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Thursday, 10 November 1983
Page: 2604

Mr STEELE HALL(4.28) —I move:

(6) Clause 23, page 47, line 7, omit ''5 years'', substitute ''12 months''.

The Government is moving away from the provisions in the Constitution which govern the disqualification of members of parliament who have been subject to imprisonment. I should have thought that the Government would want to have a commonality between the standards required of a member of parliament and those required of an elector. I should have thought there was some direct connection. The elector is as important in the system as the member of parliament. All citizens are electors. An elector is disqualified if he is attainted of treason, has been convicted, is under sentence or is subject to sentence for any offence punishable under the laws of the Commonwealth or a State by imprisonment for one year or longer. That position would apply to any of us here if we were so sentenced or under sentence under either a State of a Commonwealth law. That is the position as set out this moment in the Electoral Act, which states:

. . . no person attainted of treason, or who has been convicted and is under sentence for any offence punishable under the law of any part of the King's dominions by imprisonment for one year or longer, shall be entitled to have his name placed on or retained on any roll or to vote at any Senate election or House of Representatives election.

That seems to me to be quite reasonable. It is something about which I have never heard a complaint. I guess those who are affected might complain, but they are paying the penalty for their transgressions. I see no move by the Government -which is about to hold a costly referendum next February-to put this matter to the people to alter the Constitution in relation to the tenure of members of parliament who are under sentence. Why is there a different standard?

Dr Klugman —Are you suggesting that a bankrupt should not be able to vote?

Mr STEELE HALL —I am suggesting that there should be commonality in relation to sentences. If the law states that a person cannot sit in this Parliament because he has received a sentence of 12 months, what is wrong with applying the same standard to the elector, a standard that applies now and which has been seen, up until now, to be a sensible position? We have heard no argument to sustain the Government's proposal. What is the argument? I hope that in a moment the Minister will give it to us. On reflection, bearing in mind the sentences given by courts since the Constitution was put into effect, I would have thought that the courts were far more lenient now. I am not blaming the courts. I think that society would not support sentences of the severity which obtained when the Constitution was formed and this period of 12 months was set into effect. In this case, the proposed period is five years. So not only is this provision of the Bill moving against the Constitution, it is also going against what is accepted in modern day terms. The Minister gave no reason for it in his second reading speech and I have heard of none in the community; I know of no demand in the community for this. Therefore, I promote my amendment on the basis that there should be commonality in the severity of penalties. The severity of the penalty that prevents people from holding a seat in this Parliament should be the same as that applying to people having the right to vote.