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Thursday, 10 November 1983
Page: 2626

Dr KLUGMAN(8.15) —The Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform definitely did intend to do what is expressed in the legislation. In the case of the House of Representatives a person had to fill in all squares excepting one square. That is the position now because, by implication, it is taken that if one square is left blank it is the last number. If the proposition of the honourable member for Boothby (Mr Steele Hall) were correct, we would not have changed the position at all to try to increase the formal vote. What we said was that obviously people should use consecutive numbers and they are asked to use consecutive numbers on the ballot paper. If they make a mistake and, let us say, write down '1', '2', '3' and '3' then the votes '1' and '2' are formal. The vote is formal as long as the intention is clearly understood.

I accept that this is not terribly important in House of Representatives elections. People do not make many mistakes, but in Senate elections they do make mistakes. What was said there is that a person had to fill in at least 90 per cent of the squares. If a ballot paper had 50 names, the person would have to fill in 45 squares; at least, if the list system is not chosen. The elector then votes '1' to any number but if he repeats the number '23', or any number the vote is formal until such time as it becomes informal. It becomes informal because it is impossible for the returning officer to decide where the preferences should go. If there were two number ones on the ballot paper the vote becomes informal immediately and is not counted because the returning officer cannot tell for whom the vote was intended. A very large number of people vote in an incorrect numerical sequence.

I will give an example, as I did yesterday, of the 1983 survey of informal ballot papers for the Senate. If we take the electorate of Lyne-I collected these statistics yesterday-there were 9,000 informal Senate ballot papers of which 5,177 were ballot papers with an incorrect numerical sequence-either a break in sequence or a duplication of numbers. That is the point the honourable member for Boothby was driving at. If that were not allowed for, 5,000 of those 9,000 informal votes would still stay informal and we would not be helping these people. Out of the 9,000 informal votes another 3,000 odd were ballot papers with more than one square left blank. We did not check on how many squares were left blank, so that a fairly high proportion of the votes may still be informal. If people left no more than 10 per cent of the squares blank those ballot papers might well be formal now. It is just an attempt to help people to cast a formal vote where the intention is clear. If the intention is clear that it is not a formal vote, it is not a formal vote.

Coming back, in a sense to the argument that the honourable member put on the previous clause, if a party were silly enough to do what he suggests the Australian Labor Party might do and put a tick or a cross on the ballot paper, we would be causing the House of Representatives voters to vote informal. The people standing outside the polling booth would not be encouraging people to do that. I am sure that what will happen is that how-to-vote tickets will still have numbers on them. All we are saying is that if a person makes a mistake and has obviously attempted to do the right thing-he has filled in all the squares, except 10 per cent of them, and he has made a mistake amongst those other numbers-his vote is still formal. That is certainly the proposition as far as the Select Committee is concerned. We were just upset by the large number of informal votes.

Amendments negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 104 to 112-by leave-taken together, and agreed to.

Clause 113.