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Thursday, 28 November 1974
Page: 2940

Senator WILLESEE (Western AustraliaMinister for Foreign Affairs) - It has been a rather unusual debate. At first we were confronted with a closed mind from the Opposition when Senator Withers announced that the Opposition would not let this Bill go to the Committee stage. Of course, the Bill did not go to the Committee stage in the House of Representatives either, although if the Opposition had wanted it to it could have. Then in the next breath the Opposition here says that it wants a committee set up to talk about this Bill. But it refuses to use the provisions of the Parliament to carry the Bill to the Committee stage in order, as Senator Hall pointed out, to agree with the things it found acceptable and to amend the others. Senator Scott said that he agreed with a tremendous lot of the provisions in the Bill and that there were only a couple of them besides which he would put crosses and only a couple beside which he would put query marks. Here is an ideal situation for a Committee debate and an ideal opportunity, because of the state of the numbers in this place, to agree with those provisions that are acceptable and to amend those that are not. Then the House of Representatives, whether it liked it or not, would have the Bill again placed before it and that House would have to do something about the amendments.

But the Opposition has said that it does not want to go into Committee but wants some other form of committee set up to look into it. If the Opposition is sincere in this attitude- I do not know whether it is or not and I do not like questioning people's sincerity- it seems to me that it is rather muddled in its thinking. On the question of full preferential voting and all the rest of it what the Opposition has been doing in the second reading debate on this Bill has virtually been conducting a Committee debate. I do not want to get dragged into discussing what was said because I would then be making the same mistake of going into a Committee debate, but Senator Wood took an over-simplistic approach when he said that the full preferential system is the perfect system because if the first candidate is not elected he then looks to preferences from the second candidate assuming he is not elected and so on down the list of candidates.

This in theory is right but it is right only if there is something else available besides a full preferential vote, and that is full knowledge of the people for whom one is voting. This may work in any small body of people but it may be that it would not work in respect of the bigger political parties where the numbers would be too many. In a small political party or in a small committee consisting of, say, 25 people, these people probably have worked with one another over a long period of time. If three or four of them are seeking a position within the organisation one is able, because of a knowledge of them, to judge the order in which one should vote for them. But in the last Senate ballot how many candidates did we have in New South Wales? I think there were 78 candidates or something like that.

Senator Scott - Seventy-three.

Senator WILLESEE -They are people the electors have never seen before and therefore it is impossible for them to judge the worth of each candidate. Yet the electors are bound to vote for each of the 73 candidates. That is an exaggerated position; it has happened only once. It is not uncommon to have 15 candidates or 28 candidates. It is obvious, because of the results of elections over the years, that if the full preferential system is to be effective the voting public must have full knowledge of the candidates. The voting public cannot possibly have full knowledge, even with the advent of television, in elections in Australia today. The Opposition could have amended our suggestion if it had decided to consider the Bill in the Committee stage. It could have come up with something else.

I understand some people on the Opposition benches would disagree with Senator Hall's proposition of moving towards a party system but would seek to adopt the system that some of the American States have where people say that they want to vote for a particular party and that they do not care who the people are. After all that is the reality of voting, particularly in regard to the Senate in Australia today. Some members of the Opposition would want to move to that system, but Senator Hall would not. It is obvious that this Bill should be considered by the Committee of the Whole. Opposition senators are denying that. They are saying that they want the Bill to be considered by a Senate Committee. What will be the difference in doing that? Senator Baume dealt with the question of voting from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. He said that it was detrimental to religion in Australia. Again this matter could have been dealt with in the Committee stage. It has been acknowledged in the Act that voting from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. could have some difficulties. The voting time of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. could have been amended if the Bill had been debated in Committee. I do not think it is a vital part of the Bill and I do not think the effect of the Bill would be lost if it was amended in that regard.

Senator Baume - You agree that the 2 hours is critical?

Senator WILLESEE - Yes. The Opposition could have amended that time. The amendment may have been accepted. Of course we are not taking out of the Bill the provision for voting before the Saturday. People can still vote before the Saturday. 1 know honourable senators opposite take the view that this is still discrimination because the people do not vote in the normal way. How senators opposite might have suggested that it is a pretty mild sort of discrimination. People would still have their right to vote. Still I take the point that the people might like to go along on the Saturday and vote in the same way as others vote.

I am glad that Senator Hall raised the question of hospitals. Honestly the practice in this regard has been unethical- I will not put it any worse than that; I nearly used a harsher word- over the years. I think it is quite wrong that some parties try to get some sort of 'in' with hospitals, old people's homes and that type of establishment. Quite obviously, when this vote can be discerned, it does not follow in many cases the normal voting pattern throughout the community. One of the things to be done was merely to let electoral officers take over the responsibility. I am sure that is something about which there would have been no argument from anybody. The practice at the moment is just an unethical type of thing. Honourable members opposite are agreeing with the draw for candidates, the restriction on silly names and all these things; yet they take the angle that they will not even let the Bill be read a second time. Honourable senators opposite dealt with the question of speeding up the result of elections. I think Senator Baume stated that it was better to get a correct decision than a quick decision. I agree with that, but on the other hand there is no need to have an unnecessarily slow decision. By not very radical sorts of amendments to the Act there could have been a correct decision and not an unnecessarily slow decision.

In 1972 my Party had a 2-man government. This was brought about because of the way my Party works. As honourable senators know we elect our Cabinet. Therefore we are at a disadvantage compared with members of the Opposition in getting a Cabinet quickly. The Prime Minister of the Opposition Parties chooses his own Cabinet. In 1972 we had a 2-man government, this duumvirate, for some time. We often jokingly say that we are glad the 2 members resigned and gave the rest of us a chance. We thought they might have carried on. We had to have a 2-man government because all our members were not known at that time. We could not ask the old Government to carry on; it had been defeated. We could not form a new government with a full Cabinet. So that bears out that the system is unnecessarily slow. There is no suggestion that we intend to speed up the system to bring about a bad decision or to produce something where somebody is disadvantaged. With modern transport today it is obvious that postal and absentee voting can be speeded up.

Some honourable senators have been saying that they are disappointed that the Bill has come forward in this form. Members of the Opposition say that they had little time in the other place for debate. They could have debated the Bill in the Committee stage, but they did not choose to do so. Honourable senators opposite could have debated the matter in Committee in this place but they chose not to do so.

Senator Missen - They had 3 hours.

Senator WILLESEE -They had 3 hours and members of the Opposition in the other place could have debated the Bill in Committee but they did not do so. They could have had extra time but they did not choose to take it. Honourable senators can have extra time to debate the Bill in the Committee stage here, but they are not choosing to do so. So honourable senators opposite should not blame the Government and say that they are being pushed. Honourable senators opposite had a chance to debate the matter in Committee in both places and have refused to do so. So, to use the words that have been used so frequently today, just as the Opposition is disappointed that we put in an omnibus Bill, I am disappointed that the Opposition is taking the angle that it will not even debate the Bill.

Question put:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

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