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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr FREETH (Forrest) (Minister for the Interior) (4:44 AM) . - It is interesting to note that an experiment was made with this kind of voting in the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council election. The amendment proposed by the Opposition on this occasion was adopted in the form of voting for the Advisory Council. The informality was 10.11 per cent., the highest ever recorded in Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council elections. The figures for informality tend to suggest that the question of correctly filling in all squares on the ballot-paper is not the greatest single factor which causes informality. The. interest and the importance that are attached to Senate elections on any -particular occasion are more telling factors.

Mr Bryant - How many candidates were there, in that election?

Mr Whitlam - And in previous elections.

Mr FREETH - I cannot give precisely the number of candidates. The interesting fact is that on occasions when some importance has been attached to Senate elections, there has been a far greater degree of correct voting. In 1953 - and this proves that the figures quoted by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition are wrong - when there were 25 groups over the whole country, the total incorrect vote was 4.56 per cent. In 1951 when there were 23 groups - two groups less - there was a percentage of informality of 7.13 per cent.

The figures vary. They did not show any substantial increase with the introduction of proportional representation because as far back as 1937 there was an aggregate informal vote of 10.63 per cent, with nineteen groups which is less than the number of groups in 1951 or 1953. So the cause of informality can be shown by the amount of interest that the particular Senate election arouses, and when the candidates concentrate on impressing on electors the importance of voting correctly.

The other matter which makes it undesirable to adopt this suggestion is that it could change the result of an election. Again, this is illustrated by what happened in the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council election. Where you fill in a ballot-paper for only the number of members to be elected, a number of votes will be exhausted. In the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council election, 276 votes were exhausted. The last man in was elected by a majority of nine votes, and the application of those 276 exhausted votes could have actually changed the result of the election.

Mr Ward - It might have given the wrong election.

Mr FREETH - It might, but the point is that the result might have been changed. There is a third objection. In elections for the House of Representatives, the voters are required to fill in all their preferences on the ballot-paper because that is necessary to determine the election of a single member. If you confuse people by saying, "You need not vote, for all the Senate candidates but you must vote for all the House of Representatives candidates ", you could easily create a greater degree of informality in the House of Representatives election through people misunderstanding the situation. We feel that no case has been made out for a departure from the present practice.

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