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Thursday, 3 October 1912

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) . - I think we shall all agree that the speech of Senator Millen has ventilated a matter that was worthy of ventilation; a subject, also, which is of considerable interest both to the Commonwealth and the States. It seems to me that the honorable senator is in what may be called a winning position; he is bound to win either way. That is to say, if we can destroy his estimate from the electoral point of view, we stand to lose from the financial point of view ; and if we can show that his position is unsound from the financial point of view our electoral position will appear to be somewhat weak. But I think a little investigation will satisfy honorable senators that the case is not quite so black as the honorable senator has tried to make out. There is a dispute at present between the Commonwealth Statistician and the New South Wales State Statistician as to estimated population. The estimates, of course, are based upon the records kept since the census was taken. The State is claiming that the Commonwealth Statistician's estimate of the population of New South Wales on the 30th June, 191 2, is below the right figure. The honorable senator has quoted figures in order to show that the electoral enrolment is an inflated one. He has given two sets of figures from which we can draw that conclusion ; one based upon the statistics supplied by the Commonwealth Statistician and the other upon those supplied by the State Statistician. But while those figures are undoubtedly put forward by responsible authorities, it has to be borne in mind, when you take what they give as an estimate of the number of adults who would be entitled to enrolment, that if you cannot show that the estimate upon which they have based their conclusion as to the number of adults comprised in the total is a reliable basis, there is not much weight in the argument. Let us say that the Commonwealth Statistician's estimate is correct when he tells us that out of the total number of people in the State 909,000 are of adult age; or, to put it as the Commonwealth Statistician does, that 909,000 to 912,000 are of an adult age.

Senator Millen - He did not put it in that way to me.

Senator PEARCE - That is the way in which the figures before me are put. It shows that you cannot fix any arbitrary number. We have to ask ourselves, there- foreshow do the Statisticians arrive at their ''figures ? Obviously they do not arrive at them by taking the census statistics showing the age groups.

Senator Millen - That is just the way in which they do arrive at their figures, if the honorable senator will pardon me.

Senator PEARCE - Not as far as the estimate is concerned. They take the census figures as a basis, but as far as the figures for 1912 are concerned they must perforce base their calculations upon past experience and the figures of the census. Past experience is, however, a moving quantity. It is affected by all sorts of varying conditions. It varies in different States. Let me indicate what I mean. I do not think that the group statistics of the census for 1911 are yet available, but I can take the group figures for 1901. which are just as good to illustrate my point. At that time, Western Australia had a total population of 184,124. Of that number, 114,705 were persons over the age of twenty-one, and only 69,000 were under that age. In other words, twothirds of the total population of Western Australia at that time were over the age of twenty-one. In South Australia, on the other hand, out of a total population of 363,157, only 186,406 were over the age of twenty-one; whilst 175,751 were under the age of twenty-one. Whereas in Western Australia two-thirds of the population were over the age of twenty-one, in South Australia one half the population were adults, whilst the remainder were minors. If you had formed an average for the Commonwealth, and applied the honorable senator's reasoning, you could have demonstrated that a great injustice was being done to South Australia, because she was not given credit for the percentage of adults- which she had. It must be remembered that the figures quoted by either the Commonwealth Statistician or the New South Wales Statistician are not such figures as are collected by the census, showing age groups, but are based upon past experience, and the statistics, so far as they can be secured, of the excess of births over deaths, and of immigration over emigration.

Senator Millen - The Minister will admit that the estimate I referred to, being for the twelve months immediately following the census, is likely to be approximately correct.

Senator PEARCE - It may be approximately correct, but I have shown that the figures quoted by the honorable senator cannot be accepted as more than approximate.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator means that the average for the whole of the Commonwealth cannot be used as the basis of the argument.

Senator PEARCE - I do not say that. I say that the figures, even for one State, are liable to considerable fluctuation because of the varying conditions. If, for instance, there is a considerable increase in immigration, it will follow that the proportion of adults to the total population will be increased; and, on the contrary, if there should be a falling-off in immigration, the proportion of adults to the total population will show a decrease.

Senator Clemons - Has the Commonwealth Statistician, in ascertaining the number of adults in New South Wales, adopted the adult average for the whole of the Commonwealth, or the adult average for New South Wales?

Senator PEARCE - He has adopted the average for New South Wales.

Senator Clemons - Then his estimate should be correct, and the honorable senator's arguments from the figures for Western Australia fails.

