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Wednesday, 30 November 1983
Page: 3054

Senator HARRADINE(8.02) —The Senate is debating the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 1983, which is the result of an inquiry and report by the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform. First, may I pay tribute to the work of that Committee and its Chairman. The Committee worked very hard during the recess and came down with a report. Although many of us may not agree with some aspect of that report, most of us agree with most aspects of it. The Chairman, Dr Klugman, quite obviously tackled his task with the view that electoral reform should, as far as is possible, reflect the various disparate views of practising politicians as well as other groups and individuals in the community who are most interested in our democratic system of parliament.

Subsequently, a great deal of work has been done by the Special Minister of State (Mr Beazley) and by his officers in preparing the Bill that we are now debating. Much of the debate, of course, has concentrated on some of the perceived defects in this legislation. Because of the time constraints that apply at this time of the year that approach has probably been necessary. One need not repeat in glowing terms the comments of those who support the legislation. Indeed, all of my remarks tonight will relate to some of the defects in the legislation. However, I do not wish that to be interpreted as meaning that I am opposed to the bulk of this legislation and to the many needed reforms that are contained in it.

I want to correct a suggestion that was made by an earlier speaker-I am not sure who it was-that the Senate had not passed motions seeking to establish a joint select committee to look at electoral matters. I can recall that in 1981 in a vote of 28 to 27 in this chamber I made up the twenty-eighth vote in support of a then Opposition motion to have an inquiry into the electoral system . I believed then that such an inquiry was necessary and I am pleased that it has been undertaken. Mind you, I supported the establishment of such a committee on the basis that its terms of reference included not only the question of funding but also the question of free time for the broadcasting of election material on the then Australian Broadcasting Commission. Unfortunately, the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform apparently did not have the time to address itself to those aspects and has sought the authority of the Parliament to consider matters such as that. I will be most interested to see its report on such matters.

My concern about this measure is that it will really entrench the party system in this Parliament, particularly in the Senate, at the expense of Independents. I suppose that in that sense I am the odd man out because I happen to be the only Independent in the Parliament. Senator Hill, who was the last speaker before the suspension of the sitting for dinner, also made that point. I recognise that in our system of government-in the Westminster system, if one likes to call it that-parties are essential. Parties go to the people with platforms, and the people, it is hoped, consider those platforms and make their judgment. It would be a most difficult thing in a democracy to run the Parliament and particularly to run the Government with a bunch of Independents. However, having recognised that, I believe-I would be foolish not to-that there is a place for Independents, at least in the Senate, or if not a place for Independents, a place for independent thought in the Senate. After all, we are a House of review. We are supposed to be a States House. However, I feel that a number of provisions in this legislation are designed to entrench the party system at the expense of the Independents-either those of independent thought or those elected to this place as Independents. I do not say that this has been done deliberately.

Senator Missen, who will follow me in this debate, suggested in the debate on the Representation Bill 1983 that one of his concerns about an increase in the size of the Parliament was that, say, seven or eight years hence, there could be a tied situation in this place, with perhaps an Independent holding the balance of power. I do not know whether that would be good or bad for the country. Such a situation might be a bit difficult for the Independent. I do not suggest that Senator Missen's support or opposition-I am not sure what he intends to do in regard to this legislation-will be determined by the point that he made when speaking on the Representation Bill. Nor do I suggest, far from it, that the inquiry did propose the measures I will refer to in order to disadvantage Independents.

Let me just deal with those matters, as I think they ought to be dealt with. I think that the areas in the Bill which will disadvantage Independents, particularly in the Senate, are those provisions dealing with the list system of voting, with putting the names of parties on the ballot paper and those provisions of the legislation which deal with funding and the amount of deposit required. I will speak briefly and calmly on this matter and situate my remarks against my recognition of the fact that there need to be parties and there needs to be some balance when discussing the matter. I will deal first of all with the list system. Honourable senators will know that in the appendices to the Bill, part of Schedule 1 outlines the new ballot paper with which every elector will be presented if this Bill becomes law. That new ballot paper provides for either a list system of voting or the system which has been traditionally used. To explain the list system of voting, it is a system whereby a voter simply registers a tick in a box which has underneath it the name of a political party. That is all that the voter needs to do.

