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Tuesday, 14 October 1975
Page: 2058

Mr MORRIS (Shortland) -We have heard from the previous speaker, the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Garland), simply a droll repetition of his earlier remarks on 2 previous occasions. I think that the pertinent words in his contribution are to be found in this short sentence: 'What we want to get is the right result'. The addendum to that sentence should be 'for the Opposition'. That is the reason why Australia has probably the most outmoded and most complicated electoral laws of any democracy in the world. The system that we have is deliberately designed to make voting difficult for people who have sight difficulties or who have difficulty in filling out a large number of squares in consecutive order. Even members of the Opposition cannot do that at times. This is really a system designed to militate against an expression of choice by those people with lesser ability with numbers and with pen and paper. The Opposition seeks to continue that system for its own electoral advantage.

Mr Riordan - Cynical.

Mr MORRIS - It is a cynical attitude as the Minister for Housing and Construction says. It can be best described only as that. In his earlier remarks, the previous speaker said that the Opposition was against rigged electoral boundaries. The boundaries that Australia has at present are the electoral boundaries that the Opposition when in government rigged. The system that we have is the system that it rigged. It is designed to favour the Opposition Parties. The Opposition is really saying this: 'We are all in favour of democracy as long as we can control it'. This is the very same thing that colleagues of honourable members opposite are saying in another place at the moment. They are saying: 'We are all in favour of the people of Australia electing a government to the House of Representatives so long as it is a government of which we approve'. That is supposed to be guided democracy. That is reflected again in this legislation.

If honourable members want an accurate determination of the effect of informal votes on a large number of candidates and of the difference that the optional preferential system will make, it can be found in the figures for the House of Representatives and the Senate in 1974. On an Australia-wide basis, the number of informal votes cast for the House of Representatives was 1.92 per cent of total votes cast. For the Senate, the informal rate of voting was 10.77 per cent. The position is even worse in New South Wales. The level of informal voting for the House of Representatives was 1.6 per cent in New South Wales. Informal votes for the Senate were 12.3 per cent of the total Senate vote. That is a difference of 10.71 per cent. This means that 10.71 per cent of those who voted in New South

Wales in the Senate election last year were effectively disfranchised; they were prevented from expressing their choice because of the complicated method of voting.

The Bill now before the House seeks to reform the electoral law of this nation so as to ensure a greater political equality for all Australians as individuals as well as for party candidates who aspire to participate in the parliamentary process. The Opposition makes much noise about its version of equality and its concept of the divine right to rule, but what this Bill and ensuring Bills are all about is the equality of political opportunity. The legislation seeks to provide that people who do want to participate in the parliamentary process have equal opportunity at the ballot box. What the Opposition ought to be doing is to support this legislation. This is what members of the Opposition would be doing if they were genuine in their expressions about equality at the ballot box and equality in legislative matters.

As I said, this legislation seeks to enshrine in the statute book equality of political opportunities for all Australians. The complicated system that we have at present operates only to prevent Australians casting their choice and expressing their view on who ought to represent them. Optional preferential voting was referred to by the previous speaker as some type of stage 1 introduction of first past the post voting. That claim is completely untrue. I do not know whether the honourable member knows it to be untrue. In a first past the post system, the voter simply expresses a choice for one candidate possibly, as in the United Kingdom, by placing a cross against a candidate's name on the ballot paper. It is possible under that system for a candidate who obtains a minority of the votes- that is, 40 per cent of the total votes cast or even 35 per cent of those votes- to be elected. The legislation now before this House proposing an optional preferential system embodies a provision that requires that a successful candidate must have 50 per cent of the votes at the stage of counting when the result for each seat is declared. The successful candidate must have a majority of the formal votes cast at that stage of the counting. What really astounded me in what I heard from the other side of the House -

Mr King - What happens if the candidate does not get 50 per cent of the votes?

Mr MORRIS -I know that the honourable member has invented a new National Country Party creation- the regressive barn dance. I pay the honourable member credit for it. I think that it is a very, very good thing that he has done for the National Country Party. It is something that he has never done before.

Mr King - Will the honourable member answer my question?

