29th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Justin O’Byrne) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the undersigned residents of the Spencer Gulf area in South Australia are concerned about better television viewing in our region.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled press for the relaying of ( 1) commercial television Channels 7, 9 and 10, or (2) the provision of at least one of these commercial stations to the Spencer Gulf area in addition to the existing Channels ABC I and GTS 4.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. 1 seek leave to attach to the petition documents containing 626 1 signatures in support of the subject matter of the petition.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
Petition received and read.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the AttorneyGeneral. Does the Minister note that the solicitors in Victoria, by postal ballot, have decided to ask the Victorian Government to challenge the constitutionality of the Australian Legal Aid Office? Does he also note that the solicitors, by the biggest majority of their various questions, urge the Commonwealth to finance the existing State legal aid schemes which have provided such outstanding service in Victoria over a number of years? Will the Minister inform me whether the Government is prepared to pay to the States for the existing State legal aid schemes the money which was voted by the Parliament last year? In particular, why has not Victoria’s share been advanced to Victoria?
-Yes, I note with sorrow that the members of the profession to which I belong appear to be embarking on the same stupid path as the doctors of this country have embarked on in their long standing opposition to Medibank. I hope though that in due course they will see the light, as the doctors appear to be seeing the light.
– Will the Minister for Foreign Affairs seek early information from our High Commissioner in London as to the extent of remarks made by the Assistant Minister to the Home Secretary in Britain which indicate that there is to be a further reshuffle of the status of Australians and New Zealanders under the British immigration laws?
-I will have to make inquiries and let the honourable senator know.
– I address my question to the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation. Does he recall, in answering a question I addressed to him yesterday, saying that the Government had been consulting with 2 committees set up by the Treasurer, one from the Life Offices Association and the other from the general insurance industry? I ask the Minister: How often have these committees met to discuss with him or the Government their attitude to the proposed Australian Government insurance office?
– I recall Senator Drake-Brockman’s asking the question, but I do not recall giving the answer that he said I gave. I said that the committees had been established to deal with the general insurance industry and life assurance industry and that they had been established by the Treasurer and come within his responsibility. These committees are to inquire into the effect of the establishment of an Australian Government insurance office and the national compensation scheme on both general insurance and life assurance. Any questions relating to the details of the meetings of those committees should be directed to the Treasurer. I also said that I had had extensive discussions with representatives of life assurance and general insurance offices both on the national compensation scheme and on the establishment of an Australian Government insurance office. 1 feel that little profit can be had from further discussing the Australian Government insurance office with them, as the private insurance offices have the unanimous view that they do not want to have such an office established and do not want the competition that an Australian Government insurance office would provide. Having met such a dogmatic view from the representatives of these insurance offices, little purpose is to be served by having further discussions with them unless they can make some concrete, specific proposals rather than criticise generally the whole proposition that such an office should be established.
– I direct my question to the Postmaster-General, representing the Minister for Transport. I refer to the recent decision of the Minister for Transport, Mr Charles Jones, and of Qantas Airways, to resume the free carriage of relief supplies from Australia for displaced people in Cyprus. Does the Minister know of requests by the Cypriot community of South Australia for free transportation of relief supplies from Adelaide to Qantas in Sydney, and can he say what action is being taken in consideration of this request?
– This matter has already been raised with the Minister by Senator Willesee. The Minister for Transport has given me the following information: Late last year Qantas carried relief supplies destined for Cyprus free of charge from Australia to Athens. Further to this, and in view of the continuing situation in Cyprus, arrangements have once again been made for Qantas to carry free of charge supplies on a space-available basis. The position of the Cypriot Society in South Australia has been brought to the notice of the Minister, who has now arranged for TAA and Ansett to carry the supplies from Adelaide to Sydney, free of charge.
– I address my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate in his capacity of Minister representing the Treasurer. In view of the Treasurer’s statement yesterday that he would never cut the growth of money supply as a weapon against inflation, I ask whether the rate of inflation will continue to climb. What, in the Government’s view, is the highest level of inflation that the economy can stand? Is it 25 per cent, 30 per cent, 35 per cent, 40 per cent, or higher? Or has the Government given no serious thought to the effect on the nation and its people of its excessive spending?
– It is surprising that a member of the Opposition, who certainly was not in the previous Government but who now speaks for the Opposition, should ask a question about the money supply in the economy. Obviously money supply is related to inflation, but the record of our predecessors in this area is one which I would imagine they would not defend at the present time. In 1972 we saw the beginnings of the inflation in this country because of the actions and the policies of our predecessors who allowed the money flow to get out of hand. That has been stated many times, so that it is quite true. Even our friend Professor Friedman, who apparently is held in very high esteem by members of the Opposition, is on record as criticising the previous Liberal-Country Party Government for doing exactly that.
Senator Sheil raises the question of money flow and inflation at present. Of course the money flow at present is high. The increase was about 22 per cent over the last quarter. The Treasurer had indicated that the Reserve Bank has made certain requests to the trading banks to limit the increase in the rate of money flow. We cannot divorce inflation in Australia from what is happening all round the world, especially in the countries which are our major trading partners. All those countries are experiencing inflation rates as high as we are experiencing in Australia. Only last week Senator Cotton asked me this very question. I gave him an answer which indicated that the average rate of inflation in Australia was only 3 per cent less than the total of the member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
– I rise to a point of order. I refer to standing order 100 which states that a senator, when answering a question, shall not debate the question. Obviously the Minister, in trying to refer to an earlier debate and to another senator, is debating the question. My submission is that he should answer the question which was asked. The question was whether the Government had given any consideration to what level of inflation this country could stand. The Minister has dodged that question and is debating the matter.
– On the point of order- I have not finished answering the question- I understand that under the Standing Orders I am permitted to answer a question as I consider it proper to do so. If Senator Greenwood will allow me to finish I will come to the point which he is making.
– The point of order is not upheld. Senator Wriedt is answering the questionwith a lot of interruption. I would like a little more order.
– The reason I gave the background information is that the question cannot be answered in isolation, despite the deliberately isolated way in which it was asked. If we are to understand the problem of inflation we must understand what caused our present position. It is for those reasons that I have given the background information. It is not possible for Australia to isolate itself and say that we will get on top of inflation on our own because of all the other factors that involve us with our trading partners. But a government can take certain steps. The Government has kept very close watch on the amount of the money supply and the rate of increase in the money supply. The Treasurer has stated quite emphatically that we will not cut off the money supply to the point where we will create unemployment at higher levels than we are experiencing now. This point has to be made. This was done in the United States to the detriment of the United States economy. The United States now has an unemployment rate which is twice the rate that applies in Australia. The Australian Government will not take action which will exacerbate the present position.
-Can the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation give any information on details of the proposed eligibility for service pensions to ex-members of the defence forces of the British Commonwealth countries and the approximate date when the benefits will apply?
– It was announced at the time of the Budget that the eligibility for service pensions would be extended to countries which, in fact, were in the British Commonwealth at the time of the conflict in which servicemen from those countries took part with Australian servicemen. For example South African ex-servicemen who fought in the first or second world wars with Australian servicemen and who are resident in this country would be covered, but I imagine there would be a small number of them. The ex-servicemen involved would be predominantly from Britain and New Zealand. It is proposed that appropriate legislation to provide for these payments- that is provided the ex-servicemen have been resident in Australia for 10 years- will be dealt with during this sessional period of the Senate. The payment of service pensions will commence shortly thereafter.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Manufacturing Industry. No doubt the Minister will recall that several weeks ago I asked about the employment situation at the Electrolytic Zinc Company (A/asia) Ltd at Risdon. I am aware that the Minister realises the importance of this industry to Tasmania. I ask: Will the Minister advise the present situation regarding employment at Risdon? Can the Minister yet advise the Senate of any specific plans the Government may have to assist this industry? Is it a fact that unless assistance is given eventually considerably more employees than originally thought will be laid off from Risdon in the coming months?
Government is at present giving considerable assistance to the Electrolytic Zinc Company, in particular with regard to its work at Risdon, in order to maintain the work force at its present level. In fact, it is helping to pay the wages of some people who otherwise would have been laid off. It has undertaken to do so until the end of August. It is my understanding that some of these people who would have been laid off- in fact as many as 200- have been found alternative employment. I have certainly had no inquiries from the company recently as to any of the difficulties suggested by the honourable senator. I will certainly ask my Department whether it has had any such inquiries. If the company is in difficulties of which I have not been informed, I will certainly bring the matter to the Government’s attention to see what should be done to preserve the employment situation at the works of that company at Risdon.
-I ask the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation whether he saw the report in yesterday’s ‘Daily Mirror’ of the statement attributed to the Vice-President of the Fire and Accident Underwriters Association of New South Wales. It stated:
ALP policy is to lower premiums in an already efficient industry and this means private companies will either go out of business or be absorbed.
Can the Minister give the Senate some enlightenment as to the efficiency or otherwise of the insurance companies? Is this an accurate statement of Australian Labor Party policy?
-When one looks at the returns of some of the major insurance companies in Australia one finds some very interesting figures revealed. In fact, one finds from the most recent annual reports of some companies that about one-third of the premiums which were collected were used to meet commissions and expenses. In the case of Commercial Union Assurance Company of Australia Ltd- one foreign owned insurance company- of premiums of $80. lm which were received in 1973-74, $28.6m, or approximately 36 per cent, went on commissions and expenses. In 1973-74, of the premiums collected by QBE Insurance Ltd 38 per cent was spent on commissions and expenses. In the case of Sun Alliance Insurance Limited $3. 1 m out of $ 10. 1 m collected was spent on commissions and expenses- approximately 33 per cent. This shows, of course, that there is an extremely high overhead involved in the running of these private general insurance companies.
If one compares the track record of private insurance companies with that of the State insurance offices one finds a quite different picture. In New South Wales, for example, the commissions and expenses amounted to only 8 per cent of the premiums collected by the Government Insurance Office. In Victoria they amounted to only 6 per cent of the premiums collected by the Victorian Government Insurance Office. In Queensland 20 per cent of the premiums collected by the Government Insurance Office went on commissions and expenses. These percentages were considerably lower than those of the allegedly much more efficient private enterprise insurance companies. The high overheads cannot be taken to reflect superior efficiency and in fact the State government insurance offices, by whatever governments they have been established, have been maintained by anti-Labor Party governments as by Labor Party governments and have shown a much higher record of efficiency in providing service to their policy holders than is the case with the private insurance companies.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Agriculture. Does the Minister agree that additional funds through the Commonwealth Development Bank should be made available to beef producers for carry-on finance in the present depressed conditions in the beef industry? If so, can the Minister inform the Senate as to whether the Government intends to provide the funds and when it will do so?
-Last November the Government made an appropriation of $20m to the Commonwealth Development Bank for the specific purpose of loans to beef producers in Australia under certain conditions. Essentially those conditions were that their incomes be primarily derived from beef production and that other sources of finance would not be available to them. Those loans were made at normal bank interest rates, as had been requested at that time by the industry, and at the present stage approximately $8m of that money has been loaned out. At the time the decision was taken I was authorised by the Government to place before it a further request for funds if the circumstances warranted it. Since then there have been discussions within the Australian Agricultural Council with the relevant State Ministers, in which I indicated the desirability of the Federal and State Governments working together in joint schemes to assist the beef producers. Unfortunately since then there have been announcements by various State Governments of unilateral decisions indicating that their own schemes are to be put into effect. I have further proposals currently before the Government and I am hoping that within the next 2 weeks I will be able to make a firm statement on further Government assistance.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. The Minister will recall attending the opening ceremony last Saturday for the commencement of the construction of the TarcoolaAlice Springs railway and that this ceremony for this major project was quite obviously boycotted by all members of the Federal Opposition who were invited to attend. What does the Government propose to do after the completion of the Tarcoola-Alice Springs link in respect of the construction of a further link between Alice Springs and Larrimah?
– I raise a point of order. The honourable senator is making derogatory remarks about parliamentarians in another place, as well as some within this chamber, who do not have the right to reply, and those remarks are completely ill-founded.
– I call the Minister.
-I recall that only last week in the debate on the Australian National Railways Bill I think it was Senator Jessop who indicated that he would not be available to attend the opening ceremony. I do not know what other members of Parliament have told the Minister for Transport. I can only say that I went there and 2 State Opposition members were there. If the honourable senator wants me to inquire of the Minister for Transport, Mr Charles Jones, as to what happened in respect of Opposition spokesmen I will ask him. In respect to the second part of the question, the Minister has told me that before the line from Tarcoola to Alice Springs is completed he will give consideration to the Bureau of Transport Economics undertaking a feasibility study of an extension of the line northwards from Alice Springs.
– My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Is the Government considering the imposition of a super tax on companies, presumably overseas mining companies, which fail to give what the Government considers to be adequate local equity? If this is so, is the Government considering the disincentive that that proposal would have to investment in the mining industry? How does the Government reconcile such a proposal with its recent and newfound efforts to encourage overseas investment in Australia, particularly in mining exploration and oil exploration?
– It is optional whether the Leader of the Government in the Senate answers the question because it involves a matter of government policy.
– I am not aware of any thoughts in the Treasurer’s mind of such a tax, but I am quite sure that before taking any decisions of such a nature he would take into account those factors to which Senator Durack has referred. I think the question should go on notice so I can obtain an answer from the Treasurer.
– I direct a question to the Postmaster-General. Is it a fact that overseas air mail postage from Australia is much dearer than similar mail postage to Australia? If so, what are the reasons for the disparity?
– Australia is faced with a very long haul which entails quite considerable cost, whereas in the European area the hauls are short. Consequently the charges would be relatively lower.
– The question refers to mail in and out of Australia; it is the same distance.
– Would Senator Wright let me answer? Would he like to answer the question, or will I answer it? He has been complaining for years about the disabilities in Tasmania occasioned by a similar geographical situation. Another factor which must be taken into account when considering Australian air mail charges is that we receive much more air mail traffic than we send out. For example, in 1973-74 over 66 million letters were dispatched by air from Australia to overseas countries, but more than 136 million air mail letters were received from abroad. This means that the Australian Post Office must carry the extra cost in that regard.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is it a fact that the Prime Minister of Australia sent a cable to Prince Sihanouk in Peking on 3 April? If so, what did that cable state? Will the Minister table a copy of the cable? Did it state that the Commonwealth Government would recognise the Khmer Rouge communist government as soon as that aggressor was in possession of the capital of Cambodia? Is there any precedent for the Commonwealth Government foreshadowing recognition of an aggressor prior to the end of a conflict, particularly when, as in this case, the Government has in the past recognised the pre-existing non-communist government?
– Yes, the Prime Minister communicated with our people in Peking to contact Prince Sihanouk. As honourable senators know, we have been in contact for some time with the Khmer Rouge through Prince Sihanouk. We said that we hoped that the fighting would cease, that some other way to solve the problems would be found and that we would recognise the forces which took over in Phnom Penh. I think that was the main point of the honourable senator’s question. I do not know whether there is any precedent for such communication. The type of warfare that we see today is vastly different from the type to which our generation was accustomed. We must face the realities of the situation, unfortunate and sad as they may be. I hope the fighting in Cambodia will stop and that even at this late stage, as I have said many times there will be a solution other than the terrible slaughter there. We have said for quite a long time that we would stand ready to recognise whatever government stayed on in Phnom Penh. That is why at the United Nations we have supported the Lon Nol Government. Now Lon Nol has left and Lon Boret, the Prime Minister, has left. At the moment the country is under a military command. The Lon Nol Government is not there at the moment and no other government has yet taken over.
– I ask a supplementary question. Part of the question I asked was: Will the Minister table the text of the cable?
-I will put that request to the Prime Minister, but I very much doubt whether he will agree, Time and time again we have made the point that the Government cannot have these documents being tabled in Parliament. The matter has arisen several times. To be quite fair, I think when in Opposition in the old days we used to ask the Government to table cables and that sort of thing and it disagreed with the idea then. If we think about it seriously for a few moments, and I am sure Senator Carrick will, we must ask why if we table one cable we should not table the next? If we do so we will immediately lose the confidence of other nations. A lot of things go into cables. They are used for ‘talking’ to people, making our views known and merely informing our friends what our thinking is. If Senator Carrick thinks about it for a few moments he will see that it would be quite impossible to carry on dealings between nations with any degree of confidentiality and confidence if the other nations knew, or felt under threat, that such documents would be tabled in a House of Parliament
– My question is directed to the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation. As it is the Government’s intention to establish an Australian Government Insurance Office, what is the extent, if any, of the Australian Government’s involvement in insurance? Can the Minister give any indication of the amount of insurance cover that the Australian Government requires each year?
-The involvement of the Australian Government in the field of insurance already is and, for the most part, has been for some time very extensive. Defence service homes insurance which covers many hundreds of thousands of policies relating to defence service homes is one of the most substantial insurance undertakings in Australia. The Commonwealth Banking Corporation provides various forms of insurance, particularly householder’s insurance.
– Is that Commonwealth Government involvement?
– It is a Commonwealth instrumentality. I am glad that Senator Greenwood said that because when he referred to the Commonwealth Banking Corporation he implied that it was not Commonwealth Government involvement. I hope he will take the same attitude towards the Australian Government insurance office- also a statutory authority- and say that that also is not Commonwealth Government involvement. I appreciate the efforts that Senator Greenwood has made to assist the passage of the Bill of which I have given notice. There is also the Export Payments Insurance Corporation which engages in a very specialised type of insurance in relation to export finance and, in co-operation with the Joint Coal Board, which is a joint undertaking of the Australian and New South Wales governments, the Coal Mines Insurance Pty Ltd, engages in insurance in relation to the coal mining industry in New South Wales.
The substantial extent of insurance activities of the Australian Government and its instrumentalities shows quite clearly that the establishment of an Australian Government insurance office is not some new, sudden and quite eccentric idea which has occurred to this Government. There have been extensive activities in this direction for many years, indeed since insurance was required for large industrial undertakings conducted by the Australian Government and its instrumentalities, such as Qantas Airways Ltd, TransAustralia Airlines and the Australian National Line. What is proposed by the establishment of an Australian Government insurance office is the rationalisation and co-ordination of these activities so that they may be conducted more efficiently. I am pleased to see Senator Greenwood nodding his head in agreement.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. I preface it by stating that it has been drawn to my attention that a number of pensioners- age and invalid- who have made their contribution through working and paying taxes but who unfortunately have not until late in life been able to build or purchase their own homes are experiencing great difficulty in doing so. I ask: Will the Minister give consideration to granting supplementary assistance, presently payable to pensioners who are paying rent or occupying board and lodgings, to pensioners who are purchasing their own homes and accordingly making regular payments?
– 1 think that Senator Bonner’s suggestion has a great deal of merit in it and I will see that it is referred to the responsible Minister. As soon as I have a reply from him I shall advise Senator Bonner.
– 1 would like to ask a question of the Minister for the Media, arising out of a Press statement in yesterday’s ‘Age’ and attributed to a Mr P. Scott, who I understand is President of the Australian Film Council, in which he says that the Department of the Media has shown repeatedly that it is not interested in fostering Australian artists and that he- that is, Mr Scott- would like to see the television industry moved under the umbrella of another department. If the Minister is aware of this allegation, will he state whether or not it is in fact a statement of fact?
– I have seen the Press statement attributing certain remarks to Mr Scott who, as I said yesterday, on the passage of the Film Commission Bill in this Parliament sent me a congratulatory telegram for getting the Bill through, despite expressed opposition. What is attributed to him in the Melbourne ‘Age’ is not a statement of fact, because as every honourable senator will know, and as Mr Scott should know, the control of the Australian television industry is not the immediate responsibility of my Department but, under the terms of the Broadcasting and Television Act, is primarily the responsibility of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, which is an independent statutory body. Nonetheless, having said that, I assure the honourable senator that my Department has been concerning itself for some time with the employment situation generally in the film and television industries. Upon the initiative of my Department, an amount of nearly $3m is now made available to the Film Development Corporation for development of the film industry. The operational expenditure of the Australian Broadcasting Commission has been uplifted from about $66m to $98m in the last 2 years. I notice in the Melbourne ‘Age’ that a number of programs, once having been on the air, are now not on airprograms such as ‘Boney’, ‘Skippy’ and ‘The Rovers’. Those programs were made about a decade ago. My Department and I are now accused of being responsible for taking them off the air. It is completely inaccurate to have this sort of comment. It is nonsense. I assure the honourable senator that the officers of my Department and I are very much concerned about developing a film and television industry. Despite the critics we will continue to do all we can of a constructive nature, with the resources available to us, to ensure that there is work for Australian creative and performing artists.
– I address my question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Minister will be aware that the Australian Government has given approval to many Vietnamese residents who are related to Vietnamese-born residents of Australia, or students in Australia, to come to this country. The Minister will also be aware that in Saigon the application time for passports is extremely lengthy and many citizens in Australia who wish to sponsor their relations here are concerned at this delay. Will the Minister instruct the Ambassador in Saigon to have discussions with the South Vietnamese authorities on simplifying the passport issuance procedure so ‘that Australia will accept the Vietnamese identity card as identification for entry into Australia, provided the people concerned have a visa and health clearance? Such a procedure was used for displaced persons entering Australia at the end of the Second World War. The urgency of this question is added to by information this morning that one Vietnamese resident, who had approval to enter Australia and was being sponsored by Vietnamese-born Australian citizens, has been found decapitated after falling into the hands of the Vietcong.
-Senator Scott has put forward some technical thoughts which I think are well worth examining. One gets this kind of problem from time to time, but in this case it has been exacerbated by the situation in Vietnam. Senator Scott’s suggestion for overcoming the problem is to do what we have already done with regard to Vietnamese orphans, which is to find some way of speeding up the procedures. I think the best answer I can give to Senator Scott’s question is yes, I will consider it to see whether some of his ideas can be accepted.
-Yesterday I addressed a question to the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation asking whether the Australian Government has provided substantial support to the insurance industry and, if so, in what form. I also asked the Minister whether he would tell the Senate the cost of the support. In response, the Minister said that he would like to make a detailed statement on the matter. I now ask the Minister whether he can supply this information to the Senate.
– I have obtained the information which Senator McAuliffe is seeking. I would like to deal first of all with the question insofar as it applies to life assurance. The Life Insurance Act of 1945 regulates the life insurance industry, and under the Life Insurance Act the Life Insurance Commissioner sets the level of reserves which must be held by insurers in respect of the policies which have been taken out with their offices. This prescription by the Life Insurance Commissioner provides stability to the life assurance industry and, I think, must be regarded as being of assistance to the business of life insurance in general. Life assurance offices are favoured in comparison with other financial institutions by the treatment which is given by the income tax laws to the payment of premiums. Up to $1,200 of personal income is not taxed if paid into life assurance or superannuation. The Coombs Committee estimated that this would have cost the Australian Government approximately $I80m in tax foregone in the financial year 1 974-75. The $ 1 80m which was foregone in tax by the Australian Government must be regarded as being of direct assistance to the life assurance offices.
This taxation inducement was undoubtedly to a very large extent responsible for the large increase in premiums during the period from 1963-1972. In fact, in 1975 the Life Offices Association of Australia informed the Government that premiums had increased by 17.8 per cent per annum, or 10.4 per cent per annum in real terms- that is if allowance is made for inflation and other factors. This is very largely due to this assistance which is given by way of taxation. Undoubtedly the Government’s taxation policies and the provisions in the taxation legislation have been of great financial assistance to the life offices. On the other hand, I think it must be said that the life offices have not had an aggressive investment policy, although it is true that they have had large sums of money available for investment. I think it has been recognised by many commentators- people who are not socialists but who are vitally concerned in the private enterprise sector of the Australian economythat the life offices have had an undue concentration on the building of office blocks and real estate developments in the central business districts of the Australian cities, which have not been of any great advantage to the Australian people as a whole.
With regard to general insurance, there is a regulation of the general insurance industry under the Insurance Act of 1973. The Act empowers the Government to control entry into general insurance. In fact, the general insurance companies supported the Labor Government’s introduction of the Insurance Act because they themselves believed that they were having too much competition, that there were too many flybynight insurance companies appearing- I think that we have seen evidence of those companies ourselves; the matter has been drawn to the attention of the Senate during the last few months- and that it was necessary to regulate the amount of competition that the general insurance companies were having. This is assistance by the Government to the general insurance industry.
The general insurance companies are now faced with a great problem arising from their liabilities for workers compensation insurance where premiums paid in the past have to be used to meet obligations which may arise in the future. The same also applies to those States where private insurance companies engage in third party motor vehicle insurance. Whether or not the National Compensation Bill which is now before the Senate passes, it is perfectly clear that in the near future- in the next few years- the Australian Government will have to come to the assistance of the general insurance companies which already are in serious difficulties because of their commitments to workers compensation insurance and, to a lesser extent, their commitments in the field of third party motor vehicle insurance.
– Mainly due to inflation of claims in relation to the premiums of years gone by.
-Yes. 1 think that what Senator Wright says is perfectly true. That is so. The inflation of claims has arisen for a number of reasons, not only because of the general inflation but also because of the awards which have been given by courts and because of the fact that workers compensation insurance of its own nature creates the problem of meeting commitments which may not arise perhaps for decades after the payment of the premiums. All of these are matters in which the Australian Government either has assisted or is in the process of assisting or will in the future have to assist both life and general insurance companies.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for the Media. Does the Australian Broadcasting Commission have a stand-by transmitter in the radio transmitter building in Canberra? Is a stand-by transmitter used to provide a third ABC radio station in Sydney? If it is, could the Canberra stand-by transmitter be used to broadcast a third radio program to Canberra? Additionally, what is the position in the State capitals other than Sydney?
-As far as I am aware, it is a fact that there are stand-by transmitters in each of the capital cities for use by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. At the present time, as a result of an initiative taken by my Department and put to the Cabinet, the Government has agreed to the use of the stand-by transmitters in Sydney and in Melbourne by the ABC for program experimental purposes. When the report of the results of that experiment comes to me eventually, we will be looking at the opening up of other areas. The honourable senator will recall, however, at the time when the Government took that decision I was also asked to draw up plans for the extension of the ABC network to provide for 14 additional amplitude modulation stations and 14 additional frequency modulation stations, including another network for rural areas. Those plans are now well and truly under way, and I hope to be able very shortly to submit them to the Government for consideration. If they were approved it would mean that the stand-by transmitter in Canberra would not be required and another station would become available. In any event I mentioned yesterday that the ABC is planning for a frequency modulation station in Canberra.
– I ask the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation: What effect will the establishment of an Australian Government insurance office have on the business of the private insurance industry and in particular on the State Government insurance offices?
– I rise to take a point of order, Mr President. Will you rule whether we are engaged in asking questions without notice or whether this question obviously has been notified to the Minister or authorised by him?
– My ruling is that the questioner has asked the Minister a question. I expect the Minister to answer it in the usual way.
-I am sorry that Senator Wright does not want this important question answered. I am sure that many people are very interested in the effect which the Australian Government insurance office may have on the private insurance companies and the State Government insurance offices. I am sure they will not appreciate the lack of concern and the generally cavalier attitude that Senator Wright adopts towards their interests. This is an important matter. Senator Milliner very correctly has asked this question and I am delighted to assist him.
– Order! The Minister will answer the question.
– It is not the view of the Government that the establishment of an Australian Government insurance office will have any effect on private insurance companies or the State Government insurance offices other than to provide competition. No special privileges will be given to the Australian Government insurance office. It will be subject to all the taxation requirements and all the restrictions which the Australian legislation provides for life and general offices which exist at present. The only effect which the Australian Government insurance office will have on private and State Government insurance offices will be to give them competition. I am sure that members of the Liberal Party, committed as they are to competition, will welcome the addition of more competition to this field in which they are so interested.
– I refer the Minister representing the Minister for Defence to the recent report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Citizen Military Forces which is known as the Millar report. Which of the recommendations of the report have been adopted already by the Australian Government and when were they implemented? Which of the other recommendations are to be implemented during the remainder of 1975 and when are they likely to take effect? In particular, has the Government adopted the recommendation in the report that home loans be made available for Army Reserve personnel? If so, what conditions will be imposed on such loans and when will they be available?
-The new title Army Reserve is in use. There will need to be legislation, which will be introduced later on, to change the title legally. Instructions have been issued to give effect to the initial reorganisational plans for the Army Reserve. Some units whose current strengths are so low as to preclude any reasonable prospects of their becoming viable are to be closed down or amalgamated. It is expected that the major aspects of the reorganisation will be effected by the end of 1975. Pay and related conditions of service already have been referred to Mr Justice Coldham. I understand that his report either is available now or is expected very soon. The honourable senator will remember that an interim increase of 1214 per cent was granted as from, I think, July 1 974. He referred also to home loans. The position is that preferential housing loans for members of the Army Reserve who render appropriate lengths of service will be considered by the Government in conjunction with other recommendations. Changes in clothing entitlements for the Reserve have been approved and implemented. 1 think I can assure the honourable senator that because the Army Advisory Council has been constituted already by Mr Barnard and is to meet shortly, everything possible will be done to ensure that the recommendations will be carried into effect without delay.
– I ask the Minister for the Media whether there have been any moves towards greater job opportunities for women within his Department, particularly in the Australian Information Service. Is it true that in the past there were few opportunities for female journalists to obtain overseas posts within the Australian Information Service? If this is true, is anything being done to right, in International Women’s Year, what seems to be a most discriminatory wrong?
-When I became the Minister for the Media in 1972 and took over responsibility for the Australian Information Service I learned that there were then about 3 female journalists in the employ of the Information Service. I thought there was quite an imbalance between the number of men and the number of women, and I suggested that my Department should take action to employ more women journalists. The number of women journalists in the employ of the Australian Information Service is now about ten.
– Out of how many? What is the total number.
– It was two in 1972, and it has increased to ten. I still do not think that is sufficient.
– What is the total number employed?
-The total number employed is one hundred and fourteen. However, I can check that figure. I still say that more women journalists have to be employed. I have recently directed that one of them should be sent to an overseas post; she is now being sent to London. Four others are receiving language training at present, and when they complete their language training course they will be available for assignment to overseas posts. I might say that on my tour throughout Asia I was distressed to find that there were no female journalists in the employ of the Australian Information Service in Asia, and I have asked my Department to look at that matter to see whether it can be corrected in the near future.
-Can the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs give details to the Senate of what lands are currently being held in trust by the Australian Government on behalf of the Aboriginal people?
-No. I do not know. The Aboriginal trust accounts are mostly Stateoperated. There is one operating in the Northern Territory, the Aboriginal Benefit Trust Account for mining royalties, but what the figure is at this stage I cannot tell the honourable senator. I suggest that he put the question on notice and I will get the answer for him.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation. The Minister recently told the Senate that claims were being taken from people who had suffered loss or damage to property during cyclone Tracy. Have compensation claims for injury and death been taken out yet, and what arrangements are being made to provide this compensation?
-The Senate will remember that I made an announcement that provision would be made for compensation for personal injury to people who suffered in cyclone Tracy. So far, applications have not been called, but an application form has been prepared after consultation with the Australian Medical Association, which has been most helpful in making suggestions as to what sort of information should be sought in the application forms. The appropriations for the payment of this compensation have been dealt with by other legislation, and it is expected that the Government will be paying out about $300,000 this year and $150,000 next year. In the near future we will advertise for people to apply for compensation for personal injury in the same way as has been done with compensation for property damage.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Urban and Regional Development. I refer to a visit to South Australia recently by the Minister, when he was accompanied by about 70 conservationists, to inspect the Halletts Cove area and, in particular, the geological amphitheatre that is unique in the world. I understand the Minister intends to appoint a commission to study the adequacy of the reserve in that area. If this is so, when will the commission be appointed? Will the Minister inform me of the terms of reference of the commission and whether submissions will be invited from interested people? Will the Minister ask his colleague to request that a report be presented as a matter of urgency?
– I am acquainted with the visit of the Minister and with the representations that were made concerning Halletts Cove. I believe steps have been taken by the State Government to preserve the amphitheatre. The question remains of whether the surrounding area is sufficient to give proper protection to the amphitheatre. The Minister for Urban and Regional Development has agreed to make some inquiries. I will refer the last part of the question concerning the terms of reference, presentation of submissions to the inquiry and the report of the inquiry, to the Minister for information.
– Will the Minister for Foreign Affairs advise as to what is the area of dispute between Japan and Australia that is delaying the signing of the NARA Treaty?
– I cannot say exactly, but towards the end of the negotiations the Japanese raised some serious points which they wanted written into the economic sections. The points were ones we could not accept. That was the cause of the holdup. I have always instructed my officers when dealing with these matters not to be bound by time. Sometimes they can tidy matters up quickly, but something as important as this should in no way be bound by time. Having said that, I must say that it was thought the agreement negotiations might have come to a conclusion at the last Canberra meeting. They did not because of the new economic thoughts which the Japanese wanted written into the agreement. That is what we are trying to iron out at present.
– My question, which I direct to the Minister representing the Minister for Education, refers to reports of the Government ‘s policy decision to relocate commissions in regional growth centres. Has the Minister any information to offer with regard to the relocation of the Schools Commission? Can the Minister advise to what extent it is intended to fragment the Department of Education to implement Government plans for decentralisation?
-The matter of the general relocation of Government departments and statutory offices is, if I recollect correctly, the subject of an interdepartmental committee. Certain matters have been considered by Cabinet at this stage but no finality has been reached, as I recollect, on the question of the relocation of any of the commissions to which the honourable senator refers. I will look at the matter and if I can give the honourable senator any further information I will do so, but my recollection is that the Government has not reached finality on the decision.
Motion (by Senator Willesee) agreed to:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act relating to the United States Naval Communications Station established at North West Cape in Western Australia.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Standing orders suspended.
Motion (by Senator Wheeldon) agreed to:
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act to provide for payment by Australia of compensation in respect of loss of or damage to property arising out of the Darwin cyclone.
Bill presented, and read a first time. Standing orders suspended.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland)- by leave- agreed to:
1 ) That unless otherwise ordered the days and times of meeting for the Senate for the week beginning Monday 2 1 April 1974 be as follows:
Monday- 2.30 p.m. to 6 p.m.; 8 p.m. to 10.30 p.m.
