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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2465

Senator ROBERT RAY(10.28) —Senator Vigor has moved some fairly extensive amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill, the effect of which would be to bring about proportional representation for the House of Representatives. He does not, of course, support a purist approach to proportional representation. Whilst he might bleat about the representation of minorities in that House, he talks about a multi-member electorate. He does not go to the purist system under which 148 members would be elected by proportional representation but he refers to multi-member electorates. The reason for that is that his political party would be accommodated under multi-member electorates but the small minority groups would not be, those that would normally bleed votes from the Australian Democrats-esoteric conservationists and the rest of them that they regard as necessary for their coalition to receive a quota. He is nothing more than a shonky Tammany Hall politician. Under his proposal the Democrats would be elected but not the smaller groups in society.

That proposal has been around since Federation but the most disingenuous argument I have heard in this chamber is that the proposal should be adopted because it is much cheaper. Here is a senator who must cost the taxpayers millions and millions of dollars with his aimless bleatings in this chamber, and with his thousands of questions at Estimates committees, most of which are meaningless. From one in 20,000 he gets a nugget of gold. How much money does Senator Vigor cost us? He costs the chamber and the taxpayers more money than we would save by introducing proportional representation and avoiding by-elections.

The key issue with proportional representation is whether we believe the most important matter to be the distribution of representation, the distribution of power, or a blend of both. There is no doubt that, theoretically, proportional representation is basically a fair method of distribution of representation. Indeed, we are all here because of it. It is not, however, a good means of distribution of power. We have only to look to overseas examples for confirmation of that. For example, Israel has purist proportional representation-a system with multitudes of small parties, including some fairly fanatical, narrow-minded religious parties. In the end, the two major competing parties had to have a grand coalition because that was the only way to achieve stable government. That also happened in Germany in the 1960s, when the Free Democrats blackmailed one party and then another, from the conservatives to the socialists, and played them off against each other. In the end, there was the magnificent spectacle of a socialist-conservative coalition government, which was caused by the proportional representation system.

I do not believe that the proportional representation system could ever be worth the price of instability to which it leads. The most recent example of that blackmailing approach by small parties occurred in Tasmania. The last time that Tasmania had a really deadlocked House was from 1968 to 1970, when the great system that Senator Vigor has advocated today resulted in both major parties having exactly the same representation. There was one Independent by the name of Lyons, who was basically just the bookies' representative in the State Parliament, and nothing else --

Senator Sanders —And Amatil.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Yes, and Amatil. That great system allowed one individual, who obtained just 6,000 votes, to run an Australian State at his own whim. What a great system that was for Tasmania!

People often put forward the argument that proportional representation is fair because there is no gerrymandering or malapportionment. There is nothing to prevent malapportionment under proportional representation. I suggest that, when Senator Vigor visits the European Parliament later this year, he take a trip to the Republic of Ireland, where he will be able to witness malapportionment under a proportional representation system. Of course, there can also be gerrymandering-it is as easy as falling off a log. Senator Boswell, his colleagues, I and anyone else could very easily work a gerrymander into proportional representation.

The key to proportional representation and multi-member seats is who has the missing quota. For instance, in a five-member electorate the quota is one-sixth. The whole art of designing the boundaries in the States is to ensure that one's opponent has a fraction less than the missing sixth each time. I did the model for Victoria when it was proposed in 1981. At one stage out of 33 seats the Australian Labor Party was able to win 19 on one model and 13 on another. Yet there was not one element of malapportionment in that division of the boundaries in a multi-member electorate. Therefore, malapportionment and gerrymandering are just as easy under proportional representation as they are under single-member constituencies.

Under Senator Vigor's model, there would be different quotas for different States. For example, Tasmania has five seats so its quota will be one-sixth. Therefore, to be elected in Tasmania one needs one-sixth of the vote. In Senator Vigor's State, there are 13 seats under his model, so one would need one-thirteenth of the vote. Where is the fairness in having a different quota from State to State?

There would also be problems with section 33 of the Constitution-and Senator Vigor has not been able to disprove that in the debate-on how to get over the by-election. Another problem would arise under section 24, which states:

That the House of Representatives shall be comprised of members directly chosen by the people of the Commonwealth.

That requirement, insofar as it applies to casual vacancies, is not qualified as is the equivalent requirement in respect of Senate elections.

So even if the Democrats' amendment were to fluke it through this chamber, and even if the members of my Party had amnesia in the House of Representatives and it got through, the High Court of Australia would have it out of the legislation within five minutes. What we come back to is: Do we really want a replication of this chamber in the other chamber? I say right now that I would rather live under a Howard-led Liberal government than under a Liberal or Labor government dictated to by minority parties which have to appeal to their own constituencies. I say that straight out.

The worst thing that can happen is to have the smallest party in the country dictate to the other two political parties. Minority parties do two things. Firstly, they never take the hard revenue decisions-never ever. The second thing they do to maintain their 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or 10 per cent of the vote is to appeal to a section of the constituency. It does not matter to the party whether the other 90 per cent of the constituency is missing. It is like being a good used car salesman: As long as they get 10 per cent of the market with their offensive advertisements or attitudes, they go ahead and do it because all they need is the 10 per cent. All a minority party has to do is to decide where its constituency is and pander to it all the time. They have all power and no responsibility. No matter which minority party had the balance of power in the House of Representatives-it may not be the Australian Democrats-it would have all power and no responsibility. It would never be up to that party to say where the revenue comes from, where the revenue is necessary for the increased expenditure. It would not have to worry about that or how the whole thing fits in. It would just pursue its own position.

