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Wednesday, 9 November 1983
Page: 2514


Mr YOUNG(5.02) —Mr Deputy Speaker, I am delighted to be able to take part in the debate on the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill . As a result of my predicament over the past few months, I was not sure whether this would be the first Bill on which I would speak. However, I am delighted to be able to take part in the debate. I noticed that the honourable member for Boothby (Mr Steele Hall) had something to say about my predicament, but I do not intend to reply to that until the correct time arises. The proper time will be when Mr Justice Hope responds.

I wish to remind people and the House of what is said in South Australia about the honourable member for Boothby: He has all the attributes of a dog except loyalty. I do not think the people of Canberra should miss out on this description given to him by people in South Australia. He has a very narrow right wing attitude to most political questions. Honourable members have again seen this attitude displayed in what was a very pathetic performance during the second reading debate on a very major piece of reform legislation. This legislation was brought into this House after the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform had conducted a review and many hearings for some months in order to give us something to consider in regard to the changes to the electoral laws. It is a great pity that Senator Sir John Carrick, from the other place, was not in the House of Representatives for this debate to give some intellectual input to the Liberal Party of Australia as to its views on these questions. I am afraid the Party has not been served very well by the honourable member for Boothby.

Honourable members would know that there is never an end to the debates which occur or to the reforms which have to be brought in regarding legislation of this nature. It has been going on since Federation. This is merely another step in the direction of bringing up to date some of the measures that we in the Australian Labor Party believe have to be corrected as a result of 30 years of neglect by the conservatives. It is true that we were in government from 1972 to 1975. It is also true that on a number of occasions we introduced legislation to bring about reform of the electoral laws in Australia only to have it frustrated on a record number of occasions by the Senate in that period between 1972 and 1975. So one can say that the right to reform these laws has remained almost exclusively with the conservatives between 1949 and 1983. No one, Mr Deputy Speaker, should be surprised that these reforms have been brought in eight months after our election to government in 1983. We have not kept secret our attitudes towards the electoral reform which we considered was necessary in this country. The honourable member for Boothby quite correctly pointed out that I, among others, have been very vocal over a long period of years about the necessity to look at these laws. In Opposition, we spoke on numerous occasions and introduced private member's Bills and general business motions so that we could continually bring before the people of Australia the necessity for electoral reform in this country.

It is a great pity that the experiences of other Western democracies have had no influence at all on the conservative attitude as expressed by the honourable member for Boothby, because the attitudes he expresses today could well have been expressed 100 years ago. There has been no element of enlightenment in his contribution here today, in spite of all the evidence which overwhelmingly supports what we are putting forward. As I have said in Opposition on many occasions before our election in 1983, what we are doing is not all that radical . It would hardly make the headlines in any of the Western democracies that we are bringing ourselves into line in many cases with what has been the order of the day in those countries for many years. But still some conservatives-not all because I have spoken to many honourable members opposite in this House and in the other chamber-who belong to the other parties applaud the steps which we are taking in relation to these reforms. The Opposition parties, of course, have to try to maintain the fact that in some way they are opposed to electoral reform because there is something sinister about what the Labor Party is attempting to do. The honourable member for Boothby did not mention one thing. Perhaps he did not mention it because he scabbed on the Liberal Party a few years ago. The Liberal Party, when it put its submission to the Committee, acknowledged that the Labor Party had a mandate for this reform. Mr Deputy Speaker, the Liberal Party submission acknowledged, inasmuch as it was putting forward views about the way in which reform ought to be carried out, that Labor made no secret of these reforms which it would bring in. It was specifically mentioned during the last election campaign. It has been mentioned ever since 1975 and during the period 1972-74. This Committee report represents what has been a very strongly held view not only in the parliamentary Labor Party and in the Labor Party throughout Australia but also among many progressive thinking people in the community. As I said at the outset, it does not put a full stop on all of the things which might have to be done in future. Many of the propositions which have been looked at by the Committee have been looked at by earlier committees, and we have decided to stick with them. We decided to stick with the concept of a single electorate. We decided to continue with compulsory voting. I for one hold very strong views about that.

Some people glory in the fact that Mrs Thatcher was returned at the last election in the United Kingdom. Mrs Thatcher received 34 per cent of the votes of those people eligible to vote in the United Kingdom on a non-compulsory, first past the post system of voting. The people of Britain may think that that is a good system, and they are entitled to their view. It is not a system which I endorse; I endorse compulsory voting, because it seems to me that we get the best results when people have to express their views by way of the ballot box in regard to the Government they want. Other countries have other views and these have been tested in Australia over and over again.

