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Thursday, 1 December 1983
Page: 3156

Senator MACKLIN(5.44) — The Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform looked at the proposal for mobile polling booths. The debate we are now having was actually rehearsed fairly extensively during the proceedings of that Committee in the preparation of its report. Indeed, the recommendation for the mobile polling booths came precisely from consideration of the problems which undoubtedly have arisen in nursing homes and other special hospitals. I do not want to make accusations of one kind or another, as I have no evidence that undue influence occurs in Commonwealth elections in hospitals and the like. I believe that such evidence is pretty hard to obtain. However, I do have evidence in relation to a Queensland state election. A booth is situated in a particular hospital, thus enabling one to find the figures as they are isolated in the statistics. The situation in that particular hospital is that only one party is allowed in by the matron. That particular hospital registers something in excess of 85 per cent of votes for one particular political party. Undoubtedly, it would be possible for that to occur. If that were on the application to get into the hospital, I suppose it would be possible to establish whether that was the case. But I do not think that anybody in the Senate would suggest that a percentage as high as that could arise from a situation that was dealt with fairly by all concerned with that election. I think everybody has to accept that there are problems in this area and that there have been problems in the past. In recommending the mobile polling booths, the Committee sought to give additional assistance to people in those hospitals; it did not seek to take anything away. If honourable senators look through the Bill and the Committee's report, they will see the care with which the mobile polling booth issue has been handled. It is designed positively to assist people in hospitals to cast a valid vote. I think that should be seen as a major advance. In the debate we are having now it looks as though that advance has been cast as something which is taking something away from the citizen. It is not. It is adding something quite significant. It is my hope in supporting that recommendation of the Committee and in supporting the current clause in the Bill that we will obtain more valid votes from those hospitals than we have in the past.

Senator Withers —What do you mean by valid votes?

Senator MACKLIN —I mean formal votes. Certainly if one looks at the statistics one finds very many informal votes. Again, I cannot get evidence for Federal elections because statistics are not provided on a hospital basis. There may be some, but I do not know of any. I am going only on what happens in my own State, where we have very similar laws in relation to hospitals. The fact is that the hospital I mentioned earlier is able to provide statistics which show a very large number of informal votes. My hope is that this combination of mobile polling booths and the ability of parties to have scrutineers with those going around with them will assist in the fairness and effectiveness of the new procedures proposed in this Bill. I believe that we ought to give this a fair and reasonable chance and see what occurs. The Senate and the House of Representatives have kept in session the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform so that it can look at the results. I believe this will be one of the very areas that that Committee will be very interested in analysing after the next Federal election. It will be able to see precisely what has occurred and compare that with what occurred in previous elections. It can then make recommendations as to what changes ought to be made to the Act in the light of experience. I urge this chamber to support the clause in the Bill in the hope-I hope not misplaced-that we will be giving greater assistance to people in hospitals than has ever been given to them in the past.