We have had the suggestion that we have rotating ballot papers and we are told how well that system works in Tasmania. Let us have a look at the Tasmanian system. First of all, why do so many sitting members of parliament in Tasmania get beaten? Senator Vigor in his simplistic approach would have us believe that the electorate makes a judgment on the quality of the members and suddenly turfs half of them out from time to time. That is what Senator Vigor would have us believe. But our friend Senator Sanders knows that to get elected in the seat of Denison one needs $25,000 of the folding stuff. If one is a poor candidate, one has no hope in Tasmania. Since the campaign limits were lifted, it is those with the money who get elected-that is, within their parties. We might run seven Labor candidates. The one with the most chance is not necessarily the one out of the seven with the most ability; it is the one who can best organise and fund his campaign. I say to Senator Vigor that this has a more malignant result. It means that Ministers do their job. In that sort of cut-throat electorate, Ministers have to be continually pumping the parish pump. They cannot run the State. Let us take the case of a Liberal Minister. He would know that not only the Labor Party is trying to take his seat, but also that another six members of the Liberal Party are trying to pull the rug from under him in his electorate. It is a real cut-throat business, so Ministers cannot go ahead and run the State because they have to look after themselves.

Honourable senators should look at the expenditure of any Minister in Tasmania. Let us say that the Minister for Sport represents one of the five electorates. Do honourable senators think that 20 per cent of the Minister's budget goes into his electorate? Do they think that 30 per cent or 40 per cent does? No. At least 50 per cent of the total State budget goes into the Minister's electorate so that he can pump up that electorate and hope to survive next time.

We have had this proportional representation argument on many occasions. I believe we have the best of both worlds in Australia because what we allow is one chamber-unfortunately, with full powers-to be elected under proportional representation. We believe that in the other chamber there should be single member electorates. By the way, there are advantages to single member electorates. It does mean that a member is not given a massive electorate to represent. It means that a member can relate to 70,000 voters rather than one million voters. I can tell honourable senators what would happen under proportional representation. The electorate at large would not be able to distinguish between candidates; people would still vote on party lines. Let us take the case of a 13-member electorate and say that Labor wins six, the coalition six and the Democrats one. I can tell honourable senators who will work in the electorate. It will be the No. 6 on the Labor ticket and the No. 6 on the Liberal ticket. They will have to go out and work everywhere because they are in the death seat, but Nos 1, 2, 3 and 4 will be in such a large electorate and so certain of being elected that they will see no need to put in work in the constituency; they may as well try to be stars in the Parliament, in committees or somewhere else.

That is what would happen. We would tend to have party hacks such as myself at the top of the tickets. I would be an absolute moral certainty to head a ticket in a multi-member electorate, but I do not think I am necessarily the best constituency representative. I think there are better. I concede that most of my colleagues in the House of Representatives are more proficient and more adept at constituency work. Under this system we would have No. 6 on the Labor ticket, the Democrats ticket and the Liberal ticket out there working. That situation is not replicated at the moment in the House of Representatives. People would feel alienated in those circumstances.

If people had the choice of running on a ticket for a multi-member electorate, what guarantee would there be of a distribution of representation? What would happen in Queensland or Victoria if all the members decided to live in Brisbane or Melbourne? There is no way in which the member for Bendigo and the member for Maranoa could live in Melbourne and Brisbane and represent their seats. Those days are gone. But, under proportional representation, whole tracts of country areas might find themselves with no member of Parliament. I think this amendment should be defeated, and defeated as quickly as possible. We have so often had this argument about the value or otherwise of proportional representation.

I wish to refer to only one other point. Senator Vigor has come in here and read out a whole series of figures to show that the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales is overrepresented. I think he could point to other States to show where the Liberal Party historically has been overrepresented. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is concept of cubism, which Senator Vigor, being a mathematician, would understand. That is, those who win a single constituency election tend to win with a slightly distorted majority. But Senator Vigor seems to be saying that everyone has to vote for a winner, that everyone has to be represented in Parliament by his own person. I am afraid that our society is not like that. We have winners and losers in elections. That is one of the competitive aspects of Australian politics that hone our skills and make for good government. But under Senator Vigor's system everyone has to back a winner. I am afraid that when that happens the dividend is not particularly high.

In effect, if I vote for the Labor candidate in my electorate and he is not elected, I do not feel disenfranchised. Plenty of other Labor candidates will have been elected elsewhere to represent my point of view. It is ridiculous to suggest that 49 or 47 per cent of people are disenfranchised. They are represented by the party of their choice in other electorates.

My final point is this: I do not see many House of Representatives members knocking back a constituent because that person did not vote for them in the last election. Imagine where they would get by doing that. Members of Parliament represent all constituents. If one is a member of the Labor Party and a Liberal supporter comes to see one, of course one tries to help him, and vice versa. This amendment deserves to go into the garbage bin of Senate history.