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Wednesday, 1 November 1911

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - I confess that a serious pass has been reached when I have to recognise that after a trial of nearly nine years this method of enabling absent voters to record their votes on polling day has broken down. I can well remember, and it is "not many years ago, when it was the dream of very many progressive spirits in this country that a time would come when a method for enabling those who could not attend on polling day to vote would be devised by the Legislature. I can well remember that the Labour party in those days looked forward to a time when shearers and seamen would be accommodated with a means te vote, and that the privilege would be extended to those who, by reason of sickness or other disability, could not attend on polling day to record their votes. I think I can fairly claim that the Electoral Act of 1902 was passed largely, if not exclusively, by the assistance of the Labour party, and that a prominent object of that measure was to give an opportunity to vote to those who could not conveniently attend on polling day. I am sure that the most violent partisan, either here or outside, will not say that the great party which has possession of the Treasury bench to-day would have suddenly turned their backs on a policy which they had advocated for a long time, and hoped would work a lot of benefit, without having some very good ground for their decision. Not only did this proposal to give a fuller and freer franchise to the people originate with the Labour party, but it was advocated by them in season and out of season.

Senator Keating - In Tasmania it was in force before the .Commonwealth was established.

Senator LYNCH - To what extent?

Senator Keating - More largely than here.

Senator McColl - It was in force in Victoria, too.

Senator LYNCH - I know that in South Australia the late Mr. Kingston was first associated with the real endeavour to give absent voters a chance to record their votes.

Senator McColl - In 1896.

Senator LYNCH - I can well remember when we were looking forward in New South Wales to the chance of a voter who went to sea, or was engaged in shearing, being allowed to record his vote. It was not possible in that State in those days, and as a member of the Labour party I looked forward with ardent hope to the time when it would be possible. As the idea grew in popularity the Labour party continued to give an unfailing support to its enactment. Is it not strange, dien, that we should suddenly have turned our backs on a proposal with which we were so long associated, and from which we expected so much public benefit to flow ?

Senator Millen - In the first instance, and as far as I know right through the history of the Federal Parliament, the Labour party has been opposed to postal voting.

Senator Pearce - That is not so-.

Senator LYNCH - If that is so, I entirely misunderstand the position.

Senator Millen - If the Minister of Defence says it is not so, I have been under a wrong impression.

Senator LYNCH - The Electoral Act of 1902 was passed by a Government which perhaps to a very great extent owed its existence to the support of the Labour party, and it contained the provisions for postal voting.

Senator McColl - It was passed at the instance of Sir William Lyne.

Senator LYNCH - The Act was passed over nine years ago with the full concurrence of the Labour party; it has been tested, and I have been forced to the conclusion that the system of voting by post has been greatly abused time and- again.

Senator Walker - You propose to punish the innocent for the faults of the guilty ?

Senator LYNCH - We do not propose to do anything of the kind, but suppose that under the law as it stands ten persons have, through the facilities for absent voting, been able to record their votes in a legitimate way, and that in opposition to them ten persons have been intimidated, or caused to cast their votes in a direction against their consciences, then the ten whose interests the honorable senator wants to safeguard have had their votes neutralized by the fact of the other ten votes having been cast against the will of their owners.

Senator Vardon - That does not answer the interjection.

Senator LYNCH - It answers the point, I think, fairly well. If it has been possible in the past to enable ten persons to cast their votes by reason of a legitimate disability, and at the same time ten votes have been recorded which should not have been recorded, the ten voters whom Senator Walker wants to safeguard have been disfranchised. The Opposition have been asking all along the line for proofs of abuse of postal voting. When the system was in full blast in Western Australia one vote was recorded in the name of a person who was an inmate of a gaol. At the same election votes were recorded for persons who had not been heard of for years, and persons who it was known were residing in South Africa. Senator Buzacott can coil' firm my statement that the scrutineers burst into a fit of laughter at the votes coming forward with the alleged signatures of these persons.

Senator Walker - Why did they not punish the men who recorded the votes ?

Senator LYNCH - Because, as has been stated, of the impossibility of getting sufficient proof.

Senator Millen - What difficulty was there in getting hold of the authorized witnesses ?

Senator LYNCH - It was not pushed to the extreme.

Senator Millen - You did not try to get proof.

Senator LYNCH - The candidate who attempted to procure these postal votes was one of the most rabid opponents of the Labour party. On that occasion he receiver! about three postal votes to every two received by the Labour nominee. In fact, a person in .the western State has only "to recall the practice of postal voting in any division to be quite satisfied that an overwhelming majority of postal votes have been obtained by opponents of the Labour party.

Senator Millen - That is the trouble.

Senator LYNCH - I do not object to that. What I complain of is that postal voting has been associated with gross injustice for which- there was no warrant. Persons have, been employed to go round as postal vote officers, and as justices of the peace, to collect the votes of those who were not entitled to vote, and at the same time have used every possible means to win votes to their side. We know that undue influence has been exercised over and over again by those who were sent out to collect votes. It was because of this practice that the Labour party came to the conclusion that, in the interests of a pure and clean system of politics, postal voting should be wiped out once and for all. I want to draw the attention of Senator Walker to the fact that so long as he helps to maintain a system under which votes can be cast in a direction which the owner does not intend, so long will he be a party to a system which will to some extent disfranchise those who would have their votes cast in a legitimate way. Hitherto the Labour party have been very staunch supporters of this system, from which they expected great benefits to flow. It has had a trial for nine years, and one unfailing result has been that it has been associated with practices of a most questionable kind. While I recognise that there will be hardships inflicted under this clause, still we shall secure that greater benefit of a purer, a cleaner, and a more systematic recording of votes in the future than has been our experience in the past. I was once a believer in postal voting ; but as one who has watched its Operation and noted its results, although we could not get positive evidence of abuse and misuse, I feel perfectly satisfied in my mind that it is a system which ought to be abolished, and which must go.

Progress reported.

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