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Wednesday, 26 April 1961

Mr FAIRBAIRN (Farrer) .- Mr. Speaker,the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) has made a thoughtful and sound contribution to this debate. Those of us who have sat in this chamber wilh him for many years have come to expect such a contribution from him. On this occasion, the honorable member has brought before us a number of points. I think that we can say that, generally, this is a minor bill.

Mr Bryant - Far from it.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - Well, it makes only some very small alterations in the law by allowing postal votes to members of certain religious groups. In the main, there are about five contentious points involved in this measure. Three or four of these were mentioned by the honorable member for Fremantle. The first is the question of postal voting. Then there are the question of votes for aborigines, the hours of polling, the position of the names of candidates on the ballot-paper and the expenditure of individual candidates on election campaigns. Let me take these matters in the order in which I have listed them.

The honorable member for Fremantle complained that there seems to be a disproportionate preponderance of postal votes cast for the Liberal Party of Australia compared with the overall proportion in votes placed in the ballot-boxes at polling booths, and in absentee votes. I do not agree with him that this is unusual. I think that there are at least three factors which tend to make postal votes favour the Liberal Party. The first is that a great many of these votes are cast by people who are travelling in Australia or abroad, and these people tend, as the honorable member said, to be Liberal voters. Undoubtedly, if one were to examine the votes cast in, say, the polling booth at Australia House in London, one would find that there were more Liberal than Labour votes. The second factor which tends to make postal votes favour the Liberal Party is that people tend to switch their allegiance to the Liberal Party as they get older. This is not just my idea; it is established by surveys. We on this side of the House would say that as people get older they get more sense. At any rate, there is a quite noticeable swing towards the Liberal Party as people grow older. 1 think that one survey showed that of every three people who began as Labour voters one finished up by voting for the Liberal Party as he became older. The older voters are those who are more likely to be infirm or in hospital and therefore are more likely to require postal votes because they cannot get to polling booths. Thirdly, as the honorable member for Fremantle has said, undoubtedly the Liberal Party concentrates more on getting postal votes. But do not blame us for doing what is open to any political party.

The honorable member has alleged that there are some irregularities in postal voting, but I think that these are very few in number. I do not quarrel in any way with his suggestion that electoral visitors should visit certain big hospitals and institutions of that kind and take round ballot-boxes in order to afford inmates an opportunity to vote just as if they were at a polling booth. But I say at the same time, " For goodness sake, do not let us do anything which will disfranchise an Australian, wherever he may be, and prevent him from casting a vote ". We know that this has happened in New South Wales and that on the average something like 300 Australians who are entitled to a vote are disfranchised in every electorate in New South Wales in State elections. Although the law was altered with respect to voting for elections of the Legislative Assembly in New South Wales, it was not altered with respect to voting at referendums. Therefore, people will be able to get postal votes in the forthcoming referendum although the same people could not get postal votes in voting for elections of the lower house in New South Wales. This represents a gerrymandering of the vote, lt is really a sort of means test in reverse. A person who is out of the State on election day is not given a vote.

So much for postal voting. The honorable member for Fremantle went on to deal with the voting rights of aborigines, and on this matter also, I thought, he spoke with great moderation and great good sense. As he said, we move in a race-sensitive world and we should not do anything that would appear to amount to racial discrimination. I commend the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) on his motion for the appointment of a select committee to consider the voting rights of aborigines, and I find it very hard to understand the reasoning of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam), who, I believe, intends to propose an amendment to this bill designed to give the right to vote to aborigines straight away. I find it extraordinary that he appears to want aborigines to get the right to vote immediately and apparently wants the select committee subsequently to decide whether the aborigines should still have voting rights. Surely the best way to go about this is to appoint the select committee and let it examine the matter first. After all, the Opposition not only agreed to its appointment without one dissenting voice but also moved an amendment which was accepted immediately by the Minister. Therefore, the Opposition is just as much committed to the select committee as we are on this side of the House. How can the Opposition expect to propose an amendment to this bill to give aborigines a vote immediately and later subscribe to what we hope will be a sound report recommending which aborigines should have the right to vote and how they should get it?

Mr Whitlam - May I interrupt? The Opposition will not propose an amendment. It will merely vote against the re-enactment in this bill of the ban on voting by aborigines.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - That seems to me to be a very shallow and technical argument. The plain fact of the matter is that we have gone as far as we possibly can. There are many difficulties in the way of giving votes to aborigines. One difficulty is where to find the nomad aborigines to enrol them. Some of them may not even have a name.

Mr J R Fraser - We could give them a postal vote.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - Yes, perhaps we might send it off by a woomera. Many aborigines certainly would not know for whom they were voting. There would be nothing unusual in that, of course, because many other Australians do not know whom they are voting for, either. There are all kinds of problems involved in this matter. We cannot simply decide, "Well, we are going to give the aborigines a vote " and leave it at that. I agree with my colleague, the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney), that undoubtedly practically all the aborigines in Australia will soon be given a vote. There may be some who, because of illiteracy or for some other reason, will not be able to vote, but I think that very soon the bulk of the aborigines will be granted the right to vote. I hope that the select committee which is to consider this subject will do good work.

