes disallowed.

Mr. Feez.Yes; they would make no differ ence.

His Honour.- This Tribunal is of opinion that they make no difference.

Mr. Shand.I ask that the Tribunal make an order that the costs and expenses of the respondents be paid by petitioner, and that the ?100 paid into Court be applied to that purpose.

After argument,

His Honoursaid : I am bound to say I can see no reason why the ordinary rule as to costs which prevails in all litigation should not be applied in a case of this kind. The ordinary rule is that the unsuccessful party pays the costs. That is a reasonable thing, and has been the rule for centuries.

Mr. Barnes.That would strike one as a fair thing.

His Honour.- That is the practice, and I see no reason why the rule should not be followed in this case. Those who are complaining - according to the evidence of Mr. Boyce - did precisely the same thing themselves.- They are complaining that the political organization was running the affair, and was asking the returning officer to send the applications papers to the office of the organization. The persons who are complaining were doing the same thing themselves. Knowing that, why did they come here and compel the respondents to spend all this money fighting this action? It seems to me to be most unreasonable.

Mr. Stodart.I think the petitioner should pay the cost.

Mr. Plunkett.I agree to that.

Mr. Barnes.I agree to it, too.

Mr. Gunn.The ordinary rule of the Court should be followed.

His Honour.- I entirely agree with that.

Mr. Feez.You can only make an order for costs up to ?200.

His Honour.- I make an order for costs up to ?200, and that the?100 paid into Court be applied to the payment of respondents' costs.

Mr. Fees.; With reference to section 27 of the Elections Tribunal Act, it is the petitioners intention to appeal to the Full Court. Section 27 provides : " When notice has been given of an intended appeal, the Judge shall postpone the granting of the certificate hereinbefore mentioned until the determination of the appeal by the Full Court."

His Honour.- Very well. There is nothing more, gentlemen (addressing the assessors). I would not like you to depart from the Court without saying that you have given me a great deal of help during this inquiry, for which I am very much obliged to you.

Mr. Barnes.We are exceedingly pleased to hear that, your Honour.

The Tribunal then rose.

That is the case of which Senator Givens made so much.

Senator Givens - The verdict had nothing to do with the question of how the postal votes were obtained. That is what my argument illustrated.

Senator McCOLL - That is the case which has now been reported in Hansard as a glaring instance of the' misuse of postal voting, and of the reason why we should abolish that system. If the other cases mentioned by the honorable senator had no better foundation than thatI am afraid that the rest of his speech was not worth taking much notice of. A great deal was made of mine managers having gone round to the houses of miners in their absence and intimidated their womenfolk. I do not, for a moment, think that such things have occurred. The honorable senator must have been misinformed. I do not believe that he would wilfully make a misstatement, because I recognise that he is a fair and honorable antagonist. But I have had as much experience of miners and mine managers as any one in the Senate. For over forty years I have known scores of them at Bendigo, and I have never met one mine manager who would so demean himself as to go to a man's house in his absence and try to induce his wife, and other relatives, to vote in a particular direction.

Senator Givens - They are all quite angelic at Bendigo !

Senator McCOLL - No, we have our faults up there, just as have other people.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Has the honorable member ever known mine managers in Bendigo who would blacklist a man and prevent him from getting employment?

Senator McCOLL - I do not know of any mine manager at Bendigo who has ever penalized a miner on account of his political opinions. I never heard of such a case.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Has the honorable senator ever known of a case having to be bought out of Court?