Senator Crowley —That is not how it is done in South Australia.

Senator HARRADINE —That may not be how it is done in South Australia, but that is how it is proposed to be done here.

Senator Crowley —No. The parties will be bracketed; the names will be listed.

Senator HARRADINE —I am talking about the list system. Of course the names will be listed if the electors choose to vote in the way which they have done from Federation until now, but the first option will be-I am sure that the party propaganda will be designed to ensure this-that the voter will simply mark a tick in the box above the words 'ALP', 'Liberal Party', 'National Party' or ' Australian Democrats', and that vote will be deemed to be a vote strictly in accordance with the preferences shown on the party how to vote card, as it was registered with the Australian Electoral Commission. Nobody around here will deny that 80 or 90 per cent of people will do that. Instead of marking 27 figures on the ballot paper, they will go in to the polling booth and mark one. They will go back to the pub, to the races or home, and that will be the end of that. What will the result of that system be for Independents? Obviously, judging by the figures from the last election, it will not affect me because I got a quota in my own right.

Senator Kilgariff —Was it not about 1.9 of a quota?

Senator HARRADINE —It was 1.9 or whatever, but voters change; perhaps people even change, and I may not get that quota on the next occasion. That is not particularly worrying me. I am genuinely concerned about the possibility of other Independents or people of independent mind being elected to this House of review. What the list system does is plug the party leaks.

Senator Crowley —It reduces the informal vote.

Senator HARRADINE —Senator Crowley says that it reduces the informal vote. If honourable senators are worried about the question of invalid voting, another option could have been considered, and I believe it was considered; that is, optional preferential voting. I believe that the list system locks the voter into following the how to vote card which the party executive has decided upon. That also would have a very significant effect on persons of independent mind within the parties, because such persons will be aware that about 80 per cent of the people will use the list system and they will be locked in. They can appeal over the heads of the party system to try to get a higher preference vote, but they would have little success.

I feel also that naming the parties on the ballot paper is not really appropriate in regard to Senate or House of Representatives elections. However, the Bill will go through, and I suppose there is always the possibility of utilising the provisions of the Bill to ensure that one can obtain a group. I have been able to obtain a group over some years, in the group system, and I have not had my name on the list of names at the end of the ballot paper. I am just wondering whether I can go out and campaign as an Independent, because there is a provision in the Bill which says that if one wants to become part of a group and be placed on the ballot paper in the group so as to take advantage of that system, one cannot use the word 'Independent'. I can understand the Liberal Party, the National Party and the Labor Party being concerned about somebody using the words 'Independent Labor', 'Independent Liberal' and so forth , but it does place me in a slightly awkward position. Nevertheless, I am not overfussed about that, and a lot of water will flow under the bridge between now and 1988.

Senator Robert Ray —1990?

Senator HARRADINE —1990 or whenever. We can overcome that question in one way or another, but the question of funding is one which really entrenches the party system. The proposition of funding of political parties has been put up to keep everyone honest. I can understand that argument if one is talking about disclosure. I cannot quite see the argument if one is talking about political funding. If one is talking about disclosure, and I am not against the proposition on disclosure, everyone will know who has contributed to the funds of the parties or the individual candidates, and that is quite open. I do not see why in the legislation a party does not have to declare or disclose a donation of less than $1,000. An individual candidate has to disclose amounts of less than $200. Some have spoken before about people having their price of $10, 000. Why is it that the amount is $1,000? Does it mean that the price is $1,001 for a vote? I suggest that we ought to be saying: 'Let us have a complete disclosure of donations to political parties or individual candidates. Let us not have any arbitrary limit as to when the disclosure should start and when it should finish. Let all donations be disclosed'. I would be quite happy with the proposition.

