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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2726

Senator ROBERT RAY(11.10) —We have just heard a great speech on someone's personal philosophy. Good or bad though that may be, I do not see what it has to do with the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Bill. Senator Harradine began by saying that the main thing that worried him was a technical aspect, and then went on, I suppose, to canvass the more general areas that we could have considered last November. One thing he did say was that this will provide the Commonwealth Electoral Commission with undue regulatory powers relating to the formation of a ballot paper. At least the Electoral Commission has taken the time consistently to consult with the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform, where all four parties, which are represented in this chamber--

Senator Harradine —I'm not on it.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I will come to that in a moment. All four parties at least have been able to look at and have some input into the design of that ballot paper. The only real amendment we suggest will de-cluttering this new ballot paper by removing the necessity for symbols and the letters to appear next to each candidate's to indicate the group, and merely to put it on the top box and on the bottom of the top part of the ballot paper. That is all we are doing in this amendment. I must say that the Electoral Reform was specifically given the power for an on-going review of the Electoral Act, and this is part of the process and part of the recommendations. I think at least what appears in here is the unanimous recommendation that those letters be removed.

Senator Harradine —But it does provide for further regulatory powers to be given to the Electoral Commission.

Senator ROBERT RAY —It does do that, and I would imagine that those powers cannot contravene any of the existing and adequate provisions in the Act. That cannot be done by regulation. The reference to the Electoral Commission about polling is to find whether people will use the top or bottom option. The purpose of the polling is so that the Electoral Commission can determine afterwards where the count for the Senate has to be done. It must know in advance whether 70, 80 or 90 per cent of people will use the top box, because in that case none of those ballot papers go to the centralised counting room. Most honourable senators would be aware that we have changed the way in which we count the Senate votes. It will in some way be a more complex vote in future but a much fairer one. All the ballot papers of people who vote with just a ticket vote can remain in the divisional returning offices. All the others have to go to a centralised counting room. It is essential the Electoral Commission knows in advance what the rough proportion will be, so it can make staff and other arrangements.

Senator Harradine has claimed here that this matter will reinforce the party system. I would not contest that. It may well do that, and it may to some extent disadvantage some Independents. But I have to stress that the electors were left with a choice of voting 1 to 50 or 1 to 30, however many people nominate, or they can vote the box and the ticket. They were left with a choice. Senator Harradine said: 'You have made a bad choice. You should have gone for optional preferential voting'. That is something that did appeal to the Australian Labor Party, as it is in our policy, but we were not able to convince the majority of people in this chamber about it. I do not know whether Senator Harradine believes we should remain pure on all occasions-just type it out and retain the existing crook system or go for a second best option. We went for a second best option.

I think there is some confusion about how much Independents will be disadvantaged. Senator Harradine claims that he will be the last Independent elected to this chamber. In recent decades there have not been many Independents . I suppose one could term former Senator Steele Hall and Senator Townley as Independents. I would probably call them Independent Liberals. Everyone knew that at some stage, after they got over their huffs with their local party machines they would rejoin the establishment, and they did that. Former Senator Negus was, I suppose, the other genuine Independent, apart from Senator Harradine, to be elected to this place. In any event not many have been elected. I do not think Independents will be particularly disadvantaged. For Independents to survive they have to get about 0.6 or 0.7 per cent of the quota in any event. Once they do that they will find that the list system will advantage them rather than other parties, because it will tighten up preferences. That will mean that the major political parties, by avoiding sending preferences to each other, will direct them through everyone else but the other major political parties.

Senator Harradine —Your mob down there put me last.

Senator ROBERT RAY —We are still suffering the ramifications of that, as Senator Harradine well knows. But in general political parties tend to run through Independents and minor parties and put the other major political party last.

Senator Harradine —Like what happened in Queensland.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I will come to what happened in Queensland. The reason things occurred in Queensland is that we already had to jump one way over the ballot paper. The honourable senator will realise that if we made a double jump we would increase informality. That is another good reason for the list system. Preferences do not have to be artificially allocated because of ease of marking. Most Independents will be advantaged if-I stress 'if'-they get to that point of quota, 0.6 or 0.5 per cent, where they survive in the count. So this system will be of some advantage to them.

