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Tuesday, 28 November 1911

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) - - I regret very much that the Leader of the Opposition should have based his opposition to the measure on, and tried to put before the public, the biased view that it is brought forward in the interests of one party. Let me take his first claim - that the abolition of postal voting wil b debar the sick, the infirm, and the aged from voting. Can he contend that more members of these classes favour his party than favour our party?

Senator Millen - The return of postal votes showed that.

Senator GARDINER - The results may have depended largely on the corrupt means which the Opposition party used to secure these votes.

Senator Millen - But you have no proof of corrupt practices being used by this side.

Senator GARDINER - The number of those who voted by post is no indication of the number who were entitled to vote under the system. The fact that such a large number voted for the candidates of the Opposition proves to my mind that the system has - as those who have had experience of elections know - always been used by the Opposition party in a most unjust and unfair way.

Senator Millen - Give us the proof.

Senator GARDINER - What are the proofs which the honorable senator brought forward of his allegations? He quoted three cases. ' One of them was the awful fraud of a husband signing for the wife. When a document of that kind has to be filled in, how often does it happen that the husband is able to write better than the wife, and does not think that he is committing a fraud? I regret that not only in this case, but in many others, the Opposition impute wrong motives. Let us take the other persons who, it is said, will be debarred from voting, and that is the prospective mothers. Will Senator Millen claim that the friends of his party will have more cases of that kind than will the friends of the Labour party ?

Senator St Ledger - That is not the point.

Senator GARDINER - I wish to show that the system of postal voting is" not being abolished to injure one particular party. We are absolutely fair, and are prepared to take our chance. The law will apply just as harshly to our side as to the other side, and when both parties suffer equally, it is most unreasonable to impute unfairness. I do not think that there is one honorable senator who would take the right to vote from any person unless he was satisfied that sufficient cases of abuse had occurred to make it clear that a great injury was done to the community by placing a weapon in the hands of certain persons. The fact should not be lost sight of that while the Bill takes from certain persons the right to vote by post, it extends the facilities for voting to an unheard of degree. We are extending to these persons the right to vote at any polling booth, not merely in the State, but in the Commonwealth.

Senator Millen - Not to them, but to others.

Senator GARDINER - Let us see what this great privilege of voting by post means to the toilers. Suppose that a man was unable to go to a polling booth a few hundred yards away, and desired to vote. In the first place, he had to get a responsible person to come to his bedside, and sign an application for a postal ballotpaper.

Senator Millen - How was it that 29,000 odd persons took advantage of the system ?

Senator GARDINER - The majority of these persons used the system, because the party which the honorable senator represents paid canvassers to take the forms to the bedside of the sick and the infirm, and, in many places, outside the 5-mile radius, the employers took very good care to get possession of ballot-papers, and to mislay them if their employes would not vote as they desired.

Senator Millen - You have no proof of that.

Senator GARDINER - When a person wished to vote under this system, he had, I repeat, to get a justice of the peace, or a school teacher, or a postmaster, to come to his bedside. If he happened to live in a country district, it was very difficult to get a person to come to witness a signature. A worker who .was fencing on a selection had no chance of getting a magistrate to come.

Senator Millen - It is for party reasons that you are doing away with, the system.

Senator GARDINER - After the application form was signed, and witnessed, it had to be sent to the Returning Officer. In due course, a voting-paper was received, andagain recourse had to be made to a responsible . person. Owing to the immense amount of trouble to which the workers were put,ninety-nine out of a hundred would not use the system.

Senator Millen - That is the reason why you are doing away with the system - that it did not suit your party.

Senator GARDINER - No.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Your point is that your opponents made better use of the system than you were able to do.

Senator GARDINER - Not at all. I am showing up the hollowness of Senator Millen's statement that facilities were given to persons to vote by post. Difficulties were placed in the way of workers making use of the system, and this Bill substitutes a system under which a toiler can go to the nearest polling booth and record his vote.

Senator Millen - And the woman stops at home without casting a vote.

Senator GARDINER - As that will apply equally to both sides, no unfairness can be imputed to our side. Will riot women on each side be debarred from voting ?

Senator Sayers - Is not that wrong?