Tuesday- 2.30 p.m. to 6 p.m.; 8 p.m. to 1 1 p.m.
Wednesday- 10.30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; 2.15 p.m. to 6 p.m.; 8 p.m. to 10.30 p.m.
That general business take precedence of Government business after 8 p.m. on Wednesday.
That the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate have effect at the terminating time each day.
– I have received a letter from Senator Drake-Brockman indicating that Senator Webster wishes to be discharged from the Joint Select Committee on Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland)- by leave- proposed:
That Senator Webster be discharged from further attendance on the Joint Select Committee on Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament.
– It should be made clear that it is at his own request.
– I think that is understood. It is a formality of the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Douglas McClelland) read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to incorporate my second reading speech in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no dissent, leave is granted. (The speech read as follows)-
The purpose of this Bill is to provide for the establishment of a Technical and Further Education Commission. Since it came to office, the Government has pursued a policy of establishing a complete range of expert, independent bodies to advise the Government on needs and priorities in the various sectors of education. To complement the Schools Commission, the Universities Commission and the Commission on Advanced Education, we are now establishing, through this Bill, a Commission which will give the long underdeveloped area of technical and further education the same assurance of skilled and impartial consideration of its needs as have the areas of primary, secondarly and tertiary education. The Technical and Further Education Commission is the last of these 4 Commissions to be established; but it is by no means the least. It will be concerned with the quality of education that is to be received by something like half a million students throughout Australia.
The new Commission will continue and build upon the valuable work of the existing Interim Committee, the Australian Committee on Technical and Further Education, which as honourable senators will recall was appointed in April 1973. That Committee reported in April 1974 on financial assistance to the States for the period 1 July 1974 to 31 December 1975. Its major recommendations were accepted by the Government and substantial funds are now being made available under the States Grants (Technical and Further Education) Act 1974. The Commission will be concerned not only with technical education but also with adult education in technical colleges, evening classes and classes conducted by adult education organisations such as the Workers’ Educational Association. Through a combination of provisions in paragraphs 3, 4 and 6 of the Bill, the Commission will be able to concern itself with technical and further education in the sense just mentioned, whether it is conducted in technical colleges, or by government or government, non-profit adult education organisations.
A most important area of concern for the Commission will be the fostering of opportunities for recurrent education. As the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) has pointed out, people who are now entering the workforce may well need re-training several times during their working life. The technical and further education sector will be responsible in large measure for the provision of facilities to meet this growing need. In April 1974, when he presented the Interim Committee’s Report on Technical and Further Education in Australia, the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) said that the report takes a long step in the direction of lifelong education and of opportunities for reentry into education. It recommends unrestricted access for adults to vocationally oriented education. It removes barriers discouraging adults. It has particular regard for the needs of women, of country students, of migrants, and of handicapped persons. In establishing the Commission we are providing the permanent machinery for the development of these ideals and the creation of a flexible technical and further education system which will supply opportunities for education and training where and when these are needed, and not merely for a limited period early in the lifetime of students.
The Bill requires the Commission, in the performance of its functions, to consult with the relevant authorities in the States. The Commission will thus be a vehicle through which, in co-operation with the States, technical and further education can be developed with the aid of Australian Government funds, to achieve the objectives I have outlined. The States will retain their existing responsibilities for administering programs of technical and further education. The assistance which the Australian Government will supply, through the operation of the Commission, will be additional to the States’ own expenditure. We will be looking to the States to maintain at least their existing level of. effort in providing for technical and further education, so that the maximum benefit may flow from the Australian Government’s contribution in this area.
The Bill provides for a Commission consisting of a full-time Chairman and Deputy Chairman and a part-time membership not exceeding ten. Appointment of members of the Commission and their conditions of service will be the same as for the other education commissions. The Commission may request the Minister to appoint committees to assist the Commission, and the Commission’s secretariat will be employed under the Public Service Act. The functions of the Commission, as set out in clause 6, are to advise the Minister on the general development of technical and further education in Australia, on needs and priorities in the provision of facilities, on desirable standards for those facilities, and on financial assistance to the States for and in respect of institutions of technical and further education.
The Commission is required to perform its functions with a view to promoting the balanced development of technical and further education in Australia. The Commission will also promote the wide access of intending students to technical and further education facilities, on the basis of equal opportunity for all. The Commission will have regard to the aspirations of individuals as well as the requirements of the manpower situation in pursuing this end.
The establishment of the Technical and Further Education Commission is an important event in Australian education. I regard this Bill as one of the most significant measures that I have had the satisfaction of introducing to the Senate. It represents a continuing commitment by the Government to a vital area of education.
From now on, there will be a permanent body which will concern itself solely with the national development of technical and adult education. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Guilfoyle) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Douglas McClelland) read a first time.
– I move:
I seek leave to incorporate my second reading speech in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no dissent, leave is granted. (The speech read as follows):
This Bill seeks to establish the Curriculum Development Centre as a statutory authority. In June 1973 the announcement was made of the Government’s decision to establish a Curriculum Development Centre, with the following functions: To undertake curriculum development tasks and to develop teaching and learning materials for use in schools; to commission and support curriculum and materials development; to display equipment and materials; to publish assessments and information about equipment and materials; to provide advisory services relating to curriculum and materials development, and to arrange the printing and marketing of materials. The Government’s intention that the Centre would be a statutory body, that it would have a governing council and that basic funding would be provided by the Australian Government was contained in the announcement of June 1973. Expenditure is expected to be around $2m to $3m annually when full operation is achieved.
In the word ‘curriculum’ educators refer to the whole range of learning experience which a child undergoes during his schooling. An aim of curriculum development is to relate education to the needs of the individuals. It includes not only the design of courses but also the formulation of effective teaching methods and the design and production of books and other printed materials, slides and film strips, films, audio-tapes, and so on through the whole range of teaching and learning materials and the equipment required for their use in the classroom. A characteristic feature of education today is its diversity- in the range of student abilities and interests, in the degree of responsibility being accorded to individual schools, in the design of school buildings themselves. All these, and others, are creating pressure for diversity in courses, materials and teaching methods.
Experience in Australia and overseas has demonstrated the benefits that can accrue to children and their schools from the concentration of relatively large funds and other resources of curriculum development on a national scale. In the United Kingdom a national Schools Council fosters curriculum and materials development by providing funds and other support and by arranging publication of results. In the United States of America several large projects have been mounted in recent years- in science, social science and the humanities- generally with Federally provided budgets of several million dollars. The products of some of these are being used in Australian schools.
In Australia each of the State education departments has created facilities for curriculum development. In general, however, these facilities appear to be fully stretched in the production of materials of particular relevance to the individual State, and which receive limited use in other States. There is also a lack of any permanent facility for the exchange of information and ideas between the State curriculum agencies, and for receiving and assessing new concepts and developments from overseas. These considerations have for some time pointed to a need for a national body such as this Centre. Further the Department of Education has over a period, received many specific proposals for curriculum and materials development on a national scale, indicating that there would be ample work of a national character for a Curriculum Development Centre, now and in the future. The proposed Centre has been discussed with the State Ministers for Education, who are my colleagues on the Australian Education Council. They have given the proposal their full endorsement. The Bill provides that 3 nominees of the Education Council be included in the membership of the Council of the Curriculum Development Centre.
Previous governments have given support and financial aid to national curriculum projects. I refer here particularly to the Australian Science
Education Project, for which a total of $940,000 was contributed from Federal funds over the 5-year life of the project; secondly, to the program to stimulate the teaching of Asian languages and cultures in schools, for which $1.5m are being allocated, again over a 5-year period; and also to the National Committee on Social Science Teaching. All of these were initiated in consultation with the States. Each has made a valuable contribution in its respective area, and continues to do so. I wish to acknowledge the part played in implementing these projects by previous Ministers having responsibility for education- in particular the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), in the House of Representatives. The establishment of a Curriculum Development Centre is a logical development of the principle underlying these activities of the Australian Government in the curriculum development area.
So that work could begin as quickly as possible I announced an Interim Council for the Centre late in 1973. This Interim Council was to initiate all the functions of the Centre. It was also to establish liaison with existing bodies interested in curriculum development, determine staffing needs, and advise on the accommodation required for the Centre. A wide range of bodies was consulted in the formation of the Interim Council, including the State Directors-General of Education, the Schools Commission, nongovernment school authorities, parents and teachers organisations, the Advisory Committee on Research and Development in Education and institutions involved in teacher education.
At this stage I would like to pay a tribute to the Chairman of the Interim Council, Professor G. T. Evans, and his fellow councillors, who have pursued the tasks given to them with vigour and imagination. In September 1974 the Interim Council released a statement on the ‘Functions and Mode of Operation of the Centre’. The Council has also sponsored a number of projects. The largest of these, the Social Education Materials Project, is being undertaken by the Centre at the suggestion of, and jointly with, the National Committee on Social Teaching. The project will develop 8 substantial units of teaching materials over 3-year period, and all State education departments and the Catholic and other non-goverment school authorities are participating in it. The Australian Government is providing $ 1 m towards the costs of the project.
The Bill itself would confirm the existing arrangements, and would enable the appointment of a permanent Council and a Director of the
Centre. In its administrative provisions, including such matters as grants, appointments, remuneration, accounting and auditing, the Bill follows the pattern of similar measures relating to other bodies and commissions in the education area, such as the Schools Commission. I will therefore mention only the main provisions. Clause 4 establishes the Centre as a statutory corporation. The Centre is to have dealings, often of a business nature, including sale and purchase of teaching materials, and as it will be engaging in the production and sale of educational materials it will need to hold copyright. Corporate status will enable it to do these things. Clause 5 lists the functions, and clause 6 the powers, of the Centre. I have already outlined the functions. The powers comprise those necessary for the discharge of the functions, including power to arrange for printing and publication of materials.
Clause 9 establishes the Council of the Curriculum Development Centre, and clause 10 states its function as the governing and policymaking body of the Centre. As provided in clause 1 1 , the Council is to comprise between 1 1 and 16 part-time members, together with the Director of the Centre, who will be the executive member. Part-time members, one of whom will be appointed Chairman, will serve for terms of not more than 3 years. Clause 1 8 establishes the full-time statutory office of Director of the Centre. As indicated in clause 19, the Director will conduct the affairs of the Centre, in accordance with the directions of the Council. The Director will be appointed for a period of up to 7 years- clause 20- with the possibility of reappointment. Staff other than the Directors are to be provided under the Public Service Act 1922-1974, as stated in clause 29. Apart from its permanent staff, it is expected that the Centre will wish to draw on the knowledge and experience of other persons, such as officers of the State education departments and the staffs of universities and colleges of advanced education. Clauses 30 and 3 1 provide for such arrangements to be made.
In keeping with the nature of its functions and operations it is proposed that the Centre’s financial transactions be outside the public account. This intent is reflected in clauses 32 to 42. The principal funds of the Centre will be provided by the Australian Government. The Centre will also earn income from the sale of products and the provision of services- clause 46. Clause 47 requires the Centre to consult and co-operate with other bodies with an interest in its general area of work, such as the Schools Commission and the State departments of education. Large sums are being spent annually by the State and Australian governments and by non-government education authorities on the physical and manpower resources for schools. If maximum benefit is to be gained from these expenditures, and if the innate talents of our children are to be developed to meet the calls of society in the present and in the future- then proper arrangements for the continuous review and development of the materials and methods of teaching and learning in schools are essential.
In establishing the Curriculum Development Centre the Government emphasises its recognition of the importance of curriculum development in improving and enriching the education of children and young people. I have pleasure in recommending this Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Guilfoyle) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Ordered that the Bill may be taken through all its stages without delay.
Bill (on motion by Senator Bishop) read a first time.
I seek leave to incorporate my second reading speech in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no dissent, leave is granted. (The speech read as follows):
The Road Safety and Standards Authority Bill is a most important measure, well warranting the time and consideration of the Senate. The tragic toll on our roads is a national problem which requires vigorous and co-ordinated action at the national level. The purpose of this Bill is to establish the Road Safety and Standards Authority as a statutory body responsible to the Minister for Transport. The objectives of the Authority are set out in clause 4 of the Bill. They are the promotion of road safety, promotion of means for the control of vehicle emissions and consumer protection in relation to motor vehicles.
Let me briefly put into perspective the human devastation and material waste that results from accidents on Australian roads. In 1974, 3571
Australians lost their lives in road accidents. We do not yet know, and will not know for a couple of months, how many were injured or how the fatalities were spread among the various groups of road users. The position in 1973 was 3679 people killed and 95 204 injured. In the 10 years up to and including 1973, 34 000 Australians had been killed and 850 000 injured in road accidents. To put this another way, road accidents rank fourth among the major causes of death in Australia. They are responsible for half of all accidental deaths and are the major cause of death for males under the age of 25 years- a group upon whom so much of our national hopes and aspirations rest. These are sobering figures indeed. Australia simply cannot afford to continue killing 10 people and injuring 250 people a day in road accidents.
The tragedy and suffering from this maiming and death touches nearly everyone in the community in one way or another. I am sure there are many senators who have had the numbing experience of hearing of the death or serious injury of a relative or close friend. Even in economic terms the cost of road accidents to the community is staggering. Estimates compiled a year or so ago put the annual cost as high as $ 1,000m. This represents about 2 per cent of the gross national product, $75 per head, $180 per registered vehicle and lc per vehicle kilometre. It must be apparent to all that the road toll is one of modern man’s greatest diseases. But like other diseases it has to be tackled logically and positively if its impact is to be minimised. This is what the Bill is all about- a logical and positive step through which a more concerted effort can be mounted to promote the safety of everyone using our roads.
Appalling though these figures are in the aggregate, the task of reducing the road toll is by no means an easy one. Accidents resulting in casualties occur on average only once for every one and a quarter million kilometres travelled on Australia’s roads. Moreover, road accidents are rarely caused by a single factor. They represent failures in the operation of the interacting components of a large and complicated transport system involving the vehicle, the road environment, the road user and his social environment. There is evidence that in the shorter term making the vehicle and the road safer is often cheaper and more effective in reducing both the incidence and severity of accidents than are attempts to modify human behaviour. Significant advances have been made as far as the vehicle is concerned by such measures as the Australian design rules for motor vehicle safety. Considerable effort has also been expended in improving road design, in orienting town planning towards road safety, in improving traffic management, and in making greater use of public transport services. Nevertheless, there is still considerable scope for wider implementation of safety principles in these areas.
In the longer term, however, we must recognise that the behaviour of the road user is nearly always the final link in the chain of circumstances which leads to a road accident. Progress in the study of road user behaviour has not matched that of other fields, yet the potential for achieving significant results is considerable. A pressing need for the future is for a better understanding of the nature of accident-related behaviour and improvements to techniques of road user behaviour modification. Alcohol is, of course, the most important single contributing factor in road accidents. In fact studies have found that over half of all drivers killed have a blood alcohol concentration over the legal limit. This is a problem which will need a major coordinated effect to develop appropriate counter measures. A substantial and sustained improvement in road safety will be attained only by raising the efficiency of the system to a much higher level- a task which will demand objective analysis of the problems involved and a high degree of co-operation between the contributing authorities. We certainly will not get there by adopting ‘ by guess and by God ‘ methods or pursuit of personal hunches.
The task is further complicated by a complex institutional framework. Control of the factors affecting safety on Australian roads is currently exercised by the Governments of the States and Territories through their individual legislation in respect of vehicle design and usage, driver licensing, traffic regulations, road planning and construction, traffic control, etc. Control is even further fragmented by a growing number of organisations with interests and responsibilities in one aspect or another of the road safety problem. Although there may be scope for further streamlining this framework there are certain inherent limitations on how far this can be carried in a broadly based field like road safety. Thus, fragmentation of authority is a fact of life which represents a continuing impediment to effective action to improve the standard of safety on Australian roads.
Over the last few years we have seen a change in the pattern of road deaths and injuries, coinciding with the introduction of compulsory seat belt wearing legislation and the continued extension of vehicle safety design rules into Australian cars. In the 3-year period from 1970 to 1973 vehicle occupant fatalities declined from 2693 in 1970 to 2463 in 1973, a drop of 9 per cent. Over this same period total motor vehicles on the register have gone up from 4.8 million to 5.6 million, an increase of 1 7 per cent. This means that the occupant fatality rate per 10,000 vehicles registered has dropped from about 5.6 to 4.4. However, not all vehicle occupants are subject to compulsory seat belt wearing laws. A particularly tragic aspect of the road toll is the death of so many young children. In 1 970 there were 82 children under 7 killed who were passengers in cars; by 1973 this had risen to 98, an increase of 20 per cent. Over the same period injuries increased from 2679 to 3033.
Again fatalities of pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists, that is those other road users who have not benefited from seat belt wearing and safer vehicle design, have gone up from 1 105 in 1970 to 12 16 in 1973, an increase of 10 per cent. Among these the increase in motorcyclist deaths is particularly alarming. In 1973, 330 motorcyclists lost their lives compared with 173 in 1970, an increase of 91 per cent. Over this period, motorcycle registrations increased by 84 per cent from 114 000 in 1970 to 210 000 in 1973. It is obvious that despite our successes in recent years we have much to do to bring the road toll under greater control, with a particular need to concentrate on the most vulnerable groups.
The other 2 fields of endeavour proposed for the Authority are of considerable importance to the community. They should be seen as pan of the Government’s objectives of improving the quality of life in our cities and of protecting the consumer in respect of the quality of the goods and services he buys. Air pollution caused by motor vehicles is a matter of concern to the majority of Australians who live in our major cities. Vehicles are said to contribute 90 per cent of the carbon monoxide pollutants, 65 per cent of the hydrocarbons and 55 per cent of the nitrogen oxides in our cities. Reported levels for the larger cities in Australia of carbon monoxide and oxidants are up to four and five times the World Health Organisation’s long term goals.
In short, motor vehicle related pollution is a problem in the larger cities of Australia. Measures adopted already are expected to about halve carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions in urban areas and arrest the growth of oxides of nitrogen emissions from 1977-1982. But we cannot alford to sit back and relax. We have to ensure we keep abreast of developing technology and in-service performance of the ‘emissionised’ vehicles as well as needs in terms of air quality. Similarly, for most people the purchase of their car is the second largest investment they make, second only to the purchase of the family home. Indeed Australians spend some $1,200 a year on the purchase of private motor vehicles and a little more on their operation. Clearly this is a field where the consumer should know what to expect when he pays out his money whether it is for a new car, for maintenance or for repairs. The number of complaints we all receive or hear about indicates that many motorists are far from satisfied at the moment.
So much for the problem. Let us now turn to what has been done to reduce this toll. Road safety is not a party political issue. However, I must say that the record of this Government over the last 2 years is one of vigorous action. The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Road Safety and the Expert Group on Road Safety were both re-appointed quickly. We have introduced a program of low cost improvements at locations with poor accident records and an initial $3m was provided in 1973-74. A total of $30m is being provided over the 3-year period of the current roads legislation. Honourable senators will recall that in March last year the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) wrote to all senators with a request that information on the locations of serious accidents be brought to his attention. I invite them to do so again. The locations in question will again be referred to the relevant State authorities for consideration on their merits, with a view to including them in the traffic improvements program. We have expanded our research and road safety promotion activities to the extent that more than $lm has been allocated for this purpose during 1974-75. We have also taken the first steps to provide a central information service for those working in road safety. Indeed we have now implemented all the major recommendations by the Expert Group in its national review of the road accident situation in Australia.
Against this background I would like to highlight some of the key elements of this Bill. The Road Safety and Standards Authority will be a statutory body consisting of a chairman and 2 part-time members. As already mentioned the objectives of the Authority are the promotion of road safety, promotion of means for the control of vehicle emissions and consumer protection in relation to motor vehicles. Working closely with the Department of Transport the Authority will seek to do this through improvement programs, formulation of national standards and traffic codes, the certification of vehicles and components, research into all relevant factors, education and publicity campaigns and a comprehensive information service. These functions follow closely those recommended by both the Select Committee and the Expert Group. The Bill also includes a requirement on the Authority to consult appropriate authorities of Australia, the States and Territories, local governing bodies and other interested bodies. This requirement bears special mention. The Authority is not intended as a substitute for what others are doing in the field. It is intended as an addition to a better co-ordinated total effort. In particular it is intended that the Authority should assist the work of the Australian Transport Advisory Council through the provision of technical support and participation in its Standing Committee of Advisers and relevant Advisory Committees.
The Authority’s staff will be appointed under the Public Service Act. The staff will be representative of a wide range of disciplines needed to undertake detailed investigations into the factors affecting vehicles, roads and the road environment, road user behaviour and the interrelationships between them. To assist the Authority, provision has been made for the appointment of committees. Of particular importance will be the Advisory Committee on Road Safety Research and Information. The role of this Committee will be to advise the Minister on major research projects and to assist the Authority in faciliating communication with the various bodies associated with road safety. Once again, creation of such a committee has been recommended by both the Select Committee and the Expert Group.
The Government not only proposes to establish the Authority, it also proposes to provide the Authority with the facilities required to enable it to get on with its most important task. As the Minister for Transport announced late last year facilities estimated to cost more than $ 10m are to be developed for the Authority near the Albury-Wodonga growth centre. These facilities will include several specialised laboratories and outdoor facilities incorporating a test track, skid pan and associated road network. The vehicle and component testing facilities will permit testing for compliance with all Australian design rules for motor vehicle safety and development of new or upgraded standards. They will also enable development of measures to control the effects on safety and emissions of deterioration, replacement parts, repairs and modifications.
The road and traffic management facilities will enable testing of such safety innovations as breakaway’ roadside furniture and permit controlled simulation of intersection manoeuvres which cannot be done on a normal road system. These facilities could be made available, on a cost recovery basis, to vehicle and component manufacturers or importers, many of whom do not have access to similar facilities in Australia. The Chairman of the Expert Group, Mr Justice Meares, summed up the position very well when speaking recently in Albury-Wodonga. He said:
The Authority, backed by comprehensive test facilities, will be the focal point for a second generation of vigorous, co-ordinated and multi-disciplinary efforts to reduce the tragic toll on our roads. ‘
I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Jessop) adjourned.
-Mr President, I seek leave to make a relatively brief statement relating to notice of motion No. 1.
-Is leave granted? There being no dissent, leave is granted.
– The Regulations and Ordinances Committee’s concern with this amendment of the Australian Capital Territory Motor Traffic Ordinance was that it reverses the onus of proof by creating an absolute offence, namely the offence of being in a traffic lane reserved for buses, and then provides a number of defences which a defendant has to establish. This type of provision is not uncommon, and the Committee always subjects such reversals of the onus of proof” to close scrutiny. The Committee has taken evidence on this Ordinance from officers of the Department of the Capital Territory, and has had correspondence with the Attorney-General (Mr Enderby). It was put to the Committee that if the Ordinance did not create an absolute offence, the prosecution’s task would be made too difficult, and the Ordinance would not be effective. The Committee was concerned, however, that defendants could be put to unnecessary expense and trouble in establishing defence to prosecutions, because there is no formal requirement upon the prosecution to consider whether a defendant may have one of the defences available under the Ordinance.
The Attorney-General has given an undertaking that he will amend the prosecution procedures in relation to offences under the Motor Traffic Ordinance so that a person charged with an offence will have an opportunity to put in writing, in conjunction with the plea by post system which already operates, any defence which he considers that he may have, and the prosecuting authorities will be obliged to take any such statement into account before proceeding with a prosecution. The Committee considers that the amendments proposed will substantially overcome its objection to the Ordinance. Therefore, in view of the undertaking given by the Attorney-General, I withdraw Business of the Senate, Notice of Motion No. 1, standing in my name. I would like to take the opportunity now to thank the Attorney-General for the cooperation he has extended to the Committee in relation to this matter.
Consideration of the President’s statement.
– I move:
The Senate has before it a very serious matter. I am sure that all honourable senators would be unanimous in their view on that point. I hope that during the discussions which emanate from the moving of this motion there will not be a witch hunt against anyone. I certainly hope that the debate is carried on with the proper dignity of the Senate and not on a party basis. Any member of the Senate can be in a position in which he may be subjected to scrutiny by the Senate. I am sure that under these conditions all honourable senators would wish that that person be given a proper hearing in which he was able to state clearly to the Senate his case. I believe that yesterday Senator Webster was able to do so. He was given leave to make a statement in respect of the matters which had been raised by the Joint Committee on Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament. Before I speak to the motion I wish to make clear one point in respect of a matter which Senator Webster raised yesterday. During his remarks he referred to an answer which I had given to a question by Senator Poyser on 1 0 April. Senator Webster said: lt was the same newspaper -
I think he was referring to the Melbourne ‘Age’- which published last week an allegation against members of the Government side regarding this matter. At question time on that day- this can be found on page 925 of Senate Hansard of 10 April 1975- the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Wriedt) described the allegation as completely wrong’ and ‘a complete fabrication’.
That statement was made, I believe perhaps unconsciously, to give the impression that I was saying that the allegations against Senator Webster were fabrications and were completely wrong. Let me make it quite clear that when I made those remarks I was referring to a question concerning a deputation allegedly made to me. For the purpose of the record, I wish to read my precise answer. The question was asked by Senator Poyser. I said:
On reading it -
That is the article-
I saw that there was allegedly a deputation to me of Government senators who were named and were quoted as having told me that they would not accept any compromise on this issue. I want to reject completely the contents of this article: it is completely wrong. No deputation of Government or Opposition senators came to me. I do not know why these fabrications are printed in the Press. The rest of the article consists of a series of comments made and opinions expressed, presumably those of the journalist who wrote it. But specifically, as to the question of any deputation to me by any of the senators named in this article, that is a complete fabrication.
I want it quite clearly understood that under no circumstances was I suggesting for a moment that the general matters which have been referred to the Senate by the Committee were contained in my statement. In moving that the question of whether Senator Webster, who was chosen for his present Senate seat on 18 May 1 974, was capable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator, should be referred to the Court of Disputed Returns under section 203 of the Electoral Act, the Government is taking what in fact is the only responsible and appropriate procedure available to resolve this question. The reference covers not only the question of whether Senator Webster was capable of being chosen as a senator but also the question of whether subsequent to being elected as a senator he then became subject to disqualification.
As honourable senators are aware, the possible ground for disqualification that arises in this case is the holding of a pecuniary interest in an agreement with the Public Service within the meaning of section 44 (v.) of the Constitution. These matters come before the Senate pursuant to a reference from the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament. In a letter dated 15 April from the Chairman of the Joint Committee to you, Mr President, reference is made to Senate standing order 386 which states that if any information comes before any Committee that charges any senator, the Committee has only to direct that the Senate be acquainted with the matter of such information without proceeding further thereupon. The Joint Committee, having received information raising a real question of disqualification that came before it because it was generally relevant to the scope of its inquiry, was obliged to act to refer the matter to the Senate by bringing the matter to your attention, Mr President.
I would have thought that the public discussion in the newspapers and elsewhere of Senator Webster’s qualifications in itself indicated that a situation had arisen in which the Senate had to take some note of the matter, particularly as a Deputy President of this body was involved. We would be remiss in our own obligations and responsibilities to the Senate and to the Australian public that we serve if we allowed the serious constitutional questions that have been raised to remain the subject of contention and unresolved. The evidence given before the Joint Committee by Mr Ben Hills from the staff of the ‘Age’, attached to the letter from the Chairman of the Joint Committee, alleges that Senator Webster has been and is now ‘in blatant breach of the Australian Constitution ‘. Mr Hills went on to set forth the facts on which this assertion was based and he referred to section 44 of the Constitution. Mr Hills said that continuously before his appointment to the Senate in 1964 Senator Webster had been a director, manager, secretary and substantial shareholder in the Elsternwick timber and hardware company, J. J. Webster Pty Ltd. He also said that J. J. Webster Pty Ltd has had between 1964 and 1974 a series of contracts with Commonwealth Government departments. He said the 9 contracts which have been located, but which may not be the full list, were with 4 departments and totalled more than $100,000. In fact the contracts in question are listed in the Australian ‘Gazette’ and there is clearly no question as to the existence of these contracts or that they were in relation to goods to be supplied to departments of the Australian Public Service. Mr Hills also tendered expert legal advice which had been obtained from Mr Gareth Evans, Senior Lecturer in Law at Melbourne University, that Senator Webster had ‘in fact a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in these contracts and they were in fact agreements with the Public Service within the meaning of the Constitution’.
Since there is no dispute as to the basic facts of the case there is no reason at all why the Senate should not address itself directly and immediately to the matter of how this serious question should be dealt with. In doing so we must have proper regard to our constitutional responsibilities and to the requirements of due process since the allegation of failure to obey a specific constitional requirement is a serious matter. There is no doubt in the Government’s mind as to how, therefore, the matter should be approached. It is not my intention to enter into a long debate on the constitutionality of this matter. The whole purpose and intent of the Government’s motion is that this should be decided in another place, that is in the Court of Disputed Returns. It is not a matter which should be for the Senate itself to attempt to determine, because of the very obvious technical and involved matters of law with which we would be dealing.
The purpose of my speaking to this motion is to place before the Senate the reasons why the Government believes that this matter should be referred to the Court of Disputed Returns. We believe that there is sufficient evidence from the Committee which has been brought to our attention and which requires action to be taken by the Senate in the manner that is outlined in the motion, and I restate my hope that during the course of the debate on this matter we will keep in mind the very important long-standing traditions of this Senate, that is that we would not be in any way partial in our judgments, that we would consider the rights of individuals in this Senate, and that we would also, and above all, keep in mind the Constitution of this country which we are all obliged to observe.
Debate (on motion by Senator Withers) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 10 April on motion by Senator Willesee:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Bill provides for certain amendments to the Australian War Memorial Act. As is well known, the Australian War Memorial has existed for many years, in fact since shortly after the First World War, and has developed for Australia a widely respected collection as a memorial to those who lost their lives during the wars and, as they are now described, in warlike activities in which Australia has been involved. Australians other than servicemen have been involved in various wars and warlike activities during Australia’s history as a nation, but until this amendment was proposed they had not been brought within the terms of the Act as being subjects of the operation of the Australian War Memorial. We find, therefore, the following definition in clause 4(1):
The Australia War Memorial established by the Australian War Memorial Act 192S is continued in existence and shall be a national memorial of Australians who have died-
on or as a result of active service; or
b) as a result of any war or warlike operations in which Australians have been on active service,
This will cover others who served, such as merchant seamen, civilians with other forces, the Red Cross, the Australian Comforts Fund, the Young Men’s Christian Association, war correspondents and photographers, and a host of other persons who all played their part- a valuable part- in assisting Australia in time of war. Quite obviously they should be brought within the Bill, and the Opposition would warmly support that step being taken.
Another amendment which is proposed is related to the investment of available funds of the War Memorial Fund, and a brief explanation in relation to that is that the War Memorial Board has over the years published books and produced souvenirs of various sorts and sold these to the Australian public. The War Memorial in Canberra is a very popular place, more than 7 1 1 000 people having visited it during the year ended 30 June 1974. A large number of those people made purchases from the Board and the net result is that a special fund has accumulated now a total sum for investment of approximately $ 1 70,000. This enables the Board to make purchases of various sorts without calling on Consolidated Revenue to provide funds for those purchases. For instance, last year the income from sales of books and souvenirs was almost $69,000, leaving a net surplus of $54,000. The Bill provides for greater scope for the investment of those accumulated funds. Clause 6 states:
1 ) Moneys in the Fund not immediately required for the purposes referred to in section 18 may be invested-
This will give a much wider discretion as to the investment of the funds, will enable a greater interest rate to be obtained and is obviously in the best interests of the operation of the Australian War Memorial Fund. In that respect also the Opposition will certainly support the amendment.
Another aspect of the amendment is related to the remuneration and allowances for members and deputies of members of the Board and simply brings them into line with the normal procedure that they shall be such amounts as are determined by the Remuneration Tribunal. That practice is adopted in like instances and again the Opposition would support that action. It has been commented in the second reading speech that the income of the Fund enables the War Memorial to be conducted without calling on the Government for financial assistance. Because that may be misleading, I should indicate that there is a very large annual parliamentary appropriation of approximately $750,000 for the past year which is applied for the payment of salaries of the staff of the War Memorial, for administrative expenses and plant and equipment. I do not have any comment about that other than simply to clear up the situation in case some misunderstanding was created. The position is that the running expenses of the War Memorial amount to approximately $750,000 and are paid for out of Consolidated Revenue, but the purchases are, and have been for some time, made out of the funds raised by the sale of books and other material.
I would like to make only one further comment. I would like to take the opportunity to remind people that the War Memorial depends to quite a significant extent upon the alertness of people in the community and their consciousness of the fact that films, photographs and writtenmaterial as well as other forms of souvenirs from the various wars in which Australia has been involved are all of very considerable historical value. If people, on going through their possessions, find something which relates to some aspect of wars in which Australians have been involved, particularly photographs, they should consider making those available to the Australian War Memorial rather than perhaps destroying them or leaving them unwanted and put away somewhere. I simply remind people of the important role which the average Australian can play because the War Memorial can be built up by a consciousness in the community that this sort of action would be to the benefit of the War Memorial and to the memory of those servicemen and women and other people associated with the Services who lost their lives during the various actions in which Australia has been involved. The Opposition warmly supports the Bill.
– in reply- I thank Senator Rae for his remarks and endorse the latter part of them. Instead of throwing out mementos or photographs, which I think most of us do after we have had them for a time, we should give them to government agencies- in this case to the Australian War Memorial. We should do the same thing with articles that are to be found in libraries and archives. During the period when I was responsible for these agencies the people running them were forever trying to impress upon me the value of these articles.
