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Wednesday, 9 November 1983
Page: 2509

Mr STEELE HALL(4.31) —The Australian Labor Party has often blamed the electoral system when it has failed to win Federal elections. This attitude was typical of the approach of the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) who, as an Opposition front bencher and then as Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Electoral Act and the person who set up the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform, made frequent and often outrageous charges against the coalition parties. However, there has been an ironical twist to his position. A man who so falsely accused others of political corruption has been the victim of his own outrageous lack of standards in the conduct of his public responsibilities and has resigned his office. However, from here on there will be a new position from which the Labor Party must rationalise its next electoral defeat. Because the Government set up the Committee study, which it has, in the main, followed in drafting the amending legislation, in future it cannot cry foul. When the time comes it may have to admit that its philosophy of socialism and its elevation of the state to a higher level of importance than the individual is not supported by most Australians and is tolerated by them for only short periods when they are expressing discontent with the coalition administrations.

In the broad sense the Opposition supports the objectives of this legislation and recognises the valuable work of the Select Committee on Electoral Reform. It would be churlish of me not to congratulate the honourable member for Prospect ( Dr Klugman). I do that now for his very able and successful leadership of the Committee, in welding it into a useful and productive group of representatives- as the Committee was-of disparate political party selection. However, the impressive tally of amendments to the electoral machinery now set out before us does not allow the Government to claim credit for the legislation as though it is ushering in some new era of political justice for Australia. The basic rules for elections have been honed through the years of past political debate and amendment and remain largely unaltered by this legislation. Single member electorates for the House of Representatives with a 10 per cent tolerance of quota; proportional representation for the election of the Senate; compulsory and preferential voting; distributions by fair electoral commissions; voting at 18 years of age; and an electoral Act built on the basis of facilitating electors' rights to vote are all in place now, before the passage of this Bill.

The Government, in travelling its first electoral path on this issue, is really about the business of housekeeping the Electoral Act. The Act quite obviously, needs modernising and updating. The Special Minister of State (Mr Beazley) has claimed credit for the Government's move on this front. He has our support in this action, although the amendments to be moved on behalf of the Opposition will indicate that there are points of difference in a number of areas. The other path the Government is following is sharply ideological and we vehemently disagree with the amendments proposed in this direction. They point up the Government's view that it believes that it can help itself by altering the system.

The most significant of these is the proposal to take taxpayers' money and pay it to political parties to fund their election campaigns. I can assure the Minister that this has very little public support. This fact was highlighted by the Morgan gallup poll which appeared in the Bulletin of 19 July this year and which showed that 56 per cent of the people of Australia were against public funding of political parties. I remind the Minister that the parallel Bill concerning the unwarranted move to increase the size of Parliament has an even lower measure of public support, with 76 per cent against the move. Incidentally , I am told that such a move will force an increase in the size of the new Parliament House before that structure is even finished. That contention is supported by a publication put out this week by the Institute of Public Affairs. I find it a peculiar system of governmental management that gets behind the construction of this new facility and, before it is finished, if this Bill is passed, additional plans have to be drawn to enlarge the scheme of things from what is now planned to be built. However, we will deal with the proposition of the prospective increase in the size of Parliament when the Bill proceeds through this House next week, and I leave that matter until then.

There are several very undesirable factors about public funding. Firstly, it lowers public regard for political parties even further than its low level of today. When electors see more of what they consider to be stupid or, worse, deceitful election propaganda-who can blame them after the cynical election promises of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) now littering the Caucus floor-they will be enraged to know that they will be paying for a substantial part of it. There is a further principle, however. It removes the necessity for a major policital party to attract monetary support by performance. The two major contending sides of politics have a recognisable base vote and they will get a substantial sum regardless of how they perform. It is nonsense for the Government to claim that the legislation will remove the possibility of corruption at the Federal level. Firstly, the Minister should admit that the Federal scene has been remarkably free of corruption. I have enough confidence in members from both sides of this Parliament to claim that none exists here today in the terms referred to in the Minister's second reading speech. The potential for real corruption exists at the level of political performance and centres on the question of whether Ministers will administer as they believe that they should or whether they will be diverted from that course by party or personal overriding interests. How would the world know the reasons behind the appointment of a Minister to a diplomatic post? How does the matter of public funding get to the core of any of these issues?