Senator GARDINER - I would be the last person to take the opportunity of voting from any one; but we cannot ignore the unfair use which was made of the postal voting system by the Opposition.

Senator Millen - Why do you not prove that ?

Senator GARDINER - Nothing can prove that to the satisfaction of the honorable senator. If he is not already aware of the fact, the public are. I could cite the case of a canvasser who took a form to a patient in a hospital, and when the Litter expressed an intention to vote for the Labour candidate the paper was taken away.

Senator Millen - Why did not the honorable senator proceed if he knew all about the case ? It is easy to make statements, but difficult to prove them.

Senator GARDINER - These facts are well known from one end of Australia to the other.

Senator Millen - First of all, are they facts ?

Senator GARDINER - While the honorable senator is in this frame of mind, nothing will be accepted by him as a fact except that which he states himself.

Senator Millen - I want reasonable proof.

Senator GARDINER - Exactly. I have quite sufficient proof that a wrong use has been made of postal voting, and regretfully I am driven to the fact that we must do away with the system, because it is clearly a weapon in the hands of unscrupulous persons. The difficulty which confronts those who wish to make an honest use of the system is so great that it is not worth while to retain it. It should be remembered that, although postal voting is being abolished, it is to be replaced by something better.

Senator Sayers - By something worse.

Senator GARDINER - I venture to say that, if in the past 29,000 persons have been able to record their votes by post who otherwise would have been debarred from voting under the new system, which entitles a person to vote at any polling booth in the Commonwealth, twice, if not four times, as many persons will, under this new system, have an opportunity to record their votes.

Senator Sayers - It will open the door to great corruption.

Senator GARDINER - The ease with which honorable senators speak of the roads to corruption convinces me that they know the tracks very well. We are told of certain convictions in New South Wales when, as a fact, the cases were most trivial ; so trivial, indeed, that the AttorneyGeneral rescinded the fine, or failed to collect it, or refused to proceed. Yet these are called cases of corruption. The new system of witnessing signatures was introduced in New South Wales-

Senator Millen - The cases I referred to occurred under the old Act; and one of the first things which Mr. Holman did when he came into office was to deal with them.

Senator GARDINER - I think that since 1891the Electoral Act of New South Wales has been altered at least five times.

Senator Millen - There has been no alteration which justified a man putting his name down as a witness to a signature which was never made before him.

Senator GARDINER - The Act has been altered at least five times during the last twenty years.

Senator Millen - There has been no alteration on that point.

Senator GARDINER - What proof did the honorable senator bring forward in support of his accusation? The case of forgery was a case where a wife signed her husband's name; while the other two cases were disallowed by the Returning Officer.

Senator Millen - Is that how you dispose of the twenty-seven cases?

Senator GARDINER - These are the most serious cases. Then there is the statement that names were signed to blank papers. What led up to this system of getting persons on the roll? It was the difficulties which the Government placed in the way of bond fide persons desiring to get enrolled. There is always some one on the look-out to drive a coach and four through an Act of Parliament. We shall do a great deal more for the community if we recognise the fact that elections have been carried on with a surprising degree of honesty, especially when we remember, not only the facilities, but the inducements, which have been offered for corruption.

Senator Sayers - In this Bill you are giving more inducements.

Senator GARDINER - I have given one or two instances of the unfair use which has been made of postal voting.

Senator Sayers - And you open the door still wider.

Senator GARDINER - I say that when the Labour party are unable to .hold the predominant position by an honest vote of the persons entitled to vote they will not desire to retain that position any longer.

Senator Millen - No, they will stuff the roll.

Senator GARDINER - The least thing which the honorable senator can do is to bring forward one case in support of his statement.

Senator Millen - I have given it to you.

Senator Vardon - Twenty-seven cases have been mentioned.

Senator GARDINER - In the case of almost every Bill with which we are asked to deal unfair motives are imputed to the governing party. If ever there was a party which won its present position by the straightforward, honest votes of unpurchaseable electors it is the Labour party. I would not have risen to speak but for the unfair statements of the Leader of the Opposition, unfair when he knows that this Bill will enable a person to vote at any polling booth in the Commonwealth.

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