Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 7 October 1927

Senator ANDREW (Victoria) . - I commend the committee which enquired into our electoral law arid procedure for the excellent work it accomplished and for the valuable report submitted to the Government. I do not think, however, that sufficient attention was given to the method of conducting Senate elections. I anticipated that it would obtain evidence " in favour of simplifying the present method of , electing honorable senators. I am' pleased to see that the bill provides for dispensing with an official witness to applications for, and the actual marking of, postal ballot-papers which entails a considerable amount of work and inconvenience. I contend that it would be sufficient if the elector made a written application for the ballot-paper, which could be returned by post. I do not know whether the committee gave attention to the manner in which postal ballot papers are sent in large numbers to one address, which, in some cases, is not the address at which the applicant resides. Postal ballot-papers should be returned direct to the person making the application - and to the' address from which the application was made. That would assist in minimizing corruption and irregularities at elections. I am surprised to find members of the Labour party opposed to postal ballotpapers being issued to sick persons. One would think, from the opinions some have expressed, that it is a crime to be indisposed. Sick persons should not be disfranchised, but should be provided with every facility for voting. In four of the States polling booths at State elections are closed at 7 o'clock, or earlier. There has been a strong agitation throughout the Commonwealth during recent months for a reduction in working hours, and it is surprising to find that members of the Labour party are opposed to a reduction in the number of . hours during which electoral officials should work. If the polling booths were closed at 7 o'clock - it is 6 o'clock in Queensland - instead of 8 o'clock as is the law at present 'no one would be inconvenienced. It is unreasonable to expect electoral officials to work at high pressure for twelve hours.

Senator Thompson - If the hour of closing were made 7 o'clock the count could commence much earlier.

Senator ANDREW - Yes, and the re- suits would be known sooner. Although provision is made for electors to reside for at least one month in the electorate in which they are to record their votes, it would be wise to increase the period to three months, because the present system leads to a good deal of duplicate enrolment. An elector's name frequently appears on an original roll and also on a supplementary roll.

Senator Grant - That' is not so.

Senator ANDREW - I have been an election agent for over 30 years and know that such is the case.

Senator Grant - An elector's name is removed from the official roll before it is placed on a supplementary roll.

Senator ANDREW - There is not always time to do that. Sometimes the original rolls have been printed, and the name of an elector who has removed to another electorate has not been struck off. The use of one roll for two or three subdivisions also leads to plural voting. There should be a separate roll for each subdivision, and an elector should be compelled to record his vote in the subdivision for which he is' enrolled. I am glad to learn that honorable senators opposite are opposed to canvassing, since that is a practice in which they are past masters. I once contested an election in which the representatives of the Labour party had the electorate divided into sections, and motor car drivers deputed to canvass every street. I could' not say who met the cost of all this work; but. notwithstanding the energy displayed by the representatives of the Labour party, I was defeated by only seventeen votes in a very big poll. I support the bill.

SenatorREID (Queensland) [12.30]. - The honorable senator who preceded me complimented the select committee upon its good work. I regret that I cannot join with him, because in my opinion the information furnished to. Parliament by the committee could have been obtained quite as easily and at much less expenditure from the electoral officers throughout the Commonwealth.

Senaor Thompson. - Evidently the honorable senator has not read the evidence.

SenatorREID. - The expenditure incurred by the committee was, in my judgment, so much money thrown away, since practically all the information gained by that body was obtained from departmental officials.

Senator Thompson -Much the same criticism could be directed at other, commissions and committees that have presented reports to Parliament.

SenatorREID. - I am satisfied that had electoral officers been asked by the Government to furnish reports as to the working of the Electoral Act, the information given by them would have been just as complete as that contained in the report of the committee. I entirely approve of the proposal to close polling booths at 7 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. In the earlier days of our industrial development when so many people had to work late on a Saturday afternoon, and when shops did not close until 8 o'clock or later, the majority of working people had no opportunity to vote during the day; but the position is different now. In most factories and retailshops work ceases at 12.30 or even earlier, so there is no need to keep polling booths open until 8 o'clock. Indeed, I would prefer polling to cease at 6 o'clock. In these days when motor cars make transport conditions easy for all, and when men work short hours, it is an injustice to require returning officers to remain cooped up in polling booths from 8 o'clock in the morning until 8 o'clock at night. At some country sub-divisions where there are only a dozen or so electors, the whole of the votes are recorded before mid-day, but still the presiding officer and other officials are compelled to remain in the booth until 8 o'clock at night. At such places where there is a limited number of electors; I would favour closing the poll at 4 o'clock.

