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Wednesday, 20 September 1972
Page: 1053

Senator KEEFFE (Queensland) - Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I want to use the first reading of this Income Tax Bill to bring forward a matter of very great importance. 1 would like to speak at length on it but to do that it would need to be left until later in the session. 1 feel that the urgency of the case is such that it needs to be brought on at the earliest possible moment. Consequently that is why I am raising it tonight. Honourable senators will recall that during question time today I asked the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton) who in this chamber represents the Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt) what would be done about making available voting facilities for those people who are stationed at Australia Antarctic bases. The Minister has suggested - in fact, he has promised - that he will obtain some information. I now put a case before the Minister to emphasise the urgency of the request which I made earlier today by way of a question.

First of all, let us look at the Antarctic area. By an Imperial Order in Council of 7th February 1933 the Antarctic Territory or almost all of it was placed under Australian authority. The Order came into force with a proclamation issued by the Governor-General on 24th August 1936. But in 1954 the Australian Antarctic Territory Act declared that the laws in force in the Australian Capital Territory were, so far as they were applicable and not inconsistent with any ordinance made under the Act, in force in the Australian Antarctic Territory. In 1968 responsibility for the administration of this Act was transferred from the Minister for External Affairs to the Minister for Supply. It is possible that I was in error today in directing my query to the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior. I would like the Minister to know that it may be the Minister for Supply who is responsible for administering this Territory. Over the years people stationed at these bases have almost always been precluded from casting a vote for State and local government elections. Frequently they have been precluded from casting a vote for Federal elections. I ask that on this occasion this be changed and that every person at each base be given assistance in casting a vote in the forthcoming Federal election.

This is away from Party politics. This is to give these people the right to exercise their franchise. Let us have a look at the number of people involved. On Mawson there are 25 persons; at Davis 12; at Casey 25; and there are some at Macquarie Island. I shall give honourable senators the history of each of these bases and the. way in which they were named. The station at Mawson was named in honour of the late Sir Douglas Mawson. It was the first permanent Australian station to be set up on the Antarctic continent. A second Australian research station was established on the coast of Princess Elizabeth Land on 13th January 1957. It has been named Davis in honour of the late Captain John King Davis of Melbourne who commanded a number of famous Antarctic ships. The station was temporarily closed in January 1965 and re-opened in February 1969.

In 1959 the Australian Government accepted from the United States Government custody of Wilkes Station which was established by the United States on 16th January 1957. The station from which representations have especially been made to me is Casey. This is a new station of advanced design. It was built about H miles south of Wilkes. It was opened in 1969 and named Casey in honour of Lord Casey who has had a long association with Antarctic expeditions. At Casey there is an Australian scientist who is not on the electoral roll. It is unlikely that we will be able to do anything for him between now and election day. The Government has a Bill floating around somewhere with the cockroaches at the bottom of the pile in the House of Representatives which the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) is reluctant to bring forward. In the remote chance, that it is brought forward for debate and passed I particularly request that this scientist, whose name I am prepared to supply to the Minister if necessary, and any other scientist or person working at these bases should have, the opportunity to enrol. Most of the other people are enrolled for ordinary Australian Federal divisions. Because the laws and ordinances of the Australian Capita] Territory apply I think that we have an obligation to see that every person working in this remote area receives and is able to exercise his right to vote.

But we have the big problem of transport. The length of stay depends on the time of the year when a party goes into the area. If it is a summer party it may remain in the area for 3 to 5 weeks. If it is a winter party as likely as not it will stay there for 12 or 14 months. Supplies to the area are very irregular. Usually they go in on ships which take in the new teams or the relief teams. There is some air transport into the area but it is also on a very irregular basis. Mr Acting Deputy President, through you I respectively request the Minister to treat this matter as urgent to ensure that every person listed at these bases be given the. right to exercise a vote. Some 70 people are involved - a major group - and there is no reason why the Government should not extend itself a little and at least forward applications for postal votes before the writs are issued. We all know of the indecision about the date of election, but let us not have a snap decision on the election date and neglect people who are working for this country in isolated areas. The. election date might be extended to November, or even to December as seems to be favoured by some sections of the Liberal Parly, or to January as is favoured by another section - after all Santa Claus might bring votes at Christmas and the Government may be able to afford to postpone the election until January - but under the Constitution the date cannot be extended beyond 20th January.

Senator McLaren - When does the Democratic Labor Party say the election will be held?

Senator KEEFFE - The DLP forecast the last Saturday in October, but that forecast fell through before the . Prime Minister would agree to it. I make this request in all sincerity and I hope that it will be acceded to with a fair amount of speed.

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