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Wednesday, 30 November 1983
Page: 3057

Senator MISSEN(8.34) —I rise to speak to the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill. I do not propose to speak for long on this subject although, of course, the Bill covers a great mass of amendments and alterations to the electoral law. By and large I think it does that task very well. I have already spoken on the report presented by the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform when it came down. The Bill is, to a very large extent, a mirror of the report. In the speech which I made on 19 October, I expressed views about a number of matters that are in the report and which are now in the Bill. I do not propose to repeat those remarks. I believe that the major work to be done on this Bill is to be done in the Committee stage where there are still a number of matters that are controversial and should be examined at length. Therefore, any speech on a Bill like this must be a fragmentary one dealing with only a few aspects that strike an honourable senator as being important in consideration of it.

I believe the Bill contains a great number of useful improvements for a number of citizens. It clarifies a lot of problems which have arisen over a number of years. I think that the Committee which produced the report is to be greatly commended for the enormous work which it did and which it is probably continuing to do on items which have not been completed. I feel that, perhaps, the most important thing about the Bill is the creation of the Australian Electoral Commission. I think it is high time that we took out of the hands of Parliament the responsibility of dealing, in minute detail, with matters such as electoral redistributions and things of that sort. I think it is important that the Commissioner be given that independent status to make his own decisions. I think , unfortunately, the Bill goes a little bit too far. Reference has been made today by Senator Sir John Carrick and others to the fact that Parliament will, apparently, not even consider redistributions or make comments under the proposals in the Bill. It seems that matters such as redistributions should still be exposed to the light of day and Parliament should be entitled to express its views upon redistributions as they come down. But, of course, the final decision ought to be made by the Electoral Commission. I believe that amendments that would restore to the Parliament at least an opportunity to see and to comment on aspects of redistributions would be a preferable option. This has not been taken up in the legislation as it stands before us.

Another major criticism which I make and which I have made previously of the proposals in this Bill relates to the creation and adoption of the list system. A number of honourable senators have expressed their fears about the invalid substitution of a list system. There is also no doubt that, if people are asked to tick a square, most people will do that. That will therefore take away any likelihood that members of the public will make their own judgment because it will be so much easier for them just to vote and tick for the system.

There are more major objections to the proposal than that. What this list system will do is affect the donkey vote. There will be those who happen to be lucky enough to draw a list on the left hand side of the paper and who have registered their preferences. It might be a group of two people who have an interest and who want to stand for election and who have drawn the lucky lottery to be on that end. So instead of the donkey vote, which is something which we rather deplore, being accidentally gained by some party at present, the new system will direct preferences according to the directions of those people who have registered themselves. It may not be a party; it may only be a group of people. They will gather up, if they are on the left hand side of the ballot paper, all the donkey votes. I fear that this will be a disadvantage to our system of election. I think it can be said, therefore, that there is grave defect in the adoption of the list system. This is not a valid way of overcoming the problem of informal voting.

In regard to informal voting, I think the system by which votes are counted up to the stage where someone makes a mistake is a very sound proposal. That will save a lot of votes being declared informal in the future. The result of this system will mean that very often, in the future, some ballot papers will expire and not be used to the whole extent up to the end of voting. The quota will have to be changed for some of the later candidates to be selected in the Senate in particular. That system has some inherent defects. I draw attention-I do not know whether anyone in this Parliament has seen this-to a representation, dated 14 November 1983, made to me by the Proportional Representation Society of Australia. I seek leave to have the letter and the half page of calculations incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

14 November 1983

Senator A. J. Missen,Parliament House,Canberra,A.C.T. 2600

Dear Senator Missen,

I wish to draw your attention to some features of the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 1983 that are unsatisfactory and, in my view, should be amended. I am referring specifically to the clauses that would amend section 135 of the Electoral Act although there are other shortcomings in the Bill, particularly its failure to provide for the use of a quota-preferential method for elections of the House of Representatives.

So far as the proposed new sub-sections of section 135 are concerned, calculation of the quota as proposed in sub-section 135 (7) would lead to unnecessary loss by exhaustion and the preferable procedure would be to divide the number of surplus votes of an elected candidate by the total number of ballot-papers showing first preference for him and a further preference for another continuing candidate. The effect of this would be to leave the papers without a further preference in the quota of the elected candidate and transfer the surplus by means of those papers with further preferences indicated.