As Senator Rae has pointed out, and as was pointed out in the second reading speech, this Bill does 2 things. Firstly, it brings within the scope of the Australian War Memorial Act those Australians who served in the forces of other Commonwealth countries or with allied forces, those who were members of the Australian Merchant Navy or who were civilians who served with Australian forces, for example, the Australian Red Cross, the Australian Comforts Fund, the Young Mens Christian Association, war correspondents and photographers. Secondly, the Bill gives greater flexibility so that the War Memorial Board which administers the Australian War Memorial Act will be able to invest available moneys to greater advantage than at present. Of course, as is the case with other government bodies, all the safeguards are provided. I thank Senator Rae who on behalf of the Opposition gave the Bill a speedy passage.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from 15 April on motion by Senator Willesee:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
- Mr Acting Deputy President, this Bill is the latest in a long line of attempts by the Australian Labor Party to rig the electoral system in its own favour. There is nothing particularly new in that technique, because the Government has been trying to do that ever since it came to office. It has repeatedly presented legislation to this chamber claiming it to be a reform of the electoral system. But what it does not say is that it is a reform aimed purely at achieving by stealth a change in the system which will benefit the Australian Labor Party. This Bill falls into that category. It proposes a number of worthwhile alterations to the system, but mixed in among those worthwhile improvements are attempts- deliberate attempts -to change the rules to help the ALP.
One wonders how many people the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) has had working at the taxpayers’ expense to think up ways of disguising this stealthy bid to cheat the voter. The Opposition believes in a fair and equitable electoral system, one in which the party with the most votes wins the most seats. This is electoral justice, it is democracy and in fact it is what we have now. We believe that every voter has a right to have his vote taken into account. We believe that every politically minded person has the right to form, if he can attract support, a political party, and the right to contest an election, either singly or in a group. But there are clauses in this Bill- clauses which the Government has tried to hide in the fine print of this Bill- that deprive the voter of his rights. There are sections that will stifle the development of political alternatives. The Bill is an assault on democracy; it is a Trojan horse. In its desperate attempt to perpetuate itself in office the Labor Party is attempting to destroy political liberty, and the Liberal Party will not have a bar of that.
I give credit to many of the genuine reforms contained in the Bill. The last time this legislation came before the Senate it was rejected. When it was before the Parliament the first time the Minister for Services and Property went to great lengths to tell us how many of the proposals in his Bill were contained in legislation introduced by a Liberal-Country Party Government in 197 1 and he demanded that we should support these measures. Mr Daly will be pleased to know that we intend to support those proposals. The last time the Opposition rejected this legislation because it believed, and it still believes, that many of the provisions are aimed not at providing true electoral reform but at helping Labor to the disadvantage of other individuals, groups and parties in the community, not just the Liberal Party because as a major party we will survive anything the Labor Party may attempt to do.
We support most of this Bill. We have considered it in full detail and will fight only against a handful of the measures it proposes. These are the provisions which challenge the rights of the voter and these are rights that must be preserved always. We would be dishonest to the people of Australia, of all political persuasions, if we did not fight to protect them from this onslaught on their liberty.
There are 3 basic provisions in this Bill to which the Opposition is opposed. We oppose them because they rob the people of their rights. If this Bill were allowed through the Senate unamended it would result in thousands of people being deprived of their right to votepeople who are ill, people who are unexpectedly forced to travel on the eve of an electionbecause of changes to the postal voting system.
Thousands who did vote this way would probably have their vote not counted because it would not reach their Divisional Returning Officer on the night of the election which is the new cut-off time. If this Bill passed unchanged, small political parties would be forced out of existence. It would be virtually impossible for new parties to be formed. The present Bill would entrench the present party system.
That might be all right for the existing major parties but it may not meet the wishes of the Australian community. I ask: Are either of these moves democratic? The Opposition believes they are not. We believe that if people are to be forced to vote- and we accept compulsory voting- they should be given every possible opportunity to do so. Proposals to shorten the voting hours and proposals to alter the postal voting system hinder rather than facilitate.
The third provision to which we object is optional preferential voting. The present system is fair and equitable. It has been proved so. The Labor Party seems to believe that optional preferential voting will help it back to office. What an insult to the intelligence of the Australian voter. Apparently the Government believes the average person cannot number a ballot paper from one to four- the demand made on more than 90 per cent of voters at the last election. If Labor believes optional preferential voting is so democratic, it begs this question: Why has it not adopted such a system for its own caucus ballots? It has not done so. And the reason is clear: The ALP believes a full exhaustive ballot is the only fair and democratic way of determining the choice of its members. Yet it tries, under the guise of reform, to force the voters to accept something different. That is what this Government is all about- one law for it, and another law for the people. It is just another example of double standards, hypocrisy and humbug.
Mr President, the Opposition sees nothing wrong with a full exhaustive ballot, which is what the present law requires. There is one clear advantage with the full preferential system, the system that no one has tried to change for years. The advantage is that it effectively determines a full and final choice by the electorate as a whole. It ensures that the person elected is preferred by 50 per cent plus one of the electorate, and what can be more democratic than that? It ensures that voters not only say who they want to govern but who they do not want to govern and that surely is a right that every voter should be given. Of course, the Government claims that optional preference voting would make voting simpler. It claims this at the same time as it forces people to the polls and, if this Bill is passed, forces them to the polls earlier than they need to go at present.
The facts are, however, that with a few rare exceptions most voters are not required to do more than put 4 numbers on their ballot paper. In 1969, almost 85 per cent of voters for the House of Representatives had to place only 4 numbers on their paper. In 1972, almost 90 per cent had the same limited choice. In 1974, more than 90 per cent of voters needed to spend only a few seconds in the polling booth numbering their choices in order from one to four. This surely is no inconvenience. Furthermore, the informal vote is only around the 2 per cent mark, the same as it was in the days of voluntary voting.
A change to optional preferential voting will not in any way diminish the informal vote for the House of Representatives. It is an insult to the intelligence of the Australian voter to claim, as this Government does, that he or she finds it difficult to mark from 1 to 4 on a ballot paper which is all most voters need do. The Government might, perhaps, point to the 1974 Senate ballot paper in New South Wales, where 73 candidates stood for election. This may have caused some difficulties, but it ensured that a full and final verdict was given. And what is so wrong with that?
The informal vote in New South Wales at that election in 1 974 was no higher than it was in the Senate election of 196 1 when there were only 2 1 candidates. The informal vote for Senate elections has always been higher than it has been for the House of Representatives. Optional preferential voting was used in Senate elections in the 1 920s, and the informal vote was no lower than it is today with the present full preferential voting system. A change to an optional preferential system would make counting no easier for either Senate or House of Representatives elections.
Let me now deal in more detail with our other objections. The Government has made much play about registering political parties, which would allow the inclusion of party affiliations on a ballot paper. The Opposition has no intrinsicobjection to the principle of printing such affiliations but, being realistic, we see the immense problems and inequities that this would create. The Opposition’s basic attitude is that anyone has the right to form a political party. This registration requirement would effectively impinge that right. It could even destroy it.
There would be no disadvantage to the Liberal Party in having the words ‘Liberal Party’ printed beside our candidates names although, because of its current mismanagement, I should think many Labor candidates would prefer not to have their affiliations revealed to the voter. But the difficulties involved in registration are enormous. Who could effectively arbitrate if someone claimed the name ‘Labor’? Think of the troubles this would create. The Bill does not even provide an appeal against the decision of the Australian Electoral Officer on what names are acceptable for registration. More important is the infringement of basic civil liberties that the registration requirements in this Bill impose.
These registration requirements are full of Catch 22 ‘s. For example, the Bill would require a party to nominate candidates in at least one quarter of the seats contested in any one State. That means that in Tasmania a party could be formed which would contest only two House of Representatives seats. But in New South Wales a similar party would have to contest twelve. This is no problem for the Opposition. We could meet the requirement everywhere. But what of the small parties? Should they be forced to the expense and organisational problems of contesting large numbers of seats just so that they can be put on an equal footing with the Big Three? What sort of democracy is this? Is it democracy for the large and not for the small? Is it right for the powerful but not for the weak? We say that these provisions are undemocratic. For the sake of perpetuating the big parties the Government is attacking the small. We do not accept that, and we will fight against it.
Another example of the Government’s determination to deprive small parties and individuals of their right to be elected is contained in its proposals to lift the deposits for Senate elections. The Government wants the deposit to be $ 1 ,000-1 repeat, $ 1 ,000. This does not worry the Liberal Party. We always collect enough votes to keep our deposit. But imagine the effect on an individual or a small group of people who wish to stand for election. They would be forced to make a major financial sacrifice for the right to seek election. That surely is undemocratic and unfair. It typifies the Labor Party’s lack of concern for the weak, the deprived, and the poor. We accept that the present deposits may not be totally appropriate in view of the rampant inflation the Government has imposed on the community, but we believe $1,000 is too much. We believe a figure of $500 is far more realistic. We will so move in the Committee stage.
Thirdly there is the question of postal voting. The Labor Party has tried to disguise the fact that this Bill would effectively deprive many people of a postal vote, without offering them any other way of having their votes counted. They would be effectively disfranchised. On the one hand the Government claims to be offering an extension of the franchise; on the other it is taking it away. This is grossly unfair. The Opposition takes this basic stance: If voting is to be compulsory electors should be given every possible opportunity to have their votes counted.
The postal voting system is the only way many ill or travelling people can exercise their vote, but this Bill would take that right away for many people. It will mean, in effect, that anyone who does not cast his vote on the Thursday before an election will be disfranchised. That is not all. Anyone who becomes a victim of the postal systemwhich has steadily deteriorated under this Government- would have to lodge his postal vote much further in advance.
How long does it take now to deliver a letter? I ask the Postmaster-General (Senator Bishop): Can he guarantee that a letter posted on a Thursday will reach its destination by Saturday as this Bill envisages? Of course he cannot. There is not even a postal delivery on Saturday any more. Under the specious excuse of avoiding delays in counting election results, the Government would insist that all postal votes be received by the close of the poll if they are to be counted. Under the present proposal, a person voting by post would have to send his vote direct to his own electorate officer. Impediments are being placed in the voters’ way instead of assistance being given to electors. There are few occasions when counting of postal votes materially delays the outcome of an election; but if it does, surely these votes are vital. It would mean an electorate so finely balanced as to require- in the name of democracy- the determination of the wishes of every voter. The electors should not be deprived of that right. Surely it is better to have an accurate result than a quick one.
The Opposition believes the present postal voting procedures are basically satisfactory. Instead of placing impediments in the voters’ way the Government should be helping those who have great difficulties in casting a vote. In Committee we will move an amendment which will seek to make it easier for people who have difficulties in casting a vote under the present postal vote system. The Government might talk about abuses but these can be overcome quite simply. The Opposition has an easy solution. We will be proposing that for each election a different coloured postal vote form be used, ensuring no party can store up forms and then solicit votes with these forms. It is so simple I am amazed the Government did not think of it. But then, in framing these proposals, the Government has been so concerned with being devious that it has overlooked simplicity.
There is one other area to which we object and which in Committee we will seek to amend: that is the proposal to shorten polling hours from the present 12-hour period to only 10 hours. What sort of a Government is it that forces people to the polls under threat of a fine, and then reduces the time it provides for them to vote in? We believe that the present polling times are fair and adequate. They make provision for people who for a variety of reasons cannot vote before sundown. They make provision for people who find it a gross inconvenience to be forced to vote before 6 p.m.
We believe in offering voters every convenience and every facility to determine which government they want. The Government apparently believes in depriving people of those opportunities. This is not reform. It is blatant rigging. As I said earlier the Opposition supports most of this Bill. We commend some of it. But in the Committee stage we will endeavour to delete or amend those offensive clauses which represent an assault on democracy. We should be supported by every honourable senator on the Government side who believes in justice. Some of the amendments I intend to move will not be insisted upon. But others will, and if we are unable to have our amendment accepted we will vote against the clause.
If this Government is genuine in its attempts at rectifying inequities in the present Electoral Act it will give serious consideration to all our amendments. If the Government is interested in electoral justice it will not press those sections of the Bill which seek electoral advantage for a particular party or for the present parties at the expense of the Australian people. We are giving the Government a chance to show its real colours.
Sitting suspended from 12.57 to 2.15 p.m.
-This Bill is, in my opinion, essential in that it brings democracy closer to the people. Elections at best bring to ordinary people the opportunity to choose as a government the people who in their opinion are best suited to represent their hopes and aspirations. At worst, elections become a mechanical aggravating occurrence costing a great deal of time and money, a compulsory chore that is unintelligible to the general public. There was a time when I think it could be said that that was the case and that for all but a small percentage of the population the procedures were not understood and the whole deal bored them stiff. At times some issue or some personality would flash across the sky, but generally the people turned off the babble of sound and voted because they would be fined if they did not vote. I believe that that climate has changed. Politics has come alive for a great number of people. They are taking an increasing interest in the parties, the policies and the people involved. It always has been mandator)’ for a government to provide the best possible electoral system, and I believe that it has been mandatory also for a government to educate the population into that system. I am afraid that for a long time that part of government responsibility has been ignored. I believe that at the moment, because of this renewed interest- a very intense interest in parts- the Government is under a great deal of pressure from the electors of this country to bring in the reforms contained in this Bill.
For instance, this Bill allows for the names of the political parties to which candidates belong to be placed alongside a candidate’s name. While standing outside a lot of polling booths for a long period of time I have noticed that voters have been asking for this for years. They object to the system that acknowledges outside the polling booth that there are political parties with policies which they, the voters, are in favour of or disapprove of but which provides that once they are inside that sacred booth they are on their own unless there have been sterling souls standing outside the booths handing out how-to-vote cards. They finish up inside the booth with a fistful of paper and a ballot paper with a list of names, and then they have the job of rationalising all the lists in front of them. What basic right is upset by printing the names of political parties in the ballot papers? It would be different if we did not recognise political parties as a part of the system, but we do and, in my opinion, the more information we can give voters to make sure they record their vote in the way they want to, the more information we can give them so that they make a proper choice in the light of their own personal feelings, the better our system will work.
Often in the past the very fact that the names of political parties did not appear opposite candidates’ names had been used to confuse voters and to upset the proper election results. For instance, there was a case in Victoria where a candidate found at the closing of nominations that there was a person in the field who had exactly the same name as himself and the same initials, lt was found on investigation that the person had changed his name by deed poll before sending in his nomination. Obviously this was done to confuse the voters, to break down the vote for the genuine candidate and so prevent the voters in the area involved from giving true expression to their feelings. This Bill would make it impossible for such a thing to take place.
In the past how-to-vote cards have been used deliberately to confuse voters. Certain small groups that appear at election time, and usually only at election time, come forward from time to time with how-to-vote cards that suggest that if you are a Labor voter you should vote for that Party’s candidate first and then follow the Labor Party ticket or if you are a Liberal voter you should vote for that Party’s candidate and then follow the Liberal card. For a busy person not closely enmeshed in the political life of the area in question, a quick glance at the card is misleading. This is unfair to the voter. This Bill would prevent such things happening and would ensure that such groups honestly produced their own material. It would make them stand on their own policies, if they had any.
Up until this time, of course, the order in which candidates names appear on the ballot paper has been determined alphabetically. Aaron Aardvark always comes ahead of Betty Brown. It is well known that there are in some areas amongst some of the smaller political professionals standing for Parliament, not because they ever expect to get there but because of the name they had or assumed in any election meant that they were placed at the top of the ticket and they picked up the donkey vote. There have been times when that was worth 7 per cent of the vote. We all know of instances where districts have been scoured for a follower or somebody who could be prevailed upon to stand for Parliament so that a particular party could gain the position at the top of the ticket. I do not believe this applies so much to the major political parties because they usually pick their candidates because of pressure of support for that person within the party and because of the value of the contribution that person will make to the Parliament, but for many of the smaller parties that mushroom up at election time this was their moment of glory, their little grab for power, to be king maker. It was a matter of gain that donkey vote, and then they would strut around talking about who would be given their second preferences.
Donkey votes come about because people do not understand the system and do not understand how it works. Either they have not been educated into understanding it or, in many instances in Australia over the past few years, there have been large numbers of people who have come to maturity in overseas countries that have a system quite different from ours. When they come here it sometimes takes a deal of time and education to wean them from the system they have been using for so long and to teach them how ours works. They are confused about how best to make a decision. Under this Bill it will no longer be possible for people to use our system to confuse the voter by running a candidate for the top of the ticket. At last the names will be drawn in a ballot, as has happened with the Senate ballot paper for so long, and it will not be open to manipulation.
There are very many people in the community who in a Senate election rebel against having to rate the candidates- all the candidates- in an order of preference. They want to vote for the necessary number of people to be elected and leave it at that. As has been pointed out before, we had the extraordinary situation in New South Wales during the last Senate election where 73 candidates had to be rated. A great number of people made a mess of the ballot paper in trying to fill in all those squares and their vote was declared informal. If a person did not understand our system in the first place it was an almost impossible job to explain how to apply it in that particular election with that number of candidates. This Bill introduces the proposition of optional preferential voting, a system whereby a voter will have his vote counted, so long as he has marked the ballot paper to cover the number of members to be elected. Senate elections are notorious for confusing voters. They do not understand the system. A lot of them really do not understand what the Senate is. Unless a person starts at one end of the ballot paper- it can be a long ballot paper as the last election for this place showed- and just runs through the sequence of numbers, the person can become very confused as to whether he has filled in all the squares. People are not infallible; they are just normal human beings and it is very easy for them to leave out a number, repeat a number or leave a space. The hard part is that many of those people who do that are people who, far from being uncaring or uninformed, are taking a very responsible attitude about the way they vote and the stand they are taking in voting that way. This Bill would at last take into account the fact that human beings can make mistakes and it would make allowances for those mistakes in the best possible way.
The matter of polling hours, which this Bill covers, has come up for discussion throughout Australia for years. Polling booths have been open for 12 hours- from 8 o’clock in the morning to 8 o’clock at night. One can imagine being a polling clerk at a small booth where one can expect only 40 votes in all. There are plenty of booths like that. By 10.30 a.m. he has issued 39 ballot papers and he knows that he may have to wait until 7.59 p.m. to issue the last paper. This does happen. We have all seen it happen. This is to say nothing of the stalwarts outside who have to distribute the how-to-vote cards and are probably there from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. At least they have an inner conviction which keeps them going. We all know that if we opened polling booths from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. there would still be people who would leave it to the last minute to vote. I am sure people have enough discipline to get to the polling booths in the hours we designate, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. gives them a fair range of time to cover a fair range of activities.
One other provision in the Bill with which I agree wholeheartedly is the proposition to take polling booths to hospitals, homes and institutions and to declare such places polling booths. I think we must have the courage to say that when a person can no longer live in his own home and he has to live in an institution he is not entitled to vote, or we should treat those people as human beings who warrant all the dignity of every other human being. For so long, unless those people could procure a postal vote, could get themselves driven to the polling booth or took themselves off the roll, they really were not catered for very well. For so many of them that trip to the polling booth in a car once a year was, I am sorry to say, the only outing they had. They would follow keenly the political party which said that it would have a car waiting at the door on polling day to take them to vote. For those who could not go in a car to vote, sometimes a barrage of people would arrive. The only visitor they may have in a year would arrive to help them with their vote.
On the surface, it sounds quite good to take old ladies and gentlemen for a ride once a year or to visit them once a year, but the problem is that so many of the people who assist them with their vote are not there because they care about the people exercising their right to vote but because by being there they put pressure on them to vote one way or the other. I am not excusing any party for doing that. I think people’s essential rights should be safeguarded by such things as this Bill. I recommend it to the Senate.
– I support the proposed amendments to the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill 1974 which were foreshadowed earlier today by the Leader of the Opposition in this place (Senator Withers) on behalf of the Opposition. I am fully aware of the immensely important area that we are discussing, for in a democracy we live under social, industrial and economic laws which are of necessity, if we are to survive, related to majority opinion. Surely in a democracy laws must reflect the majority opinion of the people of that country. Consequently, of all the laws under which we live, surely some of the most important and most significant must be those laws which pertain to the method by which we elect our governments. It is such an electoral law with which we are concerned at this time.
I believe, as does Senator Melzer, that we should have an electoral system which promotes democracy in our country and which elects the people which the majority of voters wants to see in government. If one looks for a moment at the sort of results that have been obtained over the years from the electoral laws under which we have been operating, one finds- I am sure Senator Melzer would be among the first to admit this-that these laws have produced in the Australian scene a government which truly reflects the preferences of the people. At the last Federal election less than one year ago, 5 1 per cent of the seats in the House of Representatives were gained by the Australian Labor Party with 49 per cent of the votes. At the Senate election on that same occasion 47 per cent of the vote gained for the Australian Labor Party 29 of the 60 seats in the Senate. Surely this is a remarkably fair result. I suggest that it is about as close to fact as we hope to reach by any sort of statistical or mechanical method.
Let me say that there is, fortunately I believe, a large measure of agreement between the Opposition and the Government on the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill. We are happy to support at least 70 per cent of it. We believe that certain areas of the Bill which are covered by our proposed amendment are not contributive to a better working of a democratic system. It is on those areas that I must focus my attention. It is all very well, and it is true, to say, I believe, that on the surface some of these propositions are quite pleasant. The suggestion about the designation of the party to which a candidate belongs besides his name on the ballot paper appears, on the surface, a perfectly acceptable measure. I think that people in Australia are intelligent enough and responsible enough to look a little below the surface and see the true significance of the changes that these laws may introduce. I suggest that in the areas in which we have our major amendments the Government, being concerned with democracy in this country, will in all probability agree with us.
At the election only last May the Australian people were confronted with 4 referenda. On the surface, there appeared to be an extremely good case for each of those referenda. On the surface, each seemed to be in large measure a sensible attitude. Yet there must have been within each circumstances that were not acceptable to the majority of Australians because all four were rejected. I suggest that this sort of attitude or this sort of result emphasises the fact that Australians, as electors and as members of a great democracy, have sufficient responsibility and intelligence to understand the sort of questions that are put before them. I believe that it is nothing short of an insult to the intelligence of Australians in general to suggest that they must be pampered to the extent that virtually everything has to be put on paper for them to copy. They had this sort of thing in the early stages of their school life. I do not believe it is necessary for an adult society to commend itself to the same method or the same attitudes in electing its governments: If this Bill denied in some areas that responsibility to some people, it would be denying them the right to elect of their own free will, of their own conscience and of their own determination the government that they see fit to elect.
Let me refer to one or two of the areas in which I believe we are at some variance with the Government in this matter of electoral law. One is the suggestion that we should adopt a system of optional preferential voting. This of itself is somewhat strange coming from the Australian Labor Party which sees fit to elect its own Caucus and its own executive by a secret preferential system. Why then is that system not suitable for the election of the Government of this country? It seems to me that the only argument that has been properly projected for optional preferential voting is that it is easier, that it is simpler, and this gets back to what I was saying only a few moments ago. Is the essence of this to be that it just be simple and require no responsibility on the part of the electors? Is that to be the standard by which we elect our governments? I am sure that the great majority of Australians would not accept that at all. They would require to have clearly as their right and responsibility the determination of the members of a government in their own country.
The optional preferential system has in my view to be looked at as the thin end of the wedge to establish what is, I understand, the Australian Labor Party’s policy of first past the post voting. Of course, this bears very little relevance to democracy, because first past the post voting exists in a considerable number of countries around the world and in almost every instance it can be shown that minority governments result from a first past the post system. The optional preferential system, insofar as it leads logically to the elimination of preferential voting and to the establishment of first past the post voting, must contribute to the destruction of choice for the Australian people. It has as basic to its premise the assumption that all things, whether social, economic, political or philosophic, are either black or white, that there are no shades, no grey areas. Indeed there are some extraordinarily grey areas in our society and in many others. The assumption that we must be herded into either the black or the white area, or into whatever area one likes to designate, once again cannot contribute to the effective operation of the democratic theory. The first past the post system will bring about a situation in which there will ultimately be, as there seems to be in most of the countries that adopt it, a dictatorship of either the Right or the Left, and I am sure that this is not the objective of democracy in this or any other land where real and effective democracy still survives.
It seems somewhat strange that we should be facing this very lengthy Bill of some 74 clauses on electoral laws when only 1 1 months ago the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) suggested that there would be no such changes and that he would seek no changes to the electoral laws in the life of the Parliament that was then about to be elected. It becomes quite clear on reflection that the only way in which we can get representation of 50 per cent plus of the voters is to adhere to a preferential system, a system to which the Labor Party in its internal organisation seems to adhere. This is the system which ensures that in a democracy the majority does not only appear to rule but does in fact rule.
I shall now refer very briefly to the suggestion that political parties should be registered and that names of candidates should be accompanied on ballot papers by the names of the political parties to which they belong. Once again this appears on the surface to be quite an attractive suggestion, yet registration has within it an enormous number of problems. Of course, the greatest of those problems do not affect the larger parties that appear in the Australian scene or any other scene. Those problems present themselves to many important individuals and groups of individuals who have a philosophy and something to project to the community which they believe is worthwhile and can contribute to a democratic society. There would be little or no hope of them becoming an effective part of a democratic system because the requirement would be that no fewer than 25 per cent of the seats must be contested before a party can be registered as a political party.
The suggestion is that ballot papers should show the political party which a candidate represents, whether it be the Liberal Party, the Labor Party, the Country Party or some other party. There is no superficial objection to that but if we take that as being necessary I wonder where we should stop. Why is it necessary to indicate that Mr X belongs to the Australian Labor Party, Mr Y belongs to the Liberal Party and Mr Z belongs to the Country Party? Why is it necessary to indicate their parties and stop there? People would want to know, if they are intelligent electors- and they are- a lot more than just that. If they are going to have that dished up to them why not tell them the age or educational background or something of the history of the candidate also? Where do we stop if we start to designate a candidate by his party? Why stop there? So I believe it is necessary that we leave that alone and that we should leave it to the responsibility and capacity of the Australian electors and the political parties which form themselves from time to time to make sure that those who believe in particular philosophies are aware of the candidates who represent those philosophies and of the order of preference they should follow in an election. I believe that this is the proper responsibility of the people and I do not think we are solving any problem by just putting ‘ALP’, ‘Country Party’ or ‘Liberal Party’ on the ballot paper. If we are going to do that why not do half a dozen other things? Why not include the religious denomination of the candidate and so forth? I think that is a totally unnecessary addition to the present system and I do not believe we are entitled to any credit for such an assessment of the intelligence of the Australian voter.
I turn briefly to the question of postal voting. This is an area of great importance. Senator Melzer was most concerned that we should get a proper result through effective electoral laws. Postal voting, it is suggested in this Bill, should be such that no votes will be counted that are not received by the closing of the polls on the Saturday, if that be the day of the election. This means that the period of 10 days which has been the normal time outside which it is not allowable for such votes to be received is to be changed. I can see this only as a severe restriction on the rights of all Australian people who travel extensively both within and without Australia. I can see, especially in the circumstances of the postal and communications systems of our time, that the extension of 10 days is most desirable and necessary if we are really concerned that all Australians, wherever they may be, who are entitled to vote do vote. I can see no point whatever in reducing the postal voting entitlement by 10 days- the 10 days that now exist beyond the closing of the poll. Likewise, I do not believe there is a proper and successful case to be promoted for the changing of the hours of polling. The suggestion is that these should be changed from a closure at 8 p.m. to a closure at 6 p.m. I do not want to labour this particular point, but I do want to suggest that hundreds of thousands of Australians are not in the spectator group of the community and do in fact enjoy playing bowls, cricket, football, golf or whatever, and to these people, I say quite seriously, this is an option that is being taken away from them- the option of coming back after 6 p.m. and having until 8 p.m. to register their votes.
I have observed over the years that there are 3 significant time periods in the voting pattern of Australians. It appears to me that between 8 and 9 o’clock in the morning, between 12 midday and perhaps 1.30 or 2 p.m., and again between 6 and 8 p.m. there is the greatest pressure on the polls. I believe this is so in almost every part of Australia. Consequently, I can see no point whatever in reducing the option by virtually onethird judged on the numbers of people that tend to use those 3 specific periods. Moreover, amongst agricultural Australians- and there are many of them, farmers and pastoralists and persons active in occupations that are dependent on those activities, such as carriers- are literally thousands to whom the small booths are indeed important. There are literally thousands of Australians who very much need the addition of those extra 2 hours at night in order to vote with the least possible inconvenience to their way of life and indeed to the productive capacity which they contribute to this country.
Of course, the polling hours are also relevant to religious groups in the community whose beliefs are such that they are required not to vote until after sundown, and from this point of view also there is a strong reason, I believe, why the 8 p.m. provision should be retained. I believe also that the State Surveyor-General should be retained as a major member of the redistribution commissions rather than giving the Minister the right to appoint somebody who may have some similar qualifications. I do not think that this would be in any way an addition to the unbiased- the popular word today is ‘evenhanded’ work with reference to elections and the establishment of redistributed electorates.
I refer to one final point only, and that is the deposits that are required. I believe, perhaps hopefully, that the Government would agree that these may well be increased, but not to the extent of $ 1 ,000 in the case of the Senate. I believe that there should be a compromise in this area. It is proper that there should be a responsibility involved in the deposit, but it is proper also that the deposit should not be so great as to inhibit the possibility of individuals or groups presenting themselves to the electors in Australia. I believe that these electoral laws that we are discussing today are of extreme importance. Let us not under-estimate the importance that attaches to them. They are among the most important areas that concern a democratic society- the way in which the Government is elected- and indeed there are very many countries around the world today that bear evidence of the extraordinary traumas that will result if we depart from the democratic methods that we have in Australia today. I draw attention once again to the fact that the system that we have has provided a remarkable balance and a remarkably close portrayal of people’s preferences in the establishment of the Government of this country. I believe that 70 per cent of this Bill is a satisfactory contribution, but those areas to which 1 have drawn attention are areas of extreme importance to the establishment and maintenance of a proper democracy in Australia.
– If there was one characteristic of the 1974 election, it was the crescendo of criticism within a week of the election results urging extensive reforms in our electoral system. If I wanted to lecture the Opposition I would commend to it a quotation by a great American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who said that the greatest threat to our institutions are those who refuse to face up to change. With all deference to Senator Scott and Senator Withers the whole idea seems to be that if these reforms are accepted in toto this will virtually strangle democracy. Taking Senator Scott’s argument to its logical conclusion, he advocates that the proliferation of parties is good for democracy.
Let him consider the pre-Hitler era in Germany with a proliferation of parties which by their fragmentation of democracy ushered in Nazism, or the decline of the Fourth Republic in France, again with a proliferation of parties, and compare them with a democracy like Canada or Britain. What will his answer then be?
This awful first past the post system is not provided in this Bill, but if it were would he blandly tell me- he is frequently commending the British way of life- that there is something wrong with British parliamentary systems that have first past the post voting? I go back to the theme on which I commenced when I said that the people were clamouring for reforms in the voting system. It is not a question of what I am expounding or of what Senator Willesee, Senator Wheeldon or anybody else is expounding. Look at the editorials in the papers for the 14 days after the election. We argue about the 10 days to get the final results in. If there were a cut-off time, as there is in trade union ballots and in a host of other things, we would not have the Leader of the losing party saying that if he did not win he did not lose.
– Who said that?
– A man who is no longer a leader of a party. Let me take the point that Senator Withers raised about the awful optional preferential system. I do not object to anybody on the Government side facing a multiplicity of candidates. I know that I may have misunderstood what Senator Scott said, but I defy any Opposition Senator to wander about his State when there are 74 or more candidates in a senate election and not discover that for every person who gets his kicks in life by voting for candidates numbered 1 to 100, there are a lot of people who want short cuts. That is the whole idea of this Bill. Senator Withers referred to the fact that in a number of electorates only two to four candidates contest an election. In a national election, whether it is for the Senate which represents 6 States, or for the House of Representatives, where there are over 120 seats, a Party can win seats although fielding only 15 candidates. I repeat that after an election when one goes into hotels, clubs, golf courses or on to the beach, people chiack one and say: ‘Fancy having to vote for 74 bloody candidates’. I apologise for using that adjective but that is the theme all through New South Wales. Anybody who denied that changes are needed would be an utter fool. If one bought a Holden in 1 970 and bought another one this year, would one expect the first car to have identical components after its road performance? Of course it will have changed. It is the same with the electoral system, lt must be constantly revised.
As to the question of the cut-off time for votes after an election, if there is to be some malpractice or some honest misunderstanding with regard to the votes in transit, that will certainly happen in those 10 days after an election. There was a lot of heartburn in relation to one seat in Western Australia in which Senator Withers was interested and which his Party won. I know that he was a bit apprehensive at one time as to what the result would be. He was even worried whether the returning officer was playing it according to the rules. I know that Senator Withers was on the brink of contesting the result, but he stopped. With regard to the need for the extra 10 days, let me take an extreme case: There could be a Liberal Prime Minister or a Labor Prime Minister and something could happen outside Australia- a Middle East conflict or a change of government in Indonesia. One would say: ‘Who is the Prime Minister? Who must make the decisions?’ If the present Prime Minister had jumped the gun in the 10 days after the last election honourable senators opposite would have claimed that he was presuming that he was Prime Minister when he was not. That is one of the facts of life. If I had to make a choice between an efficient system in which I knew who was to be the Prime Minister at midnight on election night, and one under which I had to wait 10 days to know the result, by which time all sorts of things could happen, I know the decision I would make.
There is one important feature of British elections. The result of an election is announced on the night of the day that the election is held and it is too bad if somebody is too late. I have seen similar situations in the trade union movement. People scream about court controlled ballots, but they are too tired or too lazy to put their ballot paper in on time. The answer is as simple as that. If we were to apply to a postal ballot for a trade union election the safeguards that exist for postal votes in our electoral system of the moment, there could be resorts to all kinds of rorts. I am not trying to say that any Party has a monopoly on virtue or vice. I do not say that postal votes are the be all and end all ingredients of victory in an election where the results are very close. I would like to instance a situation that occurred in the 1 969 election in the electorate of Phillip. There were some misgivings on the part of the Labor Party at the number of postal votes which seemed to indicate a manifestation of Party loyalty out of all proportion to the trend of voting in metropolitan Sydney. We consulted the best legal brains in Sydney to ascertain our right of challenge and we were given the analogy that in a trade union ballot one can check the signature. If honourable senators opposite ask when that has happened, they could refer back to some of the cases in the 1950s in the Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia and other union ballots. If in an election I had an idea that somebody who sought a postal vote was a phoney and I asked for access to his electoral card in the office of the divisional returning officer, I would not be granted that access. That provision is not suggested even in this Bill. Let us have no illusions about the matter: Until we obtain the provision that I suggest and until our electoral system is on a par with a trade union ballot, we will not have the perfect voting system.
