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Wednesday, 1 November 1911

Senator HENDERSON (Western Australia) . - I recognise that voting by post has proved itself a most deplorable failure so far as the purity of elections is concerned, but I think that if we were to adopt the .proposal of Senator Walker, we should find ourselves in a more deplorable position than we would were postal voting retained as it is. I have had some experience of the glorified system which he is endeavouring to import into this measure. I am satisfied that he is perfectly honest, and would never traffic with electors' rights as persons in New South Wales have been guilty of doing. The elector's right bore on its face all kinds of things. It was tried in all shapes and forms, and it was usually bought on polling day at any price from is. to £x, and used to advance party interests. I sincerely hope that the system will not be introduced into this Bill. I quite understand the position taken up by the Opposition, and sympathize with them. I recognise that, from the commencement of Australian history, politicians of a like creed have had the framing of the electoral laws, and consequently this is the first time when they find themselves unable to put one impress on the electoral law of the Commonwealth. In these circumstances I can sympathize with honorable senators on the other side, inasmuch as previously they always took good care so to frame the law that it would serve their purposes.

Senator Millen - That is what you are doing in this Bill.

Senator HENDERSON - That is what the Opposition tried to do before, and that is what they did. Whether they are satisfied with the evidence that has been produced is a matter of no consideration, because if we were to bring forward evidence which was so clear that at the judgmentseat every man who had assisted in building it up would . be condemned, still they would not be satisfied. They are satisfied that so long as the provisions for postal voting remain as they are in the Act, so long will they be utilized by their side in politics, and so long will that side be in a position to utilize them very effectively. Consequently they are not likely to give very much support to the clause, but rather to do as they are doing, that is, fight as long as ever fight is left in them, to cling to a weapon which they know has served them very effectively. In his usual bluff manner, Senator Sayers lamented over the men who are 50 or 60 miles away from a polling place. That is a thing over which we have no right to lament. Every member of the Opposition ought to endeavour with me to see that no person shall be 50 or 60 miles away from a polling booth where there are voters in any number.

Senator Millen - Any number?

Senator HENDERSON - Yes. I recognised, when the party of which the honorable senator is an honoured member were in power, that they took good care to fix the polling places in such positions that they would get the greatest number of votes for themselves in nineteen cases out of twenty.

Senator Millen - You have not the slightest justification for making that statement.

Senator HENDERSON - I have ample justification.

Senator Millen - No, it i°. a most reckless statement.

Senator HENDERSON - What we want to do is to make the polling booths serviceable to the electors, wherever there is a number of them, and not to do as the other side have done. We ought not to say, " Unless you have one hundred voters in the locality you shall not have a polling booth. If there are only eighty voters there you will have to go 65 miles to record your votes at the nearest polling place."

Senator Millen - We left them the system of postal voting.

Senator HENDERSON - No, we do not want that system.

Senator Millen - We had it then.

Senator HENDERSON - It was not the persons I am speaking of who used the postal voting system, but the people in the main streets in the big cities, residing close to a polling booth, and many of them having three or four polling booths within a quarter of an hour's walk. It was these persons who utilized the system, while sixty or seventy persons who were at a place 50 or 60 miles away from a polling booth had no facilities given to them to vote. I hope that we shall take care to provide such facilities as will enable persons in outlying places to cast their votes in a polling booth. Senator Sayers made a most pitiful appeal concerning the number of persons who were likely to be disfranchised by this Bill, and Senator Walker is making an effort to save them. I want to charge the Opposition with exactly the position with which they have charged us. They have not shown one vestige of evidence that we shall disfranchise any one. Senator McColl tried to show that 29,000 persons would be disfranchised by this alteration of the law, half of whom reside in Victoria. But he did not observe that the probabilities are that a large percentage of those who voted by post at the last election were servant girls in Toorak, whose employers induced them to vote by post in the interests of the honorable senator and his party.

Senator St Ledger - What evidence is there of that?

Senator HENDERSON - There is the self -same evidence for it as honorable senators opposite have given for their charges as to the people we are going to disfranchise. The number of votes recorded by post at the last election is no kind of criterion as to the number of people likely to be disfranchised by wiping out this deplorable system. I sincerely hope that the

Committee will stand faithfully by the proposal of the Government, and that everything possible will be done to purify our electoral system.

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