Senator Verran - Does the honorable senator forget that farmers have to work their farms?

SenatorREID. -Not at all; most farmers, like other people, have improved means of transport at their disposal, and as a general rule they vote early in the day to avoid travelling long distances at night.

Senator Verran - On a Saturday afternoon people like to attend horse races, or football and cricket matches. If the polling booths in country districts closed at 4 o'clock, many might be disfranchised.

SenatorREID. - The majority of the farmers who vote at the smaller polling places are not interested in football, cricket or sport of any kind. As a rule they are living in newly settled areas, and are fully occupied with their daily work. My suggestion to close such polling places at 4 o'clock would not interfere in any way with the pleasures of the people. Another provision of the bill deals with donations and gifts by members of Parliament to organizations within their divisions. The bill will graciously allow , members to contribute to certain specified bodies, and will even go so far as to allow them to give donations to church funds, or to put threepence or sixpence in the collection plate on a Sunday! The whole provision is absurd.

Senator Thompson - The honorable senator is forgetting the bazaars and * other activities connected with churches.

SenatorREID. - Such matters are not worth consideration. Members of Parliament should have full liberty to please themselves. The proposed new sub-section prohibiting members from contributing to certain clubs and organizations is a cowardly way of getting over a difficulty. Members should have sufficient moral courage' to refuse donations to any organization if they are not in a position to meet its requests. I object entirely to any interference with my liberty in that respect. There should be no sheltering behind any restrictions such as these, which it is proposed to insert in the act. For many years I have subscribed regularly to many humanitarian movements. For instance, I contribute towards the support of children's playgrounds, and for many years I have given donations to the Queensland ambulance brigade, which is acknowledged to be the best of its kind in Australia. If this provision is inserted in the bill I shall be prevented from doing that in future, and I object. if members only had the courage to say / "No " to many of the blackmailing requests that come along to them, there ° would be no trouble at all, and a refusal would make no difference to their chance of re-election. I am astonished that the Government should have been so stupid as to include such a provision in the bill.

Senator Findley - In any case it would be unworkable because members of Parliament could give donations to clubs and organizations by deputy.

SenatorREID. - I agree with the proposal for uniform electoral rolls. We have joint rolls in three of the States already. Unfortunately Queensland will not come into line, and I regret that the Commonwealth Government has not the power to bring about uniformity in that State also. Joint rolls in all the States would save a considerable amount of expenditure, and be a great convenience to the people. As regards postal voting, I am fully aware that it has been abused on many occasions, but it is a great convenience to sick and incapacitated persons who, without this provision, would be denied the franchise. I see no reason why they should be deprived of the privilege, as was suggested by SenatorNeedham. As a safeguard against abuses I should favour the imposition of heavy penalties.

Senator Givens - It is very hard to avoid abuses in the administration of the postal ballot provisions of the act.

SenatorREID. - I admit that there are difficulties. I know many people who have been prevented from voting, and who would have performed the duty much more intelligently than some of those who were able to visit the polling booth. I can recall the time when workers particularly dared not let others learn of the way in which they voted, and itwas necessary to have a secret ballot . Now those conditions are altered and very fen persons care who knows how they vote. It has often been argued that the postal vote is an open one. Those who have assisted presiding officers can vouch for the fact that it is extremely difficult to induce some electors to record their vote3 in the voting boxes provided for them; the majority of electors would rather mark their papers openly. If the Government could devise additional safeguards it might be wise to have them incorporated in the act. Senator Findley expressed opposition to canvassers, and contended that any candidate who employed paid canvassers should be punished. I would not waste money on the employment of canvassers because I believe that their work is of little value. Electors nowadays will tell them anything in order to get rid of them. I do not believe it would be possible to interfere with an individual who voluntarily advocated the claims of a candidate amongst a circle of friends. When the bill is being considered in committee, I shall endeavour to have the polling hours lessened, as I consider it is a waste of time to keep the booths open until 8 o'clock at night.

Suggest corrections