Senator McCOLL - I do not know of any one who has had to buy a case out of Court either. I shall be quite willing to enter into that matter with the honorable senator at any time he pleases. I know what he is referring to, and, as. a matter of fact, it had nothing whatever to do with political matters. The serious charge made here was that postal voting was a source of corruption. Senator Givens instanced a case where stamps were deliberately altered and a wrong date placed on letters after they had been posted, and he also said that when complaint was made about the matter no notice was taken. I can only say that a Department that would take no notice of such a charge as that was very remiss in the performance of its duties. That Government officials should deliberately alter a stamp for the purpose of aiding any particular political candidate is so serious as to demand rigid investigation. Senator Givens dealt with the case of women who, because of their condition, are unable to vote at election times in the ordinary way. But the postal vote was intended for women in other situations than those which he described. There are many women who are unable to attend the poll because they are suffering from other troubles than those referred to, and it appears to me to be improper that we should take away from them the facilities for voting, which they have hithertoenjoyed. We were also told that in Victoria, a thousand postal votes which were handed out were never returned. That is a serious matter, which should certainly be inquired into. The Electoral Department should cause an inquiry to be made and furnish us with particulars of the actual facts. It would not be amiss if a return were moved for, showing the number of postal votes issued in all the States, and the number not returned, together with the names of those who did not return, them. It would be rather interesting information to have. I should be very glad, indeed, to see such an investigation made.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Are the papers in existence?

Senator McCOLL - I do not know.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I should be glad to support such a return.

Senator McCOLL - It is most extraordinary that a. thousand postalvotes should be issued and not used. These papers are not scattered haphazard about the country. They are not like enrolment cards. They are papers which have to be properly applied for on an authorized form, signed by prescribed persons, and duly witnessed. I should like to have an assurance from the Government that they will institute an inquiry into the allegations made. If not, I shall be prepared to consider the desirableness of moving for a return. The fact that more postal votes were recorded in Victoria than in any other State seems extraordinary, and I can only explain it in one way. The postal voting system has been longer in operation in Victoria than in any other State, except South Australia. It was adopted in South Australia in 1896, but there the law did not give so many privileges as did the Victorian Act. The system came into use iii Victoria. in 1899 or 1900. Our people got accustomed to it, and, probably, that explains the use that was made of the system at the last election.

Senator Sayers - Is it true that the honorable senator did not vote for women's suffrage in Victoria?

Senator McCOLL - The Minister made a statement to that effect, and since then I have obtained the means of refuting him with proof.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator has already made a personal statement on that matter.

Senator McCOLL - If I am out of order now I shall take another opportunity. A great deal has been made of a cartoon which has been exhibited in the chamber. It certainly was not very nice.

The PRESIDENT - Order !

Senator Millen - That carfoon was founded upon a leader in- the Queensland Worker.

Senator McCOLL - Senator Givens mentioned a case in Queensland, where, as he represented, mining managers had the power of life and death over workmen and their families, and where a great number of votes were prevented from being recorded in favour of a political party. He informed us that that occurred fifteen years ago. But there was no postal voting in Queensland fifteen years ago, so that his argument on that head falls to the ground.

Senator Henderson - Senator Givens made no reference to postal voting in relation to that argument.

Senator McCOLL - He was arguing about postal voting1 all along.

Senator Givens - What has the honorable senator to say as to the Townsville case where the postal authorities were corrupted ?

Senator McCOLL - I have dealt with that case, and I say, again, that an inquiry ought to be made and the guilty persons brought to book. If the facts are as related there was a glaring misuse of authority. We have had postal voting in operation in one State for twelve years, and in another State for nine years. Has there been any public demand for its abolition? There has been none. Statements that have been made as to the working of the system are such as cannot be relied upon. Very little proof has been offered, and there is not the slightest evidence that the public have any desire that existing facilities should be lessened. Our object ought to be rather to increase facilities for voting. Only one definite case was mentioned, namely, that brought forward by Senator E. J. Russell yesterday - the case at Coleraine. It looked like a glaring case upon the face of it. I asked Senator Blakey if he knew the man, and was informed that he was over eighty years of age, and a very decent man at that. On inquiry the circumstances do not appear to be nearly so glaring. All that the man did, although he was fined on three charges, was to neglect to take the proper steps to ascertain whether the grounds on which a postal vote was claimed were legitimate or not.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Did you read the lady's evidence?

Senator McCOLL - Yes. The man did not ask the woman whether she really was ill. He signed the paper without making the necessary inquiries. But there was nothing before the Court to show that he had endeavoured to influence her vote in any direction.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - - Was he brought to witness a signature, or did he go round canvassing persons to vote by post ?

