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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2377

Senator MAGUIRE(11.40) —I rise to support the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 1987. This Bill follows upon the major amendments made to Australia's Electoral Act in 1983 and 1984, shortly after the Hawke Government came to power. The current Bill is based significantly on the 1986 report of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform. Much of the content of the 1987 amendments now before the Senate is about the matter of electoral redistributions for the House of Representatives. The 1983 Act which was passed by the Parliament restored to Australia fair electoral boundaries for the House of Representatives. These amendments passed by the Senate in 1983 restored the principle of one vote one value which had been taken out of the Commonwealth electoral laws. This had had the effect of distorting enrolments in House of Representatives electorates around Australia.

I am very pleased indeed that it was under a Labor Government that the principle of one vote one value was restored to our electoral laws as they apply to elections for the House of Representatives. We did that by removing the disgraceful weighting of country electorates which was introduced at the behest of the National Party of Australia. We removed the 5,000 square kilometre rule, as it was known, which gave people living outside the metropolitan areas votes with a higher value than those votes cast by people living in Australia's large cities. It is very important to note that just as the Labor Government has restored equity and fairness to the Australian taxation system so, too, has the Labor Government restored fairness to Australia's electoral boundaries for the House of Representatives. It is very important to note that we now have greater fairness in the elections for the Australian House of Representatives. There is now a close relationship between votes won in House of Representatives elections and seats won in the House of Representatives chamber as a result of those votes being cast. That is how it should be in a democracy; that is how it should be in an advanced industrialised society-one vote one value.

Previously we had incredibly large disparities in our electoral enrolments. I simply refer to the enrolments in Federal districts in your State, Mr Acting Deputy President, at the time of the 1980 elections, less than seven years ago. We had an enrolment in the electorate of Fadden of 83,900 persons, but in the Kennedy electorate, well outside the metropolitan area of Brisbane, we had an enrolment of 61,750 Australians. So within your State there was a 36 per cent disparity in electoral enrolments and a major difference in the value of the votes cast in national elections by Australians living in Queensland. That was an outrageous situation; it was a disgrace and blight on Australia and it was unacceptable. It is pleasing to see that that sort of situation has been dispensed with in national elections for the Australian Parliament. I regret to say that in State elections in your State it is still possible for minority governments to be elected-we have a minority government there at the moment. It is still possible for political parties polling less than 40 per cent of the votes-that is, fewer than four votes in every 10 formal votes cast-to be elected. That is the situation which prevails at the moment in the State of Queensland.

Having dispensed with the unfairness in previous enrolments in Federal electorates, and having discussed the current unfairness in the drawing of electoral boundaries and in enrolments in Queensland, I will now move to the effect of the 1983 amendments to the Electoral Act in enfranchising many hundreds of thousands of Australians in elections for this place. Before those amendments were introduced as a result of the election of the Hawke Government, the fact was that at every election the number of people voting informal in Australia as a result of an unnecessary, complex and cumbersome electoral system for this place exceeded the number of people voting for the Australian Democrats. I think that puts the position into perspective. The informal party in Australia, up to and including the 1980 Senate elections, regularly outpolled the third party, if you like, in the Australian Parliament outside the Government and the formerly existing coalition. Many hundreds of thousands of Australian electors were disenfranchised by that ridiculous electoral system that we all had to suffer when we were expected to go into polling places with up to 74 preferences ranked in our minds for candidates. It is ludicrous to expect people to be able to carry around 70 or 80 preferences in their heads for a range of candidates in Senate elections.

In my State of South Australia at the 1980 Senate elections there were two polling places in the Port Adelaide division where there was a 27 per cent informal vote. More than one person in four was forced to vote informal as a result of that ridiculous and unnecessarily complicated electoral system we had for this place. As a result of the amendments following the initial report of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform, informal voting in the Senate fell from 9.9 per cent nationally to 4.7 per cent. That was a tremendous reform. There was a reduction of over five percentage points in Senate informal voting. I am pleased to note that in my State the informal vote at some polling places was reduced by up to 19 percentage points. Unfortunately in recent times there has been a significant rise in informal voting for the House of Representatives. Traditionally informal votes for that House were relatively low compared with Senate informal votes, but at the 1984 elections there was a most regrettable and unfortunate increase in informal votes for the House of Representatives. In fact, a figure of some 6.8 per cent was recorded. I have no doubt that in other States of Australia, just as in South Australia, more than one vote in every 10 in some areas was an informal vote. That certainly was not the fault of the electors themselves; rather I believe it was to do with unsuccessful attempts to explain to the electorate the new voting system which resulted from the 1983 Act.

