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Thursday, 31 May 1928

Mr BRUCE (Flinders) (Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs) ment is, of course, a very important one. I think we can take it that it is the desire of all honorable members that every citizen in Australia should have an opportunity to exercise the franchise if it is possible to devise a system which will contain safeguards against uncertainty, or possibly corruption, being introduced into the operation of our electoral law. I believe it is possible to do something to meet the wishes of honorable members. It is, however, a matter of some difficulty, because it is important that any proposal to do what has been suggested should have incorporated in it adequate safeguards to ensure absolute purity in elections. While I do not think that the Government can accept the amendment in its present form, I believe we can suggest a proposal that will satisfy those honorable members who approve of it, and at the same time provide proper safeguards. One objection to the proposal in its present form is that the vote must be sent by post to the presiding officer. I doubt if that could be allowed; but I suggest that the handing of the postal vote to the presiding officer might be permitted, and perhaps prove a way out of the difficulty.

Mr McGrath - By whom should it be handed to the presiding officer ?

Mr BRUCE - By an individual elector.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It would not be a postal vote then.

Mr BRUCE - It might still be regarded as a postal vote, because the voting paper would have been sent to the elector concerned, following his application for a postal vote.

Mr McGrath - Does the Prime Minister suggest that a postal ballot-paper should be handed to the presiding officer by the elector concerned?

Mr BRUCE - Not necessarily. If an elector could attend at a polling place, he would be entitled to vote as an absentee voter. The position might be mel by requiring the witnessing of the signature and other safeguards just as if the vote were posted direct to the divisional returning officer for the division for which the elector claimed the vote. We all have sufficient confidence in our electoral officers to believe that a method can be devised which will satisfy all objections. I am not suggesting that we should attempt to insert these safeguarding provisions in the act itself, but I believe there are ways in which the necessary safeguards could be established. It is desirable that the fullest consideration should be given to this matter by the Electoral Department in order to devise the best method. I suggest that one way would be to issue to all presiding officers receipt forms for postal votes. One of these receipts could be delivered to the person handing in a postal ballot-paper, and the presiding officer would have to account for every receipt form issued to him in the same way that now he has to account for every voting paper and document received by him in connexion with an election. I do not say that that is the way in which the matter should be arranged. It would, be better to leave it to the electoral officers to devise the best method of safeguarding the vote. But the bill should provide that the postal vote must be handed to the presiding officer on polling day. If the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning) would withdraw his amendment the position could be met by omitting from proposed subsection 2, the words "who shall deal with it in the prescribed manner " and inserting in lieu thereof the words "or may be delivered on polling day to any presiding officer, and the divisional returning officer or the presiding officer, as the case may be, shall deal with it in the prescribed manner. " The clause now concludes - the envelope in which the ballot-paper is onclosed may be addressed to and posted or delivered to, any other divisional returning officer, who shall deal with the matter in the prescribed manner.

The suggested amendment would ensure the handing of the voting paper to the presiding officer on polling day ; he would post it to the divisional returning officer. The voting paper would then be dealt with in the prescribed manner. After consultation with the electoral officers, the necessary safeguards could be provided. I suggest that if the honorable member for Macquarie withdraws his amendment and that which I have suggested is substituted for it, we shall accomplish what every honorable member desires.

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