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Friday, 2 December 1983
Page: 3218

Senator MACKLIN(10.56) — by leave-I move:

(29) Page 130, clause 105, after proposed sub-section 135 (15) insert the following sub-section:

'' '(15A) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, where, on the completion of a transfer of votes under this section, the number of continuing candidates is equal to the number of remaining unfilled vacancies, those candidates shall be elected.''.

(30) Page 132, clause 105, lines 28 to 37, leave out proposed sub-section 135 ( 24).

We are into an extremely technical area. The Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform had some very interesting submissions in relation to improving the method of counting Senate ballot papers. I think it might be admitted by everybody that it is a difficult area and therefore one is not surprised to find problems that may occur. Two possible results may arise out of clause 105 as it now stands-that is, too many people could be elected or too few people, depending on the circumstances. We hope that this clause will be subjected to pretty thorough analysis before we get anywhere near the next Senate election. I must admit that I am not at all confident that what we have here will not raise further problems the more we look at it.

I will give an example, particularly in relation to the important sub-section that I wish to leave out, and that is proposed sub-section 135 (24). Unfortunately it is a technical example, but I think when we get to the end of it we will see the result could be devastating if the sub-section were put into practice. If we consider an election to fill seven seats, which we will have at the next half Senate election-if we have one-with three million formal votes, the quota will be 375,001 votes. Suppose six vacancies are filled and that 50 of the ballot papers of one of the candidates-who has 375,101 first preferences, that is, a surplus of 100-on which he has first preference have been exhausted, and we have been through the fact that some votes can now be exhausted, the transfer value of each of his 375,101 papers will then be calculated. If we add the exhausted votes we work out that the figure will be 0.013 of a vote, and that of course under the Commonwealth Electoral Act must be discarded. The six quotas each have 375,001 and six candidates have been elected which means we have got rid of 2,250,006 of the original votes leaving the magic number of 749, 994 votes. When this is actually worked out it means that on the decreasing quota, which is contained in sub-section 135 (24), we would have got to the position that the votes remaining for the continuing candidates-that is the number I have just mentioned-would amount to more than two quotas, although there is only one remaining vacancy.

If people contemplate us getting to that situation we would then presumably have to have a new election because we would then have the very real possibility of two people getting quotas out of the remaining votes left for one position. It is completely unacceptable that even that theoretical position should be contained within the Act. I am working on only 50 exhausted votes, which I believe would be a very small number of votes for the last position. If one started taking them up-do not forget that we are allowing three mistakes-the number of exhausted votes could be much higher and the higher the number gets the more likely is the occurrence, under the decreasing quota, of getting to this very point.

Senator Peter Baume —There are 50 out of 100 surpluses.

Senator MACKLIN —Yes.

Senator Robert Ray —That is a very high number.

Senator MACKLIN —Yes. I have obviously constructed my example to get us to a position in which we could have that. It is a theoretical example and we cannot contain in the Act even the theoretical possibility of having a Senate election declared invalid because of the decrease in quotas. I propose that we eliminate that although I must admit that my preference, in terms of strict public relations, is that we do have it. However, because of other factors in this clause we would run into enormous problems. If we delete sections 24 and 29 and add the effect of that action to section 105, we will get to the end of the counting and have the possibility of not having a remaining quota. That matter is dealt with in the legislation. The person with the highest residual number of votes would be the person who would be elected. That does not seem to be any real problem; it will resolve itself. Probably the only problem with aesthetics is that that person would not get a quota in the same way as the first six would get a quota. However, I do not think that anybody is going to get upset about that particularly if he or she manages to get a seat.

Senator Sibraa —There will be some without a quota.

Senator MACKLIN —A person will not get a quota because there is the possibility of there not being a quota left. That is unlikely but under those circumstances it must always be held to be a theoretical possibility. I believe that that would be a better way to go rather than to leave the theoretical possibility of this having the opposite effect which would declare an election invalid. Going the way I am suggesting will mean that we will not have that invalidity. But I still wish to raise the point about the whole section. I hope we can have a thorough analysis of it before we get anywhere near another Senate election because I am still quite worried that it may contain problems similar to the one I am raising now. In the amount of time that I have had to analyse that section I admit I have not had time to work through other scenarios that may be contained within it. It is very important that we make sure that any Bill that we pass does not contain the seeds of our own destruction.