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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2468


Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(10.43) —I rise not to support the amendment moved by the Australian Democrats but to refer to a relevant matter about which I read in the Press this morning-I take it that it has not been denied-that is, a threat by the Federal Treasurer (Mr Keating) to the Democrats that he would favour a change in the electoral system not because of the merits of the change but to use it as a bludgeon to destroy the Democrats because of their failure to support the resource rent tax. In my judgment, it must come very close to a serious breach of privilege-I invite the Special Minister of State (Senator Tate) to take this into consideration-that there should be an attempted threat to change the electoral laws in order to bring about, under duress, a change of policy. I find it quite outrageous.

Senator Robert Ray is Chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform. That Committee, of which I am a member, purports to approach dispassionately, as far as it can, the issues of the day and the merits of the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot have a government making an outrageous statement and a joint parliamentary select committee which purports to look at the base of things in an objective way. As a member of the Committee, I believe that over its journey of four years it has done by and large objective research. For Mr Keating to say `We will consider bringing in optional preferences to destroy you people' is a threat to this chamber and its privileges. Also, it is a piece of corrupt thinking because it does not attempt to use the logic or the value of the system itself; it simply uses the weight of the bludgeon or the threat.

I remind Mr Keating of the phrase `physician heal thyself'. There is a Federal electorate called Blaxland in New South Wales that contains a couple of State seats. One of those seats was lost to the Australian Labor Party because of the very optional preference system that Mr Keating is now threatening. Nothing could be worse than that unconscious suicide. Certainly, Mr Keating has not understood the elements of the optional preferential system in the four by-elections in New South Wales. I have no doubt in the world that the majority of Labor Party members, understanding that, would run so far away from optional preference as not to have the words echoed again in the Committee. I rose with all the strength I could command to say that it is an outrageous breach of parliamentary privilege and practice by the Treasurer to threaten any person or party in this Parliament. Intellectually, it is a corruption to do so, but it gets to the very basis of the principle of integrity of this chamber. I reject the proposition.