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Tuesday, 16 October 1984
Page: 1726

Senator MACKLIN(11.55) —I had circulated another amendment relating to the injunction which I did not move, because it was consequential on the other amendments being accepted. However, I wish to put further questions to the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) in relation to the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill 1984.

First I would like the Attorney-General to clarify the situation relating to postal votes which are generally available from the close of nominations. As the Committee is aware, the Commonwealth Electoral Act has now been changed so that 48 hours must intervene between the close of the election and the registration of the list of candidates for the Senate. It seems odd that an elector could vote in an election and register his vote in the top half of the Senate ballot paper prior to the registration of a list of candidates for any political party. I would like the Minister to clarify that point.

The second point I raise relates to the naming of electorates. There have been some changes to the names of electorates and, of course, some new names for the new electorates. Some of the names which were first mentioned were objected to and subsequently changed. Some of those names were changed a second time, that is, when the final electorates were drawn up names were included which had never been canvassed previously and which have, in at least one case, caused considerable embarrassment and shown, I think, a fair amount of insensitivity to some of the electors within those electorates. I ask the Attorney whether the naming of electorates can, at the second stage, allow for some further objections since it has nothing to do with the distribution. A further provision to allow an objection to names surely would not at that stage cause very much difficulty.

The last matter to which I refer relates to an item on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation PM program last week in which the person who was conducting the program said that at the time the electoral blackout on the reporting of elections was being discussed, nobody had raised the issue about Western Australia. I refer honourable senators to 3 June 1983 when in discussions on the blackout I raised the very problem of Western Australia. In addition I have corresponded with the Minister for Industry and Commerce ( Senator Button) since that time. I have attempted to raise with the Minister the subject of that report. On 1 June 1983 I wrote to the Minister, reminding him of his undertaking that the Government would reform the Electoral Act to make sure that results could not be broadcast until the close of polling. He replied that that would be dependent on a fairness reference from the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. On 30 November I wrote to the Minister stating that I had not heard anything; the Minister replied on 8 December and I got another letter on 21 December.

So there has been some considerable discussion in my pursuit of attempting to change the Act so that the results of an election cannot be broadcast in Western Australia prior to the close of polls there. I have had a most extraordinary runaround and most extraordinary propositions have been put as to how complex this would be. I actually drafted an amendment which was very simple. We are not seeking to stop anybody from finding out what is happening in the eastern States . Any elector in Western Australia has always been able to find out what is happening in the eastern States. Electors can get on the telephone if they want to, they can listen to shortwave radio or to Radio Australia. But, as we have been discussing in this Bill, the vast bulk of the population receive their information through the normal channels of communication, through the normal mass media. All that we want to do is stop a bandwagon effect operating from the eastern States to Western Australia. I think it was agreed at the time by all political parties that this was a good idea, yet no action has been taken. We are now in a situation whereby the Electoral Commission has seemingly expressed its view-if the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is to be believed on that item-that people should not broadcast and some of the broadcasters over in Western Australia are now considering whether they should abide by the wishes of the Electoral Commission. They do not have to because there is no legislation on that matter. I believe that this is a loophole in the Act; it is something that we should have done at the time. It is a matter that I raised at the time. I believe that between 3 June 1983 and the present time, something should have been done to rectify that situation.