All that the Government is saying is that it is time the electoral system was improved. It is very significant that Senator Withers has now come up with a system of a different colour. I say again that it is remarkable that the Division of Griffith in Queensland attracts such a very high number of postal voters. Senator Withers knows what I am referring to. It is significant that his Party accepts the need for reform. To show my bipartisan attitude to electoral reform I want to direct another suggestion to the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland), who is at the table. I am sure that his advisers will give me some answers. First I shall cite an example which I know Senator Poyser would appreciate. A thousand tourists were on a ship at Suva. These people were disfranchised because a trade commissioner was appointed as the returning officer. On the Friday night before the election he had appendicitis. As the law is now, a deputy could not be appointed. Among the people who were disfranchised was Ambassador Gair. His could have been a vote for our Party on this occasion, but he did not get a vote. Let me take the matter a little further. The present Opposition has prated about democracy for 23 years, but while its members were in government they did nothing about electoral reform. I want to refer to a reform that I am suggesting to my own Party. A friend of mine, a Mr Peter Clanfield of Fairfield, was in Britain at the time of the last Australian Federal election. It is said that the law is an ass, and in some instances it is. On the morning of the election in Australia Mr Clanfield drove to Australia House at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon to record a vote. He found that the time in Britain had been synchronised to the time in Australia so that there was not a 12-hour span in Britain to correspond with Australia’s time. I do not think that was ever the intention of the Act. I wrote to the Minister about the matter and found that the legal people have some inhibitions about the synchronisation of time. This shows the stupidity of the law. If we want a reasonable vote to be recorded, Peter Clanfield and all the other Australians in Britain should have had the opportunity to vote.
I wish to refer now to the gripe concerning the multiplicity of candidates. Senator Withers instanced the election in 1961 and the last election. If he had taken as an example a divisional return, he would have found that in some electorates in- New South Wales the figures were much higher. I repeat: We cannot be complacent. We must look for more improvements. We have improved immensely over the years the facilities for absentee voting. I am being bipartisan in this matter. I know there were some fears as to whether anybody in any pan of Australia could record an absentee vote in a national election. I know the argument can be advanced that if I was driving from Brisbane to Sydney and I did not go to the divisional headquarters in the electorate of, say, Richmond, Cowper or New England, I could not vote anywhere. I know that Senator Douglas McClelland, like myself, has been engaged in many campaigns, so I say to the Opposition: We welcome constructive amendments. Suppose the Opposition was to say to us: We do not like your idea of having a cut-off time for postal votes’. I would say to the Opposition: Put up a suggestion that we provide voting facilities for absentee voters in every polling booth throughout the country rather than give the responsibility to the divisional returning officer’. I know that there are problems with that suggestion because of impersonations and other factors. One of the reasons that that suggestion has not been adopted is that one must be a little bit restrictive. I want to hammer this idea again and again. We have talked about a threat to democracy. Canada and Britain have voting systems different from ours. Would anybody on the Opposition side argue that those countries are less stable from a parliamentary point of view than France or Germany? I think the answer would be that of course they are not less stable. So if there is a variation in the voting system it will not undermine the parliamentary system under which we operate. If one talks to people one finds that they are intensely concerned that the voting system should be simplified. Senator Scott referred to registration and alphabetical grouping. That is not the first time that those suggestions have been made. In fact such a proposal was introduced on one occasion by a Western Australian Labor Government but it was rejected by the Upper House. I know that in my own State consideration has been given to such a proposal. Talking to my legal betters- not in a humble way- I would say that we have avoided some of the minefields that can exist in a rigid registration system.
I think that Senator Scott referred also to other biographic details. He would well know that that is part and parcel of the problem. The history of this question of electoral laws during the last 1 5 or 20 years is well and truly detailed. I think that all of us, if we are honest with ourselves, know that it is a case of who lowers his defence and whether he will be clocked by the Opposition. If there were adequate identification of candidates on the ballot paper and also in the polling booth there would not be a lot of the pressurising that presently takes place outside polling booths. We all do it for self preservation, although it is a debatable point whether it gives us the dividend that we think it does. If we advocated the proposal to identify candidates on ballot papers or in polling booths the Liberals would say: ‘The Government is on the run’. I suppose that if the Liberals were to advance that proposal we would give the same answer.
I am trying to create an atmosphere of reform. Honourable senators opposite know in their hearts that what we suggest in this Bill is something which will give everybody an even break. Even though these matters are not dealt with in the Bill, we have to consider questions of redistribution and parity of electorates. In the ‘Bulletin’ we read the thinking of Peter Samuel and David McNichol-people who certainly are not socialists. Mr Mackerras has admitted that all that we suggest is designed to provide more parity of electorates. Again and again we talk about reform, but the unknown factor that decides the outcome of elections is the people who migrate from one electorate to another. We do not know whether people of the same political persuasion take their places. We make many glib references to democracy, but everybody knows that the great leveller is the fact that we cannot control who moves into an electorate and who moves out of it. I suppose that that is the greatest safeguard of democracy. I conclude by saying that the reforms that we are suggesting represent in many cases the practices that apply in other countries. It is simply a case of modernising the electoral laws. Anyone who has spoken to the modern young voter will know that if that young voter has a push-button appliance in his home he wants to adopt a push-button attitude towards the voting system.
-We are debating the second reading stage of the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill. We have before us a Bill which we have had before us previously and which has been defeated previously. On this occasion the Bill will take a different course. The Bill contains a great number of suggested alterations to the electoral law. It has been estimated that 34 different ideas have been included in the Bill. If one looks at the proposals which the Opposition puts before the Parliament on this occasion one finds that in relation to nearly 30 of the ideas that are contained in the Bill there is common agreement about their desirability. I do not maintain that there are not important matters on which there is a difference of opinion between the 2 sides of the chamber. I consider that there is one advantageous feature about today’s debate and the course which this Bill will take. On the previous occasion when we had a similar Bill before us it was rushed through the House of Representatives and brought before this chamber without any real opportunity being given to obtaining the views of the party organisations and of the people in the communities which we represent. On this occasion an opportunity has been given to obtain opinions and to form views on the individual items set out in the Bill. Consequently, as I understand it, the Bill will proceed to the Committee stage when the items in the Bill will be individually considered and the amendments will be separately considered.
However, I believe that we still have not created the atmosphere about which Senator Mulvihill spoke- an atmosphere of reform where all these matters can be considered in the light not of what party advantage is involved but of the needs of the people of this community. I do not see the whole of this Bill as creating a momentous change to the electoral system. I think that one must be very careful in dealing with the electoral system not to proceed to changes without giving fair consideration to their effects. I believe that in relation to a number of items that are set out in this Bill there has been precious little consideration, little detail and little evidence placed before the Senate as to the desirability of some courses which the Government seeks to adopt. I should like to repeat some remarks which I made on 28 November 1974 when a similar Bill was previously considered and defeated. I am reported at page 2931 of the Senate Hansard of that date as having said:
It is Tor those reasons, among others, that we must regrettably vote to reject the whole of the Bill. I am sure that rejection of the whole of the Bill, if that should happen, would not be the end to this whole matter. It may be that there will then be a turning towards consideration on the basis put forward by the Opposition in both Houses, that is, that a committee comprised of members of all political parties in both Houses of the Parliament should consider not necessarily in the public forum but in a non-political atmosphere the merits and demerits of the proposal.
Of course, that has not been done. I think that if it had been done there might have been a greater degree of agreement between the parties not only as to the proposals contained in the Bill but also as to other proposals, including the matters to which Senator Mulvihill has just referred. This is a matter which needs to be dealt with in a dispassionate light, obeying and looking at all the evidence that is before the Parliament. This Bill contains a number of significant amendmentsuseful amendments at that. Reference has already been made to clause 40 which provides for mobile booths. They will be of great advantage to people in hospitals or in institutions. It will be possible for those people to vote in a comfortable situation, not under the stress of discomfort. I think that is a useful provision that should be welcomed.
I take another example. Clause 1 1 provides that there should be power to determine unacceptable names which will not be allowed to be placed on the ballot paper. Of course, at present it is possible for people to change their name by adding the words ‘White Australia’ to their name, or in some other way, in order to put out some political propaganda or to have their names placed higher in alphabetical order on the ballot paper. I think that these are particular examples of undesirable practices that this Bill will stop. However, as has been pointed out, there are in this Bill a number of provisions which are party political in the real sense of the term, and nothing epitomises this more than some of the provisions in regard to postal ballots which are quite unashamedly designed, in my opinion, to determine that certain peoplepredominantly voters for the Opposition- will have less opportunity of voting and of using the postal ballot system. Unquestionably, the facts have shown that there is a preponderance of postal votes which go to the Opposition and which during the later counting, in some cases, tend to swing seats towards the Opposition. The people who use the postal system are either abroad or absent from their local polling booth. As we all know, these days this is not a very reliable system, and is it right that their entitlement should be denied them because of the fact that a letter does not reach the electoral officer before the close of the poll? It has been pointed out that there is no delivery of mail on the Saturday of the election, and therefore this would be an entirely unfair situation. It is all right for honourable senators opposite to say that they want an immediate result, but an immediate result should not be achieved at the expense of people who want to exercise the right to vote in an election.
In this Bill there are other provisions that obviously require amendment. The Government has taken the course of saying that the deposits of candidates in elections are not enough, and I agree with that. The deposits are at a low figure. There has been a great change in the value of money since the time the present deposits were fixed. On the other hand, I think that the decision to require a deposit of $1,000 by a candidate in a Senate election is unreasonable. It is all right to say that 48 candidates in Victoria and 73 candidates in New South Wales stood for the Senate at the last election and that this number should be cut down, but at the same time there is the important principle that individuals should have the right to put their names down as electors seeking the support of the community. There are occasions when independent candidates, because they receive that support, are elected from various places on the ballot paper. If the Government had wanted to keep down the number of candidates it could have considered the alternative of requiring a greater number of nominators to sign the nomination form. That is a possibility which would not involve the financial contribution of $ 1 ,000 and the risk of the loss of that amount of money by a person who wishes to stand for Parliament.
I listened to the argument about the multiplicity of parties which it is claimed is likely to occur if we are not careful and if we do not have this restriction of a high deposit. I do not accept that and I do not think it is likely. There is the factor that if a party, though it be small, wants to put its name before the public it takes the risk of a loss of deposits in any event, but it should have the opportunity to do so. While trying to ensure that the world is safe for democracy we should not ensure that the world is safe and cosy for just the largest parties in the community. Other parties have this right and I would defend their right though I am not a member of any of those sorts of parties. Therefore I think that the proposal of the Opposition that the figure should be $500- that is twice as much as the amount for the House of Representatives and not 2!6 times- is a much more suitable amount to choose, and at that is quite high enough.
I draw attention to another useful amendment which comes from the Opposition and that is the provision of a Register of General Postal Voters.
This is to cover electors who live in large electorates and have difficulty in casting a vote at an individual booth. There ought to be a general right in these circumstances to obtain a postal vote. I think this is a highly desirable change which the Opposition will bring forward.
There are, regrettably, some proposals which have not been accepted by the Opposition. Many of these matters are, I think, matters of legitimate doubt. There is disagreement at times as to the value or otherwise of reform in these areas. I desire briefly to refer to three of them. We are making partial amendments to the Electoral Act but from time to time there will be reconsideration, and I hope that there will be reconsideration by a joint committee at some time in the future.
I referred, on the previous occasions I spoke, to the possible introduction of optional preference voting or alternatively a form of simplified preference voting. The latter is another system which was put forward by 2 members of the House of Representatives on the last occasion that this Bill was debated. From the material I have studied I believe there is substantial argument in favour of the optional preference scheme. I might say that this is not argued to any length in the Minister’s second reading speech. There are statements about it but there is no material put before the Parliament.
It is also difficult at the present time to obtain an assessment of what would be the effect of optional preference voting. With the greatest respect to my colleague Senator Scott, I do not accept the proposition that optional preference voting is a step on the way to first past the post voting. I do not believe that that in any way is necessarily so but I understand it is a view held by a number of people in the Opposition. I believe that optional preference voting would have an advantage- not just the advantage of simplicity but the advantage of enabling people to give preferences that were meaningful and then stop voting. From any theoretical point of view that is a desirable situation.
I therefore express the hope that this idea is given greater thought, that more research is done into it and that we may hear of it again. I see difficulties for it. I see respectable argument for the proposition that although it is applicable to the Senate it may not be needed for the House of Representatives because in the latter case the problem of large fields of candidates does not usually arise. This method is not used in State elections and I can see one difficulty. If a new system is introduced for one House of one Parliament and it is not used in the State parliaments there is room for confusion when people vote in a State election. This is a problem that would have to be overcome.
I think, however, that optional preference is an idea which should not be rejected by all out of hand. It should not be considered as a party political matter because, in my belief, it really would not have much effect upon the voting strength of the respective parties. I express this as a personal view which I have expressed publicly before. I hope that the matter will be considered still further at a later stage.
I likewise have reservations about the rejection of the idea of party names being placed upon the ballot paper. From conversation with many people engaged in political work in my own Party in my own State, I believe there is a great deal of support for the idea that the party names should be on the ballot papers and that people should not have to depend upon a howtovote card given to them outside the polling booth. It would make for more informed voting. This idea is not accepted and I think that much of the reason for this is the very great difficulty which it involves in the registration of parties because the 2 things must naturally go together. If the names are to be on ballot papers there must be at the same time a register of parties. There must be some means whereby the names of parties are registered and identified. There must be someone such as an electoral officer to reject parties whose names too closely resemble each other or are confusing. These would be considerable powers to be given to an electoral officer. Therefore I see the force of those who say that there are a lot of objections to the proposals contained in the various clauses detailed in this Bill. Those matters could be overcome by amendment but extensive amendment would be required. Though this idea of inclusion of party names is rejected at this time I hope that this again will have further consideration in the future as it would make for more meaningful voting.
The third of the regrets which I have about our attitude to this Bill is that allocation of positions by lot, provided for in clause 38 of the Bill, will not be supported by the Opposition. I have always thought that the Senate system, whereby our parties obtain their positions on the ballot paper by lot, would also be suitable for the House of Representatives. We do have that situation and therefore it is merely a matter of chance as to whether the party to which one belongs obtains a high or low position on the ballot paper. I see some advantage in this being provided for in the case of the House of Representatives rather than that there should be any particular advantage obtained by having a name that starts with A, B or C. But that is a matter upon which there is not common agreement in the Opposition. Senator Melzer spoke on this subject and referred to the donkey vote that is available to someone on the top of the poll. I think she over-estimated the importance of that. In her speech she gave as an example a person with a name starting with A or B and getting to the top of the poll who would then strut about deciding how to allocate his preferences. At least there is one thing about the donkey vote and that is that it generally goes straight down or straight across the card. There is one thing about an individual who stands and gets that donkey vote and that is that he gets perhaps 1 per cent or 2 per cent. But at least we know that the vote goes down the card and there is very little that that person can do to direct his or her preferences.
– Does he not get more than 1 per cent or 2 per cent? I thought he got up to 3 per cent.
-I think it depends. When I was elected last year I think it was about 1 per cent of the vote for the top group in the Senate. Eighty per cent of that vote went straight down the card, although the preferences were supposed to come to my Party. Only 20 per cent of it did go to my Party. So one can gain some idea from that sort of example of how important that donkey vote can be.
– That might not necessarily have been a donkey vote; it might have been a very intelligent vote.
-That is true. Perhaps the honourable senator has a different view from mine of the importance of that particular vote but to me it looked strangely like a donkey vote from the way I was looking at it. With regard to the matters I have raised I say that, although my Party takes a view which is critical of these matters, of course the Government has not argued for them or produced evidence or material which should have been put before this House, important matters as they are, I still hope that they will be considered again in a non-political atmosphere. We must make our judgments, in default of that non-political atmosphere, within our parties, and I am prepared to vote as the party, to which I belong, in its judgment, has decided upon these matters.
I hope that, in the course of this debate and in the course of consideration in the Committee stages, the Government will look at the amendments which the Opposition is putting forward in, as far as is possible, a non-political light; that it will try to put aside the party advantage that may or may not be thought to flow from some amendment. I think it is not always so. It is often a matter of presumptions and in the political world I think we live with a great number of ideas which, on examination, have no real basis. I hope that consideration of the amendments to be moved to this Bill will be fruitful. I support the motion for the second reading of the Bill and trust that, from this consideration, will emerge a useful contribution to the electoral laws of this country.
– I take heart from the comments made by Senator Missen, and by those made earlier by Senator Scott. It would appear that this Bill will get a second reading and be passed into the Committee stage. At that point there will be some debate on the merits of some of the proposals in the Bill. It ought to be pointed out that the Bill has 4 main components. I will quickly indicate to the Senate and to those who are interested in this measure what they are.
Firstly, the purpose is to allow a speedier finalisation of Federal election results, which I think everyone would want to see. Secondly, the Bill proposes to provide improved voting facilities for electors, which, again, is a commendable proposition. Thirdly, I refer to the introduction of some new or changed procedures and these are, I suggest, long overdue. One is fortified in a comment of this nature by reference to the fact that the present Opposition when in government in 1971 brought forward proposals for amendments to the Electoral Act which were allowed to lapse at that time. Subsequently, the present Government last year brought forward proposals which were, as Senator Missen pointed out a while ago, not approved by the Opposition and were therefore defeated on the grounds that they had not had a sufficient airing and had not been sufficiently considered by the community.
I am fortified here again to note that, according to the estimate of Senator Scott, 70 per cent of our proposals are now approved and, according to my mathematical calculations on what Senator Missen said, taking the figures of four out of thirty-four, his part of the Opposition side gives us a 77 per cent approval, so we are getting better as we go along. I appreciate that there are, in fact, 34 proposals before us, and it is heartening to the Government to see now that, having had the opportunity for the annealing process subsequent to the defeat of this measure in 1 974, we are now accepted as having been 77 per cent correct at that time.
I do not take away from the Opposition the merit that is due to it for that portion of its proposals of 1971 which we have now incorporated in this measure. So we are getting along fine now; we seem to be making some progress. At least, and at long last, the people of Australia can look forward with some confidence, I believe, to such a degree of amendment of the electoral laws as will bring us relatively up to date with modern thinking in this area. I have been associated with elections for a long while and, in fact, many years ago in my former occupation one of the many interesting things I used to do was to act as an assistant returning officer at times of election. Perhaps I can digress for a moment to relate to the Senate that numbered among the officials whom I had on my staff at that time were the present Australian Minister for Defence, the Attorney-General of Tasmania, a senior officer of the Education Department of Tasmania and a senior health inspector in the State of Tasmania. So I had a pretty high level crew at that time, and each one of them and the others who joined me on those many occasions would agree with me when I say that many of the proposals incorporated in this Bill are those which used to be indicated to us by people coming to cast their votes and encountering some of the difficulties and problems associated with the casting of votes and who observed very strongly to us that it was time the electoral laws of this country were brought up to date.
This is acknowledged all around Australia, and surely those of us who have contested elections or been involved at the polling booth or in some official capacity on election day will have heard comments made time and time again by the electors regarding some aspects of the electoral laws that required them to do things they did not want to do or that added a complexity or difficulty to the voting procedures that they would have preferred not to have had to encounter. We have come up to date with what is claimed to be the most radical change ever contemplated in the electoral laws of this country, not to be able to claim in historical terms that we did so much but simply to come up to date with contemporary thinking in this area.
It is appropriate for me to make observations on a number of provisions in the Bill that will give some elucidation on and throw some light into dark corners and indicate to the House the basis upon which the Government made its judgment that the time was appropriate to do something about our electoral laws. In relation to the question of optional preferential voting, I suggest that this practice already exists in Australia. I think one can refer to the State of Tasmania where it is not now necessary- and the amendment to the electoral laws was made in comparatively recent years- to vote the whole card, although once upon a time it was. It is not necessary to do so now.
It is interesting to observe that with the foreshortened procedures of voting at an election nobody has claimed that has in any sense altered the ultimate outcome, the result of the election. If it has facilitated the casting of a vote, and if it has helped people by reducing the amount of complexity in the voting procedure and obtained a result that would have been obtained anyway by the voting of the full card, I suggest that this change has been a beneficial one.
So, in the State of Tasmania people accept now that one must vote for a certain number of candidates. The system works there, and it would work elsewhere, I suggest, where the will of the people- the desire of the electorate- in relation to the type of government they want to see in power has been expressed and the government of their wish has been elected. I think that there is no doubt or question about it, and anyone who suggests otherwise would be burying his head in the sand. If we can reduce the number of candidates for whom a vote must be cast- in the case of the Senate election in New South Wales on the last occasion there were 73 candidates- to some reasonable number, and, working on the basis of the example I have just given about Tasmania, achieve a result that reflects the will of the people, surely that is what we ought to be doing.
I heard and listened with a great deal of interest to the Leader of the Opposition when he made his remarks about this Bill and expressed his fears that in certain limited areas- and the word ‘limited’ is mine- people may suffer some disability; there might even occur a possibility of people being disfranchised. But I suggest that when one is looking for an overall result in an election this will always occur. If we perpetuate and persist with a system that gives us an ultimate result of a 10 per cent informal vote through requiring that people cast a vote for every person on the card, as against the loss of, say, 1 per cent in the event of the sort of circumstances about which Senator Withers is speaking, surely sheer, plain ordinary commonsense logic would demand that we reduce that 10 per cent and if, in the course of doing so, there is a disfranchisement of, say, one per cent, mathematically and in every other sense we have achieved something worth while. I suggest that the use of the optional preferential system, if it is going to cut down ultimately the number of people who are disfranchised, should be proceeded with.
I now refer to the printing of party affiliations of candidates on ballot papers. Again, this is a matter that comes up at every election. People say: ‘Look, for goodness sake, you can cut out a lot of nonsense that goes on at elections simply by putting the name of the party. ‘ I do not accept the proposition that Senator Scott put to us that someone would require that we put a person’s religion, football team, or whatever else, on the card. We are talking about the election of political parties. People want to know which party they vote for at an election.
Let us accept that, while we are political animals and we are in the game of politics, a great many people in this country do not have a clue about politics. Many people cast a vote based upon a political outlook, a political philosophy or whatever. They wish to vote for a particular political party. How much easier it would be for them if they could look at a ballot paper and see which candidate belongs to which party. It would make it easier for them to give their first preference. I think this a proper suggestion and may cut down the donkey vote which Senator Missen mentioned a while ago and about which we all hear so much. It is calculated, in some instances, to be between 1 per cent and 5 per cent. If people can see an identification of the political party for which they want to vote are we not helping the electorate? Is this not what the game is all about? Should we not assist people to cast a valid vote and not put people, who lack the necessary information and interest to find out beforehand the names of candidates of particular parties but who have a particular party in mind, in a situation of not knowing the party for which they are voting? It ought to be our purpose that when these people cast a vote they cast a valid vote. That is what 1 want to see brought about. That is one of the purposes of the Bill.
I think the registration of political parties should be given some consideration, and approved. We have seen that anybody can go along and claim to be some particular type of party. We have seen it happen, for instance, in the names of candidates. Some candidates assume certain curious names. I think there ought to be some requirement at least as a show of good faith with the community and with the electorate that a party should have a right to registration and the name which is registered should be the name of the party. It should not be possible for somebody else to assume the name of that party. I think the introduction of mobile polling booths receives common approval. Many of us know that the vigorous campaigners we have in our parties are often tempted to go to lengths in the securing of applications for postal ballot papers, and we know the subsequent happenings with them. Sometimes, I think, they get overenthusiastic. On occasions I have been a little concerned about what happens. Mobile polling booths have all the requisites of a normal polling booth. Because they are able to go to people they assist in the pursuance of the outlook which the Government has about these matters. An opportunity to vote is presented to the infirm, people who are temporarily incapacitated or for some other reason need the services of a mobile polling booth. I think it is appropriate to have mobile polling booths.
I refer now to the drawing for position of candidates on ballot papers for the House of Representatives. Here again a genuine, sincere, reasonable and proper attempt is being made to take away the alphabetical advantage of names. I can remember many years ago when people used to talk about senators as having one of the famous initials. People used to be able quite easily to reel off the names of certain members of this honourable chamber whose names commenced with an advantageous letter of the alphabet. That ought not to be the basis upon which people are elected to the Parliament. Elections should be on the basis at least of some fairer system so that there is not a perpetual advantage for people who have names commencing with an advantageous letter of the alphabet. These people should take their chance on a particular position on the ballot paper, as do honourable senators. Some curious things have happened in this regard. I alluded to some a moment or two ago. Persons change their names to gain an advantage on a ballot paper. Some, for the purpose of confusion, assume names which are nearly or entirely the same as those of other candidates on the ballot paper. My attention was drawn, as a matter of fact, to the type of thing which this measure in the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill attempts to overcome. Page 2723 of Senate Hansard of 26 November 1974 states:
Cases occurred recently where persons have sought enrolment as ‘A’ (without any christian name), ‘XXX’ (without any christian name) and ‘White Australia’. In one case, a person successfully enrolled a ‘H-Berrill (surname) Stop
Asian Immigration Now’ (other names) and was a candidate in that name at the recent South Australian Senate election. In order to avoid further incidents of this kind, it is proposed to incorporate in the Act a provision which makes it clear that the adoption of such names, even though they may be adopted by taking formal steps under State law, will not necessarily be valid for electoral purposes. Under the provisions of the Bill a person may be nominated for election only in the name under which he is enrolled or, if he is not enrolled, in the name under which he is entitled to enrol.
I think it would be completely farcical if a provision of this kind were not accepted into law.
I come now to the rather vexed question of the earlier deadline for the receipt of postal votes. I think I can do no better in my observations on this point than to indicate to the Senate that research around the world has led to the conclusion that we are the only country which allows postal votes to be received after the time of closing of the polls. This has led to some very difficult situations, as happened in the most recent Senate election. The order of election of senators is based upon the obtaining of a quota, and that quota cannot be determined until all the votes are in. For a 3-week period after the last election we did not even know what was the quota for the election of a senator and so it was not possible to proceed with the election of senators. In this modern day and age, this fast moving and highly technological age and an age of great speed in all events it is hardly appropriate. I think that we would be the one remaining country in the area which we have canvassed which has to wait for 3 weeks before we can commence to determine who shall be the members of the Senate of the Parliament of Australia. I think for that reason there ought to be some change in the system. Firstly, we are the only country practising this system now. Secondly, quite apart from the problems associated with the re-election of the Parliament and the personal difficulties and apprehensions of people involved- not only those who have actually been candidates but also people in the political organisations concernedI think it is relevant to the whole establishment and performance of government that we should know at the very earliest date the outcome of an election. I think that on the basis of reason there ought to be a concession which will allow the lodgment of postal votes before but not later than the close of the polls.
I notice also as part of the proposals in this Bill one which is designed for the protection of candidates against the issue of misleading how-to- vote cards. This raises also another interesting proposition. In my home State of Tasmania the use of how to vote cards on election day is prohibited. That is to the great benefit of the people in the party organisations. It would also be acknowledged by environmentalists as being of benefit as papers would not be scattered all over the place. It seems to me that we stick to the old belief that certain things shall continue to be done until a new proposal is pioneered, but then it is found that the new proposal does not change the existing situation. I refer to Tasmania again. I do not think the absence of how-to-vote cards on the day of an election has made any difference to the outcome of an election in that State. I know that many of my colleagues on this side of the chamber, and no doubt honourable senators on the other side of the chamber, would argue vigorously with me about this matter.
Some curious things happen in relation to how-to-vote cards. I should like to relate one incident which I experienced. Somebody told me that a very ardent supporter of my party was handing out how-to-vote cards for the Opposition. I thought this a little curious so I went along to him and said: ‘You seem to be cast in a different role today’. He said: ‘Yes. I am getting paid for it. They were having difficulty getting someone to hand out these wretched cards. Anyway, I am getting a few bob out of it and I knock off at 6 o’clock.’ I said: ‘Can I have a look at your card?’ He said ‘Yes’. He handed me one of the cards and I saw that it was blank on the backthere was nothing on the back of it. On the front of the card was a very good photograph of the candidate, together with a list of some of his credentials. I said to the man who was handing out the cards: ‘That is interesting. There is no policy or anything like that on the back of this card ‘. He said: ‘As a matter of fact, you are not the first person to mention that. A lot of people take a card, turn it over and say that no policy is stated anywhere on the card. I simply say to them that that is right and that this party does not have any policies. I tell them that we make our appeal on the grounds that the back of the card is absolutely blank and that it is a wonderful thing on which to write out their grocery list. ‘ I know that misrepresentations are made and I relate that story simply as an example, for what it is worth. Misrepresentations can be made on how-to-vote cards. Quite frankly, these are areas that ought to be cleaned up.
I do not think it is appropriate that I should speak at great length on this subject. As I said earlier, we have between 70 per cent and 77 per cent approval from the Opposition to the proposals that are embodied within this measure. No doubt the Government will give due consideration in the Committee stages to the amendments which are proposed by the Opposition. It always does. I strongly urge that the principal provisions in the Bill- some of which the Opposition has indicated it will not accept- be accepted by the Opposition. I think it is important that it do so. Let us face it: In this day and age a need exists for changes to be made to many of our laws. During the last few days we have spoken in this place about the Constitution of Australia. There have been many suggestions that changes should be made to existing laws. It is a curious fact that whenever changes are proposed- a number of constitutional amendments have been proposed by the present Government- they always seem to be met with the stiffest opposition from the other side of the chamber. So, the laws remain as they were and we are left in many respects with an outdated Constitution.
Electoral laws are fundamental to our society. When a person goes to the ballot box it does not matter whether he is the wealthiest or the most humble man in the land. When he gets into the ballot box with his ballot paper in his hand he is in that respect as strong as the strongest man in the land. Of course, it can be looked at from the other side: The strongest man is as weak as the weakest in the land. In other words, it is a great leveller. The ballot box is a place where people have the right, which for the most part they exercise, to express their independent point of view as to the sort of government they want to run this country. This is a wonderful point about democracy. Every 3 years there is an election for the Australian House of Representatives, at which time the Government goes to the people to get approval for what it has been doing. The people have an opportunity to express an opinion as to whether they believe the country is being properly and adequately run. It is fundamental that we should be providing laws which give to every elector in this country an opportunity to have some say in the election of a government. Every activity of the Government impinges somehow or another on the social and economic life of the Australian people. The activities of the Government certainly have a great deal of relevance to the happiness and contentment of every man, woman and child in the Australian electorate. Whilst some honourable senators may be of the view that some of the provisions in this legislation are somewhat radical, or perhaps before their time, I think we ought to face up to the fact that changes have to be made to keep abreast of the requirements of contemporary society. I suggest that the provisions of this Bill represent a sincere and genuine attempt to bring our electoral laws up to date. For those reasons I support the proposal before the Senate and I commend the provisions of this Bill.
-This legislation should be looked at from the point of view of the elector. We should examine the best way in which an elector may record his vote. By doing this the ultimate wishes of the voters can be achieved by the election of a Parliament which the people desire. For this reason every opportunity should be given to the electors to express their views by their vote. I do not think it should be our desire to bring about changes which in any way restrict the voter in expressing his view. Also, in respect of those people who wish to stand for Parliament, no obstacles should be put in their way.
I am concerned with various aspects of this legislation. One aspect with which I am concerned is the proposal to increase deposits for candidates who desire to stand for Parliament. A deposit for a candidate in a House of Representatives election is to be increased from $100 to $250. The deposit for a Senate candidate, under this legislation, will rise from $200 to $1,000. Why has this amount been increased? Surely the increase is not to compensate the Government for the printing of ballot papers and other costs which are incurred by the Government. The only reason I can see for the increase is that it will be a deterrent to people nominating frivolously for Parliament. I can see no other reason. Difficulties should not be put in the way of people nominating for Parliament. People who want to stand for Parliament should have the right to do so. Money should not prevent a candidate from standing for Parliament. It is quite easy for those of us who are in the Parliament and for people who are more blessed with wordly goods to say that $ 1 ,000 is not much. That is a lot of money to some people.
Consider an organisation which wants to nominate a team of candidates, perhaps for the Senate. In the case of a double dissolution, a team of perhaps 10 members on the basis of a deposit of $1,000 a candidate will cost that organisation $10,000. There may be some organisation which is new to the political field. There may be people who have ideals which are the true ideals of the Australian people. Those organisations might not have very much money and $10,000 deducted from the amount they have for campaigning could be a serious detriment to them. In those circumstances, I do not think it is right that we should be increasing the deposits of candidates to that extent. We may well stop people coming forward and standing for Parliament. We have the accepted parties in this Commonwealth, but there is nothing to stop a new party coming in with good ideals which perhaps might appeal to the people generally. Therefore, I do not think we should be putting anything in the way of people standing for Parliament. There may be a person of good repute, well regarded by the people who has good ideas to put to the people of Australia. He may nominate as an independent candidate. Why should he be hamstrung by having to make a pretty hefty deposit to nominate as a candidate for the Senate or House of Representatives? I think it is a trivial matter and we should not be asking people to pay these deposits. I think we would be taking a much bigger democratic view if we made it easier for people to stand for Parliament. What does it matter if there are a few candidates standing for Parliament? Surely to goodness with all the processes available to us there should be ample opportunity for people to be able to sift out which candidates they want to vote for.
