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Monday, 24 May 1965

Senator PALTRIDGE (Western Australia) (Minister for Defence) . - I move -

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The main purpose of this Bill is to amend the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act relating to the distribution of the States into electoral divisions. Opportunity is also being taken to effect other amendments considered desirable. The provisions relating to the distribution of the States into divisions have not been changed since Federation, and it is not intended to alter in substance those provisions. For the information of the Senate, I will read the existing section 19 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which is pertinent to the proposed amendments -

In making any proposed distribution of a State into Divisions the Distribution Commissioners shall give due consideration to -

(a)   Community or diversity of interest;

(b)   Means of communication;

(c)   Physical features;

(d)   Existing boundaries of Divisions and Subdivisions;

(e)   State Electoral boundaries; and subject thereto the quota of electors shall be the basis for the distribution, and the Distribution Commissioners may adopt a margin of allowance, to be used whenever necessary, hut in no case shall the quota be departed from to a greater extent than one-fifth more or one-fifth less.

However, the proposed amendments will make it clear to the Distribution Commissioners, that, while keeping within the 20 per cent, margin of the quota, a margin which has existed since the Act began, they shall give consideration to community of economic, social and regional interests, means of communication and travel with special reference to disabilities arising out of remoteness and distance, the trend of population changes, the density or sparsity of population and the areas of proposed divisions. In addition the Commissioners will be required to have regard to physical features and the existing divisional and subdivisional electoral boundaries.

While the trend of population changes, the density or sparsity of population and the areas of proposed divisions are new elements which are now expressly stated for the first time, they will not result in any significant change in the procedure followed by Distribution Commissioners since they are factors in respect of which some allowance has invariably been made by Commissioners at past distributions. The amendments do, however, give specific expression to these factors and, in a sense, will thereby provide a legal basis for what has been normal practice. Accordingly, all Commissioners will in future be working to the same ground rules.

Under a new provision, any person or organisation will in future be able to submit suggestions to the Distribution Commissioners before the Commissioners have formulated any plans. Honorable senators will know that this has not been possible in the past. The procedure will be for the Distribution Commissioners, by advertisement in the Commonwealth " Gazette ", to invite the submission of written suggestions relating to the distribution. Then after a period of 30 days, any suggestions lodged with the Commissioners will be made available for perusal at the office of the Commonwealth Electoral Officer for the State, after which a further period of 14 days will be allowed for the lodgment of written comments on the suggestion. Until these periods have elapsed - that is, a total period of 44 days - the Distribution Commissioners will not commence their task of formulating their initial proposals for distributing a State. All suggestions and comments lodged with the Commissioners will be duly considered in addition to the other factors referred to earlier.

When the Commissioners have made their initial proposals they will, as in the past, cause maps to be exhibited at post offices showing the boundaries of the proposed divisions. At this time, any written comments lodged with the Commissioners will be made available for perusal as before at the office of the Commonwealth Electoral Officer for the State. A further period of 30 days will then be allowed for the lodgment of written suggestions or objections to the proposals. Apart from making available for perusal copies of all suggestions and comments lodged with the Commissioners, it is not intended that the Commissioners be required to generally make available other copies. However, because of the particular interest of political parties in any distribution, the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Anthony) will direct that copies be made available upon request to any recognised political party.

At the expiration of this further 30 day period, the Commissioners will consider all suggestions and objections lodged with them and thereafter they will make their report to the Minister. Such report will be accompanied by a map showing the boundaries of the proposed divisions together with copies of all suggestions, comments and objections lodged with the Commissioners. All these documents will be tabled in Parliament. Except as expressly permitted by law for the lodgment of written suggestions, comments or objections, a person will be prohibited under the provisions of this Bill from seeking to influence a Distribution Commissioner in the performance of his duties. Although not included in the proposed amendments, the Government intends that the Minister direct the Chief Electoral Officer to arrange for consultations between the Distribution Commissioners appointed for the several States for the purpose of obtaining uniformity in procedures and to ensure the proper interpretation of the law by the Commissioners.

The purpose of requiring a deposit to be lodged with a nomination paper is to discourage " frivolous " nominations. The existing amount of £25 is now ineffective. This amount has remained unchanged since 1902 and today's equivalent would be more in the nature of £200. Under the provisions of this Bill the amount of the deposit to be lodged with a nomination will be increased from £25 to £50 in the case of a House of Representatives election and from £25 to £100 in the case of a Senate election. The Government believes that because of the State-wide nature of a Senate election, the candidates' deposit in such elections should be double that of the candidates in the House of Representatives elections. It might be noted that the amount of deposit required of candidates for the British House of Commons is £1 50 while it is 200 dollars for the Canadian House of Commons. The amounts of candidates' deposits for State elections are -


Under the electoral and referendum regulations, a number is placed on each postal vote certificate and declaration envelope relating to absent and section voting and a corresponding number is placed on the relevant ballot papers. This enables a Court of Disputed Returns, should it so desire, to identify and reject any such ballot paper where it is found that the person who marked the ballot paper was not entitled to vote at the election. However, there is no way of identifying the ballot paper of any person who had recorded an ordinary vote at any polling booth and there is no justification for a provision which enables a Court of Disputed Returns to identify the ballot paper of a postal, absent or section voter. Accordingly, it is proposed to repeal section 189a which was enacted in 1922 specifically to enable a Court of Disputed Returns to identify and reject such ballot papers.

