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Tuesday, 27 October 1964

Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) . - I have a few short questions to ask in relation to Division No. 318 - Electoral Branch - and the item in the Schedule which refers to allowances to officers performing duties for the State of South Australia. The appropriation for this item is £590. I would like some information as to the duties performed by these officers in South Australia. I should also like some information in connection with the next item in the Schedule - Allowances to officers in connection with maintenance of the joint roll in New South

Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. Is the staff that compiles the joint roll in those States under the control of the Department of the Interior or of the State Governments? I have raised the question because I wish to address a few remarks in support of the claim by Senator Ormonde that not enough is done to keep the rolls up to date.

Senator Ormondereferred to the fact that the name of a person remained on the electoral roll for two years after his death. Quite a number of people who attend polling booths to vote find that their names are not on the rolls. In many cases their names appear on the rolls for the electorates in which they have previously lived. While it may be the responsibility of the individual voter and he is neglectful in this respect until election time, I think greater efforts should be made by the Department to keep the electoral rolls up to date. At one time I believe postmen performed the duly of notifying changes of address. Either postmen do not now perform that function or there is a lack of liaison between the Electoral Branch and the Postmaster-General's Department. No action is taken nowadays to advise the Electoral Branch of changes of address unless it is taken by individual voters. In the majority of cases the notification is not given until an election is imminent or until election day when the voters attend the polling booths. People find that they are still registered on the rolls of electorates which they left up to three years previously.

I turn now to the subject of informal voting. In South Australia fewer informal votes are cast than in the other States. At the last Senate election the informal vote was only about 3 per cent, of the total vote. 1 do not know whether it is due to a greater interest in politics in South Australia. Federal election results in South Australia suggest that South Australians take their politics more intelligently. I must admit that possibly it is due to the fact that South Australia has an easier Senate bollot paper because there are fewer candidates than in the eastern States.

Frequently people seek assistance at the polling booths and the question arises whether assistance can be given readily so that formal votes may be cast. 1 suggest that the Department should take greater care in the selection of deputy returning officers to man polling booths. One returning officer we interviewed prior to the polling day of the last election was a man who had reached his 90th year. He had suffered a stroke, was partly paralysed, was deaf, and could only partially see. He agreed to carry out the work for the area concerned and he said he would be assisted by a young clerk. How that man could assist any voter or direct any voter to where he or she could receive assistance, I do not know. He was not in a fit state to do the job. Possibly the Electoral Office is unaware of the capabilities of all of its returning officers. While I think that in the main, returning officers are very good and are well fitted to carry out their work, there are these exceptions to be found in country areas. I think a more thorough look should be taken at the question.

At another polling booth, we saw that the how to vote cards of one particular parly were on a table inside the door. When the returning officer was challenged about the placement of the how to vote cards there, he said that the table was further than the prescribed distance from the actual ballot boxes - it was a long hall - and justified the state of affairs because of that fact. I ask that the Electoral Office and its officers select their returning officers more thoroughly and then try to advise them as to the requirements of the Electoral Act. While I agree with Senator Ormonde that there should be a reduction in voting hours in these days of modern transport, I think also that consideration should be given to the question of a reduction in the number of polling booths. We find in many country electorates in which there is a reasonably large community that, when voting is held on a Saturday, the electors vote in the nearest township to which they go also for sport and recreation. Polling booths are kept open in towns in South Australia, some of which are ghost towns, where on most occasions only 11, 12 or 15 people vote. Staff has to be employed for the purpose of carrying out the election in those districts and, to my mind, unnecessary expenditure is entailed in providing the polling booths. If the number of polling booths was reduced, the Electoral Office could be selective in its appointment of returning officers and booth attendants instead of considering every available local man in the small towns regardless of his qualifications to carry out the duties.

I mention Division No, 314, acquisition of sites and buildings for various departments. No information is available in the estimates about these sites and buildings. For the year 1964-65, an appropriation of £780,500 has been made. Therefore, some information should be supplied as to where the sites and buildings are so that those of us from a particular State could express a view about the suitability or otherwise of a site or the purpose of a building in that State. When we were considering the estimates of the Department of Social Services, 1 raised the question of the inadequacy of a building for that Department in Adelaide. Looking at the items in this Division, I see that none applies to the Department of Social Services. But no matter what department is concerned, the absence of information as to where these sites are and for what purpose the buildings arc to be used, does not enable a proper debate on the estimates for this Division.

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