Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2485

Senator ARCHER(12.31) —The Opposition is proposing, by an amendment of which I will give notice, that clause 23 be deleted. The reason for this is to comply with the notion that once pre-poll and absentee votes have reached the hands of the electoral staff, they should be counted. The amendment as it stands includes pre-poll, absentee and postal votes as if they are all the same. Clearly, they are not. Postal votes are not necessarily put into the hands of the electoral staff and we are relying on other carriers. But where the voter has clearly voted and the vote is in the hands of the electoral staff, we believe that it should be taken into account and it must be counted. Recommendation 59 of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform produced a minority report. Page 220 of the report states:

the majority recommendation is that there should be a fixed cut-off period of 14 days for the return of postal and pre-poll votes.

There is some merit in a cut-off period for postal votes since although the number of ballot papers is known, there can be no way of knowing the number completed and committed to the post.

Pre-poll votes, however, are quite different. All such votes are in the hands of electoral officials prior to polling day. There is no reason, by any action of the voter, why they should not be admitted to the ballot.

There should be no limit on pre-poll votes. Similar procedures to absentee votes . . . should be followed.

Recommendation 141 also led to a minority report. Page 222 of the report, states:

This majority recommendation should be rejected. At the close of polling, all absentee votes are in the hands of the Divisional Returning Officers. Their total numbers by Electoral Divisions are determined and the information conveyed to the respective Divisions.

It is the duty of electoral officials to ensure that all absentee votes reach their appropriate Divisions. There should be no reason why such parcels of votes could not be conveyed to their destinations by safe-hand. Failure to do so within a reasonable time must arise from action or inactions of officials. Electors should not be denied their validly cast vote due to the actions of others.

If the absentee votes are not received in their electoral destinations within a reasonable time, say one week, it should be the duty of the appropriate official to seek an explanation of non-receipt. If the non-receipt is due to a delay, whatever its duration, which can be overcome and the votes ultimately delivered, those votes should be admitted to the count. If votes are irretrievably lost, an official statement should be made and a statement made public. The information should be admissible in an appeal to the Court of Disputed Returns.

In other sections of the Electoral Act the principle is enshrined that an elector should not be denied an otherwise valid vote if the defect is not due to his or her fault. This principle should apply to absentee voting where the total responsibility for safe transmission lies with the officials.

As a result of that, we have produced an amendment, which is before the Committee. Having sought some advice from the Secretary of the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills, I would just like to read out one paragraph of his letter. It states:

As the amendments stand they will restore the status quo with the exception that the time given for postal ballot-papers posted to the relevant Divisional Returning Officer to reach their destination will be extended from 10 to 13 days.

That is for postal votes. The letter continues:

There will therefore be no time limit on postal ballot-papers delivered to any Divisional Returning Officer, Assistant Returning Officer or presiding officer prior to the close of the poll pursuant to subsection 194 (3) or (4) (in accordance with the advice of the Attorney-General's Department referred to in paragraph 5.64 of the Joint Select Committee's report) and no time limit on the voters' ballot-papers.

I ask the Minister to recognise the difference between these pre-poll and absentee voters, as distinct from postal votes. I see no reason why anybody should be deprived of having the vote that he has cast and put into the hands of the polling staff at an official polling station. The amendment that we have proposed would cover exactly that. It would let postal votes retain the period of 13 days, which we completely support. I ask that the amendment be thoroughly considered. We would certainly like to see it accepted.