Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 18 February 1959

Mr COSTA (Banks) .- I think that the speech of the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) was like the Speech that the Governor-General made yesterday afternoon - it was full of negatives. The honorable member complained about some repatriation matters that are long outstanding, yet he supports a Government that has had the opportunity, over nine years, to rectify the omissions but which has failed to do so! I am satisfied that while he supports such a government those matters will remain outstanding.

I listened to the Governor-General's Speech very intently and I think it was notable, not for the things it contained, but for the things it omitted. Time will prevent me, of course, from dealing with all the matters that it omitted, or even all the things that it mentioned, but there are some subjects on which I shall find time to say a few words, as I consider them to be vital.

For instance, the Governor-General made a very brief reference to social services. He said that the Government would review social services from time to time. But all that the Government ever does is to review them from time to time. I would prefer the Government, instead of saying that it would " review " them, to say that it would " revise " them. The Government should revise the age pension immediately and increase it by, say, £1 a week. All other social service payments should be similarly increased. The review that takes place from time to time gives no justice to the pensioners. The Governor-General's Speech was full of negatives such as the statement on social services.

One matter that I think should have been mentioned in the Governor-General's Speech, and which I regard as vital, is the need for electoral reform. I say that because the electoral results indicate that we do not have democracy in Australia. As a matter of fact, at the present time, Australia is governed by a minority government. I am quite satisfied that the people who framed the Constitution 60 years ago really did wish that Australia should have democracy some day, yet we find ourselves to-day with an autocratic government which is the very opposite of democratic government! If we peruse the list of people who attended the conventions which framed the Constitution, we find that they were the same kind of thinkers as those who govern Australia to-day. They had the same kind of qualifications and designations. It seems as though the wanglers of 1889 were no different to the wanglers of 1959 by whom we have been governed for some time.

To show why I consider that Australia is being governed by a minority government, let us examine the returns for the last general election. I know that already we have all examined them very critically, but it will not hurt to go over them again. I have an official copy of the Senate results from the Commonwealth Electoral Officer. lt clearly shows that this Liberal-Country party Government obtained less votes than its opponents. That means minority government. For instance, the official figures of Senate voting show that the Government parties obtained 45.19 per cent, of the formal votes cast. Against that, the anti-Government candidates - that is the Labour party, in the main - obtained 54.19 per cent.

If that does not clearly indicate that we are governed by a minority government, nothing could. Despite the fact that the Government parties obtained only 45.19 per cent, of votes, they have a representation of 76 members in this House against 47 Labour members. Another weakness in our democracy is that, of the 47 Labour members in this House, two have not a vote. The figures that I have cited indicate very clearly that we are being governed by a minority government. They also indicate that the electorates all over Australia are heavily loaded against the Labour party. I say that we have a minority dictatorship in this country, and1 there are many examples of this. I should like to refer to the dropping from the Ministry without explanation of two former Ministers for the Interior. The honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes) was politely dropped from the Ministry, and his successor met with the same fate. Both those honorable gentlemen did a remarkable and splendid job in the departments that they were administering, yet for no reason at all they were dropped from the Ministry. I do not suppose that an apology was even offered to them. They were dropped without explanation, but many people were guessing why they were dropped. The honorable member for Chisholm, in a newspaper article, recently broke the silence when he expressed his sympathy with his successor, the honorable member for Paterson (Mr. Fairhall), who had, without rhyme or reason, been dropped from the Ministry. The honorable member for Chisholm said that he and his colleague were possibly dropped for the same reason. The honorable member for Chisholm said that he was dropped by what he termed a dictatorship of bureaucracy. That statement by the honorable member establishes the truth of what I have been saying.

A glance at the history of Parliament will show that other Ministers have also been surprisingly dropped from the Ministry, and some even from Cabinet. Take, for instance, ,ne right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page). He is the veteran member of the Australian Country party, and also the brains of the Australian Country party. When he makes a speech in this House it is a constructive speech. He is the only member of the Australian Country party, from my observations, who makes constructive speeches in this House. Whilst he may be a veteran, he is still very energetic and1 a most virile thinker.

