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Tuesday, 23 July 1946

Mr JOHNSON (Kalgoorlie) (Minister for the Interior) . - by leave -I move -

That the bill be now read a secondtime;.

This is a short and simple measure designed to modernize to a degree the Commonwealth Electoral Act and, in the main, its clauses are self-explanatory. It represents an overdue recognition of certain aspects of political campaigning that have developed since the principal actwas introduced in1918. The bill provides, first, that a candidate'sallowable expenditure in a Senate election shall be increased from £250 to £500, and in a House of Representatives election, from £100 to £250. The Government considers that these increases in permissible expenditure are necessary in order to bring about an equitable adjustment in the amount that a candidate iscalled upon to expend in presentday political contests at federal elections.

The existing rates of allowable expenditure are those contained in the original Electoral Act passed in 1902, and it would be fantastic to believe that the amount then considered sufficient to conduct a campaign would be viewed in the same light in present circumstances. It is interesting to note that in 1901 the total number of people in the Commonwealth eligible to vote was 447,993 as against 4,466,637 in 1943. The following table indicates the increase of the number of persons eligible to vote in each of the States during that period : -


The growth and spread of population have made the organizing of political campaigns more difficult, and vastly more expensive. I think it will also be agreed that money spent in election campaigns on goods and services in the early Commonwealth parliamentary contests went considerably farther than money . goes now, and, on this ground alone, a very substantial increase of allowable expenditure is justified in order to ensure that every candidate shall have a reasonable opportunity "to reach the whole of his electorate and to press his candidature.

Thebill also alters the wording of section 146 of the Electoral Act. This is due largely to the development and use. of broadcasting in political contests. Broadcasting has been found to be almost indispensable in the conduct of a campaign and is, as all honorable members will recognize, an expensive but effective method of campaigning.

Furthermore, it is recognized that the use of telephones has become indispensable in the modern technique of electoral campaigning. In recognition of these two factors, it is proposed to insert in section 146 of the act authority for the expense incurred in radio broadcasting, and the temporary installation and maintenance of telephones at a candidate's committee rooms, to "be regarded as a permissible expense.

It is proposed further to alter section 1 46 by substituting the word " places " for " halls " in the item authorizing expenditure on public meetings. The item will then apply to all places, not merely hall?, in respect of which expense is incurred in connexion with the holding of political meetings.

Honorable members will appreciate that the proposed new section 146 does not differ materially from the existing section, except that it revises and modernizes the items considered to be almost indispensable in election organization, whilst it leaves intact all those other items of expenditure that have been recognized in the act previously.

The third purpose of the bill is to incorporate in the Electoral Act, so as to ensure their continuity in relation to Commonwealth elections and referendums, those provisions in regard to electoral posters which have been in force since . 1943, in pursuance of regulations made under the National Security Act. The purport of these provisions is, first, to prohibit the exhibition of "posters intended or calculated to affect the. result of any election or referendum, of any size exceeding 60 square inches, and, secondly, to make it an offence for any person to write anything of an electioneering nature directly on any roadway, building, &c.

The Government believes that the continued application of these provisions concerning the size of poster's used in Commonwealth elections and referendums is completely justified at the present time because of the' shortage of materials used in such posters and signs. It might be interesting to mention at this point that, in. the last elections for the House of Representatives held in 1943, there were 345 candidates, all of whom would indulge to a gerater or less degree in the use of signs and posters in pursuance of their candidature. One type of advertising commonly used, namely, 6-ft. by 3-ft. calico signs, at a modest estimate of 50 signs for each candidate, would involve the use of over 40,000 yards of calico that is to-day in short supply.

It will be agreed, I think, by all reasonable people, that the use of such an enormous amount of material that is in short supply for a brief election campaign, after which it would be of no further use, could never be justified. Furthermore, it would involve the use of a considerable amount of timber, and even paper and newsprint are not so plentiful as to justify an 'alteration of the conditions laid down for the last federal election. The time has not yet arrived when we can revert to pre-war practices in electoral advertising. These restrictions do not give advantage to any party or candidate, and it is believed that their retention will be in the best interests of all concerned.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Menzies) adjourned.

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