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Thursday, 2 November 1911

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - There is a great deal of reason in the arguments of Senator Gardiner for this amendment. The right to exercise an influence over the government and legislation of a free country by a person who has come to adult age and is of sound mind is, in my opinion, inherent. It is almost as much a right as is the right to live.

Senator Findley - The honorable senator's new-born zeal for the Plymouth Brethren is remarkable.

Senator ST LEDGER - I am speaking in defence of the principle of liberty of conscience.

Senator Millen - Why should Senator Findley despise the Plymouth Brethren?

Senator Findley - I do nothing of the kind.

Senator ST LEDGER - I do not care whether a man is a Socialist, an Anarchist, or a member of the Plymouth. Brethren; from the point of view of determining this question. In a free country it is a man's inherent right to vote as he likes. If that be admitted, does it not follow that he has an inherent right not to vote if he does not choose to do so? Who is injured by his refraining from voting? He does not injure the rest of the community. He may in: jure himself, but that is his affair. There may be a number of candidates standing for election from the whole of whom an elector entirely disagrees. The whole of their principles may be' antipathetic to him. Why should he not have a right to say, " I will not vote for any of these men'."?

Senator Rae - What we really want is a negative vote, so that an electormay be able to vote against a candidate.

Senator ST LEDGER - If that were permitted, the negative vote cast against some candidates would be overwhelming. It is tyranny to force a man to exercise his voting power when he does not choose to do so. I am against compulsory enrolment altogether, and I do not believe that the provisions of this Bill in regard to it are worth the paper on which they are printed. It is argued that the Government of the country compels people to have their children educated, and also compels youths to participate in the defence of the country. But the reason why we insist on the education of people is because it is believed that an uneducated person is a menace to the community. Similarly, we insist on a certain amount of military service because we believe that that is essential to the safety of the community. But because we believe that the national welfare and the national safety require persons to do certain things, it does not logically follow that the national well-being requires every person to vote. I do not care how few may be the persons who have conscientious reasons for not voting - their motives ought to be respected. We are very careful under our Constitution to keep separate the State and the Church. We guarantee liberty of worship to every individual who comes under our jurisdiction. That, in itself, implies respect for the conscientious beliefs of the people. Why not respect their conscientious scruples in regard to enrolment and voting ?

Senator McGregor - If a cannibalistic section sprang up in the country, would the honorable senator insist on being eaten because of their conscientious beliefs?

Senator ST LEDGER - The mind of the Vice-President of the Executive Council is too gigantic, and his thought soars too high, for me to follow him. It is absolutely unthinkable that a Minister should seek to draw an analogy between cannibals and persons enrolling themselves under our electoral system.

Senator McGregor - Has not a cannibal a. conscience?

Senator ST LEDGER - What has that to' do with the question? I doubt whether there is a deliberative assembly in the world in which a responsible Minister would make such a frivolous remark concerning a serious question. Of course, I regard this compulsoryvoting proposal as. more or less of a circus demonstration on the part of the Government, and probably the Vice-President of the Executive Council is doing his best, to bring the circus part of the business into' prominence.

Senator de Largie - The honorable senator should keep away from comparisons about circuses.

Senator ST LEDGER - Why ? Because, there are so many clowns sitting in front of me? This amendment ought to be entertained, because we know that there are many persons who object to exercise, not only the parliamentary, but the municipal franchise. What harm can it do to respect their feelings ? The Government of the country ought to be tender towards the conscientious susceptibilities of its people. In the name of liberty and conscience, we should respect them, even if there are only a dozen in the community.

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