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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr HAMILTON (Canning) (4:53 AM) . - I am very disappointed that the Government has failed to do anything about the number of informal votes that are cast in Senate elections. What the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) has just said about the 1958 elections, when more than 500,000 informal votes were cast, is quite correct. We saw the same picture in the 1955 elections. I think that every member of this Parliament who has been here since 1949 will recall that at some time or other, and more than once, members of the Government side, from the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) right down, have expressed alarm at the number of informal votes that have been cast at the various Senate elections.

There is definitely something wrong with this system. Perhaps the people are opposed to the system of Senate voting at present. Personally, I believe it is all right because it caters for the minority. But to me it seems rather strange that there should be 10 per cent, or more of informal votes in Senate elections, while informal votes in the House of Representatives elections have always been in the vicinity of 3 per cent.

Mr Freeth - I think that is because the main interest is in the House of Representatives.

Mr HAMILTON - That may be so, but I point out to the Minister that there has been a renewed interest in the Senate ever since proportional representation was introduced into elections for that chamber. The fight for control of the Senate since the last double dissolution has been so close that people have been very mindful of the responsibility that a Government has to get legislation through the Senate.

Mr Freeth - In the election consequent upon the double dissolution and in 1953 when there was only a Senate election the number of informal votes did go down to a reasonable figure.

Mr HAMILTON - That may be so. Probably there were not so many candidates at those elections. My information, which I admit goes back a few years, is that there are available to the department and to the Government statistics that will prove that voting for only a restricted number of candidates will give almost the same results as voting for all candidates. For the moment I have forgotten the name of a gentleman I met in Hobart. He was a Fulbright scholar from America.

Mr Crean - George Howard was his name.

Mr HAMILTON - Whatever his name was, on the Monday or Tuesday after the 1955 elections he predicted what would happen in every State. I know that an experiment was made at an Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council election here in Canberra. The information that I have received about that trial is not quite in accord with what the Minister read, but I do not intend to argue that point.

The Government should take cognizance of this position because it is too serious. It is an indictment of the people of this country. Unless somebody puts time into considering this question of reducing the high percentage of informal votes in

Senate elections we will be made a laughing stock by people who study the various electoral systems. There is something in the statement made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) that where the ballot-paper is simpler the percentage of informal votes is reduced considerably. That was demonstrated in the 1935 Senate elections. In Queensland there were only nine candidates in three groups of three and the percentage of informal votes was 4.07. In Victoria, where there were fifteen candidates, the percentage was 13.49. In Tasmania, where there were twelve candidates, the percentage was 12.63. At the last Senate elections in 1958, in New South Wales, which topped the list with 21 candidates, the percentage of informal votes was 12.46. When you look at the way the candidates were grouped in that State - there were two groups of four, two groups of three, one group of two and five ungrouped candidates - you can imagine the state of mind of the people when they were confronted with that ballot-paper.

I believe that there is a simpler method of voting for the Senate, which would probably give a truer indication of the opinion of the people. I will not say that this will be achieved by just requiring electors to vote for the number of candidates required; but I am convinced - and I think any one who looks at the figures for the various elections will agree - that something between voting for the number of candidates required and voting for all the candidates will be the answer.

Unfortunately, my investigations into this matter show that it is our side of politics that is losing as a result of this system. I think every one of us will be able to recall an occasion when we have listened to conversations that have taken place at polling booths and heard Liberal and Country Party supporters say, "Yes, I have done a good job. You have my vote, but I did not give the commos a vote." Of course, that meant that their vote was useless. But supporters of the Opposition have the way to vote drummed into them from a very early age. I am afraid that people who vote for the nonLabour parties do not take as much interest in this matter. I believe that it is the duty of the Government to take time to study this problem in order to see whether it cannot put before the people a simple method that will give a truer reflection of the political thinking of the people, particularly in voting for the Senate. Sooner than we think - perhaps after the end of this year - we may have to do something about the present system. The high percentage of informal votes is a terrible indictment of the Government and of the people of this democratic country. If we agree on that the Government should lose no time in instructing the electoral office to get down to making a study of this matter in order to see whether a simpler method which will give a better indication of the political thinking of the people, can be devised.

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