Speaking of the candidates, I notice in the Bill the proposed restrictions on the amount of money that candidates and parties can spend on campaigns. My view is that if people have sufficient funds with which to campaign properly severe restrictions should not be imposed upon them. In these days it is costly to campaign. We have different avenues of putting forward propaganda to what existed years ago. It is not so very many years ago in my first campaign days and for many years before that when I was out campaigning for candidates that one of the main avenues of reaching the people was to hold meetings in the street. That, of course, was a much cheaper form of campaign than through radio, the Press and particularly television, As a consequence the cost of campaigning has changed immeasurably. I think that most honourable senators would agree that if a person got up on a street corner and talked today he would be talking only to air. That would be just a waste of time. Not only that, he would be thought by most people to be a little bit gone in the top.
However, I think that we should be realistic about this matter. This very strict limitation on what people may spend when standing for a parliamentary seat is too often something that comes about from fear of big business, big money, graft or corruption or something like that with people paying in money. Generally speaking people have a way of sifting out candidates and teams and the people are not lulled in the main so easily as so many parliamentarians think. Therefore I believe that not only should the deposits required to be made by candidates not be increased as is proposed in this Bill but also the restrictions on the amount of money being spent on campaign expenses should be something that should be looked at more realistically, especially if one thinks of the great cost of campaigning in the various forms and avenues available at the present time for putting forward propaganda.
There has also been mention of the proposed change in polling hours from 8 o’clock in the morning until 8 o’clock at night to 8 o’clock in the morning until 6 o’clock in the afternoon. I have worked at polling booths for many years and probably for a longer period than most honourable senators, having started pretty well before I had the right to vote. I have heard statements to the effect: ‘Why is the booth open till 8 o’clock? Why cannot it be closed at 6 o’clock?’ I suppose one could say: ‘Why cannot booths be closed at 5 o’clock, 4 o’clock or some other time?’ or ‘Why not have half a day for polling?’ There are reasons why booths are open to 8 o ‘clock in a Federal poll. There are people in certain types of business such as dairy farmers who come in to vote later in the day. These men have to get ready to go to the poll, particularly the southern dairy farmers. This aspect has often been mentioned to me. There are other people who for other reasons cannot come out before the sun sets. If I recall correctly, there are people belonging to 2 religious beliefs- the Jewish and the Seventh Day Adventists- who have difficulties in this regard. I know it is very easy to say: Let them have a postal vote’. But we are a democracy catering for everybody and everybody should have an equal opportunity of recording their vote as do the great bulk of the people- by going along to a polling booth and recording their votes. Why should people who are Seventh Day Adventists or Jewish have difficulties put in their way? Why should they have to go through the process and to the trouble of making a postal vote because sunset interferes with their coming out say before 6 o’clock in the evening?
I think we should cater for everybody possible and get them to vote on polling day if they are available without putting them to extra trouble. Why should they be discriminated against? They are being discriminated against because of their religious beliefs? We, as a democracy, should have our polling booths open for a sufficient time to give everybody a chance to vote on that day as the great majority of the people in Australia are able so to do. To me this is something that should be looked at by the Government. The Government should take a broader view and a more sympathetic view of these people. I know it is quite easy to say we should cut down the hours for voting but, when all is said and done, as a democracy our aims should be to get every vote possible and therefore whilst it might take a couple of hours longer than some people want I think that in the main the extra votes that come in really suit the true democratic purpose of this country. Therefore I would recommend to the Government that it should take another view of the polling hours for the people of this country.
As to preferential voting, here again I know that it is very easy to say: ‘Why force people to give preference votes?’ We are a democracy trying to sift out and find out what is the final thinking and decision of the people of this country so far as the elections for the Parliament is concerned. I believe the preferential voting system is the way to get the ultimate decision of the people. The people vote. Some people want SoandSo as No. 1; others want somebody as No. 2; and still others want somebody else as No. 3, and so on. If people cannot get the man or woman they want to be elected, under the preferential voting system they have the opportunity to sit down and to say: ‘If I cannot have this person I will have that person. But if I cannot have that person I will have somebody else.’ To me the preferential voting system is absolute perfection in sifting out, in the ultimate, what the people really want. They have their alternatives. If they cannot have this candidate, they will have this one or the next one. The preferential voting system has, I believe, served this country very well. In my own State of Queensland I remember that some years ago the Labor Party of the day abolished preferential voting for a specific purpose. It was not altogether the highest minded motive it did it for. Of course there was preferential voting in Queensland too which, if I recall correctly, did not always serve very satisfactorily. However today the State of Queensland is back to preferential voting, the system by which members for both Houses of this Parliament are at present elected. I cannot see anything wrong with the process. Whilst it might take longer, what do a few days matter in arriving at the ultimate decision of the people of this country? I point out to you Mr Acting Deputy President that your own Party, the Labor Party, as was pointed out by the Leader of our Party, does not have simple first past the post voting when it is electing officers and people for positions within the Party. There is an exhaustive ballot so that eventually you arrive at the ultimate decision of your Party. I think the same applies to the people of this country. They should have a similar right. If it is good enough for your Party; it is good enough, I believe, for the people of this country to go to the ultimate in finding out in an exhaustive way which Party they really want as the government.
I think the preferential voting system is a good one. It has served, particularly in this Senate chamber, very well. I know that the last double dissolution Senate election vote in New South Wales is being used to frighten and to suggest to the people that there should be a change. That, of course, was something phenomenal. It has not happened, in the main, throughout the years of this Parliament. I think that what we have to be guided by is what has been the general run of the situation with the election of senators and members of the House of Representatives. Over a period of time I think honourable senators will find that the preferential voting system has not been of any great detriment to this Parliament. I believe that it has in the ultimate given us the decision that the people want.
Informal votes will occur at any time. Even with the simplest of voting there will be people who will vote informally. Unfortunately there are some people who vote informally purposely. Others make mistakes. Very often some people do not take sufficient interest in an election for the Parliament of this country. In a democracy a very precious privilege is for the people to vote and to elect the Party they want as the government. It is a privilege that lots of people in Communist countries do not have and therefore it is a precious privilege which everybody should appreciate. They should acquaint themselves sufficiently with what is needed in the elections for the Parliament of this country. Whether the system is a straight-out first past the post system, whether it is an optional preference system or whether it is a compulsory preference system, informal votes will still be cast.
The Bill seeks to amend also the system of postal voting. At present postal votes must be received within 10 days after the close of the poll. The Bill proposes that they must be received not later than the close of the poll. There are difficulties in this respect. In Parliament it is all very well to speak of people as if they were perfect, as if they knew the laws of the country and all the requirements of voters and so on. Those who have worked at a polling booth on election day have probably found people, both from interstate and from their home State, who arrive and want to vote. If they are in their home State they can get an absentee vote. If they are from interstate they must get a postal vote.
– If they go to a divisional officer they can get an absentee vote.
– There is not a divisional officer at each booth. One goes to great trouble to get these people a vote. The only thing that some of these people can do is get a postal vote. On a Saturday they cannot get a postal vote. It is all very well to say that they should know. All of us should know a lot of these things, but unfortunately we do not. Lots of other people who are probably not as well versed in voting procedures as we might be cannot get a vote on election day. The Government is depriving these people of a postal vote because it seeks to alter the law so that applications for a postal vote must be received by a certain time. One might say that people ought to do this and that they should know. Of course they should. Of course they should do these things.
Democracy is a slow, lumbering process but, with all its faults, it is the best system so far as freedom and opportunity of the people are concerned. I think we must recognise that it is a slow lumbering process and that the people in a democracy are not perfectionists so far as voting is concerned. Therefore we should cast the net widely and make the voting system elastic so that notwithstanding the faults of the voters we get as many votes as possible, and that when the election result is announced it is what the people of the country really intend- a government of their choice elected to govern this country for the following 3 years. In those circumstances I think we should stretch the law in every way possible to get the greatest possible number of voters. I know that it has been said that under the postal voting system it takes so many days to get a result. I heard Senator Devitt say that we are the only country which still has such a system. Sometimes we should perhaps express with pride and satisfaction that we are the only democratic country which gives its people the truly democratic right, privilege and opportunity to express themselves by vote. The fact that other countries are not so free and are not so helpful in getting the ultimate in voting is no reason we should be more exclusive so far as the number of voters is concerned. Therefore I think that these clauses of the Bill have some detriments.
I am greatly concerned that people who want to stand for Parliament and organisations which have ideals and aims could under this legislation now have to find much greater amounts as deposits. I am concerned also at the suggested change of hours for polling. That change is not for the best. To my way of thinking, optional preferences do not give the’ ultimate decision so far as the people are concerned. It is proposed to restrict postal voting. People will turn up on voting day and want to vote. If they cannot get an absentee vote, their votes are lost. Therefore we are restricting the vote of the people. I think this legislation must be looked at purely from the point of view of the people. We must get the most votes possible. To get the correct decision for the government of the country for the ensuing term we should make the recording of votes as easy as possible. I bring forward those matters purely from the point of view of getting the best possible system of voting for the people of this country.
– I give my full support to this legislation. I think it is one of the most important pieces of legislation which has been brought before this Parliament in the 2 years and 3 months of our Government. I wish to refer to some of the things which I think are of vital importance and which were outlined in the second reading speech of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) when he introduced this Bill on 26 November 1974. I will quote a few of them because they have not been quoted today. Some of them have been dealt with. We will be dealing with the optional preferential marking of ballot papers, the printing of party affiliations of candidates on ballot papers, registration of political parties for purposes of identification and printing of affiliations on ballot papers, and the introduction of mobile polling booths at hospitals and similar institutions. The latter provision is a very important measure and is being introduced at an appropriate time. It should have been introduced many years ago. Those of us who have been engaged in political campaigning will be well aware that party organisers go to hospitals, prop up ill people in beds- some of them are at death ‘s door- and try to get them to apply for a postal vote. When the postal ballot paper is returned to the hospital these organisers endeavour to get the people to vote for members of their parties. I think this system has lent itself to the manipulation of votes. 1 am very pleased to see that it will be changed and that there will be mobile polling booths at hospitals and other institutions at which properly authorised electoral officers can see that these people can cast a vote if they wish. If they do not wish to cast one because of ill health they will not have to do so. Therefore it will be a genuine vote. There will be no manipulation of those people to persuade them to vote for members of a particular party.
The Bill will provide also for the drawing for positions of candidates on House of Representatives ballot papers. This reform is long overdue. Some mention has been made in the debate of the present system. All honourable senators know how it has been manipulated over the years, particularly by the Australian Democratic Labor Party, which searched for candidates whose surnames began with the letter A so that those candidates would be placed at the top of the ballot paper. They would give their preferences to the Liberal Party of Australia so that it could win seats which it would not otherwise have won. Another reform in the Bill is the closing of the polls at 6 p.m. rather than 8 p.m. I will make some mention of this matter later. Other reforms include the prevention of persons enrolling or nominating for election under changed names in certain circumstances and restricting postal vote application forms to be used at an election or referendum to those specified by notice in the ‘Gazette’. This reform is long overdue. We are well aware of the actions of one gentleman who immediately after an election is held begins compiling applications for postal votes for the next election. I think he has been referred to in a debate in the other place. He had a great list of applications. He was first off the mark and had an advantage over others from his activities in helping people to apply for postal votes. Such action will now cease. This reform is long overdue. Another reform is the prohibiting of the listing of names of persons who apply for postal votes, except in certain specified circumstances. This is another provision which has been abused over the years. It is nice to see that the Government has had the wisdom to amend that part of the Act.
Another reform provides postal voting facilities for prisoners who have retained their franchise entitlements. This is another reform that is long overdue. Many prisoners have been disfranchised, not because they are criminals but because they are guilty of minor infringements of our laws. Another matter that was pointed out in the second reading speech is the preservation of the voting entitlement of Australian citizens posted overseas in the service of the Crown, and retention on the role of the name of an elector temporarily absent from his address. That is another good thing. The next is the prevention of a person from nominating as a candidate for more than one Federal election held on the same day. That reform has been long overdue. If my memory serves me right, on one occasion a person nominated for 2 seats on the one day- one seat in South Australia and one in Victoria. This, of course, should not be allowed. Another matter covered by the legislation is the protection of candidates against the issue of misleading how to vote cards. How many of us have seen the abuse of the how to vote card system in many elections? I am pleased to see that Mr Daly in his wisdom has seen fit to amend that part of the Act.
Senator Withers in opening the debate for the Opposition claimed that the Government in introducing this legislation was trying to manipulate the Electoral Act to its own advantage. He made this claim about the existing Act and on 16 July 1974 Senator Withers said, as recorded in Hansard:
Mr Daly wants to create a situation similar to ‘Animal Farm’ in which he will assert that all political parties should have equal chances but the Australian Labor Party’s chances should be more equal than the chances of the rest.
In Western Australia we have been shown quite clearly what the Government believes is a fair and just redistribution. But for the alertness of Liberal Party scrutineers the Labor Party would have won 60 per cent of the seats in my State of Western Australia with only 46 per cent of the votes. That is the type of electoral justice the Labor Party wants. This is the equity it is seeking.
Of course, Senator Withers was taken to task by the Chief Electoral Officer because he claimed that but for the vigilance of his Party’s scrutineers there would have been some malpractice under the electoral laws. By saying that, he was casting aspersions upon the electoral officers. The next day we saw headlines in the newspapers such as ‘Withers Blasted by the Polls Office Head’, ‘Poll Chief Rebukes Senator’, Electoral Officer Rebukes Withers Remarks on Count’. We do not often see the electoral officer having to come out and make public statements in defence of his officers and I was very pleased that on this occasion Mr Ley saw fit to do that. What Senator Withers was trying to imply was that this Government under Mr Daly, the Minister responsible, had by some manner or means instructed the electoral officers to manipulate the votes in that electorate so that the candidate from Senator Withers’ Party, Mr Viner, would not win the seat. Those people who read Hansard and the newspapers would be well aware that Senator Withers was making a very false claim. I did not read the ‘West Australian’ but it would surprise me if there were any headlines of that nature in the ‘West Australian ‘. So the Western Australian electors probably are not aware of the false claims made by Senator Withers.
This is typical of Senator Withers. He came in here today and, after having made those statements in July last year, said that this legislation which the Government is introducing is for the benefit of the Government. Since we have been in government we have been responsible for introducing legislation to alter the electoral system in both the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. Can it be claimed that because we were responsible for that legislation we were able to manipulate the Electoral Act to our own advantage? Let us look first at the Australian Capital Territory. Did the Australian Labor Party win a majority of seats here because it was responsible for the introduction of that legislation and the drawing up of the boundaries? It did not. Now let us look at what happened in the Northern Territory. Mr Daly’s office was responsible for the legislation to give the Northern Territory a fully elected Legislative Assembly. He also was responsible for instructing the Electoral Office to draw up the boundaries. They were so much in favour of the Labor Party that we did not win one seat. So there goes Senator Withers’ argument again- it is completely exploded- that this Government is trying to manipulate the Electoral Act to its own advantage.
Senator Scott dealt at length with optional preferential voting and said that it was the thin end of the wedge for the introduction of first past the post voting. He claimed that in countries where optional preferential voting exists it has always resulted in minority parties winning government. I am very pleased that Senator Scott, as a leading member of the Country Party, is at last on public record as admitting that the Country Party is a minority party. The Country Party holds seventeen of the 19 seats in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly and its members were elected under a system of optional preferential voting. So 1 am pleased that at least Senator Scott among the members of the Country Party in this chamber has the courage to admit that it is in fact a minority party. I will be interested to see how it performs in the Northern Territory in the years ahead, its members having been elected under this system.
When both those pieces of legislation to which I have just referred went through this chamber and the other House there was no objection. The Opposition accepted the optional preferential system for the Australian Capital Territory and for the Northern Territory, yet it objects to its being applied over the whole of Australia. Senator Scott also claimed that we do not get good government under minority parties, but he conveniently forgot that between 1949 and 1972 the Australian people suffered a government which was propped up by minority parties, firstly by the Country Party as a coalition partner and then in this chamber by the Democratic Labor Party.
The electors showed quite clearly what they thought of minority parties when the Country Party and the Democratic Labor Party combined with the Liberal Party last year and forced the Government to the people 2 years before time. And what did we see? We saw the Democratic Labor Party completely wiped out of existence because of its actions in this place and I venture to say that had the Country Party been prepared to run on a separate ticket in that election for the Senate there would be very few of its members here now. We are well aware of what took place during the run up to that election. First we saw the Country Party intending to run on a separate ticket in Queensland, calling itself the National Party. Then when the double dissolution came it scrambled back under the cover of the Liberal Party and got onto the joint ticket. Today we heard of one honourable senator here being elected under one party name in Western Australia and taking his place in the Senate as a member of another party, the Country Party.
So it is all very well for Senator Withers to say that the Government wants to manipulate things to its own advantage. If people like to read the record and to look at the history they will see that those who have been the greatest manipulators over the years have been the members of the party that he supports. Because of the actions of minority parties, especially the Democratic Labor Party and particularly in the Senate, a lot of legislation for which this Government had a mandate was defeated in this chamber. Both Senator Scott and Senator Wood have had something to say about advancing the closing time for polling from 8 o’clock to 6 o’clock. However, Senator Wood did not tell the people that in his own State under a Country Party Premier the polls close at 6 o’clock.
– It is quite irrelevant.
– It is no different because the argument used is that if we close the polls at 6 o’clock the farmers and a lot of other people, such as people of different religious orders, cannot get in to vote. Is Senator Wood admitting that those people are being disfranchised under Mr Bjelke-Petersen in the State elections and should not be disfranchised at a federal poll. What is the difference? The Opposition agrees to it in respect of a State election but disagrees with it in respect of a federal election. That is another argument that does not hold water. Of course, we do not hear any objections from those opposite about the polls in local government elections closing at 6 o’clock.
– Almost everywhere they close at 6 o’clock. In my own State the polls close at that time in local government elections. Perhaps in some elections they close at 7 o’clock. Those who are interested enough to want to vote will get there. In my experience on polling booths- and I have worked on them ever since I was a boy in short pants- if the polling booth did not close until midnight there would always be that group of people that rushed along at the last minute. If the polls closed at 6 o’clock those people would still do the same. There will always be a few.
I would like to relate something that happened in Victoria a few years ago to a publican and his wife when hotel closing time was 6 o’clock. In the hot weather a farmer friend of mine, because he got held up on the farm, raced in to get a drink of beer. Right on the death knock of 6 o ‘clock the publican shut the door in his face and said: Sorry, mate, we are closing. It is 6 o’clock; you cannot have a drink’. Not many months after, there was an election and this farmer happened to be working on the polling booth. Lo and behold, right on the death knock of 8 o’clock in came the publican and his wife and this chap said: ‘Sorry, mate, the poll closes at 8 o’clock. You have missed out’. So where the farmer missed out only on getting a drink, the publican and his wife were faced with a fine because they were late. There will always be those people who arrive late. I think that in reducing the poll closing time to 6 o’clock- this point has not been mentionedwe as a responsible Government have to give some consideration to those people who work in polling booths. The presiding officer, his polling clerks and staff, to open the booth at 8 o’clock, have to be there the night before in some cases to get the booth ready. If there is a function on in the particular hall or the school the night before, they cannot arrange the booth, so that they have to be there at about 5 or 5.30 a.m. to get the polling place ready for 8 o’clock. Those people start work then, and surely we can give them some consideration, instead of asking them to work through until after midnight on that day.
By doing this we may be causing some little inconvenience for some people, possibly the farmer, but most farmers have motor cars today, and wherever one goes in country areas one sees the farmers playing tennis, golf, cricket, football, or whatever it may be, on a Saturday and there is no problem for them in the main to get to the polling booth by 6 o’clock. I myself am a country person, and I completely support the alteration of the polling laws so that we are reducing the hours of polling from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Getting back to optional preferential voting, quite a bit has been said about that here today. I want to quote from an article in the Melbourne ‘Age’ on 26 September 1974 written by a Mr Claude Forell, a senior staff writer and columnist of the Age’ who is also the author of ‘How we are governed’, a textbook now in its fifth edition and widely used by social studies students in secondary schools. The article is headed ‘A Vote that puts the People First’. This is what this Government is concerned about. We are not concerned about putting parties first. We are concerned about putting people first. Mr Forell is quoted as saying:
The Country Party’s pious self-portrayal as a protector of the democratic process has all the charm and credibility of a backyard abortionist extolling the virtues of motherhood. The electoral system for the Country Party, as involuntary pregnancy for the illicit abortionist, is something to be exploited for gain by surreptitious manipulation.
If we look back over the history, we see this is the very thing that happened. He goes on to say:
But none other than the Country Party has been able to distort and pervert the electoral system so consistently and profitably, while justifying itself with such hypocritical humbug.
Referring to the Country Party he goes on to say:
It implies that optional preferential voting is something other and more sinister than the perfectly self-explanatory title suggests. That’s not so. It implies that this system will reflect the wishes of the people less faithfully than the present system. The reverse is true. It implies that Labor is proposing to introduce this system solely to stack the electoral odds in its favour and that the result will not be ‘democratic’. False again.
He further says:
It could also be argued that for many years the odds have been stacked against Labor in other ways. Because of the distribution of electoral boundaries and the concentration of Labor voters the A.L.P. has usually required at least 52 per cent of the total vote (including preferences) to win a federal election.
Another eminent man in politics, Professor Don Aitkin, who is a Professor of Politics at Macquarie University, in an article which appears in ‘Think Tank’ talks of optional preferential voting as a sound idea. He says:
In fact, optional preference voting is one of the most sensible amendments to the Australian electoral system since its creation 72 years ago, and deserves the support of all who take an interest in the way parliaments are elected. Those who advocated the introduction of preferential voting in 1917 and earlier had in mind the need to make sure that the person elected to represent a constituency genuinely enjoyed the support of a majority of the electors.
Why was preferential voting introduced for parliamentary elections? Professor Don Aitkin goes on to explain why, and he says:
Of course, there were also those with a more practical interest, like the Victorian Farmers’ Union, who wanted to run candidates themselves, but refrained from doing so because they would thereby split the non-Labor vote and let the Labor man in. They could see enormous virtues in a system of preferential voting which would allow them to fight out the battle of who should represent country seats without giving the seat to Labor. And it was the farmers who were decisive: they threatened to stand a candidate in a byelection in the Victorian seat of Flinders against the Nationalist hopeful, Stanley Melbourne Bruce, unless the Hughes Government introduced preferential voting in time for the next election. Hughes gave in, Bruce won his seat (to replace Hughes as Prime Minister a few years later), and in 1 9 1 9 the newly formed Country Party won 8 seats.
This is where preferential voting originatedway back in 1917-1918, when the Country Party could see that it could not win seats in its own . right without preferential voting. If it was optional preferential voting, it would not have a chance, because it would find that it would have Liberal Party candidates, as we now know them, opposing it. We saw only in today’s ‘Age ‘ a statement by Mr Hewson, who is the honourable member for McMillan, severely criticising the Country Party for agreeing to a pact with the Victorian Liberals that they would not oppose certain Country Party members, because they were shadow Ministers, but poor old Mr Hewson has been left out, and they could not care less about him. He says in his own words that he would probably lose his seat. Professor Aitkin finishes his article by saying:
On balance the change is a sensible one and one which should have little effect on party strengths. I think it is to be commended.
These are men who have taken an active interest in politics over many years, and they have said in those articles that the optional preferential system is one that is long overdue. It was a matter for amendment to the South Australian Electoral Act in connection with voting for the Legislative Council at the election next year. We have been bedevilled over there for years with a system of restrictive franchise. We now have a system of election for the Legislative Council of optional preferential voting, and the Liberal Party in South Australia did not oppose that, so that has gone through. So in many cases we see that the Liberals and the Country Party members in this Parliament have supported the system because it is in practice in other areas, but when we bring it home here, where they themselves might be affected, they oppose it. So they in effect are the people who want to manipulate the boundariesnot the Government, as has been stated by them.
One further thing I want to refer to is clause 63, which amends section 177 of the principal Act by deleting one provision and inserting another. That comes under the heading in ‘Disorderly Behaviour at Meetings’. It has often been said that members of the Labor Party at some political meetings are not well behaved. I want to quote this, because this is some reflection on the attitude of members of the Country Party. I quote from the Adelaide ‘Advertiser’ on 26 July 1974. It states:
A former parliamentary candidate at a political rally had struck a heckler over the head with a roll of electioneering posters, the Adelaide Magistrates Court was told yesterday.
This all arose, of course, because Senator Webster happened to be speaking there in company with his leader. We in this Parliament are well aware of the way that Senator Webster can arouse the ire of people and disturb them, and he must have done the very same thing at this political meeting. The only thing that happened at this meeting to cause one of the Country Party candidates to do what he did was that when Mr Anthony rose to speak this man had the audacity, so it was said, to rise with a placard, on which was written, ‘Oh God, no, not Anthony’. With that, we find that this particular gentleman, whom I will not name, leant forward and struck him three or four times over the head with a roll of election papers and broke his glasses. The case was dismissed on the undertaking that he paid for the repair of the gentleman’s glasses. I am very pleased to see that we have an amendment there, and I would hope that the disorderliness that does take place at election meetings can be dealt with the way it ought to be, and that people who misbehave at political meetings are dealt with in the proper fashion, because no matter whether I agree with the candidate or whether I disagree with him, I think at least he has to have the right to put his case before the people and let the people judge for themselves his or his party’s policy.
– You should have seen the Country Party in Forrest Place.
– I know all about that. I think we had a Country Party senator in this place who got very emotional here one night about the whole thing, and I think Mr Daly then told him that because of the action he was taking he would not be here for long. He was absolutely right, because the gentleman is not back here as yet.
-Will he get back?
– I do not know about that. That will rest with the Western Australian electors. There will be a few comments I would like to make on this Bill in the Committee stage. I will conclude my remarks by saying once again that I fully support this legislation and that all the measures that are contained in it are long overdue. The Government is to be complimented on bringing this matter forward.
-We are discussing the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill. Mr Acting Deputy President, I think I am right in saying that you have said that it is a radical change. We have just hear Senator McLaren say at the beginning of his peech that it is a most important piece of legislation. It seems that the Government is making another attempt to alter the electoral laws of this country, about which it has had a preoccupation since it was elected to government and came to power in December 1 972 and also since its quite narrow election victory in May of last year. Basically the party which has the majority of numbers in the House of Representatives is the party which forms a government, and I think that it would be quite wrong to oppose legislation for which that government has a mandate just for the sake of opposition. But I do not feel that the people of Australia want this Government or any government to be able to ensure its re-election almost automatically. I believe that this would happen if this Bill were not amended. I do not feel, because this Government won the previous election by such a narrow margin, that it has any right to force upon the people changes in the electoral system that will tend to enshrine it in office. I am suspicious of any government that tries to alter the electoral system. I am afraid that anybody would be hard put to convince me and the public of Australia that a government would alter the electoral system unless it was to its own benefit. I feel that quite a lot of these important moves are being undertaken by the Government for selfish motives.
– I have just quoted 2 instances in which we have done it since we have been in office- the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. You were not listening.
– I was listening to what the honourable senator said but the honourable senator was not talking about federal laws.
– You are condemning this Government -
-I am not condemning anything. When I am dealing with interjections I would like to deal with them one at a time.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Devitt)- The honourable senator will not deal with interjections. He will address the chair. Interjections are disorderly.
-Thank you very much for your protection, Mr Acting Deputy President. It is my opinion that the Government has no mandate to alter a lot of the things that it is trying to alter. If we could put a lot of these matters to the people by way of referendum I think we all know what the answer would be in this case. It would be the same as it was when the previous referendums were put before them. I think the people would solidly reject a lot of the major alterations that the Government is attempting to put through. I doubt whether this Bill will be the last attempt by this Government to enshrine itself in office. I think we will see the Government trying to make other gradual changes to keep a socialist government in power. I think it is our responsibility to prevent this kind of thing happening because the electoral system in Australia does not contain too many restrictions concerning who can or cannot stand for Parliament. Of course that is the way it should be. Senator Wood made quite a point about how we should not put restrictions on people to prevent them standing for Parliament. If people want to call their group by some fancy name, I think that is their right and privilege and I would not try to stop them doing so. In electoral matters we do not want or need undue government interference in the way that elections are held. Of course elections are the backbone of any democracy and the makeup of the next Parliament will depend upon the form in which we finally pass this Bill.
One of the other matters that I detect in this Bill is an attempt to destroy the Senate. It seems to me that there is an obvious attempt to make the Senate a replica of the other House where decisions which are made in the secrecy of Caucus- I use the word ‘secrecy’ loosely- are then forced through by weight of numbers. Such matters as the alteration in the methods of voting for Senate candidates and the attempt to increase the deposit to $ 1 ,000 for Senate candidates will make it much more difficult for concerned citizens to stand for Parliament. Yet, to be able to stand for Parliament is a right of Australians and any restriction that is put upon them by way of silly-sized deposits will discourage some people from nominating who might otherwise have a go. That is one area of electoral change that I do not like. I was going to say ‘electoral reform’ because that is how the Government usually names such legislation.
Senator Withers earlier mentioned numerous other matters. The major matters, in my opinion, tend to restrict the liberties of electors. They are to be restricted supposedly in the interests of a speedy result. This country does not need a speedy election result. It needs a safe result in which the votes of all electors are considered. It needs a result in which the people, by their votes, say who they do not want to be elected as well as who they do want to be elected. Under the present system of voting they can quite easily do this. In my opinion speed is not essential, but the safety of our electoral system is. Too many alterations to the electoral system in this Bill do not really help the outcome of the elections. We have heard about reduced hours for polling booths. We have heard about the registration of political parties so that they cannot be challenged. We have heard how only some names will be recognised. I have mentioned the high deposit that will be required. I think Senator Wood mentioned the restriction of postal voting. Of course the major provision that the Government would like to see put through by this legislation is optional preferential voting. I do not think we require these things in Australia. I am convinced that the Government does not have a mandate to alter the laws as it is trying to do. I will support the Opposition’s amendments.
– The Senate is debating the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill 1974. This is the second occasion on which this Bill has been before us. On the first occasion there had been inadequate time to consider the Bill. The Bill returns now that we have had a chance to study it, analyse it and make up our minds about it. It seems to me that we are considering a Bill, the aim of which is, or should be, to amend the electoral laws to increase the chance of democracy functioning properly. If it is to be justified, the Bill must serve the democratic process. We must look at this Bill, criticise it and analyse it with that in mind. It is irrelevant what the specific provisions are in themselves. The provisions are important as they apply to the right of Australian citizens to nominate, to take part in elections and to get the kind of result which the community wants. If we are seeking the aim in this legislation that is related to the democratic process, we can look at what this Bill proposes.
The very brief second reading speech of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) outlined 3 main aims of the Bill. First, the Bill is designed to allow for speedier finalisation of federal election results. That is a major aim of the Bill. Secondly, the Bill proposes to improve voting facilities. Then it proposes a number of consequential amendments which will enable it to remain a coherent document.
But the main thrust of the Bill is to seek speedier election results. I see no virtue in speed in itself. The Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) in his second reading speech when he first introduced this Bill placed enormous importance upon speed. He was appalled that Australians should have to wait for their election results. But in fact the speed with which the result is arrived at is important only if in the process we lose nothing of democratic justice or democratic fairness. The democratic system itself must not suffer in this haste for a quick result. Speed in results is of no intrinsic value in itself. It is possibly of some value to the media in their coverage of an election; it is possibly of some value to the Press to be able to state who has or has not won, but in terms of governing a nation speed in getting the result has no value whatsoever. If we take 3 days or 10 days or 5 weeks to learn the result of a Federal election, democracy is well served if it is the right result- using the word right’ in the sense that it is the result that the community wants. This legislation, in its search for speed, does not seem to protect democratic rights, and it is for this reason that we will be opposing sections of the Bill.
I refer to something that Senator Withers said in his remarks on this Bill. We will be supporting large parts of the Bill. We have no objection to electoral reform in itself. We have every objection to so-called electoral reform which is no reform at all when one comes to look at its effect upon the community and upon the electoral and democratic process. I remind the Senate once again that with the present system the political party gaining the majority of votes in Australia can form a government because it will obtain the majority of seats in the Parliament. We want to ensure that that system is retained. I would abolish or change the system only if I saw some higher purpose served, and speed does not serve that purpose. Let us examine once again the proposal to cut the hours of polling. This proposal is contained in clause 39 of the Bill, which states:
Section 1 1 1 of the Principal Act is amended-
by omitting paragraph (b) and substituting the following paragraph:-
The poll shall open at 8 o’clock in the morning and shall not close until all electors present in the polling booth at 6 o’clock in the evening, and desiring to vote, have voted;’ . . .
There are several points to be made here. Australia is one of the few countries that holds it major national elections on a Saturday. In other countries, such as Great Britain and the United States, elections are held mid-week. We have heard a number of honourable senators refer today to the problems that have arisen from the Australian practice of holding its national elections on what is for a portion of our population the Sabbath Day. The fact is that Saturday is the most unsuitable day for Seventh Day Adventists or for people of the Jewish faith. There are sizable communities of people who adhere to these religions and who find in the present proposals restrictions upon their right to vote which to them are abhorrent and totally unnecessary.
These people are not impressed by any argument that counting of votes can commence 2 hours earlier. I remind honourable senators that for these 2 religious groups the Sabbath extends from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday, whenever sunset occurs and, of course, it will vary throughout the year depending upon the length of the days. I also remind honourable senators that if sunset occurs after the polls have closed the adherents to the Seventh Day Adventist or Jewish faiths are unable to attend a polling place and cast a personal vote. If the polls close at 6 p.m. those people have lost something- they have lost part of their right to take part in the democratic process. If the polls close at 8 p.m. standard time this is always after sunset; that is to say, 8 p.m. standard time will always allow people of these religious faiths to attend the polling places in person. But if the polls close at 6 p.m., I have been informed by the Bureau of Meteorology that for some 27 weeks of the year -more than 6 months of the year- 6 p.m. will be before sunset and people of these 2 religious faiths will be prevented from personally attending the polling places and casting their own votes. Again I ask: Does the desire for a speedy result justify this kind of sacrifice of democratic principle or right?
