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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr COPE (Watson) .- I shall relate my remarks particularly to section 106 of the principal act, which reads -

In printing the ballot-papers to be used in a House of Representatives election - (a) the names of all candidates duly nominated shall be printed in alphabetical order according to their surnames;

The application of this provision undoubtedly gives a candidate in the top position on the ballot-paper a marked advantage over other candidates. This was clearly illustrated in the last federal election held on 22nd November, 1958, for the House of Representatives. Of 46 New South Wales electorates contested by the Australian Labour Party, it was in the top position in only seven. Of 46 electorates contested by the Liberal Party and the Australian Country Party, those parties were in the top position in 21. Of 40 electorates contested by the Australian Democratic Labour Party, it was in the top position in fifteen. Of seven electorates contested by the Australian Communist Party, it was in the top position in three. The advantage gained is illustrated by using the Australian Democratic Labour Party and the Communist Party as examples.

Mr Freeth - How many of their candidates were elected to Parliament?

Mr COPE - That is completely irrelevant to the case I am making.

Mr Freeth - I think it has something to do with it.

Mr COPE - Surely the Minister has the patience to wait and hear the illustration I am about to give. I should not think there would be anything wrong with him doing that.

The advantage gained is illustrated by using the Australian Democratic Labour Party and the Communist Party as examples. The Australian Democratic Labour Party occupied the top position in fifteen electorates -and the allocation of formal votes was as

Out of a total of 612,538 formal votes in those electorates, the D.L.P. gained 55,343, an average of 9.03 per cent. In the remaining 25 electorates contested by the D.L.P. - those in which its candidates were not in the top position - the results were as follows: -

Out of the total of 1,063,749 formal votes cast in those 25 electorates, the D.L.P. gained 51,472, an average of 4.83 per cent.

In the three electorates in New South Wales in which the Communist Party occupied the top position, it gair.ed the following percentage of votes: -


The average number of votes secured represented 6.9 per cent. In the other four seats contested by the Communist Party in which it was not on top of the ballot-paper, the results were as follows: -


The average in these electorates was 3.51 per cent. So, in the electorates in which the D.L.P. occupied the top position on the ballot-paper, it averaged 9.03 per cent. Where it was not in the top position, it averaged 4.83 per cent., a difference of 4.2 per cent. Where the Communist Party was in the top position, it averaged 6.9 per cent, and where it was not in the top position, it averaged 3.51 per cent, or a difference of 3.4 per cent. 1 suppose that the most notable illustration in making my point could be given by comparing the votes recorded by P. M. Clancy, the Communist Party candidate in the electorate of Banks for the 1955 and 1958 general elections. In 1955, Clancy occupied the top position on the ballotpaper. He polled 3,356 votes out of a total of 41,875 formal votes, or 8.014 per cent. In 1958, when Clancy was not in the top position, he polled 1,634 votes out of a total of 48,701 formal votes, which was an average of 3.355 per cent. The difference between the two averages was 4.659 per cent.

It is true that the Australian Labour Parry took advantage of the alphabetical system when it was applied to the Senate, but when the government of the day - that was the Menzies Government in 1939 - realized the injustice of that system, it was altered. 1 should like to read from the speech of the Minister in charge of the bill in 1939. This was Mr. Perkins, who was Minister administering External Territories. The Minister for the Interior, who is now at the table, may be interested in the passage 1 shall read. Mr. Perkins said -

The bill further provides that the order in which the respective groups are to be placed on the ballot-papers shall be determined by a draw publicly conducted by the Commonwealth Electoral Officer immediately after the close of nominations. This, it is considered, will provide a much more equitable method of determining ballotpaper placement than the existing system of arrangement by alphabetical calculation, inasmuch as the chances of each and every group will be fairly and squarely equalized. The adoption of this proposal will remove entirely any advantage or any handicap that may be derived merely from the possesion of a particular name and, in consequence, will act as a restraint on any tendency that might develop in the selection of candidates of placing a premium on those nominees whose names happen to commence with an early letter of the alphabet.