The provisions in sub-sections (8), (9) and (10) for the transfer of surpluses of candidates elected with first preferences and other votes received in transfers from previously elected candidates would have the effect of giving equal weight to all ballot-papers of the elected candidate, whether they were received by him as first preferences, with value 1, or as transferred papers with transfer values less than 1, and in some cases, with very small values.

The provision for recalculation of the quota when papers have become exhausted could allow the development of a situation in which there were more quotas than places to be filled. How this could happen is shown in the example enclosed. Obviously, this provision must be changed.

There is also a deficiency in the proposed section 140A. which provides for a second scrutiny of Senate ballot-papers following a double-dissolution election. It would be possible, though unlikely, that a candidate who was not elected in the first scrutiny could be one of those chosen in the second scrutiny. This possibility could be avoided simply by specifying that only those elected in the first scrutiny should be considered as continuing candidates for the second scrutiny.

I understand that the Australian Democrat Senators intend to introduce amendments to the Bill to deal with these problems and I hope that you will support them.

Yours sincerely,

J. F. H. Wright President

Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill

Recalculation of quota according to proposed sub-section 135 (24)

Consider an election to fill seven seats with 3 000 000 formal votes. The quota will be 3 000 000/8 + 1, which is 375 001. Suppose that six vacancies have been filled, one of these by a candidate who has 375 101 first preferences, that is, who has a surplus of 100, and that 50 of the ballot-papers on which he is shown as first preference have become exhausted before the last seat is filled.

The transfer value of each of his 375 101 papers will be 100/375 101, and the value lost through the exhaustion of 50 of these is that fraction x 50. This works out to 0.013 of a vote, which must be disregarded. The six quotas each of 375 001 that have elected the six candidates have taken 2 250 006 of the original votes, leaving 749 994 with the continuing candidates.

The new quota is calculated under sub-section (24) by deducting the number of exhausted papers, ie 50, from the original number of formal papers, 3 000 000, dividing the resulting number, 2 999 950, by 8 and adding one, after discarding the fraction. The new quota is thus 374 994. The votes remaining with the continuing candidates, 749 994, now amount to more than two quotas (749 988) although there is only one remaining vacancy. Clearly, an unacceptable result of this kind is possible even with a very small number of exhausted papers.

Senator MISSEN —Without going into the details of the letter, it suggests that, because of the using up of votes, we may well reach a position, as the Bill is presently phrased, whereby we will come to a last quota for election 10 and have two people who are qualified each obtaining a quota.

Senator Harradine —There is an amendment to cover that.

Senator MISSEN —I hope there is an amendment to cover that because it seems highly necessary to overcome that problem and not to leave it to a matter of chance.

Another matter of which I make short mention is this: I am glad to see that the names and the order of candidates on the ballot paper will be done by lot. This was proposed some years ago. I have a suspicion that, in the course of party discussions on this matter, my praise of this system might well have led partly to it not being supported by my colleagues. Whether that be so, the fact is that I am glad to see that this random element in the selection of ballot positions is to be entered into the legislation. It will not matter whether one's name begins with A or B or if one's name is Zakharov, which is the name being used today as being at the end of the poll, one will have an equal chance with everyone else. Likewise the names of parties on ballot papers is desirable. There is no reason why people should be confused and why they should not know which party a person represents. We know that most people vote very largely according to party preferences.

The reason I am speaking on individual items at the second reading stage rather than at the Committee stage is that an amendment has been moved by the Opposition which would attach certain words to the second reading motion. It would not affect the second reading, but it is an expression of views. I am afraid there are a couple of aspects of it with which I certainly do not agree. I will vote for it because it is the decision of my colleagues that these are their major concerns, and with most of them I agree. One aspect to which there is objection is the registration of parties. I believe that the need for registration of parties applies not only to the list system but also to the putting of the names of parties on the ballot paper. It is desirable, and long overdue, that there be some registration of parties so that people cannot come forward with a name similar to another one and thereby confuse the electors at the time of an election. I have not been able to see the real objection to the registration of parties, except insofar as it may relate to the objection which I take to the use of a list system.

The other matter of importance which has been adverted to by a number of my colleagues today is the public funding provisions. I have no doubt that this will pass tonight and that we will join with most other democratic countries in having a form of public funding. As one who has advocated publicly and privately for many years the desirability of a form of public funding, I cannot see major objection to this. I listened today to a number of my colleagues express objections to it, particularly Senator Sir John Carrick who said that things like this do not make people honest. I agree with that. I would never have thought of that as an argument to be advanced in any serious way for public funding. Of course, if people want to be dishonest, they will be dishonest under whatever system applies. They will find ingenious means of getting round it. I have always felt and still do that there are sounder grounds for having public funding in this country.

