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Wednesday, 13 June 1984
Page: 2923


Senator DURACK(3.09) —by leave-I move:

(1) Page 2, Part II-Amendments of Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, lines 1 to 27, leave out the Part.

(2) Pages 4 and 5, Part VI-Amendments of Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978, line 29 (page 4) to line 13 (page 5), leave out the Part.

The only purpose of these amendments is to delete the provisions of the Bill concerning the electorate in which the residents of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands will be incorporated for the purpose of voting in Federal elections. As I have already indicated in my speech at the second reading stage, the Opposition is strongly in favour of the Cocos Islanders having a right to vote. The Islanders are now part of Australia and clearly the people have a right to vote. We welcome them as voters and as fellow Australians. However, we have raised our concern about their being attached to the Northern Territory electorate. I have already canvassed the various reasons for that concern, to which the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Senator Gietzelt), who is in charge of the Bill, has given a partial but rather misguided and misleading reply.

The fact is that the Senate has agreed with the view of the Opposition as expressed in my amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Bill, that the wishes of the Islanders should be ascertained as to the electoral division in which they should be included for the purpose of voting in Commonwealth parliamentary elections and in referendums. I think it will be most unfortunate if the Government does not take heed of that advice and persists with its proposal to incorporate them in the Northern Territory.

Senator Gietzelt in the second reading debate, in his reply to my arguments in regard to that matter, said that the Opposition had not produced any evidence that the Cocos Islanders want to be consulted about which electorate they should be in. He also made what I thought were some rather disparaging references to the ability of the Cocos Islanders to decide which electorate they wanted to be in. What an arrogant attitude Senator Gietzelt expressed in that regard. That was not only an arrogant but also a quite unjustified and unintelligent comment in light of the outstanding record of the Cocos (Keeling) Islanders in the voting pattern they displayed in regard to the question of whether they should be integrated into Australia. I have cited the figures-absolutely remarkable figures. There were 261 eligible voters on the islands, and only two informal votes were recorded. All eligible voters on the island voted. That is an outstanding record. They really know what they are doing and they are clearly entitled to express their views on which electorate they should be included in. They are obviously highly qualified people to make decisions of that kind.

In regard to the question of evidence, Mr McVeigh, who was the Minister responsible for the territories in the Fraser Government, visited the islands and discussed this matter with the Islanders. He discussed with them the question of whether they should be incorporated in the Fraser electorate in the Australian Capital Territory. I refer to the debate in another place as recorded on page 2369 of the House of Representatives Hansard for Tuesday, 29 May, when Mr Ruddock, who is currently the shadow Minister responsible for this area, referred to discussions that he had had with representatives of the Islanders when they were in Canberra recently. He quoted a Press statement that he issued after meeting with the Islanders as follows:

On the question of in which electorate of Australia the Cocos (Keeling) Islanders would vote to participate in Australian elections, their answer-

that is, to Mr Ruddock-

was that they would like to be in a position to weigh up the pros and cons of the various propositions in the knowledge of both the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory proposals.

He continued:

They said that they wanted to be in a position to weigh up the pros and cons . . . In other words, they wanted to be consulted. They did not want the decision to be made for them. They wanted to be able to be in a position to express a considered view on behalf of their own people.

I do not know what more evidence the Minister wants. That was a clear statement from the shadow Minister who spoke to the representatives of the Islanders who had come to Australia following the act of self-determination. They had come to Australia, he had consulted with them and this is what he reported to another place about the result of his discussions with them on this very question. There is ample evidence of the Islanders' wishes. I would like to know from the Government what it has done to ascertain the views of these people. It has obviously done nothing and it is not taking any interest in them. It has taken a doctrinaire-


Senator Peter Baume —Arbitrary.


Senator DURACK —It was an arbitrary decision and I think it was made because the Government thinks it is in its political interest. That is the only explanation that I can see. I am glad that the Minister has said that he would not want to make any judgments and he would not want anybody to make judgments about that, but why have the Islanders been arbitrarily put into the Northern Territory? It is a part of Australia with which they have no connection, as has been made clear in this debate. It is for those reasons that I have moved these amendments to the Bill, not with any object of preventing these people from voting in the next election.

The Committee now has agreed to provide a mechanism for consultation and I am pleased that the Australian Democrats supported my amendment to that effect. We have suggested a State Supreme Court judge but I do not want to make too great a point about that. I agree with Senator Macklin that any competent person could do the job, but it should be done quickly. The matter could well be reflected in an amendment to this legislation at the beginning of the Budget sittings, well before the next election. Of course, as we know, the Government is rushing madly and headlong to have an election but even the Government will not manage to bring off an election before the Budget. There will be time in the Budget session to give effect to the wishes of the Cocos (Keeling) Islanders which can be easily ascertained over the period of our winter recess.