What the Committee has done is refine the views and the policies which the Labor Party enunciated. As a result of its work the Committee has been able to give us a vehicle in the form of this legislation with which we have been able to move to do some of the things we talked about. The Committee's work again reflects the opportunity for this House to use the committee system in a certain fashion, and that is not to set up a committee to do work over five years but to set up a committee to do its work in a rapid progression and look at legislation which ought to be produced so that members have a better grasp of matters on which they are likely to legislate. It is not necessary to reply to too much of what the honourable member for Boothby said. His opposition is expressed in his amendment moved at the second reading stage, which states in part, that the House:

deplores those aspects of the legislation which attack individual freedoms, threaten the continuation of the preferential system of voting and introduce public funding . . .

Mr Deputy Speaker, you and honourable members would be surprised to know that the individual freedoms which are allegedly threatened in Australia apparently are not threatened in any other western country which has this system. Other western countries register political parties and they have public funding. Most of these countries do not have preferential voting. But the honourable member for Boothby thinks that we are quite a unique cast of people who in some way are threatened because we are to bring ourselves into line with what exists in most parts of the western world.

Australia is one of the very few countries that are still fortunate enough to call themselves a democracy. Australian citizens over 18 years of age can vote to decide who will be in government. The laws, as encompassed in the electoral system, are of enormous importance to us. They were never changed under the conservatives because the conservatives believe, having won every election from 1949 to 1972, having been put back into government by the Governor-General in 1975 and then having won the next three elections, that they should not change a system that had been so good to them. The Liberal Party got the same vote in 1969 as the Labor Party got in 1980. The 1969 election result gave a substantial majority to the Liberals. The same result in 1980 gave the Labor Party a minority. The system that applied in this country was not a fair one.

Let us look at the other rorts under which the Liberal Party has operated. The honourable member for Boothby said that young people are apathetic and that they will become more apathetic because of some of these reforms. What did his former leader do in calling the election in 1983? He gave people 24 hours to get on the roll and denied at least 300,000 people, mostly young Australians, the right to vote. That would make them a bit apathetic in their attitude towards politicians . The honourable member for Boothby said that it was wrong to use taxpayers' money. He used as an example the Bulletin poll of July. I do not know who prepared his speech but there is another poll in today's Bulletin. Sometimes politicians are supposed to be out in front, not always sitting behind waiting to see what the polls will tell them. The honourable member for Boothby ought to get off his tractor occasionally and decide to take the lead on some of these questions.

The systems that have been adopted in Europe have not been adopted just by labour parties; they have been adopted by conservative parties and some people almost as conservative, almost as reactionary and almost as right wing as the honourable member for Boothby. The Christian Democrats in Sweden and West Germany have gone a lot further. They pay money into their political parties for educational processes and for the printing of their newspapers. Their systems are not set up to aid and abet one political philosophy. They are set up because those countries see them as major contributors to, as bastions of their political systems.

The honourable member for Boothby did not mention, of course, a lot of the good work that was done by the Committee in terms of what is involved in the Bill, which is what we said we would do. First of all, we promised we would establish an independent electoral commission under our legislation which we have now done . Apparently, the conservatives have no opposition to it. We have not seen the honourable member for Boothby's other amendment. We have only his amendment to the second reading of the Bill. I did not hear him say anything about the independent Electoral Commission which is to carry out the functions of the Australian Electoral Office. In some ways the conservatives saw the Electoral Office as a nuisance office, they tried to deprive it of funds and influence. They just hoped it would be there as a mechanism to keep them in office every time they decided to call an election. That should not be the role of an electoral commission which has a very major responsibility in a democracy such as that which we have in Australia. We should see that it carries out this responsibility by furnishing it with the financial and human resources required to bring about the education of people as to what is in the electoral system.

The response that the Government got in the surveys that were taken of people's attitudes that are at fault to the electoral systems in Australia was pathetic. It is not just the systems. The honourable member for Boothby said that people will cry foul when they find that some of their taxes have to go to paying political parties and the majority are against it. But if the honourable member for Boothby went out into the electorate and asked: 'How many people are in favour of politicians getting $40,000 a year?' a lot more than 57 per cent would be against it; I can tell him that. He should not run that rule of thumb test too far about what the public thinks of the political system and politicians independently. On these questions the Electoral Commission will have a very major responsibility to fill the gap that has been established by the ignorance of conservative parties in trying to see that these things were submerged and that they continued with the benefits that might flow to them.