Take the case of the former honorable member for Richmond, whose son now represents Richmond in this House. The former honorable member was dropped from the Ministry at a time when Australia was in the midst of developing a very important means of communication - television. I do not know what his crime was, but possibly he was dropped because he failed to carry out the dictates of the monopolists with regard to television in this country. Monopolistic control, or capitalism, applies in communications in this country more than in any other sphere. The people who run our newspapers and radio stations also control our television stations. Communications in this country are completely under monopolistic control, and that is a very serious matter.

There are other instances of what has happened under what I term this dictatorship. The honorable member for Chisholm calls it a bureaucratic dictatorship, but I prefer to call it a monopolistic, capitalist dictatorship. Take the case of Sir Percy Spender, who was dropped from Cabinet. Sir Eric Harrison, who recently made a return visit to this country, was another who was set adrift. Sir Josiah Francis, the former honorable member for Parramatta, and others suffered similar fates. Some of the persons whom I have mentioned were not demoted at home, but they were transported to rosier settings, or promoted abroad, and kept long distances from Australia where they would not create any mischief or harm.

It is interesting to compare what is happening in Australia under this capitalist, monopolistic dictatorship, with what is happening in other countries that are ruled by dictatorships, particularly Russia. Similar things have happened in Russia. Look what happened to Bulganin, Molotov, Malenkov and others. They suffered in the same way as did the former Commonwealth Ministers whom I have mentioned. What is happening in Australia is no different to what is happening in Russia. Each country is being governed by a minority dictatorship.

Earlier in my remarks I said that I would show what was really happening in this country. I believe that the present control in Canberra is a despotic, dangerous, and undemocratic control. 1 am sorry that the majority of the people of this country stand for this control. They do not vote for this Government, but for some reason or other they stand for it. I hope that the time will arrive when they will no longer do so.

I believe that a minority government is dangerous and irritating to anybody who believes in our great democracy. This state of affairs has been brought about by gerrymandering of electorates. There is no doubt that the gerrymandering of electoral boundaries is thwarting the intentions of the people in a way that should not be allowed. This Government is guilty of very serious malpractices. I believe also that splinter parties which aid and abet such happenings, which pretend to be so consciencestricken, and prate so much about their good morals, yet help such governments to power, are equally guilty. I believe that the essence of democracy is an assembly elected by the majority of the people, and we have not got that in this place.

The election figures show that this assembly is just the opposite of democracy. An honest government would strive to change such a state of affairs. I have said that the Governor-General's Speech was negative, and I should like to make a constructive suggestion. I suggest that the Government take immediate steps to set this House in order by setting up an impar tial commission to re-aline the electoral boundaries, so that instead of a minority, dictatorial, monopolistic government, we may have a democratic government. In order to bring this about the commission should be given only one term of reference. It should be asked to see that electorates are set up on the basis of one man one vote. I venture to say that any violation of that rule, no matter how fractional, is undemocratic. I think that the Electoral Act is out of date and needs revising. The previous Minister for the Interior did promise to review the Electoral Act and bring it up to date, and that promise may have helped to bring about his downfall. Well, there has been no review of the act. Whether the former Minister was prevented from allowing it to happen or not, or what actually happened, I do not know. As a matter of fact we had debates on this subject in the House and the Minister asked us for suggestions because he considered it to be so important. In my opinion the Commonwealth Electoral Act is out of date; it should be brought up-to-date. The imperfections in our electoral system detract from the ideal of democracy that we hope to achieve.

