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Wednesday, 9 November 1983
Page: 2530

Mr WHITE(6.38) —I join other speakers in congratulating members of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform on their report. Of course, the legislation that we are debating now is a result of that report. As other speakers have pointed out, this has been the first serious attempt for many years to draw together some real reforms in our electoral system. I certainly do not agree with some recommendations and aspects of the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 1983. However, I commend the genuine bipartisan attempt which has obviously been made by members of the Committee to come together and put forward some real reforms to help the democratic process in this country. I think it is interesting to those who support the registration of political parties that when we debate this matter on party lines in the House the divisions are more obvious and the bipartisan approach of which members of the Committee have already spoken is split right down the middle. In some ways that is unfortunate. I was somewhat intrigued to read the second reading speech of the Special Minister of State (Mr Beazley). He stated:

We have advanced some distance from the eighteenth century. But, there is still a potential for the corruption of candidates and parties, who just like the politicians of other days, must have money to campaign even if today it does not go on bribes.

It seemed to me that that statement rather implied that this legislation would stop all potential for the corruption of candidates and parties. Of course, no legislation will remove that potential; that will be with us forever, because, as other honourable members have mentioned, if the instinct for corruption is there, no legislation in the world will prevent it.

One aspect of our electoral system should give us all concern. The honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) touched on it before. I refer to the large number of Australians, particularly young Australians, who seem to have completely by-passed their rights under our democratic system. I tend to disagree with the honourable member for Prospect who said he thought this happened for reasons other than lack of political interest. I think that basically it is a lack of political interest. They have become disenchanted with the system. I hope that simplifying and bringing up to date our electoral system will bring back into the process those who have now stepped outside it. I think it is very disappointing that in this country hundreds of thousands of our citizens cannot be bothered to enrol. If I am correct, they have become so disenchanted by the political system that they cannot be bothered enrolling or, if they have enrolled, they cannot be bothered voting. It is a democratic right which has been hard won in years past. I think that the Committee's review of the system will go some way towards encouraging them to come back to the political process.

Mr Deputy Speaker, on the question of public funding, I find I am opposed to the proposals in this legislation. I appreciate the arguments which have been put in favour of public funding: Australians have a right to know who is donating to political parties and many other countries seemed to have survived quite successfully with public funding. I do not find it a particularly strong reason to say that we should do what other countries do. There is no doubt that public funding will allow individuals and smaller parties the chance to put their points of view when they have some funds behind them.

Mr Robert Brown —Do you accept it? Will you accept it?

Mr WHITE —The Party accepts it. I find myself, I suppose, in the position of my friend the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) who a moment ago spoke very strongly against public funding and then said he would have to accept it. There is another reason in favour of public funding, and that is that as a result of this legislation unions will have to disclose their donations. The honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) said quite unequivocally a little while ago in this House that unions now by law have to disclose their donations to the Labor Party, where most of their money goes, or to any party. Very few union donations go to the Liberal Party. Unfortunately the honourable member for Port Adelaide is not here but I would like him to tell me where it is written, where is the law which enforces unions to disclose their donations? I would be very happy to be shown that.

Dr Klugman —Under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, they have to publish their accounts each year.

Mrs Child —Including their donations to political parties.

