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Thursday, 28 November 1974
Page: 2935

Senator STEELE HALL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - This Bill contains some major items which I would like to see defeated but it also contains, in the words of Senator Missen, many excellent ideas. It is obvious that the Opposition is using every excuse it can find not to deal with the Bill. Nearly every speaker has expressed some support for something or other within the Bill yet the Opposition says, for some mysterious reason, that it cannot accept a package deal. Why it says that, I do not know because it has the capacity to defeat every clause which is not suitably amended to meet its wishes. No convincing argument has been given to the Senate why we should not proceed to examine this Bill, with all its great detail, sorting out principle from detail where necessary, and allowing to pass what both sides of the House obviously agree on. There must be a reason why the Opposition does not wish to do this but it has not stated that reason.

Firstly, I cannot understand why the Opposition adopts this attitude since the last Senate election was held in great controversy about the effect of very long papers on which very many voting details were required. I know that the Party leaders gave their ideas at that time on what ought to be the solution to this greatly extended detail which faced the voters. I think Mr Anthony, the Leader of the Country Party, gave quite a detailed assessment of the views of his Party about the number of preferences that should be required. Any Party that has not formed a view of how to handle Senate voting procedures since the election of 1 8 May is not capable of governing. That is a simple fact of life. Many months have been available to a Party which has chosen shadow Ministers to meet the responsibilities of Ministers of the Government. It is quite ineffectual for the Liberal Party to say that it has not had the time to deal with those matters in relation to which it has already a publicly stated view or which are simple in their procedure and in the manner in which they need to be assessed.

There are some issues which I am sure every honourable senator would support. I intend to vote for the second reading of the Bill in the rather hopeless search for an opportunity to deal with those issues on which I am sure all honourable senators would be in agreement. Although I intend to vote for the second reading of the Bill, this does not mean that I give my support to a number of the issues which 1 think have been fairly well stated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Withers). I do not have a great deal of disagreement with his objections to some of the issues with which he dealt. But it is plain that the Opposition in the main is dealing with objections and refuses to look at those issues on which the Senate would concur. The provision to upgrade the oversight in relation to voting in hospitals is extremely necessary. Following the last federal election, my Party in South Australia had very serious talks with the Commonwealth Electoral Officer in South Australia on the basis of misconduct we believe occurred in electoral voting in the division of Boothby which is now represented by Mr John McLeay. My Party was very dissatisfied indeed with the ethics or lack of ethics exhibited by the South Australian Liberal Party in that division at that election.

In fact, the South Australian Liberal Party was very defective in its approach and incurred the wrath of all smaller parties, including the Australian Country Party, which was bitterly resentful of the way in which it too was treated by the Liberal Party in South Australia. It protested publicly. Our Party sent an official letter of complaint to the Electoral Officer asking him to prosecute the Liberal Party for what we believed was a serious malfunction and breaking of the laws provided under the Electoral Act in South Australia. This was particularly so in relation to the fact that the Liberal Party advertised widely that a vote for any minor party was a vote for the Labor Party. Our Party was not the only party affected; the Country Party was distinctly affected also. I am pleased to see, however, that the Country Party is taking its own electoral action and now intends to fight very heavily for its own federal representation in South Australia. May I say that in relation to those areas which naturally belong to that Party I wish it well, and I will assist it.

Let me return to the point about the breaking of electoral laws. I believe that we certainly need to tighten those laws. If they are amended, especially in relation to voting in hospitals, the standard adopted by the Liberal Party in South Australia during elections will be lifted. Despite the fact that the Liberal Party may have been a chief offender in this regard in my State, I am sure that it would have to support any proposal put to the House which seeks to upgrade the electoral laws.

The use of frivolous names also needs to be controlled. In bringing in his Bill in the lower House the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) illustrated this need by mentioning one or two names that have been used in the past. Certainly one name that was used in previous years was the Happy Birthday Party. The use of that name may have been a rather humorous way of livening an election, but it did not really add to the seriousness of the result. The Stop Asian Immigration Now Party was another name that was used as a device. This practice certainly needs to be controlled because once it is entered into there is no end to the ingenuity that may be used to confuse the electors or simply to reduce the quality of the result that can be obtained by a serious consideration of proper people or proper parties.

I do not support the provisions of the legislation which are concerned with the registration of parties. On this issue, as I understand it, the Bill is built specifically to support a 2-party system in Australia. It is aimed at putting in the hands of the electoral officers and the electoral machinery means by which small parties can be suppressed, and this extends through to the amount of deposit which is required and the registration of names. The registration of a name is not always a simple matter. I remember what happened in 1 973 when the Liberal and Country League in South Australia was going through the convulsion of splitting. It gave prior notice to those of us who now form the Liberal Movement that we would be given an ultimatum as to whether we should get out of the League. Several days beforehand I went to the Companies Office to see about registering a name since we were to be given an ultimatum to get out. I found that the Liberal and Country League in South Australia had, a few days beforehand, registered the name of Liberal Party of Australia- South Australian Division. It was rather ironic that that name was not used for a year. I found also that the League had not registered the name which it had been using since 1932. The name of Liberal and Country League had never been registered up till that time, and I suspect that it has never been registered at all. But the members of the League took the precaution of registering a new name to prevent someone else in South Australia from using it. Good luck to them. They did not worry us. We have our own name. However, it was an interesting finding and it is an illustration of how people can be smart about names. They can perhaps forestall the proper use of names by others.