Mr. Perkinswent on to say

It is provided in the bill that the system of determination of placement by draw shall apply also to the names of the candidates at House of Representatives elections. If this proposal is adopted the Divisional Returning Officer will, in each case, at the close of nominations, publicly make a draw, and the names of the candidates will appear on the ballot-papers as so drawn. The justification for the proposed method lies, it is believed, in its strict fairness. Each candidate will be given an equal chance as far as ballot-paper position is concerned, irrespective of the name he bears. If his name commences with the letter A he will obtain no greater advantage or suffer no greater handicap than if it commenced with the letter Z.

Mr Reynolds - Was the proposal adopted?

Mr COPE - No; it was withdrawn in the Senate later. I mention it to indicate that even at that time it was realized by Ministers of the Government that the alphabetical system was not fair to all candidates.

As a further illustration of abuse of the present alphabetical system, I turn to the State election held before the last election in Queensland, in which a candidate for the seat of Mount Gravett, in the Queensland Parliament, was named Boon. Forty-eight hours after nominations had closed and the ballot-papers had been printed, he publicly announced his withdrawal from the election. The reason why he nominated in the first place was to prevent an Australian Labour Party candidate from being at the top of the ballot-paper. It is hard to imagine that any system could lend itself to so much abuse as the one we have now. Despite the fact that it was publicly announced in the newspapers in Brisbane at the time, this man Boon polled 150 votes out of a total of about 20,000. He polled those votes although he was not even a candidate. That illustration emphasizes the marked advantage to be gained from having one's name at the top of the ballot-paper.

Our present system also lends itself to abuse in that where no nominations are received it is very easy to put in a dummy candidate. It is also easy to put in a candidate whose name would appear at the top of the ballot-paper and so obtain what we refer to as a donkey vote. I suggest that the illustrations that I have given to-day prove beyond any shadow of doubt that the advantage gained by being at the top of the ballotpaper in a federal election when two papers are issued would be at least 3 per cent., or 1,200 out of every 40,000 votes.

Mr Bird - The Victorian experience is the same.

Mr COPE - The honorable member for Batman quoted illustrations similar to those

I have given to-day when he spoke to the second reading of the bill the other night. The examples he gave indicated that the advantage gained from having one's name at the top of the ballot-paper was 3 per cent, or 1,200 out of every 40,000 votes.

We all know, too, that many people, especially those who are casting an absentee vote, are in a hurry when they enter the booth and merely vote across the paper for the Senate and down the paper for the House of Representatives. Although we appreciate that this is not an intelligent vote, I think we all agree that every candidate in a federal election should have an equal right to benefit from that kind of vote. The benefit should not depend upon whether one's name starts with an A, a B or a C; it should depend upon the order in which his name is drawn out of the hat. Can any honorable member of this House, including the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth), who is sitting at the table, say that drawing the names out of the hat is not a just system? We of the Labour Party in New South Wales realized many years ago the justice of drawing the names out of the hat in connexion with pre-selection ballots. About five or six years ago we altered our rules to provide for that method of drawing and candidates in New South Wales now use that system of drawing to determine the position in which their names appear on ballot-papers in pre-selection ballots. There have even been instances in which people have changed their names by deed poll in order to obtain a good position on the ballot-paper. Surely that is adequate evidence of how the present system can be abused. Why should any person enjoy an advantage over another simply because his name happens to start with a letter that occurs earlier in the alphabet? Certainly, as my name starts with C, I have no great complaint for my name has appeared at the top of the ballot-paper on almost every occasion, but I do realize the injustice of the system. I believe that every man should be treated equally when he stands for Parliament.

