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Wednesday, 18 June 1902

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - In the last line of the clause assistant returning officers are excepted from exercising the powers of the divisional returning officer under Part X, which deals with postal voting. In South Australia, where postal voting was first adopted, the idea was to enable people at a distance the opportunity to exercise the franchise, and in large districts, such as we have in that State and in Queensland, the provision is no doubt extremely useful. That usefulness, however, will be to a great extent discounted by the exception to which I have referred. The divisional returning officer may be hundreds of miles away ; and yet, under the clause, applications cannot be made to the assistant. The conduct of elections and other important duties are intrusted to assistant returning officers, and I do not see why they should not be allowed to issue absentee voters' forms, of which they must keep a complete record.

Mr Batchelor - Would the honorable member trust assistant returning officers to strike electors off the roll t

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Does the honorable member think .that question ought to be raised now ?

Mr Batchelor - The honorable member is himself raising the whole question.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - If Part X of the Bill is not going to be of as much convenience to electors at a great distance, as to other electors, we had better strike out the provisions for postal voting. In South Australia, when, a voter applies for an absentee voter's paper, the fact is recorded in red ink opposite his name on the roll.

Mr Batchelor - But in South Australia application must be made to the divisional returning officer.

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - And that has been a source of great trouble in many of the outside districts, notably in the north, where the population may be scattered over an area of 1,000 miles long by 500 miles wide. The divisional returning officer may be 300 miles away, and it must be remembered that application cannot be made until after the nomination. Therefore, an applicant who resides at a great distance is at a disadvantage in comparison with the man who is residing in a thickly populated district, and who can take advantage of, perhaps, a daily post.

Sir William McMillan - Is the honorable member of opinion that seven days will not be enough ?

Mr V L SOLOMON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I think that assistant returning officers should be allowed to issue these papers. They would be able to keep butts, which would show to whom the papers had been issued, and to mark off upon their rolls the names of those to whom they were issued. I do not care how much the provision is hedged round with safeguards, but I think a great hardship will be inflicted upon many electors in thinly populated districts if this arrangement is not allowed.

Mr DEAKIN - The omission in the clause was deliberately made, but, having heard the honorable member for South Australia, I can conceive of cases in which it might be of considerable advantage to confer upon assistant returning officers the power to issue these papers. I shall ask the Minister for Home Affairs to consider under what terms, if any, such an arrangement might be provided for.

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