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Wednesday, 30 May 1928

Mr BELL (Darwin) .- Those electors who read this debate will probably be surprised at our inability to understand what should be a simple amendment of the law. A majority of the members of the committee appear to be perfectly satisfied as to what is the intention of the clause; hut I must confess that, like the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates), and other honorable members who comprise the minority, I find it difficult to gather its meaning from either the wording or the explanation of the Minister (Mr. Marr). I agree also with the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) that the language used in such measures should be clearer and more definite; and that it is not sufficient for it to be within the understanding of legal gentlemen. We have been told that the wording of this clause is perfectly clear, although it may be difficult for those who are not accustomed to legal phraseology to understand it. That, in itself, condemns the phraseology. If I had not heard the explanation of the Minister, I should have ihought that the clause provided that the name of an elector would not be removed from a roll while he was temporarily absent from his usual place of residence, unless he expressed a wish that it should be so removed, and that he would be eligible for enrolment for the new electorate when he had resided in it for a period of one month. It is reasonable to assume that a large percentage of the electors will experience precisely the same difficulty that we have encountered. If the Minister has rightly expressed the intention, then the wording is unsatisfactory. These provisions are in the main framed by the electoral officers, upon the advice of the AttorneyGeneral's Department. I am inclined to fear that this may be misunderstood even by the Minister himself. The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning) has stated why the names of electors are sometimes removed from rolls, and has spoken in commendatory terms of both the act itself and those who are responsible for its administration. I should protest as strongly as any member of the committee if an elector was disfranchised. I agree that the name of an elector should not be removed from a roll for at least three months after he has changed his usual place of residence, and certainly not until he has applied for enrolment in another electorate. I am well aware that names are removed upon the advice of the postal officials that letters are no longer being forwarded to an elector at a given address, and that therefore it is assumed that he has changed his place of residence. I do not regard that as a correct procedure to adopt. I am acquainted with numerous cases in which the names of electors have been removed from rolls although they have been absent only temporarily from their usual place of residence. The electoral law lays upon an elector the obligation to notify a change of place of residence. His name should not be expunged from one roll until it has been placed upon another; and three months is a very reasonable period to stipulate. I am of the opinion that an elector should not be enrolled for an electoral division other than that in which his wife and family reside, and to which it is his fixed intention to return. I contest the suggestion of the honorable member for Hunter that such a man would be disfranchised. It is necessary to prevent the the stuffing of rolls that has been practised in some electorates. The absence of an elector from his usual place of residence for a period of one month is not sufficient justification for removing his name from that roll. It would be more desirable to make the period three months. I know of electors whose names have been removed from the roll although they have not been absent at all from their place of residence. I admit that that is accidental; but I still contend that it. should not occur with such frequency. In 'any event, the name of an elector should not be removed from a roll unless the electoral officials are satisfied that he has permanently changed his place of residence. I am aware, of course, that the law makes provision for those whose names have been wrongly removed from the roll: that such an elector can obtain a vote by signing a declaration that he has not changed his place of residence. Great care should be exercised in the revision of the rolls.

Mr. WEST(East Sydney [9.42]. - I do not think there is very much to be said for this clause. It seems to me that under it, if an elector should desire to have his name removed from one roll to another, that could not be done until he had resided in the new electorate for a period of three months. There is really no need for the clause, and no harm would be done if it were deleted from the bill. We have one 'of the finest electoral laws that has ever been framed in any country. The royal commission which investigated the matter a couple of years ago rather exceeded its responsibility when it recommended an amendment of the Commonwealth law to deal with a situation that could arise only under a State law. The object, of course, was to have only the one roll for both the Commonwealth and the States, and I am. in accord with such a principle. The one roll should be employed wherever there is adult suffrage. We should confine our attention to our own electoral law without attempting to deal with the provisions of the State law. The clause should be postponed for further consideration by the draftsmen.

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