A consequential amendment is proposed to the electoral and referendum regulations which will remove altogether the numbering provisions which have been the subject of much criticism over many years due to the fact that in certain circumstances the numbering could be used to violate the secrecy of the poll. No State electoral law provides for the numbering of ballot papers. Queensland discontinued this practice in 1959 and Victoria discontinued it in 1938. The electoral laws of New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania have never included such provisions.

Senators will be aware that two or more candidates in a Senate election may have their names grouped on the ballot papers and that the names of candidates included in groups are shown before the names of candidates not in groups. Accordingly, where there is a single casual vacancy to be filled at a Senate election - as was the case at the 1963 Senate election in Queensland, held in conjunction with the House of Representatives elections - a candidate who does not group, has his name placed at the end of the ballot paper together with other ungrouped candidates. Thus, a political party can obtain an advantageous position on the ballot paper by being represented by more than one candidate even though only one vacancy exists.

In order to remove this anomaly, it is proposed that the grouping provisions shall not apply where a single Senate vacancy is to be filled in any State. Under the proposed amendment, all candidates for a single Senate vacancy will be subjected to a draw for position on the ballot papers. The names will not be arranged in alphabetical order but they will be listed from top to bottom as in the case of a House of Representatives election.

It is also proposed that the amount of the penalty for failure to enrol or failure to notify change of address be increased. The maximum penalty for such an offence will be raised from £2 to £5. The minimum penalty will remain unchanged except in the case of a second or subsequent offence, when it becomes £2 in lieu of 10s. Up to date rolls are the very essence of a good electoral system and the existing penalties are quite ineffective. From time to time magistrates have criticised the smallness of the fine which they may impose. The proposed increase in the amount of the penalty will affect only those cases which are referred to a court. An offender will still have the option of having his case dealt with by the Commonwealth Electoral Officer who may impose a penalty of not more than 10s. for a first offence and not more than £2 for any subsequent offence.

Under the provisions of this Bill the amount of penalty for failure to vote will also be increased from " not less than 10s. and not more than £2" to "not less than £1 and not more than £5". The amount of the penalty has remained unchanged since the introduction of compulsory voting in 1924 and it is now regarded as inadequate. It has become evident that, in this day and age of high wages, some people are prepared to risk the possibility of a small fine rather than upset their Saturday routine for the purpose of voting. Whilst it is thought that an increase in the amount of the penalty will have the desired salutary effect, in practice it will affect only those few non-voters who do not consent to having their cases dealt with by the Commonwealth Electoral Officer and who are subsequently dealt with by a court. It is not proposed to alter Regulation 78, which empowers a Commonwealth electoral officer to impose a penalty of " not less than ten shillings nor more than two pounds " for failure to vote.

Under the existing law, an elector may hand the postal vote envelope containing his marked ballot paper to a divisional returning officer or to any assistant returning officer where the postal vote, if posted, would not reach the divisional returning officer for the division in respect of which the elector claims to vote, within a period of seven days. A postal vote which is posted to a divisional returning officer must be received within this seven day period to be admitted to the scrutiny but due to the increased overseas postal voting, more and more postal votes are being returned through the post just outside the seven day limit.

Clauses 10 and 11 of the Bill extend from seven to ten days the period in which postal votes must be returned, if posted direct to the divisional returning officer, to be included in the scrutiny. The time limit applies only where a voter posts his ballot paper direct to the divisional returning officer. There is no time limit for the return of postal votes which are handed to any divisional returning officer or assistant returning officer up to the close of the poll. In such event, these votes are included in the scrutiny even though they may not be received until after seven days.

While, under the existing law, a Presiding Officer may adjourn the polling from day to day in the event of an interruption or obstruction due to riot or open violence, there is no such provision for an adjournment in any other case, once the polling booth has been opened on polling day. It is proposed, therefore, to extend this power of day to day adjournment to instances where the polling is interrupted by storm, tempest, flood or occurrences of a like kind.

The proposed amendment to section 91b provided in clause 9 is merely an administrative amendment to -make it clear that, where a postal vote is being recorded outside Australia, any elector for a State or Territory is also an authorised witness in addition to other persons referred to in section 91b (1.) (b). I commend the Bills to honorable senators.

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