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Tuesday, 27 October 1964

Senator ORMONDE (New South Wales) . - Ever since I came into the Senate I have been talking about electoral matters, sometimes making friends and at other times making enemies. When you discuss electoral matters you are likely to be charged with being critical of the officers of the Department and with suggesting that they are not doing the right thing. That is not my reason for speaking on these estimates. I always try - I hope other honorable senators do the same - to make it easier for people to vote formally. Twelve months ago, when discussing the estimates for the Department of the Interior, I talked about some of my experiences out in the back blocks. I referred to Neville Selwood, the well known jockey, whose name was allowed to remain on the electoral roll for two years after he died. Neville Selwood should have been well enough known for his death to be noted and for his name to be taken off the roll. The party workers in that area were working on rolls which still had his name on them. The names of 20 or 30 teachers, who had lived in the area and had been gone for quite a while, were also included on the rolls. I am not saying that the Department is to blame; it could be understaffed. lt certainly is not to blame in the sense that it wants that sort of situation to develop. 1 have commented many times on the disparity between the numbers of votes cast in the " out-by " areas, if I may use that expression, for the Labour and Liberal Parlies. In the middle of the electorate of Calare, for example, Labour gets 50 per cent, or at least 45 per cent, of the votes in a booth where 5,000 voters cast a vote. However, in booths 200 miles from the centre of the electorate, where perhaps only 100 votes are cast, Labour is sometimes lucky to get one vote notwithstanding that there are plenty of people around digging holes and working hard with picks and shovels. It is remarkable how small the number of votes cast for Labour is in such areas. I am not casting aspersions on anybody, but the Liberal and Country Parties seem to have the power of heaven behind them in those areas. Labour finds it very difficult to obtain any votes there, although in other parts of the electorate it polls up to 50 per cent., or at least 40 to 45 per cent, of the votes cast. I am not accusing anybody; I am just stating a few facts that I have observed from studying election results.

I note that the Temporary Chairman is losing patience, so I shall get back to the estimates. The other day in the Senate I asked Senator Wade whether the Government would do something about instituting an educational campaign in an effort to reduce the colossal number of informal votes cast at Senate elections. Some quarter of a million people voted informally at the last Senate election. If another 10,000 informal votes had been cast, the informal votes would have topped the poll, as it were. This is a serious state of affairs. The Minister for the Interior must agree that it is, because he has announced that the Government is distributing a television newsreel film directing attention to how votes should be cast. The film shows pictures of polling booths and of the way votes should bc cast. In a very non-party way - for which I congratulate the Department - people arc told of their duly to vote and of their duty to vote formally. I think that the Government is doing the right thing here. On behalf of the Labour Party and, I think, on behalf of the other major parties, I offer congratulations.

We can be sure of one thing. Dedicated voters who support the Democratic Labour Party and the Communist Party never vote informally. It is the supporters of the mass parties who are responsible for the informal votes. It is in the interests of the mass parties, therefore, that something should be done about this problem. I believe that the solutions are very simple. One plebian solution is not to have blunt pencils in polling booths. An officer ought to be engaged all the time in sharpening the pencils in a booth. What I am saying might sound silly, but I believe that many informal votes are cast because pencils are blunt and people cannot write properly. Voters also ought to be saved from the risk of casting informal votes because of uneven tables in polling booths. Why cannot the Department supply absolutely new masonite tables and not make do with old tables that have been used for up to ten years? When you get out into the bush, half the time railway sleepers are used. Have honorable senators ever tried to write on railway sleepers or other rough timber?

I think also that there should be more co-operation between officials in the booths and party workers outside. This could help to cut down the number of informal votes. Outside the booths, party workers find people who are very nervous and concerned about what will happen when they get inside. After all, a Senate ballot paper is somewhat complicated because we ask people to vote for 29 or 30 candidates and to give each candidate a number between 1 and 29 or 30. Apparently we cannot get a saner method of voting than that. Honorable senators will agree that the Senate ballot paper is a frightening sort of document for a lot of people. This is outside the ambit of this discussion of course, but perhaps I can say that something ought to be done in a general way to alter the system. I cannot sec why it should not be good enough to vote for half the candidates plus one, or something of that kind. At any rate, that would simplify the voting.

Senator Buttfield - Did not the Labour Parly introduce the present system?

Senator ORMONDE - The honorable senator is always living in the past. Why does she do that? She should not do it when I am speaking. A lot of people make mistakes. I was about to say: " Wait until we become the Government and we will alter it." But I think that is outside the purview of this debate.

I wish to refer to another matter to which the Department ought to attend. I am not saying that it will not be difficult to rectify. Why should people have to vote in booths - particularly in the country - where there is inadequate lighting? How can you vote in the dark? A lot of people go after 6 o'clock to vote and often the polling booth is very poorly lighted. Special attention should be paid to the lighting of polling booths.

Another matter to which we ought to pay some attention is the power of a returning officer to tell a person who comes to vote at his polling booth - even if the voter is in his correct subdivision - that he must go to another polling booth to vote. I understand that there is no provision in the Act to grant such a power to returning officers, but dozens of times - this is an Impersonal criticism - they tell people that they must go to another polling booth to vote, although this may involve great inconvenience for the voters. I understand that the Act provides that in such cases an absentee vote is permissible. I think absentee votes should be provided and that it should not be the prerogative of returning officers to judge whether voters have attended the wrong polling booth and to decide that they should vote at another polling booth; for example, at the booth nearest the voter's residence. A person who is co-operative enough to attend a polling booth and ask for a ballot paper ought to be given one and not denied a vote. Often people rush into a booth after 7 o'clock and do not have time to travel to another booth to vote. In this way their votes are lost.

Senator Dittmer - They have been denied electoral justice.

Senator ORMONDE - Yes. If I had my way voting would close at 6 o'clock. I believe that large signs should be displayed inside each polling booth to inform electors that if they think they have voted informally they may ask for another ballot paper. 1 am sure that many senators have been present in polling booths when ballot papers have been destroyed by persons who have left without asking for a replacement ballot paper. They do not like to admit that they have destroyed the ballot papers they were given. Such people should be shown that there is no shame in asking for a replacement ballot paper. The message should be conveyed to these people by notices displayed in each compartment at polling booths. If they see displayed in front of their eyes a notice stating that they may ask for another ballot paper, more formal votes will be obtained. We all should be interested in securing formal votes. I repeat that at the last general election a bout 250,000 informal votes were cast. No doubt the number will not be so large at the next general election because it will not be necessary to complete two ballot papers.

Members of all political parties should do what they can to ensure that people are not sent from polling booth to polling booth. They should be given plenty of time to vote and all facilities should be provided, including sharp pencils to mark the ballot papers. Lighting withing the booths is most important, particularly in country areas. In these days hurricane lamps are not good enough and there ought to be a way to improve the lighting of booths. Generally speaking, the Department has effected improvements over the years, but there is much more to be done. I emphasise particularly the responsibility of departmental officers to see that people who attend a polling booth are given a vote. I refer particularly to old people, and to people who get concerned and agitated over the problem of casting a vote. They ought to be assisted in all ways by officers of the Department at polling booths, to ensure that they vote formally.

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