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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2725

Senator WATSON(11.02) —I support the remarks of my colleague Senator Sir John Carrick and also my Tasmanian colleague Senator Brian Harradine. I think it is unfortunate that so little attention has been given to the work that Senator Sir John Carrick has done in this area. The Press has not taken it up in the interests of democracy. I think we have to congratulate the Australian Labor Party on the way it has handled and manipulated the system because it is very obvious that what has been proposed will work very much to its own advantage.

Whilst I might be a representative of one of the major parties, I concur with the remarks of my colleague Senator Brian Harradine from Tasmania. I think there is a danger to democracy in what we are doing in the Senate today not in the sense that the legislation will not give expression to the wishes of the majority of voters-I acknowledge that it will do that-but in the sense that it will lock out small Independents who wish to participate as individuals rather than as members of a political party. The legislation before the Senate will certainly hinder their chances of election to the Senate.

I think there is always a danger to democracy when the aspirations of people to enter politics by a system other than through the party system are denied by a House of Parliament. People who aspire to have their names placed on the top line of the ballot paper, which they must do under the proposed system, immediately must make deals in order to get the required amount of support. On the other hand, I am also concerned that there are dangers, because of the closeness between the numbers of Government and Opposition senators, that an Independent may have excessive or extraordinary powers. That, in itself, is not good. However, I think it is the lesser of two evils, rather than having an electoral system under which individuals of talent have greater difficulty in getting elected to this place and having a degree of power. Many people in our community with sincere convictions who wish to stand as Independents will be forced by this legislation to join a political party simply to get a good position on the ballot paper to enable them to have any chance whatsoever of election to this House.

The legislation also discourages electors to exercise an individual choice to give a preference and to vote across a ticket. I believe that in a few years 80 or perhaps 90 per cent of electors will be voting for candidates across the top line. I will not be surprised if, within a few years, the alternative or the choice disappears. Electors will find themselves selecting a party with more than one mark on a ballot paper because it will be argued that, after all, the overwhelming majority of Australians prefer it that way. Again, I think the opportunity for people to vote across party affiliation and make their own choices under a true preferential system will disappear because we will be locked into the party system. This means that the control of people's destinies will increasingly pass to an outside party selected executive and to people who are outside the political format and to faceless men. In time we will find that the representatives who come into this chamber will be party hacks rather than true individualists.

I am particularly concerned about what will happen in my own Party. Liberal senators have been given a degree of independence which at times has allowed them to cross the floor. Under this system we will increasingly be forced into a rigid party system, into tight discipline and into following the dictates of the people behind us. That is what I am worried about. Those who tend to vary a little bit, who are guided by their consciences and who support the sorts of, for example, issues that Senator Harradine will put forward in relation to de factos. Senators will not therefore be able to afford to have these little indiscretions against the party system in favour of their own consciences. Senators will increasingly be forced along the path of adopting the general philosophy of the community. If that community philosophy is in favour of downgrading standards, who would be bold enough to stand alone? He will have to fight very strong backroom discipline exercising increasing control. He will be put under the thumb and his activities will be watched more and more.

I believe that Senator Sir John Carrick made a very good point that a regimented vote under the party system will reflect not so much the wishes of those who really have a desire to vote but those who do not want to vote-those who are forced into it and who want to get in and out of a booth as quickly as possible to avoid being fined for not voting. Those sorts of people do not give a lot of thought to whom they really want elected. They perhaps are swayed more by television advertising by a major party than by what they think about the issues. We should encourage people increasingly to think about issues and to think about the candidates. We are tending to become more and more materialistic in terms of the legislation that we pass. We are becoming less concerned about individuals and their rights. Rather, we are concentrating on the general community. While I think we always have to give expression to legislating for the community good, at the same time we also have to acknowledge that some people in society take different views about things. I am rather concerned that in time we will see the disappearance of the proportional system of voting and I do not think that this will be good for democracy.