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Wednesday, 3 May 1961


Mr DALY (Grayndler) .- I was very interested in the comments of the

Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Osborne) and the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth), who is in charge of the bill. I refuse to believe that the Minister who is in charge of the electoral affairs of this country could be as naive as the statements of the Minister for Repatriation imply. It is quite clear, as has been said by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) and the honorable member for Bowman (Mr. McColm), that there is adequate scope for the unscrupulous, cunning or sharp campaigner, irrespective of the party to which he belongs. It is quite outside the capacity of the electoral officer to control tactics which may change entirely the trend of postal voting. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) did not make the charge that the electoral officials were corrupt in any way; but he did imply that the electoral machinery at present in operation leaves the way open for people who are unscrupulous and who are beyond the control of the electoral officer to take advantage of the loopholes that exist.

As honorable members know, the Electoral Act provides that when applications for postal votes are received they shall lie on the table of the electoral officer. 1 had this experience years ago in the electorate that is represented by the Minister for Repatriation: The Liberal Party had a couple of very competent officials in the electoral office each day. They exercised their right to peruse the applications. The ballot-papers were generally posted on the same day. The party had an organizer stationed at the top of the street in which the applicant lived and, as the postal vote went into the house, so did the organizer. I do not say that there was anything wrong with that except that the aged or ill person who was approached was probably delighted to have some one there to fill in the form or to assist him. In many cases - no doubt in all cases - those people acted in good faith. But it was quite easy for any organizer who may have been unscrupulous to do what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has suggested could be done.

These things are common knowledge to party organizers, and I cannot believe that the Minister would be so naive as to say that it does not happen. I agree that possibly the New South Wales act is not perfect, but at least it does attempt to make certain that people who previously did not cast a secret vote are given .the right and the opportunity, upon the arrival of an electoral visitor, to cast their vote as they would at a polling booth or any other place. It is idle to say that people are disfranchised. It may happen in some cases, but under the terms of the amendment a postal vote could be cast when the elector resides more than five miles from a polling booth. There are mobile booths in hospitals, and electoral visitors call at certain other places.

In view of the naive comments that have been made by the Minister for Repatriation, I should like to quote figures relating to his electorate. It is interesting to note, as a result of the survey that I have made of Commonwealth electoral figures, that in safe Labour seats the trend in postal voting is substantially less than the trend in voting at the polling booths and that in some safe Liberal seats the trend in postal voting is 10 per cent, above that in ordinary voting. That applies also in borderline seats. I refer now to what happened at the 1958 election. Instead of relying upon information received from somebody else, I shall rely upon the electoral papers that were supplied to me by the electoral officer. In the borderline seat of Evans, the Minister for Repatriation received 51.99 per cent, of the formal primary votes that were cast in the ordinary way and 66.5 per cent, of the formal postal votes. It is first-class organization! I make no charges, but many things could easily have occurred without his knowledge, as instanced to-night by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam). In the Phillip electorate, 51 per cent, of the ordinary formal votes and 54 per cent, of the postal votes went to the Liberal candidate. In Lyne, 68 per cent, of the postal votes and only 53 per cent, of the ordinary votes favoured the Country Party candidate. In Riverina 61 per cent, of the postal votes went to the Country Party candidate, but he got only 53 per cent, of the ordinary votes. First-class organization! Who knows, somewhere along the line, unknown to those candidates, some clever, unscrupulous and shrewd campaigner may have changed the vote, yet the Minister has said the number of informal postal votes is less than the number of informal ordinary votes. No shrewd cam paigner wants to add to the number of informal votes. He will change a paper to suit himself or make sure that the postal vote is posted too late, so that it will not get to the electoral office in time.

The trend of voting is practically the same all over Australia. In borderline Labour seats like St. George, 51 per cent, of the ordinary votes but only 40 per cent, of the postal votes went to the successful candidate. Similarly, in the electorate of Barton, the Labour candidate got 51 per cent, of the ordinary votes and only 40 per cent, of the postal votes. In Eden-Monaro, the Labour candidate got 53 per cent, of the ordinary votes and 48 per cent, of the postal votes. In Parkes, 51 per cent, of the booth votes went to Labour and only 40 per cent, of the postal votes. In some areas there are skilled organizers paid to work against the Labour people - I make no charges on these matters - but I do not doubt that all parties at some stage have some person who, unknown to the candidate, is able to do these things. In the safe Liberal seat of Warringah 83 per cent, of the postal votes went to the successful candidate, but he got only 73 per cent, of the booth votes. In Richmond, 78 per cent, of the postal votes, or nearly eight out of ten, went to the successful Country Party candidate, and only 69 per cent, of the booth votes. In Bradfield, 85 per cent, of the postal votes went to the Liberal candidate, and he got only 75 per cent, of the booth 'votes. In Wentworth, 79 per cent, of the postal votes went to the Liberal candidate, and only 69 per cent, of the booth votes. In New England, the Country Party candidate received 76 per cent, of the postal votes and only 59 per cent, of the booth votes.

What is the trend of postal voting in safe Labour seats? In West Sydney, the Labour Party candidate got 58 per cent, of the postal votes and 65 per cent, of the ordinary votes in the booths, which shows that even in that electorate a candidate can be beaten by the postal votes. Similarly, in Blaxland 60 per cent, of the postal votes went to the Labour candidate and 63 per cent, of the ordinary votes. In Darling, Hunter, East Sydney and my own seat, Grayndler, which are held by Labour by big majorities of 63 to 70 per cent, of the vote, in each case the postal vote is below the average, which proves that there is skilled organization throughout. Many of these anomalies have to be stamped out.

We do not say that the system is perfect. I mention in passing that I have taken these figures from practically all the States in the Commonwealth and with one or two isolated exceptions it is significant that the trend of postal voting is right against that of ordinary voting, particularly in the Labour seats. In the case of the Liberal seats it may be said that they are better organized, but that is not always so. The fact of the matter is that, as the honorable member for Barton. (Mr. Reynolds) has stated, this system lays itself open to manipulation. Some one could take a postal vote from a person and either fill it in or alter it as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has said, or, if it cannot be changed, that person can make sure that it will not reach the electoral office in time. That may account to some extent for the lack of informal postal votes and it would be interesting to have figures of the late arrivals of postal votes.

This is an attempt to alter the system so that people will be able to record postal votes in a ballot-box secretly, just as they would in a polling booth and in that way have a secret vote equivalent, to all intents and purposes, to that recorded in a polling booth. It is idle to say that the system in New South Wales does not act to the advantage of all parties. It is no use saying it has been adopted in order that Labour may get all the votes. In the Liverpool Plains electorate, under the system which we are endeavouring to write into this act, the successful Country Party candidate won by a few votes. He had, in respect of postal votes, a majority of 141 to ten, or something like that. So, it is no use saying that the system is all for the benefit of the Labour Party and that a person may be disfranchised. Much as I dislike to see any person who is entitled to a vote disfranchised, if the odd one has to suffer in order to close the loopholes which exist under the present system, this change will be well justified. I cannot agree with those who say we should just let the whole thing go.

I should like to think that every one was honest under this system and did not try to get votes in the way that has been suggested. But do not forget that postal votes win elections. There are some members here in all parties who had very narrow majorities and we have had cases where seven or eight votes mattered. In the Lismore by-election in the State sphere a candidate won by two votes, and they were postal votes. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) on one occasion led by about 1,200 votes, but ultimately he won by about 100 votes. Nine out of every ten postal votes were against him. A change is necessary.







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