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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- I move -

After paragraph (a) insert the following paragraph: - " (aa) by inserting in paragraph (c) of subsection (1.) after the word 'infirm', the words ' and whose place of living as appearing on the Roll for any Subdivision is situated more than five miles by the nearest practicable route from each and every polling booth open in the State for which he is enrolled ';".

The clause amends section 85 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which prescribes the persons who may apply for postal votes. The amendment would limit the persons who may apply for postal votes on the ground that they are seriously ill or infirm to such persons as are enrolled at places more than five miles from each and every polling booth in the State. The amendment should be taken in conjunction with two other amendments which, with this amendment, have been circulated in the name of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). The first of these amendments provides for voting by persons who are ill, infirm or approaching maternity before electoral visitors who call at their place of residence, and the other provides for mobile polling booths in hospitals for patients in those hospitals.

Mr Anderson - You will disfranchise people.

Mr WHITLAM - It will not disfranchise people. It will provide that sick persons have a secret ar.d private vote where it is well known that under the Commonwealth act they do not have such a vote at present.

Mr Anderson - If they apply seven days before the election.

Mr Howson - Why are you not content with the present provision?

Mr WHITLAM - The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) in his second-reading speech on the bill analysed this position in a very persuasive fashion and I would recommend the honorable gentleman who interjects to read the remarks of the honorable member for Fremantle. He pointed out that most persons who apply for postal votes do so on the ground of sickness. Postal votes, as everybody who has stood for an election must frankly acknowledge, are open to abuse. The technique is deplorably well known. A person who applies for a postal vote is known to have applied for a postal vote by any person who cares to make inquiry at the Divisional Returning Office. The time at which the postal vote will be received by the applicant is similarly anticipated by anybody who inquires at the Divisional Returning Office. Supporters of any candidate armed with that knowledge can call at the address given by the applicant and are likely to offer their services to the applicant and accordingly to know how the applicant has voted.

Mr Howson - That does not necessarily follow.

Mr WHITLAM - But this is perfectly possible, as the honorable gentleman knows.

Mr Osborne - There is no reason for the vote to be known unless the voter himself discloses it.

Mr WHITLAM - I do not think anybody will assert that there is anywhere near the privacy or secrecy in postal voting that there is in all other voting. We must all frankly acknowledge that. The abuse comes in this way: If the applicant casts a vote in accordance with the wishes of the canvasser or the supporter of one of the candidates, that canvasser or supporter will ensure thai the vote is duly delivered. If the applicant casts a vote otherwise, the vote can be and very often is invalidated or altered. If the ballot is marked in ink and cannot be altered, then it is otherwise marked by the canvasser, or the supporter, so as to invalidate it.

Mr Osborne - Where does this go on?

Mr WHITLAM - It goes on in every Commonwealth electoral division. If the ballot has been marked in pencil, then it will be altered - the pencil mark erased and another pencil mark made in accordance with the desire of the canvasser, or the supporter, who is assisting the applicant for the postal vote.

Mr Osborne - Is this practice known to you?

Mr WHITLAM - Every honorable member knows that this dishonorable practice goes on.

Mr Freeth - That is not so. |

Mr WHITLAM - It is so.

Mr Freeth - I did not know that. I have no knowledge of it whatever.

Mr WHITLAM - This allegation was made as recently as last week during the second-reading debate. There is no need to be heated about it. It is a practice which goes on, as is known to every honorable member and to most candidates.

Mr Turnbull - That is absolutely untrue.

Mr Freeth - After the ballot has been sealed? It is simply not true.

Mr WHITLAM - It is true. The Minister for the Interior has interjected, " After the ballot has been sealed? " In these cases, if, as often happens, the applicant hands the ballot to the sympathiser to seal, the sympathiser can make the gesture of sealing it, but not properly, so as to enable it to be opened outside. If in fact the applicant himself, or herself, seals the envelope securely and if, on the supposition that I have been pursuing, the applicant has filled in the ballotpaper contrary to the manner desired by the supporter, then that ballot-paper is not delivered, or it is defaced or destroyed. There is not the secrecy or privacy attaching to Commonwealth postal voting which attaches to every other form of voting under the act. The amendment which was circulated by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) is designed to ensure tha. persons who are sick and unable to go to a polling booth shall, if they live within five miles of a polling booth, have the services of an electoral visitor, or, if they are in a hospital, have the advantage of a mobile polling booth.

Mr McColm - What happens in the case of a person who becomes ill during the seven-day period immediately before polling day?

Mr Anderson - He does not get a vote.

Mr WHITLAM - That is true, unless he is in hospital. However, there are other grounds on which such a person can apply. For instance, if a woman is approaching maternity, that is known more than seven days before the poll, but if a person is sick or infirm because of some accident, which is a common occurrence, then he or she is in no position to apply for a vote, under the present circumstances. The number of persons who would be deprived of a vote because they are sick, although perfectly coherent, is quite negligible. The present procedure has led to abuses, as everybody frankly acknowledges.

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