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Wednesday, 30 November 1983
Page: 3061

Senator JACK EVANS(8.49) —I wish to join with other senators in congratulating the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform which has done a magnificent job. As a relatively new chum to this chamber I feel that it is appropriate to comment on the need as perceived by people outside the Parliament for electoral reform and the bipartisan approach adopted by this Committee in much of its work. The majority of its recommendations reflect very favourably on the Parliament and particularly on the committee process. Congratulations are also due to the Government for picking up and adopting the majority of the recommendations from the Committee, to the Special Minister of State (Mr Beazley ) for the way in which he has handled the matter, and to his representative in this chamber, the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans), for the acceptance at this early stage of some suggested amendments which it is felt will improve the legislation. The Committee's work is an ongoing process. There is still quite a deal to be done, but if it comes through in the same quality and with the same virtually bipartisan approach as is the case with this Bill, we shall see a much better parliamentary and electoral process as a result.

The first point on which I comment is the removal of the power of the Parliament to interfere with the electoral processes and the electoral redistribution. That is a step in the right direction which is to be commended. It takes away any possibility of interference by this Parliament or by the Government with the redistribution process. It is important that that be done and be seen to be done impartially. The fact that political parties are recognised openly in this legislation is a realistic recognition of a fact of life. It was necessitated, I believe, by the new party funding system, but whatever the reason for it, it is good for it to be there and for everybody to recognise that political parties are a vital part of the electoral and political process.

We will probably never all agree on the design of a ballot paper, but the Government has come up with a very fair and very sensible ballot paper design. The compromise, which gives what will probably be the great majority of voters the opportunity to vote on their Senate ballot paper by just putting a tick alongside the party name to indicate that they want to follow that party's how to vote card, will help many voters, because, let us face it, when scrutineering one recognises that the great majority follow or endeavour to follow a party how to vote card meticulously. I think it is fair to say that the Labor Party voters are even more meticulous in their endeavours to follow the how to vote card than the supporters of any other political party. So maybe there is a mild advantage from the point of view of the Labor Party; but it is a genuine attempt to ensure that we get a higher proportion of valid votes in each election and, in particular, with those sometimes difficult Senate ballot papers which can run into scores of candidates and can be a bind, and which can also be quite upsetting to people who have difficulty, for whatever reason, in coping with that sort of task.

It has already been mentioned but it is worth repeating, that it is a step forward balloting for the positions on the House of Representatives ballot papers rather than using the old alphabetical system. Whilst that will not eliminate the donkey vote, it will at least give a fair opportunity for all candidates for the House of Representatives to benefit from the donkey vote.

I have heard some criticism of the possible disadvantages to a few groups of a 6 p.m. closure. Frankly, I think that the advantages of closing the polling booths two hours earlier will far outweigh the disadvantages. There will be minor inconveniences. Senator Harradine referred to people who may be working through the whole of the period of the balloting process. I guess that those people probably have a lunch hour or will in some way be able to register their votes. If they are not able to do so, if they are absolutely precluded from getting out to a polling booth on election day, they can, of course, make arrangements in advance to record their votes. I do not see this change as an insurmountable difficulty. I see it as an advantage not just for candidates, who will have two hours less in which to sweat it out, but also to those who work as the voluntary scrutineers and the people in the Australian Electoral Office whose responsibility it is at the end of a pretty tough day to set to and start to count the votes. This gets them under way two hours earlier and takes the pressure off them a couple of hours earlier.

The proposal to display group voting tickets on a poster in each polling booth is to be highly commended. The situation that we have imposed in the past on voters and on party helpers and candidate helpers has been an unnecessary hardship brought about by the fact that, first, we have not accepted the legitimacy or the legality of how to vote cards within the polling booth itself, and secondly, we have seemed in this country to portray people recommending a voting sequence as being less than acceptable people, and we keep them at a vast distance from the ballot boxes. We also make life very uncomfortable in some coses for those who are handing out how to vote cards. I am aware of a number of instances in which they have been kept out of the shade on a very hot day simply because the nearest tree or shady wall happened to be a metre inside the limit. The fact that these voting tickets are to be shown inside the polling booth area will help considerably and will also ease a lot of the pressure on political parties and Independant candidates when they are not able to muster enough people to hand out the how to vote cards. At least voters will not go in there unable to find out which party is represented by which candidate.

