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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2431


Senator SHEIL(6.28) —I compliment Senator Robert Ray on his chairmanship of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform. It was a massive job and a huge report. It is absolutely staggering to me that, with all the amendments to the legislation we have had in the 1980s, after the inquiry into the 1984 election the Committee has come up with 156 recommendations, most of which have been accepted by the Government and incorporated into the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill. However, when Senator Robert Ray spoke he sounded like Satan rebuking sin. I freely confess that all political parties have a great preoccupation with electoral matters. So they should have. After this thorough investigation and the 156 amendments which have been incorporated in the Bill, we are promised another Bill, designed, I suppose, to take care of the more contentious recommendations of the Committee, such as voting for prisoners and equality of electorates. On behalf of the National Party, I shall move an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Bill in the following terms:

At end of motion, add ``, but the Senate deplores the Government's decision to continue to spend millions of dollars of taxpayers' money supporting election campaigns of political parties''.

I can understand what Senator Ray said, that political parties will be in the hands of the people who give them money. However, to my mind there is an even more basic and fundamental objection. In Australia secret ballots are held and if any person or body donates money to a political party it is reasonable to assume that that person or body would vote for that party, so that immediately destroys the secrecy of the ballot. It is on that one fundamental issue that we object to the funding of political parties. I personally have another objection. I think that it is a blatant and heinous misuse of taxpayers' funds, particularly my funds, if the money is used to fund the Australian Labor Party. That is the last party in the world on which I would want my money to be spent. I object to my taxes going to the public funding of political parties.

It is a great pity that the Labor Party, and many other social reforming parties, tend to regard elections as an exercise in arithmetic rather than an exercise in representation because, fundamentally, that is what it is all about. The quality of a person's representation is the important matter in electoral reform. Matters such as community interest, distances, terrain of the electorate, the character of its communications and the ability of electors to contact their representative are also important.


Senator Robert Ray —What you are saying is that your representatives are not good enough to cope. That is what you are saying.


Senator SHEIL —We are not saying that at all. Electorates such as Kalgoorlie, Maranoa, Leichhardt and Kennedy are difficult to represent. We believe in the zonal system, as did the Labor Party up until a while ago.


Senator Robert Ray —You believed in slavery, once; do you still believe in it?


Senator SHEIL —Do not be ridiculous. We believe in electoral weightage. It is absolutely obvious that if all the seats are in the main centres of population the Government will spend most of the money in those centres. Therefore, the country areas will be underrepresented and they will not share in the development of the country. Queensland has been lambasted in this debate today about the sort of redistribution and representation that exists up there. However, we have balanced development. Queensland is the most decentralised State in Australia, and that is because of the quality of the representation that exists in Queensland. We give the country a voice. The issue is as simple as that to us. Queensland has stable and steady government, as well as prosperity and development. I think that that is what is making the Labor Party so upset.


Senator Robert Ray —Where do you live?


Senator SHEIL —In Queensland.


Senator Robert Ray —In Brisbane?


Senator SHEIL —I live out of Brisbane. Electoral weightage was a subject that exercised the minds of the founding fathers of this country to an enormous extent when they formed this Parliament. That is why we have a Senate that has these electoral tumbleweeds of the Australian Democrats in it. If the founding fathers had not insisted that the States have equal representation in this House, there would not have been a Senate; there would not have been a Federal government in the country. A New South Wales senator represents 300,000 or 400,000 people; a Tasmanian senator represents 30,000 or 40,000 people. What are those opposite talking about with their equality of electorate sizes and so on?


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Giles) —Order! I remind Senator Sheil that he is required to address his remarks through the Chair.


Senator SHEIL —I hope that I am doing that, Madam Acting Deputy President. I deny the charge of the socialists and the social reformers that there is any gerrymander in Queensland-


Senator Haines —Ha, ha!


Senator SHEIL —Let me ask one simple question: How does one gerrymander the Senate when the whole State votes as one electorate? One cannot gerrymander in those circumstances. What about the representation of the Queensland branch of the National Party in the Senate? I must address myself to the Bill because I want it to pass through the Senate tonight, if possible. We happen to think that preferential voting results in the selection of a candidate who is preferred by the most voters. Let us take, as an example, an electorate with 100 people and three candidates standing for election; one candidate receives 35 votes, another 33 votes and one 32 votes. With first past the post voting, the guy with 35 votes would be elected although 65 voters do not want him. We want preferential voting. The move towards optional preferential voting, as preferred by Senator Ray, is just a move towards first past the post voting.

The fundamental question of whether we have preferential or first past the post voting depends on whether we have compulsory voting. Countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America do not have compulsory voting, so they have first past the post voting. In Australia we have compulsory voting, so we have preferential voting. Therefore, the candidate who is preferred by most of the people is elected. We have accepted that for many years. I do not see any reason why we should move to change that position. The fact that most countries encourage the right of their citizens to be enrolled and have the privilege, but not the compulsion, to cast a vote is no reason for Australia to move from its electoral system. Even if we cannot enforce compulsory voting, but merely attendance at a polling place-as was mentioned in the debate earlier-if people vote informally there is no indication that we should alter our voting system on the grounds that we are a free society. The fact that we are a free society and have compulsory voting is the primary issue. It is the responsibility of every elector to attend and cast a vote.

The fact that some electors are apathetic, unwilling, resistant to compulsion or cast reckless, thoughtless and even punitive votes is still not sufficient reason to decide to destroy our electoral system. Even if elections in many electorates are decided very narrowly, possibly by margins no greater than the percentage of unwilling voters, that should not destroy our electoral system. It is all the more reason why candidates should try their hardest to satisfy their electors and work all the harder to attract their votes. Even if an elector abstains from voting as part of his religious or conscientious objection to voting, or even if he has other valid reasons of conscience, these are merely examples of how free our electoral system is and has allowed us to become and, further, should be grounds for maintaining the strength of our electoral system and not trying to weaken it. On behalf of the National Party, I move that the following words be added to the motion that the Bill be read a second time:

At end of motion, add ``, but the Senate deplores the Government's decision to continue to spend millions of dollars of taxpayers' money supporting election campaigns of political parties''.

I have other amendments, some of which have been mentioned in the debate. The first concerns the tolerance of voting numbers between different electorates. The Government proposes a 2 per cent variation and it seems to think that it is doing great things by that. However, in a State such as Queensland, which is decentralised and is developing, one has only to start a new mine or a tourism business in an area, attracting more businesses to it, to completely throw the electorate numbers out. Originally the tolerance was 20 per cent, and that is what the National Party prefers. We would like it to move to 10 per cent rather than 2 per cent, which we think is impossible.


Senator Robert Ray —I don't think you have understood that part.


Senator SHEIL —I do not think I will get any support for it at all.


Senator Robert Ray —You have misunderstood the Bill.


Senator SHEIL —All right; I want to delete all requirements for the disclosure of donations-I have mentioned that before-because that is fundamental to the secrecy of the ballot box, which I think takes precedence over all other reasons, even my own of not wishing to fund the Australian Labor Party. Thirdly, I want to move an amendment to remove the three months residency requirement for enrolment to vote in a particular division because that will allow the manipulation of the rolls by moving people around, particularly on the Gold Coast and other tourist areas where people move in and out. These people will not be disenfranchised because they will be enrolled in their own electorates and they can vote there in any case.

The fourth amendment proposes that the cut-off point for the receipt of postal and absentee votes be the declaration of the poll or 13 days, whichever is the later. In other words I am saying that people should not be disenfranchised and lose the value of their vote just because some public servant has made a mistake, whether that mistake be voluntary or involuntary.