Mr WHITE —I will follow that up. I will be happy to see it because I have been able to find no reference. I have mentioned some arguments in favour of public funding, but there are some considerable arguments against it. Firstly, I believe quite strongly that individuals have a right to make their donations in private and to give their money to whomever they wish without the world knowing. Although I might be stretching the long bow a bit, it is after all something of an extension of a secret ballot. Secondly, there is the real prospect of some of the unions discriminating against those businesses which make donations to parties which are not of the unions' choosing. There is the prospect of individual registered parties being entirely dependent on public funding. In the democratic environment in which we work I do not believe that that is a healthy thing, nor do I believe it is healthy for individuals within parties to become dependent for funding on their party, which is what this Bill proposes. I come back again to the matter of the privacy of the individual. Generally speaking, I am against public funding. I recognise that men of goodwill strongly believe in it. Supporting views have been put here tonight. I appreciate their arguments, but on balance I would come out against them.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I also find myself opposed to the principle of list voting. It seems to me that it is the start of a system of first past the post voting. I am pleased to see that no optional preferential first past the post voting has been introduced in this legislation. It seems to me that if 90 per cent of the voters can get it right in the very complicated Senate ballots, which we have from time to time, that is not a bad average. I cannot accept, particularly when parties and groups will have the right to put two different groupings on a ballot paper, that list voting will simplify it at all. I do not think that the proposals contained in this legislation will simplify the voting system for the Senate. If, as the Special Minister of State has said, a considerable amount of money will be spent on electoral education, I believe that we should stick with the present system and make sure that more than 90 per cent of the voters get it right.

In regard to Senate voting, I am very much in favour of eliminating that clause in the Bill which states that a minor mistake makes the vote invalid. I think that to accept the validity of a vote up to the point where a mistake has been made is very much a step in the right direction. I wish to say a few words in regard to the Labor Party's proposed increase in the number of members in this House.

Mr Hand —No, that is the National Party's proposal.

Mr WHITE —That is its stand on the matter as well. This will be debated next week. I do not propose to speak at any length about it but I would like to quote again from the introductory speech of the Special Minister of State. He said:

The size of electorates and the increasing complexity and weight of demands on members have denied the electors the services they deserve and have a right to demand.

The last census figures show that I represent the largest electorate in Australia in terms of the total number of people. I think it has the second or third largest number of people on the rolls, so I have a right to say something in regard to this matter.

Mr Adermann —Third largest.

Mr WHITE —I am corrected by my friend the honourable member for Fisher. My electorate contains the largest number of people, so I disagree very strongly with what the Special Minister of State has said. I do not believe it is necessary to increase the number of members in this House. There is certainly a case for redistributing and bringing large electorates down to their proper quota, and that will take place next year-thank God for that. But a case can be argued for increasing the assistance given to members by providing one extra assistant in each office and certainly some modern office equipment, which would go a long way to providing those services we talk about. At this stage I can see no rational reason for increasing the number of members in the House of Representatives, and I certainly cannot see any valid reason for increasing the number of senators. I strongly urge that the consideration of a referendum which would break the nexus between the Senate and the House of Representatives be taken up at the first opportunity.

We have agreed to cut our time short, and I will mention briefly some of the other aspects which I think are important in this legislation. The proposal in regard to placing party affiliations on the ballot paper seems to me to be a very sensible move. I do not believe that if we were not to register political parties we could not make that change and make sure that party affiliations are shown on the ballot paper. The prospect of having mobile polling booths in a country like Australia which has vast areas of land with sparse population makes considerable sense to me. But I would hope that those people would also retain the right to a postal vote if they so wished.

I refer to the status of the Electoral Commission with reference to this Parliament. I recognise again that there are considerable arguments on both sides as to whether the Commission should be entirely separate from the Parliament or whether it should be answerable to the Parliament in the last resort. On balance I believe that it should be answerable to the Parliament for the very simple reason that the Parliament in this country or in any country should remain supreme. I do not see the electoral commissioner's recommendations coming to parliament and being drastically altered. But I believe it is important that the Parliament, as the supreme body in this country, retains the ultimate right to change, recommend or direct to that Commission that changes be made. It is to be hoped that that power would never be used.

I am very pleased to see that servicemen in particular will be given better facilities than they have been given in the past in regard to overseas voting, although I point out to the Australian Labor Party that it will regret making it easier for servicemen. If there is one community group in Australia that is discenchanted with what is happening to the Services in this country it is the defence forces of Australia.

As I said at the outset, I welcome much of this legislation that has come into the Parliament. Much of it is a step in the right direction. I particularly congratulate all those members of the Joint Select Committee that brought it forward. We hope that many of the sensible reforms in this legislation will be passed by this Parliament.