I believe that is only a small aspect of the general aggregation of electoral muscle given to political parties by the fact that they become officially recognised. We then take the spectacle of democracy out of the hands of the individual and give this power to the type of organisations, of whatever sort- commercial or political- which have been known around the world at particular times to be less than savoury. So I do not believe that we should shift the emphasis from the individual to the organised party in the recognition of the electoral machinery. I think that is a very big mistake and it is one of the major drawbacks of this Bill.

Perhaps 1 should list the items in the Bill of which I approve and for which reason I will support the second reading of the Bill. I support the proposal in relation to voting procedures in hospitals. I support also the control of misuse of obviously frivolous or harmful names. Balloting for names on postal ballots is an essential part of the system in order to remove the search for candidates whose surname begins with a letter as close to 'A' as possible. It is a silly search really because it does not take into account loyalty to the party, service to the community or the quality of a candidate. For a party to choose a person whose name starts with 'A' is demoralising to the political system.

A system of preferential voting for Senate elections is, I think, something to which practically all political leaders have subscribed since the last Senate election. As I have said, I remember one Country Party leader in particular who had a detailed plan to overcome this problem, and it seems that the Government has met it pretty well in its proposals in relation to preferential voting in Senate elections. The adoption of those proposals would be subject to varying opinions, of course, but I could not imagine that any party would not have in the time since 18 May developed an official view which could be put to this debate on this matter. That would not be imaginable.

So we ought to deal with those issues. It is worth giving the Bill a second reading so that we can get to them. They are important. I believe it could easily be said that the big majority of the members of this House would agree with them. Why should we forgo consideration of them because, for some technical political inter-party reason, the Liberal Party does not want to consider this Bill in Committee? That just does not seem to me to be a reasonable proposition. I repeat that the Opposition has the final safeguard. No clause can be passed without its approval. What the Opposition proposes just does not seem to be a decent way in which to deal with an important piece of legislation.

There is one other issue which 1 would like to see attended to, and this could be done during the Committee stage of the Bill. The Bill intends to prohibit members of the new Assemblies in the Territories from standing for Federal Parliament. I think that the Bill is wrong in this regard, having come through this experience recently myself. It did not hurt me personally to resign from a State Parliament and stand for a Federal position. At no time were we as a party fearful of not winning that position. But it does seem to me to be an injustice that a person involved in a State Parliament is unable to offer easily, or at least safely, whatever experience he or she has to the Federal Parliament on behalf of a State. I can see no justification for treating members of State Parliaments in a different way from members of the Public Service or members in any private activity. To me it is an inhibition which is distinctly harmful to a State because it prevents State experience being brought to the Federal scene on behalf of the State. If it does not prevent it, it certainly inhibits it. In a practical sense, it prevents it. I would certainly vote against a clause which attempted to extend that provision to the Territories. I would prefer to leave those people free to serve their Territories, after they have had experience in State assemblies, in this House or in the other place. During the Committee stage of this debate I will certainly move an amendment to try to delete that whole clause. I think we would be doing the States and the country a better service than we might understand.

I believe that the deposits required of candidates are too high. Compared to the deposit paid in the United States and other countries, I think we are going too high. This tends to fall in with the general proposition in this Bill- that it is meant for 2 major parties in Australia. I have received some literature from the Australia Party which I have no doubt other honourable senators have received. I imagine that the Australia Party would have well lobbied the Parliament of Australia. I think it is worth reading a couple of paragraphs of a letter from the National Campaign Director of the Australia Party. In part it states:

In its short-sighted way, the Labor Party has endeavoured to ensure that the deposit requirements are weighted in favour of itself and its largest competitor, the Liberal Party. Under the Bill, the Country Party, DLP, Liberal Movement and Australia Party would all suffer severe financial difficulties compared with those major groupings. While it may suit both the Liberal and Labor Party to conspire - 1 do not charge conspiracy, I am reading this document--

To rig the system in this way, we believe that the interests of Australians demand action to put the case favouring the right of individuals and small groups to seek support from their fellow Australians.

Obviously, the Bill in its weaker sections owes much to a yearning on the part of some Labor Party members for the days when political life was simply a contest between the major parties.

I believe that is the yearning of the Federal Minister in so framing this particular clause.

Senator Missen - They probably regret giving their preferences to the Labor Party.

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