I refer to this question also in the context of the Government's very expensive campaign to get unenrolled Australians to enrol and vote. I put to the Minister that their cynicism and apathy, to which he has referred on other occasions, will be increased and their political lethargy extended when they learn that the self-interested political parties are supported by taxpayers. It is probably a reflection of the socialist mind that the overlying intention of the legislation is, for the first time, really to entrench political parties into the electoral system. The inevitable corollary of so doing is that the individual, either as an elector or a candidate, is downgraded in authority and influence. This is not a desirable factor for the coalition parties, whose basic building block in the political structure is the individual. Nevertheless, it is automatic that Labor' s move into public funding and the list system of voting will bring about the official registration of political parties and those parties will begin to possess power and authority by the very nature of that registration. I remind the House that it is proposed that all public funding go to the parties. As far as the Government is concerned, the candidates-the electors' choice, the people on whom an election is centred-are totally reliant upon the good will of their party for any public funds. That is the sort of authoritarian view that suits Labor. It does not suit us, and we have an amendment to move at the appropriate time.

The proposal that donations of over $200 to a candidate and $1,000 to a party must be disclosed is another self-interested move by the Australian Labor Party. In a very self-righteous fashion Labor supporters complain about donations from business interests to the coalition parties. They ignore the fact that Labor receives some very considerable donations from business. There are some highly amusing stories of company secretaries who inadvertently switched envelopes when donations were posted. To the astonishment of both parties in the case that I know of, the amounts were the same. Of course, Labor supporters conveniently forget the massive support that unions hand over to the Labor machine. Quite frankly, whilst I do not charge the Minister now responsible for this legislation with this intention, I believe a number of Labor supporters see an advantage for their Party in that unions will continue to give to the Labor Party while business will not do so because it fears union victimisation of its undertakings.

Quite frankly, I believe there would be a number of potential donors to any or all political parties who will either fear such a possibility, whether on a personal or on a business level, or simply resent the intrusion into privacy which it represents and will not proceed with their support. It is on the basis of that disclosure that the individual's freedom is abrogated. It is a freedom which is greatly treasured and strongly preserved in other areas of government legislation. We oppose this part of the Bill for those reasons. The consequences are that parties will be continually more heavily dependent on the public purse as community support for them declines.

I return to the list system of voting for the Senate which I previously mentioned in the context of the registration of political parties. We oppose that system because it militates against the effective use of preferences by individual voters and encourages electors in a simple, unquestioning fashion to accept the preferences put to them by the parties. While the choice will remain for the elector to go through the process of full preference selection, the simple tick in the box which can, in one stroke, accept the how to vote instructions of a party, will induce and entice many voters to that form of voting. That system may offer convenience but it will have undesirable effects. It will encourage parties to have friendly and dummy groups stand at Senate elections, simply to collect the preferences which those groups can direct through the list system, and it will introduce a form of voting other than by numbers which will lead to some confusion and more informal votes, especially in House of Representatives voting. We cannot expect to have ticks and crosses in the voting system for the Senate and numbers for the House of Representatives elections without some errors occurring through a transposition of voting methods. This will work against the reason which the Government used for proposing the list system in the very first place.

The Government, in truth, overemphasises the loss of votes through informality. We support proper moves to reduce the incidence of informal votes, but a formal vote of 90 per cent for the Senate is something I view optimistically in the sense that it is a compliment to electors and is significantly representative of public opinion. I concur with efforts in this Bill aimed at raising the level of formality, but I do not concur with the use of the list system, which cannot be based on a democratic view and which will bring about further voting confusion.

It needs to be said at this stage that the Bill represents a very complex piece of drafting which must have engaged counsel over many weeks of intricate work. The Opposition had no possibility of examining this Bill on a line by line basis in the time between its introduction last week and this debate today. That pleasure must await senators, who have a greater lead time before they vote on this measure. I have, however, developed a number of amendments which will be moved on behalf of the Opposition and which convey the views of the coalition arrived at after very careful study in the limited time available. I cannot pretend that every word of these amendments is as a parliamentary counsel would advise because it is a complex Bill, as I have said, and much of it contains clauses which are interdependent.

