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Wednesday, 3 May 1961

Mr FREETH (Forrest) (Minister for the Interior) (3:31 AM) . - I am well aware that there is a system of drawing lots for the position on the Senate ballot-paper. The Senate vote is quite complicated to the man in the street. [Quorum formed.] The position on the Senate ballot-paper is determined by lot, but nobody is satisfied with that situation. At every election we hear protests that an electoral advantage by chance has been given to some candidates. There is no doubt that some advantage is given to the first group on the Senate ballot-paper. However, the ^ advantage in the final result is by no means clear. In spite of a clear advantage in the first votes, it is never quite certain what difference has been made when the preferences have been distributed. But there is dissatisfaction, and people come forward with all kinds of propositions about circular ballotpapers and devices that will remove the element of chance.

The clear implication that emerges from the remarks of honorable members does not seem to be much commendation for members of the House of Representatives or the intelligence of the people of Australia. The system of voting for the House of Representatives is far simpler than that for the Senate. There are fewer candidates, the candidates represent particular divisions that are smaller in area than a State and they are known or have a greater opportunity to be known to individual electors than have candidates for the Senate. The vote for the Senate is. a very wide impersonal vote. It does not pay a compliment to our conception of democracy when the whole argument tends to suggest that a government exists simply because of the wise choice by candidates, of their parents. On the basis of this argument, the Opposition wants a government that happens to be determined by lot. Nobody suggests that that is the kind of result that is in fact achieved, but what honorable members propose is to encourage in the electorate the idea that if a party happens to be lucky enough to get a good draw, the chances of a change of government are thereby improved.

Although there have been a considerable number of statistics quoted about this alleged advantage of position on the ballotpaper, a large proportion of the statistics dealt with people who in fact were not elected to the Parliament.

Mr Cope - That is completely irrelevant.

Mr FREETH - You may say it is completely irrelevant. I say that a lot of the statistics you quoted were completely irrelevant. If we look at the people who in fact did get into Parliament, we will find that there is nothing to show that a great advantage was conferred by a position on the ballot-paper. Let us look at some of the figures. Honorable members opposite who are now interjecting quoted quite a lot of figures. I did not argue with the figures they quoted.

Mr Daly - There is no argument against them.

Mr FREETH - May I quote some figures which show a contrary view? Have you any objection to hearing other figures?

Mr Daly - No.

Mr FREETH - Then why don't you listen to them?

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Lucock).Order! I think this evening there have been sufficient interjections from both sides of the committee. I remind honorable members that interjections are disorderly and if they continue, the Chair will take action.

Mr FREETH - At the last general election, of the 122 members elected to the House of Representatives, 41 had first position on the ballot-paper and 40 had second position. That seems to establish that there is not a very great divergence between first and second positions. In electorates where there were four candidates, nine of those elected had first position and nine had fourth position. So there does not seem to be any great advantage there. If honorable members do not like that kind of approach, let us look at the opposite view. In New South Wales, eighteen of the candidates who lost their deposits had first position, but only twelve had second position. These figures are quite factual; they are just as factual as are the statistics quoted by honorable members opposite.

The voting public of Australia is used to this system. No case has been made out by honorable members opposite for changing it. They in fact lose sight of the objective of the voting system that we have, and that is that the people should record an intelligent and informed vote. Honorable members should not seek to foster the view that the result of any election depends on chance or some stroke of good fortune. As far as possible, we want every person to inform himself of the candidates, their qualifications and their party, and then to vote. intelligently. That is the objective which should be sought. Honorable members dc not do themselves much credit when they suggest that their presence in this chamber is due only to some kind of accident.

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