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Thursday, 28 November 1974
Page: 2931

Senator MISSEN (Victoria) -Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise to support the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Withers) in what is, as I think many of us will say, a regrettable but necessary course of having to vote against the Bill in total. It is a Bill which, as has been pointed out, is not dealing with one major issue, it is dealing with 34 major alterations to the Electoral system. It constitutes a Pandora's box of various gifts that are to be given to the Australian people. No one has any idea of what will flow out of that box if it is opened.

Many of us have the view that in this Bill there are ideas which have attraction and which promise some improvement to the electoral system. But it is quite clear that the carrying out of those ideas has not been well thought out. It is clear also that very little information has been given to members of the Parliament as to the reasons why the various amendments have been put forward. Where is the background material? What investigation has been conducted as to the way in which the various reforms will operate?

A short time ago Senator McAuliffe pointed out that the systems of voting used in the caucus of the Australian Labor Party are under challenge. Apparently there has been a strong challenge to the electoral system used merely inside that political party. It seems strange to me that a Party which has such vigorous challenge going on inside it as to its own internal electoral systems should feel the certainty that it has in preparing the system it now puts before the Parliament without consultation with the other parties, the means of operating the whole electoral system in this country.

Senator Withershas already pointed out the time factor insofar as this Bill is concerned. It has been in existence for only a very short period, unfortunately. It was in the House of Representatives for something like 10 days or so during which debate was permitted on it for 3 hours. Although the Bill provides for something like 34 major alterations, the House of Representatives did not go into Committee to examine it. The Bill, including those 34 suggestions, was railroaded through the House of Representatives. Common sense does not suggest to us that it could be possible that all members of the Australian Labor Party are in complete agreement with all of the 34 proposals. We have had this Bill before us for a couple of days or so.

It has been pointed out that all the political parties in this Parliament have organisations in the States with which consultation on the various details of this Bill would be necessary. Surely the parliamentary parties should not be expected to ignore the advice, consideration and experience of the party organisations in the various fields of action and make decisions on this Bill, but that is what we are expected to do in connection with this Bill. It is for those reasons, among others, that we must regrettably vote to reject the whole of the Bill. I am sure that rejection of the whole of the Bill, if that should happen, would not be the end to this whole matter. It may be that there will then be a turning towards consideration on the basis put forward by the Opposition in both Houses, that is, that a committee comprised of members of all political parties in both Houses of the Parliament should consider not necessarily in the public forum but in a non-political atmosphere the merits and demerits of the proposal.

There are, as I have said, some difficult propositions contained in the Bill. There are, for example, difficulties of implementation. Let us take the idea which I think has a lot of attraction, that party names should be registered and that party affiliations should be shown on the ballot paper. I have no doubt that there is very considerable public interest in this idea. It is my personal opinion that it would save a great deal of confusion and a great deal of informal voting. But when one looks at the details of the proposals put forward one sees that extraordinary powers are sought to be given to the Chief Electoral Officer. He can accept a name or he can reject it if, in his opinion, it is an unsatisfactory name. I think that a great deal of excessive power is sought to be left with the Chief Electoral Officer without any power of appeal being provided in relation to the determination of the names of parties.

Another proposal is the provision for the registration of parties, which requires a party to nominate candidates in something like 25 per cent of the electoral divisions in a State before it can be requested. That is a very arbitrary figure. A party which may be of significance in the country as a whole may be much stronger in one State than in another. Therefore why has it been decided that 25 per cent has to be the figure in a particular State for a party to obtain registration? I cite those as problems- the idea may be goodthat could arise in the execution of an idea like this.

Senator Webster - Do you not find, though, that in so many things ideas which originally sound good can become disastrous? The one that you have mentioned would stop all small parties from getting off the ground.

Senator MISSEN -Perhaps I am being a little more generous in saying that the ideas may be good. The result might not be disastrous. There is a point of view, of course, that small parties have a right to exist just as individuals have a right to stand for Parliament in their own right. There is no reason in the world why a Parliament which consists of a number of major parties should introduce legislation which denies to other parties the opportunity to obtain public support, if they can, by building up their strength and entering the Parliament.

I wish to give one more example on this aspect of the difficulty of implementation. There is a widely held view that deposits lodged are too low and that, with inflation, there is a case for increasing them. That being so, what is the specific reason for increasing the deposit of a Senate candidate by 5 times- from $200 to $1,000- and of a candidate for the House of Representatives by only 2lA times- from $ 100 to $250? I do not understand the logic of that. It is certainly not explained in the accompanying notes. We are merely told that that is the amount required to be lodged. I think that there is a lot to be said for the counter argument that this is not the way in which to deprive people of the opportunity to stand for, say, the Senate. If in the eyes of many people there are too many candidates standing for the Senate the idea of using the power of the purse to deny such persons the opportunity of putting themselves before the public is not the most desirable way of overcoming that problem. It may be better to require such a person to have more electors sign his nomination or to follow some other course of action. We should not necessarily use the power of the purse to deprive him of the opportunity of standing for the Parliament.