I ask the Minister to accept these amendments at the proper time in the spirit in which they are offered with the knowledge that the Senate will have the opportunity to correct formal defects. I go further than that and ask the Minister to accept the amendments we offer because of the good sense that they make. However, I again stress the interdependence of many clauses and the complexity that that interdependence creates for the Opposition to express a view by amendments to appropriate clauses. Because of this I will move an amendment at the second reading stage, drawing together a number of Opposition concerns in a way which will clearly state our views, which may be difficult to convey at a later stage.

Before I mention some of those amendments I shall turn to the Minister's second reading speech for a few of the contradictions in approach that one would expect to find. The Minister at the beginning of his speech worked up a reasonably strong criticism of undue privilege and mentioned property votes and rich cliques as part of the now superseded undesirable aspects of past influences. I agree, but the Minister did not go on to draw attention to the new political power in modern Australian society-the power of the politically motivated union whose fees are tax free, an organisation which can donate a proportion of those fees to the Labor Party and, more importantly, an organisation which can force social and economic decisions through political strikes. The Minister might like to contemplate the $50,000 tax free gift to the Labor campaign depicted in the Sydney Morning Herald of 11 February this year. In a wider sense he might also give some thought to the power those organisations have over Australian shipping , mining and building, to name but a few industries that are attacked by them.

Further, the Minister in his speech deplored the previous use of dummy candidates in Senate elections in the context of promoting the list system of voting, which probably will lead to a wider use of dummy teams in future. The Minister stated:

. . . worthy parties and candidates might not be able to afford the considerable sums necessary to make their policies known.

He adopted this approach while naively excluding candidates from directly receiving public funds. I have already referred to these matters and I shall now turn to the amendments. I interpose at this stage to mention that my colleague the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) has closely studied the question of bringing parliamentary representation of the Territories within the operation of the nexus. He will speak on this issue and will move amendments at the appropriate time. I commend to the House the speech which he will make in support of those amendments. I have examined the Bill and have drawn up, as I indicated, a number of amendments to bring to the attention of the Parliament the Opposition's views which differ from those presented in the Bill. I move:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

'whilst approving the passage of this Bill to improve the efficiency of the electoral system, the House-

(1) deplores those aspects of the legislation which attack individual freedoms, threaten the continuation of the preferential system of voting and introduce public funding, and

(2) requests the Government to withdraw those clauses which require the registration of political parties, the introduction of the list system of voting , the public funding of political parties and the disclosure of political donations'.

That overall approach at the second reading stage relates particularly to clause 42 of the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill which sets out to implement the registration of political parties. We oppose this quite vehemently on the basis that it will increase the muscle of organisations in the political process at the expense and standing of individuals in the community. The very nature of that registration creates an undue power of parties and an undue power of government and the existing authorities over parties. It is necessary to register to get the benefits in money and electoral terms that are offered. It is a control which until now we have kept out of the system in Australia. It creates the possibility of party dependence on the state and future discipline to toe the official line.

Of course, the registration of parties is a necessary product of public funding and the list system of voting. This is why in all good faith in approaching this Bill it is considered that the Opposition cannot in simple terms move to disallow this clause. The realities of the House are that the move would not succeed in any event. But the Opposition believes that, the Government having put up a proposal on a matter of such consequence to the community, should address itself seriously to it. Having moved a motion on the matter in round terms at this stage, we will not move an amendment to the particular clause because if the House passes this legislation, inlcuding the list system and public funding, inevitably there must be registration. We will remain true to our-

Dr Klugman —Even just to put the names of the parties on the ballot paper?

Mr STEELE HALL —I do not agree that that is necessary. The honourable member who interjects will understand, if he reflects on the matter, that it is quite possible to put names on ballot papers without that registration. Paragraphs on pages 103 and 106 of the Bill deal with group voting tickets which is another way of describing the introduction of the list system. The Bill also deals with public funding and the marking of votes for the Senate. We have the rather ridiculous system which introduces ticks and crosses in the list system to go alongside the rise of numbers in the other form of voting.

In relation to lists, what further evidence could there be of the peculiarities and the rather stupid way this has been brought in than to indicate that there is a capacity for a party to have two positions on the ballot paper. Under this legislation a party can say: 'We want this recommendation put to the people. They can tick this box in the list system that we have on the top of our Senate team but we also want an alternative. We want to give the people who vote for our team the right to vote the other way; so they can tick two boxes'. Mr Deputy Speaker, do you believe that electors would approach the election day knowing that they could properly select two positions for one team on the ballot paper?

