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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr FREETH (Forrest) (Minister for the Interior) . - The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) has used some very strong language to-night. He has cast doubts on the validity of nearly all our electoral procedures, not only in relation to this clause but also in relation to previous clauses which we have adopted. But he has not produced one scrap of evidence. The less evidence he has, the more vehement apparently his assertions become. I suggest that already there are provisions in this act which cover all the irregularities which he suggests exist. If there is the slightest shadow of evidence of the things which he has mentioned he should bring them to the notice of the proper authorities.

I know of no case where any evidence has been produced to support the assertions that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has made to-night. The Commonwealth Electoral Officer has no knowledge of the practices that he suggests exist. I know very well that a person who has been defeated at the polls never thinks that he has been defeated fairly, just as a prize fighter who has lost the world's championship always contends that he has been the victim of an unfair referee. The assertions that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has made to-night are just too fantastic for words.

The provisions covering postal voting were introduced by a Labour government in 1949. Whilst it is true that times change, it is interesting to read the reasons for the introduction of these provisions in 1949. The then Minister for Information and Minister for Immigration, who is the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) said -

Mr Whitlam - This sub-section was not amended in 1949. It has not been amended since 1928.

Mr FREETH - There was some amendment to the provisions of postal voting in 1949. I am sorry if I have made a mistake. At any rate the impression was sought to be conveyed that postal voting was going to be put on a basis that would prevent any racketeer from interfering with postal votes.

The whole thing boils down to this: The Labour Party has suggested that there might be malpractices, and in order to prevent those malpractices from happening it wants to deprive people of their franchise, lt proposes that a person who is ill and infirm, and whose place of living appearing on the roll is five miles or less from any polling booth, be denied a postal vote if he becomes ill within seven days of an election. It is quite immaterial whether he happens to be 1 mile or 100 miles from a polling booth when he is in bed or ill. If his place of residence, as shown on the roll, is less than five miles from a polling booth then he cannot get a postal vote.

Under the present postal voting provisions of the act, a postal vote is available to a man who will not be within the State, or will not be within five miles of a polling booth, or will be travelling on the day of the election. It is available to all those people; but if this amendment is carried, it will not be available to a man who is sick or infirm if he happens to live at an address on the roll within five miles of a polling booth. The position is quite absurd. This is a hastily considered amendment which has been brought in by the Labour Party to confuse an already complicated system. The amendment is unacceptable to the Government in its present form. Nobody is happy, except the Labour Government of New South Wales, with the provisions in New South Wales State legislation for absent postal voting. I suggest to the House that it would be a very retrograde step to write into this act something which would disfranchise a number of people just because the Labour Party, which is always very conscious of possible jiggery pokery at the ballot-box - it has had so much experience of it in trade union organizations - suspects that something wrong might be going on. Not one bit of evidence or proof has been adduced. No action has ever been taken to uncover or investigate any allegations that have been made. I suggest that it is most unjust to a lot of people who work hard for party organizations in a perfectly straightforward manner to try and include them in the sweeping assertions that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has made.

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