This is helped even more by the adoption of the practice that the Australian Democrats have implemented for some time of showing on their how to vote card the names of the parties. It is good to see that under this legislation the ballot paper itself will show alongside each candidate's name the name of the political party that that candidate represents, if the candidate is representing a party. I just make the comment as an aside that the Australian Democrats' how to vote cards have proved to be very popular with the thinking voters, with the people who want to work out for themselves how to vote instead of just following a party's how to vote preference system. This is aided when the party's name is shown either on a how to vote card or, even more importantly, on the ballot paper.

I have run out of compliments and I must now make a couple of minor criticisms. There is one deficiency which we hope will be taken up in the future. Perhaps it was asking too much in the short time available to the Committee to take it on board and to go through all the ramifications. The one major deficiency in the Bill is that it does not introduce proportional representation, so that Australia continues with the very lopsided, winner takes all system of having governments elected. Winner takes all follows automatically from a system under which there is a single candidate elected for an electorate and a candidate has to attract only 50 per cent of the vote plus one to win. There is no justice and no fairness in that kind of system. I think most people in Australia are now aware that the newer countries which have been formed since this country was federated and since we have had the single member electorate imposed on us from the turn of the century, have opted for proportional representation.

Let us just be quite clear what is meant by proportional representation. It does not mean we have more members of parliament and it does not mean that we have fewer members of parliament to represent a certain number of constituents. It means that we have the same proportion of members of parliament to represent the number of constituents that we have. What does change is that a group of electorates are banded together and from that group-a suggested number is five- five candidates are elected in proportion to the support that they get from the new enlarged electorate. Now the probability is, as a result of that voting system, that more than 95 per cent of the electors in that new electorate will have a member of parliament with whom they can relate politically, and that is important. At the moment in most electorates if more than 40 per cent of the electors have a problem which they want to refer to their member of parliament, they have to go to a candidate that they voted against, a candidate whom they did not want to represent them in the Parliament, a candidate for whom they had no empathy or sympathy. Under proportional representation that changes and nearly everybody has a member of parliament with whom he or she can relate politically because they have voted with the number '1' for that member of parliament. A bonus follows from that. I believe that probably somewhere around the same number, about 90 per cent in my opinion, would also have a member of parliament which whom they can relate socially.

In other words, it is very probable that there would be both male and female members of parliament elected out of such a system in most electorates. So those people who want to relate or appeal to somebody of the same sex to help them would be able to do so. They would also have someone who would be able to relate to them socially in the other sense in that they would in all probability find that in a larger electorate and with a larger number of members of parliament from whom to choose they would have somebody with whom they could relate from a similar socio-economic group. Once more that is important. Not everybody in Vaucluse is a multi-millionaire and not everybody in some of the run-down suburbs, for instance Redfern, is on unemployment benefits. Therefore, it is not possible for everybody to be able to relate to a single member of parliament from each of those electorates. So I appeal to this Government and to the Minister, who has already done a great job in my view, to look again at the potential for introducing proportional representation to this Parliament and make it in fact a truly democratic and representative Parliament.

I refer to one of the difficulties which are obviously bothering honourable senators in this debate tonight, and that is the proposal for public election funding and for the disclosure of financial support to political parties. There is no question in my mind that both the objective and the result of these measures will be to keep political parties honest and to increase the perception of our constituents that political parties are probably honest. The increased cost is infinitesimal in comparison with the costs that will be incurred due to last night's decision. Two political parties in this chamber, the Labor Party and the National Party-I know it is hard to believe that those two would become political bedfellows-voted together to increase the number of parliamentarians in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. It should go on record that both the Liberal Party and the Australian Democrats voted against that proposal. Now that is going to increase the cost per year of running this Parliament by $9 .3m. The cost of political party funding is a fraction of that. I believe the benefit of political party funding is vitally important to the political process in this country.