Other arguments have been advanced. I noted that Senator McLaren drew attention to the long hours worked by the officers who have to man the polling places and to the complexity of the arrangements, and I agree with him. But in itself that is no argument for shortening polling hours. It may be an argument for altering the administrative arrangements, for altering the shifts worked by these officers or for seeking more officers. Everything that Senator McLaren said is correct. These people who work at the polling places do so under great difficulty and strain. But I submit to Senator McLaren with the best will in the world that it does not follow that a reduction in hours of polling, which will disadvantage the adherents of the 2 religious groups, and possibly other people in Australia, is necessarily justified. If the aim of the legislation is to improve democracy, we cannot really do so by disfranchising people. Perhaps we need to change our day of polling from Saturdays, and this is an argument to which I could listen.
– I remind Senator Poyser that other countries declare a public holiday and have their elections mid-week. I am just saying that there is another alternative which could possibly be considered.
But let us examine the other way open to some of these people who would not be allowed to attend the polling places in person. They would be able to seek a postal vote. Therefore we look at what this Bill proposes with regard to postal voting. The alternative open to these people is to seek a postal vote, and many of them will do this. But postal voting depends upon a number of things. It depends upon the legislative arrangements for postal voting, it depends upon the efficiency and impartiality of the postal services, and of course it depends upon the existence of industrial peace at election time. There only needs to be a situation in which there is industrial unrest and the postal service is interfered with by strikes, and postal voting becomes an empty mockery. If there is any delay in processing the application for the votes or in returning the votes then electoral justice is lessened.
I might mention that following the last election more people came to me complaining about failures at various points in the postal voting system, more of them complained about their postal voting rights not being fully met according to the way they saw the situation, than about any other electoral matter. Postal voting is a very important matter but does this Bill extend or reduce the rights of people to cast a postal vote? Well, under this Bill the Government has decided that it is going to set an earlier deadline for the return of postal votes and it will insist upon their being returned direct to the respective returning officer. It is proposed in this Bill to restrict postal voting application forms to those gazetted for the particular election. These measures are designed to limit, even if they limit ever so slightly, the opportunities to cast a postal vote, to use the postal voting system. An earlier deadline for the return of postal votes has no justification except that it will lead to this more rapid result which is seen by the Labor Party as such a valuable aim in itself. Any kind of postal delay, any kind of bureaucratic failure, any delay in delivering postal vote application forms, any overloading of a divisional returning office with work could result in the disfranchisement of those seeking postal votes. I see no real justice in the rather draconian restrictions which are proposed in relation to those aspects of postal voting. The other proposal for postal voting to be made more available to those in prison and who have retained their franchise entitlement is something to which we of the Opposition take no exception.
On the same theme, I would like to discuss once again, briefly, the question of optional preferential voting. The Government’s proposal to make preferential voting optional is justified only if there is seen to be some higher democratic good in this change in the electoral system. To do it to make things more simple is in itself no justification. It is justified only if the electoral system and the result we eventually get gain something. I remind the Senate that the question of optional preferential voting is very different in the effects it will have on the House of Representatives and Senate election results. I would like to restrict my remarks once again to Senate elections and the effect which optional preferential voting might have in the Senate. The Minister for Services and Property described in his second reading speech the present requirement for full preferential voting as being meaningless and undemocratic. Mark those words. This same Minister was a member of the Federal Parliament in 1948 and voted to make preferential voting full and compulsory. I doubt that he found it either meaningless or undemocratic at that stage. I remind the Senate that full preferential voting in a Senate election ensures that there are sufficient votes remaining late in the count and available to elect the proper number of senators. I refer the Senate to page 1309 of Senate Hansard of 30 April 1948 where Senator McKenna, discussing the Commonwealth Electoral Bill 1948, was reported as having said.
Nor is it intended to vary the requirement that voters must indicate the order of their preference for all the candidates. Whilst this latter requirement may have the effect of continuing to produce a fairly high informal vote it definitely precludes the possibly greater evil of exhausted votes, that is, votes which become exhausted in the process of transfer. In this connection it is pointed out that at the 1922 and 1925 parliamentary elections in New South Wales the exhausted votes, which in number exceeded the informal votes, were the cause of much dissatisfaction and disputation.
Senator McKenna, speaking in this place in 1948, gave us eloquent argument against optional preferential voting. We have in this country electoral history which tells us that exhausted votes do occur and that they can complicate the correct decision about who has been elected and who has not, and they can be the cause of much dissatisfaction and disputation. Surely the present system of full preferential voting which ensures that there is always a quota remaining for the election of the last few senators gives us a result which everyone accepts as the just result even if it is slow.
In 1948 Dr Evatt argued strongly against optional preferential voting. As AttorneyGeneral of the day he made a second reading speech in which he said:
Under proportional representation a very low preference may become either an effective vote when candidates are excluded from the bottom of the ballot paper, or a fraction of an effective vote when candidates are excluded from the top of the paper.
This is the system which has enabled this Senate to reflect the voting patterns of our community ever since 1948. Optional preferential voting would be a disadvantage because it would adversely affect the electoral justice which our voting system would give us. We saw this happen in New South Wales in the 1920s and we do not want the experiment repeated here. It is interesting to see that what Mr Daly supported in 1948 he describes as undemocratic and meaningless now.
I intend, with my colleagues, to vote for the second reading of this Bill but then to consider very carefully in Committee the clauses and possible amendments. I reject utterly any assertions, like those made by Senator Devitt, that a reduction of 10 per cent in an informality rate would justify disfranchising 1 per cent of the community. I think I am quoting Senator Devitt accurately. I am ashamed that he should say such a thing. Nothing in a so called electoral reform Bill justifies disfranchising anyone. Nothing in the search for speedier results justifies taking away the rights of citizens to vote and to have their votes counted. Those parts of this Bill which aim to improve the electoral process we will support; those parts which diminish electoral justice we will oppose, and in so doing we will seek to do our proper job of protecting our community and ensuring that electoral results reflect the wishes of that community.
Senator DEVITT (Tasmania)- Mr President, I heard some reference by Senator Baume to observations I made in the course of my speech. I claim to have been misrepresented and I wish to make a personal explanation. I am sorry to have to do this. I am quite certain that Senator Baume misunderstood what I said to the Senate. If that was the impression that he got then I am sorry. It certainly was not the impression I intended to give that there would be any justification whatever for disfranchising people. What I was saying to the Senate was that, on the one hand, the Opposition was claiming that it was incorrect that about one per cent, or in any event, a proportion of the people would be disfranchised whereas, with the level of the informal vote, in fact 10 per cent of the people were currently being disfranchised. That is certainly what I intended to say and, if I gave the impression that I was trying to justify something other than that, I certainly did not intend to do so. That is why I thought I should make this explanation.
– In closing the second reading debate on this Bill I wish to deal generally with the major criticisms offered by the Opposition. Obviously, I do not intend to take them up in detail, because the same amendments moved by the Opposition in the House of Representatives are to be moved here, so that those matters will be handled in much more detail at the Committee stages. The first criticism relates to the provision of the Bill allowing for optional preferential voting. The Opposition apparently believes that the present system, which particularly in Senate elections gives rise to an average of about 10 per cent informal votes, should be retained. It is interesting to note that the informal vote in Senate elections, when there is so often a much larger number of candidates, is between 4 and 5 times as great as the informal vote in the House of Representatives elections. There is no question but that, the more squares there are on a ballot paper to be filled in, the greater is the chance of an informal vote through oversight or inadvertence.
Senator Baume said that the system we use today- the full preferential system- is a just system and that, if we departed from it, justice would be assaulted. In very high theory that would be right. When you have a situation, which we have in elections today, where you must vote in some cases for 74 people, but in any case for even 5 or 6 people in a House of Representatives election, you have to say: ‘I prefer No. 1 candidate, No. 2 candidate or No. 3 candidate’, until it gets right down to the seventy-fourth candidate. It is fine for you to say that you prefer a certain candidate as, say, your ninth preference over your tenth preference, provided you have a complete knowledge of the people for whom you are voting, and that is patently ridiculous in our electoral system. One can look around one’s own Party room, where there are about 100 members, or any organisation in which one is involved and one can conscientiously say to oneself that a certain man would be one’s ninth preference over one’s tenth preference. It may be that the No. 1 or No. 2 candidate stands out in one’s mind but, when it gets down to that, the decision must be based on a full and complete knowledge.
I suggest that it is patently absurd to say that the electorate in Australia can manage elections with even 4 or 5 candidates but, when one gets Senate elections involving 26 or 27 persons, and in the famous case in New South Wales last year involving 73 persons, it is obviously beyond one’s power, because no one can have knowledge of so many people standing for election. Of course, some of them are not known at all to a large majority of the electors and, even if one gets probably the best known public figures in Australia, all those things that would go into making up one’s mind whether a candidate should be the ninth or tenth preference are not within the voter’s knowledge.
The Opposition would preserve this high rate of informal vote while the Government ‘s aim is to ensure that the percentage of informal votes is reduced and that people whose intentions are clear are afforded the maximum opportunity to have those intentions translated into a valid vote. Those honourable senators from New South Wales will remember the mammoth ballot paper containing the names of 73 candidates who faced the electors of New South Wales in the last Senate election. If optional preferential voting had been operative at that election it would have had 2 effects: First, the time taken and the difficulty involved in filling out the ballot paper correctly would have been greatly reduced and, secondly, the incentive to promote the nomination of a large number of candidates deliberately to produce confusion would have been severely reduced. I do not think anyone argues that they were genuine candidates at that election.
Let me turn now to the provision that would allow the identification on ballot papers of candidates belonging to registered political parties. The objection raised to this provision is that it will make things more difficult for smaller parties. Whilst it may be true that this provision will make it difficult for some small parties to secure registration, and hence identification of their candidate’s party affiliation on the ballot paper, there is in this argument the underlying assumption that it is an advantage to have a party affiliation displayed against the candidate’s name on the ballot paper. I think Senator Withers suggested that there might be disadvantages for a candidate if this procedure were to be adopted. The real point of this provision is, against that, it makes things easier for the voter in validly recording his true intention. He would then be protected against the confusion which results from nuisance candidates who change their names so that they are very similar to or indeed identical with the names of genuine candidates. There is, of course, a provision in the Bill relating to name changes by candidates within a specific period prior to an election, but there are obvious cases where, by long-term planning, this provision could be subverted. Therefore, identification of candidates by party affiliation is an additional safeguard in this respect.
I think it is true that many people- I suppose the larger proportion- go to the polling booths with the intention of voting for a political party. I know that some honourable senators do not like to think that their great names do not draw attention to themselves, but I think we all realise very much that, if any one of us did not have a party affiliation attached to us at Senate election time we would not be here at all or, indeed, for as long as some of us have been here. People are going along to vote not for a particular name but for a political party, and this legislation is giving them the option of being able to do that by knowing for which candidates they must vote if they are going to vote for their particular party.
There have been objections to the increase of the amount of deposit to be lodged with a candidate ‘s nomination. Again, the necessity for a substantial nomination fee was inescapably highlighted by the New South Wales Senate ballot paper of last year with its 73 candidates, many of whom were clearly nuisance candidates the nomination of whom was facilitated by the relatively low deposit required. Senator Withers suggested today a figure of $500 rather than $1,000 for Senate elections. However, I believe that in these times a person who has some chance of being elected and who genuinely has some support in the electorate would be able to raise that amount of money. After all, if one relates our old friend inflation to the deposit we paid in our early days I do not think the rise would be that much.
Standing for election to a State Parliament or the Federal Parliament should be a serious business, and it ought not to be too much to say that, as this is a serious business, a serious amount of money should be deposited. If there are going to be people setting out to subvert the electoral system by having mischievous candidates then I think it requires the government of the day to do something about it. The device of requiring a deposit cannot eliminate entirely this type of deposit. That is obvious. We could make it $10,000 but, if people wanted to be mischievous enough, they could find that sum. Clearly, however, it will act as a deterrent to them. The setting of a substantial deposit conflicts with the desire to facilitate the nomination of persons genuinely seeking elections to Parliament. Clearly, the balance has to be struck and the figure of $1,000 is in the Government’s view the best balance that can be struck at present, having in mind that one would not normally expect an alteration in the deposit for some years after this legislation is enacted. That is my point about inflation. So, if we fix the deposit at $500 today I do not think it is that much above the present amount or indeed will it be in future, with the level of inflation obtaining in the world today.
The other Opposition objection has been to the earlier closing of polling booths. Were we to accept the argument of the Opposition, polling booths would be open for 24 hours or even for a week. Again this question boils down to striking a balance between the necessity to give members of the public a reasonable opportunity to place their votes and the burdens placed on the polling officers because of counting procedures and so forth. In these days of increased mobility there seems to be no good reason why that balance should not be struck for a 10-hour polling period rather than a 12-hour polling period which would condemn polling officers to a 13-hour day rather than a 1 5-hour day. I think the question of fatigue and of being sick and tired of the look of ballot papers by the time the electorate processes come to an end is important.
I said I would deal with only a few of the matters raised. 1 wish to refer to the question of postal votes. Few people in Australia would not have been appalled at the uncertainty that followed the last election. I might add that the uncertainty paralleled that of the 1961 election. Uncertainty as to the result of an election creates not merely a paralysis in government but means that the people’s representatives in Parliament are unable for the period of the uncertainty, to exercise the direction of government administration that the electors are entitled to expect. The objections raised to this provision by the Opposition are based largely on the argument of electors’ convenience, but the reordering of arrangements that electors would need to make in order to comply with the new provision are very minor and compared with the disadvantages and uncertainties of the present system are, I believe, a small price to pay. All honourable senators will recall the outcry in the Press which reflected very genuine and deep public disquiet at the mechanical inability of the existing electoral system to produce a definite result within a short time after election day. After the last election there was an uncertainty in both Houses. This uncertainty of government lasted for about 2 weeks. Then there was the uncertainty as to the numbers, which I do not suppose is such a major thing.
– I thought at the last election it was clear by the Monday or the Tuesday who had won government.
-I wish I had run into the honourable senator at that stage. He would have lifted my hopes. I was dealing really with the Press. I have some Press clippings here. I could quote them to the honourable senator. I do not think the numbers of each party were that important from the point of view of the election, but the question arose whether the Government had a majority in both Houses. That took much longer to decide. It should not be beyond the wit of people to overcome that situation. I believe that these things should be overcome. So far the paralysis of government which takes place during those few weeks has not been a major problem. I think it would be a very bad situation if the Government, internally or externally, was going through some of the crises that governments go through. It is important to have a government that can make decisions. I think this is of great importance particularly where a new government may wish to reverse decisions of previous governments or to alter the trend which that government was taking. Because of the present system, for the first time in history we had a government consisting of 2 people. This occurred because the system that we have in our Party insists that all members of the Government must be elected by Caucus. Caucus is composed of the duly elected members of the Federal Parliament. That is why the first Whitlam Government consisted of 2 people. Our processes transfixed onto the slow counting produced that situation. The 2 people might have thought it was a good system for that fortnight.
– That is a good question.
-One worry was that the 2 members might have perpetuated the system of 2-men government. They might have thought that two was quite enough. That was our main worry at the time. The remainder of the matters raised will be dealt with in the Committee stage. I have dealt with some of the objections and they will be dealt with more fully in the Committee stage.
Question resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a second time.
Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) agreed to:
That consideration of the Bill in Committee of the Whole be made an order of the day for a later hour of the day.
– I move:
This Bill gives effect to an exchange of notes concluded on 2 1 March 1974 between the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), as Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Mr Marshall Green, the United States Ambassador, acting on behalf of their respective governments. The exchange of notes amends the agreement of 9 May 1963 between the Government of Australia and the Government of the United States of America relating to the establishment of a United States Naval Communication Station in Australia.
The exchange of notes followed discussions the Minister for Defence, Mr Barnard, had in Washington in January 1974 with the United States Secretary of Defence, Mr Schlesinger. It provides for 3 amendments to the 1963 Agreement. An amendment to Article 1 of the Agreement provides that the station at North West Cape shall be operated jointly while amendment to Article 2 limits United States Navy exclusive occupation to a national room and provides for a similar Australian national room. The land use arrangement under the 1963 Agreement is amended to reflect the changed conditions of use and occupancy. An amendment to Article 14 of the Agreement provides that the Australian Government will meet only the costs directly associated with the location of the Royal Australian Navy at the station, such as salaries, allowances and accommodation. An Australian Deputy Commander took up duty at North West Cape on 1 9 July 1 974 while a Royal Australian Navy contingent of 47 officers and men will be posted to the station before the end of June 1975. Fourteen of these will man the Australian communications centre. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate/fon motion by Senator Sim) adjourned
/ DARWIN CYCLONE DAMAGE COMPENSATION BILL 1975
– I move:
The Darwin Cyclone Damage Compensation Bill 1975 provides the legislative authority for the payment of compensation in respect of loss of or damage to property arising out of the cyclone which passed through Darwin on 25 December 1974. The total cost of compensation is currently estimated at $5 8m. These moneys are to be made available under 2 separate appropriations- an initial amount of $25m under Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 1974-75, and the remaining $33m under Supply Bill (No. 1) 1975-76. Both Bills were introduced into the House on 8 April 1975. Separate appropriations are required, as it would not be practicable to disburse the full amount before the end of this financial year. Moneys to pay compensation for death and personal injury suffered by persons as a result of the cyclone have already been provided for in Appropriation Act (No. 4) 1974-75.
The current estimate of $58m was derived from a nation-wide survey, not by my Department, of households and organisations which were in Darwin on Christmas Day 1974. Honourable senators will recognise that a survey taken soon after the disaster cannot be expected to be completely accurate. For example, some people may have forgotten some possessions which were lost, or placed too low a value on others. Despite a major advertising campaign, advice and assistance by my departmental officers to those responding to the survey, in Darwin, in the States and in some provincial centres, there is room for error. However, I can assure honourable senators that my Department has gone to great pains to provide me with the best estimate available.
I stress the importance of early passage of this Bill, as over 3 months have elapsed since Darwin was struck by Cyclone Tracy. Although a great deal has already been achieved in rehabilitating the city and its people, very much more remains to be done. Many people are separated from their homes in Darwin and their usual employment; many are in difficult circumstances. The suffering these people have undergone is immeasurable, and many now face an uncertain future. In view of this, my Department is already engaged on the major task of inviting, collating and assessing claims for compensation.
It is a tribute to the Australian people that they have responded so swiftly and generously to the plight of their fellow citizens in Darwin through relief appeals and volunteer work. It is fitting that they expect an equally swift and generous response from their Government. I am advised that any attempt to present in greater detail, in this Bill now before the Senate, how the $58m is to be distributed would considerably delay payment of compensation which in so many cases is essential to some degree of rehabilitation. Further, detailed legislation in this matter could in many cases inadvertently bind those whose task it will be to apportion compensation to decisions which may not be in keeping with the real interests of justice and equity. This is not meant to imply the absence of principles whereby these moneys are to be distributed- as broad principles will be used- but rather the need for a high degree of flexibility and discretion if this operation is to be just and effective.
The survey undertaken by my Department shows that approximately 50 per cent of the damage to property was not covered by insurance. Apart from suggesting serious deficiencies in the insurance arrangements in this country- and I say that notwithstanding the fact that the insurance industry has given valuable assistance to my Department in Darwin, and, as I am advised, their rapid response to settling the claims of their clients- the magnitude of the damage points to the Australian Government as the only possible source of adequate financial aid. The fact that Darwin is located in an Australian Territory places on the Australian Government the extra responsibilities which would normally be borne by a State government.
My proposal for compensation in respect of property in Darwin is to pay 50 per cent of uninsured loss and damage. Property which was under-insured will attract compensation but only in regard to that part of the value of the property which was not insured. The effect of a 50 per cent payment will be to compensate the uninsured to a reasonable degree, but at the same time to put persons who did carry some insurance cover closer to recovering their full losses. 1 do not believe that these principles will provide a disincentive for people to insure in the future, and the Government has been mindful of this in putting this proposal forward.
Compensation is to be based on the market value of items on 24 December 1974. Eligibility for compensation will be determined solely on the basis of uninsured loss or damage having occurred. No means test is to be applied. Assessment, determination and payment of claims is to be the responsibility of my Department. Examiners in the office set up by my Department in Darwin will apply uniform criteria to all claims. Where the full amount of a claim cannot be allowed, claimants will be so advised, and invited to furnish proof of possession and loss or damage. Meanwhile, they will receive early settlement of a portion of their claim. Where further evidence is produced cases will be reviewed and adjustments made where appropriate.
Upper limits to amounts of compensation have been established which, I believe, strike a balance between worthwhile compensation for the individual and organisations on the one hand and the responsible expenditure of public funds on the other. There is an upper limit of $25,000 payable for loss and damage to private dwellings and any loss and damage occurring on the property of a primary producer. The word ‘dwelling’ will be interpreted broadly and will encompass boats and caravans where these were used as a primary dwelling. There is an upper limit of $50,000 payable for business premises, plant, equipment and stock. There is an upper limit of $5,000 for personal possessions, including motor vehicles, furniture and fittings.
The sense of these proposals is to recompense people partially for what they have lost. They are not aimed at the reconstruction of Darwin nor the resettlement of those who were resident there on 25 December 1974 in their former circumstances. The reconstruction of Darwin is a separate endeavour being handled by my colleague the Minister for the Northern Territory (Dr Patterson). Resettlement is a decision for individuals themselves to make and my colleague the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) has been active in providing assistance in this regard.
The compensation proposals have been very carefully considered by an interpedartmental committee and by the Government. They are a departure from previous Australian Government initiatives in response to natural disasters. Unlike previous disasters, Darwin is a unique situation. As I have already mentioned, it is situated in an Australian Territory for which the Australian Government is responsible. Geographically, it is isolated with no near-lying city of any size from which its residents could receive support nor to which they could be relocated after the disaster. Thousands had to be evacuated from the city, some without choice, many of whom have as yet been unable to return. The almost total destruction caused by the cyclone was of a kind unknown in Australia. It was in every sense a major disaster even by international standards. As such, this situation calls for unique measures. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Withers) adjourned.
Clauses 1 to 3- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Section 5 of the Principal Act is amended-
– The Opposition eventually may ask for this clause to be divided so that it can vote against the definition of ‘Political party’. This may be dependent upon the acceptance of the Opposition’s proposed amendment to clause 21. Perhaps it might be a better arrangement to postpone consideration of clause 4 until later because it is related to clause 2 1 . If clause 2 1 is defeated we can come back to the definition contained in this clause. That seems to be the more sensible approach.
Clause 5 agreed to.
Section 1 6 of the Principal Act is amended-
– The Opposition will vote against sub-clause (a) of clause 6. As I understand the Bill, this sub-clause in effect proposes no longer to insist upon the SurveyorGeneral of a State being one of the distribution commissioners but permits the GovernorinCouncil to support any person who is licensed or registered as a surveyor under a law or a State or internal Territory. The obligation to appoint as one of the distribution commissioners a SurveyorGeneral of a State, if he is available, or a person of similar qualifications has been in the Act for a long time. The Opposition can see no reason for its removal.
One of the great advantages in having a State Surveyor-General as one of the appointees is that he is a person who owes no allegiance to, nor is he appointed by, the Commonwealth Government. One of the great problems in all electoral matters is the natural suspicion between parties that somebody is trying to get an electoral advantage. The Surveyor-General of a State, who is the appointee of a State government is seen, I think, by the community at large and by political parties to be a person with complete independence. When the government of the day decides to have a redistribution it really does not know much about the Surveyor-General, his background or his activities but he is one person who is appointed as a result of his office. To substitute ‘a surveyor’ for ‘the Surveyor-General of the State’ overlooks, I think with respect, the purpose in having the Surveyor-General as a nominee. A Surveyor-General is not just a licensed surveyor. He is a person who I suppose is the one surveyor in the State at any one time whom one would expect to have a total knowledge of all the problems which would arise in a redistribution. I have yet to be convinced that a surveyor not holding the office of SurveyorGeneral would have the same capacity and qualifications to be able to bring to the electoral commissioners that sort of expert knowledge which it is evidently envisaged should be provided to the Distribution Commissioners by one of their number.
What the Government is proposing in clause 6 (a) is far too wide a provision. I have seen nothing so far, apart from the original second reading speech, which attempts to justify the replacement of ‘Surveyor-General’ by ‘a licensed surveyor’. I note that in the second reading speech it was suggested that the services of a Surveyor-General of a State are not always available. I understand there has just been a redistribution in 5 States. To the best of my memory the Surveyor-General in each State was available. I know that the State SurveyorGeneral in Western Australia did not sit on the redistribution carried out in that State prior to, I think, 1973, but the Deputy Surveyor-Genera) did sit in his place. The argument that the SurveyorGeneral should be displaced because he is not always available does not hold water because one would have thought that to make that argument stick the Minister would have been able to produce a list of, say, the last four or five redistributions showing that in just about all those redistributions the Surveyors-General of the States were not available to serve as Distribution Commissioners. For those reasons the Opposition will oppose clause 6 (a).
– The reason put forward by Senator Withers in opposing clause 6 (a) seems to be that there does or there may exist between political parties suspicion of one another. He went on to deal with why the Opposition is worried about this provision in the Bill. This is a fairly simple amendment. The situation at the moment is that there are 3 Distribution Commissioners in each State, one of whom shall be the Chief Electoral Officer or an officer having similar qualifications and one of whom shall be the Surveyor-General of the State or an officer having similar qualifications. We have only changed the prescription of the Surveyor-General of the State to try to broaden the provision to include other surveyors who would be registered or licensed surveyors. In other words, we are de-socialising this. We seek to delete the provision that requires the person to be a Commonwealth officer or a State officer and we want to look around the whole of a State to find who would be the best man for the particular job. It may be asked: Why do not we do it in the case of the Chief Electoral Officer? The answer is self-evident. There are no private electoral officers, they are Commonwealth officers. I point out to the Opposition that in the present Act the word ‘officer’ is used, so the Distribution Commissioners are the Chief Electoral Officer or a person with similar qualifications who is a Government employee, the Surveyor-General or an officer who has to be, as I say, a Commonwealth or State public servant, and one other suitable person is selected. What we are attempting to do is to enlarge the one provision that can be enlarged to cover the broad spectrum of people who must be qualified. What we are looking for obviously is not only a person who has the technical competence but also a person who has a flair for this type of thing.
Senator Withers started off talking about suspicions but there will be both types of government in the future. I am sure Senator Withers believes that. There is not going to be a Labor Government forever and ever. I see this provision as merely broadening the present provision to give the Government more flexibility in getting a person who still has to be qualified. He will not be an unqualified person. There will be an electoral man. There will be a man with cartographic, surveying, knowledge. We are broadening this. Here is an opportunity to get younger men to act as Distribution Commissioners. Here is an opportunity to get the type of person who would be more politically interested in this sort of thing than we are getting at present. I do not think there is any need for any great argument about this. Senator Withers may have his mind made up on this. Bearing in mind all those vital matters which the Opposition aims to cut out of the Bill I really wonder why it is worried about this provision.
– What worries me is that, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) just said, we may get as Distribution Commissioners people with the qualifications of a surveyor who are politically interested. I think that is the last sort of person we ought to have as a Distribution Commissioner. There is no real argument, I suppose, for even having an electoral officer as a Distribution Commissioner. The Minister talks about broadening the range or the qualifications of people who may act as Distribution Commissioners. There is an argument as to whether these people should have any qualifications at all and whether we should make them appear before Distribution Commissioners and give evidence in public as to the reasons why they suggest certain things ought to be done. After all, senators sit on committees, take evidence and come to judgments. Three people sitting in public having before them the electoral commissioner, a surveyor-general and anybody else, political parties putting their points of view and being cross-examined in public, might really carry out a very interesting exercise in coming to conclusions as to what the electoral boundaries ought to be. If one wanted to wipe up the argument as to who should distribute boundaries one could have a very interesting argument which could occupy us all night because various methods are used in different places throughout the world for appointing people to distribute boundaries. As I understand it, the SurveyorGeneral of a State has been a Distribution Commissioner in the Commonwealth sphere for many many years: I have never known of any complaint as to his capacity, age or lack of knowledge, and quite frankly I do not see why the present provision ought to be changed.
– When I used the word ‘political * I in no way meant that it should be a party political situation. There are people who are not sitting in the Parliament who are tremendously interested in this subject. After all, Malcolm Mackerras is a fellow who writes books about electoral boundaries and even tells people who is going to win elections and all sorts of things. He is a university student, as I understand it, devoting his time to this sort of thing. Politicians often meet people who have a great interest in these things. So in no way did I mean what Senator Withers has suggested, which would be bad because, as I point out again, it will not always be advantageous in any one political situation. I agree with Senator Withers in that I do not think there have been any doubts as far as I know cast as to the veracity of commissioners. As I see it this is a pretty innocuous sort of thing; in a major revision we are simply trying to broaden this provision. I think it would be advantageous. I do not see any great worries about it. I just think that with the sort of world in which we live and with the different types of education we get today we can get younger people interested and I merely think this is a very quiet sort of amendment which will give to the Minister of the day a wider choice when he is selecting Distribution Commissioners to look at electoral boundaries.
– I explain to the Committee that clause 6 has been divided into 2 parts, sub-clause (a) and sub-clause (b).
That clause 6(a) stand as printed.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman- Senator Devitt)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause 6(b) agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Sitting suspended from S.SO to 8 p.m.
Clauses 7 to 12- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
After section 41 of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: - 41 a. (1) A person (other than a person who is, or is entitled to be, enrolled by virtue of section 4 1 ) who-
– I move:
The Opposition basically has no objection to the proposition which the Government is putting but believes that it is too limited. It is limited to those who are in the service of Australia, a State or a public authority who have left or are living outside Australia for the purpose of performing duties in that service. The view that the Opposition puts to the Committee is: Why should that provision be confined to persons who are in the service of Australia, a State or a public authority? There are people not within that category who, we believe, go overseas- it may be an elector working for, say, the Bank of New South Wales who is transferred to London for a period of 2 or 3 years- with a fixed intention of returning to Australia. Why should he be taken off the electoral roll? A member of the Public Service who is transferred to London to work in, say, the High Commissioner’s Office is entitled to stay on the roll. We agree he ought to have this entitlement but why should not those working in the private sector also have the same privilege? Their basic qualifications are the same. They are qualified for enrolment and have a fixed intention of returning to Australia and living within a subdivision. That is the simplicity of the argument. I think it is a reasonable proposition that those who work in the private sector should have the same privileges as those who work in the public sector.
– The Government is proposing to extend this right only to those people in the employ of Australian or State Government authorities and their spouses because these people go overseas for a short period of time- something like 3 or 4 years- and obviously are going to return. It seems to the Government that the Opposition’s amendment is far too wide and embracing. It would cover absences overseas by people for an unlimited period providing they have a fixed intention to return at any time. I know the fixed intention provision is already in the Act, but it is something I would not like to have to prove or disprove in respect of any person. We all know of Australians who have lived overseas for 30 years and who always say that some day they will return to Australia. Maybe that is their fixed intention, but it does seem terribly wide to include these people. What we are trying to do is include those people who are obviously moving away for a fixed period, being required to do so because of their employment in Government departments. This is a matter of opinion; I do not think there is a lot of principle attached to it. The Government sees it that way, but if this was found to be too restrictive we could always amend that provision. I think we would be setting up a provision which was far too wide if we were to accept the Opposition’s amendment.
– I understand what the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) is putting and the Opposition appreciates the point. I suppose if we had the resources we most likely could have drafted an amendment to provide that a person who has not returned within a period of, say, 3, 4 or 5 years, whether he worked within the public or private sector, ought to be taken off the electoral roll. There is no limitation on the period in which a person in the public sector can be away so why should those in the private sector not have the same right. It is for those reasons that the Opposition presses the amendment. Should the Committee agree with it I am certain that when the Government has a look at it it could well come back with a qualification which would put some limit on the period of absence. I understand what Senator Willesee has said. One could be away for 20 or 30 years with a fixed intention of returning. I am certain though that the Electoral Office and Parliamentary Counsel have the wit between them to draft an amendment which would put some time limit on those in both the public and private sector. Our simple view is that all electors ought to be treated equally, whether they work within the public or the private sector and there ought not to be a disadvantage attaching to one or the other.
– I believe that the Opposition’s amendment should be supported. I disagree with the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) that no principle is involved because there is a very great principle involved. People who work in the Public Service of this country should not have an advantage in this way over those who work in private employment outside Australia on behalf of their employer. I cannot see why a person who is an Australian national and a citizen of this country who may be overseas for a number of years should be prevented from having a say about the future of the country to which he intends to return. There could be people who spend half their lifetime overseas involved in diplomatic service on behalf of their country or in other areas looking after Australia’s interests abroad. It is a matter of some great principle that the government should not institute a right for those who work for the Government and preclude those who do not work for the Government to vote while overseas. On a matter of principle I certainly support the Opposition’s amendment.
That the paragraphs proposed to be left out (Senator Withers’ amendment) be left out.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman- Senator Devitt)
Question so resolved in the affirmative. Question put:
That the paragraph proposed to be inserted (Senator Withers’ amendment) be inserted.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman- Senator Devitt)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I am advised by Parliamentary Counsel that amendments Nos 4 to 14 on the list of amendments circulated are all consequential upon the previous amendment, and I seek leave of the Committee to move them as one motion.
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-As I informed the Committee, they are consequential, according to Parliamentary Counsel, upon the carrying of the previous amendment. I move:
– The Government opposes these amendments, although they are consequential, because we opposed the changing of the law as we intended it to be. I may have left a bad impression, and this was picked up by Senator Hall. Without opening up the argument, I think I should say that restricting this to government employees was in no way meant to be discriminatory. But one could have a situation where some subdivisions were stacked with the names of people who were living overseas for a long period of time. There have been a lot of complaints by civil servants, saying: ‘We have to go overseas to serve our country and yet we are penalised in this way’, so it was a question of whether we covered that situation or extended it so that it became so wide that we believed it would not be workable. That aspect has been dealt with, and the Committee has voted on it and accepted the Opposition’s amendments, but I want it clearly understood that we oppose these amendments. I do not intend to take the Committee to the stage of dividing on every one of these amendments. We will vote against them on the voices.
