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Thursday, 3 October 1912

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . - I am very pleased, indeed, that Senator Millen has brought this matter before the Senate, and I think that the thanks of every honorable senator, and of the country, are due to him. I do not believe that any one here wishes anything to be done which is wrong. I believe that it is to the interests of both parties to see that the error is rectified, because, if you find enthusiasts on one side, you are bound to find enthusiasts on the other side. I do not intend to make any charge which will not affect all members of the Senate. We have heard a great deal to-day of how perfect the electoral system is. I called attention to its imperfection while the Electoral Bill was under consideration. I have in my possession very nearly a score of forms- that were sent to me by persons in Queensland who desired to know what they should do with them. I have them handy, and can produce them in the course of a few minutes. It shows that many persons do not know what to do with the forms when they are supplied. Any person who likes can obtain forms, because a surplus number is left at every house, and get people to fill them in, and send them in to the Electoral Registrar. When the census was taken I happened to be flood-bound in the far north, and there were scores of persons who could not get a form to fill in. A member of the Queensland Ministry was there at the time, and he can vouch for the accuracy of my statement. He could not get a form, but I suppose that he took other means afterwards to return his name.

Senator Needham - What other means?

Senator SAYERS - I suppose that when he got to another place he obtained a form to fill in. He was travelling when 1 met him at the town, but, at that date, no local resident would have been able to get a form. I think that any one who has had much experience of elections will agree with me that a great many more might be added to the number which Senator Millen mentioned.

If you are at an election in a town of 2,000 or 3,000 inhabitants you will always find scores of persons coming in whose names are not on the roll. How is the omission to be accounted for ? If that sort of thing occurred in New South Wales it would swell the number from 30,000 or 40,000 to 60,000 or 70,000.

Senator Needham - If a citizen of twenty-one years of age is not on the roll who is to blame?

Senator SAYERS - It is the system which is to blame, though, of course, to some extent, the man is to blame, seeing that the police make a canvass from house to house. What Senator Millen has drawn attention to is the fact that there are 30,000 or 40,000 more persons on the electoral roll for New South Wales than the Commonwealth Statistician says are in the State, and about 5,000 more than the State Statistician says are in the State. His statement simply amounts to this, that a number of persons have been enrolled more than once. In making up their averages the Statisticians do not allow anything for the number of persons who are not on a roll ; so that there must be a great many more than 40,000 persons on the roll who are not entitled to be enrolled. I think that every honorable senator will admit that, at every election, it is found that the names of scores of persons have been left off the roll. I believe that many cases of that kind occurred in Melbourne the other clay. I was in Queensland when the last State election was proceeding. People came in, not by ones or twos, but by scores, made a statutory declaration that they had filled in a form and handed it to the police, but their names never appeared on a roll. At one house a family of eight persons found that their names had been left off the roll. They were not on my side in politics, but I felt sorry that they were not entitled to record a vote. What I want the Government to do is to take steps to see that the rolls are purged. I do not know how the State rolls are worked in Victoria, but in Queensland, when I used to live there, there was a Quarterly Revision Court field, at which new names could be put on, and the names of persons who had left the district could be expunged. I do not know whether there is any scheme for' taking a man's name off a Commonwealth .roll-

Senator Pearce - If it is wrongly there, yes.

Senator SAYERS - Who is the authority ? Who is going to prove that the man is wrongly enrolled?

Senator Pearce - The electoral authority.

Senator SAYERS - How does he get the knowledge?

Senator Pearce - In a number of ways ; he can compare the Federal roll with the State roll.

Senator SAYERS - Men might be on the Federal roll, but not on the State roll, and it would not do to knock their names off the Federal roll for that reason.

Senator Pearce - There is an objection lodged.

Senator SAYERS - Of course, it is the duty of the public to lodge an objection to a name which wrongly appears on a roll, but that is not done, because what is everybody's duty is nobody's duty.

Senator Pearce - It is also the duty of the Electoral Registrar.

Senator SAYERS - I have never seen anything of that sort done. I have looked up the Federal roll for the last ten years, but I have never known any official to take any step until the card system was introduced. I can take any honorable senator to an adjacent room and show him at least a dozen cards which any man can fill in. The cards have been distributed very loosely. If any one can obtain a dozen of these forms and fill them in, it confirms what Senator Millen has stated here.

Senator Henderson - You must admit that these cards have been returned to you by those who did not perform their duty.

Senator SAYERS - I know that a larger number of the cards was left at the boardinghouse than was required.

Senator Needham - Is that a fair criterion of the administration of the Act?

Senator SAYERS - I am not making an accusation, but stating a fact.

Senator Henderson - I am afraid that these cards have been sent to you by people who ought to have filled them in.

Senator SAYERS - The point is that the cards have never gone back to the Department. Surely they should be able to find out where the forms are ! If they allow the forms to be distributed broadcast, they open the door for the commission of fraud. I ask the Minister to see that stricter instructions are given that the Act shall be carried out. What we all desire is purity of elections.

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