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Thursday, 1 August 1912

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - Senator Gould mentioned one or two matters which, perhaps, deserve a reply. Not only has he stated here, but in other places his colleagues have stated, that the abolition of the postal vote was an attempt to deprive some people of the opportunity to vote.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - A certain portion.

Senator GARDINER - Our experience at Werriwa has put it beyond question that, instead of the new Electoral Act disfranchising any section of the people, the percentage of voters was larger than it used to be. What happened at the Werriwa election when no postal voting was allowed? A greater percentage vote was recorded. The Werriwa electors who happened to be in other electorates on polling day were not permitted to exercise the absent votes, but at the general election every elector in a State will be able to vote for the electorate for which he is enrolled at any polling booth in the State. If we got, as we did at the recent by-election at Werriwa, within one or two of 76 per cent, of the persons enrolled to vote, at a general election we can expect to get even a greater percentage of voters than that.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - J nope that your anticipation will prove correct, apart altogether from this particular question.

Senator GARDINER - My anticipation is based upon actual experience of the new Electoral Act at the recent election.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - What was the percentage of the absentee vote ?

Senator GARDINER - There was no absentee voting done outside the Werriwa electorate. Those electors of Werriwa who happened to be outside their own subdivision had to vote as absentees, and the percentage of those persons was 10 per cent. That is a fact worth noting, and it is reasonable to suppose that outside the borders of the electorate there was another 10 per cent, of Werriwa electors who, had it been a general election, would have been able to record their votes. Instead of the new Act bringing about the disasters which Senator Gould has imagined, and disfranchising a section of the community, it will afford greater facilities for each person to record his vote. The honorable senator has referred to the provision which compels newspaper articles and comments published during a certain period to be signed by their authors. If there was one thing which gave satisfaction to all sections who were engaged in the Werriwa contest, it was the fact that even in the Sydney press we had fair reports of political meetings. That was due to the fact that every man on the spot had to sign his report, and the responsibility was thrown upon its editor of manipulating or altering it. I believe that most of the reporters are not sufficiently biased against the Labour party to deliberately misreport a man; but I can state from personal experience that many of the newspapers are sufficiently biased to deliberately misreport a man in the hope of taking votes from him. The Opposition and the newspapers which support that party claim that the provision requiring the signing of these articles amounts to a gag on the press. It is nothing of the kind. The newspapers were entitled during the Werriwa contest to express their opinions as freely as they pleased, but the Act required that the writer of every article should publish his name and address.

Senator Pearce - It did not stop the Sydney Bulletin from commenting upon the election.

Senator GARDINER - No; nor did it prevent the Goulburn newspapers. Day after day, that great single tax organ in the Goulburn district, the Penny Post, urged the electors to support Mr. Conroy because he was a great Free Trader and also a single taxer. These articles, which were written with much ability, were signed, and, of course, they exercised a large influence in the electorates. The Penny Post published a series of paragraphs pointing out that if he were returned it would be an indication to the Fusion party to alter their programme, to reduce the duties in the Tariff, and fetch the purchasing value of the sovereign back to its usual amount from 15s. In that contest, the newspapers were not gagged if they wished to place before the electors views which, in their opinion, ought to be submitted for their consideration. Morning after morning, the Penny Post came out with a column or a column and a half in support of Mr. Conroy. They took the trouble to send good reporters to the meetings, and published fair reports of the prominent speakers on each side, and, of course, the reports were signed. That is an effective answer to those who claim that the Electoral Act prevented the press from commenting on the contest, or publishing any statements relative to a candidate. I can produce a letter from Senator McColl which, although it was sent originally to Mr. Conroy, found its way into the press, and was circulated in the electorate. It showed that the honorable senator, although parading as a Protectionist in Victoria, was anxious to have Mr. Conroy, who was posing as a Free Trader in New South Wales, returned to this Parliament. Lest it might be thought that I am misrepresenting the honorable senator, I shall read the letter, which is taken from the Goulburn Penny Post, and dated from the Federal Parliament House -

I was very pleased 'to learn that you had been selected to contest the Werriwa seat, and wish you a great success. As you know, I do not hold the same fiscal views as you do, but, nevertheless, 1 believe no man could have been selected who will be better able to do good service than yourself. We need a strong man just now to stem the rising tide of Socialism and save the country from this disaster the continuance in office of the present Government will bring upon" it. You have the qualities, and also the parliamentary experience necessary. I trust the people of Werriwa will realize the importance attaching to this by-election, and send you in with a large majority. The moral effect will be great.

Yours sincerely,

J.   H. McColl.

The honorable senator will admit that he wrote the letter to Mr. Conroy.

Senator McColl - Yes, certainly.

Senator GARDINER - Here is a statement which appeared in the newspaper which published the honorable senator's letter, and tried to win the seat for the candidate whom he, the so-called Protectionist, supported -

The fact, amongst other things, is that the Tariff has done its work in Australia as Tariffs do everywhere ; while the bleeding of the State by taxation and the continuous interferenceby Boards with industry have contributed to the general burden that we all have to bear.

They were putting up a fight to get a man returned who would teach the Liberal or Fusion party a lesson. In one issue, they published a statement which I will quote to show that the Electoral Act did not gag the press -

It has been calculated that if the heavy duties on certain requirements were removed it would be equal to a rise in wages of 5s. in the £1. That would be an increase worth talking about. " Mr. Conroy cannot remove them," it will be urged. Certainly he cannot. But his election would be a significant intimation that neither party could safely ignore.

We believe that many who voted last time to " give them a show " have come to the same conclusion. They have not come up to expectations. Mr. Conroy's remarks at the beginning of the campaign were criticised in some quarters ; but the inexorable logic of events is proving him right.

The whole tenor of Mr. Conroy's speech was that the Customs duties - for which he held the Labour party responsible - had reduced the purchasing power of a sovereign to 15s. The press reports of the speeches which were delivered during that campaign were reasonably fair. There was nothing in them to show that the operation of the provision in the Electoral Act requiring press articles and reports dealing with elections to be signed had in any way hampered fair criticism. Mr. Conroy declared that he would support no Customs taxation which would give the working man the benefit of 21/2 per cent protection whilst it conferred upon the manufacturer a protection of 30 per cent. I repeat that the press was not in any way hampered by the restriction imposed by the Electoral Act. I ask leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted ; debate adjourned until a later hour of the day (vide page 1558).

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