Senator McCOLL - I do not know that he did that.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - He went to a healthy woman and asked her to vote by post.

Senator McCOLL - He was asked to witness the signature of some woman. I do not desire to shelter the man, but merely to point out that the case was not so glaring as it appeared to be.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - I shall take the opportunity of reading the whole of the evidence in the case.

Senator McCOLL - I did not see all the evidence. I only saw the Argus report, and perhaps the honorable senator had a longer report.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - He justified himself, and asked a healthy woman to vote by post.

Senator McCOLL - The system of postal voting was brought in more especially because women's suffrage was being introduced. It was felt when that great change was being made that greater facilities ought to be given to women to exercise the franchise than had been afforded previously. The reasons which influenced those who introduced the system of postal voting are just as strong to-day as they were at that time.

Senator McGregor - What reasons were they?

Senator McCOLL - The reasons were that women were peculiarly situated; that they had not the same facilities for going to the poll as had other electors, and that special provision ought to be made to enable them to vote with greater freedom than had been allowed previously. _ There was also the question of conveniencing not only women, but those who were infirm and feeble, and unable to go to the poll. Further, there was the question of meeting the case of those who were far removed from polling-places, and who, it was felt, should be placed on an equality with these other persons. With regard to voting, we should endeavour to give all classes equality of opportunity. It cannot be said that the privileges enjoyed bv those who live in closely-settled parts are the same as those enjoyed by persons who live in the country ; they are very much greater indeed. In the city a man has simply to go to the "next street to record his vote, but in the country a man may have to go many miles; it may be at harvest time, when it is very difficult for him to leave his farm, as every hour is precious. The Bill does an injustice to country persons by depriving them of the privilege of voting by post.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I know the position of the farmers, and I think differently.

Senator McCOLL - The provisions which it is proposed to substitute for the system of postal voting are, I think, likely to be subject to very great abuse. We are virtually asked to buy a pig in a poke. We have placed before us only a sketch of a system which may be so manipulated by regulations as to play into the hands of one party or the other, and so perhaps open the door to an enormous amount of fraud and trickery. I think that in this matter far too much is left to be done by regulations. As Senator Keating has pointed out, we may have regulations regarding voting brought in immediately before an election.

The PRESIDENT - I trust that the honorable senator will confine himself practically to the subject-matter of the amendment, which is an increase rather than a curtailment of voting facilities, and in particular, the system of voting by post. .

Senator McCOLL - We should endeavour to give greater facilities to persons to vote rather than curtail them. I have much more to say, but I am confined to the amendment. I should like, if I may have the leave of the Senate, to justify what I said when I denied the statement made by the Minister the other day that I had been against women's suffrage - that I would not give a woman a right to vote whether she was ill or well.

The PRESIDENT - Order. The honorable senator had the leave of the Senate just after that charge was made, and he made an explanation.

Senator McCOLL - I did not give an explanation, sir, but merely denied the fact. I desire to-day to give the proof, because otherwise a statement of that character regarding myself in Hansard would be very damaging. The statement is absolutely untrue, and therefore I should like permission to make an explanation.

The PRESIDENT - Order ! When an honorable senator is speaking to an amendment he cannot refer to any other subject, nor ask the leave of the Senate to make an explanation with regard to a statement made previously in debate.

Senator McCOLL - I am sorry that I cannot prove what I said the other day. But I shall take another opportunity to do so.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - You ought to withdraw your statement, that the Labour party were opposed to women's suffrage, also.

Senator McCOLL - I had some remarks to make in that regard, but I have been stopped. I shall make the statement again and justify myself. What I said was that in their early days the Labour party were not in favour of women's suffrage.

Senator Findley - You said that the Trades Hall party had always been opposed to women's suffrage.

The PRESIDENT - Order ! I wish that the Minister would not try to lead Senator McColl to repeat a statement which I have ruled out of order.

Senator McCOLL - I shall not attempt to further deal with the matter to-day.

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