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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2435

Senator VIGOR(6.49) —I wish to make a few brief points about these changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act. I particularly wish to look at the basic democratic principles which underlie it and to put on record the stance of the Australian Democrats with respect to this type of legislation. In a democracy the purpose of the Electoral Act should be to ensure that voters' wishes are accurately represented in Parliament. This requires effective representation for communities, not just for portions of them. The Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill, however, does very little to promote effective representation for Australian voters. It does not introduce for the House of Representatives a proportional representation system with multi-member electorates, which is the only fair system of election.

During the Committee stage I will be moving to introduce such a system for the House of Representatives. This system parallels the system that exists in Tasmania. I am sure that Tasmanian senators will find that acceptable. We will also be going a little bit further and putting forward what our agenda for the electoral system would be by including in that set of amendments, amendments making certain that the filling of casual vacancies is carried out by a process which does not require by-elections with people returning to the polls; that is, that there is a re-examination of the vote in order to determine who shall take up the position as a result of a casual vacancy which might occur in the House of Representatives. To do this for Senate vacancies would require a constitutional amendment. The proposals that we are putting forward are slightly more advanced and more developed than the proposals currently in the Hare-Clark system in Tasmania. I recommend that honourable senators inspect them because they do represent a way in which one can ensure that the majority of people are not disenfranchised during an election.

Some of the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill are geared solely for the convenience of party machines or for the administrative convenience of the Australian Electoral Commission. I believe they act to the detriment of the voters by removing a number of further choices which were available to them before this point. For instance, there has been a crackdown on how groups can fill in the voting ticket which can be lodged with the Australian electoral officer for their particular State. These group lists will have to be lodged within 24 hours of the close of nomination rather than the previous 48 hours. Through an ingenious device, the placement of a simple declaration on the nomination form, the opportunity for individuals to nominate in more than one electorate has been removed. It seems very strange that this should happen. The declaration which has to be signed is:

I am not and do not intend to be a candidate in any other election to be held on the same day as the election to which the above nomination relates.

There will be a possibility of individuals being able to lodge an order of preferences with the Australian electoral officer and being entitled to have a square above the names to enable voters to indicate satisfaction with that particular order. However, the only individuals given the same treatment as groups are incumbent senators. That is very convenient if one is an incumbent senator, but there is no reason why these people should have been particularly selected. That is my personal opinion. In addition, the opportunity for candidates to call themselves Independent is not available if they wish to group themselves in a column of the ballot paper. So Independents, unless they are incumbent senators who are registering an order of preference, are consigned to a column on the right hand side of the ballot paper and hence cannot in any way get the benefits of what is known as the donkey vote. I believe that we could make Senate voting procedures more democratic in this respect.

We certainly make the scrutiny procedures more democratic. One item within the proportional representation amendments is a proposal to improve and make fairer the method of passing on preferences from one candidate to the next. I will canvass that when I deal with that amendment. It was possible, under the legislation originally introduced in 1983, for too many senators to be elected. The reason for this was a confusion between non-transferable and exhausted ballot papers. This conceptual confusion made it possible for more than the required number of senators to achieve the reducing quota during the scrutiny. Members of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia drew the Parliament's attention to the potential problems and there were last minute changes to try to avoid these particular problems. However, the Parliament did not deal with the fact that the use of a single transfer value makes it possible for some voters to get more than one vote. This is because the transfer value of ballot papers may increase during scrutiny. Such an increase is unprecedented in quota preferential systems of counting.

Quite frankly, as soon as a transfer value rises we give people more than one vote's worth of influence. We say to them in such circumstances: `Your vote has just helped to elect someone else and we will actually increase the value of your ballot paper as a result'. I believe this is quite absurd. One of the proposals that we put forward for a proportional representation system in the Australian Capital Territory does, in fact, correct this. Yet we are still allowing that possibility in this Bill and that is why I would like to correct it. We lump all papers in together irrespective of value when they helped to elect the candidate. This failure to heed the relative value of papers at the point when surpluses are distributed opens up the possibility of manipulation of the electoral process. It opens up the possibility of tactical voting, of people actually going against their true wishes to achieve a better result in an election. That is really a perversion of the election system. Comprehensive evidence was produced to the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform on this particular point, but it does not appear to have been taken up by the Committee. Certainly the responses to that evidence from the Australian Electoral Commission were fairly strident and far from the principles that ought to underlie a quota preferential method.

We have another example in this Bill of how failures to adhere to principles can lead to unintended consequences. The changes in the scrutiny procedure, including the improvement of collating ballot papers of the same transfer value which are for continuing candidates at any stage of the scrutiny, are in fact flawed. This small change will result in a substantial saving of time and effort during the scrutiny and we will not have so many counts during an exclusion now that the Irish principle of dealing with papers in descending order of their transfer value is to be adopted. The opportunity of allowing the deferral of surpluses to be transferred in some circumstances appears to have been missed. The bulk exclusion procedures have a number of flaws. I will be dealing with this later when we come to the amendments.

The costs of by-elections to this country are very high. We have had a number of by-elections since 1977, 16 in fact, the most recent of which has cost the Federal Parliament between $150,000 and $180,000. If we had a system which had no by-elections, this money would be saved, and I believe a better system could be applied. It is somewhat difficult with the single member electorates unless the parties are prepared to put up more than one candidate for their party at the election. It does give the voters real choice, though. In a proportional representation multimember electorate situation it can be handled effectively. It is important for Australians to get effective representation. I believe that fervently. We will be moving these amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act in the hope that they will receive favourable consideration from the Senate.