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Friday, 15 December 1905

Mr KENNEDY (Moira) - I hope that the honorable member for Echuca will not press his amendment to a division. tit my opinion it would not be wise, in the first place, to insert such a provision in *-he Bill, whilst in the second it is reasonable to assume that if there be no constitutional difficulty in the way the Administration for the time being will take into consideration the desirableness of fixing a date that will best suit the convenience of the electors generally. No matter what, day be fixed for the holding of a general election, some one must be inconvenienced ; but it is highly undesirable that an election should take place during the shearing months or in December, inasmuch as it would be inconvenient for a large proportion of those engaged in rural industries. In view of our experience at the last general election, I think that if we decided that all future elections should be held a fortnight earlier in the year the convenience of all would be met. That might be arranged by executive act. If the suggestion made by the honorable member for Bland could be put into practice, I believe that it would be even more satisfactory ; but a glance at the records shows that there was very little difference between the votes polled in the farming districts at the first and second general elections. It cannot be denied, however,, that the last general election was held at the most inconvenient time of the year.

Mr. GROOM(Darling Downs- Minister of Home Affairs). - I would urge the honorable member for Echuca to withdraw his amendment, and I promise to consider the suggestions made by him, as well as those made by several other honorable members. It" we are in office when the time arrives to deal with this question, we shall consider, in the light of honorable members' experience, what is "the most suitable date on which' to hold the next general election, and' I undertake in the meantime to consider the very im- portant suggestion made by the honorable member* for Bland. Even if the honorable member for Echuca could pass his amendment, I should still hold that it would not be wise to embody such a provision in the Bill.

Mr McColl - May I take the Minister's statement as an assurance that the Government will arrange for the next general election to be held at a reasonable time?

Mr GROOM - When the matter comes up for consideration we shall endeavour, in the light of what has been said bv honorable members, to arrange the most suitable date ; but I cannot undertake to bind the Executive of the day. I am merely expressing my own personal view of the matter.

Mr. KINGO'MALLEY (Darwin). -I would point out that at the last general election the voting in the farming districts of Tasmania nearly doubled that of the first one, which was held in March. That serves to indicate that the time at which it was held was not altogether unsuitable, from the point of view of agriculturists.

Proposed new clause negatived. Schedule.

Form B verbally amended.

Mr. BATCHELOR(Boothby).- I think that this will be a convenient stage at which to discuss the question of whether claims should be witnessed. I invite honorable members to consider whether there is the slightest necessity for providing that an original claim to be placed on the roll should be witnessed. The advisability of requiring an application for a transfer from one polling place to another to be witnessed is apparent j but why should we enact that an ordinary claim for enrolment shall be wit.nessed, and that the witness shall be an elector? In some remote districts, where, perhaps, only half-a-dozen persons ate settled, not one of them would be able to get on the roll without travelling some distance to obtain the signature of an elector to his application form. It seems to me that such a system must tend to the disfranchisement of many people.

Mr Fisher - The police are all electors,

Mr BATCHELOR - Yes ; but they are not always available. . In any case, why should persons be put to a lot of trouble to procure witnesses to signatures, when nothing is gained by doing so ?

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member would be in order in discussing this matter only after having secured the recommittal of clause 17.

Form B, as amended, agreed to.

Forms C and K, verbally amended, and agreed to.

Mr, GROOM(Darling Downs - Minister of Home Affairs). - I think it only fair to point out to honorable members that in form O very important alterations have been made At the present time an elector is required, when voting, to place a cross at the end of the name of the candidate for whom he wishes his vote to be recorded j but we propose to alter the ballot-papers, so as to require the placing of this cross opposite and on the left side of the name of the candidate for whom the vote is to be recorded, because we think that that will lead to fewer informalities.

