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Wednesday, 1 November 1911

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) .- This clause calls for a little more discussion. We ought to let the people understand the part of the electoral machinery which the Government seek to do away with. What makes me feel very sore is that no remedy is proposed for the defect that will be created. Nothing is proposed to take the place of section 109, which reads -

1.   An elector who -

(a)   has reason to believe that he will not during the hours of polling on polling day be within five miles of any pollingplace for the division for which he is enrolled ; or

(b)   being a woman, will on account of illhealth be unable to attend the pollingplace on polling day to vote ; or

(c)   will be prevented by serious illness or infirmity from attending the pollingplace on polling day to vote, may make application for a postal vote certificate and postal ballot-paper.

These are the persons who are to be disqualified from voting by this measure.

Senator Henderson - Oh, rot !

Senator SAYERS - The honorable senator is all rot. Is it not a fact that these persons will be deprived of the privilege of postal voting? Here are the Act and the Bill.

Senator Henderson - These are just the persons who never have voted.

Senator SAYERS - I take it that the honorable senator is misinformed.

Senator Henderson - I am correctly informed.

Senator SAYERS - Either the honorable senator does not know what he is speaking of, or he is misinformed.

Senator Henderson - I am correctly informed.

Senator SAYERS - These, the honorable senator says, are the only people who have never voted. I think, sir, that when I am making a speech no honorable senator has a right to tell me that I am wrong. If he is man enough, let him get up afterwards and tell me where I am wrong, and not sit there yapping like a dog which has lost a bone. With all due deference to the honorable senator, I assert that the people mentioned in section 109 of the Act have voted. I have known them to vote. I have witnessed postal ballot-papers for them to vote, and I think that my statement will be taken as true. I do not say that Senator Henderson has never met with any of these people, but I have. I am quite prepared to call in any witnesses whom he thinks necessary to prove my statement. Why should these persons be disfranchised? Certainly, if they have not voted, it has been through their own fault ; but this clause will deprive them of a facility to vote.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Senator SAYERS - During the secondreading debate a great many excuses were made for the abolition of postal voting. I think I shall be able to show that there was no foundation for many of them. The existing law prescribes that a form shall be signed by a person who desires to vote by post, and his signature has to be witnessed by an authorized person. Before the referenda in April last, I applied for a postal ballot-paper, as I was leaving Australia, for England and found that my ship would reach Fremantle on the 25th April and sail on the same day. Had I not been able to vote by post, I could not have taken part in the referenda. I should not be entitled to do so in similar circumstances under this Bill.

Senator Pearce - Yes; a person between ports could vote.

Senator SAYERS - A similar privilege should be accorded to every person who is unable to go to a polling booth. Allegations have been made as to the improper use of postal voting ; but no evidence has been adduced. If improper practices occurred, why was not the penalty of £50 enforced? Surely we should not abolish a great convenience simply because it is alleged that it has been misused on some occasions. We do not abolish a law simply because some persons break it. There is a law against thieving and murder. Nevertheless, those crimes are committed, and nobody proposes to abolish the law which is intended to restrain them. Because certain individuals have done wrong under the postal voting provisions of the Electoral Act. that is no reason for depriving of this privilege persons who may be sick, or too distant from a polling place to vote by ballot. I recently received a letter from a lady who has accepted an engagement to teach in a private family in a distant part of the country. She pointed out that, under the Bill now before the Senate, she would be deprived of her vote on election day because her home is 50 miles from the nearest polling place. She said, " 1 have always taken a great interest in elections, and I feel sure that there is no man in the Federal Parliament who would take the vote away from a woman who is trying to earn her livelihood."

Senator St Ledger - She did not know enough.

Senator SAYERS - She will find out later. It must be remembered that only certain persons are authorized to witness signatures to applications for postal ballotpapers. The authorized witnesses are - All Commonwealth electoral officers, returning officers and registrars ; all postmasters, postmistresses or persons in charge of post-offices; all police, stipendiary or special magistrates; all justices of the peace ; all head teachers in the employment of a State Education Department ; all officers of Trade and Customs ; all members of a police force; all mining wardens and mining wardens' clerks in the Public Service of a State; all legally qualified medical practitioners ; all officers in charge of quarantine stations and lighthouses ; all pilots, telegraph line repairers, railway station-masters and night officers in charge, who are permanently employed in the Railway Department of any State; all superintendents of mercantile marine and their deputies ; and all persons employed in the Public Service of the Commonwealth or of a State who are authorized by proclamation. I point out that the authorization to police officers and line repairers is particularly useful to persons living in far distant parts of the country. There may be police patrols going from station to station, and line repairers in isolated districts often visit stations for supplies. It is a great convenience for such persons to witness an application. There are large numbers of persons employed in the mercantile marine trading around our coasts, and provision should be made for them.

Senator Pearce - They can vote under the present Bill.

Senator SAYERS - I very much doubt whether they can.

Senator Long - Does not the honorable senator think that it would be a good idea to read the Bill before criticising it? Look at clause 39.

Senator SAYERS - I know that there is a clause in the Bill entitling a person to vote at any polling place in the Commonwealth, no matter whether it be in his own electorate or not. That is to say, a person temporarily in Melbourne can vote as if he were in an electorate in Tasmania or Western Australia. But that does not touch the point with which I am dealing. There is no clause in the B'.Il entitling a person to vote unless he can reach a polling place. It is useless' to say to a man who lives 50 miles from a polling place that, if he were, in Melbourne, he could vote as if he were in the Kennedy electorate in Queensland. I wish ti extend facilities for voting, not to restrict them. At Dunwich, in Queensland, there are from 1,200 to 1,500 people, many of whom are very old and infirm. I suppose that some of them can hardly discriminate between one party and another. Dunwich is made a polling place, and the whole of those people can vote. Yet other people who are young and take a keen interest in political affairs will be debarred from voting under this Bill. Some honorable senators opposite have urged that the Opposition should draft a clause to meet such cases as I have instanced. What are the Crown Law Officers for if they cannot draft a clause for the purpose? I do not think that the officials are such dunderheads as to be unable to draw up a simple provision like that.