I have examined the results in various electorates in the recent election and have found that the Labour party candidates were at a disadvantage because representatives of the parties opposing them had what might be called an A B C advantage. Many illustrations could be given. In my electorate of Banks the name of the Liberal party candidate, who was a person unknown to me, began with B. Of course, mine begins with C. I point out that in 1955, a Communist candidate named Clancy - who beat me for alphabetical position on the ballot paper by one letter - polled 3,356 votes. I received 23,000 votes, and the Liberal party candidate 15,000. At the recent elections the Communist candidate Clancy was displaced from first position on the ballot-paper by a candidate whose name began with B - a Mr. Booth. It is interesting to note that Clancy polled only 1,670 votes, a drop of more than 70 per cent, compared with the 3,356 votes he polled in 1955. That example illustrates the obvious advantage of alphabetical priority on the ballot-paper. In this electorate, Booth received 16,000 votes which was an improvement on the result for the

Liberal candidate at the 1955 elections. Costa received 28,000 votes. The Democratic Labour party candidate lost his deposit because he polled only 2,300 votes. The result was entirely satisfactory to me, but I still voice my complaint about this alphabetical advantage. It shows that the top position on the ballot paper is worth many votes. The Liberal party and the Australian Country party and the rest of their partners in crime exploited this advantage to the full.

I have here a record of the seats and those who contested them, supplied to me by the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) who is noted for his skill and research in providing statistics. I note that in New South Wales the Australian Labour party contested 46 seats but its candidates had the top position on the ballot-paper in only seven of them. The Liberal party, which also contested 46 seats, had 21 candidates in the top position. The Democratic Labour party, which contested 40 seats, had fifteen candidates in the top position, and the Communist party, which contested seven seats, had three candidates in the top position. The results show that in those seats where the D.L.P. candidates had first place on the ballot-paper - that is in fifteen seats in New South Wales - they secured an average of 8.9 per cent, of the formal votes cast, whereas in the 25 seats where their candidates were not placed first on the ballot-paper there was a different story. In those electorates they polled 50 per cent, fewer votes, that is an average of only 4.7 per cent, of the formal votes cast.

A system under which that kind of thing happens is completely wrong, and the Government should do something about it. Candidates for election to the Senate draw for positions on the ballot-paper. I believe that that method should be used to determine the positions of candidates for the House of Representatives on the ballotpaper. I happen to have an alphabetical advantage because my name begins with C, but I am unselfish and I would not mind if I drew the bottom position on the ballotpaper. If the practice of drawing for positions were introduced it would do away with a great deal of the alphabetical manoeuvring to which I refer. Unless this practice is abandoned, as time goes by and older members retire from this House they will be replaced by members whose names begin with A, B, or C and there will be no " X Y Z'S " in the House at all. I know of many instances in which anti-Labour parties sought candidates whose names began with A, B, or C. In my district a man named Aarons was approached. An attempt was made to gain an alphabetical advantage over the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen). In some electorates men of high repute and ability who sought selection as Liberal party candidates and were suitable in every way were not selected because they did not have this alphabetical qualification. This practice is completely wrong and should be discarded.

Another matter to which the Government should give some attention if our claim to be a democracy is to be justified is the large number of informal votes cast at general elections. This is a serious matter, but the Government does not seem to be at all concerned about it. In the Senate elections a total of 5,141,109 votes were cast, but 529,050 of them were informal. That is over half a million. That is a disgrace, and I hope that fact is not reported abroad, otherwise people on the other side of the world will form a very poor opinion of the intelligence of Australian voters.

This is an important matter. Electoral procedure should be taught in our schools as part of the subject of social studies. It is the basis of our democracy and school children should be taught about it. This would not be playing at politics, but would be a step towards establishing real democracy in this country.

In New South Wales the number of informal votes cast in the Senate election was 12 per cent. The quota of votes necessary to elect a senator in that State was 245,000. Of the total number of votes cast, 244,000 - a number almost equivalent to the quota - were informal. That is a very serious matter. I know that all the States must have equal representation in the Senate, but I shall illustrate how lopsided our democracy is by pointing to what happened in Tasmania. Whilst the 152,000 electors in that State returned five senators, in New South Wales 244,000 persons whose votes were informal are not represented in the Parliament. These happenings indicate weaknesses in our democracy which should be remedied. I believe that the names of the parties represented by the respective candidates should be shown on the ballotpapers. People are more interested in voting for parties than for individual candidates.

Suggest corrections