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Thursday, 3 October 1912

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) . - The closing remarks of the Minister of Defence are calculated to induce the belief that what the Government desire is a large enrolment and small financial payments to the different States. He seems to hope that the electoral rolls will prove to be correct, and his attitude suggests that, as the Commonwealth has to pay the States upon the basis of our census statistics, he is perfectly prepared to allow the discrepancy which exists between the rolls and statistics to continue without any adequate explanation. To a certain extent, the issue would be clouded if we attempted to investigate the accuracy of the estimates which have been made either by the Commonwealth or the State Statisticians. Nothing would be more disconcerting to those officers than to discover that there was unanimity amongst them. They want something to show that they differ from somebody else.

Senator Millen - Then this ought to be a land of Paradise to them.

Senator CLEMONS - Probably it is. I am more concerned with the obvious discrepancy between the census figures of the Commonwealth Statistician and the figures which are supplied by our electoral rolls. I admit that I do not know upon which side the burden of inaccuracy rests. If we take the collection of the electoral rolls by the police officers, we find that the number of adults who figure there is in excess of the number of adults whom Mr. Knibbs estimates ought to appear there. Now, nobody who has any practical knowledge of the collection of our electoral rolls will hesitate to say that those rolls do not contain the name of every person whose name ought to appear there. Excellent as the card system may be, it fails to collect everybody's name. But, in spite of that fact, the electoral rolls contain many more names than Mr. Knibbs estimates they ought to contain.

Senator Millen - And more than the State Statisticians estimate they ought to contain.

Senator CLEMONS - The estimates of the State Statisticians agree more closely with the figures disclosed by the rolls than do those of the Commonwealth Statistician. But I am chiefly concerned with the collection of the rolls. There are many obvious ways in which those rolls may be inaccurate. I do not hesitate to say that on those rolls appear the names of many persons who are not twenty-one years of age - an error which might very easily creep in, whilst crediting Australians with every regardfor the truth. I consider it is extremely probable that, on our rolls to-day, there are the names of many persons who are not twenty-one years of age. On the other hand, it is always possible for the names of electors to appear upon the rolls under different aliases. These considerations naturally induce one to imagine that our rolls contain more names than they ought to contain. On the whole, however, I agree with Senator Millen that the percentage of voters whose names appear there is probably from 90 to 92 per cent. of the total adults who are qualified. I do not think that the rolls can attain a greater measure of accuracy than that. But when we considerthat there is a discrepancy of 30,000 actual, and of 40,000 estimated, in New South Wales alone, the position becomes a very serious one. Mention was made by the Minister of Defence of a difference, which it is difficult to explain, between New South Wales and Victoria in respect of the census estimates. I was told the other day that the method adopted for ascertaining the migratory population between Victoria and New South Wales by rail - and we know that a tremendous number travel in that way - is not that of checking the tickets issued, but is that of employing a porter to count heads at 11 p.m., or probably at some early hour in the morning, at Albury. In other words, a porter is detailed to check off the people changing at Albury.

Senator Millen - Call him a ticket collector, then.

Senator CLEMONS - An official at Albury is expected to count heads. 'If that be so, it is certainly a very loose method of attempting to ascertain statistics, and is bound to permit of a very considerable percentage of error. The discrepancy in my own State between the census statistics and the electoral enrolment is almost as great relatively to population as it is in New South Wales. I do not know where the error lies. But if I were to express my own opinion, I would prefer that the electoral rolls should be stuffed rather than that Tasmania should be robbed financially. My reason for making that statement is that if the States are robbed financially, it is an absolute loss to us all, whereas, if the electoral rolls are stuffed, the result is uncertain. I hope that this matter, which has been very properly brought forward by Senator Millen, will result in a close investigation into its financial bearing upon the different States.

Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [3.39]. - I am sure that honorable senators feel indebted to Senator Millen for having brought this matter under their notice. Upon a motion for the adjournment of the Senate, it necessarily attracts more attention than would otherwise be bestowed upon it. It is hardly necessary for me to say that our electoral rolls should not contain the names of fictitious individuals. We have provided that every person who is entitled to vote at elections shall exercise his or her franchise. But we do not want an elector to vote early and often. We do not want fictitious names to appear upon the rolls, so that one man may vote quite a number of times under different aliases. I recollect some time ago that an enormous number of votes were recorded from the cemetery. A man recorded a vote as Mr. A., who had departed this life - a short time previously, and a little later registered another vote as some other person, who was also dead. I recollect that a prosecution was instituted in connexion with these cases, and that, as a result, certain enterprising individuals were sent into seclusion for some months at the expense of the Crown. I come now to the question of the census figures. I know it is very freely stated that the census was collected in a most careless manner, and that many persons whose names should have been recorded were omitted from the enumeration.

Senator Sayers - One could not obtain the necessary forms. I can prove that.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - Whatever may be the cause of the difficulty, it is evident that it requires a very searching examination. But how the difficulty is to be overcome by getting rid of the possibility of a duplication of names on our electoral rolls I do not know. Nor do I know how we can ascertain the names of those persons under twenty-one years of age who have managed to get their names upon those rolls. Senator Millen has rendered good service to the country by bringing this matter forward, and no doubt he would be only too glad to find that a larger number of persons were entitled to record their votes in New South Wales. But he also desires to see that State fairly dealt with by the Commonwealth from the stand-point of the latter's financial obligations, such obligations being based upon our census statistics. It has been pointed out that in the case of New South Wales" and Tasmania a discrepancy exists which does not exist in the other States. Are we to assume that that position is due to the superior methods of collection adopted in the other States? Where cards are left at various houses throughout the States, and the opportunity is given for those cards to be filled up by one person, under two or three different names, there is always the possibility of fraud.

Senator Millen - And there is no check upon him.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I do not see what ingenuity can be exercised by the electoral authorities which will enable them to discover where this, improper enrolment has taken place. I am not one of those who believe that by means of the card system, or -any other system, we shall succeed in enrolling every individual who is entitled to vote and nobody who is not entitled to vote. Very great carelessness has been exhibited, I admit, by many people. T know of caseswhere the cards have been left at the' houses with an instruction that they should be filled in, but the cards have not been filled in or returned, and there has not been a single inquiry made at the houses as to the reason for the omission. That shows that we cannot rely upon- everybody who is entitled to enrolment being enrolled. It causes a very grave doubt as to the purity of the rolls, and also as to the possibility of purifying the rolls in such a way as to make sure that at an election every qualified person will have an opportunity to vote, and at the same time that no individual will be able to record two or more votes by any ingenious method of dealing with the cards and securing enrolment in various electorates.

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