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Wednesday, 26 April 1961

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) .- The measure before the House, among other things, makes certain changes in the postal voting law. It is astonishing that some of the reforms that the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) is introducing in this bill have been so long in coming. There is, for instance, the provision which enables members of enclosed religious orders to exercise postal votes, and the provision which enables people of the Jewish and Seventh Day Adventist faiths, who may have a conscientious objection to voting on Saturday, which is our normal election day, to exercise a postal vote instead of voting on Saturday. I should imagine that there have been people of those faiths in this country during its whole history, and it is interesting to reflect how long we have taken to meet their needs by this particular amendment to the postal voting law.

There are, however, many unsatisfactory features of postal voting and the whole subject needs very close examination. Honorable members who will take the trouble to go through all the constituencies of the Commonwealth and study the manner of voting in them at the last Federal election, or at any previous Federal election, will be impressed forcibly by the fact that alone in our voting the figures of postal votes reflect the efficiency of party organization. Absentee votes almost invariably follow the same percentage as the electorate as a whole, but postal votes reveal a most astonishing disparity. Some explanations of that can be given. For instance, where the postal votes favour the Liberal Party, it is always said that generally speaking well-to-do people tend to vote Liberal and because they are the ones who can afford to be abroad, consequently the postal votes in those constituencies show a Liberal trend. However, it is very doubtful whether the significant part of postal voting is postal voting from far afield.

In Western Australia the popular terminology of the postal vote is the sick vote. I believe that, very largely, the sick are the ones who exercise the right to cast postal votes. All of us, if we are honest and have had any part in election campaigns, know that where an eager-beaver organizer can get through a hospital, a nursing home or any other institution for the infirm there is an astonishing increase in the percentage of votes for the party which the eagerbeaver organizer serves. Affidavits have been sent to me by people in nursing homes who have complained about undue pressure being put on them, and I know of many cases in which the party organizers who have been taking up the postal votes know how the patients voted. It seems to me that the postal voting system is wide open to abuse. I myself, as a candidate for the seat of Fremantle, have been in a particular room and have seen a pile of postal votes from the Fremantle electorate done up in envelopes which I could have picked up. I believe that under our postal voting law there should not be any possibility of a candidate touching a ballot paper or of any people who are ardent partisans of a candidate being able to decide, knowing how votes have been cast, whether or not those votes will be put in.

I am not prepared to advocate a reform so drastic that people cannot cast a postal vote; but it appears to me to be not beyond the wit of the Commonwealth to devise a system of supplying officers at least to the large institutions which we know exist, such as the great hospitals in the capital cities, the great nursing homes and similar institutions which are permanent features of certain electorates. It should be the duty of a Commonwealth officer to go to institutions where we know there is a concentration of postal voters and collect the ballotpapers without any party organizers being involved in any way other than that in which they would normally be involved in soliciting votes in an electorate. I assume that candidates or organizers would be able only to distribute literature because they would not be able to go into hospitals and make speeches.

I believe that postal voting cannot be regulated absolutely satisfactorily without disenfranchising sick people who are in their own homes and depend upon the good offices of friends to help them cast a vote. But where there are great concentrations of sick and infirm people in known institutions, it should be the duty of Commonwealth electoral officers to ensure that those people can exercise the franchise without any possibility of abuse of the system by party organizations. That is a reform that we in this Parliament should consider, and, I believe, introduce.

The other omission from this revision of the electoral law is one which was recommended by the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review. Under the present system a quota is determined as the enrolment size of an electorate and provision is made that there may be a variation of 20 per cent, either way. Even that 20 per cent, is not being adhered to at the present time.

My colleague, the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden), is the representative of 80,000 Victorian electors at the moment and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), who is from the same State as the honorable member for Bruce, is the representative of 36,000 electors. Thus, the disparity which exists between electorates can be far more than 20 per cent, on either side of the fixed quota which is envisaged as a device for stopping what is known as gerrymandering.

Mr Thompson - That was not the position when the new electorates were formed, was it?

