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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2485


Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(12.36) —I am one of the authors of the dissenting report which Senator Archer has quoted. Apart from the facility to cast one's vote on polling day at the polling booth within one's electorate, there are three main methods of casting a vote. The first is a postal vote for which there is an application. If the application is accepted, the electoral authorities send out a vote. The postal voter fills it in and posts it back. There are many mishaps and uncertainties on the way. There are two other methods of casting a vote for which there are no uncertainties. It is possible for a mobile person to go to the booths and, instead of casting a postal vote, to cast a pre-poll vote. That is done personally and deliberately in one action. The vote is then absolutely secure inside the divisional returning office. There can be no question of how many votes there are or where they lie. Thirdly, there is the facility for a person who is away from his or her own electoral division and in another electorate to apply for an absentee vote, fill in the claim, vote and the ballot envelope is then given to the electoral officer. There can be no doubt about the casting of that vote and its location.

When the poll closes there is no way of knowing how many postal votes issued are likely to come back and what delays there may be. So there is some merit in a cut-off point for postal votes. The period of 14 days being amended by a valid suggestion to 13 days is reasonable, but there is absolutely no argument in support of denying a pre-poll vote or an absentee vote to an elector who has cast that vote prior to the close of the polls, the existence of that vote back in the electoral division being dependent upon its transmission. What happens is this: At the close of the poll each electoral office is compelled to make a list quickly of the pre-poll votes and the absentee votes in the electorates to which the votes apply. They are then compelled to send a telegraphic message to the particular electorates, saying: `I have here so many pre-poll votes and so many absentee votes for your electorate and I will send them to you'. The fact that that knowledge is known gives an imperative responsibility to the electoral system to include those votes.

Applying a time limit penalises the voter. The voter has made no mistake. The voter has cast his vote prior to the close of the poll. To apply a time limit is to say that misadventure, carelessness, can have a time limit on it. That is a nonsense. Ordinarily, in an electorate where this information has come to hand, the addition or otherwise of outstanding postal, absentee or pre-poll votes will not alter the result. The declaration can be made. And why not? It is amply clear that those votes cannot influence the show. But where an electorate is of such a margin that the introduction of those votes could alter the result, it would be outrageous to apply a time limit. It could be an encouragement to deliberate misadventure, a signal to some miscreant to say: `If I withhold these votes it will guarantee the present result'. I am not suggesting that there would be widespread dishonesty, but there would be provision for it.

Let us suppose that an electorate has a margin for a particular party of 20 votes, without having counted the pre-poll and absentee votes, and there are 60 votes to come from outside, and that we know that those votes favour a particular party. There is an incentive for someone with bad intent to obstruct the movement of those votes by, say, delaying them for 10 days. It is no good talking about appeals afterwards. Appeals are a messy business.

Save for this provision, the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform has tried to remove from the Act provisions which penalise the voter for any action, either witting or unwitting, caused by the prevailing electoral situation. The wrong marking of a ballot paper by an electorate officer does not, according to our recommendation, penalise the voter. If the voter has, with good intent, complied with the law I put it to the Minister that that voter has an absolute right for his vote to be counted. Whereas there is a justification for a time limit on postal votes because one has no way of knowing how many postal votes there are-although we should pressure all our missions and posts around the world to send in any votes they are withholding-fundamentally it is quite outrageous to say to a voter: You have cast your vote accurately and legally but, because of some defect in communication between the electoral office that holds your vote and the electoral office that ought to receive your vote, the time has passed and your vote is negated. That is quite outrageous and I suggest to the Minister that it ought not to occur.