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Thursday, 19 August 1993
Page: 307


Senator COULTER (1.20 p.m.) —In recent days, and in the more distant past, we have heard in this chamber the words `mandate', `representation' and `accountability'. There has been a great deal of discussion and comparison between the Senate and the House of Representatives with respect to the way in which legislation is dealt with. As recently as yesterday we heard a great deal of discussion around the motion dealing with the timing of the introduction of bills into the Senate. Many people built arguments around this notion of mandate—what party had a mandate to what—and the idea of accountability back to the public.

  This bears very much on the issue of the form of election which we have for the two Houses. I think most senators, looking dispassionately at the way the Senate operates, would agree that the Senate indeed operates as a house of review and that, since no party has held the numbers in this place to simply slam legislation through on numbers alone, this place has operated as a proper, representative and accountable chamber. With that in mind, I was particularly interested to see the report, in March 1993, by the Proportional Representation Society of Australia in relation to the 1993 elections. The society states:

The elections for Australia's House of Representatives resulted in the ALP and the Coalition each receiving less than 45% of the first preference vote.

Based on that, one can argue that neither the ALP nor the coalition alone have a mandate to do anything. They require an additional vote from somewhere to represent more than 50 per cent of Australians. Its report continues:

The ALP percentage exceeded that of the Coalition by only 0.66 percentage points, yet the ALP's share of the seats exceeded that of the Coalition by 10.20 percentage points.

In other words, the method of election in the House of Representatives resulted in an unfair, excessive proportion of seats in the House of Representatives compared with the number of votes which were actually first preference votes which were cast for the ALP. It is something on which the opposition should give some consideration. The society's report continues:

If the PRSA's recommended Hare-Clark system of multi-member divisions with PR had applied, the ALP would have had 74 seats and the Coalition 72—

a much closer result, which would have been far more reflective of the actual percentage of votes cast for the two groups. The society said that of those 72 seats for the coalition, the Liberals would have 61 seats and the Nationals, 11. They said that the remaining seat would have been taken by an Australian Democrat in South Australia. It further stated:

This would have allowed the ALP Government to continue in office with an absolute majority of seats, but would have ensured that its activities and proposals, and those of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition—

a term which we heard frequently yesterday—

could receive at least the minimum possible scrutiny and questioning by interests other than just the two standard alternators in power.

The society pointed out that, significantly, the one member of the House of Representatives that a proportional representation system would have elected would have been an Australian Democrat from South Australia, and that person would have been elected by virtue of a substantial quota of 66,842 votes of which 41,367 votes were first preference votes for the Australian Democrats.

  By contrast, the present system of election for the House of Representatives elected Mr Ted Mack by virtue of an absolute majority of only 37,542 votes, of which only 27,834 votes were first preference for him. Likewise, Mr Phil Cleary's absolute majority was only 35,218 votes, of which only 20,721 were first preferences for him. I make these few remarks at lunchtime today to point out that the method of election for the House of Representatives is unrepresentative, as shown by those figures and quite contrary to what the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) has disparagingly said of the Senate—that we are unrepresentative swill. I point out again that the Senate is a far more representative chamber, precisely because of the method of election, and that consequently we are the proper parliamentary and democratic house in this parliament.

  I stress those figures to the opposition. If we had had a PR system for election to the House of Representatives, at the last election the opposition would have had 72 seats, compared with 74 seats for Labor. The result would have been a great deal closer and the pressure on this government, which I think everybody in here would agree would be highly desirable, would certainly have been increased. I think the opposition should give serious consideration to the proposal which the Democrats have before this parliament. We have had on our books for a long time the notion that we should go to a system of multi-member electorates with proportional representation.