Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 5 October 1927

Senator Sir WILLIAM GLASGOW (Queensland) (Minister for Defence) [3.17].- I move-

That the bill be now read a second time

It will be remembered that a joint committee of both Houses of Parliament was appointed early last year to enquire into the electoral law and procedure in relation to enrolment, postal voting, signed articles, polling facilities, and donations or gifts by members or candidates, and to report upon any additional safeguards necessary to prevent impersonation and duplicate voting. Later, the reference to the committee was extended to include informal voting, absent voting, joint rolls, and the administration of the compulsory sections of the Electoral Act. The committee is to be congratulated upon the very thorough investigation which it made and the completeness of its report and recommendations upon the subjects referred to it. It took evidence in all the States and examined many witnesses, including Members of Parliament, Commonwealth and State, electoral officials, representatives of political organisations of all parties, professional men, journalists, govern1 ment printers, postal and police officials, and individual members of the public who gave evidence voluntarily or by request. The report of the committee was presented to the Senate on the 3rd March, 1927, and this measure to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act is now introduced to give effect to certain of the committee's recommendations. In addition to the amendments arising out of the recommendations of the committee the bill contains some further proposed amendments suggested by the Chief Electoral Officer. I shall deal first of all. with the committee's recommendations in the order appearing in the report, and in so far as legislative action is necessary. With reference to enrolment, the committee recommended that the qualifying period of residence for enrolment in a sub-division should be three months instead of one month, and that the disqualifying period of three months should be permitted to elapse, after the removal of an elector from a sub-division, before an objection might be made to the retention of his name on the roll. If this recommendation were adopted the rolls used at an election "would be very much out of date. Under the present law, having regard to the period which elapses between the issue of a writ, when the rolls are closed, and the polling, together with the qualifying residential period of one month, it is not possible for a person who changes his place of living within ten weeks of polling day, to make a corresponding change in his enrolment. To further extend this period by an additional two months would not be desirable. Further, the Commonwealth has already entered into agreements for a joint roll with three States - Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania - and hopes, in the near future, to effect a similar agreement with Western Australia, upon the basis of a qualifying period of one month for enrolment, and a disqualifying period of similar duration for objection to retention of enrolment. It would be impracticable to maintain efficient joint rolls with the divergent qualifications which the committee's recommendation in this respect would introduce. For these reasons the recommendations has not been accepted. A further suggestion by the committee deals with the adoption of a claim card providing for all information to be furnished by the elector being on one side and recuiring one signature only. This will be effected by regulation, and therefore does not require legislative action. Under the head ing,, postal voting, the bill provides for a "reduction of the distance from a polling booth, from ten to five miles, as a ground upon which an elector may obtain a postal vote, and also that an application for a postal vote may be witnessed by any elector. Further, it enlarges the list of persons who may act as authorized witnesses. These amendments are desirable in view of the introduction of compulsory voting. Provision is also made for the im- - position of a penalty on a person who, being entrusted with an application for a postal vote, fails to post it.

With reference to the signing of political articles the bill provides that the leading articles in the columns, of a newspaper and reports of meetings which do not contain comment shall not be required to be signed by the writer; otherwise the existing law will remain unaltered. It is generally recognized that the leading articles in a newspaper set forth the policy of the journal, and there does not seem to be any need to require such articles to bear a signature. The bill s makes provision for several alterations of the existing law with regard to polling facilities. .It adopts 7 o'clock as the hour for closing the poll. In Queensland the poll at State elections closes at 6 o'clock, and in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, at 7 o'clock. It is con- sidered that every elector who desires to vote will have ample opportunity to do so between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. The new provision will enable blind persons and persons so physically incapacitated as to be unable personally to mark their ballotpapers to be accompanied into the voting compartments by a person selected by themselves to mark their papers for them. It will also permit votes recorded under the provisions of section 121 of the act under a misapprehension on the part of the presiding officer or the elector, to be admitted to the scrutiny, in cases where the elector is fully entitled to vote. Certain recommendations made by the committee regarding " How to Vote " cards, canvassing, and the hiring (.f motor cars, are not included in the bill. N The committee's re- . commendation upon the subject of donations bv members of Parliament has been adopted with slight modifications. The bill provides in clause 23 - (1.) No member of Parliament shall offer promise or give directly or indirectly any gift, donation or prize to or for any club or other association or institution:

Provided that it shall not be a contravention of this section for a member of Parliament to contribute, or to offer or promise to contribute, to the funds of a hospital, a charitable body, an educational institution, a pastoral, agricultural or horticultural society, a memorial, or a church of which he is a member, or to contribute to church collections.

Penalty: Ten pounds, (2.) No proceedings shall be taken for a contravention of this section except within three months after the act complained of.

With a view to minimizing informal voting the committee recommended that the name of the party to which a candidate belongs should be shown on the ballotpaper. This suggestion has not been adopted. It will be remembered that, as far as the Senate is concerned, the names of candidates are shown in groups in accordance with an arrangement agreed to by the severalcandidates offering themselves for election. The committee's report relating to absent voting and joint rolls does not contain anything requiring legislative action. Joint rolls are at present maintained in Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania. In Western Australia the Parliament has now a bill before it which, when passed, will enable a joint roll to be established in that State. Further representations will be made upon this subject to the Governments of New South Wales and Queensland. The only recommendation under the heading, " Administration of the Compulsory Sections of the Act," is that an amendment should be made to provide for a minimum fine of 10s. for failure to vote. This is included in the bill, it having been ascertained that in some cases fines as low as 1s. have been imposed. It is thought that this leniency encourages a disregard of the compulsory voting law.

The committee suggested that the forms relating to "declaration" votes should be simplified. It was considered that there were too many of these forms and that they were too complicated. In this connexion the Chief Electoral Officer suggested a re-casting and simplification of the questions put to electors at the polling. Provision is made in the bill to give effect to this suggestion, and, incidentally, to reducethe number of forms of declaration and to simplify them. These proposed amendments are contained in clauses 2 and14 of the bill. Clause 2 provides that an elector, who on polling day does not live in the division for which he is enrolled, may vote in respect of that division if his real place of living was in that division at any time within the preceding three months. It also defines " real place of living " to include the place of living to which an elector temporarily absent intends to return for the purpose of continuing to live thereat. Without materially alteringthe present law, the clause puts the position more clearly. Clause 14 simplifies the questions regarding an elector's place of living which may be put to an elector at the polling. In the first place it eliminates the question regarding temporary residence by providing a definition of the meaning of the words " real place of living"; and secondly, it prescribes a simple question that the elector can readily understand as to whether, if he is not living in the division in which he is enrolled, he has lived therein at any time within the preceding three months. It further provides that the answers " Yes " or " No " to the prescribed questions shall govern the question of the elector's right to vote, and thus avoid the necessity of providing for a " declaration " form of voting. Additional amendments suggested by the Chief Electoral Officer havebeen included in the bill, and will be explained in the committee stage.

In bringing forward this bill, I should like to say that we are indebted to the joint electoral committee for the very valuable services it has rendered, and that when legislative effect is given to its recommendations the electoral system, in which we are all deeply interested and upon which so much depends, will be vastly improved.

Debate (on motion by Senator Needham) adjourned.

Suggest corrections