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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1676

Senator MAGUIRE(5.23) —The report by the Australian Electoral Commission on informal voting is a very valuable report. It was commissioned by the Government to look into the reasons for the rise in the informal vote for the House of Representatives last December from around 2 per cent to over 6 per cent nationally. I would like to spend a little bit of time looking at one of the other features of the report and that is the extent to which it confirms the very large fall in informal voting for the Senate and how well the new voting system introduced by the Labor Government worked in reducing the number of informal votes for the Senate. I think that factor has been lost sight of in the recent debate about informal votes in this country. There has been very little discussion about the extent to which the new voting system, which was a product of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform, reduced the number of informal votes for the Senate. I refer particularly to the group voting ticket method of voting which involves simply placing a number in one square on the ballot paper to vote for an entire party How to Vote card. That voting option was most preferred by electors. Well over 90 per cent of electors chose that option and only some 9 per cent nationally chose to use the preferential method of voting. I think that the group voting ticket method had a dramatic effect on the number of informal votes for the Senate. According to the report, the number of informal votes in New South Wales fell by 5.5 per cent, from 11.1 per cent in 1983 to around 5.6 per cent in 1984. Similarly, there was a big fall in Victoria from 10.7 per cent in 1983 to around 4.5 per cent in 1984. They were very large falls indeed. There was a similar fall in my State of South Australia.

I must say that the fall in the number of informal votes for the Senate was particularly marked in a number of electorates around the country. Senator Robert Ray, who is sitting in the chamber, will be aware that in the Port Adelaide division the informal vote for the Senate fell from 14.1 per cent in 1983 to 7 per cent last December. So there was a very big fall in the number of informal votes cast in that electorate. That pattern was repeated in a number of other electorates around the country. There were very large reductions in the numbers of informal votes for the Senate cast in two of the polling places in the Port Adelaide electorate. In fact, in 1983 in two polling places a 27 per cent informal vote for the Senate election was recorded. At one of those polling places, for which I have figures with me today, the reduction in the number of informal votes in 1984 was a full 18 percentage points-a mammoth fall in the number of informal votes, showing what can be done with the introduction of a new voting system. I think that is probably the largest fall in informal votes recorded in Australia. That meant that many electors were enfranchised effectively for the first time. They had been voting for many years in Australian elections but had been denied a formal vote by the very complex system for Senate elections that we had to put up with in this country. I think it is probably true to say that the former Senate voting system which prevailed in this country was the most complicated voting system in the world. It was an unnecessarily complex system. I certainly could not fathom how electors in this country were expected to rank 70 or 80 preferences for candidates in their heads and put them on their ballot papers on polling day. This was a sheer impossibility and the reform was long overdue. The results of the 1984 election showed very clearly just what could be done about informal voting, that the means were always available to rid Australia of that blight.

I must congratulate the members on the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform who came up with the recommendation for the introduction of the group voting ticket method of voting that had a very marked effect on ridding Australia of this problem. I congratulate the Government for taking the initiative and putting that proposal into legislation because it effectively enfranchised many Australian electors for the first time.

I think the next step is to move into the field of voter education. The Australian Electoral Commission now has the power to carry out voter education. I believe it should not just involve itself in keeping the rolls and conducting elections but should educate electors how to vote correctly.