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Thursday, 10 November 1983
Page: 2624

Mr STEELE HALL(8.01) —Before the dinner break we spent several minutes discussing the marking of ballot papers with ticks and crosses. The obvious aim of the Government has been to reduce the informality in voting, and that has been the aim of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform. No one would do other than support that general aim. However, the Minister is now proposing in this clause to reduce informal voting by ridiculous and absurd means. The Minister maintains in this piece of legislation that people, having obtained directions, are unable to put the figure 1 in a single square. That is the basis of the proposed amendment to the Act. We have come from the extreme of the full Senate ticket under the list system to this contracted and very simple system of voting. I have addressed this matter in another way at another time, but that criticism does not apply to this clause. But having attained a system whereby the marking of one square will indicate the totality of a voter's preferences for the Senate, this Bill proceeds to say: 'We deem a tick and a cross to be a 1 '. What on earth is the necessity for that? How can the Minister maintain that that is necessary, when the Australian public has been brought up in the Federal scene on voting by way of numbers? Now he is saying that we must deem a tick and a cross, to be the figure 1, suitable. We do not follow that procedure now. In reducing from perhaps 70 to one the possible number of squares that we must mark -on a small Senate ticket, probably 45 to one-the Minister is saying that we do not even have to use the figure 1; we can use a tick or a cross. That is a ludicrous situation.

Apart from the amazement that we express on this side of the chamber at that juvenile approach, a much more serious point must be made, the one which I was beginning to make prior to dinner. This legislation allows a parallel system of numbers, ticks and crosses. We can use not only a tick or a cross, but a tick and a cross. I say to the Minister-it cannot be denied-that there are some fringe voters who get into trouble when voting because they cannot understand the system and who will inevitably cast their vote on the Senate ballot paper by way of a tick or a cross and then proceed to vote on the House of Representatives ballot paper with a tick or a cross. I cannot say how many voters will do so. But we would be silly not to say-and nobody will deny it-that some will, because they will have just done so on one ballot paper.

Dr Klugman —They will be told not to.

Mr STEELE HALL —They may be told not to, but the Act says that they can do so. What does the Government think that organisers will do? What does it think that people who hand out how to vote cards will do? The organisational wing of the Australian Labor Party is committed to a first past the post system. What will it do? Let us be realistic about it. Some people will say: 'Go in and vote, it does not matter how you mark the square, whether by way of a figure 1, a tick or a cross'. Pressure will be put on the system and informality will be increased in another direction. It is against the stated desire of the Government to reduce informality.

It is not worth taking much time on this matter. The point has been made and any sensible person who has been involved in the system will know that this will occur. Proposed new section 133A (4) it is stated that a preference mark means a tick or a cross or the figure 1. It does not say 'figure 1' first. It says 'a tick or a cross or the figure 1'. It comes third. We will not need to go through many elections before those errors will creep into the system and we will see in voting for the House of Representatives the three different forms of voting for the Senate-a tick, a cross and the figure 1. I do not understand why the Government would not accept this amendment. It will amaze me if they do not because, as I said, it is putting pressure on the system to increase informality , and it ought to accept this amendment. Surely, by simplifying the system to one-seventieth of the complexity of the previous system, it will at least give members of the public the credit that they can vote by inserting the figure 1.