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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2776

Senator MACKLIN(4.41) —I move:

Page 14, Schedule 1, Part I, after the amendment to sub-section 133A (3), insert the following substantive amendments:

Paragraph 133B (1) (a)-Omit 'in the square', insert 'or such other number which is the lowest number (in this sub-section referred to as ''the lowest number'') to appear in a square'.

Paragraphs 133B (1) (b), (e) and (f)-After 'the number 1' (wherever occurring), insert 'or the lowest number'.

Sub-section 133B (2)-Omit '3', insert '2'.

Paragraph 133B (2) (a)-Omit 'in the square', insert 'or such other number which is the lowest number (in this sub-section referred to as ''the lowest number'') to appear in a square'.

Paragraphs 133B (2) (e) and (f)-After 'the number 1', insert 'or the lowest number'.''.

Essentially we are seeking to overcome the problem of what I believe could now be the largest number of informal votes in respect of the bottom half of the Senate ballot paper. As honourable senators would know, or presumably they will find out at some stage, if an elector fills in the top half and bottom half of a Senate ballot paper and that bottom half is filled in in accordance with the relaxed rules that were passed last year, the bottom half takes precedence over the top half. In other words, the exhaustive distribution of preferences takes precedence over the vote for the party registered ticket. If one looks at the pro forma ballot paper that has been circulated or the ballot paper in Schedule 3 of the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 1984 one will notice that the party registered ticket appears directly above the squares in which an elector indicates the candidates for whom he wishes to vote. The example we have been given shows the second square on the New South Wales ballot paper belonging to the Call to Australia Party and directly under that appear the names of the six candidates who stood for that party. Senator Harradine and a number of other senators have pointed to the fact that political parties will obviously seek to have their voters put the number 1 in the top square. If they do nothing else at all they will hopefully put a 1 in the top square against their party's name. That seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable assumption as to how the parties will act. I would think that it will very likely be the case, certainly in the first election, that a large number of voters who are used to the exhaustive balloting system of the Senate will put a number 1 against, say, Call to Australia in the top section of the ballot paper and then will jump over the very large black line that appears on the sample ballot paper which I have. They will start with the number 2 and go on with 3, 4, 5, 6 and then continue on and vote an entirely exhaustive vote of all the candidates. But that bottom vote will be informal. Although they sought to distribute their preferences-

Senator Robert Ray —The top one will still be formal.

Senator MACKLIN —The top one will still be formal. They will have cast a formal vote. But the bottom vote will be disadvantaged although someone may have gone to the trouble of putting the numbers, 2 to 73, as was the case in the New South Wales ballot paper, on the bottom. The reason is that the Act provides that to get the start of a formal vote one at least has to write the figure 1. One can then continue on. There are various rules, which were changed last year, which mean that a ballot paper can have a certain number of blanks and divergencies from consecutive numbering. But, by and large, leaving those refinements aside, one has to get through the entire number of squares on the bottom half of the ballot paper in a consecutive form.

My worry is this: An imbalance has been created by the demand to write the figure 1. Previously the requirement to indicate 'I' did not in any way disadvantage anybody. Indeed, I believe that people will still put the figure on their ballot paper but that number will now appear in the top section. My amendment seeks to redress that balance by enabling a person to put the figure 1 in the top section and start his exhaustive balloting with a figure 2 and continue right the way through the ballot paper. Provided that they do that, all the other rules apply because this will enable people to diverge from the requirements regarding consecutive numbering in a sufficiently large number of ways to encompass that provision. In other words, the only incorrect numbering that will now occur if a person carries out a completely consecutive numbering of the exhaustive ballot section is when that person indicates a number one in excess of the number of candidates standing. However, because our informal rules have been relaxed sufficiently that will still be a formal vote. Hence, a person will still be able to direct his preferences. Therefore, I believe that the imbalance which has now been built in by the juxtaposition of the ballot papers will be redressed.

I must admit that I, but no other members of the Joint Committee on Electoral Reform, picked this up. Indeed, I remember that we requested that a ballot paper be drawn up because, as I think Senator Robert Ray said at the time, it is not until we see such a ballot paper that we know how it is going to operate. I think that was good advice because as soon as I saw the document that the Commonwealth Electoral Commission had drawn up as a start to its testing, I immediately noticed precisely what I thought was likely to occur.

I emphasise, as Senator Robert Ray by way of interjection pointed out, that a voter who filled in his form as I have described will still have a valid vote. He will not be deprived of a valid vote. But he will be deprived of a valid vote if, in the exhaustive section, he chooses to move his vote around in a way which differs from that set out by the registered card of the party for whom he voted at the top. I think that the amendment I have moved will assist us to redress that balance slightly. I think it will strengthen the bottom section of the ballot paper, which in a different debate today on another issue many members of the Liberal Party said they wished to do. I think that this amendment, though complex, will achieve that result and I hope it has the support of the Committee .