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Wednesday, 9 November 1983
Page: 2539

Debate resumed.

Mr ADERMANN —When I spoke on this matter in the last Parliament almost 40 per cent of the Federal seats in Queensland were in the category I have just mentioned, with seats like Fisher and Fadden 30,000 in excess of quota and McPherson nearly as bad. This, of course, creates a situation which is quite unfair to constituents and the members who try to serve them. I said then that it was neither defensible nor honest to provide the facility in the Act to redistribute in that case and then fail to act upon it. I am pleased that the amendment now proposed will make mandatory a redistribution in that situation. However, I am most concerned that these amendments take away from the Parliament the capacity ultimately to accept or reject the Electoral Commission's redistribution decision. The review by the Federal Court of Australia does not and cannot meet the reason for my objection. It is the Parliament which sets down the criteria which should be considered in determining the proposed electorates. It is for the Parliament to decide whether the Commission's decision complies with the letter and intent of the legislation of the Parliament in these matters. Let me give examples. When legal provision was made for variation from quota of 20 per cent, the distribution commissioners never used it beyond 7 per cent. When the variation became 10 per cent the commissioners in Queensland used a maximum of about 3 per cent. Community of interest was a criterion, yet I can quote glaring examples of transgression of this provision. For example, what community of interest consideration would have compensated division of the Sunshine Coast into two separate electorates and uniting northern Brisbane suburbia with the southern part of the Sunshine Coast?

The point I make very strongly is that if the Parliament places in its legislation specific criteria for consideration, and the commissioners ignore or patently contravene those specific guidelines, surely it is the Parliament which ultimately should judge whether the commissioners' proposals conform with the detail and intent of the Parliament's own Act. To give that role over to having to seek a prerogative writ in the Federal Court is not an acceptable amendment. How can a third party, even if it is a court, be the best arbiter of what the Parliament has said, written, or intended?

Another amendment seems to invite malpractice. At present, when a voter casts his vote within the division but outside his subdivision, he has to make an absentee vote. That poses no great inconvenience or difficulty, and the present provision ought not to be altered. The amendment which provides that an elector can vote outside his subdivision anywhere in his division by casting an ordinary non-absentee vote is dangerous and unnecessary. It makes multiple voting possible. In early years a popular proverb, that the Labor Party's slogan was ' vote early and vote often', was in vogue. This amendment provides the ready facility to vote early and vote often. Once an ordinary vote is cast it becomes unidentifiable in the ballot box, so even if a voter is detected as having voted more than once, each vote will nevertheless be counted, and in close finishes could be significant. The absentee vote at least could be quarantined until the rolls were checked and the present Act could thus contain some restraint. If absentee voting were a complicated hassle or inconvenience, I could understand the amendment, but it is not a hassle, at least within an elector's own division . Such an absentee vote can be quickly obtained and conveniently cast. The proposed amendment is unnecessary, not required, and opens the door to possible malpractice. It ought to be rejected.

I would have liked to talk about funding-many speakers have done so-but as we have an agreement about time I just record my absolute opposition to public funding. It seems to me to be arrant hypocrisy for the Government to tell pensioners and others that their pensions, their support, cannot be increased because the Treasury is empty and yet at the next election take $8.6m to fund political parties.

Mr Braithwaite-And they knocked back local government by $13m.

Mr ADERMANN —Yes, that is the sort of performance they give. Every public opinion poll on the issue gives a resounding 'no'. The taxpayer is not being considered. It is totally indefensible and absolutely repugnant to fly in the face of that clear view. It is a cruel betrayal and totally despicable behaviour . With the same perverted reasoning the Labor Party has been prompted to put in this Bill the disclosure of contribution provisions. The justification of this proposal just cannot stand up to scrutiny. The simple and totally indefensible reason for the proposal is that the Government is hell-bent on taxpayer-funded elections and is vainly casting around for some excuse to justify them. If the poor Australian constituent does not already suffer enough political advertising in his newspapers and on commercial and Australian Broadcasting Corporation television until he is sick and tired of it by election day, with the generous grab into Treasury now proposed he will get an even greater dose and have to pay for it in increased taxes.

