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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr BIRD (Batman) (3:26 AM) .- I do not propose to quote many statistics, but the fact remains that you can take statistics in any State for any candidate and for any party, and you must come to the conclusion that the man whose name is at the top of the ballot-paper receives a preference so far as votes are concerned. 1 quoted at the second-reading stage an instance where D.L.P. candidates in Victoria in twelve electorates secures 91,000 votes' of 538,000, that is 16.9 per cent. In 21 other electorates, where the candidates were not at the top of the ballot-paper, they received 117,000 votes of 866,000, that is 13.5 per cent. - a difference of just on 3i per cent. In each State the figures relatively are much the same.

The position is that we recognize the inequity of allowing candidates whose names start with the first letters of the alphabet, to have an advantage so far as the Senate is concerned. We had the famous example in New South Wales where the names of four Labour candidates started with A, and naturally they headed the ballot-paper. Now, everybody connected with politics knows that candidates wait with bated breath to hear the result of the draw for places on the Senate ballot-paper. There is as much interest in the draw for places on the Senate ballot-paper as there is in the drawing of a f 100,000 prize in the lottery. There is not the slightest doubt on that point because every party recognizes that if its candidates are placed first on the ballot-paper, they gain a definite electoral advantage. If a party is successful in that way its officials rub their hands with glee because they know that the placing of its candidates at the top of the ballot-paper will help them in the election. That is an incontrovertible fact.

Why cannot the Government adopt the same method in House of Representatives elections and refuse to give preference to those fortunate people whose names start with the letters A. B. C or another early letter of the alphabet? I cannot understand the reluctance of the Government to change the present system. It is true that the Labour Party supported the present system, but the Labour Party is a progressive party. When it supported the legislation providing for the placing of candidates in alphabetical order on the ballot-paper for the House of Representatives it thought that the system would work; but over the years it has realized that it does not work. I say that as a candidate whose name starts with the letter B, and as one who has always been at the top of the ballot-paper. I must confess that a candidate whose name, like mine, starts with an early letter of the alphabet has an advantage over a candidate whose name starts with the letter W, T or S. Why is the Government reluctant to make a change? Why is it prepared to retain two different systems of placing candidates' names on ballot-papers in elections for the two Houses of the Parliament? The Minister may have an explanation, but one does not occur to me and I doubt whether any explanation could be supported statistically. As I say, every one hopes that when the draw is made, his group will be first on the ballot-paper. The figures undoubtedly prove that the first group on the Senate ballot paper is given a preference. Unknown parties whose candidates do very little work during an election campaign receive an undue proportion of votes if placed first on the ballot paper. The position with the House of Representatives can be seen by an examination of absentee votes. If a person does not receive a how-to-vote card because he is absent in the country, he will frequently give his first vote to the candidate at the top of the ballot-paper. Absentee voters simply write, one, two, three down from the top of the paper. The Government should be consistent. If it is, it will change the system, because it must realize that the Government parties are happy when they are given first place on the Senate ballot-paper.

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