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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr DALY (Grayndler) .I support the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam). It is complementary to the amendments that have been moved in relation to the postal voting sections of the act, and were designed to make those sections applicable to voting outside the five-mile limit. Under this amendment, an elector who is seriously ill or infirm and, by reason of such illness or infirmity, will be precluded from attending at any polling place to vote, may apply to record his or her vote in the presence of an electoral visitor, or may in certain circumstances record a vote at a mobile polling booth. An elector who is qualified to apply for a postal vote is not entitled to vote under this provision. The position is, therefore, that a sick or infirm person or an expectant mother, whose place of living, as appearing on the electoral roll, is situated within five miles, by the nearest practicable route, of a polling place which will be open on polling day in that district for the purposes of an election, may apply to record his or her vote in the presence of an electoral visitor.

The returning officer for each district is required under the amendment to appoint, in respect of each subdivision, one electoral visitor. He may, however, if circumstances require, with the consent of the electoral commissioner, appoint two or more electoral visitors in respect of each subdivision. An electoral visitor shall not be required or directed to visit an elector outside the boundaries of the subdivision, because there will be one or more visitors for each subdivision. He will be required to make his visits at a reasonable hour during the day-time. If the applicant, for any reason is unable or unprepared to record his vote within half an hour after the visitor has informed the applicant, or any person in charge of the applicant, that he is available for the purpose of taking the vote of the applicant, the visitor may terminate his visit and shall not be required to make a further visit. Provision is made for the appointment of scrutineers by candidates, and the procedure in regard to the taking of votes is fully and clearly set out. This will ensure a secret vote, to the satisfaction of all candidates.

It will be noted that the electoral visitor is required under the amendment to take a locked ballot-box with him for the purpose of receiving the votes of the electors, and every possible safeguard will be taken to ensure the proper custody of the votes recorded under this provision. Special provision is made for the assistance of persons whose sight is impaired. That is similar to the postal voting provisions of the legislation. Another amendment proposes that conveniences and safeguards shall be provided for electors who are in convalescent homes, hospitals or similar institutions. This should answer the charges made by the Government that certain persons will be disfranchised. It will be seen from the amendment and the remarks I have made that if that protection is given, every person eligible to vote will be able to vote.

These, briefly, are the provisions. Like other honorable members, I do not desire, nor does the Opposition desire, to deny a vote to any person who is qualified to exercise such a right. We on this side of the Parliament do not think that everybody who may be disfranchised is a Liberal voter. The chances are even. The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy, and any law that prevents or impedes the exercise of that right is contrary to the beliefs of the overwhelming majority of members of this Parliament.

Mr Stokes - Who prepared this for you?

Mr DALY - I carefully prepared it myself, because I could see that unless any proposal were explained simply to unintelligent members opposite they would not understand it. I believe, and shall endeavour to show, that the present system of postal voting is open to malpractice by shrewd, unscrupulous or well-organized campaigners, and the figures I cited earlier show that the vast majority of these campaigners evidently belong to or support the Liberal Party. The opportunities for malpractice are apparent from the trend of voting figures in previous elections. I cited these figures when, seemingly, the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight), who is now seeking to interject, was asleep.

This amendment may not be perfect, but it is the view of the Opposition that, in order to ensure the greatest purity in the electoral system, as many people as possible should vote in the presence of officials appointed by the electoral authority. It is only by insisting on the observance of this sound principle to the fullest possible extent that malpractices will be reduced to a minimum.

This brings us on the Opposition side to the point we made earlier. Unless this amendment is accepted by the Government the malpractices associated with postal voting, which are known, or should be known, to every political campaigner, will continue unchecked. There is a responsibility, therefore, on members of the Parliament to see that people entitled to postal votes get them, and that they are not disfranchised in any way. At the same time, we must ensure that in exercising their right to vote they are not subject to pressure, and that they can vote secretly, just as if they were attending a polling booth.

I have given the committee a summary of the provisions of the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. 1 have indicated a way out of a difficulty that has become a matter of grave concern to people associated with electoral campaigns. If certain aspects of the proposals are not satisfactory - such as, for example, the closing time for receipt of applications - then minor adjustments and amendments might well be considered by the Government, and perhaps by the Opposition. At least this amendment represents a practical attempt to remove a feature of our electoral procedure that is objectionable to all people who believe in a democratic vote. It will remove the opportunity for manipulation of postal votes that has become evident in trends shown by voting figures from time to time. Many examples could be cited showing that in electorates in which the voting is about 50-50, a sudden change occurs when postal votes are counted, resulting in an overwhelming majority for one candidate. This does not happen by accident. Voting follows a pattern in all electorates and overall, and if there is a sudden increase of postal votes for one candidate or another it is for special and unusual reasons. We on this side of the Parliament suggest, without making any charge against the electoral authorities or others associated with elections, that be cause the system leaves the way open to malpractice we should endeavour to provide a means whereby such opportunities may be removed.

The proposed system has been tried in New South Wales and has worked successfully. Liberal Party, Labour Party and Country Party candidates have all won under the system. It cannot be said that it is objectionable in any way. I know that members of the Country Party had intended to object to this amendment, because they expected that it would be stacked in favour of the Labour Party. However, they received a shock when their candidate won the Liverpool Plains seat at a State byelection on postal votes, when this system was in operation. Now they find that they cannot condemn the system. It was introduced in the New South Wales Parliament to prevent malpractice. It was not introduced by the Labour Government there with any ulterior motive.

Let me summarize the position. If this amendment is accepted, no elector will be disfranchised because he cannot attend a polling booth. He will have the opportunity to cast a postal vote, and in certain circumstances he will have the advantage of an electoral visitor. His rights will be further safeguarded by the provision of mobile polling booths, if a later amendment is accepted. In the presence of the electoral visitor he will record his vote with the same secrecy and the same safeguards as if he were attending a polling booth. Does any honorable member opposite object to the proposition that every elector should have the right to vote secretly? Or do honorable members opposite want to retain the present system, under which the vote cast by an elector can be seen by another person, may be posted by that person or not posted, according to whether he wants to post it or not, and can be altered by that person, if he happens to be unscrupulous - a system, in short, under which the whole purpose of voting in Australia can be defeated?

If the Government refuses to accept this proposal it will be seen that it does not desire to amend the present system, and it will appear that it has some ulterior motive, probably a political motive of its own. Alternatively, it may reject the proposal because it does not want to give the people their democratic right to vote secretly and in accordance with the accepted principles of voting. I hear some honorable members opposite endeavouring to interject. Unfortunately I am unable to answer muffled interjections. Let them speak on this question if they have any views on it. Let the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes), who is interjecting at present, take particular note of my remarks, because he will need every vote possible at the next election. He does not want to change the system because he has probably got a few. extra votes in the past under the present system.

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