Senator PEARCE - I have pointed out that the figures for each State are liable to fluctuation, and are affected by the movements of immigration, and by the increase or decrease of the birth rate. I am given to understand that the State Statistician takes the view that the total enrolment to which New South Wales is entitled is not, as given by the Commonwealth electoral authorities, 935,000, but is 940,000. I propose to read to the Senate the following memorandum which has been compiled by the electoral authorities as bearing upon this matter -

According to the census figures of 3rd April, 1911, the population of New South Wales, exclusive of those coming within the disqualifications for the purpose of fixing the representation of the States (section 29 of the Constitution) was 1,646,734.

The corresponding figures for Victoria were


Senator Millen - The honorable senator will permit me to say that, while the note is that most, and not all, are probably adults, all are added to make the total.

Senator PEARCE - That is so. The memorandum continues -


The totals as at the 31st March, 1912, as estimated by the Commonwealth Statistician, were : -


The population of New South Wales was thus held to have increased during the twelve months by 41,034, and of Victoria by 60,962.

These figures have been questioned by the State Statisticians, who, it is understood, hold that the actual population of New South Wales is substantially in excess of the estimate, and that of Victoria substantially below the estimate; and that some error may have arisen through incorrect figures being supplied to the Commonwealth Statistician.

Assuming the population figures as at the 31st March, as estimated by the Commonwealth Statistician, to be correct, the electoral population of New South Wales - after making all deductions for disqualified and unqualified persons - will probably be from 909,000 to 912,000, or on the State Statist's estimate 921,000 to 924,000.

The electoral collection, however, for the New South Wales rolls - representing 935,744 electors - includes names up to the end of July, 1912, and, therefore, for purposes of comparison with enrolment a substantial addition, must be made to the adult population figures as at the 31st March, representing persons coming of age, immigrants becoming qualified, &c.

Briefly, the enrolment figures were obtained as the result of a canvass by experienced police officers acting under clear instructions, and the number of duplications occurring as the result of persons changing their places of living during the period covered by the canvass may be taken to be relatively small. These duplications will be discovered and removed in due course, when the Card Index now in course of preparation is arranged.

I understand that a conference has recently been held between the State Statistician of New South Wales and representatives of the Statistical Branch of the Home Affairs Department, and that the discrepancy between the two sets of figures, as regards the census population, is being threshed out. But, even accepting Senator Millen's figures as based upon those of the New South Wales Statistician, and adding 10,000, as he said, bringing the State Statistician's figures up to 931,000, we have to add also the figures for the month of July, which the honorable senator did not include. It will then be seen that the figures are practically those of the Common wealth electoral enrolment.

Senator Millen - The Minister must, on that basis, assume that every adult in the Commonwealth entitled to be enrolled, is enrolled.

Senator PEARCE - There may be some duplication which the card system will reveal, and that might account for much of the excess of the enrolment figures as compared with the estimated number of adults. I venture to say it will not represent the difference which Senator Millen suggests, because, when the honorable senator refers to the percentages of enrolment of the estimated adult population in the different States, he overlooks the fact that the card system has not been in operation for a sufficiently long time to bring about a complete roll. It is claimed by those who have made a special study of the system that it will give surprisingly good results, not only in providing a complete roll, but also a roll that will not be stuffed.

Senator Vardon - It depends on how it is worked.

Senator PEARCE - The results from any system of the kind must, of course, depend on its administration. But I have stated what is claimed for the card system, and Senator Millen has himself admitted that if it is administered as it should be, it should provide a very complete roll.

Senator Millen - No; I said it should prevent duplicate enrolment.

Senator PEARCE - Yes; and honorable senators must bear in mind that we have made provision for compulsory enrolment.

Senator Millen - Which the Government are not game to enforce.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator should not make any mistake about that. It has never been in existence before, and the card system, combined with compulsory enrolment, should not merely prevent duplication, but should give us a practically complete roll. If the census can be made complete, there is no reason why, for electoral purposes, we should not have a complete roll.

Senator Millen - Why have we not got it in four States out of the six?

Senator PEARCE - Because, as I have said, the card system and the compulsory enrolment have not been in force for a sufficient length of time. The enrolment figures given are based upon the latest roll compiled under the card system.. The police, under instructions from the State authorities, have now for some time been collecting the rolls. They have no doubt perfected their system, and in those States where we have a thorough house-to-house canvass by the police, we should, in conjunction with the compulsory enrolment provision, get a roll which will be as complete as is the census. Whilst I agree that Senator Millen is doing his State and the country a service in bringing forward this matter, and whilst it is complicated by the dispute between the Commonwealth Statistician and the State Statistician of New South Wales, which a conference is being held to decide, there is still reasonable ground for the belief that the figures given by the Commonwealth Electoral authorities, upon which the redistribution has been made, are approximately correct.

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