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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr REYNOLDS (Barton) .- It is quite unrealistic for the Minister for the

Interior (Mr. Freeth) and other honorable members on the Government side to adopt the sanctimonious attitude that they have never heard of electoral misdemeanours having occurred. We are grateful to the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm) for his frank acknowledgement that these things, do occur and for his contribution, in a positive way I hope, to remedy this sort of thing so that democratic procedures in the community will command respect in the future. The Labour Party is ready to try to correct the things it knows about. We have all heard about them, but they are not very easily proved. That is a frank statement of the position. To my mind there is no reason to doubt that these things go on, but if I were asked to prove in a court of law that they go on I admit I would be pretty hard put to it to do so. That is a frank statement of the matter.

I understand that even more subtle things go on in some places. A canvasser goes to a sick person and says, "Just sign here, you will be all right and it will save you £2 ". The canvasser then fills in the ballot-paper himself. Some have even gone so far as to unstick an envelope. I believe that that is not hard to do.

Mr Halbert - Is that how you instruct your supporters?

Mr REYNOLDS - Why misconstrue the position? Why play around like this? Why not be honest and be a participant in cleaning up abuses in the electoral system if you think that they occur. That is what we are trying to do. I am not a party to this sort of thing and I imagine that you would not be a party to them either. I give you credit for not encouraging this sort of thing and for discouraging it, and I would certainly do the same.

Mr Halbert - To-night is the first time I heard about it.

Mr REYNOLDS - At any rate, apart from the misdemeanours that I have referred to there is the other unfortunate fact that we are dealing mainly with sick people. What happens, of course, is that in a close electorate canvassers go around as soon as they hear that somebody down the street is sick. They rush down to see if they can organize a postal vote application. The hospital authorities complain bitterly about these things. Surely honorable members have heard about these things. Hospital authorities complain bitterly about canvassers rushing into people who are dangerously ill - people who have been taken to hospital suddenly with appendicitis or some other trouble. The canvassers rush in to try to arrange a postal vote for these people.

To my mind, wherever possible, elections should be conducted by an authorized officer of the Electoral Office and should not be primarily in the hands of party participants or supporters. It has often been said, although it has become a bit laboured by now, that justice must not only be done but must also appear to be done. While you have this practice of party supporters racing around chasing into homes of sick people, pestering them, aggravating them, and irritating them we should not be satisfied. In many cases the sick person is all too ready to say, "Will you take it away and fill it in for me? I do not want to be bothered with this sort of thing." That is no way for respectable democratic government to be carried on.

Where it is at all possible I think votes should be registered in the presence of a duly authorized electoral officer. That is what we are trying to do. I am not going to say that the proposal that the Labour Party has put up, based substantially on the New South Wales procedure, is perfect, but I think it is at least superior to what goes on at present. I share the frank opinion of the honorable member for Bowman that we ought to try to do something about the matter. I do not imagine that a lot of people suddenly become ill in the vicinity of a particular polling booth seven days before polling day. This amendment will not affect a lot of people. It should be possible to cater for people within this range of a polling booth almost up to polling day. I should like to see a genuine attempt made to get over the difficulty I have mentioned and to ensure that wherever possible votes are recorded in the presence of an electoral officer. If desired, party supporters could be present as scrutineers.

I know that in the big hospitals in Sydney in the vicinity of my electorate an electoral visitor goes to the hospital, and there is no wrangling between hospital officials and party supporters as a result of party supporters alleging that the hospital officials are favouring one party or another. At times there is a suspicion that a hospital secretary who admits people to canvass for postal votes gives preference to officials of the same political faith as himself. These are some of the things that do occur. There should be impartiality, and an appearance of impartiality, by having present an electoral officer to record postal votes and, if possible, to deal with applications for votes. Certain big hospitals do not allow party officials to go in and solicit applications. As soon as patients are admitted to the big hospitals in Sydney of which I have some knowledge, the secretary provides them with an application for a postal vote. They are all sent in together. The hospital arranges as far as possible for all the ballotpapers to be returned on the same day. Then the electoral officer is invited to come up and collect the votes. That arrangement seems to me to have been eminently successful.

I shall be as frank as supporters of the Government have been and say that I know of the criticism that people are disfranchised. I do not want to see anybody disfranchised. I have no reason to believe that the number of people who are disfranchised because of sudden illness during the last week of an election campaign is preponderantly greater on one side of politics as against the other. The party allegiance of persons who become ill is a matter of chance. Even if I know that such persons were likely to be supporters of the Opposition, I would still take the view that wherever possible they should be provided with an opportunity to vote and that wherever possible that vote should be recorded in the presence of an electoral officer. If party supporters want to provide scrutineers, that would be all right. But I repeat that wherever possible the votes should be registered in the presence of a duly accredited electoral officer.

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