One major milestone in the 1983 Act was the quantum leap in the recognition of political parties in our political system. Previously the Commonwealth Electoral Act had substantially ignored the vital role that political parties play in the Australian democracy. It was as a result of the 1983 Act that party affiliations first appeared on ballot papers alongside candidates' names. That was a major step forward. It brought Australia into line with those democracies around the world with which we traditionally identify ourselves.

The Bill before the Senate takes on board many of the recommendations in the second report of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform in 1986. Generalising, the amendments are the result of the monitoring of the effects of the 1983 amendments in operation at the 1984 elections. As I suggested earlier, much of the content of this Bill is about redistribution procedures for House of Representatives elections. The original 1983 legislation got rid of the open-ended situation where it was possible for governments-normally they were conservative governments in Australia-not to call for redistributions when electoral enrolments got vastly out of line. The 1983 legislation provided for a maximum redistribution period of seven years. There had to be a redistribution at least once within a seven-year period. The aim of the 1983 legislation was to have equal enrolments 3 1/2 years from the date of the redistribution-that is, half way through the redistribution cycle. That took into account the fact that some parts of Australia had a declining population and declining enrolments while other parts had an increasing population and increasing electoral enrolments.

To get back to the intitial point I made this morning about one vote one value, this procedure was to strengthen the Australian democracy by better providing, in practice and in effect, for the one vote one value principle. The amendments in this legislation will change the means of examining population during the seven-year election cycle. Instead of providing for a fairly precise equality in enrolments 3 1/2 years into the election cycle, this Bill will allow a tolerance of plus or minus 2 per cent on that figure to allow some latitude in forecasting population, and in developing enrolments during the seven-year election cycle.

Clause 45 of the legislation provides that a redistribution is to occur within one month of nine months after the first meeting of the House of Representatives after an election. It is very interesting that clause 45 will have to be put into effect next year or early in 1989 and will have a tangible effect on State representation in the House of Representatives. For instance, Victoria at present has 39 members in the House of Representatives in Canberra, but on the basis of the population figures which were released yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics for the December quarter of 1986, Victoria will be entitled to only 38.48 electoral quotas. It will fall below the half of an electoral quota which entitles it to have 39 members in the House of Representatives. Because of that declining relative population compared with the rest of Australia, Victoria will, at the next redistribution, go down from 39 members to 38 members in the House of Representatives as a result of the operation of clause 45 of the legislation. The population figures suggest that rather than having 148 members in the House of Representatives as at present, the total number will go down to 147 as a result of that one seat reduction in Victoria.

Clause 19 of the legislation takes the role of the political parties even further in the Australian electoral system. I mentioned earlier that the 1983 amendments gave tangible expression to the role of political parties by providing for party affiliations to appear on ballot papers alongside candidates' names. Clause 19 of the new legislation will provide that a nomination form for candidates who contest an election can now be signed by the registered officer of a political party. So instead of the old situation where we all had to run around the community finding various numbers of electors to sign our nomination papers, we can now opt for one of two alternatives. We can continue with the old system or we can simply have our electoral nomination forms signed by the registered officer of our political party who is, in most cases, the State secretary of the political party. So there is further recognition in the legislation of the role of parties. After all, they are one of the central cogs of our political system. They are one of the vital elements of the modern Australian democracy.

