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Wednesday, 30 May 1928

Mr BLAKELEY (Darling) .- I hope that the committee will not entertain the proposal embodied in the amendment. To-day the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) spoke in high terms of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. Other honorable members have referred to the high standard of efficiency and integrity of the divisional returning officers. I pay tribute to those with whom I have come in contact. The Commonwealth electoral system is almost perfect, notwithstanding that at times inconvenience is caused to electors. Insofar as the conduct of elections is concerned, I do not think that the Commonwealth electoral laws or its electoral officers could be bettered. That is my opinion after a fairly long experience of electoral matters, both before and since I became a member of this Parliament. All the divisional returning ofiicers that I know are responsible men who have a job to do and do it well. If I had the same confidence in all of the presiding officers I should he disposed to support the amendment.

Mr Bell - Why is the honorable member suspicious of certain presiding officers ?

Mr BLAKELEY - Because in some cases they are irresponsible persons.

Mr Ley - They are selected by the divisional returning officers.

Mr BLAKELEY - I know they are; hut that does not invest them all with a sense of the responsibility of their position.

Mr Ley - All they will have to do if the amendment is carried will be to receive envelopes containing the ballotpapers, and forward them to the divisional returning officer.

Mr BLAKELEY - That is so. Whenever possible the divisional returning officers appoint as presiding officers members of the Commonwealth or the State public services. Usually the men selected are officers employed in the Post and Telegraph Department, school teachers, and so on. But there are many remote districts where public servants are not available, and where the divisional returning officer has to appoint station managers, storekeepers, and other persons not easily get-atable, and, therefore, not responsible in the sense that they have no job to lose. There are station managers and station managers. One station manager of my acquaintance was in the employ of Sir Sidney Kidman at a time when he owned nearly one-half of the Darling electoral division. He may have been a good servant to Sir Sydney, but I should not like that gentleman to handle the votes of any electors in the Darling division.

Mr Manning - What station is that ?

Mr BLAKELEY - He was managing one of Sir Sidney Kidman's stations of about 200,000 acres.

Mr Ley - I presume the honorable member knows that party organizers sometimes collect these votes.

Mr BLAKELEY - I am aware of that, and I commend that portion of the act which provides penalties for any interference by organizers or canvassers. I should welcome the amendment of the honorable member for Macquarie if I had the same confidence in presiding officers as I have in divisional returning officers. In my opinion, it would be dangerous to allow some storekeepers, hotelkeepers, bookmakers' clerks, shop assistants, station managers or jackeroos, who may be appointed as presiding officers, to handle postal votes. The divisional returning officer for the Kalgoorlie division, right in the heart of the

State of Western Australia, has no hope of getting public servants to act as presiding ofiicers at all polling places, and therefore must depend upon station managers, jackeroos, or boundary riders to preside at a number of subdivisional polling booths. To allow some of the people who act as presiding officers to receive postal votes would, in my opinion, be dangerous. After all, what does the honorable member seek in this amendment? He seeks an extension of time for the receipt of postal votes.

Mr Manning - Exactly.

Mr BLAKELEY - Why not allow a still further extension of two or three days?

Mr Manning - My object is to give to postal voters the same privileges that other electors enjoy, but no more.

Mr BLAKELEY - An applicant for a postal vote should be cognisant of the provisions of the act dealing with this class of vote, and, therefore, should lodge his application in time to allow of the ballot-paper being returned to the divisional returning officer by the day of polling.

Mr McGrath - Only sick electors need use the postal vote; others may vote as absentee electors.

Mr BLAKELEY - As a matter of fact, the amendment does not affect sick people.

Mr Manning - A voter may meet with an accident and break his leg two or three days prior to polling. Why should he be denied the franchise?

Mr BLAKELEY - A voter may die, too. It is not possible, by legislation, to provide for all contingencies. I hope, therefore, that the committee will reject the amendment.

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