I think Senator Hill said that we have generally led the world with our recommendations for electoral reform, but this provision comes from elsewhere. If we have fallen back in our electoral reform zeal over the years, I do not think that is any reason why we should not now follow other countries if their ideas are sound. It is not a very radical proposal when one realises that it is adopted in one form or another in most of the democratic countries of the world.

I believe the really major reason for public funding and why the parties will accept it if it goes through and will accept the moneys-to me there is no problem of principle-is the fact that the costs of elections have grown. I refer to the extent to which television advertisements have dominated election campaigns, the cost of those advertisements and the extent to which therefore wealthy interests can naturally have important dominance in the parties. There are wealthy trade unions on one side and wealthy businessmen on the other, and of course some in different categories. No doubt there were wealthy businessmen who supported the Australian Labor Party in the last campaign. Their influence is too great and their support is too much needed when one considers that very little money is actually brought into party coffers by individual party members. So much of it has to come from business concerns and inevitably, without being a matter of honesty or dishonesty, this must increase the influence which such people have on the direction of a party or the care with which a party might act so as not to offend interests that they know may support the party.

Senator Harradine —That is an argument for a ceiling, though, is it not?

Senator MISSEN —It may be an argument for a ceiling, too. It is also an argument for disclosure. It is also a reason why a proportion of moneys going to parties through public funding gives those parties some form of independence, some partial independence, from the great demands which modern electioneering seems to involve. On that basis, I have always felt that there is a sound case for it. The matter is perhaps somewhat academic because it is fairly clear that this proposal will be in the legislation in the near future.

Leaving the Bill for a moment, one thing that concerned me this afternoon was a reference in the speech which Senator Sibraa made in this chamber to three Liberal Ministers who had been in trouble over election funding or other electoral matters. As I heard him, I understood him to refer to the late Eric Robinson, Senator Withers and Sir Phillip Lynch. To my mind this was a statement in extremely poor taste and certainly not justified by the facts. It perhaps reflects Senator Sibraa's too close association with the New South Wales Labor machine and the influence which it has. Normally he is a man of reasonable common sense. To put the record straight, with relation to the late Eric Robinson, there was some argument brought by another member and some consideration by a royal commission which completely cleared him of any such suggestions. Senator Withers was accidentally picked up in that royal commission as having suggested a name for an electorate and a grossly disproportionate punishment was visited on him. I know that a number of us would have like to have challenged it in the Parliament but the decency of Senator Withers did not allow us to do it. In my opinion it is a gross distortion to talk about them and problems with election funding. The same comment applies to Sir Phillip Lynch. As far as I know, there were no suggestions relating to election funding, although I know that the Opposition did make great efforts to attack Sir Phillip Lynch on other grounds from time to time, with no justification. I am glad to see Senator Sibraa is back in the chamber.

Senator Sibraa —I never mentioned Senator Withers.

Senator MISSEN —You didn't?

Senator Sibraa —No, I mentioned Mr Garland and it concerned postal votes in the Australian Capital Territory. At another time I will say more about that.

Senator MISSEN —He was acquitted also. Well, I got the wrong person. Senator Sibraa was wrongly abusing someone else instead. I am glad he has corrected me if I misheard his use of people's names. The facts stand, but I regret that these sorts of snide allegations were made in the course of this debate which otherwise has been of a high standard.

The Opposition has moved an amendment, part of which acknowledges the value of the Bill in improving efficiency. It deplores certain aspects of the legislation which attack individual freedom and pose a threat to the continuation of a preferential system of voting. With those parts of the amendments I entirely agree. It also suggests that the Opposition is concerned about registration of political parties and public funding and on these matters I do not agree with the amendment. It rightly attacks the list system of voting and the disclosure provisions. Disclosure does justify some criticism. There are great fears that the form of disclosure may well lead to victimisation. I have seen this happen in the past in elections and I fear that this may happen again. We will have to look at it very closely in the future. Although I will vote for the amendment which, if carried, will be annexed to the second reading motion, I have some doubts, as I have said, about two of the proposals in it.

On balance the Bill which the Government has brought forward is one that generally deserves support. Those members who were on the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform have shown a great deal of wisdom in reaching compromises and particular arrangements which I think will lead to a great improvement in our electoral legislation.