Briefly, I turn to the question of the deposit. The Government proposes to increase the deposit paid by a candidate in a Senate election from $200 to $500. I can tell honourable senators that that will really concern me and probably, if anybody wants to run on a ticket with me, as has occurred before, it will also concern that person. It is all very well for me. I could go along to the Commonwealth Bank and ask for an overdraft. The bank would have no worries about giving me an overdraft. It would be no skin off the bank's nose. If I won the seat I would have a fat salary to pay back the loan over the next six years and, if I lost, the bank would get half my superannuation. It would be good business. But what about a person starting off as an Independent? I believe $500 is a bit rough. I acknowledge that there are arguments to support an increase in the deposit. Those arguments are designed to keep out the nuisance candidates. Who is to say who is a nuisance and who is not a nuisance? If the Government were minded to establish the list system or the optional preferential system it would overcome the problem of the nuisance candidates.

As time is going on, I mention a couple of minor points, which are major points to me. One of the big problems with this funding aspect is that it does not include all the support from public sources that candidates and parties receive. If all public funds were in the barrel it would be a different question, but they are not all in the barrel. Honourable senators know as well as I do that a great amount of public money is utilised by the major parties in particular in their election campaigns I refer, of course, to the VIP fleet for the Government and the Leader of the Opposition, all the apparatus, including staff. In addition, an enormous amount of public money is expended per the medium of free time on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. I had a very bad experience with the ABC in respect of the question of free time. In the election previous to the last election, I received 21.4 per cent of the vote in my State. I am not criticising the Australian Democrats, because they are welcome to what they get, but the Democrats in my State received, I think, 4 per cent of the vote in the 1980 election. They received something like 10 times the amount of free time on the ABC in my State than I did. From memory, I received five minutes.

I believe that is something we ought to be considering in this legislation. If we are to have public funding, let us put all public funding into the barrel and see who gets what. As I mentioned, I really do not think that public funding will overcome the problem which it was devised to overcome, that is, the problem of parliamentarians being bought. Australia seems to be remarkably free from that sort of situation. Somebody said 'Let us make sure that we are kept free of that situation; let us not have a Watergate-type situation before we have to do something about it'. As I said, the disclosure provisions could very well overcome that problem. I would be happy to see the Bill amended to ensure that every single dollar donated to a party or a candidate is put in a register.

I now turn to the hours of polling. I feel that reducing the hours of polling from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. could very well deny some people the opportunity to vote. Of course, there are provisions for postal and absentee balloting. Mr Deputy President, I refer you to what seems to be in a number of States the practice of the retail industry to operate all day on Saturdays. Shop assistants work in the stores from 8.30 or 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. When will they vote? That is something we ought to consider when we come to the Committee stage. I just raise the matter. I have not done any study of it. Maybe the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes) will give that some consideration. I just mention it as a possible problem.

Another problem I wish to mention for consideration is the establishment of the Australian Electoral Commission, which is dealt with in clause 7 of the Bill. It will consist of a Chairman, the Electoral Commissioner and one other member. The clause states:

The Chairman and the non-judicial appointee shall be appointed by the Governor- General and shall hold office on a part-time basis.

I wonder whether those appointments will be totally independent. Perhaps there should be some parliamentary consultation about those appointments. The clause continues:

The person appointed as Chairman shall be a person whose name is included in a list of the names of 3 eligible Judges submitted to the Governor-General for the purposes of this section by the Chief Judge.

I would be interested to know why there should be a panel of three judges presented to the Government for that purpose. I would also like to know whether the decisions of the Electoral Commission in respect of redistributions and other matters will be able to be the subject of open debate in the Federal Parliament. I feel that, in the interests of open democracy, it is important that its reports on any matters should be the subject if not for determination in the Federal Parliament certainly the subject of debate in the Federal Parliament.

I conclude by repeating what I said at the outset. I congratulate the Committee and its Chairman, Dr Klugman, on doing a very worthwhile job. I also congratulate the Minister, Mr Beazley, and his officers for preparing, quite quickly, what must have been a most difficult Bill to prepare. I do not want any honourable senators to take what I have said to be total objection to the Bill. Far from it. I support the general thrust of the Bill but I had, by reason of the time, to concentrate on some of the defects that I saw in the Bill. I will be supporting the Bill and will vote for the second reading. I will vote for appropriate amendments in the Committee stage to remedy some of the defects that I have observed in the legislation. (Quorum formed)