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Tuesday, 14 October 1975
Page: 2052

Mr YOUNG (Port Adelaide) -I thought we were coming here this afternoon to take part in a debate on the electoral laws. One could hardly say that the contribution just made by the spokesman for the Opposition, the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland), would provoke any debate. It might provoke a fair bit of amusement but it would hardly provoke a debate. His contribution, as all the contributions that have been made from the Opposition both here and in the Senate, added up to nothing at all. I think one could sum up the mentality of the Opposition by referring to what Senator Withers said on its behalf in the Senate last year on 28 November. This demonstrates the mentality of the Liberal-National Country Party coalition. He said:

It is a fact of political life that governments do not alter electoral Acts to advantage their opponents. That is a fact of political life. Therefore, the corollary of that fact is a suspicion- I did not put it any higher than that- that when a government seeks to amend the electoral laws it is doing so for its own advantage. I put it only as a suspicion because I am trying to keep this debate on a fairly low key.

Senator Withers,of course, was echoing what had been the basis of the contributions made in this House by spokesmen from the Opposition, that in no circumstances would the Opposition, whether it was in regard to the redistribution Bills or the electoral laws amendment Bills, look at the legislation in any way seriously to bring about what may be a fairer and a more equitable system of electoral laws in Australia

Of course the Opposition says: 'We have to maintain the present system because the Labor Party is after a system of first past the post'. To the benefit of the Government on this occasion, by the Opposition refusing a cognate debate on these Bills we are able to look specifically at the question of the Senate elections. The present system most assuredly can be made inoperable. The number of nominations received in New South Wales in 1974 was an indication of how Senate elections under the present system could be made inoperable. Firstly, it must be stated that there has never been any suggestion from this side of the House that first past the post voting would be introduced. What a tragedy, what a calamity if it were! We would be following all those dictatorships like the United States of America, France and Great Britain which have similar systems. Secondly, it is stupid to argue that the present system should be maintained because people want to vote with all the preferences that are made available to them. Can anyone here from New South Wales tell me how he voted at the last Senate election after the double dissolution in 1 974? Can he in aU honesty tell me the order of his preferences from one to 73? He could not tell me and he would not be honest if he attempted to do so because he just does not know. All he knows is that he voted for his own party first and that his first preference was the coalition partner. From then on he would not know where they went. So it is ridiculous to suggest that the present system allows everybody to exercise their rights as far as preferences are concerned. A preferential voting system is a good system. It can work within organisations in which people know everyone, but it is ridiculous to ask the people of New South Wales or of any State in this country seriously to vote from No. 1 to whatever number of candidates there may be in a Senate election.

If people want to exercise their rights and to extend the situation which occurred in 1974, in the not too distant future we will see in New South Wales three hundred or four hundred candidates. At the last Senate election in New SouthWales there were about 40 party representatives and there were 30 additional candidates who nominated for the sole purpose of trying to manipulate the system because they worked out that the more candidates there were the more chance there was of defeating Labor candidates and that the informal vote would rise in the Labor-held electorates. That proved to be true.

Mr Hewson - Why would it?

Mr YOUNG -Because if you look at the figures for informal votes in New South Walesyou have looked at them, which is why you are trying to consolidate the present system in its present form- you will find that in the electorates where there was the highest number of informal votes the people who have been penalised are, to be a very large extent, the migrants, the disadvantaged groups and the groups which may have some difficulty in voting from one to seventythree. I wish to cite the informal vote in some of those electorates: Banks 14.1 per cent; Barton 10 per cent; Chifley 14 per cent; Darling 16 per cent; Cunningham 11.6 per cent; Grayndler 16 per cent; Hunter 15.2 per cent; Kingsford-Smith 13 per cent; Lang 12 per cent; Prospect 14 per cent; Reid 16 per cent and Sydney 20 per cent. Those extra 30 candidates in New South Wales, which made a total of seventy-three, contributed to giving Australia the highest informal vote we have ever had in a Senate election under the present system. I put it quite seriously to the House that not only will the system be made inoperable but also we will never be able to count the votes.

If people want to exercise their rights to prove a point- I would not suggest that honourable members opposite should laugh- and there are 300 or 400 candidates for the Senate in New South Wales, it will take 6 months for the Electoral Office to count the votes. That bastion of democracy, the Legislative Council in South Australia, which introduced for the first time at the last State elections a decent system of voting, has now adopted optional preferential voting by which one can vote for one's own team and can then vote for all the other teams in order of preference, if one wishes. But it is incumbent on one to vote only for the team one knows. That is obviously the system that will have to be introduced for Senate elections. Honourable members opposite smile to themselves and say: 'It will never happen; people will not try to twist the system so that we cannot get a result and so that we will have to wait 6 months'. We saw the fiasco of 1974 when it took 6 weeks to get a result.

If the system is so fair, and if it reflects the will of the people, I suggest to the House that the majority of the Senate ought to be members of the Australian Labor Party, because the Government of this country is in the House of Representatives and the majority of people who were returned to this House in 1974 were members of the Labor Party. So if we want to reflect what the people wanted, the majority of the Senate should be of the same political persuasion. If we look at the number of the candidates for the Senate in 1970 and see that that number more than doubled in 1974, 1 put it to the House that we are likely to see that escalation continue in years ahead to the extent that the system will become completely inoperable.

We have not only this area to consider. Although this is hot a cognate debate we must look at all the other areas of amendment that the Government is proposing for these Bills. Otherwise the opposition will continue to try to convince, persuade or con the Australian people that this is the best system. As we are now going to speak on all these Bills individually it rests with me only to suggest that an optional preferential system for Senate elections is one of the most important amendments to be put before this House. It is a system which people can more easily understand. They do not have to vote for people of whom they have no knowledge. They do not have to vote for teams of which they have never heard. They will vote for their political party. It has been the tradition in this country that, apart from the 20 per cent or 25 per cent of the people in the middle who change their votes from election to election, people vote out of political persuasion; they vote for their political teams and not for individuals. They will recognise their teams and vote accordingly. To suggest with any seriousness at all that people vote in all conscience from one to seventy-three, as we asked them to do in New South Wales, is absolute rubbish. The people of New South Wales will tell you that if in future Senate elections there is a ballot paper of twice the size as the one in 1974 the system will just not work and we will be forced from outside to change the present preferential system which applies to Senate elections.

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