The redistribution provisions have not changed greatly. The legislation will ensure that frequent redistribution are done by an independent commission in the States or collectively as a result of electorates getting out of kilter. The conservatives have said that proposed distributions should come back to the Parliament so that we can change them. That is not our concept of what ought to be done. If honourable members opposite follow what the Labor Party has been doing they will find that, in South Australia, the independent Electoral Commission does not report its findings to the Parliament for approval. Once it prints them that is the final decision. The decision which was printed in South Australia just a few short weeks ago brought a number of shocks to both political parties. The Leader of the Opposition has to change his electorate, the Deputy Premier of the State has to change his electorate and a number of other members found that their electorates had been changed quite dramatically.

We are not here to decide how the boundaries ought to be drawn up. We are here to fight it out to see who can get 50 per cent plus one of the votes after the boundaries have been established. It is up to the Electoral Commission, set up independently of this Parliament, to do the job that is required of it. That is the way in which we have put it; that is the way in which the Committee has recommended it and that is the way in which it is encompassed in this legislation. There are appeal systems within that legislation to ensure that a majority of the commissioners, acting both nationally and from within the States , can decide on any appeals that may come to them. But the appeals must be based on the criteria which have been established for the purposes of that redistribution.

I come now to public funding. I have read the minority report of Senator Sir John Carrick and we have heard from the honourable member for Boothby. There is nothing new from the Liberal Party on public funding. This Parliament is not the first to introduce public funding. New South Wales has established it and I am pretty sure that other States will follow. But we are one of the last of the democracies in the western world to move into this field. We do it for very sound reasons. The honourable member for Boothby asked: 'What about the photograph of someone giving a cheque for $50,000 to the Labor Party in front of the offices of the Sydney Morning Herald?' We are acting like a bunch of angels compared with the way in which the Liberal and the National parties act.

If we look at the National Times of 14 October 1983 we see that corporate donations to the New South Wales Liberal Party in that year were $1,200,000 from many companies. I just wonder how those companies reached the decision about the donations they would make to the Liberal Party. Did they call a mass meeting of all their shareholders to decide that they would make those donations? Did they offer information to the National Times to make it public or was it scurried out of the various Liberal Party vaults so that people in Australia could get some introduction to the relationship between the Liberal Party and these donors? I have no objection to anybody who wants to make it clear to the world that he or she is making a donation to a political party. Trade unions have always published their donations-they have to under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. But Australia is one of the countries which is dominated by overseas investment more than almost any other country. We are controlled to an extent by foreign money almost more than any other country, perhaps with the exception of Canada. If one had a satellite sitting on top of the world and one was able to look down at the way in which money was flowing around this planet one would see money coming in and out of Australia and people trying to manipulate the system to their own benefit.

It seems to us that one of the areas over which we should have complete and utter control is the political system. The only way in which we can do that is not to bar private donations altogether, although at one time I was a keen subscriber to that. Rather, if people want to make private donations running parallel with the system of public funding which is established under this legislation, it should all be out in the clear so that everybody can see what is happening. If shareholders in the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd or other companies object to the donations that they may be making to the Liberal Party, the National Party or the Labor Party they can object and stop those donations. But the political system should be above suspicion. It is all right for people to say: 'We have no evidence of what may or may not have happened'. That may be the case in many countries, although quite recently a Prime Minister of Japan was found guilty of receiving $US1.2m from the Lockheed company. These sorts of things can happen. If it is all out in the open it is above suspicion. People are able to say: 'Well, it might be costing the taxpayers of Australia a few bob '.

We are falling into line with what has been established right throughout the Western world. We are not doing anything unique. We are not using moneys that are not being used in exactly the same way in other countries with which we might compare ourselves, but everybody in the country can see the relationship between the corporate sector and the political parties or the trade unions in the political parties. Let us not forget that some trade unions donate to other parties besides the Labor Party. We would like to see all those things out in the open, so the relationship can be seen. If people have suspicions that a political party elected to govern this country is doing something which is closely related to a major donation made to that political party, questions can be asked and it is out in the open. That is the way it ought to be.

As I said at the outset, there has been no secret about what we promised in this legislation. There is no doubt, as has been envisaged by the submission by the Liberal Party of Australia to the committee of inquiry, that the Liberal Party said that we have a mandate for this legislation. So we do. We thank the Committee wholeheartedly for refining all the ideas that went before it and which enable us to use this vehicle, this piece of legislation, to refine all the ideas we have and to add to them. Many things have not been mentioned by the honourable member for Boothby or me. Even the Special Minister of State (Mr Beazley) did not have time to mention that we will bring about worthwhile reforms, such as mobile polling booths and so forth. All these things will be worth while. We will have a much better system as a result of this great overhaul of the electoral laws which has been the greatest move since Federation .