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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1677

Senator ROBERT RAY(5.28) —I wish to congratulate the Australian Electoral Commission on the job it did in compiling this report. Had such a report been compiled six or seven years ago-or eight years ago as was the case in 1977-it would have been suppressed for six years and would never have seen the light of day. That happened with the 1977 report on informal voting. That report was not made available publicly until 1983. However, we now have the current report.

Senator Peter Baume is correct; not one seat would have changed hands bar, maybe, Forde-the informal votes have never been counted in that seat because of an action before the Court of Disputed Returns-had the old system of voting been used. I suppose I take a perverse form of satisfaction from that result, as I said on the Sunday after the election and as I have said continually ever since. Informal voting at times was used as an alibi to explain unpopular results. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to push this matter too far. According to our estimates and the estimates of the Electoral Commission the new system of voting cost the Australian Labor Party 0.4 per cent of the total vote. I think it is regrettable that that occurred. I am not generally going to comment on whether there was a protest vote because that analysis will be done by the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform. We have already interviewed the Electoral Commission and we will be in the process of forming judgments on that for quite a long while.

However, it is very easy to inadvertently vote informal. As I pointed out, I think on 4 December in the Melbourne Sun, I was watching television on the night before the election and I saw on the television a leader of a political party voting by post in the Australian Electoral Office in Canberra. That leader took the three ballot papers, filled them out, and with a theatrical flourish put them in the ballot box. Anyone knows that if one is making a postal vote one must put the ballot papers in the postal vote envelope, sign that, seal the envelope and place it in the box. Here we had a person-of course, it was Senator Chipp-probably voting informally at the last election. He is a person of massive political experience. He was the member for Higinbotham and then Hotham from 1960 through to 1977 and then a senator in this place. I draw two conclusions from that, because I did watch it on three television channels. Either Senator Chipp voted informally or, even worse, the ballot box was later opened and adjustments made. I am sure that that could never be the case. My statement in the Melbourne Sun on 4 December has never been refuted. If it is possible for a very articulate, brilliant person to vote informally, it is rather harsh to judge other people and say that all informal votes are merely protest votes.

The one surprising thing in that report is not the amount of No. 1 votes. It is possible to explain that through confusion with the system and a one-sided advertising campaign. However, there was an increase over, say, the 1977 figures for ticks and crosses. It is almost impossible to understand why that occurred. As Senator Baume pointed out, in the seat of Moore, where a single No. 1 vote would be a formal vote, there was a massive increase in ticks and crosses. I am not sure that the electorate is so sophisticated that it says: Because there are only two candidates in Moore, we will protest vote in another way. However, if the Opposition is going to argue that the electorate is sophisticated enough to vote informal no matter what voting system the Government introduces, then the Opposition should be happy to accommodate us in our desire for an optional preferential voting system. If that system is introduced and people still want to vote informal, they will find another way to do it. The basic tenet of compulsory preferential voting that the Opposition has always argued collapses around its ears.

I realise that honourable senators may want to speak but I want to congratulate the Electoral Commission again for producing a report of this quality in the time concerned. It is an advance for political science and for the study of political parties in this country.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Senator Vigor, in giving you the call, I remind you that there is only one minute remaining for debate on this item.