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Tuesday, 6 December 1983
Page: 3324


Mr STEELE HALL(9.26) —The Opposition is being kind to the Special Minister of State (Mr Beazley) this evening because really it would have done justice to the amendments if he had moved them singly and explained them fully to the Committee. I must admit, however, that upon his request we have agreed to this process. I do not criticise him for it but I remind him that in this matter the Opposition has been most considerate in relieving him of a duty. I am sure it would tax even his considerable talents to explain every detail to the Committee in a meaningful way. We adopt that attitude, of course, because we believe he is one of the more watertight Ministers of his Government. We are happy to co-operate in that manner.

However, whilst he makes a case for a general acceptance of these amendments moved in length here tonight, that does not say that we agree with all of them as if they are the considered wisdom of the Senate and are an improvement to the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill. Some of the amendments are, as the Minister has indicated, patently silly. However, as they follow the Bill as it went from this place and perhaps except in one instance do not draw in new principles, one cannot substantiate a major case for carrying the debate here to the nth degree.

May I remind the Minister that amendments Nos. 2 and 3 expand the ability of an itinerant voter to enrol. The legislation was kind in this regard. It was an expansive piece of legislation. The aim of the Bill is to widen people's ability to vote. Both Houses, I am sure, supported that intention of the Bill and that was the basis behind this special provision of 'itinerant voters' for the first time in the Bill. But to now enable an itinerant voter to choose to enrol at a subdivision with which he or she has the closest connection seems to me to make a nonsense of any safeguards originally written into this legislation as to at least containing an itinerant's choice of enrolment to some place of lodging, next of kin or so on. To say the 'closest connection' is to ask, I suppose, for the closest scrutiny of all the other factors that the itinerant could have chosen to enrol. Is that to be the case? Are we assured by the Minister that the itinerant so enrolling will be put to the full test about every other area in which he can enrol before he gets to the closest connection.

We do not want itinerant voters to be able to choose in bulk to go to an area in which they can influence a specific marginal seat. I should like the Minister to respond to this matter, if he could, a little later in this debate because it is a matter of some consequence. We do not want, as I said, a free choice of voters. It is yet one further genuine step to allow itinerants to vote if they are frozen out of any other place and have not resided somewhere for more than a month. That is a great controlling factor as to whether they can be classed as itinerants at all. But if they come within this category we must know from the Minister that there is a safeguard and that this cannot be misused for a blatantly party political purpose to load up a marginal seat with a series of voters who are favourable to the party so involved.

I now turn to amendment No. 5 which was passed by the Senate. This amendment ensures, as the Minister indicated, that the provisional enrolment of 17-year- olds is not compulsory. That does not make the intention any better. We in the Opposition have said that we support the proposal that 17-year-olds should be able to vote if they turn 18 before the poll and after the date of proclamation or after the date of polling is known. It is only sensible that no one should be excluded by the accident of their birthday following the polling. But to go back and say that when one is 17 one can enrol provisionally is only, we believe, to search out a new demand which will inevitably come from 17-year-olds that they should get the vote. In proposing this in the first instance the Government must consider the proposal to lower the voting age to 17.

The Government would never have ventured down the track from 18-year-olds to 17 -year-olds unless it had studied that question. I believe it is setting the scene for that demand. I do not think the community wants that, and I do not approve it. In any event, the administrative difficulties that that provision will create for the roll must be of some consequence. There must be some additional work load for the Australian Electoral Office if two types of people are to be enrolled; that is, those who are enrolled but cannot vote because of age and all the rest who can. This does not make the amendment any more acceptable. It obviously takes out some fault that was not intended to be in the legislation when the Government drew it up. It does not, as I have said, make more acceptable the enrolment of 17-year-olds before any election date is known.

There are other amendments. The Minister referred to amendments Nos 4 to 18 which, as he said, came from the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills. There are one or two very sensible amendments. Amendment No. 22 stipulates that a party's registered officer may appoint a deputy for the purpose of verifying candidates. That is a very sensible administrative matter. Without that capacity there could be great inconvenience or a great blockage in the system if the deputy were not available in the absence of the registered officer. The modifying provisions relating to the witnessing of postal vote applications to make them more workable is at least one case of the Senate prevailing on the Minister to be more sensible that he was when he dealt with the Bill in the House of Representatives. You would remember, Mr Deputy Chairman , that the Minister was quite insensible to this restrictive clause that he included in this legislation which made it an offence for an innocent voter to obtain a postal vote application from a post office and to meet a friend in the street and say: 'Will you witness this for me?' The Minister was going to make that an offence. In any event the Senate has seen this and said to the Minister: 'You had better do otherwise'. The Minister now understands that he was wrong in the first place and has accepted this amendment.

I now turn to possibly the silliest proposal in this electoral legislation, apart from the principle of public funding, which of course was dealt with in other debates. But this proposal takes the first prize for being illogical and recomplicating an area from which the Government said it wanted to take complication. Amendments Nos 28, 31, 35, 40 and 42 make provision to register a two-sided voting ticket. You might remember, Mr Deputy Chairman, the criticism that originated at the proposal for two-sided tickets-that is, that someone with a list system could register two different minds as to how they wanted to vote. After all, that is not the position which one would adopt to produce a sound decision in any election. But the legislation was passed with the quite silly proposals of the Government to allow one tick in the list system of voting to allocate preferences from two registered decisions of one party. I take it in that circumstance that the votes would have been arbitrarily divided 50-50.

But now, good heavens, it comes from the Senate-we have not two but three sides . The honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender) cannot envisage that the Government would be so insensible to the point that this would then result in an arbitrary decision to divide in the circumstances that a party chooses to register three ways of voting? It would be rather interesting if the Government tried to do that; we would have triangles all over the place. The votes are to be divided, as I understand it, 33 per cent each way.


Dr Klugman —Thirty three and a third.


Mr STEELE HALL —What a decision. I thank the honourable member for being so precise. How on earth can anyone allocate those votes and be sure in conscience that they are doing justice to the voting system?


The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Rocher) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired .