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Thursday, 15 March 1973
Page: 602

Mr LYNCH - My question is addressed to the Prime Minister, ls the honourable gentleman aware that his recent comment that the next election could be contested on at least an optional preference system has been widely interpreted throughout the Australian community as a dishonouring or a repudiation of the clear, earlier understanding given by the honourable gentleman that the Australian Labor Party would not change the voting system for the next election? In view of the importance of this matter for the electorate at large, and in view also of the considerable publicity which has been given to the honourable gentleman's more recent comment, will he make his Government's intention perfectly clear to this House?

Mr WHITLAM - I have said, and I will say again, that this Government will not. during the currency of this Parliament, abolish proportional voting for the Senate or preferential voting for the House of Representatives. 1 have also said, and I repeat here, that this Government will not during the currency of the Parliament, introduce first past the post voting for the House of Representatives. I think it is time that honourable gentlemen, particularly in the Opposition parties, realise that the public does not accept that the methods of voting which have applied at various stages in Australia until now are the acme of democratic perfection. I made a comment at my Press conference 2 days ago in answer to a question concerning a public opinion poll which showed that most people wanted first past the post voting.

My Party used to be committed to first past the post voting. It was alleged during the last election campaign that it was still committed to first past the post voting. In fact, in the middle of 1971, the Party's commitment to first past the post voting was taken out of the Party's platform. The whole question is being reconsidered. One of the reasons why the Party is reconsidering it is that there is a view in my Party, as there is in at least one of the Opposition Parties, that there ought to be proportional voting for the House of Representatives. It is not a view to which I subscribe but, nevertheless, it is a view which people hold in various parties, including my own.

It is also relevant to point out that preferential voting such as we have in the House of Representatives is known, according to the National Library, in only 2 other countries, Iran and South Korea - and in those countries there is not compulsory voting. There are other ways of achieving the desirable objective of ensuring that people get as their representative the candidate whom a majority of them want. For instance, in France there is a system of run-offs. But one of the difficulties which we should recognise in the Australian voting system for both Federal Houses is that it is the most complicated system of voting to be found in any country and it brings about the largest percentage of informal votes, apparently, that one finds in any country. In these circumstances people, including members of Parliament, should discuss any possible improvements.

In considering the system of compulsory voting for the House of Representatives, under which one must express preference for every candidate, or at least every candidate but one, in sequence, one must acknowledge the fact that there are many people who, with good conscientious reasons, object to voting for some candidates.

Mr Lynch - My Speaker, I take a point of order. Is it in order for the Prime Minister to continue consistently to ignore the question and give lectures to this House?

Mr SPEAKER - There is no substance in the point of order. A Minister may answer a question in any way he thinks fit.

Mr Wentworth - Mr Speaker, would it be in order for me to observe to the Prime Minister that he would make a great encyclopaedia salesman?

Mr SPEAKER - No, you are not in order.

Mr WHITLAM - I doubt that in the largest encyclopaedia the honourable member for Mackellar would rate even the smallest footnote. There are members of the parties in Opposition in this House now who have put to me their hope that there could be some simplification of the preferential system of voting for the House of Representatives because they are mortified at having openly to declare how they advise their supporters to vote among a multiplicity of candidates. Many of them are mortified when displaced Liberal candidates, for instance, are opposing endorsed candidates, and so on.

Mr Anthony - Name the people.

Mr WHITLAM - No, I do not break confidences in that way. There is a case and my Party will certainly examine it, and other parties would do well to examine it, for simplifying the system of voting in Australia. It is a scandal that our system is so complicated and it is a deliberate ploy of Opposition parties to complicate the ballot paper so that people who have migrated to Australia will cast informal votes. I do not need to repeat what I started out to say in answer to the question. The first 2 sentences are a full answer to the question.

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