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Wednesday, 1 November 1911

The PRESIDENT - Order ! Senator Vardon had previously spoken to the main question, and was speaking to the amendment when I directed him to confine his remarks to the amendment, whereas Senator Rae has not spoken to the main question at all until now.

Senator Vardon - I beg your pardon, sir. I thought that he had.

Senator RAE - While I hold that compulsory enrolment is on a very different footing from compulsory voting, yet I, for one, am not enamoured of it I frankly admit. It seems to me that if eighty persons out of every 100 take sufficient interest in the politics of the day to go and record their votes they are the proper persons to govern the country, so far as votes can do, and that if there are 20 per cent, of the voting population who do not take that interest in public affairs that is their funeral. Proportionately it gives greater power to those who are more competent to use power. I take it that, broadly speaking, the electors who take a sufficient interest in politics to vote are those who have the most intelligent understanding of the questions at issue, and if we are to dragoon the remaining 20 per cent, into enrolling, and follow them round the country to see that their names are always on the roll, well, there is too much spoon-feeding about the system to me to recommend it altogether. I think that if they will not take the trouble to enrol no party is any the worse off from the fact that they do not take the trouble to vote or cannot vote when they desire to do so.

Senator McDougall - The trouble is that some persons think that they are enrolled when they , are not.

Senator RAE - The man who thinks in that way is guilty of carelessness that experience shows can be avoided with a little effort.

Senator McDougall - Not always.

Senator Henderson - You are on the wrong track.

Senator RAE - That is a matter of opinion. I examine the electoral roll a few weeks before an election.

Senator Givens - That is of no use. You should do it a couple of months before:

Senator RAE - I examine the roll pretty frequently.

Senator McDougall - Some men have not a chance to do that.

Senator RAE - Give them the chance to do so. There are few persons who cannot either go to a post-office or write to find out whether they are on the roll. If they take a, keen interest in elections, they will certainly do one or the other. I know people who have been resident in one constituency for thirty or forty years, who have voted at every election, and who, nevertheless, have found that, for some unexplained reason, their names have been omitted from the roll. These accidents do not occur only in connexion with supporters of the Labour party. I have known people in the highest circles of society to get their names left off the roll through the bungling of those who were responsible for its compilation. But if people took reasonable precautions, such mistakes would seldom happen. Certainly, they would rarely be disfranchised from that cause. I generally look at the roll myself, or, if I am unable to do so, write home to my people, and ask them to see to it that our names are all there. If we were to follow up the cases of those who, through indifference or carelessness, had their names left off a roll, or failed to transfer, we should give rise to an endless amount of trouble to attain no great amount of good.

Senator Long - Suppose names are left off in compilation ?

Senator RAE - Then why not adopt the system used in New South Wales? There the person who enters up the name of an elector has to hand to him a receipt. In such a case, you can prove who was responsible for a mistake.

Senator Henderson - But proving a mistake would not give the elector a vote.

Senator RAE - But it would make bungling much rarer' in future than it has been in the past. 'My opinion is that when names have been left off the roll, it has been impossible to sheet the bungling home to any particular person. That is the reason mistakes occur year after year. If the man who committed the error was sacked or punished by having his own name left off the roll for a given period, such mistakes would not occur so often.

Senator Givens - Why should he not get seven days "without the option"?

Senator RAE - I would give him seven weeks. If the name of a voter which should be on the roll is left off, it is a disgrace to the compilers. I am personally aware that the late Mr. Donald MacDonell, Chief Secretary of New South Wales; handed in his name at the proper time. It was left off the original roll, and also off the supplementary roll. Similar instances have occurred time after time where the elector has taken every precaution, and yet has found his name omitted. Mistakes of that kind would, in my opinion, be remedied by a system of receipts, by which the official who received the name of a voter, and failed to see that it was put on the roll, was punished for his neglect. Furthermore, I would enable a person having a receipt to vote with it just as if his name were on the roll. But while I would take these precautions to enable people to be enrolled and vote, I do not see why we should compel persons to be enrolled or to vote against their will. We are told that it is the duty of every citizen to vote. But does he injure his fellow-citizens by failing to carry out that duty? I do not think so. I say that every man who is opposed to my opinions, and who fails to vote, makes my vote of greater value. Therefore, I rejoice - I certainly do not resent it - when my opponents fail to vote. Other proposals in the Bill which have met with a great deal of adverse criticism, are calculated to do valuable work. I refer particularly to the proposal to limit the influence of money power when it is used unscrupulously, as we know it has been in the past. So far as penalties are attached to unfair actions on the part of an inspired press, or of those employed as paid canvassers, the provisions of the Bill meet with my hearty approval. The Leader of the Opposition dwelt at great length on the Labour press as compared with the daily press of Sydney, Melbourne, and other large centres. He devoted particular attention to that excellent little weekly paper, The Worker - or, rather, to the two Workers published in. Sydney and Brisbane. The honorable senator sought to show that the Labour press is subsidized. I know that my honorable friend is an adept at mental gymnastics, and can make a thing appear very different from what it really is.