Amendments agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 14 to 16- by leave- taken together and agreed to.
Clause 17 (Names on Roll may be objected to).
– I advise the
Committee that the Opposition will vote against clause 1 7. Section 52 of the original Act states:
Any name on a Roll may be objected to by objection in writing lodged with or made by the Divisional Returning Officer: Provided that a sum of fifty cents shall be deposited in respect of each objection . . .
Clause 17 of the present Bill intends to raise that sum to $2. It may appear that our opposition is somewhat nitpicking. One would imagine from the marginal note that the sum was raised to 50c in 1966. We take the view that section 52 of the principal Act is there to enable those others than the Electoral Office to indulge in what is I think occasionally called roll cleansing. I think anybody who knows the work of the Electoral Office knows that the Office devotes a great deal of time to roll cleansing, that is, making certain that persons who have died, who have married or who have left the subdivision or the division are reorganised on the roll. The Act has always allowed for any citizen to lodge an objection to any elector being on the roll. We believe that this is a right which ought to be kept. The Government does not even propose to move away from that position. All it is attempting to do is to raise the deposit by 4 times the amount from 50 cents to $2. We think this is excessive. As far as I know, no allegation has ever been levelled at the state of the rolls in Australia. I suppose that the rolls kept by the Commnonwealth Electoral Office- I still use that term because it is a very old and honourable term for the Electoral Office- would keep electoral rolls which are amongst the best in the world. We know that through the habitation checks and the various other procedures in which it indulges, the Electoral Office does its utmost to ensure that the rolls are clean, if I may use that expression. In spite of that, as the provision is to remain that any name on the roll may be objected to, surely it ought to be done for a very nominal sum. I would not care if the sum was really nominal, about 10 cents, because I doubt- I have no evidence to the contrary- that many frivolous objections are made. If objections are made they tend to be objections of substance. We would oppose the amendment to the principal Act as contained in clause 17 because people ought to be able to object in order to keep the rolls as clean as possible.
– One purpose of this clause is to prevent frivolous objections. The other purpose is to update the amount for today’s situation. It now costs 50c to make an objection. I would not be surprised if at one time the amount had been 5 shillings. I do not know the exact time when the sum was changed to 50 cents but that has been the prescribed amount for many years. In updating the Commonwealth Electoral Act it was very obvious that this amount ought to be raised. As I pointed out earlier in the day when we were debating the question of deposits, this amount is not merely for today. We will not be able to update it in 12 months. It will stay there for some time. With the inevitable inflation in the world today, the sum does not seem to us to be excessive. In this Bill we are merely increasing it from 50 cents to $2. If anybody is so interested as to challenge the name of a fellow-citizen being on the roll he must be serious-minded enough to make a $2 payment. Although Senator Withers has explained the Opposition’s attitude, I am a little surprised that the Opposition is opposing this clause. It does not seem to be striking at any principles.
– Can you give any indication of how many objections a year there are in Australia?
-When I resume my seat I will ask my adviser. I do not know how many there would be or even whether records are kept. A name may be removed after objection by a private citizen or by action initiated by the Electoral Office. Senator Withers has said that he doubts that there have been any frivolous objections. I think that our views may have been coloured by what occurred in New South Wales during the last federal election campaign. I do not think that anybody claims that there was not a fair amount of frivolity or mischievousness in New South Wales during the last election campaign when 74 candidates were nominated. I do not think there would be any great hardship in raising the amount, which has been in the principal Act for so many years, from 50c to $2.
– I want to give my support to this clause. I want to relate a happening which took place during the last election. An objection was lodged with the Electoral Officer against one of our candidates because his 2 daughters were on the electoral roll but were working in Adelaide away from their home town and returning home every weekend to live at home. I was unable to find out who lodged the objection. Because this man was a candidate for the Australian Labor Party somebody saw fit to lodge an objection that his 2 daughters were still on the roll and naturally would have voted for their father.
– You hoped that they would.
– I assumed that they would. The person who lodged the objection to their being on the roll must have thought that they would have voted for their father. Because they happened to be working outside the electorate and living in Adelaide this objection was lodged. I think that if people are going to lodge frivolous objections such as the one I have cited there ought to be a larger sum than 50c to be paid. In today’s currency $2 is not too much to ask any person to pay when that person lodges an objection. For the reason that I have cited from my own personal experience I think that the sum of $2 is perhaps too small and that it ought to be in the vicinity of $10. If people are to be vindictive and lodge objections, at least they ought to be prepared to pay for them and stand up for what they are doing. For that reason I support clause 1 7 of the Bill.
– I strongly oppose clause 1 7 of the Bill. It amazes me that the Australian Labor Party should always tell the people that it is the workers ‘ party and the low income group party. Nearly every measure that comes into this chamber involves increased costs to be paid to the Government. The Government says to the worker, the pensioner and the person on a low income: ‘You want to question some of these so-called Liberal people who are enrolled in a swinging electorate. You used to be able to do it for 50c. You are not costing the Government anything because the staff are there and they must work their normal hours. But we will make you pay 4 times the amount. If you want to question the enrolment of an individual, you on a pension, you on a low income, you on unemployment benefit, will pay $2.’
It appears to me that this Government has lost all sense of proportion and has lost all feeling for and knowledge of the wishes of people in the lower income groups. Further clauses will give me an opportunity to say precisely the same, although I will not refer specifically to them now. The Government has lost sight of the value of money to poor people, lt has also lost sight of the idea of protecting the rights of every Australian to question the right of a person- whether he be a Liberal voter, a Labor voter, a Country Party voter, an Independent voter, a Liberal Movement voter or an informal voter- to be on the roll. I believe that the Government should be ashamed of itself for trying to press this amendment to the Act.
- Mr Temporary Chairman, I am forced to rise again because of” the comments made by Senator Marriott. Throughout his remarks he said that the Government was trying to deprive the poor people. He is assuming that it is only the poor people who want to object to somebody being on the roll. In the case that I mentioned a while ago I am sure that it was not poor people but wealthy people who were trying to object to a person being on the roll. I ask Senator Marriott: Why does he emphasise the fact that it is only the poor people who lodge objections? I think that in the main it is the wealthy people who lodge objections, because they are afraid that it may be a Labor voter who is the subject of their objection. That is why I take umbrage at Senator Marriott’s reference to poor people.
– Senator McLaren demonstrates his partisan attitude to this Bill by immediately dividing those who may protest about voters who should not be able to vote in a certain election on the basis of whether they may vote Labor or Liberal. The intention that ought to be held uppermost in any thoughts on this matter is to have as correct a roll as possible. I personally know of an instance in South Australia where several hundred people were removed from a State roll by proper objection. If that proper objection had been taken to its fullest extent and if there had been time to enable the roll to be cleaned up for a by-election, the election result would have been quite dramatically different. That is a thought that ought to be uppermost in anyone’s mind when considering whether or not one should inhibit a study of the roll.
What the Government is doing by the method that Senator Marriott has illustrated is suggesting that the charge for making a frivolous objectionI think ‘frivolous’ is the word used in the Act- should be increased to inhibit those who may look at the roll from making objections. They may decide that they are taking a risk and that they might incur some significant economic penalty. I suggest that Senator McLaren and the Government have lost sight of the main objective of the parent section of the Act, which is to ensure that an election is as fair as one can make it. By making it harder to object the Government is likely to have a roll which includes people who ought not to be allowed to vote.
– At this stage I really only confirm what Senator Hall has said. I believe it is important that people should not in any way be discouraged in this area. I am quite surprised that there is any argument at all in favour of the proposition that the fee for lodging objections to a person’s appearing on the roll should be increased from 50c to $2. It seems to me that people in the community should be free to lodge objections. I do not believe that in the main- if at all- people who lodge objections are motivated by frivolous considerations. I believe that these people are serious and constructive in their objections. I believe that the fee for lodging such objections should be a nominal one, and that it should not be increased from 50c to $2, as is suggested in this clause.
– I support what Senator Hall and Senator Scott have said. I suggest to the Minister that if the assertion is being made that a number of objections are frivolous, it might be helpful if we could be given the statistical base on which the assertion is made. If most objections that are made are successful and proper ones, they are clearly not frivolous. Only if it can be shown that a large number of the objections that are being made are not being sustained can any argument be advanced at all for the kind of punitive action which is being suggested in this clause. It would be helpful if we could have the material and the data base which justify this proposal by the Government.
– I have given the reason for the Government’s proposal: It is an updating of the legislation. I have asked my advisers about the question which Senator Baume has raised. They inform me that no central record of the actual number of objections is kept, but from their knowledge they think that the number of private objections would not be great and that most of them would be carried out by the electoral officers. I do not think that Senator Marriott really has to worry that people out of work, age pensioners and those sorts of people would be challenging many persons on the roll. If the objection is not frivolous, if it is a serious objection, the money is returned to the person making the objection. So honourable senators opposite need have no worry. If in some way the Electoral Office has missed certain persons on the roll, and if objections are taken to those persons and those objections are not frivolous, the money is returned to the person making the objection.
I think that we are all clear as to where we stand on this question. I repeat that in spring cleaning of the electoral laws Mr Daly decided it was time that this position which we are considering was brought up to date. Because of what happened in New South Wales, I think that probably we all are a little nervous that these things could creep into the machinery and put an intolerable burden on the Office.
That the clause stand as printed. The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman- Senator D. M. Devitt)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clauses 18 to 20- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 2 1 -Proposed new Part IXA.
– I indicate that the Opposition will vote against clause 21. Clause 2 1 is not the normal, simple clause which one sees in a Bill. It puts a new part IXa into the Commonwealth Electoral Act dealing with the printing of party affiliations on ballot papers, and inserts new sections 58a. to 58v. I think that adds up to 22 new sections to be included in the clause. I realise that these provisions have to be inserted in this way in the Bill because they are all consequential, one upon the other. The Opposition opposes this clause for a variety of reasons. We are well aware that for a number of years a suggestion has been bruited abroad that it would be easier for the elector to know for whom he was voting if the candidate’s name were printed on the ballot paper against the candidate.
– His Party’s name.
– Yes. Someone else made that mistake the other day and I thought it was funny. I have made it myself and it is not. It is proposed that the candidate’s party shall be printed against his name. On the face of it that sounds a reasonable, logical and sensible proposition. But the real problem in this is: How does one implement such a proposition? We can implement such a proposition only if we go into party registration and all that flows from that. That really does not pose any problem for the 3 major parties represented in this Parliament. I do not think that at the moment it poses any problem for Senator Hall’s party. As I read proposed new subsection 58l. (2) (b), it refers to a party which has been represented in either House of the Parliament for one year prior to the commencement of the proposed Act. But what about those parties which may wish to use a certain name and which have not been represented in this Parliament? I know it is very annoyingwithout attempting to give offence to anybody- to the major political parties in Australia to have other parties with similar names. We know that the official name of the Government Party is the Australian Labor Party. There is another party in Australia known as the Democratic Labor Party.
– That is a real misnomer.
-Possibly so. I am not here to judge on that. The simple fact of life is that the difference between the names of those 2 parties is that one has ‘Australian’ and one has Democratic’ at the beginning. If the names are shortened by using their initials- DLP and ALP- they appear similar. I have yet to be persuaded that anybody voted for the wrong party through misunderstanding or inadvertence. I think members of the Australian Labor Party knew for which party they were voting, as did members of the Democratic Labor Party. But this provision could well mean that as the DLP is not represented within the Parliament at the moment it could have grave difficulties in registering the name ‘Democratic Labor Party’ because by the time this Bill was enacted it could be that the DLP had not been represented in this Parliament for one year prior to the commencement of the Act. I know that is a matter of discretion for the Chief Electoral Officer.
Senator Hall represents in this place the Liberal Movement. I think Senator Hall would agree with what I have said about the difference between the DLP and the ALP. I doubt whether people who intend to vote for the Liberal Movement inadvertently vote for the Liberal Party or vice versa. I think our electors are sufficiently intelligent to distinguish between the different candidates. But this is the problem of a small party. If Senator Hall’s Party was not represented in the Parliament he could have difficulties in having the name of the Liberal Movement registered because the Liberal Party of Australia, which is our full title, could say to the Chief Electoral Officer: ‘The Liberal Movement, the Liberal Party, the Liberal Party of Australia- call it what you like- it will be confusing. It would be misleading and could be disadvantageous to the major party’. Proposed new subsection 58L. states that the Chief Electoral Officer shall refuse to register party names for a number of reasons. But why should only those parties which are in the Parliament be saved? Why should some other party outside not call itself, if it likes, the Democratic Liberal Party or the undemocratic Labor Party or any other name it likes?
In this Bill the Government is attempting to restrict the freedom of one or more persons to form a party, calling itself what it likes and seeking to get candidates under that banner elected to Parliament. It has been an inherent right for 75 years that a group of people can get together, call themselves a party and run candidates under that party banner. I believe that that privilege is more important than putting party designations on ballot papers. I have a rooted objection to putting political parties under any sort of government supervision whatsoever. After all, if one wants to go back to a basic principle, members of Parliament are elected as individuals; they are not elected as party servants. This has been the highest tradition of the Westminster Parliament for some 700 years. I cannot quote the exact words of Edmund Burke but I understand that one comes here as an attorney for one’s electorate; one does not come here as an attorney for one’s party. I know that is how it tends to work out in modern parliamentary practice, but merely to use modern parliamentary practice brings with it some of these evils which should not necessarily be promoted into the legislation. I believe that we sit primarily in this place under the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia as senators, not senators representing any party, but senators representing the States from which we come. Members in the House of Representatives sit as members for the division which elected them. They are not elected in the constitutional sense as members of a political party.
When there was a previous Bill before the Parliament- I forget the exact name of it but I think it was the Electoral Laws Bill of 1974- we took the same objection concerning the disclosure of donations to political parties and expenditure by parties on elections. Under no circumstances should any department of government, any department of the Public Service, ever get any power or influence over political parties in this country. There must be a total right to free association without penalties attaching. I know that the Government will say that people do not have to go through all this registration procedure unless they want the party designation on the ballot paper. That really is not an answer, is it? If three or four of us go away and seek to form the XYZ Party why should not we be able to do so and run candidates? The Government is saying that unless there is compliance with certain statutory obligations there will be a penalty exerted against the XYZ Party, namely, that it cannot have its designation on the ballot paper.
I believe also that the argument that party designations are needed on ballot papers is somewhat of an insult to the intelligence of the Australian elector. The Government boasts each year of the enormous sums of money it is spending on education, and we do not object to that expenditure, but at the same time it is saying that the end result of all that education is that people cannot fill in ballot papers, numbering them from 1 to 4, that they do not have sufficient intelligence or interest to find out prior to going to the polls the names of the candidates of the party of their choice, and that they do not have enough sense to read the newspapers. I believe every political party these days advertises its how to vote card in the newspapers, there are pamphlets put into letter boxes and how to vote cards are handed out at polling booths. Is it said that as a result of all that the average elector is too stupid to know the candidate of the party for which he desires to vote? I know that this idea is one of the favourites of the media. The media promotes the idea that the Government ought to do this and ought to do that but there are some things more important than what is said by the leader writers for newspapers.
I always will be opposed to any sort of control over associations formed for political purposes. I think it is dangerous. The moment the right of free association is taken away the people who are damaged are the small parties, not the major parties in Australia- not the Labor Party, the Liberal Party or the Country Party. These things would react mostly to their advantage but what about the other groups such as Senator Hall’s Party, the Liberal Movement, or the Democratic Labor Party, the Australia Party and even the Communist Party which the people decided by referendum many years ago had a right to exist politically? We have had all sorts of parties. In my own State we had the United Farmers and Graziers Party. All sorts of interest groups form. Why should the Women’s Electoral Lobby not be able to form a party and run groups without having big brother, the Chief Electoral Officer in Canberra, saying that its party will have a name that he approves or its name cannot be printed on the ballot paper? I think this is an outrageous provision. I believe it to be an invasion of basic civil liberties. It is for those reasons, and I think the views of the Opposition are well known, that we will vote against clause 2 1 of the Bill.
– I rise to give my very strong support to clause 2 1 of the Bill which will become Part IXA of the Act and which states that party affiliations will be printed on ballot papers. I have had conversations with many hundreds of electors and when I have asked them what they think of the ballot papers invariably they have all said that the party affiliations should be printed on them. This is one of the reasons why the Government has included this in this Bill to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act. I know that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) will answer completely what the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Withers, said on that score. I want to take up with Senator Withers his statement about honourable senators elected to this place not being bound by a party ticket. I refer to a letter published in the ‘Australian’ on 17 August 1974. It stated:
Opposition senators today, in the same way, are representing their electors. They are also part of the total Liberal Parliamentary Party. They are bound by decisions and policies made by that total party, and have the right and indeed the duty to try to sec those decisions and policies are carried out.
What was the signature below that letter? It was signed by R. G. Withers of Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, and in brackets below the signature it was stated: ‘The writer is Leader of the Opposition in the Senate ‘. What Senator Withers said here tonight was the direct opposite of what he said in that letter to the ‘Australian’. He says one thing one minute when it suits him- at that time he was being castigated for being a member of or leader of an obstructionist party in the Senate- yet here tonight he tried to bolster his argument in opposition to clause 2 1 by saying that he is an individual when he comes here. In his own words, in that letter that he wrote to the
Australian’, he admitted that he was bound by his Party policy, just as we are as members of our Party. Otherwise both Senator Withers and I would not get into this place.
– I would but you would not.
-Oh no! If we had to stand under our own names as candidates for the Senate- as Mr Withers or Mr McLaren- without the backing of our parties and without giving an undertaking to the electors that we would support the policy of our parties, we would have no hope of being elected. I have caught out Senator Withers tonight in regard to what he said and what he wrote to the ‘Australian’, as I have done on many other occasions.
– The most uncharitable view one could take of this clause is that it is a thoroughly unprincipled one aimed at trying to entrench existing parties at the expense, as the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Withers, said, of any new group that would be able otherwise to emerge through the pressures of the day. It will give a decided advantage to the parties already existing and perpetuate the very grave injustice that exists today in regard to the time allocated by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, for instance, when campaigning is under way for Federal and State elections. Parties which are not established are subject to extreme disadvantage in regard to the free time made available to them by the ABC. If we want justice in our electoral support and electoral possibilities in this community we have to take some action to make sure that in future the ABC acts fairly. In the past it has acted unfairly. The same principles as Senator Withers put forward in regard to this clause apply to the ABC. At another time and on another occasion I would like to see something done to rectify the very grave injustices in that area.
The most charitable thing one could say about this clause is that the Government is exhibiting the very conservative streak which flows so deeply through the Labor Party. It does not want change. It wants to establish the considered order of things as it exists and it wants to inhibit those who may come newly to the situation.
– You do not mean conservative.
– I use the word conservative’ in the worst established South Australian sense. I agree with Senator Withers- I am rather alarmed because I seem to be agreeing with him all evening- that the public is disarming and does know whether it is voting for the
Australian Labor Party, the Democratic Labor Party, the Liberal Party, or the Liberal Movement. I believe the voter is intelligent. In South Australia the voters are so intelligent that they are shifting in droves from the Liberal Party to the Liberal Movement. As to whether party members are bound in this place, we know that members of the Labor Party are bound and we suspect that members of the Liberal Party are bound, although its members deny it. All I can say is that later, when dealing with further clauses of this Bill, we will be able to discern whether members of the Liberal Party are bound. We will see whether their vote on this occasion corresponds to their declared opinion last year. I support the Opposition’s attitude in regard to this clause.
– Imaginations certainly have run fairly wild tonight over what is a fairly simple proposition. I would say that the vast majority of normal voters in Australia would welcome the printing of political affiliations on ballot papers. It is an accepted fact that most people vote solely on party lines. I know that that may hurt the ego of some of our colleagues here. They think their great names sweep the poll, but I would like to take a bet against any one of us, including myself, if we stood without a party tag at any Senate election. It is an eminently fair and effective means of assisting and informing the electors. That is what it will do. It will give no great advantages to political parties.
Senator Withers talks about the way we go on now, with how-to-vote cards and all the rest ot it. I have often wondered whether that is the sort of system that we really want in Australia. We have got used to it, and it has grown up, but it seems to me to be a tremendous waste of manpower. Honourable members opposite talk about insulting the intelligence of electors by putting party names on the ballot papers. Do we not insult the inteligence of electors when people put cards into their hands when they are going in to vote? All candidates have this done for them, and generally most people take the cards and discard the ones that they do not want. So, if we are going to have the party affiliations put beside the names of the individual candidates it follows that we must have some form of registration, and that is what we are doing here. It is a necessary part of the procedure to ensure that the correct party names are shown against the names of the candidates on the ballot papers. Registration will also guard against misrepresentation by persons claiming wrongfully to have the endorsement of a political party.
Some honourable senators have got a little enthusiastic when talking about this matter. Senator Hall certainly did. He said that in some way this change will be an advantage for old parties. I do not see that at all. As I said, if we have the political affiliations alongside candidates’ names it follows that we must have registration. It is not unusual in administration to have registration. What is the situation? One can look at the clause to which Senator Withers has referred. He says that there are some things that will not be allowed. I will pick out just a few of them, and I am sure honourable senators will agree that such things should not be allowed. Proposed new section 58L provides that registration of a name shall be refused if the name is the same as, or is likely to be confused with, the registered name of another party- they even do that with racehorses and with companies- or, if it ‘comprises more than 6 words’. That is the situation as I understand it in Great Britain where, I believe, they put the political affiliation on the paper. The provision will also apply if the name ‘suggests a connection with the Royal family’. Surely, no one would argue with that. The provision will also apply if the name is misleading, offensive, obscene or frivolous. It is a pretty limited sort of thing with which no honourable senator in this chamber would argue. If we are to have this system, it should not be mandatory on the Chief Returning Officer to obscure party affiliations.
The well known names of the Labor Party, Liberal Party and so on, will appear. True, it will be mandatory that that be done, but that does not stop a registering authority from registering 100 different parties if he wants to do so, and it would come under this provision. To take Senator Withers’ argument, three or four people might decide to form themselves into a party. Providing they are not doing those things that are restricted, there is nothing to stop the returning officer from registering that party. Where is the advantage to the great parties? The big parties rise and fall. Sometimes, as one knows by watching at election time, one of the big parties will publish its name in very small print. I remember that being done in 1972: A particular party kept its name very low. At other times they want to blazon their names as high as they can.
Honourable senators have seen this many times in their electoral and political lives. It is wrong to say that the parties are going to be under the supervision of a government. They are not going to be under the supervision of a government at all. This is merely a situation in which parties are going to be registered, which is a necessary prerequisite before a party name can be put on a ballot paper. Honourable senators are reading a lot of stuff into this matter that does not exist. I fail to see, and I am unconvinced by the arguments, that this will give any political advantage to any party at all. As a matter of fact, if one thinks about it, the advantage would go to the small and new party, because it would not, and of course could not, have the apparatus that the big parties have, that is, manning of every booth and using all the money that is used. How could the small party man every booth in the States throughout Australia? Parties do this for the purpose of advertising themselves and, if the people are Labor voters, they get the Labor cards or, if they are Liberal voters, they are given the Liberal cards. The advantage, if any, not the disadvantage, lies with the small party. The small party could know full well that every elector had picked up a ballot paper in that electorate, or, if it was a Senate election, throughout the whole State, and every elector would know that Joe Blow belonged to the ABC party, or whatever, and not one how-to-vote card would have to be put out by Joe Blow.
I think we are shying at a lot of shadows on this matter. I am surprised about this, because ever since I have been handing out how-to-vote cards- and I was a small boy when I started- I have heard this raised time and time again. We have people becoming irate at the number of how-to-vote cards put in their hands and saying: Why have you not got some sense? Why do you not put the name of the political party on the card? I want to vote for this or that party, and that is all I am concerned about.’ We are getting right away from the whole object of this. I fail to see where it is an advantage or where there is anything in the Bill to stop any group of people, provided they are honestly coming along to form a political party, from being registered. The only things in the Bill to stop that are things that no honourable senator would disagree withobscenity, using the name of the Royal family and so on.
Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON (New South Wales) (9.7)- Contrary to the hope expressed by the Foreign Minister in relation to the Bill, I am of the view that clause 2 1 will create extraordinary difficulties for the electoral officers and, indeed, for the generality of the Electoral Office. In saying that, I want to add, in response to what Senator Withers said earlier, that along with all parliamentarians I have a profound respect for the integrity and capability of Commonwealth electoral officers. I have had a long association with them both as a candidate over many years and, indeed, in my own family. My wife’s father was a Commonwealth electoral officer for many years. These officers have always achieved wonderful efficiency for as long as I can remember. Clause 2 1 covers something like 6 pages of the Bill, and in almost every proposed sub-section contained in that clause I think there is a challenge with which a Commonwealth electoral officer will be confronted and on which he will be required to make a judgment.
All honourable senators know how busy electoral officers are prior to an election with the closing of nominations, getting ready for the poll, the ballot, election day and the count thereafter. The Electoral Office will need the wisdom of Solomon to administer this provision if it becomes law. In our debate here we tend to regard the problem in terms of the Senate as distinct from the executive House, the House of Representatives. We argue the matter, look at it and make judgments on it on the basis of there being a double dissolution, with 10 senators or 5 senators, to be elected. Of course on occasion there may be 73 candidates to choose from. Senator Withers, in relation to the previous clause, talked in general terms of four or five candidates standing for each seat in the House of Representatives. Four or five candidates in each case stand for 90 per cent of the seats in elections for the House of Representatives.
– You are making heavy weather of this.
– I do not think so. T think the honourable senator is making heavy weather. He can go outside and help himself to some heavy weather if he wishes. If the Government’s argument is taken to its logical conclusion there would be no need for candidates’ names on the ballot paper at all. Voting would be for a party. Perhaps that is the ultimate intention. I hope it is not. If the argument in clause 2 1 is taken to its logical conclusion voting will not be for an individual but will be for a party. Therefore, why have nominations at all? Why not just nominate parties? If that were done party members could meet in their caucus and choose their candidates. I do not approve of that.
– Is this not what happens now.?
– I do not believe it is. I think that parties, when choosing a candidate, especially for a closely contested seat, look at certain factors. They could consider that a personal vote may be involved and that they need a person who knows his electorate.
Perhaps the person chosen is a great debater. Perhaps he is a mayor of a municipality. Perhaps he is from a local club such as a football club or a bowling club. He might be a prize fighter. He could be a preacher. But he is an individual. He is not a dead piece of wood with a tag tied to him. If we take this proposition to its logical conclusion everything that is democratic will be negated. The Government is saying that it does not matter who a candidate is. He could have the seat out of his pants. He may not be worth 2 bob. If he has a tag around his neck bearing the name of a party he is the candidate for whom the people will vote. I do not believe that is so. I know the Government does not intend to do so, but it is offering the electorate probably the greatest insult it could possibly offer.
I say to the Government gently: Do not go on with this. It will cause problems for electoral officers. A challenge could be made to almost every line of clause 21, and clause 21 covers 6 pages of the Bill. I suggest that this is not a practical proposition. I suggest it takes away the inherent right of every elector to nominate as Joe Blow if he wishes. The Government is saying: All right, elect anyone with a tag’. Candidates could be completely unconscious but the Government believes they should be elected because they have a tag bearing the name of a party on them. God help us if that occurs in the future. Let us have democracy at its best. We should have some way in which electors can choose a candidate. It may be myself or even Senator Poyser, who is interjecting and who is a nice, kindly person at heart. It is not right for him to be elected because he has a tag around his neck. It does not do justice to him. I would like candidates to stand up in their own right to be elected. With great respect I think the proposition is quite wrong and I hope clause 2 1 is not agreed to.
– 1 am sorry that Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson entered this debate because if there is anyone on the Opposition benches for whom I have a regard it is Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson.
– What about me?
- Senator Withers says: What about me?’. Tonight Senator Withers has shown himself to be completely unworthy. He says one thing one day and something else another day. I do not wish to attack him on that ground. I suggest to Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson that like me he might be reaching the end of a perfect day. Perhaps 1 will invite him to stand as an independent at the next election. I do not think he will and he knows that I will not. We say some extravagant things. Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson says that there could be a challenge on almost every line of the 6 pages of clause 21. That is an extravagant statement. He did not try to justify it in any shape or form.
– He listened to you too long when you were in Opposition. He caught your bad habits.
– That might be so. Senator’ Withers will be in Opposition for so many years that he will have the opportunity to say a lot of things too. For the life of me I cannot understand the members of the Liberal Party opposing this proposition. They know that the Country Party will try to swallow them up in every sphere of influence that is possible. Yet the Liberal Party will stand by and see this happen. I. shall refer to one or two instances to show that it is important that members of the Opposition ponder what they are doing. People have been elected to this Parliament as independents and have then joined other political parties when they have seen that it is in their interests to do so. To some extent- I do not say it unkindly- they have misrepresented themselves before the people of Australia. They have said that they are independent, but having been elected as independents they switch over to a political party. Does the Senate think that is fair? Does it think that is reasonable? Let me refer to a part of clause 21 which the Opposition has failed to recognise. Proposed new section 58A (2 ) states:
Where the Chief Australian Electoral Officer is satisfied that 2 or more parties that are associated with one another have a common leader for electoral purposes and desire to be treated as one party for the purposes of this Part, he may treat those parties as being one party for the purposes of this Part.
If members of the Liberal Party cannot see what is designed in that section with due respect they are political innocents. What do members of the Opposition see in the present situation?
– What is it there for?
– I have exploded Senator Withers’ theories already tonight. Let me address myself to the problem as 1 have already allowed the honourable senator to do. The honourable senator talks parrot fashion about democracy but when I want to project my point of view he endeavours to interject with all sorts of irrelevancies. At least I and members of my Party had the courtesy to hear Senator Withers and Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson in silence.
– You said you were going to tell us why the clause was there.
– If the honourable senator waits for a moment I will tell him. The honourable senator becomes so impatient about these things that he shows his ignorance of the real situation. If the honourable senator does not know what will happen with the Country Party, or the so-called National Party, he should be told. Members of the Country Party will go out into the country areas and say that they are representing the country people. They will say: We are the Country Party’. Then they will go into the metropolitan area and say: ‘We have changed our philosophy on life. We have changed our philosophy on politics. We represent the people in the cities. We are the National Party’. When they go out into the country they are the Country Party. When they go into the city and are swallowing up areas in which the Liberal Party usually operates they are the National Party. If the Opposition did not see this then it did not want to see it. They are the facts of life. Is it not a deception? Surely honourable senators opposite would agree that it is deception and that a party which parades itself as a party before the electors and the people of any State should have a common name. In the present circumstances, that is not the case.
Honourable senators will see an example of this in Tasmania shortly. The Country Party or the National Party is endeavouring to extend its influence into that State. Honourable senators will find that when it goes into the country areas _ it will be the Country Party and when it goes into ‘ such areas as Hobart and Launceston it will be the National Party. I have seen this happen, so it is of no use to tell me that it does not happen. I have seen it happen in Queensland and I know what I am talking about. Anyone else from Queensland knows this. It is useless to say that this clause endeavours to build up any particular party. If it is designed for one purpose, it is designed for honesty in politics. If a person intends to declare himself a follower of the Liberal Party then he should not be ashamed to say that he is a Liberal Party candidate. If he belongs to the Australian Labor Party the same applies. He should not be ashamed to say that he is a member of the Australian Labor Party and will stand in the interests of that Party. I say, with due respect, that this clause is designed to bring a greater degree of honesty into politics than we have seen in the last few years. I repeat that I have a high regard- as everybody else has in this chamber- for Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson, but on this occasion he has been led completely astray.
– Like Senator Milliner, I have had a great regard for Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson in the years that I have been in this Parliament but I was rather stunned to hear the way in which he tried to confuse the issue. He made great play of saying that members seeking election to this House did not need to have a tag on them. But Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson has a very short memory. During the time I have been here Senator Hannan, who was a Liberal senator, was dropped from the Liberal Party ticket and chose to form his own party. He faced the electors last May. What happened to him? He even lost his deposit. I think that is conclusive proof that unless one has a party tag one has little chance to become elected to the Parliament in any of the mainland States.
– What about Senator Negus?
– He was a ‘oncer’. I am of the opinion that when people seek election to this Parliament under a party flag, are successful, sit in the Parliament and then for political reasons go to election under the flag of another party and are returned- as Senator DrakeBrockman under the National Alliance- it is a deception. Senator Drake-Brockman came into this place as a member of the National Alliance. What happened in his case? He was elected as a member of the National Alliance and he now sits in this chamber as the official leader of the Australian Country Party. That is a complete deception of the electors.
This clause should be carried because members who face electors ought to have the party for which they are running designated on the ballot papers. In that way the people will be well aware that if they elect a member of the Australian Country Party, the Liberal Movement or the Australian Labor Party, that person will be true to his label. Candidates should not be allowed to put advertisements in the newspapers indicating that they are members of one party and then, if elected, come into this place, rejoin or revert to another party, as did Senator Drake-Brockman. This is one of the real reasons that the Opposition should reconsider its amendment and agree to support clause 21. If they do so the electors, as a whole, will not continue to be misled by opportunists who seek election to this place and then, after they are elected, disregard all the promises that they made to the electors.
– May I say briefly, as a member of the Australian Country Party, that we are somewhat complimented by the attention that the socialist members of this Government seem to continually pay to us. We are not surprised that they pay that attention to us but I would like to point out that we in the Country Party are certainly members of the strong and only anti-socialist coalition in this country. We may be the smaller party in this coalition but let me make it clear that we are part of the one voice that is the anti-socialist voice in Australia. So the attention that the Labor Party seems to pay from time to time to our group does nothing but compliment us. As we are only the smaller section of that great coalition force in opposition, that compliment is passed on to the remainder of the coalition in opposition.
