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Wednesday, 26 April 1961

Mr McCOLM (Bowman) .- In the course of the debate this evening a number of different aspects of the bill before the House and the proposed amendments to it have been mentioned. These include some of the aspects of postal voting, the treatment of the aboriginal vote, an increase in the size of advertising posters at election time, the order of candidates' names on ballot-papers for the House of Representatives, the hours of voting on election day and the document that a candidate has to sign showing the amount of money which he has expended during an election campaign. I should like to congratulate the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley), who, I thought, made a very worthwhile contribution to the debate. He discussed some of the early reasons why the aboriginal vote tended to be excluded. He pointed out quite clearly that the exclusion in the minds of the fathers of federation was not made on the basis of colour, but has its origin in the question of land tenure, coupled with the fact that that could possibly interfere with State rights. I believe that was a very important point.

The honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant), when dealing with the aboriginal vote or lack of aboriginal vote, was inclined to give the impression, to start with, that the aborigines have been, to use his own words, done down on their just rights, and that it was the intention of the Government to perpetuate a system which I am sure every honorable member in this House hopes will be rectified in the not far distant future. I feel very hopeful that the select committee on the voting rights of aborigines will come back to the House with recommendations which will enable us to put our own voting methods, in respect of the aborigines, on a proper or better footing than they are now. At the same time, we should realize that there are tremendous difficulties to be overcome. It would not be advisable, to my mind, to rush into any hasty or blanket alteration in this regard without the advice of the select committee, and triggered off to a large extent by what might be considered to be expressions of opinions by people in other countries.

I feel quite certain that this House will be reasonably satisfied with whatever decision the Government, having heard the report of the select committee, makes. I am certain, too, that every one in the House is pleased that at last various denominations which have objected to having to go to the polling booth on Saturday will now be able to take advantage of postal voting. There will be no disagreement about that arrangement. But it is an undoubted fact that at the approach of an election there is feverish activity. People go round collecting postal votes, and canvass to ascertain whether electors want them. Probably a large number of people have postal votes although they could not do so if the act was strictly applied. I hope that at some time in the future we will do something about that matter. I am not satisfied that the amendments proposed by the Opposition are necessarily the answer to the problem and I think it requires close examination. I am satisfied that the provisions of the act are being abused at present by a fairly large section of the community and that steps should be taken to prevent such a practice.

I come now to the order or arrangement of candidates' names on the ballot-paper. For a number of years 1 have been advocating a number of things which have been under discussion during this debate and in the course of that time I have not heard any arguments which could cause me to change my views on some of them. Of course, I believe that they are in the interests of my electors. Some of them are in the interests of common sense and logic and none of them will hurt the people of the Commonwealth. For that reason 1 intend to support one or two of the amendments which the Opposition pro- "0s2s. I will go into that matter in some detail at the correct time - during the committee stage.

I should like to make brief mention of my personal views on the sandwiching of the name of one candidate between the names of others on the ballot-paper. It is an undoubted fact - I do not think any one would attempt to deny it - that the first position on the ballot-paper carries an advantage of something between 21 per cent, and 4 per cent. This principle is recognized in regard to voting for the Senate. In that instance, although we have only a grouping of the various parties standing for election we still ballot to see in what order they shall go, because it is well recognized that whoever is No. 1 on the ballot-paper is in a favoured position. It could be argued that this is not the right time to make changes of that nature, but that argument can be put forward at any time when a proposal for change is made. I believe that on the grounds of common sense, fairness and logic it would be a good idea if candidates decided by ballot the positions that their names would occupy on the ballot-papers for the House of Representatives. I support that idea. I may add that I do not think this would affect me personally at the next election, because I am satisfied that my present majority will stand anything that members of the Opposition can put up against me. Although it may be a matter of small interest to the House I am sure that my electors in the Bowman division are the best educated in Australia because they have the lowest percentage of informal votes in both the House of Representatives and Senate elections.

Mr Cope - Is it not true that during the last election they threw boiled eggs at you?

Mr McCOLM - That may well have been, but it also happened to Billy Hughes on one occasion.

Another question that has been raised is whether the hours of voting should be from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. or from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. I unhesitatingly come down on the side of voting from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. We have had those hours for a long time in elections for the Queensland Parliament. The system has worked most satisfactorily. I have no hesitation in saying that the great majority of the electors - not only the people who work on polling day - are perfectly satisfied with that arrangement. In that remark I include the people in most of the country areas. The suggestion has been put forward that in some areas polling hours between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. could be to the detriment of the people on the land, but I cannot help bearing in mind that any person who lives outside a radius of 5 miles from the ballot-box can have a postal vote. So, the distance involved is 5 miles and the position is not as my friend, the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond), stated earlier, that some people have to go 20 miles or more to cast their votes. If they are more than 5 miles from the ballot-box they do not have to go to the booth to vote. This system has been proved to work effectively in Queensland, and I am quite sure that the arguments about distances and the hard work that farmers have to do in gathering their crops at a particular time of the year, and most of the other arguments that could be raised in respect of any other part of Australia, are no different from the arguments that apply in Queensland. The fact that most of the other States, in their State elections, still maintain voting from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. does not cut any ice with me. Because something has been done for 50 years, it does not mean that it must necessarily continue to be done if something better can be suggested. I believe that voting from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. is better.

I come now to the return of electoral expenses which one has to fill in after an election. It is called " Form, G ". I should like to read to the House part of that form. First, it has a number of sections which have to be filled in and it concludes with these words -

And I do solemnly and sincerely declare that this return is true in every particular, and that, except as appears by this return, I have not, and no person has with my knowledge or authority, paid any electoral expense incurred by me or on my behalf or in my interest at or in connexion with the said election, or incurred any such expense or any liability for any such expense or given or promised any reward office employment or valuable consideration on account or in respect of any such expense.

I do not know exactly what that means, other than that people are asked to sign a return; and in these days that action must invariably make them liars because no member of this Parliament could accurately say that £250 was the total amount of money that was spent by him, or on his behalf, or in his interest in the course of an election. I have not the slightest doubt that that return could be changed. But I do not agree with the suggestions made by honorable members opposite who say, "There is a figure of £250 here for the H-use of Representatives. Let us increase that to £500, and let us have £750 instead of- £500 for the Senate." In my opinion, taking into consideration all electoral expenditure in these modern times, those figures would be equally astray as the existing £250 for the House of Representatives and £500 for the Senate. I hope that something will be done to remove that declaration altogether. If candidates do not have to sign a declaration of that nature, nobody will be advantaged and nobody will be disadvantaged.

That brings me to the matter of the size of advertising posters. The present maximum is 60 square inches. I understand that that was introduced as a war-time regulation in 1943 as a war-time economy, and put into the act by legislation in 1946. The present proposal is to increase the size from 60 square inches to 1,200 square inches. I believe that if we intend to limit the size of posters of this nature we may as well leave the limit as it is. There are quite a number of reasons for that. I will not go into them in detail at the present time. The limit should be left as it is, or if it is to be lifted in the interests of any candidate there should be no limit on the size of the posters. On those grounds, I propose to support the Opposition's amendment that the Government's proposal be negatived. By far the most important matter that arises under this bill and the amendments which have been foreshadowed is aboriginal voting. I have not the slightest doubt that when the select committee has reported and its report has been studied by the department and the Government, the action which the Government will take then will meet with the complete approval of the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Cope) adjourned.

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