Therefore, I was not surprised at the warmth that he threw into this portion of his speech. But, as a matter of fact, The Worker does not receive any subsidy in the true sense of the term. It is quite correct that - as shown by the rule quoted by Senator Millen - a certain amount is deducted from each annual subscription of a member of the Australian Workers Union and devoted to the purpose of running these newspapers. The honorable senator was wrong in the case of Queensland, where the subscription is very much less than is the case in New South Wales. The principle is, however, the same. But it is not a subsidy in the ordinary acceptation of the term. It is not a bounty given to encourage the production of the newspapers. These journals are the property of the unions which devote a portion of their funds to running them. In addition, every member of the union is entitled to have a free copy of The Worker sent post free to any address in the Commonwealth.

Senator Givens - As a matter of fact, the payment is really a subscription.

Senator RAE - It is really a subscription.

Senator Vardon - That is the way the honorable senator gets over it, is it?

Senator RAE - I am not attempting to quibble in any way whatever ; but I say again that this payment is not a subsidy in the sense that, for instance, the Commonwealth subsidizes certain industries, in order to get them established.

Senator Millen - " A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Senator RAE - Just so ; and the honorable senator's argument, couched in any other way, would be just as fallacious. His. argument was that, because a newspaper is owned by a particular organization, and is, therefore, naturally run in the interest of that organization, and advocates its policy, it is a "hireling " journal.

Senator Long - Instead of being hired, The Worker is owned by the Australian Workers Union.

Senator RAE - The Worker, instead of being on the same footing as that portion of the press which expresses opinions according to the money power behind it, is, as a matter of fact, in an entirely different situation. If any individual, by merely giving a big fat advertisement to a newspaper,' can secure that his opinions will be more fully expressed in its columns, more favorably criticised and commented upon, than would otherwise be the case, then that news- paper comes within the category which mayfairly entitle it to be called a " hireling " journal. But to say that a newspaper which is openly and avowedly the property of a union, can be called a "hireling" because it advocates the principles for which it was established, is to subvert the whole meaning of the term as ordinarily employed. But I challenge Senator Millen to prove even what he alleged about The Worker. He said that that newspaper had no option but to advocate the claims of every Labour man.

Senator Millen - No; not as individuals.

Senator RAE - Not the individuals, but the actions of the individuals - whatever they did. I say, however, that, time after time, both the Queensland and the Sydney Worker - and I nave read both of them for twenty years - have been the severest critics of members of their own party when it was considered that they were not carrying out their duties properly. Members of the Labour party have been criticised for their sins of omission and of commission. These newspapers have even advocated the expulsion of certain members of the party on occasion. They have, in every way, given a kind of criticism which the daily press never gives. The daily press booms up a Labour man whenever it is suspected that he is weakening on his principles. If he does anything in the nature of what we call " ratting," they praise him as a man of moderate views and clear intellect - as a man marked out to lead - as a man who is clear-sighted, honest, and able above his fellows.

Senator Millen - Or as a man qualified to go to America?

Senator RAE - I have never been to America.

Senator Millen - Mr. Neilsen is on the road now, I believe.

Senator RAE - I know no more about that than the man in the street does. But while, this Labour press is frankly owned and conducted in the interests of the Labour party, I say that it is a pure misuse of terms to compare it with a newspaper press which, in response to, or in return for, big advertisements, colours its news or its comments. To what extent the big dailies of this country are open to purchase in respect of their opinions I do not know. I have never had either the means or the inclination to test the point. But I do say that we find a curious case to awaken suspicion in the Melbourne Age. That news paper last year continuously advocatedthose proposals which the Labour party submitted to the electors at the referenda. For weeks and weeks we read in the Age leading articles in which every argument brought forward in the other Chamber by the Leaders of the Opposition - Mr. Deakin and Mr. Joseph Cook - were trenchantly, exposed, and all their fallacies blown to the winds. Everything that could be said was said to knock those arguments to pieces, and that policy was maintained until the close of the session.

Senator Findley - That was " the Age of reason."

Senator RAE - But then, suddenly - within the twinkling of an eye - the position was reversed entirely. The Age " bouted ship," and nothing that could be said was too bad to say about our proposals.

Senator Findley - Some say that Senator Simon Fraser went down to the Ageoffice in the meantime.

