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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2724

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(10.48) —I rise primarily because of Senator Harradine's contribution to the debate on the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill. I sympathise entirely with what he has said. In my dissenting report in the report of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform I tried to show that the proposed system was a farce and lacked democracy . The system is not aimed at introducing and allowing in free rein the proportional representation system of voting. If that were the aim, the old system would continue.

The proposed system has been designed as a means of reducing proportional representation to an absurdity. To have teams and to require people to put a tick for a team of their choice means that they are not encouraged to make a value judgment at all but simply to run in the party's stable and colours. I have pointed out that what it has done to the ballot paper is to make it a nonsense-it is now so complex that there will be a tendency for parties, in fact a very great eagerness on the part of the Australian Labor Party, to advertise and take the top line. The ballot paper is becoming more and more distorted and complex. I have spoken many times in the select committee on this matter. I opposed the idea that there had to be 500 members to form a political party. I have pointed out the nonsense of this situation. If individuals or political parties were to set up a series of spurious groups of 500, they could manipulate this ticket and win the Senate. The fact is that people can increase their odds of getting the left hand position and thereby transfer what was the donkey vote by simply registering a few more parties.

Senator Harradine —You could register a few more preferences.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —That is right. The decision that was made by the Labor Party and the Australian Democrats to institutionalise this was made, in fact, to institutionalise the donkey vote. Nothing could be more cynical than that. In the past, the accident of fate, the apathy and the ignorance of some people who have simply voted across the page at least had a random element. Not so for the future, because that party which gets the left hand ticket can distribute its donkey vote the way it likes. One could not have a more absurd situation.

I invite members of the Senate to read my dissenting report. The decision was cynical. It was nothing to do with the philosophy of democracy at all. It was to do with the eagerness to collect votes at the maximum rate. Senator Harradine is utterly right-by putting a listing system on the ballot paper and making it so absurdly complex, we virtually compel people to look at the top strip and not the rest. Once they do that, there is a very grave disadvantage for Independents . I have always believed that the Senate, above all places, should be a possible place for Independents. If indeed it is to live up to its name as a House of review, as a States House and as a place to have second thoughts, then it should be able to have Independents.

Equally, proportional representation was designed to encourage the independent and the smaller group. What we have designed here in an utterly cynical way is a system to destroy proportional representation. That is exactly what this is doing. Senator Harradine is abundantly right. He can get on the top line, but he must form a political party. He must go and get 500 people--

Senator Harradine —No, I do not have to get 500 people, somebody else has to. I can set up myself as a parliamentary party tomorrow under whatever label I please.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —That is right; the device of getting on the top line is just that-a device. Unless an independent does that, he will be lost somewhere in a right hand list at the bottom. Unless the person is extremely well known and can educate the population, he is running at a grave disadvantage .

We now have an incongruity because it is necessary to explain to people their choices. The ballot paper is being extended and extended with all sorts of explanations and all sorts of arrows. It is beginning to look like some D-day battle plan. If I hold up the ballot paper, honourable senators will understand the incongruity of it. Senator Harradine has been good enough to hand me the battle plan complete. As it is 7 June today, one better understand that this does not relate in any way to yesterday's 40th anniversary of D-day. These arrows are simply to tell one of all the complexities of the ballot paper. If we are going to have something like this-a lengthy paper-we should bear in mind this fact. Some people may decide that they would like to run a team of seven instead of a team of four, so the ballot paper will be long both ways. We are creating a Greek tragedy-a silly kind of comedy. We cannot really say that we are presenting such a ballot paper to the people of Australia for serious consideration. What we are doing is telling the people of Australia that we are forcing them by this complication to take the top line, and that is exactly what we want.

By making the top line simple the Government is aiming to reduce the number of informal votes. There are informal votes that are committed in absolute good faith-people earnestly trying to fill in a complicated form but making errors. In a proportional representation system we say to people 'we want you to take all these candidates and list them in good faith precisely as you would have them listed'. Of course some people will make errors. The select committee made some recommendations to ease that situation. But there are always people who do not want to vote, who are completely apathetic or who are opposed to the system altogether-one would say, if it were not unparliamentary, that they cast a bloody minded vote. By simply telling them they can cast such a vote by a tick, we are giving those people the margin of decision. Decisions in marginal electorates and in the Senate are made by the last one or two per cent. So as we oversimplify, we allow the decision to be made by the speed of the apathetic or by the speed of those who are opposed to voting. Therefore, the system is perverted. There is nothing knew in my saying this. I have written it in the dissenting report and I have said it in the Committee ad nauseam. We are now debating a situation that has been legalised because the Bill has gone through Parliament. The Australian people have been presented with a Senate ballot paper which does not accurately implement the proportional representation system.

True it can be said-and those who will seek to contradict me will argue this- that there is down the bottom an opportunity to express preferences as in the past. But nobody who has designed this ballot paper would deny that the aim is to make it so simple to use the top line that the great majority of people will do just that and therefore not use proportional representation at all. It is very simple-the top line means that it is not a proportional representation system at all. It is a system of teams. It is nothing to do with proportional representation. It simply says 'I worked out that in this kind of situation I can win four out of seven, so I will run a team of four'. That has nothing to do with the concept of proportional representation in which people are asked to make value judgments one by one across the whole ballot paper.

All the arguments that the system is too complicated resolve themselves down to this: What do we want in the first place? Where do we start? Do we start by saying: 'Let us design a system of election which will ensure that the slowest, the most apathetic and the most unwilling will have their opportunity to cast a formal vote' or do we start by saying: 'The philosophy behind voting ought to be that of proportional representation and we are going to proceed on the basis that the electorate is made up of people who are reasonably intelligent and capable of casting such a vote and then make some concessions for those who may stumble on the route'? What has happened is very simple indeed. The list system itself is based not on the philosophy proportional representation but on the philosophy of 'let us get every vote into the stable whether it is apathetic, whether it is unwilling or not'. This is not a proportional representation system at all. Of course, as Senator Harradine says, it very greatly prejudices the Independents. It also makes a mockery of the system because it institutionalises the donkey vote. The very fact that this can be done makes a complete cynicism out of what has happened.