I think that the amount going to the respective candidates needs adjusting, and I will talk more about that in the Committee stage. But I think that the fact that public funding is already practised in most countries has the effect of removing the pressure on political parties to accept private funds with a hook attached. That is the reason why I support very strongly the concept of public funding. In my State, if one can believe what one reads about one or two other States of this Commonwealth, the malodour of political party funding, of behind the scenes, closed door deals made between political parties and organisations which need a favour done by that political party in government or in opposition is starting to become frightening. In my State a very bad odour is still hanging around the halls of Parliament as a result of an accusation made by a Liberal member of parliament that another Liberal member of parliament had been approached by the tobacco industry to vote in a certain way on behalf of the tobacco industry in regard to legislation to ban tobacco advertising in that State. Now whether that is true or false I would have no idea, and I do not make an accusation now. My accusation is that the smell is there and that smell will remain until we take away the opportunity for vested interest groups, be they trade unions, industry groups, corporate organisations, overseas organisations or any organisation or for that matter any individual-whether that opportunity is taken-to put unlimited funds into a political party in the hope or the expectation that that party will legislate to benefit the donor. In my opinion that is the most objectionable and most offensive thing about being a politician in this country today. Whether or not one's party is honest, the fact is that some political parties are being accused of accepting that sort of money-it cannot be called a bribe because it is still a legitimate support for the party one wants to support-

Senator Martin —You are talking about a bribe.

Senator JACK EVANS —I am talking about a campaign donation to a political party in the hope that the politicians will run with the bait and in the hope that they will get the message. I am not suggesting and I have never suggested that a politican has taken this money. That was not suggested even in the Western Australian instance when it was politician to politician. It was still a matter of suggesting that the money was going through to the party. As a result of that , the politicians would have pressure put on them because the party would have been able to afford its next campaign a lot more beneficially if it did the right thing by that particular industry. My point is simply that if people perceive that possibility, if they think that is happening, if they know that there is no way of discovering whether there is any link between the money going into the political party campaign fund and the subsequent vote which benefits the donor, if it is all hidden and under the counter, our integrity as politicans deserves to be held in at least some doubt. We have the cure in our own hands. It is in this legislation now before us. We have the ability to legislate to prevent that from happening. I strongly support that part of this legislation.

The one other point I raise on this Bill has to do with the misleading or deceptive publications provision. It is appropriate to read the actual provision -again, this is not directed at any particular senator. I believe in this case that the political party was responsible. The fact that somebody benefitted is coincidental. Under our laws, High Court action by one candidate against another candidate was the only action that could be taken. But the fact still remains that what was considered by many people, including some distinguished Queen's Counsel of this realm, to be grossly misleading advertising in the Press and on television was ruled in effect by the High Court to be not illegal because it did not have any legislation on which it could rule it to be illegal. In other words, until this Bill is passed it is possible to mislead by advertising in the Press and on radio and television for the purposes of winning an election or causing somebody else to lose an election.

I remind a few of the people in Western Australia, who may be listening, of the advertisements and the sword of Damocles that hung over the head of every Western Australian elector as we went into the 1980 election. Strings of misleading figures were given about the Australian Democrats voting in the Senate. The Australian Democrats were portrayed as Labor lackeys. No doubt in the next election we will get exactly the same treatment from the Labor Party which will portray us as Liberal lackeys because neither of them has yet recognised--

Honourable senators interjecting-

Senator JACK EVANS —I am delighted to hear protests from both sides. Both sides complain that we are lackeys of the other, which is pretty sound evidence that we are lackeys of none and that we have allegiance to no political party. We are able to stand on our own feet, to represent our constituents and, frequently, the great majority of Australians who may in elections vote for other parties through some misguided notion they hold as a result of the advertising they were subjected to before that election.

If the misleading advertising provision is carried it will be a great improvement to the existing legislation because the sections that are to be responsible for keeping political parties and candidates honest from here on will be able to be applied in both ways. First, it will be possible for an injunction to be taken out to prevent misleading or deceptive advertising. Secondly, it will be possible for action to be taken. If both sections in fact are contravened, the election can be declared void. I think they are two extremely good measures. One would prevent such nonsense from continuing and the other would provide for ultimate action if the advertising has brought about mass injustice at an election.

I conclude by once more applauding the Committee, the Government, and this Senate for an intelligent and constructive debate on an issue which is sensitive and which is vital not just to ourselves and the continuation of the people and the parties currently in this Parliament, but also to the improvement in goodwill of the whole parliamentary process and the perception of that process by the people whom we represent in this Parliament.