Clauses 20 and 26, based on my experience of the 1984 election, will be of benefit to all honourable senators. The clauses greatly simplify nomination procedures for candidates of Senate elections. Clause 20 relates to ballot paper groupings of Senate candidates. All Senate candidates from one party can now, as a result of this legislation, make a joint request for nomination rather than individually requesting nomination for election. Clause 26 relates to the group voting ticket which is one of the central ingredients of the reformed Senate voting system which was introduced in 1983. That clause will enable one member of a Senate group, that is one member of a political party grouped on the Senate ballot paper, to sign that party's group voting ticket.

One of the landmarks in the 1983 legislation on electoral reform was the treatment of money in politics. It took the election of a Labor Government to move to clean up the flow of money into politics. Over many decades Liberal and National conservative governments did nothing to clean up the flow of money into politics. They did nothing to expose the flow of money to the light of day. It took a Labor Government, within 12 months of being elected, to move to introduce new financial disclosure laws for Australian elections. That sort of legislation is vital in a democratic system. It is vital in balancing powerful forces in our electoral system. Money should not be able to buy votes. The ability to spend should not influence electoral outcomes. It was those disclosure laws, introduced by the Hawke Government, which first had their effect at the 1984 election. I repeat: Those laws first went into effect for the 1984 election.

I was amazed to see on 30 April last week on the front page of the Sydney Daily Mirror the headline `Joh-I Need Money'. Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the Premier of Queensland, is said to have told Australian business leaders that he would find a way around `devilish laws'. He was referring to the new disclosure laws which, as I have indicated, seek to clean up the flow of money into politics. Sir Joh, in a public forum, was telling Australian business leaders that he needed up to $20m to finance his Canberra push. He told them that he would try to find a way around these electoral laws which are in place for Commonwealth elections in Australia. The most incredible claim Sir Joh made at this particular gathering was that the laws on disclosure were `aimed specifically to starve his Party'. That is what he told this gathering in Sydney. That is what he said when he told them that he needed $20m to finance his push to Canberra. I remind Sir Joh, the Premier of Queensland-Senator Macklin knows this full well, as he was part of the process-that these electoral laws were the result of many long deliberations in 1983, that they were passed into law soon after and that they were in place for the 1984 Federal election. Now Sir Joh, who had the brainwave over Christmas that he wants to come to Canberra--

Senator Macklin —You are being retrospectively vindictive-obviously, Senator.

Senator MAGUIRE —I was going to move on to say that my diagnosis is one of either creeping paranoia or, more likely, senile dementia. We have the Premier of Queensland, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, reported on the front page of the Sydney Daily Mirror as saying that we are out to get him by passing these laws. But they were passed to clean up the flow of money into politics at the 1984 Federal election and later. I will leave honourable senators to make up their minds as to the real reasons for the claims Sir Joh made in Sydney last week. I think it is outrageous that a State Premier is trying to avoid a law of the national Parliament. The conservative Premier of Tasmania set a precedent recently by trying to play around with the procedures for replacing senators who have resigned from this place, despite a referendum result in 1977 which was very clear on the position. It is outrageous that conservative State Premiers are trying to avoid a law of the national Parliament, a law which was passed not just in this place but by both Houses of Parliament-as are all laws. It is a law which has been tested in operation, in the case of the disclosure laws, and Sir Joh in making the claim that he will find a way around these `devilish laws' is setting a very bad example for the Australian community.

Sir Joh is the leader in the political system, yet he is advocating the avoidance of laws. Sir Joh does not want to have money on politics exposed; he does not want to see the flow of money into elections brought out into the light of day-he wants his anonymous donor funding to continue. Sir Joh wants to see a continuation of secret deals and to see continue unchecked the rampaging around Australia of political bagmen. Of course, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen's attitude to the flow of money in politics is quite consistent with his attitude to the flow of money under the Queensland Government. It is no coincidence that Queensland is the only State in Australia which does not have a public accounts committee to scrutinise and check government expenditure activities.

