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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 198

Senator MACKLIN(6.01) —The report which is before us from the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform has 156 recommendations and, doubtless, will not make bedside reading for many Australians. However, the subject matter of this report is at the heart of our democracy. I am very pleased to have been a member of this Committee since its inception in 1983. I well remember meeting with the then Special Minister of State, Mr Young, to put the suggestion to him that, before the incoming Labor Government introduced any electoral reform Bill, the Australian Democrats would require such a committee to be set up. I found that he had already been thinking along those same lines. Neither he nor I had any understanding of the mess which our electoral laws were in when the Committee first met, and saw the enormous technical loopholes and problems that had arisen over the years. That Committee brought forward a series of reports which formed a series of amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

It is my understanding, having looked through a number of reports, that this report is unique in what it has attempted to do. The Parliament has instituted a series of amendments and it has then taken the trouble to look at how they worked, and have a Committee to look at how they worked, in order to fine-tune them. These 156 recommendations are, by and large, a fine tuning of those original amendments. I doubt very much whether substantial changes to the electoral system will henceforth be made for quite a number of years. I think that once these are implemented the system, by and large, will work in the way in which it is then structured for quite some time; hence it is very important that this report be correct.

I pay tribute to the chairmanship of Senator Robert Ray, who has had the happy knack of being able to keep a very large committee focusing on the task at hand and making sure that the report came out in time for the legislative program which will undoubtedly be required for the next election. That is no mean task, if one looks at the membership of the Committee. I think, having sat on a number of committees, that his chairmanship, certainly in my limited knowledge of chairmanships, leaves nothing to be desired in regard to the way in which he has handled that very delicate and often frustrating task.

I hope that the Government moves very rapidly in its consideration of the report. It falls within the purview of the Special Minister of State (Senator Tate), who is present at the moment, to make sure that the Government moves as rapidly as possible in its consideration of these recommendations, and that it moves to place them in a legislative form as soon as possible. Some matters of political dispute are contained in this report, but remarkably few. Indeed, some of them actually did not make it into this report, as Senator Sir John Carrick has said. There were a number of points that the majority of members could have forced into this report, but they did not do so. I think it is to the credit of the Committee that it has tried to get a consensus on the very delicate matter of electoral justice for this country.

In closing, I will make a political comment. If some of the current movements in the political structure in Australia turn out in the way in which the Premier of Queensland would want to see them, we will see a system which is so far removed from the one which is suggested in this report that the people of Wagga Wagga will be much appreciated, because each of their votes will be equal to four of the votes of people in Sydney. I am assuming, of course, that the system that would be implemented would be the same system that we have in Queensland. I think that that is the type of question that some people in Australia ought to think about, if the Premier of Queensland is to have his way in this country. I believe that the Federal electoral system has resulted in governments of all political complexions operating in a way which is just, fair and, to my knowledge, in looking back over the history of the Commonwealth, almost without taint. That cannot be said for any State government in the Commonwealth. But it can be said for the Commonwealth. Largely, that is a response to the electoral laws that have been in place at the Commonwealth level. They are fundamental, and constitute the quality of democracy in this country. It is vital that every citizen should realise that, and every citizen should fight strongly to retain this excellent system which has been devised.