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Friday, 7 October 1927

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I join with other honorable senators ill congratulating members of the select committee upon the thoroughness with which . they conducted the inquiry into the working of the Electoral Act. I regret, however, that the scope of the inquiry was somewhat limited. On a former occasion in the Senate, when I attempted to discuss the probable reasons that were responsible for informal voting at Commonwealth elections, I was told by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) that I would have an opportunity to go fully into that matter when the select committee was taking evidence. I found, however, that the scope of the inquiry did not permit the committee to go fully into the subject. At the last Commonwealth election there were no fewer than 209,951 informal votes cast. Senator Thompson has suggested ' that the informalities may be reduced if the names of the political parties to which candidates belong are printed on the ballot-paper. My suggestion is that the Chief Electoral Officer, when preparing his report on an election, should present also an analysis of the informal votes, disclosing, as far as possible, the reasons for the infomalities. This would not take a great deal of time, and would not in any way interfere with the scrutiny. It would, however, be of considerable assistance to candidates during an election campaign, because they would be able to explain to the people how to avoid casting informal votes. I am sure it would have good results, as many people would not make the same mistake twice. The total informal votes in each division would not be more than about 2,000, and the work of analyzing them could be entrusted to the returning officers for the respective subdivisions.

Senator Thompson - What about the deliberate informalities ?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am afraid we cannot do anything with regard to them. Many electors, knowing that if they fail to exercise the franchise they will be fined, deliberately make their votes informal. I have been carefully examining the figures dealing with the last election, and I find that in Queensland 201,400 formal votes returned three senators for that State; in Western Australia 94,000 formal votes returned the senators for that State, and in Tasmania only 51,000 formal votes were necessary to elect the three senators for that State. The total of informal votes throughout the Commonwealth was actually four times the number of the formal . votes required to elect the three Tasmanian senators to this chamber. In South Australia 143,000 formal votes returned the three senators who came into this chamber after the last election. The informal votes for the several States were: - New South Wales, 73,000; Victoria, 69,000; Queensland, 25,000; South Australia 16,000; Western Australia, 12,000; Tasmania, 11,000.

Senator Foll - The grouping of candidatesshould lessen the informalities.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think the honorable senator is right. I am particularly anxious to have an analysis made of the informal votes cast at each election, so as to be able to explain the difficulties to the people, and to make possible a better showing at future elections.

Senator Thompson - What the honorable senator is asking could be done by administrative action without an amendment of the act.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If that is so, I shall be satisfied. If not, I intend, when the bill is in. committee, to move to have the act amended.

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