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Wednesday, 6 June 1984
Page: 2709

Senator MACKLIN(10.16) —I will address my remarks first to the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Bill 1984. Unlike Senator Hill I have the opposite view about the types of amendments that have come forward in this Bill. I often wonder, given the complexity of the laws on elections, how we manage to get Bills put together in one piece. The amendments contained in these Bills are technical amendments. It is a quarter past 10 and undoubtedly many people outside are listening enthralled at the progress of this debate. It is unfortunate that they will not hear the end of it. If they listen to Parliament tomorrow they will hear some other matter being debated in the House of Representatives. At this stage the Australian Democrats will be supporting this Bill but will be seeking at the Committee stage to raise an issue relating to the informal votes for the Senate. We believe that this has been the subject of some excellent work so far by the Joint Committee on Electoral Reform and the Government in its formulation of the amendments which were discussed in this chamber last year.

The referendum Bill deals with a whole host of items. Basically it picks up the changes which the Parliament has agreed to in respect of electoral legislation. When one reads through this Bill one is struck again by the extent of the reforms that have taken place. To our minds there are still some disappointments in the referendum Bill. An amendment which I shall move on behalf of the Australian Democrats at the Committee stage relates to the translation into other languages of the various information which is provided for referenda in Australia. The translation into community languages of these issues is an important recognition of the multicultural nature of Australian society and of the fact that a large number of people, who come to Australia with the best will in the world, still have difficulty grasping the complexity of the arguments which may be involved in referenda. I believe it is very useful for them to have in their native languages information on matters which are so complex. The other matter, which is not the subject matter of this Bill, deals, as Senator Hill has already said, with the matter of funding. I do not propose at this stage to rehearse the whole vitriolic argument that we had last year concerning this, except to say that the Australian Democrats will also move an amendment which will seek to have fair funding of the Yes and No cases.

Senator Crichton-Browne —To both sides?

Senator MACKLIN —The Yes and the No cases happen to be both sides.

Senator Crichton-Browne —Fair for both sides?

Senator MACKLIN —Yes, fair for both sides. It will provide for the printing and distribution of those Yes and No cases but, in addition to that, we also wish to make sure that other bodies, which have been given a statutory requirement under their Acts to engage in activities in relation to the referenda, are also provided with moneys to be able to do that. That refers in particular to the Commonwealth Electoral Commission which has a statutory requirement in relation to this, and also of course to members of parliament and the staff of members of parliament who have a legitimate role in the propagation of information and argument on these matters. They ought to be allowed to expend money in this regard, as should other officers who have a statutory requirement to engage in any activity necessary for the referendum to be put to the people.

We have taken more care in the drawing up of the referendum this time because we believe that it will have to stand as part of the legislation. Therefore, it is more extensive by those additions from the amendment which we had foreshadowed last year but did not move because instead we supported the Opposition amendment. There will obviously be a debate on that issue again because the Government has also foreshadowed that it will discuss an extensive amendment of its own to this legislation on that issue. I think it is probably best to put off until then the debate which will ensue at that time.

I hope, again unlike Senator Hill, that these Bills will not be the last Bills that we will see in these areas. When one looks at the history of the Commonwealth Electoral Act in Australia, one sees that it has been a relatively static document for far too long. We ought to be constantly concerned with refining our electoral processes. The Australian Democrats believe that this goes to the very heart of a democracy and to the very heart of the operation of a parliament and that we ought to be adventuresome in the types of reforms to which we look forward. Indeed, we have suggested an extension in relation to referenda; that it ought not to be simply for the Parliament to propose to the people the questions to be voted on. The people by way of an initiative ought to be able to put questions on the paper for their own deliberation. We feel that that is an advance of the democratic process. As a country with an extremely proud history of reform and far-seeing advances in this area, we have dropped far behind in proposing new and more dynamic ways of involving our citizens in the governance of their country.

The history of Australia in this regard is a proud one. Unfortunately, it is not something that very many of our citizens are aware of. I believe that an understanding of that history should rekindle in us a determination to go further than we have with the very static system we have tended to operate under . We have tended to say that that is it, and no more. We ought to look at further developments. I have just spoken about a development in the referenda area; that is, the notion of initiative. An amendment in the electoral area that the Australian Democrats have constantly argued for is the extension of the method of proportional representation to the House of Representatives. It is a proposition we have argued for in the past. We have not been successful in getting the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party of Australia or the National Party of Australia to adopt it. Interestingly enough, when the previous Labor Government was looking at a method of government for the Australian Capital Territory it chose the method of proportional representation. It is interesting to note that the Labor Party has reformed itself internally in most of the States by using the system of proportional representation.

Senator Tate —Tasmania, the Hare-Clark system.

Senator MACKLIN —Senator Tate has reminded me that the longest running use of proportional representation anywhere in the world is in the State of Tasmania, which has gone further than any country in reforming its electoral methods. Indeed, Tasmania is held up in any text book which deals with electoral matters as an example of a parliament which is willing to innovate and take hold of the obvious solutions to problems as they present themselves.

Senator Gareth Evans —It has not done much for the quality of government down there.

Senator MACKLIN —As I remember, the Australian Labor Party ruled in Tasmania for almost as long as it did in Queensland.

Senator Gareth Evans —QED.

Senator MACKLIN —If that is the Attorney-General's view of the previous Labor Government in Tasmania, I suppose that is why Tasmania is now run by the Liberal Party. The Attorney-General seems to be suggesting that he did not believe in it himself. Proportional representation is, when one looks at it, a method which reflects more truly the nature of the various groupings within the electorate. As a system it is the obvious system that is needed when there is a diversity of opinion. I would have thought that when the Labor Party sought to reform itself and took upon itself to use this method, it did so precisely for that reason. It is an incredibly powerful method of welding together a variety of opinions. Indeed, it is the only electoral method which will enable that to work in a satisfactory manner.

I hope that the debate on this issue will be faced yet again when we look at the suggestions in relation to self-government for the Australian Capital Territory and the electoral method that it will choose in going into that form of government. I believe that if the House of Representatives and the Senate, through the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform, constantly review the electoral matters, Australia can once again move to the forefront in electoral reform and show, unlike many countries round the world, that it is interested in having its own citizens run the country. As I have said on many occasions, every year we lose democracies round the world. In the United Nations count there are now 10 fewer democracies than there were when this Parliament rose at the end of last year. That is a staggering thought to contemplate. That has happened every year for the last five or six years. Democracy is not something which survives simply because it survives; it survives only if it is fought for.

Debate interrupted.