Let me refer now to the. informal votes cast at Senate elections under the present system. We of the Australian Labour Party feel that the system is unjust. For eleven years now, we have seen evidence of the need for some change in it. That need has been clearly demonstrated by the number of informal votes cast during the last ten or eleven years. It is also clear that, the more candidates there are at an election, the greater is the number of informal votes cast. For instance, in New South Wales the number of candidates for the Senate in 1949 was 22. Out of the total of 1,848,572 votes cast, 222,576, or 12.04 per cent., were informal. In 1959, when there were 24 candidates for the Senate, the informal votes totalled 7.87 per cent. In 1953, when the election was for the Senate only - there was no election for the House of Representatives that year - the number of informal votes dropped to 3.97 per cent. In 1955, when fourteen candidates stood for election, the informal votes totalled 8.75 per cent., and in 1958, when 21 candidates stood for election, the informal votes totalled 12.45 per cent. Surely those figures indicate to the Minister and to the House that there is a dire need for simplification of our system of voting for the Senate.

To illustrate how easy it is to make a mistake under the present system, I mention my experience as an inside scrutineer for my predecessor, Mr. Tom Sheehan, in 1949. An elderly gentleman came in and asked for an open vote. The presiding officer called me over to witness the casting of the open vote. There were 23 candidates at that election and, when marking the ballot-paper for the applicant, the presiding officer made a mistake. He put the number 17 against the names of two of the candidates. If I had. not pointed out the mistake, the gentleman concerned would have cast an informal vote. The presiding officer did not wrongly mark the paper deliberately; he did it accidentally. I emphasize that the mistake was not made by an illiterate person, nor was it made by a person suffering from bad eye-sight; it was made by the presiding officer of the booth. That illustration proves beyond all doubt that it is absolutely fantastic to ask people to vote 1 to 23, or 1 to 21, as was the case in New South Wales at the last federal elections. Many people make mistakes unconsciously. They must be given the right and opportunity to cast their vote in a democratic fashion so that we may have the benefit of their voice in this Parliament. It is essential that the present system be simplified with a view to minimizing these mistakes. In all the circumstances, I suggest that when the Opposition moves certain amendments in committee the Government should give them the thorough consideration they deserve.

It is of no use for honorable members on the Government side to argue that this system was introduced by the Chifley Labour Government. Admittedly it was, but I emphasize that we have now had sixteen years' experience of the operation of this act and I can assure honorable members that if the Labour Party had been in office during that period the act would have been altered along the lines indicated by the amendments we propose to submit. We do not contend that the amendments we have prepared are perfect but we believe they are the best that can be offered at the moment. There may be many honorable members on the Government side who can offer constructive suggestions to simplify the system with a view to eliminating the abuses that now take place. And it means, of course, that by eliminating the abuses and simplifying the voting system we will get a truer voice of the people in this Parliament.

Mr. WENTWORTH(Mackellar) r4.1].- I. listened to the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) with his analysis of the alphabetical complexities of the present voting system with all the sympathy of a man whose name begins with the letter "W". I think he has a point there and I feel that what he said should be taken into consideration by the House.

I want to direct attention to two matters relating to the administration of the Commonwealth Electoral Act rather than its drafting, because neither of them, I think, involves an actual amendment of the act. The first of these matters relates to the enrolment of newly naturalized migrants. During recent election days I have seen a large number of migrants coming into the polls and expecting to vote but finding they were not enrolled. The reason why they are not enrolled was. in essence, their own fault, because they had not sent in an enrolment claim. This is something which should not occur and I think we should be taking steps to minimize it as far as possible.

As we know, at the time of naturalization, when a migrant becomes eligible to vote, all the particulars in regard to him which are necessary for his enrolment are recorded. I know that at naturalization ceremonies there is a very appropriate address made to the migrants by the naturalizing officer, who reminds them of their obligation to get on the roll. Would it not be better if enrolment cards were made out with the certificates of naturalization of the migrants, so that they could be signed at the naturalization ceremony and sent in, with the result that all these migrants would be enrolled and would be able to exercise all the rights to which they are entitled?

Mr Reynolds - Some municipal councils are already doing that.

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