Senator Harradine —There won't be any advantage to me.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I do not think any of this has anything to do with Senator Harradine. He got quotas so easily in the past, and probably will in the future. It will not have any effect on him.

Senator Harradine —Not unless I set myself up as a party.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I will come to that in a moment. The honourable senator is indicating that he may have to set up a party Australia-wide, called the Obscene Party, maybe the Fair Dinkum Party or some other party. The one disadvantage that people such as Senator Harradine will suffer is that they cannot put their names under the top box. It does not mean they cannot use the top box. By nominating, as they do normally in a group, they can register their how to vote cards. They can have the letters. Let us say they draw position C. There will be a C on the top and a C at the bottom, so the connection can be made. If honourable senators look at the ballot paper they will see those lines are not the printer's lines, they are lines that will be there to connect the top to the bottom. Therefore unless people are, shall I say, fairly stupid, they should be able to connect the two. Certainly by manning all the booths, as candidates do, their supporters can very easily tell the electors: 'Vote the list system for Harradine and put a figure 1 next to box C'. That is very easy to do outside the booth. They can design their how to vote cards to explain that. The Independents ' disadvantage is only very marginal, in my view.

I come to some of the comments made by Senator Sir John Carrick. He extolled the virtues of proportional representation. That is probably why his Liberal Party opposed it in 1948, and that is probably why it will never introduce it in its own Party voting system. How many branches of the Liberal Party have proportional representation? Maybe Tasmania does, but none of the others do. But , like the Independents, the Liberals like the freedom of choice; yet their own voting system in their own internal Party is as conservative as far as one vote, one value is possible. So the Liberals are not really advocates of public relations. They just like it because under the current Senate system, that means no radical party can get a majority in this chamber. Senator Sir John Carrick complained here and shed some crocodile tears about Independents. He had less time for Independents or any Opposition when he was Leader of the Government here than anyone else did, and in my view his are just crocodile tears.

He went on to say that this new system is particularly complex. I ask honourable senators to look at it and tell me how complex it is. The electors will have two voting choices. They can vote for the ticket or the existing system. I will just read out what they can do. The electors have a choice between 'either' and 'or'. It may be a bit difficult for Senator Sir John Carrick to work out what 'either' or 'or' means. I would have said that persons could vote for one or the other. Let me read the instructions to someone who wants to vote by way of the top option. They state:

Place the single figure 1 in one, and one only, of these squares to indicate the . . . voting ticket . . . you wish to adopt . . .

In other words if voters want to vote for their party's ticket they must put the number 1 across the top. Is that hard? If electors do not want to follow their party's ticket, they vote on the bottom section, which is basically identical to the current voting system we have been using for the last 30 years. What is complex about that? What is impossible for people to understand about that? It has been stated here today that the Electoral Commission is in some way going to advertise only the top option. That is not true, and it should not be the case. If it does that, it is not doing its duty.

Senator Harradine —Nobody said that.

Senator ROBERT RAY —It was inferred that it would support, by massive publicity, only the top option. That is not going to be the case. If it is the case, it will have to be reversed. It is not for them to say which of the two options people should choose.

Senator Sir John Carrick said that this is a complex voting system. One out of 10 people cannot handle the existing system. It has been a system, over the years, that has been exploited and favoured by the Liberal Party. It has probably taken us 20 years to catch up on those sorts of matters because Senator Sir John Carrick has been one of the great political operators in this chamber and in New South Wales. He is a wily old apparatchik. He has always sought to have the system that would best advantage the Liberal Party. No one can doubt his basic loyalty. He has a lot of admiration from our side of the House because of that loyalty. However, I am convinced, having listened to his speech today, that we have finally wound him back. After 20 years we have finally caught up with him. We have finally introduced a system that he is finding desperately hard to condemn or to exploit.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.