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Wednesday, 9 November 1983
Page: 2527

Mr GRIFFITHS(6.18) —At the outset I will make a couple of comments with respect to my participation on the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform. That was my first experience on a joint select committee. Prior to becoming a member of this place I did not have a particularly high regard for members of the Opposition. I would like to put on record as a personal comment that just working with some members of that Committee I think tempered some of my great personal disposition towards contempt. Working with people such as the honourable member for Boothby (Mr Steele Hall), the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) and the senators on that Committee to some extent at least built a personal relationship but not one that will be built into anything of too much substance in the future, I would not think. That is just a function of the party system but, certainly, I shall not be spending any time now trading insults with either of those honourable members.

With respect to the comments made by the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson ), it seems that he spent a large part of the time allocated to him discussing certain matters with respect to the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Suffice it to say that, if a matter seemed likely to be a problem, it would be addressed by the Parliament on time. That time seems to me to be a long way off at the moment. I think one can run into problems when one is legislating for possibilities rather than a problem which is likely to confront this Parliament in the foreseeable future. The honourable member also spent some time talking about multimember electorates. He said that he was not of the view that that concept ought to be supported. Once again it is not part of the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill, and it seems to me to be singularly inappropriate to waste the time of the Parliament by going into that matter in depth.

When the honourable member for Sturt spoke I was reminded of the degree to which relative wealth may possibly have an impact on how the Australian electorate is represented in this chamber. I am not quite sure how much truth or veracity there is in this statement, but certainly it is part of some political folklore in this place that the honourable member for Sturt simply took over the seat that was represented with distinction by his father. The oft-quoted comment is that a great input of personal family resources may have had something to do with his election. I simply make that point because I have a very strongly held view that a financial disadvantage on the part of members or, indeed, parties may have a fairly significant influence on the outcome on any electoral contest.

The Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill has been adequately dealt with. Because of time constraints I shall not repeat what earlier speakers put, but certainly that part of the Bill dealing with an independent electoral commission is one that ought to be commended by this place. In the course of the hearings of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform there were no substantive points of disagreement with that concept. There certainly were disagreements at the margin, but not substantive ones.

The Government has a firm conviction that the electoral commission not only ought to be seen to be independent but also should be independent. The idea of a government having a second guess on matters as close to the heart of politicians as redistributions seems to me to be akin to putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank. Politicians are not the best guardians of public interest in these matters. Indeed, as a joke, one member of the Opposition suggested that there might be an amendment to one aspect of the Bill to provide greater input by members of parliament. I simply leave it to the electorate to judge whether it wants parliamentarians involved in deciding who should and who should not have seats with particular advantages or disadvantages.

The criteria set down for redistribution were again adverted to very briefly. The fundamental change from the previous practice, apart from the Parliament not having any power to knock back a redistribution, is that as far as practicable the initial enrolment for seats is set in order to equalise enrolments half way between the period of each redistribution. Certainly, that is a part of the legislation with which I fundamentally agree. We have had debates in this House and elsewhere about the degree to which any method of redistribution will increase the democratic nature of our Parliament, but I do not think many people would disagree with that as a mandatory objective.

The other aspects take into account community of interest, the means of communication and travel, the trend of population changes within a State or Territory and the physical features and area of the proposed division. Also included of course, are the boundaries of existing divisions, which have to be taken into account when one is looking at a redistribution proposal. The Australian Labor Party submission in this regard was that the division ought not to depart from the State quota by any more than 5 per cent. In the Labor Party there is a very strong feeling indeed that that part of our policy ought to have been adhered to. It is one instance only, but certainly a significant instance, of the Labor members of that Committee going some considerable way towards accommodating the divergent views of the other party members on that Committee. I think that point was acknowledged by the honourable member for Gwydir.

The public funding aspect received quite a deal of attention. I do not think I need to remind the House that there is a degree of cynicism involved in the position put by the National Party. The National Party simply says: 'We morally disagree with the proposition but we will hold out our reltively grubby hands for the loot'. It would have been a great education for the honourable member for Gwydir to listen to the submissions presented to the Joint Select Committee, particularly those from the Queensland Branch of the National Party. As indicated by my colleague the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), National Party members were in some difficulty with respect to the tax deductibility or otherwise of donations to the Bjelke-Petersen Foundation.

I think Mr Mike Evans indicated that they were tax deductible; that is, that the taxpayers were supporting the electoral expenditure of the National Party that was derived by way of donations to the Bjelke-Petersen Foundation. Whilst he put that view quite adamantly-I refer honourable members to the transcript- one of his colleagues, seeing that they might be in difficulty on that score a little later, disagreed that that was the case. Nevertheless, I think it is quite an accepted part of commercial practice that donations of this nature in fact form part of a company's tax deductible expenditure. I also concede that trade union dues are tax deductible, and the part of those fees which subsequently finds its way to politicial parties is also tax deductible.

I am not arguing that that is necessarily a bad principle. I am saying quite simply that it should be all above board-on deck. If the Australian electorate does or does not have a strong view one way or the other that matter can be addressed through the normal democratic processes. We have heard of knighthoods being handed out. Of course this is not hearsay; the fellow who received a knighthood because he had given a $100,000 donation to the Bjelke-Petersen Foundation went on the public record--

Dr Klugman —Hickey.

