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Wednesday, 30 May 1973
Page: 2865

Mr RIORDAN (Phillip) - I am sure that all members of this House will recognise the very responsible and progressive attitude adopted by the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon). We on this side of the House share his concern that the office of the Australian Electoral Office as it will now be known has for long been under-valued and not given the status it deserves. We should consider when looking at this Bill that we are virtually considering the status and the remuneration of those men who are virtually in charge of the democratic concept in this country. These are the men who supervise the elections. They are entitled to be regarded as having very responsible positions. They are entitled to be rewarded for the responsibility which they exercise. This, I hope, is the beginning of a new look and a new structure within the Electoral Office. True it is that this Bill virtually takes the Commonwealth electoral officers outside the purview of the Public Service Act or the jurisdiction of the Public Service Board and brings them, as the right honourable member for Lowe has said, under the direct control of this Parliament - a place where they should be. This is not an ordinary Commonwealth Public Service function; it is not a matter merely of administration. The very election of this House and the Senate is under their control.

We are concerned also that the officers and staff in the electoral divisions are frequently overworked. There is insufficient staff in many of those divisions to cater for the many and changing needs of electorates, and they do not receive the salary status to which they are entitled. Indeed, until recently, they were classified as class 5 officers and to the credit of this Governfment since it has been in power the Public Service Board has at least upgraded them by one salary range. But their old classification was that of class 5 - the same classification, for example, as that of a vocational officer for the Department of Labour. It was a totally and completely inadequate classification. Indeed, as things stand now, they are still inadequately rewarded for the responsibilities that they have. They are not given a proper remuneration for the many and varied functions that they perform.

However, it is not just the functions that they perform which must be considered; it is also the responsibility involved in those functions. I am also concerned at the way the staff is treated. For example, those who are responsible for checking electoral rolls are, more often than not, casual employees engaged for a particular period and they go round from door to door determining whether or not persons whose names appear on the roll are entitled to be enrolled. This is a tremendous responsibility. In my view, it is simply not good enough to have it on the basis that a casual employee, casually engaged, perhaps for one period and never again, should undertake this responsibility. In my own electorate the number of changes in the roll runs into tens of thousands in every 3 -year period. For example, 10,000 changes in a year is not exceptional. This would be 10,000 on the roll and perhaps another 8,000 or 9,000 off in a period of a year - an enormous number of changes which have to be collated.

But the most important thing is that this Parliament must ensure that every person who is entitled to vote has the opportunity to vote and it must also ensure that no person who is not entitled to vote should ever cast a ballot in an electorate. Those are very important considerations. In my view, the Electoral Office is the custodian of the democratic concept. I know the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) is seized with the importance and the urgency to upgrade the responsibilities and the remuneration of these officers and also to ensure that proper steps are taken to make it possible for every person who is entitled to vote to vote. Also, apart from that is the consideration that every person who has a responsibility to vote in the election of this Parliament should exercise it consistent with the laws of this country.

This is not a matter on which one need delay the House because, as I said at the beginning of my speech, all members on this side would be grateful to the right honourable member for Lowe for the constructive attitude which he and the Opposition have adopted to this Bill. This is as it should be. The matter of electoral laws and the administration of the electoral laws should be beyond the realms of political partnership and for that reason we support the Bil] and acknowledge the support from the Opposition.

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