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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2474

Senator ROBERT RAY(11.16) —I will be very brief because we do not want a debate all day on proportional representation if we can anticipate its eventual outcome. I want to comment on Senator Sir John Carrick's assertion with regard to optional preferential voting. He probably missed the debate we had on this subject yesterday. The one assurance we can give on this side of the chamber is that we will not introduce amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act as to optional preferential voting without first obtaining a majority recommendation from the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform. Even though it would have been possible, and very easy, over the last three years to get a majority recommendation for optional preferential voting-after all, the Labor Party has a majority on the Committee-we have never pursued it on the basis that we believed that it would founder in this chamber easily. We do not believe in pushing the impossible. It is well known that written into our Party's platform is a choice for optional preferential voting.

As to Mr Keating's threats to the Democrats, they are probably tongue in cheek, part of the rough and tumble of politics. The Democrats would have a bit more to be concerned about if things proceeded in that regard but I do not think they will. I never take seriously any comment made on the front steps of Parliament House, be it made by Mr Howard, Mr Keating, Mr Hawke or anyone else. I am not going to comment on how Mr Keating's comments affect the privilege of the Parliament. I have no real knowledge in that area. Certainly we on this side of the House do not hang with bated breath on an amendment regarding optional preferential voting because we know that it will have the same fate as Senator Vigor's amendment on proportional representation.

I do not think Senator Siddons understood the point I was making about manipulation of proportional representation. I concede that there can be a dead straight, honest multi-member electorate without malapportionment or gerrymander. But what I am saying is that too often the argument comes forward: `Here is a method which almost absolutely prevents it from occurring'. My comments are made in the context that proportional representation does not absolutely prevent malapportionment and gerrymander.

I think I made the point by interjection on Senator Siddons that the Labor Party has been committed to introducing proportional representation in upper Houses. We did so in New South Wales. We have done so in South Australia. It is proposed to do so when possible in Western Australia. Certainly it is coming to the boil in Victoria, although I am not terribly confident that it will be introduced there. So we have had a commitment to introducing and giving mino-rity parties proportional representation in upper Houses.

Senator Mason —The optional preferential system has failed in New South Wales.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I have no comment on New South Wales politics. As I said before, we have no intention at this stage of introducing the system into Federal politics. I make two other points about proportional representation. The first is that recently I had a look at the effectiveness of the Craxi Government. In spite of Mr Craxi being a socialist, I assert that he has been the best Prime Minister of Italy since the end of Second World War. Yet, in spite of the fact that he has achieved a massive rate of economic growth, got interest rates down and the rate of employment and participation rate up-everything is going well-he gets knocked out of office because of the proportional representation system and the instability that occurs under the system.

I can always tell who supports proportional representation. There are two classes of people, I suppose-winners and losers. It is always the losers who support proportional representation. Why do honourable senators think the French socialists got caught out on having to introduce it? Because they had lost for 20 or 30 years. Why do honourable senators think the Australian Labor Party in 1981, for three or four months, suddenly started supporting proportional representation? Because we were losers.

In August 1981, I wrote a paper on proportional representation. I said then, in spite of the fact that my Leader was a supporter of proportional representation, `if we win the next election-let us say for instance 75 seats', which was a pretty wild guess which turned out to be dead right-`proportional representation for the Labor Party in the House of Representatives will be dead in the water the day after'. And that is what has occurred. So I feel some sympathy for minority parties in trying to break into a single-member constituency system. It is not easy. But it is not really my job to make their lives any easier. They do not make our job easier.

Senator Mason —What about the electorate; you have a responsibility to it.

Senator ROBERT RAY —The honourable senator asks about the electorate. I have argued before, and I will argue again, that in my view what the electorate wants is a stable government, as representative as possible. But there is no perfect world and no perfect trade-off between stability and representation. As long as the system is absolutely adequate, as I believe it is at the moment-I think we have one of the fairest redistribution systems in the world-we will get the balance the electorate wants. I dare-say-I predict-that if by any chance we were to have a referendum on proportional representation the Democrats would go under by a very large margin.