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Wednesday, 27 June 2001
Page: 28768

Mr WAKELIN (7:33 PM) —On 18 June this year I gave my response to the budget in the debate in the Main Committee on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2001-2002. I chose as my theme transparency and independence versus hidden agendas and dependence. I spoke about the previous Labor government's policy on fuel excise and matters like raising the wholesale sales tax without compensation after the 1993 election. To my surprise and dismay, the member for the Northern Territory and a senator from South Australia took umbrage at some of my comments. Therefore, I rise tonight to respond. I believe they are far too sensitive; they protest too much.

On the whole issue of the dependence of Aboriginal people, there are now many within the Aboriginal community questioning the welfare policies that helped create such dependence. The dependence that I was referring to on 18 June in the Main Committee was where the Australian Electoral Commission, the AEC, fill in the ballot papers of many within the Pitjantjatjara lands. In fact, up to 90 per cent of these ballot papers are what is known as assisted votes. There are many questions here, but one serious question is: how does the AEC determine an individual preference? How are the individual preferences marked on the ballot paper? These are serious questions in a democracy, and I will not be intimidated by the Labor Party on this issue.

How is a free, independent and secret vote presented to the ballot box? I am sure the AEC would want to respect this and I am sure that those 90 per cent of voters in much of the Pitjantjatjara lands who are assisted would, over time, want to operate without being assisted. That is my belief. These are not just idle matters that I have plucked out of my mind; these are matters that were raised with the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters some months ago. As I indicated earlier, I think the integrity of our democracy is important. The member for the Northern Territory has a great sensitivity to the subject, and the senator from South Australia was really quite over the top in some of his comments. I say to the Labor Party: please come forward with some better model. Do not just choose personal denigration as the way that you operate, cheaply and shabbily dismissing my genuine comments about a situation where 90 per cent of some communities are assisted in their voting. We have to look at a better way.

I will not be satisfied until there is an acknowledgment and acceptance that we cannot be satisfied until the overwhelming number of Aboriginal people walk into the polling booth and place an unassisted vote in the ballot box. That is what we should be aiming for; in that way, we respect the sanctity and secrecy of the ballot box. That is the important principle. The Labor Party will endeavour to represent that as denying people a vote. That is absolute nonsense because we know that there is an identification process that has been gone through for the receipt of welfare benefits, et cetera. It is not a matter of denying anyone a vote. It is a matter of ensuring that the sanctity of the ballot box is respected.