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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2472

Senator MASON(11.05) —Naturally, I support Senator Vigor's amendment, which is a sane, rational amendment. It would bring a sane and rational electoral system to this country. I listened carefully to Senator Robert Ray. His speech was a classic example of a meticulous and carefully thought out rationalisation of a fallacy. This is unfortunately one of the problems of this place. People argue vehemently for things and they become more obsessed with the argument than the facts. That is Senator Robert Ray's problem. He is really saying to us that he believes in the entrenchment of a system of elections in a country which purports to be a democracy.

As we know, in Queensland close on 60 per cent of the electorate will not be represented by a person for whom they voted. I wonder if he has ever got back to taws and considered what he means. He is an intense student of electoral systems and something of an authority on them, but like so many people of that kind he tends to miss the wood for the trees. I think Senator Ray ought to go back to first principles and investigate what the system is. Is he happy that the Queensland electoral system is there? Is he happy that it can be manipulated, as it can be, by gerrymanders to create the situation that we see before us? I assure honourable senators that that is a natural consequence of what the honourable senator has recommended should continue.

It is time we made a quantum leap in this country, time we made a jump towards a more sane and reasonable electoral system. It is time we answered that growing feeling in the community that, for some reason it cannot understand, it does not have enough input into the political process. The community feels this way increasingly; we all know that. It is time to concede that there is now an electorate which is much more aware of political matters than it was 20-odd years ago when we used to hear people in families say: `We never discuss religion or politics in this house'. It is not that kind of world now. The virtual obsession that the talks shows, the newspapers and the columnists have with politics demonstrates the political starvation in the electorate. Input is what the community wants. It wants input in a reasonable, realistic way.

Senator Vigor's amendment, which is Democrat policy and has always been Democrat policy, for a rational proportional representation system in Australia would give that input. I suggest to Senator Ray that his attitude tends to be destructive in this matter. He looks at the thing and tends to start to tear it to pieces. He does not look at it as something which might be useful in Australia and bring his wisdom, his experience and vast knowledge of this area-and I concede that-to something which might be useful. I suggest that it is high time that he looked at it the other way around.

I also thank Senator Sir John Carrick for raising the point about that strange man we have as Treasurer, Mr Paul Keating. When his bluff was called over tax option three, he did his block. He said that the country was going to come to an end and that everything would grind to a halt if he did not get his option three. He went away to sulk among his clocks. This man is a paper tiger. With all respect to Senator Sir John Carrick, I am not at all worried about his threats.

Senator Sir John Carrick —The Parliament ought to be.

Senator MASON —It depends on the honourable senator. The Parliament ought to be, I agree with him. I will come to that point in a moment. I make the point that Parliament is far too responsible to allow itself to become a party to the sleazy, dishonest and dishonourable manipulation of the electoral system for its own short term purposes that Mr Keating proposes. That is what it is-it is sleazy, it is dishonourable and it is unpleasant in the worst possible sense. I can assure honourable senators that the people in this country will be reminded by the Democrats from now on, every time they have the opportunity to put it, that this Labor Government is capable of that degree of deceit. It has said that it is going to manipulate the electoral system to the disadvantage of the Australian people in order to get its own little thing through. After all, the resource rent tax is a charade anyway, a piece of nonsense, a soft option income tax brought forward by this deceitful Government in the guise of a resource rent tax. A resource rent tax should be a tax on production, and everybody opposite knows it. Everybody knows what a lying piece of legislation it is. Maybe the Government will have the sense to change it now. If it does not we will continue to fight it on that kind of dishonesty as well as the other kind.

The Democrats are tolerant people. We could raise the matter of parliamentary privilege with Mr Keating. I agree with Senator Sir John Carrick that he has offended the Parliament with his statements, which is a very important consideration. We have not yet discussed the matter. What Mr Keating says is not that important, after all, in that kind of context. If we discuss it and we decide that it is a matter of privilege it might be worth our while-not from our own point of view but from the point of view of the Parliament to see that something is done about it. Certainly, Mr Keating's Party should see that he withdraws the offensive statements he has made because they are offensive to this Parliament and to the Australian people. On that basis he, as a senior Minister, should be restrained. If he goes on with that kind of nonsense he should not continue to be a senior Minister. That, however, is so much froth and bubble.

Whether or not the electoral system is changed is in the hands of this Parliament. It has been changed before, to the discredit and damage of the Australian people. The changes Senator Macklin tried to address so recently were made some years ago. I objected violently at the time to the removal of those sections from the Commonwealth Electoral Act. The Act now permits any political party which wishes to do so to lie, cheat and deceive the Australian people with impunity in its advertising. That is something Senator Ray connived at. I do not know whether Senator Ray thinks there is an advantage in people being able to use immense sums of money to deceive the electorate with impunity. In a country such as Australia, which has the Trade Practices Act and where other areas of commerce and business cannot do this sort of thing, it is okay for politicians and political parties to do so. Senator Ray might find that that chicken comes home to roost a little more forcefully than he thinks over the next year or so. It was a very bad move.

I conclude by appealing to honourable senators to take this amendment seriously. It is time we considered this matter properly. We should not get the sort of destructive speech we get every time from Senator Ray. It is time the Australian people were permitted at least to know about, to consider, and to have, even perhaps on an experimental basis, an electoral system which more truly represented them and which expressed their views in this Parliament more accurately than can possibly be done now.