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Thursday, 10 November 1983
Page: 2619

Mr RUDDOCK(6.03) —I would like to speak briefly on this matter because I regard it as being very important. If one looks at the scheme of the Bill that we are discussing, one appreciates that the Government has in mind maximising the possibilities for electors registering a vote. That is a part of the total scheme of the legislation that the Government is pressing upon us. I am not disagreeing with that. But, Mr Chairman, if you look at it in relation to visiting the sick in hospital; if you look at it in relation to the extension of postal votes; if you look at it in relation to ensuring that 17-year-olds will be able not only to get ready to go on the roll but will be able to do so on the very day they turn 18; if you look at all of the complications involved; if you look at the provisions being made to ensure that a wider range of people in gaol are able to vote, if you look at the wider range of people in the Antarctic who are to be able to vote; if you look at the wider range of provisions relating to people who are going overseas for a period, to ensure that they remain on the roll, you see that an endeavour is being made to maximise the possibility that an elector may have to vote and to ensure that nobody will be excluded.

Yet, for some reason, when it comes to the question of whether the polling booth ought to be opened for a sufficient number of hours to enable people to vote who find it difficult to do so on the sabbath or before sundown, the Government says 'No, we are going to put you to the inconvenience of having to vote in some other way. You will have to make a pre-poll vote or a postal vote. You will have to find some other way of doing it because we will ensure that the polling booths will be closed before you are able, in accordance with your religious beliefs, to turn up'. I do not happen to be a Seventh Day Adventist or a Jew but I respect their right to be able to vote at a time which is convenient to them and I will defend their right to be able so to do. That is why I will vote for the Opposition's motion. One of the reasons I pushed for retention of 8 o'clock closing was its convenience.

If we look at the total framework of the amendments to the Act that are being put to us, we see that they seek to maximise the possibility of a person who is entitled to be an elector being able to vote. We are doing this at very considerable expense to the Australian public. I point to the provision being made in relation to the Antarctic, to allow half a dozen electors to vote; to the provision being made for people to trot around hospitals with a portable ballot bax. All of this will be costly. None of these provisions will be undertaken without expense. Yet when it comes to a question of whether the polling booths should be closed at 6 o'clock or 8 o'clock, because the Seventh Day Adventists or Jews are affected, the Government is saying: 'No, we will make it more inconvenient for you'.

Mrs Darling —It is not because of that.

Mr RUDDOCK —That is what it amounts to. They find it extraordinarily difficult, on their sabbath, to be able to vote before 6 o'clock. Yet, if the closing time were 8 o'clock they would be able to do so.

Mr Milton —That is not the reason at all. They can lodge a postal vote.

Mr RUDDOCK —Honourable members who are interjecting are saying, in effect, 'Let them have a postal vote; let them have a pre-poll vote; put them to that inconvenience'. I say to honourable members very firmly and with a great deal of conviction that no group of people should be put to that amount of trouble unless the circumstances are very necessitous. In that case, as the Act recognises, it is appropriate that they should make an application. I urge all honourable members, in conscience, more than on any other matter, to support the Opposition's motion.