Mr BEAZLEY - I agree with that. I want to make that point: The law allows a 20 per cent, variation either way, but we have not been able to adhere to that in the great distortion of the positioning of the Australian population which the rapid development of new suburbs in all Australian cities has produced. However, the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review considered that the variation allowed should be only 10 per cent, either way. We cannot prevent distortions beyond that percentage from taking place if our electorates are revised only every ten years, following the census. The thinking that led to the alteration of electorates only after a census was a thinking naturally produced in a much more slowly developing and much more stable community than that of to-day. I believe that the speed of Australian development, the speed of the increase in the Australian population from migration and other causes, and the movement of the Australian population have shown that the intercensal alteration of boundaries is not sufficient. Provision should be made for more frequent revisions.

Mr Freeth - Apart from enrolments, it is hard to establish accurately where the population is unless a census is taken.

Mr BEAZLEY - But surely the enrolments that are continually taking place, and the frequent revisions of the rolls, result in an adequate alternative to the census from the point of view of the drawing of these boundaries. I do not believe that you would get as accurate a picture in this way as you would from a complete census, but you would get less distortion than you get at the moment, which results in the seat of Bruce having 80,000 electors, while the seat of Melbourne has 36,000, simply because we leave adjustments to be made at the time of the taking of the census.

One other matter I would like to refer to is that of voting rights for aborigines, which was mentioned by the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) during a debate on another matter. The Minister referred to the different laws of the various States with regard to the aboriginal people. In the course of his statement he said -

Tt is estimated that there are already approximately 30,000 aborigines or people of aboriginal ancestry who do not come under any form of restrictive or protective legislation but live like other Australian citizens. . . . Where special legislation applies to aborigines only, it is solely because of a clear and temporary need . . . for this is in their own interests. Contrary to popular belief, the restrictions are of limited effect. For example, in three States that have protective legislation the persons who come under protection are fully eligible to vote at elections. In two States there are no restrictions of any kind. In all States and Territories restrictions are being lessened.

The Minister was clearly indicating that there are differences in the various States in the laws relating to aborigines. Those differences are unsatisfactory from the point of view of this Parliament.

This aspect of the laws governing aborigines is related to our electoral laws in a number of ways. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) pointed this out in the course of his statement. The Commonwealth Parliament has two restrictions on its power with regard to aborigines. The first prevents it from enumerating them in the census. This prohibition is contained in section 127 of the Constitution. The other restriction is embodied in placitum (xxvi.) of section 51 of the Constitution, which empowers the Commonwealth Parliament to make laws for the people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in. any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws. If we trace the history of the section and placitum, it is very difficult to find what the founding fathers had in mind. Almost certainly, however, they did not have in mind anything to do with the aborigines as such. The section and placitum were proposed in the earliest conventions, and in their original expression they represented attempts to withhold from the Federal Parliament that was to come into being the power to legislate for the people of the Maori race and the people of the aboriginal race, it being envisaged at that time that New Zealand wouldbe part of the federation.

The debates on the section and placitum were very short, but apparently what was in mind was not aborigines but land. If the Commonwealth had power to make laws for aborigines it would, incidentally, have the power to acquire land for the purposes of aborigines, since it has the power to acquire land for any purpose for which it has the power to make laws. If the Commonwealth can legislate for posts and telegraphs, obviously it must be able to acquire land for post offices. If it can legislate for defence, it must be able to acquire land for defence purposes. The fear appears to have been that if it could legislate for aborigines it would have power to acquire land for aboriginal purposes, which might have involved the taking from the States of enormous tracts of lands for use as aboriginal reserves. What was in mind, apparently, was not some disqualification of the Federal Parliament for legislating for aborigines, but a fear that the States would lose their authority over land.

This section and placitum of the Constitution have been used in propaganda against Australia. When I was in India some six or seven years ago I found that there had been a number of Communist ladies going through the country, who had suggested to the Indian people that these sections of the Australian Constitution showed that the Australian people had never regarded the aborigines as human beings. I do not think this is the explanation at all. Section 127, which forbids the Commonwealth to enumerate aborigines in the census, appears to have been based on a State-righter's fear that if aborigines were enumerated they would become a component of the quota for the fixing and determining of seats. Although the aborigines were very much more nomadic in those days and were not an important political or electoral element, it was feared that a disproportionate number of seats would be allotted to States having large aboriginal populations, and that the Australian political system would be distorted accordingly. But whatever the political reasons may have been, they are not ones that should count with us to-day.

What should be important to-day is the elimination of provisions which appear, in a race-sensitive world, to show racial discrimination.