Other matters related to the electoral laws of the Commonwealth have not so far been raised in this debate. There has been discussion as to whether the time allowed for polling should be reduced. Some people say, " After all, the hours of polling were brought in in 1902, when it was prescribed that the poll would open, at 8 a.m. and would not close until all electors present in the polling booth at 7 p.m. and desiring to vote had voted; the closing hour was subsequently extended to 8 p.m. Those were the horse and buggy days. Nowadays, people can get to polling centres much more easily, and if voting were to finish at 6 o'clock, that should give everybody sufficient time to vote." I think that in only one State of the Commonwealth does voting cease at 6 o'clock. Perhaps we who live in the south are harder workers than those in the north. We work till late in the afternoon. If people in the north are to vote before 6 o'clock, they must stop work before that time. In my electorate, if there is an election in the summer time, the farmers are likely to remain on the headers for as long as they can see. They probably finish up late in the evening and then drive to town to cast their vote. It is a fact that a great many votes are cast just before 8 o'clock. Sometimes, of course, people arrive just too late and miss the bus. If we were to alter the voting hours in the Commonwealth sphere while in five out of the six States the hours remained from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., we undoubtedly would cause a considerable degree of chaos. I think the Government is doing the right thing in adhering to the hours that apply at present.

Another controversial matter that was mentioned by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition concerned the placing of candidates' names on ballot-papers. He said that instead of names being placed on ballot-papers in alphabetical order, a ballot should be held, or the names should be drawn out of a hat, the first name out being placed on top. He said that that is done with Senate elections and that it should1 naturally follow in elections for the House of Representatives. I say that the position of the Senate in this respect does not influence at all the position of the House of Representatives. A ballot is held in the case of Senate elections because it is almost impossible to decide how to place the names alphabetically. If there were a team of three candidates, should the names be placed alphabetically according to the first letter of each surname? Of course, if there were a group consisting of Ashley, Amour and Armstrong, as Jack Lang found, that group would then get number one position. But again, some of the smaller groups, such, as the Henry George Party, the Communists, the Republicans, and people of that kind, undoubtedly would pick a team of three and switch the names so that the candidate with the name highest in alphabetical order was placed first in the team, with the object of having their team given a higher place in the draw. lt is because of difficulties such as those that it has been necessary to have a ballot for the position of teams in Senate elections; but I cannot see any similarity between that position and that of the House of Representatives, where there may be only one person standing for a party. 1 think that the names should be listed in alphabetical order, as is done in every one of the States. I am not completely informed on this subject, but I do not know of any country in the world in which a ballot is held to decide the order of candidates on ballot-papers. I know that in some countries a circular card is used. The names are placed like the spokes of a wheel. The electors may spin the card in any way they wish, but no candidate has his name on top. That system undoubtedly leads to confusion and results in additional cost. I do not see that there is any advantage in it.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has claimed that 95 of the members of this House are in the A to M group of surnames, and that there are only 29 members in N to Z group. Even that is an inaccurate division, because I do not suppose there would be many candidates whose names began with X and Z. The interesting point is not whether a candidate is in the A to M group or the N to Z group, but the place that his name occupies on the ballot-paper. We find that a great many people whose names began with a letter which places them high in the alphabetical order, actually are placed second or third on the ballot-paper. My name begins with F, and of five elections my name has been on top in three and on the bottom in two; so that it does not naturally follow that because a candidate's name is at the beginning of the alphabet, his name automatically will appear on the top of the ballot-paper.

The degree of advantage that is derived from having one's name appear at the top of the ballot-paper is very much a matter for conjecture. The Minister for the Interior has given me some figures in this connexion in relation to the last general election. There were five electorates in which two candidates stood. The person whose name was on the top of the ballotpaper won in three of those electorates, while the person whose name was second won in two. There were 78 electorates in which there were three candidates, and in 29 instances the person whose name appeared at the top won. In 28 instances the person whose name appeared in second place won, and in 21 instances the person whose name appeared in third place won.

Mr Griffiths - To which parties did they belong?

Mr FAIRBAIRN - The figures have not been taken out for parties. I am discussing the question of whether there is any advantage for a candidate in having his name at the lop of the ballot-paper.

Mr Griffiths - Compare the figures for Communist candidates whose names were on top, with those for other candidates, and see what you get.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - I think all the Communists were eliminated. The figures thai 1 have mentioned show that there were 33 electorates in which there were four candidates; nine of those whose names appeared first on the ballot-paper won, while seven whose names appeared second, won. Eight of those whose names appeared third won., and nine whose names appeared fourth won. There were five electorates in which there were five candidates. The persons whose names appeared at the top of the ballot-paper did not win in any of those electorates. Two persons whose names appeared second won: in two instances, and in one instance the person whose name appeared last won. There was one electorate in which there were six candidates, and again, the person whose name appeared first did not win. The person whose name appeared second won.

