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Thursday, 3 October 1912

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I move -

That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till to-morrowat2 p.m.

I have taken this course because the matter which I desire to bring under notice is one, not merely of parliamentary importance, but of very considerable importance to the people of Australia. In the first place nobody, least of all those who are privileged to occupy a seat in this Chamber, will dispute the necessity for our having absolutely reliable electoral rolls. Now it will be clear to honorable senators as I proceed that if these rolls are correct there must be something radically wrong with our statistics. Having demonstrated that, I shall again bring under review what is an extremely important matter, seeing that the representation of every State in this Parliament depends upon those statistics as does also the amount to which each State is entitled under the financial agreement. I should like to have been able to give the Minister a somewhat longer notice of my intention to move in thismatter, but until I arrived at Albury this morning I was not aware of the fact that the officials had published a sort of reply to my previous statements' in this connexion. I endeavoured to send an intimation to the Minister by telegraph, but was unable to do so because the officials could not change the only money in my possession, namely, a sovereign. It was suggested to me that the difficulty might be solved by my going without the change, but my sense of public duty did not prompt me to resort to that extreme. The point which I wish to bring before the Senate is that undoubtedly a serious discrepancy exists between the population figures of New South. Wales and the enrolment figures for that State. Not only does it exist there, but it obtains also in one other State of the

Union. I am entitled to rest my case entirely upon the figures published by the Commonwealth Statistician, Mr. Knibbs, seing that they determine the share of representation enjoyed by any State in this Parliament and also the amount which the Commonwealth returns to each State under the financial agreement. Until they are repudiated, therefore, they are the only official figures of which we can take notice. I wish in the first instance to point to the great discrepancy between the enrolment figures, for New South Wales and the population statistics of that State according to Mr. Knibbs. I then propose to show that there is a serious discrepancy even between the State Statistician's figures and the figures relating to the enrolment of electors in New South Wales. If I take the figures which have been supplied by the Chief Electoral Officer in a. communication which has evidently been made to the press, I venture to say that no exception can be taken to my action, at any rate by the Department which is responsible for the compilation of the electoral roll. The Commonwealth Statistician has supplied me with his own estimate of the adult population of New South Wales on the 31st March last, namely, 909,000. I am, of course, excluding, the odd hundreds.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator is referring to the census figures?

Senator MILLEN - No. The census was taken last year. I am quoting what Mr. Knibbs himself calls the " census figures corrected to the 3rst March" of the present year. Yet Mr. Knibbs' estimate of the adult population is 909,000, excluding those 'who,, from the want of a better term, I may call ineligible; that is, those who are either unnaturalized or incarcerated in the asylums or the gaols of the State. I notice that in a communication sanctioned by the Chief Electoral Officer it is stated that Mr. Knibbs' figures are 909,000 or 912,000. I do not know where that extra number comes in. All that I know is that I have above Mr. Knibbs' own signature his estimate of 909,000. On the same date - the 31st March last - the State Statistician's estimate of the adult population was 921,000. Here, again, I see that Mr. Oldham puts in 921,000 or 924,000. I do not know where the alternative totals come from. All that I know is that the Statisticians have supplied me with two sets of figures. The rolls for New South Wales were collected over a period extending to some months at least, and terminating in the early days of July. It is quite clear that, when the collection is spread over three months, the figures for those districts in which it is made at a later period will be more accurate on the completion of the work than will the figures for those districts where the work was commenced a little earlier. If I bring the figures down to 30th June, seeing that the collection was completed within a fortnight of that date, I at least make a concession to the accuracy of the State rolls. For that, purpose I have had to find out what was the estimated increase in the population for the three months from 1st April to 30th June, and to ascertain what percentage of that increase would include persons over twenty-one years of age and eligible to vote. According to Mr. Knibbs, the estimated increase of population for the previous twelve months was 41,000, and I will assume that the rate of increase continued over the following three months. There may be, of course, some slight variation, and what it is I cannot say, but it will be so small on these totals as to be really a negligible quantity. On that assumption, I find that to Mr. Knibbs' total has to be added 5>745 additional personseligible to be enrolled, making his total of the adult population entitled to vote as at 30th June 915,000. Similarly, I turn to the figures of the State Statistician. His estimate of the adult population on that date was 921,000, but, adopting the same method of calculation, I have to add 10,080, because he estimated an increase of 18,000 persons for the three months. Fifty-six per cent, of 18,000 gives a result of 10,080. Adding that number to the State Statistician's original estimate, according to him there were 931,000 persons eligible on the 30th June to be enrolled. Let me now see how many persons have been enrolled. The enrolment for the State is 935,744 = that is, it is 21,000 in excess of the Commonwealth Statistician's estimate of those who are eligible for enrolment, and nearly 5,000 in excess of the State Statistician's estimate. If there is any one whose business it is to see that the figures are presented in the most favorable light possible, consistent, of course, with accuracy, it is the State Statistician, because on his figures is based the State's claim to the Commonwealth endowment. It is part of his duty to see that the figures are as accurate as he can make them, bearing in mind that the State's representation in the Federal Parliament may depend upon them.