I think the statement of the Constitutional Review Committee, in referring to our Electoral Act should be taken into account and made the basis of an amendment of that act, and I take it that in setting up a committee to examine the question of aboriginal franchise, this is what the Minister had in mind. But it is important that the Constitutional Review Committee's findings, or its statements, should be widely known. On page 56 of its report, in paragraph 396, the committee said -

The Committee should point out that section 127 has no direct bearing on the question of the eligibility of aborigines to vote at Federal elections. The Commonwealth Parliament has, under section 30 of the Constitution, power to deal with the qualification of electors of members of the House of Representatives and under section 8 of the Constitution, the qualification of electors of senators is as prescribed by the Parliament for electors of members of the House of Representatives. The Parliament has exercised its powers under these sections in section 39 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918-1953. For all practical purposes, the section provides that no aboriginal native of Australia shall be entitled to vote at any Senate election or House of Representatives election unless -

(a)   he is entitled under section forty-one of the Constitution; (aa) he is an aboriginal native of Australia and -

(i)   is entitled under the law of the State in which he resides to be enrolled as an elector of that State and, upon enrolment, to vote at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of that State (or, if there is only one House of the Parliament of that State, for that House); or

(ii)   is or has been a member of the Defence Force;

Clearly, under sub-paragraph (aa) (i), the Commonwealth follows the States. If the State confers upon the aboriginal the right to vote, then the Commonwealth confers the same right on him. If the State does not, then the Commonwealth does not. But the provision is not a mandatory one for the Commonwealth. It can make exceptions, or it can alter the force of the provision altogether, as it does in sub-paragraph (aa) (ii), which provides that if an aboriginal has been a member of the Defence Force he may vote, irrespective of whether he is entitled to vote under the law of the State. The committee goes on to say -

Section 41 of the Constitution states that an adult person who acquires a right to vote at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of a State cannot be prevented, while the right continues, by any law of the Commonwealth, from voting at elections for either House of the Federal Parliament. If aborigines are to become qualified as electors then, as a matter of principle, they should be recognized as forming part of the population of the State in which they live. The repeal of section 127 is consistent wish the idea that there should not be fundamental barriers to aborigines becoming qualified as Federal electors. The repeal does not, however, create entitlement.

There is only one other point that I wish to mention in connexion with the Commonwealth Electoral Act. I refer to the proposed changes in the amounts of money that candidates may spend in order to get themselves elected to Parliament. The present position, I believe, is unsatisfactory. To begin with, all of us know that the amount that each of us individually spends in his electorate is insignificant by comparison with what the party machines spend on behalf of candidates. There is no limit on the expenditure of parties. They may publish enormous advertisements, for instance, referring to every one of the candidates of the particular party and spend, say. £100,000, and we may presume that if this propaganda affects thinking it will influence the electors in the electorate of the individual candidate. In this way, he may have spent on his behalf by the party organization many thousands of pounds.

When the limitation of £250 on expenditure by a candidate in an election for the House of Representatives was originally imposed, the restriction must have been based on the idea that the deluging of an electorate with propaganda by some one who was able to afford to do this represented, perhaps, one way of swamping a just judgment. If the idea was that swamping a just judgment should be prohibited, the development of the party system under which the parties spend on behalf of candidates has long made obsolete this limitation of expenditure by candidates individually. A very distinguished member of this House who was a Minister - he did not sit on the Labour side as it happened - once said openly that he had spent more than £1,000 on his election campaign. No lies were told about it. He submitted to the Commonwealth Electoral Officer a return stating this, and nothing happened. Presumably, there were powers available to be used against a candidate who made excess expenditure, but no such powers were exercised. I think that the limitation of £250 on expenditure by a candidate has largely been made a dead letter. It is a provision that is not enforced. It is a provision which the development of the party system seems to me to have rendered obsolete. I wonder why it is retained with respect to election campaigns in which the expenditure by an individual candidate no longer has great significance.

This appears to me to be one more respect in which we need to examine our electoral laws and see what is enforceable and what should be enforced. We should take as our guiding principle in the determination of our electoral laws the maxim that justice should not only be done but also should appear to be done. It appears to me that in respect of the postal voting provisions at least, justice is not being done. Nor, when the figures are studied, does it appear to be done.

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