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Friday, 1 June 1984
Page: 2328

Senator BUTTON (Minister for Industry and Commerce)(9.08) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

The passage of the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Act 1983 heralded the most significant changes to our electoral legislation for fifty years. As part of the Government's continuing commitment to electoral reform, it now undertakes to bring referendum legislation into line with the new Electoral Act, to make provision for voting at referendums for electors in the Territories -including the Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands-and to incorporate certain other necessary modifications to current procedures.

The changes are largely of a machinery nature, and will simplify the administration of referendums, particularly when they are held concurrently with elections. The most appropriate approach, Mr President, is to repeal the Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Act 1906 and subsequent amending Acts and to replace them with a new Act.

The new Electoral Act has removed or brought up-to-date many outmoded provisions; it has removed certain anomalies; it has extended the right, and in the case of Aboriginals, the obligation to enrol and to vote; it has made it easier for electors to get on the rolls and stay on the rolls; it has altered polling procedures to make voting more accessible to previously disadvantaged groups. Hence overseas electors, itinerant workers and Antarctic electors may now register a vote. Electors may vote as ordinary voters at any polling booth within their Division instead of only within their Subdivision. Mobile polling facilities will be provided in the outback and for patients in hospitals and similar institutions. A register of postal voters will be established so that people in remote areas or people unable to attend polling booths can be sent an application for a postal vote immediately an election is announced.

Mr President, this Bill ensures that the worthwhile reforms enshrined in the new Electoral Act will also streamline voting procedures at future referendums. In addition this Bill makes other changes to our referendum legislation.

The current Act provides that 'Yes' and 'No' cases be submitted within 4 weeks after the passage through Parliament of the proposed law. Then, within 2 months of the 4 weeks and not later than 2 weeks after the issue of the writ, pamphlets must be printed and posted to each elector. These provisions can mean that the pamphlets may reach electors months in advance of voting day for the referendum. They should be replaced by a requirement that the Electoral Commissioner simply despatch the Yes/No pamphlets not later than 14 days before voting day. The requirement should also be extended to cases where a Bill is passed by one House only.

At present, the Electoral Commissioner is not under legal duty under the Act to print and distribute the Yes/No pamphlets where the Government postpones or cancels a referendum. It is highly desirable, Mr President, that it be expressly stated in the new Act that this is the case.

Mr President, the new provisions in the Commonwealth Electoral Act relating to disclosure of electoral expenditure apply to parties, candidates and groups of candidates; persons acting without the written authority of parties, candidates and groups; and publishers, broadcasters and printers. The Government is of the view that for referendums there should be a provision requiring that returns of expenditure be lodged only by publishers, broadcasters and printers. These returns will indicate the major sources of referendum expenditure. It would be consistent with the electoral provisions for the referendum period for which returns must be lodged to be from the date of issue of the writ to voting day for the referendum.

In addition, Mr President, the electoral provisions relating to disclosure of donations to political parties and candidates are not readily translatable to referendums. Referendum donations do not give rise to potential corruption in the way that undisclosed election donations might. Therefore there is little point in requiring their disclosure.

Mr President, senators will be aware that in the last twelve months the Government has demonstrated its concern for and interest in electoral matters. The legislation which I am not putting before honourable senators should be considered against this background of concern. The Government believes that the changes proposed to the machinery for conducting referendums are timely and sensible, following the passage of the new electoral legislation, yet at the same time they preserve the basic elements and broad principles which are already at the heart of the current system.

I commend this Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.