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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2477

Senator TATE (Special Minister of State)(11.35) —I thank those honourable senators who have contributed to this debate. I think it has been a very good debate in that both sides have very vigorously presented their point of view as to whether proportional representation should be introduced for House of Representatives elections. I regard it as a true debate. I heard Senator Vigor raise this matter only as I was on my way to speak at a meeting in Bardon in Brisbane last night at 12 minutes to seven after I asked my driver to switch on the car radio. Honourable senators can imagine my delight when I heard Senator Vigor about to begin his contribution on proportional representation.

I have no great binding Caucus decision which is going to force me to a particular point of view; therefore I have listened to the debate as closely as possible. On balance, I must say that I am not convinced that the Australian people would be best served by the introduction of proportional representation for the House of Representatives. I do believe, having listened to the debate, that there is a danger of instability in that chamber in constantly changing coalitions and majorities that might emerge from time to time. The Government is required to have the confidence of the House of Representatives. The proposed system could lead to the sorts of disruption and destabilising political activities that have been pointed to in other sovereign states.

It is not simply a question of my listening to this particular debate and not being convinced on balance. It was my intention in introducing this Bill, and in some amendments that I have proposed to it, that we build as far as possible on the work of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform. It was, and remains, my intention that as far as possible the Government adopt the spirit of bipartisanship which characterised the work of that Committee and try to build on its constructive work.

When one looks at the first report of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform one finds that it had a look at the voting system for the House of Representatives, considered preferential voting and came to the conclusion, as I have on balance, that the adoption of such a proportional representation system for selection of members of the House of Representatives would not assist, as it said, the stability of government. I think that that was the main reason put for the emergence of that point of view amongst the majority of members of that Committee. I have heard nothing which convinces me that the advantages of proportional representation which have been mentioned by Senator Vigor and his supporters are such that I could recommend to my colleagues on this side of the chamber that the risk of accepting the amendments be taken, given the fact that I really wanted this package of legislation to build on the work of the Joint Select Committee.

Whilst we might pass certain Bills, have them assented to and proclaimed, there are still constitutional hurdles that have to be faced. Until we are satisfied that section 33 of the Constitution can be adequately satisfied by this piece of legislation we should not go ahead and purport to introduce a system of voting, perhaps have an election and then find that the method of filling casual vacancies falls foul of the Constitution as presently drafted. For all those reasons I will be recommending, on behalf of the Government, that senators on this side of the chamber do not support Senator Vigor's amendment.

I have not had an opportunity to see the media reports to which Senator Sir John Carrick referred. If in substance they are along the lines that he has indicated to the chamber, I make it very clear that introducing the optional preferential system as a system of selection of representatives of the House of Representatives is not part of the Government's policy as far as I am aware. I think I would have been made aware of it had it been suggested that the Government press for that particular system of voting. The Government has no such intention. If Mr Keating made those remarks I am sure he was simply venting frustration. It would be to exaggerate the importance of that venting of frustration to regard it as some sort of attempt to unduly influence the vote of legislators in this chamber. In any case, I do not think that at the Committee stage of a Bill one can properly decide whether it is truly a question of privilege. I tend to agree with Senator Ray that we should regard it as an outburst on the steps of Parliament House, rather than as a serious attempt unduly to influence those who wish to cast a vote on a different Bill in this chamber. That is especially true as the Senate Committee, to whose first report I have already referred, had some discussion of the question of optional preferential voting, and did not pursue the matter.

We are as well aware as Mr Keating is, and as anyone in this chamber is, that the proposal has Buckley's chance of being translated into effective law, and therefore it would be an exaggeration to regard such an empty outburst as being unduly intimidating when casting a vote on the resource rent tax proposal. Government members, if they heed my words, will vote against Senator Vigor's proposals.

Question put:

That the amendments (Senator Vigor's) be agreed to.