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Thursday, 3 October 1912

Senator HENDERSON (Western Australia) . - We can all echo the concluding sentence of Senator Vardon in connexion with this matter. Like Senator Millen, I feel that, if an error has been made, it is our duty to probe it as speedily as possible, in order that the wrong may be righted. But I am wondering whether Senator Millen has not been " a little previous." In the compilation of the figures which he has quoted, it is quite conceivable that such mistakes as those referred to by Senator Sayers have been made. That honorable senator told us that he has in his possession something like a dozen electoral forms that have been sent to him from Queensland. It is quite possible that, in consequence of their error in sending the forms to Melbourne, those persons are not on the roll at all. Again, it is quite likely that, through their peregrinations through the Commonwealth, a number of persons have been enrolled in two or three places.

Senator Millen - The electoral officers tell us that that is not so.

Senator HENDERSON - The officers may not, up to the present moment, have checked the whole of those enrolments and compared them with the signatures. As long as we have rolls there will always bo a possibility of error. Unless we can obtain a method by which enrolment can be abolished from our electoral system, it will not be possible to bring about such a condition of things as will prevent the inflation of rolls. I would also point out that people are not always in a position to make themselves thoroughly acquainted with the requirements of our Electoral Act. I believe it to be true, though the statement may sound strange, that no Commonwealth law has been so little noticed by the public press as our electoral law. The only information that has gone to the people through the medium of the press on that subject was the fact that the law was passed. At our post-offices and other buildings we have notices informing people how they are to sign forms; but probably only a small percentage of our population make themselves acquainted with that particular information.

Senator Millen - What the honorable senator is saying applies to nearly every Federal law in respect of the press of all the capital cities, except Melbourne.

Senator HENDERSON - The fact remains that scarcely any information has been disseminated concerning our electoral legislation.

Senator Sayers - Should not the Commonwealth Electoral Office do that?

Senator HENDERSON - The officers have published a good deal of information, but their publications do not reach all the electors. There are thousands upon thousands of people who are beyond the reach of information of the kind. Therefore, very many are ignorant of the law. Surely the persons who sent to Senator Savers from Queensland their application forms must have been ignorant of the law.

Senator Sayers - They did not know what they had to do.

Senator HENDERSON - I doubt whether it is possible for human ingenuity to devise an application form more simple than that which has been devised by the Commonwealth Electoral Office.

Senator Sayers - I was informed that the forms were issued broadcast, and any one could get them and fill them in.

Senator HENDERSON - I do not know how that could be. I am astonished to hear the statement. I know that my form was sent to me with the usual instructions. I filled it in, and sent it on to the Department. Every one was privileged to do the same.

Senator Shannon - It is compulsory.

Senator HENDERSON - That is so; it was the duty of every citizen to do the same. I do not know whether any other honorable senator has had an experience similar to that of Senator Sayers, but I know that I have not.

Senator Sayers - Senator Millen stated that when the cards were being left, if the head of a household asked for ten, he would be given them.

Senator HENDERSON - I do not know whether thatis so or not. In my own State, the very greatest care has been exercised. It should have been exercised, if it was not, in every other State. What we desire, and have always contended for, is a roll representing the voting power of the adult population of Australia. Nothing less will satisfy the people, and anything that will tend to provide us with such a roll will receive our strongest support. If anything can be done to rectify whatever may be wrong in the existing rolls, I hope it will be clone in the best interests of the community.

The PRESIDENT - The debate appears to be taking the form of a debate upon the conduct of the electoral law and the facilities given for enrolment. I think it necessary to remind honorable senators that Senator Millen's motion was submitted to discuss a matter of urgency, namely, the discrepancy between the population statistics and the electoral enrolment.

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