Senator Pearce - Up to what date do you bring the estimate in both cases ?

Senator MILLEN - Up to the 30th June. The collection of the electoral rolls commenced in April, and terminated early in July. We have to bear in mind, by the way, that the redistribution scheme for New South Wales was carried out under these rolls, perfect or not.

Senator Pearce - The figures here go a month beyond that date.

Senator MILLEN - Yes, but I have dealt with that. I treated the departmental figures with extreme generosity. By May the collection of the rolls was in full swing. The time when the rolls are most perfect is immediately after the collection has been concluded, and from that time on they become more and more incomplete or imperfect. I have not taken, as I might have done, the 31st May, and decided that as that was the mean of the period over which the collection was spread to rest my case on the figures at that date, but I have given a month in to the Department and given them all that they can reasonably ask. What more they can claim from the few collections made after July will be more than met by the deductions I could make for those which took place prior to the 30th June. I have endeavoured to show that, on these figures, there was an excess of 21,000 on the Commonwealth Statistician's figures as to those who were entitled to be enrolled, and an excess of nearly 5,000 upon the State Statistician's figures. It should be remembered that, in order to keep these totals at that, we have to proceed on the assumption that every qualified man and woman was enrolled. Does any one believe that an electoral roll anywhere has been so perfectly collected that not a single man or woman has been missed ?

Senator Givens - We have never met a case of that kind in Australia.

Senator MILLEN - No; and we never shall. I do not want to let my case rest solely upon that. I have shown that on these figures there are more persons enrolled than according to two Statisticians are entitled to enrolment. Let us now see what percentage we ought to allow for those who are not enrolled, and here I get some guide on turning to the figures for the other States. I find that in Victoria there is a deficiency of 6½ per cent. - in other words, out of every 100 adults entitled to enrolment in the State six and a half are not enrolled.

Senator Clemons - That is if your statistics are correct.

Senator MILLEN - If the Government will say that they are prepared to throw Mr. Knibbs to the wolves it will clear away, at any rate, the Commonwealth statistics, and throw me back upon the State Statistician.

Senator Givens - Are they any more reliable ?

Senator MILLEN - It is for the Government to make their choice now.If they stand on Mr. Knibbs' statistics they must tear up the Commonwealth electoral roll. If they stand on the electoral roll, they must tear up his statistics and pay New South Wales the 25s. per head to which it is honestly entitled.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Do you know if these rolls have been compared, and if there are any duplications?