Mr White —They will tick both of them.

Mr STEELE HALL —Of course they are likely to tick both of the boxes. There are some significant areas in this legislation which will increase the number of informal votes and work against the declared overall intention of the Government , maintained throughout its discussion on this matter, to reduce the number of informal votes. This is one particular example: The use of the ticks and crosses parallel with the use of numbers and two boxes if a party demands that right. That is covered in the overall second reading amendment.

We have something like 17 amendments drafted in relation to further important aspects of the Bill. One of them will deal with parliamentary disallowance. This Government intends to remove the parliamentary disallowance of redistributions from the power of Parliament. We will move to reinstate parliamentary disallowance of redistributions in the Bill because we believe that in a matter as important as this the Parliament should be the final arbiter of a distribution, and in so being the final arbiter be a public arbiter and exhibit to the public the reasons why it takes action if it so desires. We also believe that it is essential that an addition be made to the Bill. We suggest that two amendments are necessary. The first, a test one, would appear on page 30 of the Bill. It would require dissenting commissioners or those who are concerned with the distribution of votes to give reasons why they dissent. It seems to us to further the democratic process, if the Government is interested in it, to know both sides of the argument and what the commissioners believe about distributions. We believe that the same reasoning should apply to determination as well as the initial preparation of the distribution.

We would also like to see left as it is the proposition that electors have their occupation and sex stated next to their name on the electoral roll. There is no reason for that except the quite valid factor of convenience. Quite often two people who have the same name live at the same address or in close proximity . Most of us know of instances of that and we need some further evidence to distinguish them from each other. It seems to us that there is no good reason for deleting that information except to try to bring some form of privacy into this matter. However, this cannot be successfully intruded and still maintain an effective roll. As everyone knows, there is enough trouble on election day with the use of even a well-prepared roll. We should not place further obstacles in the way of differentiating people from each other.

The Opposition will also move an amendment concerning prisoners to reinstate the position as it is. We do not believe as a matter of principle that the reasons for losing a seat in Parliament because of a criminal activity should be any different from those that apply to the right of an elector to vote. We will be moving an amendment accordingly. We will also move an amendment to tighten up the enrolment of 17-year-olds. We certainly believe that anyone who is 18 years old the day before or the day of polling should have the right to vote. We do not see the slightest reason to put any obstacle in his or her way. However, we also believe that it is cluttering the administration and putting pressure on the system generally to enable anyone over 17 years old to enrol, and thus be so noted on the roll to safeguard his or her position on the eighteenth birthday. We will move an amendment to allow the enrolment of such a person but we will limit that period until after the proclamation of the election and before the election date.

The physical restrictions as to where postal votes may be witnessed is altogether too narrow and rather ridiculous. There needs to be a tightening up of the definition of 'formal defect' to make sure that we do not have some doubt as to what an officer may consider to be a formal defect in allowing or disallowing the counting of a postal vote. Every honourable member knows of the fight that develops in any closely contested election about postal votes. I can find no definition in the Bill of formal defect. If one looks at a dictionary one gets a very wide and varied description of it and we think that needs tightening up. Members from all sides of politics might be very grateful to have a much firmer definition when it comes to the scramble for postal votes in a closely fought election.

I know that the Committee reported on the matter of the colour of ballot papers , but on due consideration it seems to the coalition that it is not sensible to move to having ballot papers of one colour for both Houses. There is always the odd case of confusion and of physical mixing of votes. More so, Mr Deputy Speaker, there is confusion in the voters' minds. We believe the papers should be green and white, and we will move accordingly. We will move to retain the 8 o 'clock closing of election booths. We will move to maintain the full voting rights in sub-divisions only, so that the application proposed in this Bill for full voting over an entire division will not apply. It will therefore not allow more multiple and illegal voting which could occur when electors vote outside the place where they are likely to be known.

I refer to pages 108 and 109 of the Bill. We believe that there is a need to move an amendment in relation to notifying candidates of the attendance of visitors and mobile booths at hospitals. We will move amendments to restore consecutive voting at Senate elections and in regard to the payment of candidates. I have moved my second reading amendment. I again inform the House that it has been moved in the round. I have mentioned the main points of ideological difference between us and the Government in relation to public funding, the list system and disclosure of donations. I look forward to supporting the amendment at the appropriate time.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Cadman —I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.