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Thursday, 31 May 1928


Mr THOMPSON (New England) . - I was a member of the committee which dealt with this matter, and, like many others, I was at first in favour of the original absent voting provision. I could not understand why an elector should not record his vote in any part of Australia, and I retained that opinion until I heard the objections raised by officers of the Electoral Department. We finally decided not to recommend this system which, as we stated in our report, would result in very considerable delays in the declaration of a poll. This applies particularly to the Senate elections. It does not matter so muchin regard to the House of Representatives, but for the Senate elections it has been found that there has always been a serious difficulty in obtaining final results. What eventually persuaded the committee to turn the proposal down was the statement of electoral officers that only very few persons who could not be covered by the. postal voting provision left for other States on the eve of an election. Honorable members opposite have made a plea for persons who are hurriedly called to another State on the morning of the poll, or on the preceding day. There may be such cases, but the majority of absentees are persons who plan their trips well beforehand and have plenty of time to get a postal vote. Upon this point the select committee reported -

Much evidence was tendered to the committee as to the desirability of electors being permitted to vote when in a State other than the one for which they are enrolled.

At present absent voting is restricted to the State for which the elector is enrolled.

Interstate absent voting was formerly provided for, but it was found that its operation caused grave delays in the announcement of the results of the elections; and, upon the introduction of postal voting, it was decided that practically all cases of this kind would be met by the postal voting system, and therefore absent voting beyond the boundaries of the State was discontinued.

If it were re-introduced, the same difficulties would arise, and the already long period of suspense during which the votes are being counted would be considerably added to. In any cases of close elections, periods even as long as a month would elapse before the decision of the electors could be made known. It would be impossible to enter upon the final counting of the Senate votes until the whole of the absent voting ballot-papers had been received by the divisional returning officer to whom they were addressed. This would mean that, in connexion with the Senate election, no real progress in the count could be made within a month of polling day.

The committee cannot, therefore, recommend the re-adoption of the system of interstate absent voting.

A real difficulty, which is strictly an abuse of this privilege, is the number who vote as absent when they might just as easily have voted in their own polling places. They, of course, sign a declaration untruthfully, and some tightening up,' in the way of penalty, is desirable to obviate much of this. The committee recommends accordingly.


Mr Ley - Does not the electoral office use the telegraph for communications?


Mr THOMPSON - Only to notify the number of votes that have been received. But, until the votes are checked by the returning officer, it is impossible to know how many of them are valid. Under sections 121 and 121a any person who believes he or she is entitled to vote may do so after signing a certain declaration. Those " section " votes are afterwards carefully examined by the divisional returning officer, and fully 75 per cent, of them are disallowed, either because the voters did not know what they were doing or were not entitled to vote for the divisions for which they claimed votes. It would be impossible for the returning officer to declare the result of a poll if he had only a telegraphed notification of the number of " section " votes. Absent votes have to be scrutinized more carefully than other votes. The postal vote is safer; it is usually in regular form before it leaves the electoral officer's hands, because he satisfies himself that the application is bona fide and that the vote is properly recorded. In the rush on polling day, however, many officers accept absent votes, many of which on subsequent examination are disallowed.


Mr McGrath - Is any harm done thereby?


Mr THOMPSON - The question to be considered is whether it is desirable for the sake of a small number of absentees, most of whom are at fault, to defer the declaration of a poll for weeks and months. The objections mentioned by the electoral officials were in the opinion of the select committee substantial. It is usually found that 90 per cent, of those who apply for absent votes could have voted in their own division if they had wished to do so. Many people postpone voting until the last moment; in the meantime they have travelled perhaps 30 miles by car, and are out of their own division. . The electoral officials are convinced that the majority of those who complain that they cannot vote within their own division could have voted in the early morning had they so desired. For the reasons I have stated I urge the Minister to adopt the recommendation of the select committee. If honorable members choose to take the risk of allowing absent voting by persons in other States than that in which they are registered, they will be doing so in opposition to the advice of practically all the electoral officials.


Mr Parkhill - The only objection is delay, and that does not amount to anything in connexion with the polling for the Senate.


Mr THOMPSON - At election time the tension is high, and when the returns are unduly delayed the public become indignant, and blame the electoral officers.


Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Delay is less serious than disfranchisement of the people.


Mr THOMPSON - The number of people who are disfranchised, except through their own fault, is very small. Those who carelessly abstain from voting until the last hour will be those who will be principally convenienced by the alteration which some honorable members desire to effect.







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