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Tuesday, 4 September 1906

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) . - The point to be considered, in connexion with this Bill, is the convenience of electors., I do not think that the convenience of members or candidates would justify such an important action as the alteration of the Constitution. It seems to me that we ought to satisfy ourselves that the Bill is required in order to obtain better results in the electorates - that is, a larger number of voters at each election. Taking the results of the last two elections, we cannot feel satisfied that the percentage of voters will go to the polls at future elections that we should like to see.

Senator Dobson - We ought to have compulsory voting.

Senator PEARCE -I do not know that compulsory voting would do much good. Even if we had compulsory voting, we ought to take into consideration whether the, elections are held at the most convenient time of the year for the great bulk of the electors. If we compel the electors to leave their work for the purpose of voting, it should be at a time when their doing so will result in the least inconvenience and loss to them, so that whether we believe in compulsory voting or not does not affect the issue. I have here a return given me by the electoral authorities, showing the percentage of voters on the rolls who voted at the first and second Federal elections. In 1901, taking the two Houses together, 54-35 per cent, of the electors on the rolls voted.

Senator Keating - That election was in March.

Senator PEARCE - At the last Federal elections, which, were held on 16th December, the percentage of voters on the roll who voted for the Senate was 46.86, or near 1 \- 47 per cent. ; and 50.20 per cent, for the House of Representatives. Taking the two Houses together, on that occasion the percentage was about 49 per cent., as against 54J per cent., or thereabouts, in 1 901. These figures indicate that March is certainly a more convenient time of the year for the large percentage of voters.

Senator Turley - In what part of Austrafia is March the best time?

Senator PEARCE - Let us take, for instance. Oueensland.

Senator Best - The elections need not be in March, but mav be in April or May.

Senator PEARCE - All I say is that the figures seem to indicate that March is a more convenient time than December.

Senator Mulcahy - If a larger percentage voted next December, would that alter the opinion of the honorable senator?

Senator Drake - We have to consider the enthusiasm at the first elections.

Senator PEARCE - The figures I have quoted are the only data we have. We do not desire to form our opinions on what might have been, but on what actually occurred.

Senator Stewart - Does the honorable senator not make any allowance for cleaner rolls on the second occasion?

Senator PEARCE - It has to be remembered that in Western Australia a number of people were off the rolls who ought to have been on them. If we compare the rolls for the two elections, it will be found that there were as' many influences at work to keep people off the rolls at "the second election as at the first.

Senator Drake - Has the honorable senator got the number of those who voted at the two elections?

Senator PEARCE - Yes, but it has to be remembered that, at the second election, there was female suffrage in four of the States.

Senator Turley - That would bring the percentage down a lot.

Senator PEARCE - I shall give the figures. The number of voters enrolled for the first election was 974,594, and of that number 529,704 voted. On that occasion there was female suffrage in only two of the States. At the second election, there were 1,893,586 electors enrolled for the Senate, of whom 887,312 voted; while for the House of Representatives there were 1,470,902 voters enrolled, ©f whom 739,402 voted.

Senator Keating - For districts in which contests were held ?

Senator PEARCE - Yes, and that accounts for the discrepancy between the rolls for the Senate and the House of Representatives. There is the significant feature that, at the first election, all the seats for the House of Representatives were contested, whereas at the second election a number were not contested ; and that might have some effect in lowering the average.

Senator Mulcahy - I think it would be the other way about.

Senator PEARCE - I do not think so.

Senator Keating - That would not apply to the percentage, which is based on the figures where there were contests.

Senator PEARCE - The percentage for the Senate election is based on the whole State ; and, therefore, it is better and safer for the purposes of comparison to take the figures for the House of Representatives alone for the second election, and the figures for the two Houses together for the first election.

Senator Mulcahy - The fact that some constituencies were contested did not have the effect which the honorable senator imagines.

Senator PEARCE - I think that clear proof of the correctness of my view may be found in the case of Western Australia. In that State, at the last Federal election, there was a contest in every division but that of Swan, and there the percentage for the Senate was as low as. 2 7 per cent., whereas in the other electorates, where there were contests, the percentage was as high as 40 per cent. I think a fair comparison is to take the figures for the House of Representatives for the last election, and compare them with the figures for the two Chambers at the first election, when we have the result that at the last election for the House of Representatives, the percentage of voters was 50 per cent, as compared with 54 per cent, at the first election. It will be seen, therefore, that when the elections were held in March, 4 per cent, more voters polled than when the elections were held in December.

Senator Findley - In Western Australia alone?

Senator PEARCE - No ; over the whole Commonwealth.

Senator Clemons - That does not show that the time of year - March or December - made all the difference.

Senator PEARCE - I think it is a fair inference.

Senator Clemons - There may have been a * hundred and one other contributing causes.

Senator PEARCE - I think I have allowed for the contributing causes in leaving the Senate out of the calculation for the second election. Taking all the facts into consideration, I think I have applied a fair test in order to ascertain which is the best month for the great majority of the people of Australia, though not, perhaps, for the people of one State.

Senator Drake - Will the honorable senator give the figures for Queensland? Would not December be more convenient than March in that State?

Senator PEARCE - At the first elections, which were held in March, the percentage of voters who polled in Queensland was 48.82 per cent., whereas when the elections were held in December the percentage was 57.3 per cent.

Senator Best - That assists Senator Pearce's argument.

Senator Clemons - I think it altogether breaks up the honorable senator's argument.

Senator PEARCE - The figures I have given were for the House of Representatives ; the percentage for the Senate was 54.83 per cent. In a matter of this kind we ought to study the convenience of the bulk of the electors of the whole Commonwealth. If we are to have the elections at a time to suit one State, it becomes a question of which State - the largest or the smallest ?

Senator Drake - Not at all ; the elections could be held at different times.

Senator PEARCE - That is so; there is nothing in the Bill to prevent the elections being held at different times.

Senator Drake - Then why alter the Constitution ?

Senator PEARCE - In order to make it possible to have the elections for the two Houses at the one time. I think the figures I have quoted show that some month nearer the time suggested in the Bill would be preferable to the dates hitherto selected for the elections. Any one who knows the state of 'affairs in the southern States of Australia can have no possible doubt on the question. I have looked up the figures for what are largely the farming States - South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales - and, especially in the two former, I find that, when the elections were held in December, there was a large percentage of votes cast in the metropolitan areas, and a small percentage in the rural districts. We know, of course, that the reason is supplied in the fact that December is the harvest time, when farmers are very busy, and an idle day may mean a considerable loss. That is a very good reason why the elections should be held either before or after the harvest.

Senator Turley - That was not the cause of the small percentage of voters in Western Australia?

Senator PEARCE - I do not say that it was; I am, speaking of Victoria and South Australia.

Senator Turley - Where there were no farming operations there was a lower percentage.

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