Senator Henderson - Nobody wants such a clause except the honorable senator himself.

Senator SAYERS - I am glad to hear the admission that nobody on the Ministerial side wants to have a clause entitling a sick woman, or a person resident 50 miles from a polling place, to record a vote-

Senator Henderson - That is not the point at all.

Senator SAYERS - This Bill has been drafted, not to give facilities to people to vote, but to prevent them from voting. If ir were entitled " A Bill to prevent certain people from voting," I could understand it. The various persons who, under the existing law, are authorized to witness applications for postal ballot-papers and postal votes, are liable to a penalty if any abuse of the system has been due to their action. We have heard that the system has been abused, and I ask why no penalty has been enforced. One swallow does not make a summer ; but with all the outcry about the abuse of the system, honorable senators opposite should have been able to produce two or three cases of the kind. If the postal voting system is to be abolished on the ground that it has been abused, the ballot system should be done away with for the same reason. I have known a case in which a man, on being given a ballot-paper, retired into the box to vote, came out, put a dummy paper into the ballot-box, which I afterwards found there when counting the votes, and took the clean ballot-paper out of the polling booth to. the committee conducting the election for a particular party. That clean ballot-paper was then marked by the secretary of the committee looking after a particular candidate's interests, and the next voter took it into the booth, received another paper, went into the box, came back again, put the marked paper into the ballot-box, and brought out the new ballot-paper given to him, in order that it might be marked in the same way.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator has had great experience.

Senator SAYERS - Senator McGregorhas also had experience, and I should say is as good at the business as anybody I know of.

Senator Millen - That is why the honorable senator is here.

Senator SAYERS - If that is so, then God help us ! People were punished for the abuse of the ballot system to which I have referred, but we did not, on that account, hear any clamour to do away with the system of voting by ballot.

Senator Findley - I should like the honorable senator to mention the case in which he says this was done, because the ballotpaper has a special water-mark.

Senator Givens - It was in the days before there was a Labour party.

Senator SAYERS - Senator Givens knows all about it. I speak of what happened in my own district of Charters Towers. There were thousands of voters polling there, especially at the change of shifts, and it was a very difficult thing for any scrutineer to watch every man who was voting. In the case to which I have referred, a man was detected by a policeman, he was brought back to the booth, and a clean ballot-paper with the water-mark was taken out of his pocket.

Senator Henderson - That was a very long time ago.

Senator SAYERS - It was at the first Federal elections. No law can be passed which some one will not be able to abuse. A case referred to in connexion with the postal voting system was that of a postal ballot-paper being signed by a voter while another held his hand. In such a case, the voter should have been questioned and asked to make a declaration. The signature of a person upon an application for a postal ballotpaper could be compared with the signature on the ballot-paper itself, and it would be easy to detect whether they were the same. If a man misuses a postal ballot : paper which he has witnessed, it should be very easy to find it out.

Senator Long - Who is to find it out ?

Senator SAYERS - The Returning Officer.

Senator Long - Is that his business?

Senator SAYERS - Decidedly it is. It is his business to compare the signature on the ballot-paper with the signature on the application form. If the existing Act were properly administered, no very great abuse of the postal voting system could occur. I have counted postal ballot-papers in the presence of the honorable member for Kennedy, and I know that no great amount of abuse could arise in connexion with the system. The best man might pass one or two irregular votes, but if there is any putcry about an abuse of the system the officials will be careful to see that the signatures on the postal ballot-papers and on the application forms are alike. However, if honorable senators opposite have made up there minds to disfranchise people, no matter what is said on this side, we cannot help it. They are strong enough to

Larry any proposal in spite of us, but it is our duty to. make the best fight we can in the interests of the people who will be disfranchised if the postal voting provisions cf the existing Act are repealed. The Minister has only to turn his head around to the electoral official behind him to discover that there are many other ways in which the abuse of the system, if any, might be dealt with. If the Returning Officers and Divisional Returning Officers did their duty under the existing system there could be no great cause for complaint. A case was alluded to which arose in connexion with an election in South Australia four and a half years ago, in which an electoral official said that certain ballot-papers had been burnt, or otherwise destroyed, though many months afterwards they were found. No law that we could pass would entirely prevent that kind of thing. Though there have been abuses of the ballot system, involving thousands of votes, we hear nothing about them, but in connexion with_ alleged abuses of the postal voting provisions we have hearsay evidence that some one told some one else that there had been something wrong with the operation of the system. I ask the Government to retain the system, and see that the Act is enforced, and if any fraud is perpetrated let them double the existing penalties and make the term of imprisonment three months instead of one. The people who will have to suffer under the Government proposal are the last people on God's earth who should be deprived of the privilege they have under the existing law, and, in the circumstances, I ask the Government to hesitate before they decide to abolish the postal voting system.

Senator Henderson - He who hesitates is lost.

Senator SAYERS - When people become tyrants they also are lost, and if honorable senators opposite carry this proposal to take votes away from people they will have to pay the penalty eventually as all tyrants are brought down in the long run.

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