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Wednesday, 1 November 1911

Senator LONG (Tasmania) .- We can understand the virtuous indignation of our friends opposite, because we know that they realize that a system is about to be repealed from which they have derived great political benefit in the past. I wish to say that the only political party responsible for the introduction of this measure is the party represented by our honorable friends opposite. If the supporters of that party had not abused the postal voting provisions to the extent to which every one knows they have been abused, there would have been no call for this amending Bill.

Senator Sayers - Let the honorable senator prove it.

Senator LONG - Senator Sayers occupied several hours of our time to-day in proving nothing, but, if he will give me five minutes, I shall endeavour to prove something. Ever since I was able to appreciate the operation of the postal voting system, that is to say, since the elections of 1906, I determined that if ever I got the opportunity - and thank Heaven it has arrived - I would do my best to bring about the repeal of a system which has lent itself to so much abuse in the past.

Senator St Ledger - Anybody can destroy ; we want some building up.

Senator LONG - I make an assertion which can be backed up by reference to official documents. During the election of 1906, for the division of Denison, this system of postal voting was abused to an extent unequalled in any other part of the Commonwealth. It is no exaggeration to say that several hundred postal ballot-papers were sent under cover to one address, and people were induced to make application for these postal ballot-papers through a certain individual. The people who applied for them never saw them. They were used by the individual in question, and sent oh to the Divisional Returning Officer. A senator on the other side of the chamber said that the Returning Officer's duty is to compare the signatures on the counterfoils with the applications. Now, although that is part of the Returning Officer's duty, none of the officers is an expert in handwriting, and it is not a very difficult matter to closely imitate the signature of an 'applicant.

Senator Vardon - To imitate several hundreds ?

Senator LONG - I say that several hundreds were imitated. In the Denison election in 1906, out of a total of 10,700 votes recorded, there were, roughly, 650 postal votes,. I will not offer the figures, because I am not quite sure of their accuracy, but the margin between the male vote and the female vote was very small. There was a small army of paid individuals touring the town with the object of inducing people to make application through them for postal ballot-papers. When an application was signed, the Divisional Returning Officer was requested to send the ballotpaper to care of Mr. Jones, and it is a well known fact that at least 300 of these ballot-papers reached that individual.

Senator Vardon - One-half of them?

Senator LONG - Yes. In all conscience, one-half is bad enough. It came under, our notice, in a number of instances, that people who in good faith sent in applications for ballot-papers did not receive ballot-papers. Consequently, they attended the polling booth with the object of casting their votes. Their names were checked, and they were told that, having voted previously by postal ballot-papers, they could not vote again. Of course, those people were very indignant, and a number of them complained to me. Several of them were men, and at least a dozen were ladies. Of course, their postal ballot-papers had been used. Honorable- senators opposite have time and again asked, " Why was not action taken against the people offending?" Let nae tell them that the best advice that could be obtained in Hobart was obtained in connexion with these matters, and we were advised that no case would stand, because there was no absolute proof of intention to commit a fraud.

Senator Millen - Though your own lawyers advised that there was no proof, you advance this as proof.

Senator LONG - The honorable senator is an artist in splitting straws. As a lawyer, he knows very well what I mean. He understands and appreciates my argument.

Senator Millen - I do. When your own lawyer, whose tendency would be to advise you to go ahead, told you you had not a case, then you had not a case.

Senator LONG - We got the best advice we could in Hobart. My colleague, Senator Ready, this afternoon gave a striking instance of the manner in .which ' postal voting is abused in one part of Tasmania. It is quite a common occurrence to have complaints from different parts of the island, north, south, east, and west - particularly south - where certain people travel about weeks and weeks before an election, and not only get hold of postal ballotpapers, but absolutely intimidate people into making application for postal ballotpapers.

Senator Millen - Where is the evidence of intimidation?

Senator LONG - I may tell the honorable senator that there has been so much discussion, assertion, and denial during the last few days about these cases, that to-morrow I intend to move that all papers be laid on the table of the Senate which have any bearing upon these matters, or upon questions of this character, which have been brought under the notice of the Government. I am confident that those papers will make very interesting reading. Senator Sayers appealed to the Government a few minutes ago to delay dealing with this electoral reform. I appeal to the Government not to delay it for one minute more than is necessary, because, if there is one electoral reform that is more sought after, more desired, and which will be more commendable to the people of Australia than any other, it is the reform indicated in this proposed amendment of the electoral law. Senator Sayers, a few moments ago, stated that some people at sea would be prevented from exercising the franchise. I interjected that he ought te* read the Bill before he criticised it, and if he had looked at proposed new section 139,. which is to take the place of old section. I39> he would have seen that provision is made there for people to record their votes immediately after the writs for electionshave been issued.

Senator Vardon - That is if they wilh not be in the Commonwealth.

Senator LONG - A man cannot be inthe Commonwealth if he is at sea outside the territorial limit. If those honorable senators who wish the passage of the Bill postponed are alive to their responsibilitiesas representatives of the people, and are satisfied that the Bill calls for radical amendment, then it is their duty to present an amendment to take the place of the section which it is proposed to amend. I sincerely hope the Government will not listen tothe pleading of honorable senators oppositeto delay the passage of the Bill, and that it will not be delayed one moment more than is necessary.

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