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Thursday, 20 May 1965

Senator KENNELLY (Victoria) .- I refer to Division No. 318 - Electoral Branch. I thank Senator Wright for bringing before the notice of the Committee the research by Mr. George Howatt into ways and means of overcoming deadlocks between the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Government gave Mr. Howatt a limited grant to enable him to conduct research and prepare his paper entitled " Resolving Senate-House Deadlocks in Australia ". Now we have a new item under Division No. 318 - "University of Tasmania - Grant for Research into Senate Electoral Arrangements, £5,000 ". I do not know whether the Government has any right on its side in spending this money after there has been a deliberate vote in this House against any inquiry at all.

After listening to Senator Wright and the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty), I understand that Mr. Howatt will delve into the method of voting for the Senate to see whether it is possible to devise ways and means under which we can at least minimise to a large extent the informal votes in Senate elections. I take it that would be his main purpose. It amazes me to think that behind the back of the Parliament the Government is doing exactly what it refused to allow honorable senators to do on 9th August 1962. On that date I moved the adjournment of the Senate for the purpose of appointing a Select Committee -

To inquire into and report upon the method at present in use of electing Senators and as to whether any and, if so, what changes in the method are desirable.

I should like to have from the Minister some information on the capabilities of our friend in Tasmania in regard to investigating Senate voting that none of us here has. If the resolution which I asked the Senate to adopt in 1962 had been accepted, the usual practices of a select committee would have been followed. That committee would have had the right to send for persons and papers, &c, that it considered necessary to clear its mind on certain matters and to enable it to produce a report that would do justice to its work and so help the Senate in its deliberations on this matter. I would like the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty), who is in charge of this Bill, to explain to me why the resolution I moved in 1962 was rejected on the advice of the then Leader of the Government, Senator Sir William Spooner. Can the Minister tell me why Mr. Howatt can submit a better and more comprehensive report on this matter than a select committee could submit? What has Mr. Howatt got that we who live by electoral votes and who should know something about Senate electoral procedures have not got? lt is amazing to me that an instance like this could occur. It seems to me that th: Government is flouting the will of this chamber and is saying to the Senate: " Well, what doc: it matter what you carry? ". If the Government is prepared to provide £5,000 a year for a period of three years for this work, then it must be sure that it will obtain a more comprehensive report from him than it would obtain from a select committee of the Senate. I do not think that the Government can put up a case that would justify its action. I have never known such a thing to happen in the years that I have been here or in other places. After the Senate, dealing with a matter which was in its own interests, decided that there would not bc any inquiry into this matter, the Government without even bringing the matter back before the Senate has decided that there will be an inquiry.

I never noticed any statement or report to the effect that this person had been asked to carry out the inquiry. I do not know the gentleman in question. I have no reason for saying that I would be any more competent than this gentleman or have a greater knowledge of Senate voting procedures than he has. but I think, from a practical point of view, there would be senators who would ku w exactly what they wanted to find out and what they believed was in the best interests of the Senate. It is up to the Minister to give this chamber an explanation as to the qualifications of the gentleman concerned. We should be told the capabilities of this person and the reason why he has been asked to do this work seeing that, as I have stated, the Government has already rejected the appointment of a select committee of the Senate to inquire into this matter. Furthermore, we would like to know what help, apart from the monetary help that the Minister has stated here, the Government is giving to this gentleman. Has he the right to send for persons and papers to assist him in his inquiry? Because he has been given this job, will he have the right to interview all electoral officers?

This is one of the most remarkable things I have ever known. If the Senate had not rejected my proposal, I would have said: " Let us hope that this gentleman has a lot of practical knowledge in this field. Let us hope that as a result of his report an alteration will be made in our electoral methods ". As far back as 1962, I said in this place that our electoral methods were such that approximately 10 per cent, of electors were voting informally. I do not believe that it is in the best interests of the Senate or of our system of government that the Government can more or less go behind the back of the Senate, after the Senate has rejected a resolution that had as its purpose exactly the same intent as is behind the inquiry which the Government is now asking this gentleman in Tasmania to carry out. This is the first time that anything like this has ever come to my notice. I sincerely hope that it will be the last time. The Government is quite entitled to ask any person to do a job if it thinks that person is capable of doing that job. I admit that there has been a change of Ministers for the Interior in the meantime, but, in this instance, the Senate rejected the original proposition. So. I think that the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Anthony) owes it, out of courtesy to all honorable senators, to inform the Senate through his ministerial representative here what he proposes to do so that the Senate will have the opportunity of voicing its opinion.

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