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Wednesday, 12 October 1927

Senator THOMPSON (Queensland) . - I want to have the time extended for the receipt of the postal ballotpaper until seven days after polling-day. In the far-flung parts of Australia the select committee found that it was quite impossible to get postal ballot-papers to the divisional returning officers in the time required by the act. Fourteen days was asked for in some planes; but the committee has suggested an extension for seven days. This is what the committee reported : -

Many complaints were made by witnesses before the committee with regard to the present practice of disallowing of postal votes received by the divisional returning officer after the close of the poll.

The evidence shows that many voters were, as a result of this system, disfranchised, especially in the country districts.

An extension of the time for receiving the postal votes was urged by the majority of witnesses questioned on this point. In some cases an extension of the period up to fourteen days was asked for.

Senator Foll - The amendment made in clause 9 will overcome that difficulty.

Senator THOMPSON - The provision referred to will not help people in many parts of Australia.

Senator Carroll - It cannot help people in some parts of the Kalgoorlie electorate.

Senator THOMPSON - We got a good deal of our evidence on this point in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. The amendment I propose to move is as follows : -

After clause 12, insert the following new clause: - " 12b. Section ninety-six of the Principal Act is amended -

(a)   By inserting after the words 'close of the poll,' the words ' or after the close of the poll and not later than the hour of seven o'clock in the evening of the seventh day after polling day " and

(b)   By adding at the end of paragraph (b) the following proviso: -

Provided that the Divisional Returning Officer shall not accept for further scrutiny a ballot-paper contained in an envelope received by him after the close of the poll unless -

(i)   The envelope in which the ballot-paper is contained bears a post office date stamp bearing a date not later than polling day; and

(ii)   The envelope was received by him not later than seven o'clock in the evening of the seventh day after polling day.' "

I cannot do better than read what the select committee says on the subject -

Having considered this matter very carefully, the committee is of opinion that an extension of time for receiving postal votesof seven days should be allowed, provided that the envelope containing the ballot-paper bears the clear impression of a postal date stamp not later than the polling day. This extension of time should be sufficient to meet all the cases of hardship referred to by witnesses without unduly delaying the scrutiny of the ballot-papers and the declaration of the results.

The question of post marks having been referred to the Secretary to the PostmasterGeneral's Department, that officer states that measures are being taken to ensure as far as practicable that post marks of electoral correspondence shall be legible, and it is proposed that prior to each election a special intimation shall be forwarded to the staff reminding them of the special need for ensuring that correspondence bears a clear and distinct impression of the office date stamp.

To give effect to the proposal of the select committee would be to confer a real boon on many people who are now disfranchised. Ample safeguards are proposed in the paragraph relating to the date stamp of the Postal Department.

Senator Sir WILLIAMGLASGOW (Queensland - Minister for Defence) [9.43]. - The committee has already agreed to an amendment fixing the time for the return of a postal ballot-paper. Therefore, I submit the honorable senator's proposed amendment would not be in order. In any case, it is a very good principle to see that all ballot papers are in the hands of a divisional returning officer before the poll is closed. Itwould be fatal to have them floating, through the post, all over the country after the closing of the poll. Notwithstanding what the select committee has said with regard to making the date mark of the post office legible, it is a fact that mails are often carried in country districts in wet weather, and sometimes it is very difficult to keep the date stamps legible.

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