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Tuesday, 14 October 1975
Page: 2063

Mr GARLAND (Curtin) -This Bill provides mainly for the registration of political parties and for the political affiliations of candidates to be printed on ballot papers. The provisions of this Bill were part of the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill which was debated in this House last November and again in April of this year. They are part of that package of proposals which the present Australian Labor Party Government is putting forward in an endeavour to improve the political system in its favour. On a number of occasions the Opposition has expressed its objections to the principles that are involved in this Bill. The registration of political parties will mean the setting up of a tremendous structure of regulation, and that is the reason for a good deal of the Opposition's criticism.

It has long been realised by those who are interested in the provision of a better form of political parliamentary representation that the right of an individual citizen to stand as a candidate and to have a fair chance at the poll is important. I realise that the party political system which exists in this country today gives him a minor chance of success. Nevertheless the system is there and who is to say that the present structure of parties will continue forever or even for a long time? The fact is that, as the law stands at present, the electors have the ability to change their representatives frequently, not merely between members of major parties. What this Bill would do would be to make it harder for the individual to be elected and to make things more difficult for all parties other than the Australian Labor Party. That is the reason for the presentation of this item in the package of proposals that has been put forward.

It is the same motive which has led the Government to endeavour to change the electoral boundaries very much in its favour and to endeavour to make many changes to the electoral laws from which only the present Government can benefit. In the 6 second reading speeches of the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) and in other speeches in this place he has endeavoured to justify the situation on what he calls non-partisan grounds. But the abuse contained in those speeches and his general demeanour and attitude on this subject are enough to convince everybody on this side of the House that that argument is not a genuine one.

I will not try to cover all the provisions of the Bill because they are complex and, with the Government's objective in mind, somewhat legalistic, but I will mention briefly the principles that are involved. A party will have to register its name. Perhaps on the surface that sounds simple enough but of course we all know of cases- there are a number of cases- of people registering names intended to be confused with the names of existing political parties. The Labor Party is perhaps least likely to suffer electoral consequences from that and therefore it is a very good idea for the Government to add to the problems of others. Legal action has been taken on the matter. In the main those efforts have been unsuccessful in our present situation. But what is intended here is to set up incredibly complex machinery in which the appeal is not to the courts but to the Chief Australian Electoral Officer- in other words, an officer in the employ of the Government. In spite of the relatively recent independence of that position, it is clearly not the right avenue. The avenue, if needed, should be through the courts. They alone have the aura of impartiality which would allow the people to see true independence. As is often said, it is not a question of being impartial but of having the appearance of impartiality.

If the well known political parties have their names on the ballot paper, irrespective of the relationship of those parties to one another, that must have an adverse effect on an individual putting forward his name. As I have said, the Bill encourages confusion by allowing names and party names to be put forward that are intended to be confusing. We all know of people who have changed their names by deed poll in order to be placed on top of the ballot paper or in order to cause confusion or otherwise gain advantage. We have known of people registering names under the various State Acts or promoting names which are intended to be similar to the names of other parties. I have mentioned the -appeals system. Fancy in the height of an election with all the pressure and the difficulties which exist the

Chief Electoral Officer adjudicating on a group promoting a name which can be confusing with the name of another political party. In the opinion of the Opposition Parties this proposal is quite improper and of course we oppose it.

We have put a view also about the qualification provisions. There is all this paraphernalia. Under this Bill there is to be a register called the Register of Names of Political Parties. One may have a party registered only if there is a certain amount of support in the electorate. For instance, in the case of a general election for the House of Representatives the number of candidates endorsed by a party must not be less than onequarter of the number of divisions in the relevant State- that means the number of electorates in a State. In the case of a Senate election the number of candidates endorsed by a party is to be not less than one-quarter of the number of senators to be elected for that State. In other words, this proposal is weighted very heavily in favour of the status quo and that is clearly damaging to the right to which I referred of individuals to stand for election and to have a fair chance. It is surely worth preserving, even by the big parties, the principle that the opportunity of the individual counts for something. After all, when such a person is elected it is usually for an important political reason and the consequences of such elections have been important ones in Australia's history. The proposal in this Bill that there needs to be a qualification of numbers before registration of a party can take place is obviously unfair.