Mr MORRIS - I will come to the honourable member's point at a later stage. In the week before last the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) referred to the reduction in the number of polling booths in rural electorates and how by this so-called electoral reform the Government was depriving country people of the right to vote. The honourable member said that we should not try to contain expenditure or to limit the expenditure of public money. He claimed that we should provide polling booths, like public toilets, on every corner. He alleged that we were disfranchising people. But if we look at the high percentage of informal votes cast in country electorates, we find that the National Country Party, and the Opposition in general, are supporting a system which deprives far more country voters of an expression of choice for a candidate than that system of voting does in respect of city voters. Let us have a look at the figures in the electorate of Mallee in Victoria. In the last Senate election 13 per cent of voters there voted informally. In the electorate of Paterson in New South Wales, 15.6 per cent of voters cast informal votes. The percentage of informal votes in the electorate of Lyne in New South Wales was 16.1 per cent. I compare that level of informal voting with the number of informal votes cast in the electorate of Berowra, a city electorate, which was 7.3 per cent. More than twice as many country voters cast informal votes in the Senate election last year than were cast by city voters in the electorate of Berowra.

Dealing with country informal voting again, in Calare, 14.1 per cent of total votes cast were informal. In Hume the figure was 14.8 per cent. Where are the members of the National Country Party who are the champions of the people living in country areas who want to express their choice and also to register their approval of candidates? Honourable members opposite subscribe to legislation that places those people in the highest category of informal voters. They are discriminating against country voters in favour of city voters. I am shocked and surprised that members of the National Country Party have not seen what they are doing. The situation can be understood if one looks at the membership of the National Country Party. The Opposition discriminates against country voters; yet the Opposition wants to argue against this electoral reform.

There is a history of optional preferential voting in Australia. The paradox is that the Opposition when in Government supported the optional preferential voting system. In fact, it introduced this system for the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council elections. As a Government, it introduced that system for elections in Papua New Guinea. When in office in Tasmania it endorsed the optional preferential system known as the Hare-Clark system.

Let me deal now with the interjection which came from my friend in 'cockies' corner' who asked about the optional preferential system and exhausted votes. In New South Wales, under the Liberal-Country Party Government, all local government elections are conducted on the optional preferential system. Voters are required to mark their ballot papers consecutively from the number ' 1' to a number which is equal to twice the number of vacancies plus one. Those Parties have been in office in New South Wales for 10 years. I find it hard to understand that honourable members opposite endorse that system of voting in New South Wales but oppose it when it is proposed for operation on a Federal basis. Clearly they must make up their minds. The truth is that honourable members opposite are opposed to this system of electoral reform because they think that it may bring in from the cold those people who are at present being disfranchised by the extremely complicated system that we have for elections.

If we look at the history of the Opposition Parties, we find that in 23 years in office they made no effort whatsoever to introduce electoral reform with the exception of the introduction in 1 97 1 by the honourable member for Gwydir ( Mr Hunt) of 26 amendments to the legislation, which were not proceeded with. Some of those matters which were the subject of amendment then are covered in legislation to be debated later today.

The Opposition reacts hysterically to any suggestion of the introduction of optional preferential voting. I make the point again that the optional preferential system is not a first past the post system. It is totally different from the first past the post system. Looking at the history of Australia we find that the optional preferential system was the form of voting used at Senate elections in the period 1919 to 1931. It is the same as the system now used by New South Wales in local government elections. I draw the attention of the House to the remark made in 1919 by the honourable member for Brisbane, Mr Finlayson, when a debate on an election Bill was before the House. He stated:

The purity of public life depends on the purity of the electoral machinery. It is unfortunate that the electoral law should be the plaything of party politics.

It has been the plaything of party politics on the other side of the House for the past quarter of a century. The amendments which are proposed to enable people properly to express their choice ought to be carried unanimously by both sides of the House. I draw the attention of the House to the situation in 1970 when candidates stood for the National Socialist Party. People did not want to express a choice for those candidates, whether there were eight, nine, ten or twenty candidates, but because they did not put a number against those candidates those people were effectively disfranchised. If people do not want to put a number against a candidate under the system which honourable members opposite support, those people lose their right to have that vote recorded. I feel that the reforms are very reasonable. They deserve the support of both sides of the House. The public of Australia are certainly entitled to them.

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