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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr FREETH (Forrest) (Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works) (12:10 PM) . - There is no very great difference of opinion between the Opposition and the Government regarding the result that it is desired this clause should have. The Opposition desires to have it written into the clause that scrutineers must be permitted up to the number of ballot boxes being counted at any one time. The intention of the Government is that scrutineers will be permitted up to the number of tables which are being used in a booth to count the votes. In most cases, that is virtually the same thing. The Opposition has asked that such a provision be written in precisely. We prefer to leave it a little indefinite, a little within the discretion of the presiding officer, under the direction of the assistant returning officer, because there are two points which have to be taken into consideration.

First, there are occasions in some of the States when a large ballot box is used and a quantity of votes may be counted from one ballot box at two or possibly even three tables. The counting could be going on and, under Labour's proposal, in theory only one scrutineer would be permitted. The other point which must be considered goes to the opposite extreme. We have heard to-night some startling allegations of improper conduct during elections.

Mr Curtin - You know they are right.

Mr Whitlam - Not at the count.

Mr FREETH - Let us imagine that somebody wants to take advantage of those conditions. Let us imagine that there is a polling booth where counting is going on at three tables simultaneously. In theory, if there are fifteen Senate candidates there can be 45 scrutineers milling around the polling booth, and if there are four candidates for the House of Representatives there can be another twelve scrutineers representing those candidates, if three ballot boxes are being counted simultaneously. All those people could cause absolute chaos in the counting, because there would be no chance for the presiding officer or any one else to see that hanky-panky was not going on.

Mr Curtin - That is going to extremes.

Mr FREETH - Of course it is. We heard some extreme cases about loopholes mentioned here to-night. How much chance would there be to guard against such practices if there was a whole army of scrutineers moving about at any one time? The chances of malpractices occurring would be multiplied excessively.

I suggest that the provision that the Government proposes to insert in the act leaves the way open for a sensible degree of cooperation between the major political parties which are likely to appoint scrutineers and the divisional returning officer, or people under his direction who are conducting the count. We believe that on this basis a proper scrutiny of the poll will be possible. I suggest that it is not desirable to adopt the precise form proposed by the Labour Party. We wish to allow more scrutineers, to enable a proper scrutiny to be made, but not to the point of absurdity.

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