I have mentioned that there is to be a register of the names of political parties. This again only shows the propensity of the Labor Party to try to regulate everything. It is mad about moving motions, about having a large number of Bills enacted and regulations passed. The Labor Party exaggerates the need. It cannot leave things alone. It sees some advantage in this proposal and that joins with this propensity to legislate. So we have this quite complex Bill which if passed could result in creating a great number of anomalies and would very likely support the ambitions of the Labor Party.

The Bill sets out that the Chief Electoral Officer shall register the name of political parties, other particulars including the address, etc. I can imagine how many etceteras there would be. The Bill says that the Chief Electoral Officer 'may refuse an application for the registration'. So he will have to come into the political process. He will be able to say: 'No, you cannot have the name that you have set about promoting in order to put a political point of view or a set of principles. I may refuse it because the law says so'.

The Bill says that he has to give the leader of the party a statement setting out reasons for the refusal. I am afraid that is very little safeguard when we see the sort of reasons that are produced in this House by the Government for refusing things and indeed for promoting things. The fact of the matter is of course that anybody who puts his mind to it can write on a subject 50 or 100 words which may or may not say anything, depending on the motive of the person who writes them, but surely the officer responsible for the conduct of elections should not have to come into this and make a decision which is part of the political process. That surely is anathema to what should be achieved and I believe in the main has been achieved in our political process in this country.

As one goes through this Bill one gets deeper and deeper into a quagmire of provisions. The Bill proposes that during the period of 3 months after the commencement of Part IXA certain applications to register the name of a party must be refused. That is an attempt, I suppose, to achieve the objective I referred to earlier, that is, the confusion that can come about, some of it deliberate though some of it may not be intended to be confusing. Nevertheless, the proposal does not adequately cover every situation. Indeed it would be just inviting the creation of a situation in which those who want to manipulate the political process- there is a small minority who are interested in doing that- could have a field day. Clause 58M provides that a party is not to have more than one registered name. I suppose that would be necessary because of the objective that is sought by the proposal to have the name of a party printed on the ballot paper, but it may well be unfair to the party. If a party wants to have a different name in each State or some variation why should it not be allowed to do so? I know that the Labor Party does not want this. No doubt this proposal would put it into another advantageous position, but there is nothing Godgiven about that sort of uniformity. There is nothing about it that should entitle somebody to have an advantage and a legal advantage as is provided in this Bill.

One could go on picking up these points and the dangers that exist in this legislation which simply is not necessary- just is not necessary, like so much of the legislation that is proposed in this place and so much of which has been rejected by the Senate. And thank goodness for that; otherwise we would have an enormous amount of highly complex and in many cases vague legislation on the statute book that more and more we would be trying to unravel. Let me refer very briefly to one illustration of the confusion to which I referred. There was an attempt by a group some little time ago to promote a party known as the Liberal Reform Group. That resulted in some legal action and it was a messy situation.

Mr Duthie - You certainly needed it.

Mr GARLAND - Of course it was intended to be confusing, as the honourable member is. The point is that that was designed to make people believe that it was the Liberal Party. It was dealt with, I believe satisfactorily. A certain amount of attention was drawn to it in a political way. Some action was taken through the courts. The matter was resolved. That instance demonstrates that there is no need for this complex machinery which is open to a lot of other abuse. As so often happens with radical approaches- I hope I have given that word in its correct meaning- there are consequences which are not fully recognised or perhaps in the haste and desire to make changes one does not care whether they have adverse consequences, but the Opposition believes this Bill would create far more damage than it is worth and for that reason it strongly opposes this Bill and the principles which are embodied in it.

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