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Thursday, 1 December 1983
Page: 3170

Senator ROBERT RAY(7.15) —I am sure that it would be more democratic if we kept the polls open till midnight because the natural corollary of what Senator Baume has said is that certain people, expecially for religious reasons, miss out on voting on certain occasions. Even with 8 o'clock closing during daylight saving it remains light until 9 o'clock and those people miss out. I would have thought that the natural extension of his argument was to keep the polls open until about 10 o'clock at night. Approximately 8 per cent of the electorate, when there is 8 o'clock closing, vote between 6 and 8 o'clock. The average one would expect is 18 per cent if people voted evenly in two-hour blocks. Therefore, I contend that fewer people vote between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. than in most other two-hour periods. The reasons for moving to this particular position relate back to why we originally had 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. voting. I suggest that the problems of communication and transport were great around 1900. Perhaps almost no one at that stage owned cars; today a majority of people own them. People today are more mobile; they get to booths more quickly. I suggest to Senator Baume that he has put up a theoretical case rather than a practical one, although he may be able to adduce evidence--

Senator Peter Baume —It depends whether you are Jewish.

Senator ROBERT RAY —He may be able to adduce evidence that some people are upset by it. He has produced none today and I can relate other experiences. For a start, Queensland has had 6 o'clock closing since 1915. I am unaware that the conservative Government up there, which I am sure the honourable senator will concede is no less sensitive than himself, has ever moved to revoke 6 o'clock poll closing in the past 26 years it has been in office. I remind the Senate that it was a Liberal Government that introduced 6 o'clock closing in Victoria for the 1977 election. In my speech during the second reading debate I related that many people were worried that in the initial election people would be disadvantaged and that there would be complaints about it. I saw no complaints registered in any of the newspapers, including the Jewish News in Melbourne. I instructed all scrutineers throughout the State to report if people were unhappy with those particular voting procedures. In the end, we got no complaints at all .

Senator Maguire informed me a few minutes ago that South Australia went to 6 o' clock closing in 1982. Again, there were no problems. I think Senator Baume is inventing the problems. New South Wales has had 6 o'clock for some years. Again, there have been no major problems. I believe it is an economical move but it is also more than just a matter of economics, more than a matter of saving several hundred thousand dollars by cutting out two hours. I do not care about the party workers in this regard. We roster people in two hour shifts and we always have too many people. Manning that number of shifts is not a party problem. The one thing that I agree with Senator Peter Baume about is that there is no political advantage in having either 6 o'clock or 8 o'clock closing. But there is a disadvantage to those people who are hired to work that day. They have to work from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. with perhaps an additional three hours counting. So it is a 15-hour day for individuals concerned with the electoral process. I know that they are paid to do it, but 15 hours is a fairly long day. Cutting two hours off it is a major advantage. The earlier results argument, I agree, is a fairly ephemeral one. It does not really matter whether one gets earlier results . It is probably a little nicer, a little easier, but it is not the absolute argument.

Before we finally consider this, it is incumbent upon those opposite to come up with some evidence that a large or even a substantial majority of people are upset by this. As I say, when the changeover occurred in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria, there were to my knowledge no complaints made. People adapted to the system fairly well. Senator Baume makes out a case for the Orthodox Jewish community, but he conceded that in probably half the elections we have they are still unable to vote. In the elections of 2 December 1972, 13 December 1975 and again this year I think daylight saving came in a week or two later, so in three out of the last six elections they have not been able to vote in person. The logical corollary is either to extend voting to 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock at night or to give those people a postal vote.

Senator Peter Baume —March 5th, this year's election?

Senator ROBERT RAY —I think that we were then still operating under daylight saving. That no doubt can be checked. I am assured that I am correct. Certainly, from memory, in Queensland the results came in an hour behind those of other places. Polling places there closed an hour later than polling places on the rest of the east coast, so certainly daylight saving was in operation then. In conclusion, I say that it would be cheaper, and it would be easier on the workers inside the booths. It has not been brought forward out of concern for the workers outside the booths because usually they are not doing a 12-hour shift, unless they are very dedicated. It does not really affect them at all.