Senator RAE - Every honorable senator knows very well that there must have been' a cause for this change. The men who conduct the Age are not inexperienced, callow youths. They did not, for the first time after the Close of the session, consider the arguments in favour of our proposals. We know very well that there must have been big and powerful reasons behind to cause the change; and it is fair to assume that those reasons were mostly financial. Unless we are furnished with a full and comprehensive explanation, it is not unfair to assume that financial considerations were at the back of such a sudden change of front. But that is not the only case. The Sydney Daily Telegraph has occasionally published articles, day after day, and week after week, advocating principles with a distinctly democratic tinge. But this line of advocacy suddenly stopped when we came within reach of a decision upon a given question, and, in spite of all previous professions, the Daily Telegraph turned round and advocated the opposite course. That kind of thing goes on to such an extent that it is time, as far as the law can enable us/ to know what forces there are behind these articles and alleged letters that appear in the daily newspapers at election times. If the provisions of this Bill will do anything to blow out the false prestige which surrounds the great editorial " We," and inform people that it is only some fallible mortal, whose word is worth no more than that of the next man they ' may' meet, it will clear the political atmosphere, and enable the electors to estimate at their true value letters from correspondents which probably have been written in the office of the newspaper in which they appear. There is a kind of superstitious reverence paid by many persons to views expressed by the newspaper press.

Senator de Largie - Not nowadays.

Senator RAE - It is passing away, to some extent, no doubt; but there are still tens of thousands of people who believe a thing if they see it stated in a newspaper, or, at any rate, believe that there is a foundation of fact for it. If by compelling articles on election matters to be written in the first person, and signed by the author, we can assist to do away with the false prestige attaching to newspaper articles, we shall have done some good, since people will be then in a position to estimate them at their true value. For these and other reasons I welcome this measure, but I trust that, in Committee, the Minister in charge of it will permit amendments calculated to strengthen the efforts made in that direction. I trust there will be no insistence on every word and clause of the Bill, because, in some respects, we might make it stronger and we might eliminate some of the provisions. There is certainly ample reason for imposing penalties upon the misrepresentation which now so frequently appears in the daily press, for enforcing the signing of articles appearing during an election campaign, and for penalizing the efforts made by means of money to unfairly obtain votes. In connexion with the matter of canvassing, Senator Millen made a great point of the ability of trade unions to employ men as organizers for industrial purposes, and at the same time use them for political work. There is no objection on my part, and I think I can speak for others on this side also, to making the clauses dealing with that matter apply as fully to one organization as to another. I take, for instance, the case of the Australian Workers Union, a body that employs a number of organizers in each of the States. What does it amount to after all? There may be twenty men employed in this way for three or four months during the shearing season in a State like New South Wales. These men are for fully nine evenings out of every ten engaged in visiting sheds where the vast majority of the men they meet are Labourites, and need no can- vassing whatever. The holding of meet ings in towns at which to act the part of political organizers is beyond, not their ability, but their powers, because they have too much other work to do.

Senator Millen - But the honorable senator found time for it.

Senator RAE - During every shearing season an organizer may be going for weeks without ever entering a town. If he does enter one it may be only for a few hours, when he is off again to the next station. There is a great deal of difference between canvassing and general organizing work. I take it that if Senator Millen took the platform on behalf of a political party, though he might not be engaged in organizing work, he would not be canvassing in the ordinary sense in which the word is used. He would put the principles he believes in before his audience, and ask them, if they agreed with them, to vote for the candidates who would represent those principles. That is not what is generally understood by canvassing, which I take to mean the visiting of individual electors and asking them to pledge their votes for particular candidates.

Senator Henderson - And telling them a lot of lies to induce them to do so.

Senator RAE - I should say so judging by the literature they circulate.

Senator de Largie - They are not as bad as their literature.

Senator RAE - No; God forbid! I contend that general organizing work will not be interfered with in any way by this Bill, nor will one side be penalized as compared with another. If I, as an organizer for the Australian Workers Union, visited a town and held a meeting, I should be doing nothing which could be prohibited under this Bill.I could do no more in that respect than Senator Millen or those associated with him might do in similar circumstances. No one would ever dream of asking individual shearers which way they were going to vote. He would take it for granted that the majority were onhis side. Those who were not would not be worth questioning, because they would probably lie, anyhow, over the matter.

Senator Vardon - I could give the honorable senator a few specimens of lies from his own side, if he wants them.

Senator RAE - I do not require any, I have already so many from the other side. I do not for a moment wish to make out that all the people on our side, are any more angelic than are those on the opposite side.

Senator Walker - I understand that the honorable senator's side is the humanitarian side.

Senator RAE - I certainly think that the principles we advocate are very much better than those advocated by honorable senators opposite. I have never contended that human nature differs very much in individuals, no matter on which side they may be. But principles do differ very widely ; and I should not be on this side if I did notbelieve that ours are immeasurably superior to those mythical affairs which are called principles on the other side. The fact remains that so far as canvassing is concerned, this Bill will not penalize one side more than another. If in Committee it can be shown that anything can be done to make that more clear than it is as expressedin the Bill at thepresent time, I shall be only too pleased to vote for any amendment which will put the matter beyond doubt. We have not been very much in the habit of canvassing for money, and I trust we shall not dovery much in that way, because I do not think the results are satisfactory. The temptation to either side in such a case is undoubted. We should have no more compulsory legislation than can be avoided ; but we should make it easy to do right and difficult to do wrong ; and that iswhy I think it is absolutely necessary to abolish postal voting. I shall defer any further remarks I have to make upon the Bill until we get into Committee.

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