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Wednesday, 9 October 1996
Page: 3751

Senator BROWN(9.46 a.m.) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard .

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This bill is about the right of all Australians to speak freely and inform others of their political and electoral choices. It repeals section 329A of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, under which it is an offence to advocate a method of voting which is in fact legal, formal and legitimate.

Section 329A was controversial when it was introduced in December 1992 and has become more so with each subsequent election.

In 1996 we had the spectacle of Albert Langer being imprisoned for 10 weeks for contempt of court because he refused to stop advocating a perfectly legal form of voting. Amnesty International described him as Australia's first prisoner of conscience for over 20 years. The now Prime Minister Mr Howard described s.329A as a `silly law' and `an unacceptable infringement of the right to free speech' (letter to Mr Ken Partridge, Launceston, 28 February 1996).

I promised during the election campaign that one of my first actions, if elected, would be a move to repeal this law. This bill fulfils that commitment.

I want to emphasise that my concern is with free speech. I am not supporting or endorsing the form of optional preferential voting that is permitted under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

The Greens believe that proportional representation is the fairest and most democratic voting system, and that the national parliament should follow Tasmania and the ACT, not to mention most European countries and New Zealand, by adopting it. Under the current system of voting for the House of Representatives, half the electorate will end up with a member that they didn't vote for or to whom they are actively opposed. Proportional representation with multi-member electorates enables everyone to be represented by at least one member who reflects view similar to their own. I have already flagged that I will be proposing amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act to introduce proportional representation.

In the meantime, I urge senators to remove this impediment to free speech by repealing s.329A of the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

Debate (on motion by Senator Panizza) adjourned.