Another matter which has been mentioned is the provision in the Bill for the introduction of an optional preferential system of voting. That is a matter to which one would expect considerable consideration to be given. I have made a great deal of investigation of this matter and have views on it. I must say that the more I have looked at it the more I have realised there is better available evidence of the actual effect of the system. One must make judgments on these proposals and there is very little way of judging exactly what will be the effect of the introduction of an important reform like that. It ought to be a matter which is considered very thoroughly by a committee of the Parliament. The Committee could call in the experts in the electoral field and work out what should be the result?

In the course of the debate in the House of Representatives suggestions were put forward by Mr Wilson and Mr Giles, both South Australians, on a system of simplified preferential voting which they suggested might be a much more effective way of changing the system. It retains the preferential system but it enables a person to vote for one person- for the Liberal Party, Country Party or Labor Party man that he chooses- and, because the preferences of the parties have been registered, that one vote will bring with it the total preferential scale of the parties. Thus they suggest that there would be much less informal voting as a person would vote only once. But if a person wanted to vote in a different way- in a different order of preference -he could write out his preferences on his ballot paper. I think that this system may have merit. It is an idea which should be investigated thoroughly.

There is a lot to be said for the registration of how-to-vote cards. Those who have been active in electoral matters over many years know that every now and then there is some sort of attempt at fraud and some effort to try to fake howtovote cards in the interests of a particular candidate. I think that there is a lot of merit in the registration of the how-to-vote cards of candidates.

As I have said, there is a lot of merit in investigating this simplified form of preferential voting which Messrs Giles and Wilson have put forward, but there is no suggestion in this Bill of investigation of any other scheme.

When one looks at the second reading speech of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) on this fairly important matter one sees that one page has been devoted to this proposal and that no real argument or evidence has been advanced in support of the proposal. Consequently it is not surprising that members of this Parliament who are concerned about the fairly high rate of informal voting. They realise that every effort ought to be made in this community to ensure that people do not get disbarred by mere accident or mere inability to count, and they are often confused as to what is the best system to achieve the result which is sought.

I repeat that this is obviously another matter on which there ought to be an investigation conducted by- I was about to say impartial- a committee comprised of people of all parties. They would have their own interests, which they would serve. They would also be there to look at the evidence. From this could come agreed areas where reforms were necessary.

I will take the risk of mentioning two or three matters in this Bill which could be called agreed areas and which seem to me, purely personally, would have a considerable amount of merit if they were on their own. The proposal to prevent candidates changing their names so that they can obtain a better place on the ballot paper and sometimes cause confusion with some other popular candidate is, I think, a matter of merit. There is also the idea that there should be a draw for positions on the ballot paper. It seems to me that the time has long since gone when we in this country ought to be considering that whether one's name states with 'Z' or' A' should not matter in the electoral process. Why on earth should not the same system apply to candidates for House of Representatives elections as applies to candidates for Senate elections? Why should there not be a draw for positions? It seems to me that there is a lot of merit in that proposal.

Senator Webster - What do you think of the circular card idea?

Senator MISSEN - I have heard of the circular card for some years. I think that circular cards might be rather difficult for the workers in the field. I think it has some merit in theory, but it would be very difficult to operate. I do not dismiss the idea. It is one of the ideas that ought to be looked at by a committee.

Senator Devitt - Would not counting and identification be very difficult with a circular card?

Senator MISSEN - I think that might be so, because some names would be upside down. I think there could be a lot of incidental difficulties.

The third suggestion in this Bill that is worthy of consideration- there are more than three- is the change to 6 p.m. closing of the polls, which operates in Queensland at present. I know that again one must consider the people, including the strict Jewish community which would not be able to vote, and whether it would be adequate for them to record a postal vote. Many of the people who have worked for the Liberal Party, the Labor Party and the Country Party over the years have worked at the polling booths until 8 p.m. One wonders whether it is necessary in these days for the polls to be open quite as long.

I cite these examples as some of the many excellent ideas in this Bill. Some of the ideas are not necessarily well drafted, and they would not necessarily be free of embarrassment for all parties.

I believe the Government is to be condemned for the way in which it has introduced a Bill on a very serious and very important matter which is of great concern to the people. Perhaps it has done so and forced the matter along in this way for the purpose of setting up the first leg of a double dissolution situation hoping that this may appeal to the people if a double dissolution should come about. If this is the reason, it is an unworthy reason. I suggest that the Government ought to take notice of what can effectively be done in this Parliament by joint committees comprised of members of different parties. The Government should withdraw this Bill. It should take a constructive attitude and agree to look at all the alternatives. It should not regard this as a matter for a party but as a matter for democracy and for all members of the Parliament to seek to reach agreement. Therefore, I oppose the second reading of this Bill and regret that it has been forced upon us by the activities of the Government. I urge it, even at this late stage, to think again.

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