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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 196

Senator HARRADINE(5.40) —In passing I indicate that I have a fine son-in-law called Robin and that in both his case and the case of Robin Gray there is no mistaking that they are of the male gender. Senator Robert Ray, the Chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform, gave a Chairman's statement in bringing forward the Committee's report yesterday. He indicated very briefly some of the matters that had been considered by this Committee. The Committee is hard working. The report covers a wide range of questions and there are many positive recommendations in its 230-odd pages. The Chairman thanked a number of people. His report was incomplete in that respect, because there is one person to whom he did not refer. His modesty precluded him from referring to his own chairmanship. I take this opportunity of acknowledging publicly that Senator Robert Ray's chairmanship of that Committee, which comprises members of the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Australian Democrats and me, was excellent in my view. He enabled discussions to range and viewpoints to be put; yet somehow we got through our work quite efficiently and effectively.

What I have to say now necessarily is in the form of qualification. I supported 98 per cent of the report; but, as we all know, some radical changes have taken place in both the electoral system as it applies to the Senate and the number of senators to be elected on each occasion on which there is a half Senate election. Professor Joan Rydon, Professor of Politics at La Trobe University, said of these two changes:

The new alternative method of Senate voting gives tremendous power to the political parties to whom the voters surrender their rights to allocate and bargain over their preferences. It is a further step in the adaptation of the Single Transferrable Vote (STV) system of proportional representation away from its original aim of breaking parties to serving their purpose. (Earlier steps have been in the grouping of candidates, allowing the parties to decide on the order in which their candidates' names appear and in the method of filling casual vacancies.)

The interesting point that Professor Rydon made was that the original design of the proportional representation system was aimed at breaking party influences, and now it has been turned around to serving the parties' interests. We must reflect, surely, on what that does to this chamber. This chamber is designed to be a House of review, not a party house, not a rubber stamp for what happens in the House of Representatives. Yet a person recognised in the political science community has indicated that what we did-against my vote-when we amended the Electoral Act was to enhance the power of the parties.

Incidentally, under the bloc system of voting, the list system, when voters put a number one in the box for the party they supported, how many of them really understood that their preferences would be allocated precisely in the manner of the party how-to-vote ticket registered with the Commonwealth Electoral Office? I put this to the test soon after the last election. I went into a timber industry establishment-one of the factories dealing with the pulp and paper industry-and said to a few of my mates: `How did the election go? I suppose you put a number one in the Labor Party box?'. `Oh yes, Brian', they replied. I said: `Congratulations. You have just elected Norm Sanders'. This is no reflection on Senator Sanders, but the fact is that everybody knows that he is a strong opponent of woodchipping, the Hydro-Electric Commission and so on. I am not going to get into that argument; but how many electors involved in the hydro-electric, timber and such industries knew that by placing a number one in the Labor Party box they in fact elected Norm Sanders? The test of a fair electoral system surely is that it truly reflect the intention of the voter. It is extraordinary, in my view, that we do not really address that question in this report.

It is also significant to note that the expansion of the Senate-that is, an additional senator to be elected from each of the States-entrenches the party system in this chamber. One might think it would do otherwise because it reduces the quota; but let me explain. The quota, with six senators to be elected, will be 14.3 per cent. That means that a major party needs to achieve only 42.9 per cent of the vote-nearly 43 per cent-to get three seats, namely, 50 per cent of the seats. It is possible that this situation will spell the end of smaller groups and independents in this chamber. I do not intend to see it spelling my end because, fortunately, on the last two elections I got over 14.3 per cent--

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Townley) —Order! Senator Harradine, your time has expired.