Senator MILLEN - I shall come to the matter of duplications directly. My purpose is to show that there is a discrepancy. It is not my business to say where the error arises if there is one. That is for the Department to do. Let me see what happened in Victoria. When I turn to the figures of the State Statistician I still find that there is a deficiency of 5 per cent. That, I venture to say, would not come as a surprise to anybody who has had any experience of electoral matters. When I turn to the other States I find that in South Australia the deficiency is 5½ per cent., in Queensland per cent., and in Western Australia per cent. I am leaving out Tasmania for a reason which I shall disclose presently. Taking the four States I have mentioned, the mean of the discrepancy between those enrolled and those entitled to be enrolled is 4½ per cent. May I take that as a fair guide as to the discrepancy in other States? Is there any reason to believe that the rolls in New South Wales were collected with greater accuracy and completeness than in those four States? I submit that, if in the case of four States there is a discrepancy of 4½ per cent., I am entitled to assume that a similar state of affairs exists in New South Wales. If I do that it means that there are 45,000 electors left off the rolls for the State. If you add that number to the total enrolment you will see that there are no fewer than 980,000 adults in the State entitled to enrolment, hut only 931,000 according to the State Statistician, and 915,000 according to the Commonwealth Statistician. Let me assume that, in New South Wales, for some reason or other, a more complete roll has been compiled. Will any one get up here, or elsewhere, and say that it is conceivable that the roll has been collected nearer than 99 per cent. ? Surely every one will admit that, at least,1 per cent. of those who were qualified have been left off? If I take that percentage it means that there are 10,000 persons qualified who are not enrolled. If they were on the roll it would make, according to the Electoral Office, 946,000 persons enrolled, or entitled to bo. enrolled ; but Mr. Knibbs says that the number is only 915,000.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Is it not a fact that the New South Wales rolls were collected later than the Victorian rolls?

Senator MILLEN - It is not necessary to compare the two States. I have compared the New South Wales enrolment with the New South Wales statistics.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - There may have been a lot of duplications eliminated in Victoria, but not completed yet in New South Wales.

Senator MILLEN - Does the honorable senator think that they would run into thousands? We must never overlook the fact that the redistribution scheme is based upon the rolls as they are, and not as they would be after the honorable senator had carried out this revision.

Senator Long - It could run into thousands, and then be a very small percentage on 915,000.

Senator MILLEN - If the electors who move from State to State would transfer immediately they settle down. But I do not think that any allowance of that kind can divert attention from the fact that on a certain date in New South Wales there was still an excess of enrolment over the adult population as disclosed by two Statisticians. Further than that, if the allowance of 1 per cent. were made for those who fail to get on the rolls, it would disclose an excess of 15,000 who are entitled to enroll, as compared with the State Statistician's estimate, and of 31,000, as compared with the Commonwealth Statistician's estimate. When we turn to the fact that in four of the other States, instead of there being more people enrolled than the Statisticians disclose as being entitled to enroll, there is a deficiency on an average, of 4½ per cent., I submit that the assumption is that the same incompleteness of enrolment is operating in New South Wales as in the other States. If you take anything like the average of 4½ per cent., it means that 45,000 electors are enrolled in New South Wales who ought not to be enrolled. I turn now to the State of Tasmania. Here a curious position is disclosed. A few minutes before I came into the Senate chamber I obtained from Mr. Knibbs his estimate of the population of Tasmania on the 30th June this year. There is no conflict between State and Commonwealth Statisticians as far as I know in regard to the population of that State. Mr. Knibbs gives the adult population entitled to vote in Tasmania as 101,000. But the Commonwealth electoral officers have enrolled 103,527. In other words, they have enrolled 3,000 more people than are entitled to be enrolled. It is curious that in two States of the Union there is an excessive enrolment as compared with population, whilst in four States there is what we should naturally look to find - a deficiency of enrolment as compared with population.

Senator Clemons - Does the honorable senator want to purify the rolls or adjust the finances?

Senator MILLEN - I am in the happy position that I must have one or the other, and though Tasmania has been generously treated by the Commonwealth, nevertheless, if I can help my friends from that State to obtain their undoubted rights, I am prepared to do so. It is for the Government to say upon which of these two horses they will take their seat. I notice in this statement by the Chief Electoral Officer an assertion from which he draws a certain amount of comfort, namely, that the rolls are collected by the police, as the result of a canvass ; that the police officers are experienced, and zealous in the discharge of their duty; and that he has no doubt that they have carried out their task to the best of their ability. I am prepared to believe that. I have not a word to say against the police. They have all my sympathy, because this piece of work which is cast upon them is outside their regular duties, and it is work for which they are not adequately recompensed.

