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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr BIRD (Batman) (12:13 PM) .- I have listened very closely to the reasoning of the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth), but I am by no means convinced that it is absolutely sound. To my way of thinking, there appears to be too much indecision. There is an air of indecision about the whole clause. The Minister has said, "We prefer to make it a little indefinite ". Why does he prefer to do that? Because of the indefinite nature of the provision the decision of the Chief Electoral Officer could vary from election to election if he so desired. It is possible that the Government may change its mind. We shall not always have the present Minister for the Interior in charge of electoral arrangements. It is possible that the Chief Electoral Officer will be told - not at the next general election, but perhaps the one after that - that only one scrutineer will be allowed for an entire booth.

I suggest, Mr. Chairman, that the only way to make certain that there will be no complaints from political parties in this connexion is to have a scrutineer at every ballot box, and for that right to be given to the parties by the act itself. I fail to see why the matter should be left to the discretion of the electoral officer. Why is that necessary, when different decisions may be given from time to time? I had an experience during an election in Victoria not so long ago when, had it not been for the action of a scrutineer, the Labour candidate would have been deprived of a number of votes. The electoral officer in charge of the table was very fatigued after a long day, and when he was totalling up the votes he gave the Labour candidate's votes - I think they were those from P to Z - to the Liberal candidate and the Liberal candidate's votes to the Labour man, with the result that the Labour candidate's total was 426 votes fewer than it should have been. If it had not been for the fact that there was a Labour scrutineer at the table the Labour candidate's majority would have been reduced by 426 votes. Under the provision proposed by the Minister, that could happen again, because there could be a time when there was no scrutineer at a table.

Why cannot we have a guarantee in the act that there will always be scrutineers at all tables? I have no doubt that while the present Minister is in charge of electoral arrangements he will honour the intepretation , of the provisions that he gave to-night. But there may be a change in the occupancy of the portfolio. Since I have been a member of this Parliament there have been five or six Ministers for the Interior. It is quite possible that the present Minister will be replaced, as have other Ministers for the Interior who thought they would have a long tenure of that portfolio. Judging by past performance, another person will shortly take over the portfolio. It seems to be a portfolio in which there is a marked insecurity of tenure. The policy of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) seems to be to give everybody a go at it and to change the occupancy almost from election to election. It is possible that a new Minister for the Interior, appointed by the Prime Minister after the next general election, will have different ideas and will give instructions to the electoral officer that there shall be only one scrutineer at polling booths instead of three or four. Therefore, with the idea of ensuring electoral justice to all parties at all times, I suggest that the Opposition amendment be accepted.

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