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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Monaro) against this clause, as indicated in the list of amendments circulated by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). I am confident that the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth), who is a reasonable man in some matters at least, will, after reconsideration, agree to delete this clause. It would impose the greatest difficulty upon representatives of all parties if the law were amended in the form proposed in the bill. Take the case of a country school at which perhaps only 50 or 60 votes are recorded during the day. Such a school stands in its own grounds and there may be as many as four or five entrances to the grounds in which the school stands. It is difficult enough to get one supporter to stand at such a small booth and distribute howtovote cards.

Mr Opperman - Not in my electorate.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Obviously it would be impossible, even in the electorate of the Minister for Shipping and Transport, to get four or five workers to stand, one outside each gate of a school, in order to attend to the needs of 40 or 50 people who would vote there during the twelve hours on polling day.

No harm would be done by continuing the present position under which in such a case- a representative of each party stands inside the grounds but 20 feet away from the entrance to the building which is in fact the entrance to the booth. Often a pleasant arrangement exists under which the representative of one party leaves the place for a while to have his lunch or a cup of tea and the representative of the other party hands out the opposing party's cards as well as his own cards during the time the representative of the opposing party is away. As I have said, it would be utterly impossible to man such a booth if it had to be done in the way which the amendment proposed by the Government provides. Therefore, I hope that honorable members on the other side of the chamber will see the force of my contention and that the Minister for the Interior will agree to re-examine this clause either now or before the bill is introduced in another place.

Mr. FREETH(Forrest- Minister for the Interior [12.35 a.m.]. - There is a great deal of force in what the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) has said. The reason why this clause has been inserted in the bill is simply that at present there is a regulation, made under the act, which provides for exactly what the clause specifies. In other words, if the regulation were to be enforced, if would be possible for all the entrances to a school ground to be deemed to be entrances to the polling booth. There is some doubt about the validity of the regulation, because it is rather difficult to say that a regulation can define something which is in the act. Therefore, in the past the regulation has not been enforced as strictly as it might have been, although from time to time attempts have been made to enforce it.

The intention is that in the kind of case quoted by the honorable member for EdenMonaro an arrangement will be made whereby there will be only one actual physical entrance, and that will be the one where the canvassers will stand.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What will happen if people come in by the other entrances?

Mr FREETH - The entrance to the actual booth, rather than to the grounds, will be deemed to be the entrance. There may be places to which many thousands of people will go to vote and at which there would be no great physical difficulty in manning the numerous entrances, but difficulty could be caused by cluttering up the entrance to the building itself with canvassers. The Government believes that the matter should be left to the discretion of the divisional returning officer, who will instruct his presiding officers, after consultation with the political parties involved before polling day so that a sensible and reasonable arrangement can be arrived at.

Finally, I make the point that the whole purpose of manning polling booths with people equipped with how-to-vote cards and all the necessary propaganda is to enable the voter to receive some assistance if he wants it. Even if there are a number of entrances, there is no great difficulty in a voter going to the entrance where the canvassers and manners of the booth stand and collecting a how-to-vote card. Quite a number of people do not like being pestered by the propagandists of the various political parties. They prefer to avoid the attentions of such people, if they can, because they have already made up their minds and do not want to go through the process of waving such people aside. So in certain cases I do not think there is anything unreasonable in the possibility that one entrance through a side or back gate will be left unmanned. The voter himself is the person who has to be kept in mind on polling day. If facilities are provided for him to collect how-to-vote cards if he wants them, surely that is all that is really necessary.

As I have stated - I have also given this undertaking to members of the Government parties, because they are interested in this matter, particularly in country areas - the intention is that at polling booths with a small number of voters, where there is. physical difficulty in providing a satisfactory number of party supporters, the divisional returning officer will instruct his presiding officers to deem one entrance to be the entrance to the polling booth. That will be the entrance to the building itself. I do not think that there is any great difference of opinion between the Government and the Opposition on this matter, but we believe that a little elasticity is necessary.

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