Senator Clemons - They do not get a far capita payment.

Senator MILLEN - They do not. There is also another statement made which I am prepared to believe. It is said that there can be no duplicate enrolments. It is obvious that if the card system is carried out properly one individual cannot get upon the roll twice in the same name. He must ultimately be detected, if the Department does its duty properly. But there is nothing whatever to prevent placing myths upon the electoral roll.

Senator Clemons - Not myths, but the same person under another name.

Senator MILLEN - He would be a myth as far as our law is concerned. I understand that the practice pursued is this : When a police officer calls at a house in the discharge of electoral duty, he asks how many people are living in the establishment, how many are entitled to vote, and how many cards he has to leave. Having received an answer, he hands out the requisite number of cards. He does not go into the house and pry about, and search into family history. He simply ascertains how many people there are there who require electoral cards, and hands out the stated number. Those cards are called for, or posted in due course. An acknowledgment is later on sent to the persons whose names are upon the cards. So long as that acknowledgment is posted and delivered, the Electoral Office is satisfied. But they have no knowledge as to whether a particular card pertains to a living entity, to a person who is entitled to go on the roll, or not. There is a name upon the card, but whether the card is legally filled up, they do not know. The responsibility is upon the electoral registrars to satisfy themselves about the matter. What does that mean? When an electoral registrar receives two or three hundred cards, he cannot know anything about the majority of the persons from whom they are supposed to come. He naturally puts all of them on to the roll. Obviously, the matter calls for further inquiry. But there is a penalty of j£io upon a registrar who fails to enroll a person who is entitled to go on the roll, and we must remember that, as regards the majority of them, he can have no knowledge whatever. Honorable senators will see what opportunities for irregularities in enrolment this practice affords. I want to show that the Department is itself aware that irregularities exist in this matter. I make that statement on the strength of a paragraph furnished apparently by the Department to the newspapers in my own State -

Enrolment of Electors. - It has come under the notice of the Chief Electoral Officer for the Commonwealth that notwithstanding the explicit directions contained in the enrolment cards, several electors have allowed other persons to sign enrolment claims on their behalf, and that the persons so signing the claims have actually certified as witnesses that they have seen the claimants personally make their signatures. The Department points out that irregularities of this character cannot be permitted, and where disclosed will involve the prosecution of the offenders. A claimant who is unable to sign his name in his own handwriting may make his mark as his personal signature, provided that such signature is made in the presence of the person who signs as witness, and in these circumstances only may the name of the claimant be written by the witness after the words " personal signature of claimant" in the form of claim.

There is a statement showing that it has come to the notice of the Department that several electors have allowed other persons to sign enrolment cards. If people .are going about this country signing for other persons who really exist, it does not require much of an exercise of imagination to satisfy one that cards will be- signed for persons who do not exist. There is no more difficulty about signing cards in fictitious names for fictitious individuals than about signing for those of whose existence a person is aware, but for whom he has no right to sign. Whatever may be said in behalf of the Department, I think I have made out a case for inquiry. Every one of us has a distinct interest in seeing that the electoral rolls, which are the basis of our electoral machinery, shall be kept as complete and pure as we can possibly make them. These figures disclose that there is something wrong somewhere. It is not my office to say whether this discrepancy is due to error or fraud. I have attempted to show that the figures disclose that a number of people are enrolled who are not entitled to be enrolled. It is the business of the Minister responsible for the Department to probe this thing, and to show whether the discrepancy is due to inadvertent error, or to systematic fraud on the part of persons anxious to enroll mythical voters, whose votes can be utilized when polling-day comes along. Further than that, I submit that these figures disclose some very useful information with regard to the matter now under discussion between the State of New South Wales and the Commonwealth Government, as to the accuracy of our statistics themselves. I do not propose to go further into that point, but I submit that it is impossible for the Government at one and the same time to maintain that these enrolments are free from error, and to. dispute the statement that the statistics of population, as put forward by Mr. Knibbs, are entirely misleading.

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