The figures I have given indicate that if there is an advantage in having one's name at the top of the ballot-paper it is a very slight one. I do not think that it would be worth while to amend the act under which we have operated for the whole time that the Federal Parliament has been in existence, in the hope of achieving such an advantage.

Mr Murray - You can win from any position on the ballot-paper if you are good enough.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - Yes. What we should aim at is not an amendment of the law to give the franchise to people who cannot cast a vote and would not know how to do so; what we want to do is to get an informed vote. I think I am right in saying that the honorable member for Perth advocated during his speech on Thursday night last that we should have voluntary instead of compulsory voting, and would then get a more informed vote. I think that is only a technical argument, because we have compulsory voting at present and the prospects are. that we shall have it for ever.

There should be some indication to the voter, when he goes into the polling booth, of the parly for which each candidate stands. Only to-day I was speaking to a ma:-, who sat on the Liberal Party side of this House for many years. He told me that on one occasion when he was serving in Brisbane he rushed into a polling booth to cast an absentee vote, without having the faintest idea for whom to vote. He recorded a vote for the candidate he thought belonged to the Liberal Party, only to find later that he had voted for the Labour candidate. If a person with some interest in politics can make a mistake of that kind, how many people who have no such interest would make a similar mistake? 1 cannot see why we cannot either show on the ballot-paper the party for which each candidate is standing or, as is done in England, place in a prominent position inside the polling booth a " How to vote " card from each party contesting the election.

Mr Beazley - That would not solve the problem for a man who was in another State. There could hardly be cards for every electorate.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - In such a case the electoral officer would have a card in his possession, and the voter would be able to demand to see it. I cannot see any drawback in either of the proposals that I have made. I know that the present system of handing out " How to vote " cards works reasonably well in the metropolitan area, but in the large country electorates it is almost physically impossible to man all the polling booths all the time. There are 135 polling booths in my electorate, and some electorates would have many more. At some polling booths, because of the lack of information as to party affiliations, voters have the utmost difficulty in ascertaining which candidate is the candidate for whom they wish to vote. The position is even more confused with the Se- ate ballot-paper. There may be only two or three candidates standing in an electorate for election to the House of Representatives, and in any event the local member is known everywhere in the electorate; but unless a person is a very keen student of politics, or takes the polling booth with him a cutting from a newspaper, it is almost impossible for him to know how to vote as he wishes for Senate candidates. That is one reform that I should like to see introduced.

The second reform which I suggest emanates from the large number of candidates who stand for election to the Senate. There should be some way to cut down the frivolous, time-wasting no-hopers who enter an election campaign without any chance of winning, let alone of obtaining more than a few hundred votes. For example, the person who opposed the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Whittorn) at the recent by-election for that seat, lost his deposit, but that did not deter him, because he stood for another electorate - I think it was Higinbotham - and again lost his deposit. The deposit of £25 was set down in 1901. and it has remained unchanged. It is futile to say that a deposit of this size deters any one from entering an election. The Communist Party knows that an election campaign is a good means of propaganda, and does not worry about losing the money. The same remarks apply to candidates of the Republican Party and those of many of the small splinter parties.

No one wants to prevent anybody from standing as a candidate if he has any chance of winning. A candidate has to receive only one-fifth of the votes polled by the winning candidate in the first count to retain his deposit. In House of Commons elections the deposit is £150 sterling. This seems to keep down the number of candidates. Even if it does not, it ensures that the Communist Party, and a few others, make a reasonable contribution for the propaganda that they set out of an election.

The honorable member for Fremantle mentioned also the amount that one may spend in an election campaign, and stated that the present position is unsatisfactory. I think that that is a masterpiece of understatement. I would call the whole thing a complete farce. I do not know, but I have a pretty shrewd idea, that some honorable members receive on official forms several requests for information as to the amount that they have spent in an election campaign, but consign them to the wastepaper basket until eventually the official concerned becomes tired of the business and sends no more. Such forms are sent not only to candidates, but also to party organizations. There is nothing in the act to the effect that a party is liable to penalty if it spends more than a certain amount in a campaign. The whole thing is ludicrous in the extreme. Who is to know how much has been spent? Candidates know what they spend out of their own pocket. They probably get from their campaign directors a rough idea of what has been spent, but in some cases one cannot do even that. For campaign purposes my electorate is divided into four areas, in one of which I have a particularly good man. I say to him, " You run the campaign in your own way ", and he does so. He raises the money and spends it, and we do not ask in what directions it has gone. How can one possibly limit the amount spent? Must one say to the campaign director: " I am getting pretty close to the limit. I have spent £245, so do not put out any more advertisements or I may be disqualified." The whole thing is futile.

The honorable member for Fremantle stated that the original idea behind this provision was that, by limiting the amount to be spent in a campaign, the wealthy man who could perhaps buy his way into Parliament would be prevented from doing so. The act also provided that a candidate who had announced himself as such within three months of an election could not make a donation to the funds of a club or association before the poll was closed. Some one stated recently that the period should be three years. I honestly believe that the whole of this section is futile, and that it should be repealed. The law should never be brought into contempt. We in this place make laws, and we should abide by them. If a law is unworkable, it should be altered.

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