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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 197

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(5.51) —The Senate has before it the report of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform. I am a member of that Committee, which has met many times in the past three to four years. In the period 1983 to 1984 it sat continually and made a lot of recommendations, the majority of which were adopted, and substantial changes were made to the electoral system. The purpose of this report from the Committee is to review the 1984 Federal election both of the lower House and the Senate and to make recommendations for reforms which may have emerged as being necessary or desirable following the election. I commend, as has Senator Harradine, the Chairman, Senator Robert Ray; I commend my colleagues on the Committee because they attempted a very worthwhile degree of bipartisanship. Whilst I might have wanted to alter in a particular way quite a number of the recommendations that have gone forward-I think this applied to others on the Committee-we got a degree of compromise which is worth while. It is interesting that there are a relatively small number of dissenting reports and I think that is a sign of the hard work of the Committee.

The Committee is an interesting one in that it includes a considerable number of senators who have had expert knowledge of the system and therefore can bring to bear a degree of knowledge which otherwise might not have been the case. The other fundamental thing that ought to be stressed is this: The Committee works almost continually with officers of the Commonwealth Electoral Commission and its Chairman, Dr Hughes, who are present at its hearings. Usually the Deputy Electoral Commissioner, Mr Cirulis, is also present. In my view it is important that there should be a placental exchange, as it were, of views between the Committee and the Commission in their deliberations with the Commission having an input. I think the first recommendation is that in future there should be a standing committee and that recommendation has my strong support. The great value of the Committee is its continued relationship with the Commission and the exchange of views. Often it is not simply what one reads in a report that matters; rather it is the journey that has been taken, what has been resolved or neutralised, as it were, on the journey and that should be understood. It may be thought that with more than 150 recommendations there would not be much else left to review. By and large most of those recommendations are minor; by and large most of them are pretty worthwhile matters.

I draw attention to some reforms that have been suggested regarding the working of the redistribution commission. The test of any parliamentary system and its integrity must be the way the Parliament and the government of the day set up a redistribution commission and how that commission carries out its duties. All the talk in the world of gerrymanders or malapportionments are as nothing if we do not have an institution that has both integrity and some expertise. I believe that with one or two reforms that I have suggested, what we have at the moment is a good framework. I have to pay tribute to the Commission, the commissioners and the officers who serve the Commission. It is also good because its work is continually exposed to this Parliament. The Committee is not just a committee; it is a continual representation, we hope, of the views of the Parliament which it expresses to the Commission and, of course, the Commission reflects views back to it.

One of the important things that happened-it is contained in the recommendations-arises out of the 1984 electoral distribution. In New South Wales, after the original maps had been presented and a period was allowed for objections, in a number of cases the final maps were vastly different from the original maps. Upon reflection that, in itself, defeats the whole purpose of allowing objections because the purpose of allowing objections is to look at and to analyse the original maps, their concept and philosophy. If one could wake up and find a fait accompli of some maps that bear no relationship at all to the originals and one had no way in which one could complain or object, then, of course, the purpose is defeated. I do not reflect in any way upon the Commission. It had a very difficult job indeed. We recommended that if there is to be a major change in the mind of the Commission after it published its first maps, it should say so and present the change and allow time for further objections. This should apply only if there are major objections. I think this matter is fundamental because electoral redistribution is a thorough basis for the integrity of this Parliament. However esoteric the formula in terms of malapportionment, we now have a system that gets as near to one vote one value as one could hope for. Provided the rolls are clean, redistributions will be fairly reflected on malapportionment. Of course a gerrymander, that is the alteration of the boundaries, is another matter. One could have one vote one value and still have a gerrymander. However, I stress that the present system-it is interfaced with this Parliament-now gives one great reassurance against a gerrymander. I have a number of points I would like to raise.

Senator Georges —You won't have time. They only give you 10 minutes in the debate.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —I will not have time. That is right. I thank Senator Georges. Perhaps he and I could have a talk. It is true that 10 minutes to debate a major subject is very short. A lot of the amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act both in the past and now that have been recommended are an attempt to make sure that every voter is compelled to cast his vote. I have repeatedly drawn attention to the absolute anomaly and ridiculous nature of this situation because although the Act attempts to do this it can only force an elector to go to the polling place and get his or her name struck off the roll. We cannot know what will happen to the ballot paper. Because there is no way of finding out, the elector can either cast an informal vote, write a rude word on the ballot paper or put it in his pocket and leave the polling booth. I think the result of that is a perversion of democracy. If one forces unwilling people, if one forces apathetic people, to vote they are likely to decide the margin of the vote in favour or against a particular candidate. In most cases an election is decided by one or 2 per cent of the voters. What we get is the ridiculous situation that in many cases apathy, antagonism and hostility can decide the result.

I must say that I think it is perfectly ridiculous that we have the pretence of driving people to the poll. Obviously, what is important is that the right to vote should be entrenched. But the choice to vote should also be entrenched. The denial of the right to vote would be very wrong. The attempt to enforce a vote perverts the ballot box. Personally, as one who is profoundly interested in the working of the democratic system, I wish that the Parliament would look at that and not simply think that we should have some kind of machinery that makes sure that everybody has put in a vote, whether or not they want to. Of course, we have also made some recommendations about conscience votes. If it is right to give a person the right not to vote from conscience--

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Townley) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.