Mr. BATCHELOR(Boothby).- I think that the proposed alteration is a mistake. The present arrangement has worked well in South Australia for nearly half a century, and it has also been a success in Western Australia, .where the percentage of informal votes recorded has been very small, and, having been adopted now in two Commonwealth elections, has become familiar to the voters throughout Australia. Most people are right-handed, and, in placing a cross before the name of a candidate printed on a ballot-paper, can hardly avoid, in using the short carpenter's pencils which are provided, covering up all the names with their hands, whereas, if the cross is placed on the right hand side of the paper, after any particular name, this is impossible. The honorable member for Riverina lost some votes through informalities caused by the clumsy ballotpaper issued for the first election; but there were practically no informal votes cast on the second occasion, because I took care to have the ballot-paper properly revised. Mr. Boothby, the father of the Australian' ballot, who devoted a considerable part of his life to perfecting a system of balloting, has persistently assured the South Australian Department that fewer informalities occur when the voting-paper is marked on the right hand side, than take place when it is marked on the left hand side, and experience bear* out his statement. The specimen ballot-paper set forth in form 0 is faulty in several particulars. In the first place, it should provide for the placing of crosses on the righthand, and not on, the left hand side of the paper, and, in the second place, the squares opposite the candidates' names should not be separated by spaces of practically the same size, because that style of printing has caused electors to place their mark on the space between two squares, instead of in a square. In the third place, instead of printing trie Christian names and surnames of candidates in the one-sized type, the surnames should be printed in a larger and darker type than that used1 for -the Christian names. I move -

That form O be left out.

Mr. GROOM(Darling Downs- Minister of Home Affairs). - I would point out that under the Act the Chief Electoral Officer will have power to issue regulations. I much prefer that the squares shall be placed on the left-hand side. But if the Committee reject this proposal, I shall take their decision as a direction to place the squares on the other side.

Mr. SPENCE(Darling).- I hope that the Committee will adopt the Government proposal. No difficulty is experienced when candidates have ordinary names, but some of them have Christian names which might easily be mistaken for surnames. Take my own name, for instance. Some persons might vote for me under the impression that they were voting for a person named Guthrie. The square on the left-hand side is closest to the surname of the candidate, and, therefore, is in the best position for the guidance of the elector.

Mr. CHANTER(Riverina). - I trust that the form proposed by the Minister will be adopted. I know that at the last election a number of informal votes were recorded, owing to the squares being on the right-hand side of the ballot-paper. The records of the High Court show that a number of votes were rejected, because the crosses were put, not in the squares, but in the space intervening between the end of the name and the squares.

Mr Watson - The squares were placed on the left-hand side of the ballotpapersused for the election of representatives of New South Wales at the Federal Convention, and the proportion of informal votes was the smallest ever known.

Mr CHANTER - The honorable member for Bland has correctly stated the case. The honorable member for Boothby is apparently wedded to the practice that hasbeen followed in South Australia, but experience in other parts of the Commonwealth has shown that it is desirable to place the squares on the left-han'd side, close to the surnames of the candidates. I think that it would be advisable also to use a thick printer's rule for printing out the uneven spaces on the right-hand side of the paper.

Mr. JOHNSON(Lang). - I support the proposal that the squares should be placed on the right-hand side. There is a good deal in the contention that confusion will arise if the squares are placed on the lefthand side. It would be a. distinct improvement on the present system if the Christian names of candidates were made to precede their surnames, and the latter were brought out level, and as close as possible to the squares in which the voters had to mark their crosses. The surnames could be printed in heavy type to distinguish them from Christian names, so that the electors might not be misled by the resemblance of surnames to Christian names.

Mr. FRAZER(Kalgoorlie). - I share the opinion of the honorable member for Boothby. In the Electoral Act we adopted1 a specific form of ballot-paper to .which the electors in nearly all the States were unaccustomed. The proportion of informal votes at the last election could not be regarded as excessive, and, therefore, it may be assumed that the present system is satisfactory. Some of the States have followed the example of the Federal Parliament, in order to bring about uniformity, and if we adopt the Government proposal, we shall not only render it necesary to make a further explanation to the electors, but once more bring about want of uniformity. The present system has given universal satisfaction.

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