Mr Braithwaite-Over 60 per cent of the people don't want it.

Mr ADERMANN —That is true. I turn now to the proposed list system of Senate voting. I am ready to agree that it is not good to see the relatively high level of informality in Senate voting. I am also ready to agree that this is largely due to the inordinately high numbers of candidates on the Senate ballot paper. Certainly we need to address the problem. Indeed the very great increase in deposits required from prospective Senate and House of Representatives candidates is claimed to be part of the solution. But some very serious concerns attach to the list system proposal. Where there are many independents, or where we have a party such as the Australian Democrats who issue alternative choice how-to-vote cards with differing preference allocation, there is a great complication. The placing of a box to be ticked if a registered party list is to be followed just does not meet the need. If I had the time I could demonstrate that we need a multiplicity of boxes.

A coercive element is also contained in this suggestion in that electors are encouraged to dilute their assessment of individual candidates and opt for the easy course of party regimentation. It encourages the person who wants to make some value judgment of individual candidates to diverge from that commendable ideal and opt for the easy way out. I have the distinct impression that it is deliberately contrived to make it even more difficult for genuine Independent candidates to have any chance of election. Earlier I said that a bipartisan study of the most equitable solution to the problem of informality is to be commended and that that could be accomplished by seeking opinions from all interested sources and not confining such a study to such a brief time span that faces the Committee on this occasion. The list system in my view is not the best answer and it has the added disadvantages and complications that I have outlined .

If I were a facetious fellow-I am not-I would tell the House that the departure from alphabetical listing of candidates is an abrogation of a splendid democratic tradition. I am sure the right honourable member for Richmond (Mr Anthony), the honourable member for Henty (Mr Aldred), the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Andrew) and perhaps even the honourable member for Swan (Mr Beazley) will agree with me. But there is no such thing as a donkey vote. Therefore, we will accept the amendment and we will not be dividing the House on that issue. I think that subject to necessary provisions and safeguards the mobile polling booths which have worked successfully in Queensland State elections are very desirable. Such qualifications, however, ought to be considered as enabling a voter to opt for a postal ballot if he wishes and ensuring that all candidates are notified in advance of the time of the visit of the polling officer and the polling box. That is very important. I would like to say more about those things but as long as the Government is conscious of the concern about those matters we can leave it at that. In country areas where distances from polling booths are substantial and electors are engaged in farming, or as somebody said, bowling, I have found opposition to the proposal to shorten the polling hours. I am sure that if the amendments are passed, at the next Federal election some people will be caught by earlier closure of the polls. Some religious groups have problems with the closure of the polls at 6 p. m. I am concerned that it is the remote country electorates that might find the change something of a problem, and the large electorates have enough to endure without any additional difficulty.

In conformity with the agreement I wish to deal with one more amendment. It has not attracted much notice but it is one that I would commend. That amendment provides for steps to be taken to ensure that a person's address is not included in the roll if it is shown that the publishing of the address would place at risk the personal safety of him or his family. I mention it because on more than one occasion I have met constituents who have been in that situation. As we know that electoral rolls are fairly easily obtained-indeed, sometimes too easily because they are used by insurance salesmen and everybody else to peddle their wares-I think this is an amendment of some value and importance. The Bill is like the curate's egg, with some of it good and some of it bad. As I have indicated, what is bad is very bad and of such major proportion that I am led to oppose it.

I want to close by commending the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform and its Chairman. They showed commendable bipartisanship and dedication in their consideration and in the report that they have brought before the Parliament. It is a report that we appreciate and one that the Parliament has considered well. As has been mentioned, it has shown some give and take on both sides of the Parliament. The Committee is to be commended. But I cannot commend or support the Government on some of the amendments that are in this Bill, particularly on funding and declaration of donations. I have outlined some of the dangers of those amendments. I believe that the motives that have prompted the Government to put them forward are not to be commended.