This Bill also moves further into what I call the third party area in politics. Its provisions are aimed more directly at the involvement of third party groups in the Australian political system. Of course, these groups have become more active in recent years. What I call `on behalf of groups' have begun to proliferate around Australia. We have seen many advertisements in the Press in recent years by groups on behalf of candidates or, perhaps more commonly, advertisements by groups against candidates-negative advertisements. I believe one of the important aspects of this Bill is the requirement that third party groups which are involved in the political system now must disclose publicly the gifts they make throughout an entire three-year electoral cycle, not just the gifts they make during a formal election campaign. It is appropriate that third party groups be treated like other groups in the Australian political system and that all gifts be disclosed throughout the three-year period rather than just for the period of a formal election campaign. After all, much research these days indicates that many people change their votes, many people change their preferences for political parties, well before an election occurs. The number of votes which actually change during a formal election campaign may be quite marginal in number. This particular provision, aimed at the proliferating number of third party groups in Australia, I believe is very important indeed.

Looking ahead, there are further reforms in the electoral system that I would like to see brought into effect. For example, it is vitally important that we go all out to enfranchise the maximum number of Australians to vote in House of Representatives elections. We had the most unfortunate situation at the 1984 House of Representatives election where 6.8 per cent of all people who cast votes did so informally. It is vitally important that those Australians be fully enfranchised and able to play their full part in the Australian political process. It is therefore important that we embark on better advertising. We need market research and we need the provision of appropriate voter education material to assist these Australians to cast valid formal votes at future elections. I certainly welcome the plans announced by the Special Minister of State, Senator Tate, to embark on a mail-out of material, through the Australian Electoral Commission, in an attempt to assist electors to cast valid votes.

It used to be said in one of the more corrupt of the American States by one of the political machines that operated there that electors should `vote early and vote often'. I would like to refer in the few minutes remaining to me to the advertisements and calls made by the Australian Electoral Commission at most elections that electors should vote early. I think that we have all heard the Commission's advice to electors to vote early. My experience is that in the early hours of voting at polling booths there tend to be queues. There is more congestion at polling booths in the mornings than in the afternoons, which tend to be rather dreary for poll officials and for Australian Labor Party workers and I am sure for conservative party workers when handing out how-to-vote cards. I think it is time that the Electoral Commission looked at the practice of calling on voters to vote early; instead, the Commission should try to spread the number of voters at polling booths more evenly throughout the day. I think that there must be people who go to a polling booth of a morning, find it congested and go away and do not return to vote.

I would like to see in Australia further speeding up of the counting of our election results. It takes far too long in Australia to determine which party will form the Government of Australia and which party will form the Opposition. Often we find that we must wait for up to a week to know the margin in a House of Representatives election, and a three or four week waiting period is common before we know the final results of Senate elections. Overseas, people can go to bed at night, after voting, and wake up the next morning and know immediately who has formed the government of that country. It is very common in political systems such as that in the United Kingdom for the Government to be known either on election night or early the next morning. Obviously our system of preferential voting in Australia complicates that and has an effect on the speed with which we are able to determine who will govern us. I think we really must look at this whole matter of speeding up the determination of who will govern Australia after an election. Many issues, many policies and many countries are involved and it is vitally important that this matter be looked at.

Of course, the Bill does move down that road in two areas. First, it simplifies the means and the method of counting Senate votes, including the exclusion of some candidates' votes in bulk in some situations; and secondly, it certainly enables an earlier scrutiny of preferences on voting papers to occur than was the case in the past. So in those two areas the Bill certainly helps to speed up the processing of Australian election results-but I think we need to do more. I would like to see further examination of computerised voting in Australia. I am aware that in many countries now computerised voting is extensive. Most States in the United States of America, including those with small populations, engage in computerised voting. Technology such as optical scanners is now available to handle preferential voting.

Senator Tate —What do you mean by `computerised voting'?

Senator MAGUIRE —I mean going beyond filling in ballot papers by writing to new computerised technology where people can press buttons or put an image on a scanner for preferences for a range of candidates. That is now very common overseas. I realise that it is a costly exercise. Computerisation does not come cheaply, but it should be looked at. I instance the fact that most Australian schools, certainly in my State-and I know that South Australia is a pioneering State in many ways-have computer terminals. Schools are often used as polling places, so we should look at the use of schools more as computerised polling places for the conduct of our elections and not look just at the traditional areas.

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