Mr GRIFFITHS —I am reminded of his name by the Chairman of the Committee, but I shall not repeat it at this stage of the debate. In any event he would not dispute it. In any event, that matter would be the subject of quite some cynicism when people assess why this individual was awarded such a high honour. He concedes that he was awarded the high honour because he donated $100,000 to the Queensland National Party. Of course, there are other aspects of donations that--

Mr Ruddock —Is this all on the public record?

Mr GRIFFITHS —Yes. I refer the honourable member to the submission made by Mr Mike Evans on behalf of the Queensland National Party. He certainly would not dispute the position I have put. He certainly might dispute the position I am about to put, and that is, whether or not it can be established in a court of law, there is a widely held perception within the Australian electorate, and certainly within the Queensland electorate, that donations to the Bjelke- Petersen Foundation-this view is endorsed by the previous Liberal Party Secretary in Queensland-are an essential prerequisite to the obtaining of government contracts from the Bjelke-Petersen Government. I am not saying that that necessarily is the case; I am saying that that perception is widely held, and I do not think that can be disputed. I do not need to remind honourable members of various public affairs programs that have widely canvassed that possibility. I am simply saying that where there may be that sort of perception we ought to act to put our own House in order and to put on the public record the donations that particular parties receive.

Public funding for an ordinary triennial election will be provided to registered political parties and to registered groups and candidates who are not endorsed by a registered political party on the basis of 60c per vote in House of Representatives elections or by-elections and 30c per vote in Senate elections occurring simultaneously with a House of Representatives election. We supposedly aspire to triennial elections. I concede that elections have been more frequent of late but at the moment we are supposed to have triennial elections. That may change in the near future but that translates to the equivalent of one postage stamp per year, per voter. That is not a particularly onerous cost to put on voters given that they certainly do assist particular political parties by dint of those donors who, under the current system, have access to tax deductibility for their donations. I think it is better that it is on the public record and that any money that is going to be creamed off from the taxpayer and diverted to particular political parties ought to be paid up front. People should understand precisely what particular parties they are funding and what it may or may not be costing the system. The amount of money made available for public funding will be paid only up to the amount incurred by particular political parties whose performance has been proven, that is, when appropriate receipts are made available to the relevant authority.

The public disclosure of donations is part of the proposals which cause a great deal of discomfort to the Opposition parties. They often argue-in fact, it has become their cliche response to this matter-that if the donations of businessmen are made public, they will be the subject of intimidatory tactics from rogue trade unions. I remind honourable members that some weeks ago the National Times published a long list of companies which, quite properly, had made donations to the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party. I prefer this to be on the public record. If honourable members opposite can indicate to this House one example of intimidatory tactics being used by a particular union with respect to any of those donors I would like to hear it. My strongly held view is that that situation would simply not arise.

In the short time that I was a trade union official, if I had gone into any establishment in my role as union official and indicated to the workers there that they ought to take some punitive action against either the company with which they were employed or an alternative company simply because of some alleged payment to the conservative parties, I would have been laughed out of the place, if I were lucky. More than likely I would have been thrown out of the place. I think it is an insult to the intelligence of Australian workers.

Mr Ruddock —Do you reckon there was not some ALP official around there the next week, saying: 'Look here; what have you got for us?'? I am sure that is the case .

Mr GRIFFITHS —I am trying to be reasonably bipartisan on these matters. If we really want to dig our hands in the bucket and start throwing the stuff around, I will be happy to do that at a later date. The Liberal Party is in a particularly vulnerable position when it comes to these matters. In the leadup to the last election we had the spectacle of Mr Fraser closing the rolls within 24 hours of issuing the election writs, thus disfranchising in the vicinity of 300,000 people. They all may not have wished to exercise their right to vote. But it is indisputable that the closing the rolls within 24 hours effectively precluded those people who were eligible to vote but who were not enrolled from exercising their democratic right to vote. We have brought in what I call the Fraser amendment, to that part of the Act where provision is made for the electoral rolls to be closed seven days after the issue of election writs. Never again will we have that shameful, disgraceful situation in which, by use of a cynical power that Mr Fraser had, those people were precluded from exercising their right to vote. If one looks at the pattern of voting within the younger age groups one can see quite easily why Mr Fraser would not have wanted them to vote.

There is a range of important parts of the Bill that go to the very substance of what our democratic system is about but there are a lot of smaller machinery parts on which members of the Joint Select Committee were often in total unanimity. For example, parts of the Bill provide for mobile polling booths. There was very little debate about that. Of particular interest to me are the parts of the Bill which provide assistance for handicapped persons who vote at polling booths, including the rights of handicapped voters to request polling officials to follow a particular how-to-vote ticket. I argued very strongly that in my electorate office I wished to have facilities for disabled persons. It took many months to find a suitable office but I now have an office that has toilet facilities available for handicapped persons. It has lift access for those people who have difficulty climbing stairs. I have a strong view that in much of the legislation that goes through this House handicapped people in Australia are not given the appropriate consideration they deserve.

The Chairman of the Joint Select Committee indicated accurately that the Opposition's submission requested that the list system of voting be included in the legislation. That is what we have done. However, now the Opposition seeks to have a second bite at the cherry in this place. I could go on; it is a comprehensive Bill. It is a landmark in terms of electoral reform not only in this country but also around the world. I congratulate those members of the Committee with whom I spent so many hours. I hope the degree of unanimity and compromise that was exemplified during the period that I was on the Committee will be continued through further debates, particularly the debates in another place.