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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1688


Senator VIGOR(8.04) —Before the debate was interrupted I was pointing out that we had not been looking at the right questions when it came to voting. It is not enough just to concentrate on whether a ballot paper is going to be accepted as formal. The real crunch is whether voters' opinions are heeded. Quite plainly, that does not happen in the case of half of them. In fact, 47.3 per cent of those who cast a formal vote found their first preferences ineffective. Over 44 per cent of voters need not have bothered at all, for all the good their votes did. They were well and truly had.

The statistics section of the Australian Electoral Commission's report divides seats into the following categories: Safe, fairly safe, and marginal. Safe seats were those in which the successful candidate received over 60 per cent of the two-party preferred vote. How many of these were there? There were 61 safe seats out of 148 seats. So in nearly half the seats there really was only a symbolic value to the campaigning. Interestingly enough, irrespective of whether the seat was a safe Labor, Liberal or National seat, more votes intended for the winning candidate were informal than were those for the major opponent. That can be ascertained fairly easily from pages 28, 29, 34, 35, 40 and 41 of the report. In 31 other seats the winning candidate received between 56 and 60 per cent of the two-party preferred vote. Honourable senators can imagine how little genuine political debate and activity will occur in those fairly safe seats-at least until the next set of unnecessary redistribution proposals come along and there is a mad scramble for those seats that are turned into safe seats.

The Australian Electoral Commission report does have one extraordinary remark at page 21 dealing with pre-election research on the effectiveness of its main television advertisement. It refers to a sample of 101 people who conformed broadly to the demographic characteristics of the Australian electorate. I find it hard to put faith in findings based on such a small number of people. When we have such a far-reaching claim based on such small samples I wonder whether those conducting the research and interpreting the information collected have any concept of the error that can be expected on statistical grounds. I hope that in future more extensive work can be done before millions of dollars are splashed around.

I draw the Senate's attention to the curiosity that Queensland for a long time has had the lowest rate of informal voting in the nation. Perhaps the Electoral Commission can examine why that is so. I seek leave to incorporate table 4.2 of the report in Hansard in order to illustrate my point.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

Table 4.2

INFORMAL VOTING BY STATE AND TERRITORY FOR THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES 1974-84 (%)*

1974 1975 1977 1980 1983 1984

N.S.W. 1.66 1.87 2.26 2.36 2.16 5.75 Vic. 2.11 1.96 2.85 2.70 2.20 7.59 Qld 1.38 1.27 1.53 1.76 1.30 4.43 W.A. 2.52 2.30 3.30 2.69 1.98 7.08 S.A. 2.81 2.40 3.38 2.79 2.67 8.26 Tas. 1.77 1.85 2.60 2.64 2.30 5.87 A.C.T. 1.53 1.67 2.38 2.15 2.21 4.72 N.T. 2.81 3.25 3.46 4.91 4.40 4.62 Aust. 1.92 1.89 2.52 2.45 2.09 6.38

*Including missing and discarded ballot-papers, 1974-83.


Senator VIGOR —I thank the Senate. I return to my previous point that the only way to give people an effective vote is to bring in quota preferential counting in multi-member districts. The Australian Labor Party might even want to use optional preferential voting in a multi-member electorate. I believe we would be prepared to support that.


Senator Zakharov —You were not prepared to support it last year.


Senator VIGOR —I repeat we would consider it in multi-member electorates. We would then find 90 per cent or more of voters having an effective first preference. Voters would have a real choice of parties and candidates. It would be worth their while to turn up to vote for a House of Representatives election, no matter where they lived. Both Labor and Liberal parties would then have to learn to cater for the whole nation, rather than just particular geographical sections in which they have won seats to date.

I also want to consider electoral advertising by the Commission. Given the length of time needed for issues to take off in the public mind, it is odd that there was an electronic media blitz confined to the last two weeks of the December 1984 election campaign. The Commission will have to develop less spectacular ways of trying to get the message across, and to do so over a longer period. I note that voting for the Senate showed a lower informal vote than did voting for the House of Representatives. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard table 4.1 which illustrates this.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-Table 4.1

INFORMAL VOTING AT THE PREVIOUS VOTE AND IN 1984 (%)*

House

Senate

Referendums

1983 1984 1983 1984 1977 (Q4) 1984 (Q1) 1984 (Q2)

New South Wales 2.2 5.7 11.1 5.6 1.6 4.6 6.4 Victoria 2.2 7.6 10.7 4.2 2.2 5.5 7.7 Queensland 1.3 4.4 8.6 3.3 1.2 2.7 4.1 Western Australia 2.0 7.1 7.8 4.7 2.4 4.4 5.9 South Australia 2.7 8.3 8.8 5.4 2.4 7.0 9.6 Tasmania 2.3 5.9 7.4 5.7 1.9 5.6 8.4 Australian Capital Territory 2.2 4.7 3.3 3.1 . . 3.8 5.5 Northern Territory 4.4 4.6 4.7 3.2 . . 7.0 8.4 Australia 2.1 6.4 9.9 4.7 1.8 4.8 6.7

* Including missing and discarded ballot-papers in 1983 and 1977 and for the Senate and referendums in 1984.


Senator VIGOR —This evidence suggests that an advertising campaign would make voting very much more effective, especially if the advertising occurred over a much longer period. I believe it would help if one could honestly tell voters in safe areas for Labor or the coalition that their House of Representatives vote was meaningful. I believe that the only way in which we can do this is by establishing multi-member electorates with proportional representation.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.