I thank the Government for pointing this out and making it so obvious to the people around Australia. This clause can result only in a greater measure of regimentation and control. It does, in fact, have severe limitations on freedom of association. Indeed, freedom of association like freedom of speech and freedom of religion is an inherent base of our society. Let me say that the main argument, as I understand it, of the Government on this clause is that it enables the elector to have an easier proposition. I am not sure that that is exactly what electoral laws are all about. Surely we are members of a society which is a mature society, capable of recognising the issues and capable of voting on them. I do not think that it is necessary nor is it a compliment to that society that it should be considered necessary by the Government to designate on the ballot paper exactly to which political group a person belongs. Of course, this is a severe disadvantagecontrary to the impression given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee)- to the individual or to the smaller group in the political field. The ease of voting in a mature society is not necessarily a very strong argument. Indeed, with Press coverage and the literature available at polling booth areas it is made constantly evident to the people who vote to just what political party any particular individual or team of individuals may belong. This clause, as the Minister said, is a simple proposition. Well, it is a simple proposition that took about four, five or six pages of close type to expound. I have great doubts about its simplicity. I think that it has no constructive purpose to play.
– Firstly, I do not think Senator Scott requires an answer. He told us a lot about his Party and what good fellows belong to it. I do not think he wants that written into the Act which is what I am dealing with tonight. I wish a few more people would concentrate on the Bill before us.
– I thought you were trying to write him out of the Act.
– I exonerate you from that. Senator Scott said- again without any backing to his argument- that I had said that if anything, this would help small parties. He said that that was wrong but he did not tell us why. Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson told us stories about how we would make wooden dummies with tags around them. I will come back to the point. I do not want to labour it but I do not think any of us would be in this place if we did not belong to a political party. Ben Chifley, with his great humour, used to say that on one occasion when he was Prime Minister he spent three or four days canvassing and door knocking with one of our candidates. He said: ‘You know, it taught me a lesson. Whenever I go around Australia now, I meet a new candidate and he says that he is going to win a seat because he is so very well known. He thinks everybody knows him’. Chifley used to say: ‘I thought I was fairly well known but when I went around doorknocking I found that half the people had never ever heard of me, so I do not know what chance new candidates have got.’ I was not going to raise the following matter but honourable senators opposite are shying at all these shadows. I refer honourable senators to a question which, strange to say, was asked by Mr Daly on 16 September 1970 of Mr Nixon who was then in charge of the Electoral Act. Mr Daly asked:
Is he -
That is, the Ministerable to say in which countries the name of the political party represented by each candidate in Parliamentary elections is shown on the ballot paper.
Mr Nixon replied:
Except in respect of the United Kingdom, I am unable to add to the answer that I gave to Question No. 141 which appears in Hansard dated 10 June 1970.
The United Kingdom has been added to the list of countries since that date. In the other answer the Minister said there were 37 countries which in one form or another did something about this. Let me be perfectly honest with the Committee; it is not exactly the same way as we are doing it.
– What about symbols?
– Only a couple use symbols and we are not quite sure how they operate. The electoral officers do not know. I just point out that these countries are getting along quite well with it. Great Britain, which is often quoted here as the mentor, the mother of Parliaments and all those other phrases, seems to be getting along all right with it. Senator Scott says that I say it is a simple proposition. It is a simple proposition. The fact that one has to write five or six pages to sew up loopholes does not make the principle and what one is aiming for any the less simple. In spite of my sincerity and great oratory tonight, I do not see Senator Withers across the table wilting one bit. I think he has made his mind up and we have certainly made our mind up because, as I say, way back in 1 970 we were talking about this.
– I ask a question of the Minister by way of interjection. What would be the situation if 2 persons were to form a party with presumably identical names? The electoral officer then has to make a judgment as to which one he would accept, is that so?
-That is one on which he is instructed in the Bill. He just would not accept that. It is very much the same as I said a little while ago; you register companies and even race horses.
That clause 2 1 stand as printed.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman- Senator D. M. Devitt)
Question so resolved in the negative. Clause negatived. Postponed clause 4.
– Clause 4 covers definitions in the Bill. I ask leave of the Committee to have the clause divided so that we can deal with clause 4 (b). It is purely consequential upon the result of the last division on clause 21. I imagine that the Government takes the view that it did on the other clause, that is, it is totally opposed to the deletion of this subclause and it realises that it is consequential. Therefore I would ask that clause 4 be divided and, if the Committee is agreeable, separate questions could be put on sub-clauses (a), (b) and (c).
– I put it to the Committee that clause 4 be divided and the sub-clauses considered separately. Is leave granted? There being no objection, that course will be followed. The question is that sub-clause (a) stand as printed.
Sub-clause (a) agreed to.
Committee will now deal with sub-clause (b).
– It is a consequential amendment, as Senator Withers has pointed out. Therefore we will not divide the Committee on it. We will vote against it on the voices.
Sub-clause (b) negatived.
Sub-clause (c) agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 22 agreed to.
Section 70 of the Principal Act is amended by adding at the end thereof the following sub-sections:
No person who-
No person who is at the date of nomination, or was at any time within 14 days prior to that date, a Member of the
House of Representatives shall be capable of being nominated at a by-election of a Member of that House.
– I move:
I seek to use this amendment as a vehicle to repeal the parent section, section 70, of the principal Act, the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which states:
No person who-
is at the date of nomination a Member of the Parliament of a State; or
b) was at any time within fourteen days prior to the date of nomination a member of the Parliament of a State; or
has resigned from the Parliament of a State and has the right, under the law of the State, if not elected to the Parliament of the Commonwealth, to be reelected to the Parliament of the State without the holding of a poll, shall be capable of being nominated as a Senator, or as a Member of the House of Representatives.
I remind the Committee of the first words of the section ‘No person’ and of the concluding words of the section ‘shall be capable of being nominated as a Senator, or as a Member of the House of Representatives’. There were some earlier prohibitions in State laws. In South Australia, for most of the State’s history, ministers of religion were prohibited from becoming members of State Parliament. This prohibition was in the State Electoral Act. I think it was built into the State’s constitution. The prohibition was removed eventually a few years ago. It was seen to be a very silly prohibition. It is not the State laws which prevent members of the State parliaments standing for a Federal seat, it is the Commonwealth Electoral Act. As honourable senators are well aware, clause 23 of the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill seeks to extend this prohibition on members of State parliaments being elected to the Federal Parliament to members of the legislative assemblies of the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory being elected to the Federal Parliament. I see this prohibition as a very real bar to obtaining as Federal members existing members of Parliament who may have some particular expertise.
Whilst it is a simple technical matter to resign one’s seat in a State parliament and after the required time lapse stand for a Federal seat or for a position in the Senate, it is a very great inhibition to members of Parliament to risk their entire political career to make the step from a State to the Federal scene. I think the prohibition is quite unwarranted. Whilst I have not had the time to assemble the detail as to precise dates, I understand that in the late 1920s it was possible, under legislation passed by State parliaments, for State members to stand for the Federal Parliament. The Federal Parliament, through its Commonwealth Electoral Act, took blocking action and altered that Act. That provision still stands today in section 70 in such a way as to prohibit what the States had made possible. I do not think there should be any more prohibitions on State members being members of this Parliament than there were on ministers of religion being members of State houses. I think it is an antiquated provision. I think it is antiquated thinking which wants to extend the current prohibition to members of the legislative assemblies of the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.
Why should there be a prohibition standing in the way of existing State and Territory members when there is no prohibition on members of the Public Service, for instance? What really different parallels could there be at senior levels? The secretary of a State department- the head of a department- could stand for the Senate but his Minister or a State backbencher could not stand for the Senate without risking everything he has built up in his political career, putting it all at stake and hoping he wins.
– Does not a State public servant have to resign before he stands?
-Senator Georges is right to draw my attention to perhaps an overstatement on my part. Public servants must resign. I am not sure of the State law. I know that Federal public servants must resign. The resignation is a technicality because in each case their position is secure for them under present procedures if they fail. They must take some long service leave and resign. If they do not succeed they go back to their position. That is not the case with a member of State Parliament. If he has to resign his seat in the State Parliament, as he does, and he fails to gain entry into the Federal Parliament, his career is finished until he contests another election, hopefully, with the break affecting very adversely his standing in the public in the meantime.
Why should we extend this prohibition? The very least we should do is knock out this clause to ensure that the Territories are not treated unjustly. The most we should do is to use this amendment to clause 23 to repeal the parent section, section 70 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. I believe there will be no flood of State members into Federal Parliament. If they are elected, they will be elected on their reputation.
– They would not stand for the money, not with the money that they are getting.
- Senator Withers is quite right. Why would a member of the Victorian Parliament leave that Parliament for pecuniary reasons? Members there are much better off than we are. What is more important, they can get their rises without the public criticism which the Federal Parliament has to endure when there are rises in our emoluments. Whether a man is a member of Parliament, a senior public servant or is in some public employ or is selfemployed, he has to be elected on merits that he must prove to the public. If he has merits which have been substantiated in State political service or in territorial political service and he is certain of. winning a Federal seat, he is valuable to this place or the other place.
– You would not suggest that he hold both seats.
– At what point of time do you say that he should resign from either of the parliaments after he has won the 2 seats?
– I think he should resign before his seat is declared. For me, that is a sufficient time factor. I would say that he should resign before the declaration of his seat. As the clause stands today, it is a somewhat vindictive clause. Under a State law he cannot stand if he is certain of again obtaining his seat. I repeat section 70 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. It states:
No person who-
has resigned from the Parliament of a State and has the right, under the law of the State, if not elected to the .Parliament of the Commonwealth, to .bc reelected to the Parliament of the State without the holding of a poll.
It goes into some detail about prohibition on a safe retreat to the seat that he would seek to leave. 1 believe that in the past we must have lost experience from State parliaments which would have been invaluable to this Parliament. Does my amendment need a seconder? 1 believe one senator is interested in seconding it, but he is not present. Time will not permit me to continue.
– There is no requirement for a seconder.
– I would be interested to hear any criticisms that may be made of the amendment.
-Before the Committee votes on this question I think
Senator Hall and all other senators should refer to section 44 of the Constitution, lt has exercised our minds earlier today and will do so again next week. Senator Hall is suggesting that a person can have the best of 2 worlds and hold 2 offices of profit under the Crown at the same time. The position as I understand and know it is this: It has happened on a number of occasions that people have been elected as senators of the Commonwealth of Australia in December, which was the normal time for a Senate election, but were not to take office until 1 July the following yearsome have been public servants and one is now a Minister in this House- and they had to relinquish their Public Service office and then wait some time before being sworn in. This section has never been tested but all the legal advice that has been tendered to persons in this situation has been not to continue in their office of profit under the Crown after they have been elected even though they are not to be sworn in until 6 or 7 months later. We have to be very careful about this.
I can appreciate the arguments that Senator Hall has put before this House. Some of them have some basis and there is some reason why we should consider them, but the position is that the meaning of section 44 of the Constitution has never been established properly. Senator Douglas McClelland was the Minister I referred to who was in this position. He was a court reporter in the Commonwealth Reporting Branch of the Attorney-General’s Department and had to relinquish this position almost 7 months before he was sworn in because he had been elected, although he was not then a member of this chamber within the meaning of this section of the Constitution. I agree that the meaning of this section has never been laid down because it has never been challenged, but the advice given to persons in this situation has always been that there is a grave risk of their being ineligible to sit in the Parliament if they do not resign their office. What Senator Hall is saying is that a person should have the best of 2 worlds, that he should be able to contest a seat within the Parliament while holding an office of profit under the Crown. If he is defeated at the election he still holds that office of profit under the Crown whether it be within a State Parliament or the Commonwealth Public Service.
I believe this matter should be finalised, and very soon, because under State law a school teacher, for instance, can contest a State election without resigning from his position. However, if that person desires to contest a Commonwealth election he must resign his position as a teacher.
The same applies even to a person who drives a train; he is in a similar position. If he contests a State election he can hold that position of train driver until such duy as he is elected or is defeated. Under Commonwealth law, because of this doubt that exists about section 44 of the Constitution, he is required to resign his position because he holds an office of profit under the Crown. Before we make a decision to repeal a certain section of the Electoral Act in relation to this matter this question should be clarified. We should do this before we put any person at risk of incurring penalties under the Constitution and the Electoral Act. A person could be in the situation quite innocently, of having a common informer object to his election, perhaps 6, 12 or 18 months or even 3 years after his election, and find himself then subject to a fine of $200 for each sitting day.
Whilst there is some merit in the case that has been put up by Senator Hall, it should not be determined tonight simply because somebody believes it should be determined. There should be a complete clarification of what the Constitution means in these circumstances. We should not put a person at risk until such time as there is complete clarification. The meaning of this provision has never been tested, but the advice that has been given to persons elected to this Senate, even though they are not to take their seat in this chamber until some 7 months later- and this has happened on a number of occasions- is that they must first resign from their office of profit under the Crown, and they have been advised not to continue in that position during that 7 months period even though they are not in that time officially members of this Senate. Whilst we should give some thought to the motives behind the amendments we should not move at this stage to repeal this provision until we know what we are doing in relation to the provisions of the Constitution of Australia.
– I must say that at first blush I am attracted to the proposition which Senator Hall has put to the Committee. 1 think a State public servant must resign because he holds an office of profit in accordance with section 44 (iv) of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia.
– To contest a Federal seat, I agree.
– Yes, to contest a Federal seat. I recall just before the 1972 election a Liberal candidate from Western Australia, who was a State school teacher, was advised that he must resign before nominating otherwise he would be incapable of being chosen. It was a fairly difficult situation because in Western Australia at that time- I do not know whether this is still the position- having resigned he had not the right of automatic re-entry into the State teaching service. State public servants did, as did Commonwealth public servants, but State school teachers in Western Australia at that time did not have -
– It was only in 1947 that that clause went in.
-Yes, but it still does not apply to State school teachers in Western Australia, which I think works a great injustice. They could lose all their superannuation benefits and all the rest of it. One should not pretend that one knows anything about the law in this place, it is terribly dangerous, but I would not imagine that a State member pf Parliament held an office of profit. I do not believe that any of us holds an office of profit under the Crown, otherwise we would be disqualified. I do not believe that members of Parliament hold offices of profit. We have had difficulties with this. I know the difficulties that arose -
– What about in that period when you hold 2 seats?
– The only solution I see to that is the well known device invented- I do not know by which Clerk of this place- to get over the problem of a senator’ holding a casual vacancy or a senator who wants to run for the balance of some other term, and that is that he puts in a conditional resignation to the President. I think Senator Davidson went through this. I know former Senator Dame Nancy Buttfield on our side went through this.
– Several times.
-Several times. I do not know who on the Government side went through this but I think Mr Odgers’ book will list a number of people who have gone through this conditional resignation. That is a valid operation within the Senate, we think. Whether or not that is a valid operation within a State legislature I would not know. I would not pretend to know the electoral Acts of the various States but perhaps that may be a device which could be looked at, that is, that a person resigns conditionally upon his being elected. I understand the point being raised by Senator Hall that no electoral officer of the Commonwealth can accept a nomination as the Act at present stands. Even if a person puts in a conditional resignation I think he would be met with a refusal by the Commonwealth Electoral Officer to accept his nomination. My colleague, Senator Marriott, who will follow me will no doubt deal in great detail with the problems which faced us at the last double dissolution. I know they faced Senator Hall at that stage as a member of the Legislative Assembly for South Australia. This question does create some problems. I forget who was handling the situation here for the Government on that occasion- I think it might have been the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee)- when an assurance was given on behalf of the Government that the time between the issue of the writ and the close of nominations would be more than 14 days to enable Senator Hall and Michael Hodgman to resign and so come within the provisions of the Act. It does raise grave problems and I am quite sympathetic to the proposition put by Senator Hall. However, I just feel that we could not support it, because I do not know what areas we are getting into.
It may well be a good reference to send to the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee to take evidence in the 6 States concerning the various Constitution and Electoral Acts and perhaps report back to the Senate as to a proper method of overcoming what I think is an injustice to members of State parliaments.
– First, what we are providing here at the moment, as has been made very clear, is a prohibition against State members of Parliament nominating for the Federal Parliament, because they could not be chosen. It is not even a question of sitting. We are attempting in our amendment to extend this to the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory and, as I understand it, that was not going to be opposed by the Opposition. Senator Hall’s amendment is to wipe the lot out so that all State members as well as Northern Territory members can stand. To me, it appears that there are 2 situations if ever one is going to arrive at this. One is that a majority of the Commonwealth Parliament thinks this is a desirable thing, and that is a matter of opinion. At the moment, the Liberal Party does not support it but Senator Withers just said he has some sympathy for it.
Secondly, if there were a majority of people, how does one achieve it? As Senator Withers said, it would take a very game man to start looking at this section of the Constitution. Senator Hall is seeking the very opposite of what we set out to do. At the moment, as I understand it, my Party does not want to do that, and I do not think the Liberal Party has ever said as a body that it wants to do it. I think there is another difficulty. I put it to Senator Withers and he was a bit tentative about it. What will happen, even if there is a conditional resignation, if a person suddenly finds himself at some point in control of 2 seats? He might then say, ‘Boy, I didn’t go so well in this Federal seat. Distant hills do not look very much greener. I would rather stay in the State seat’. At what point is that to be taken away from him?
– I speak briefly on this, because we should do anything we can that would take out of the Electoral Act the problem that we faced last time at the double dissolution, which was called understandably quickly. We in Tasmania had a candidate, Mr Michael Hodgman, who was a member of the Legislative Council and was finally endorsed as our candidate for Denison. If the Government had gone ahead, as it could have done under the law and issued the writs or taken whatever action was necessary on a particular night, Michael Hodgman would not have been able to contest the election, because 14 days would have been up. But as my Leader Senator Withers said, Senator Willesee, now in charge of the Bill, was thankfully in charge of the Bill that night, and he took action within his own Party to give us a guarantee that the machinery would not be put in action to prevent Mr Hodgman from resigning from his seat and contesting the election. We will not always have these favourable, friendly and gentlemanly activities.
Parliament may not be sitting at the time, and I believe there is a lot of merit, if we are to make this national Parliament open to those who want to stand for election, in having some form of procedure that will enable the member of another parliament to contest an election either independently or as an endorsed candidate and, if not elected, to retain the seat he had in the other parliament. But I quite agree with Senator Poyser that there needs to be a very careful look at this from the legal, constitutional and Electoral Act angles. The result of a Senate or a House of Representatives election in a close seat is not made known until 1 7 or 2 1 days after the date of the election, and the pay of a person elected starts from midnight on the date of the election. Therefore, the member of the State parliament so elected would be entitled to Commonwealth Parliamentary pay from the date of the election and may have, because the end of the month had come, received pay. At least he would have been due for pay for his State seat, and that I would think would be ultra vires the Constitution.
Therefore, in layman’s language, one would have to say that a candidate who was a member of a State parliament should sign some form of declaration that his pay as a State member would cease as from the date of his election to the Federal Parliament, and if he had received a cheque during the course of waiting for the declaration of the poll that would be returned. In 1953 I was a temporary public servant on the staff of the Leader of the Opposition in Tasmania, and I got a signal that the Parliament had on that Tuesday night, 3 March, appointed me by secret ballot to fill a vacancy in the Senate. As my leader, the father of Senator Michael Townley, came along and congratulated me, having had a little confidence that I was going to be elected I had my resignation from my position of temporary public servant as secretary to the Leader of the Opposition signed and in the hands of Mr Townley. In May I stood for election again and won a long-term seat. That is the best of being popular, but unfortunately having won that long-term seat I did not take my seat until 1 July. As the local paper the ‘Mercury’ said, Senator Marriott who was a senator is now senatorelect and will be a senator on 1 July. ‘ I had to inform my bank manager that I would not be paid until 1 August. But there is a problem for public servants and members of Parliament, and I do not know that it would be wise to put such a new thought into legislation at this stage, because of the traps I see on the legal side. However, I hope something can be done to put it in the legislation if it is humanly possible.
– I support the motion moved by Senator Hall. I have always felt that it was a very stringent requirement on a person belonging to a State parliament desiring to stand for federal parliament that he must resign his seat. I think that a man in public life such as that, because he decides to try to move to the federal sphere, has to pay a very big penalty, because if he does not win the seat he stands for in the Federal Parliament it means that he has probably lost his seat in the State House. I think that is a very big price to pay for a person who is trying to serve his country through the parliamentary system. I feel that something should be done whereby a State member standing for the Federal Parliament should be able to retain his seat until he knows the result of the Federal election. There is probably no likehood that federal members would want to move down to a State, but there could be a similar situation operating in that regard, and I think a similar arrangement should stand. I do not wish to put forward a great deal of argument, but this is a matter about which I have felt very strongly for many years. Difficulties have been raised about the receipt of 2 salaries. If Senator Hall’s amendment were accepted there would be no reason why very quickly the necessary legislation could not be inserted into this Bill to make sure that everything be of a watertight character and that people would be receiving a salary and allowances from only the one parliament to which they had been elected. The same position applies to public servants. I think it is unfair to ask anyone to resign a position to stand for Parliament. We should recognise that Parliament is the focal point of democracy. As I said in my speech on this Bill earlier tonight, we should make it as easy as possible for people to stand for Parliament and to serve democracy through the Parliament. In those circumstances I think we should make it easy for people to move from one public sphere to another. I have much pleasure in supporting the amendment moved by Senator Hall.
– I thank Senator Wood for his support. At the same time I recognise the difficulties which have been raised on both sides of the chamber as to the detailed and overlapping functions and responsibilities that may occur by the absolute removal by the deletion of section 70 of the principal Act of any disciplines in this regard. However, I am still as firmly convinced as ever that something ought to be done. The matter is not now as nicely boxed as those who will oppose my amendment might imagine because, as one honourable senator has already said, the existing clauses mean that it would be possible for a federal administration, if it so desired deliberately to fix the time between nominations and the issuing of the writ, to preclude any member of a State parliament from standing at a federal election. That is quite possible under the existing provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. I believe that it is just as unfair as the reverse situation and that some of the difficulties that might arise are those which have been postulated by honourable senators tonight. Let us not imagine that by defeating this amendment we are tidying things up nicely because we are not.
I wish to instance my own experience of last year. I watched very carefully the decisions of the Federal Government in this matter. I left my resignation from the State Parliament to the very last day that I could leave it, not so much from the point of view of salary but as a matter of political tactics. Quite frankly, we did not want a byelection to be held in the seat that I was vacating before the Senate election. So for quite proper political tactical reasons my resignation was left until the last possible day. Other parties were not at all co-operative. I know that the Labor Party was watching very carefully the date of my resignation. There was jubilation in the Parliamentary refreshment room when it was thought that I might have left my resignation too late. I had not done so but it was a matter of some jubilation that I might have left it too late. We cannot always obtain nor expect the co-operation to which Senator Withers referred. We cannot expect it when politics can be fought at a very hard and determined level.
I see an absolute need to clear up this situation so that there may be justice in this direction. I recognise some of the problems that have been raised here tonight. But the question then arises as to how we are to achieve a solution. Everyone of us knows that it may be a long while before section 70 of the principal Act is again raised in an amending Bill. It is only the fact that section 70 has been raised to extend this prohibition to the Legislative Assemblies of the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory that enables us to refer back to it. So it might be ten or fifteen years before section 70 is raised again by a government in such a measure. If this Bill is passed and my amendment is passed and the prohibition is extended, the government of the day, whether it be a Liberal government or a Labor government, may make no attempt for a decade to do anything about it. How are we to ensure that it does? I suggest that we can ensure that the government of the day does something before the next election by either passing my amendment or refusing to pass the clause in the Bill. If either of those two courses are taken the Government will have to take some initiative either to clear up the situation for the Legislative Assemblies, which would have none of the prohibition which the States now have, or to clear up the matter for the Legislative Assemblies of the Territories and for the States, which would not be dealt with at all. I suppose that those of us who have spoken tonight with some favour for the principle should ensure that the Government is forced to do something about it by supporting my amendment or at least defeating the clause in the amending Bill. In that way this situation would be left unsatisfied and the Government would have to introduce some of the detail which it foresees as being additionally necessary to what I have included in my amendment. Therefore, I intend to continue to support my amendment. If it is not passed I will vote against the clause in the Bill. By both those courses I will be trying to force the Government to take action along the lines that I and other honourable senators desire. I want to make it quite clear that in taking that action I recognise the difficulties and understand that the Government would have to do something. I am not acting in a blind fashion with regard to this matter. I want my attitude to be made quite clear.
– I am rather enlightened by the remarks that were made by Senator Hall when he said that the motives which he adopted when he resigned from the State Parliament were for purely political reasons, because earlier tonight he accused me of indulging in party politics when I was talking to this Bill. I am sure that the remarks that I made did not have the very strong political flavour of the remarks of Senator Hall when he gave his reasons for moving his amendment. It appears to me that by having his amendment agreed to Senator Hall is trying to give State members of Parliament 2 bites at the cherry where as people in the Public Service have not 2 bites of the cherry. If they want to stand for Federal Parliament or for a State parliament they have to resign their position. At least the candidates who want to run for office and who are Commonwealth Public Servants or State Public Servants have the guarantee that they will be re-employed if they are unsuccessful.
What about a person who is in a semigovernmental body? A member of my family has been faced with this situation on 2 occasions when he stood for Parliament. He had to resign his job with no guarantee that if he was unsuccessful, which he was on both occasions, he would get his job back. He could have been thrown on the scrap heap and yet he holds a very high position in a semi-governmental body. Why should a person in this category- I cite this example only because it is within my personal experience- have to go through that trauma? Yet we find that Senator Hall wants to safeguard and featherbed State and federal members of Parliament and even give them 2 bites of the cherry. Why should that be? It should not be at all. Senator Hall told us that he introduced his amendment for the sole purpose of using it as a vehicle to delete section 70 from the parent Act. He is not very concerned about his amendment as long as he can remove section 70. I think that the whole purpose of Senator Hall’s amendment is to safeguard State members of Parliament. I am wondering whether he has in mind one of his colleagues in the South Australian State Parliament who we think will run as a Liberal Movement candidate for the Senate at the next Senate election. If
Senator Hall is successful in altering the Commonwealth Electoral Act, that particular personI will not name him because Senator Hall knows to whom I am referring- may run as a Senate candidate and if he is unsuccessful he can still go back into the South Australian Parliament without having to resign. This is what Senator Hall’s amendment is all about. This is one of the reasons that I think the Parliament should be very careful. Although Senator Hall was quite quick in accusing me of playing party politics, I think that he has shown tonight by his remarks and the introduction of this amendment that this is the very thing that he has in the back of his mind, and we should be very wary of it.
– There is one aspect with which I should have dealt previously, and it is that local government was the original form of government. There are 3 forms of government in Australialocal government, State government and Federal government. People serving in local government do not have to resign their positions in local government to contest State or Federal elections. You, Mr Temporary Chairman, know that because you have been in local government. I know that today in local government certain people are eligible to receive quite considerable sums in aldermanic or mayoral fees. During the last Federal election the Lord Mayor of Brisbane was a candidate for a Queensland seat. He was not successful, but the position is that he did not have to resign his Lord Mayoralty in order to contest a Queensland seat in the Federal election. This situation applies throughout Australia. I think that that is a case in point.
As I have said, local government is the form of government from which all types of government in this democracy started. But we find that people in local government do not have to resign their positions in local government in order to contest State or Federal elections. Why should there be any difference with people moving from the State to the Federal sphere? That is an angle which should be considered. The same treatment should be meted out to people engaged in all 3 forms of government.
- Mr Temporary Chairman, I intervene very quickly in the debate. Originally we intended neither to support Senator Hall’s amendment nor to vote against the clause. On reflection we still would not support Senator Hall ‘s amendment because I do not think that that is necessarily the right way of achieving his purpose. We would be prepared, merely as a catalyst in this situation, to vote against clause 23. 1 say this quite frankly to the Committee because we want the whole question opened up. We know that the Bill has to be returned to the House of Representatives. It will not reach that chamber until some time next week. That will give the Government and the Department an opportunity to have a thorough look at the whole situation. When the Bill comes back to the Senate- as I am quite certain it will with some of our amendments agreed to and some disagreed with- if the Government puts the proposition that what we are doing tonight will create an impractical situation, we certainly will not be so stupid as to insist on omitting the clause.
I put it to the Committee that we are being a catalyst- I do not know whether that is the right word- or a vehicle for opening up the whole question in order to get it exposed. With the pressure of business in the House of Representatives the Bill will not be returned to the Senate until perhaps after the 2 weeks recess. That will give ample opportunity to open up the whole question. We will vote against the clause on that basis and that basis only. It is not because we are necessarily opposed to what is contained in the clause.
– The Liberal Party has changed its mind in the last few minutes under the persuasion, I presume, of Senator Hall. I do not think that the Opposition will put any pressures on the Government at all. If the Opposition thinks that in 2 weeks we will clear up this constitutional position which has never been challenged- there are also the other problems that we have at the present time- it is being highly optimistic. As I said earlier, firstly the Opposition has to convince the government of the day that what it proposes is the desirable thing to do- that is quite apart from the legal situation. I do not know, but I think that my Party would be opposed to the proposition anyway. Perhaps I could be wrong; occasionally I am wrong in my Party and I lose the vote. Secondly, the Opposition is asking us to deal with the constitutional aspect of this problem in a very short time. I would have thought that the airing that has been given to this question tonight, with Senator Hall ‘s thoughts on it, has probably done a lot of good. I am sure that it has done a lot of good. At least it has been put on the record. I think that the best thing to do would be to make an examination of the question, including the legal situation. I do not think I could hold out any great hope to the Opposition that in the period of one, two or three weeks before the Bill is returned to the Senate we will be able to deal with a constitutional position about which nobody has ever been able to make up his mind.
– I am appreciative of Senator Withers’ attitude to this question. For my part it is a toss-up as to which would be the better way of impressing the matter on the Government- to pass my amendment or to do as Senator Withers has suggested, that is, simply not to pass the clause and therefore draw the matter to the Government’s attention. I believe that that is only half satisfactory. I should like Senator Withers to consider not voting for the Government’s amendment in this amending Bill and allowing the initiative to rest permanently with the Government so that it will have to take action. We all have seen governments say they will look at things, but on occasions it takes a long time for them to do so. The only thing is to leave the necessity to do something about this matter in the Government’s court. If the necessity is there, if this prohibition is not placed on members of legislative assemblies and if the Government thinks that the matter is important enough it will do something about it. But if, when the Bill is returned to the Senate, the Opposition agrees with the Government’s amendment to the Act, all pressure will be off the Government to take any action at all. The only occasion on which subsequent changes to the Act will be effected will be when we are considering Government legislation or private member’s Bills. I suggest that action taken in either of those cases would be unlikely to achieve our objective and that the Government would have achieved its objective. I suggest to Senator Withers, with due respect, that when the Bill is returned to the Senate he should leave the Government somewhat unsatisfied. I think that whatever differences we on this side of the chamber may have we surely must have the continuing aim to leave the Government largely unsatisfied. If Senator Wood would agree to transfer to Senator Withers’ proposition the support that I believe he so nobly indicated he would give to my amendment, we should simply vote against the clause and that would save the time of the Committee.
- Senator, do I understand that .. ,11 ure proposing to withdraw your amendment.
– Willi iiic permission of the Committee.
– You seek the leave of the Committee to withdraw your amendment. Is leave granted? There being no objection, it is so ordered.
That the clause stand as printed
The Committee divided. (The Temporary ChairmanSenator D. M. Devitt)
Question so resolved in the negative. Clause negatived. Clause 24.
Section 73 of the Principal Act is amended-
– We are now dealing with clause 24 which deals with the requisites of nomination. The amendments circulated to the Committee show that the Opposition intended to deal with only sub-clause (b) which proposes to raise the deposit for nominees from $200 to S 1 ,000. As shown in the amendments circulated I had intended to move to reduce the figure of $1,000 to $500. The Opposition has now decided to vote against both subclause (b) and sub-clause (c) so that the deposits for nomination would remain as they are at present. As we are going to confine ourselves to sub-clauses (b) and (c) I suggest that clause 24 be divided so that 1 may confine my argument to (b) and (c)
– ls it the wish of the Committee to follow the procedure as suggested by the Leader of Opposition? There being no objection that course will be followed. The question now is that subclause (a) stand as printed.
Sub-clause (a) agreed to.
- Mr Temporary Chairman, 1 suggest that we consider sub-clauses (b) and (c) together.
– I think we should debate them together but vote on them separately.
I U- TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN- We shall debate them concurrently and vote on them separately.
– I can well understand the Government’s desire to raise the deposits for both Houses. It is awfully flattering that the Government thinks that a senator is worth 4 times as much as a member of the House of Representatives. Actually I think we are worth a lot more. I know the argument that it has been some time since the deposit for nomination was raised, I think, from £25 to $100 for a member of the House of Representatives and from £50 to $200 for a senator. When the amounts were raised a number of years back the reason given was that the increase was due to the change in the value of money. I think the reason now given is both because of the change in the value of money and an attempt to stop frivolous candidates from contesting elections. We take the view that there are 2 methods of stopping what might be called frivolous candidates. One is by increasing the deposit; the other is by increasing the number of nominators which they must have to nominate them. I searched through the principal Act to find out how many a nominee must have. I think at the moment he must have 6 nominators. That is a very low figure. Even the most foolish frivolous candidate could find at least 6 people to nominate him. There may well be an argument for insisting that -
– From every electorate in his State.
– That is one requirement which could be used. It would be harder 10 satisfy for a New South Wales senator than for a senator in Western Australia. We would have to get only 60 nominators and senators from New South Wales would have to get many more. 1 cannot do the mathematics. It is too hard for me. I think that would be a rather difficult requirement to satisfy but I think there are methods by which the problem could be overcome. Just to raise the monetary sum is unfair on some genuine candidates. Senator Willesee, coming from the same State as I, will know that for many years there were 2 well-known candidates, the late Carlyle Ferguson and the late Claude Swain, who were nominated, I think at every election for the Perth City Council, the Legislative Assembly, the Legislative Council, the Senate and the House of Representativesyou name it, they were candidates. I do not think they really did any harm. They were pan of the folk lore of” Western Australian elections. The deposits were small- £5. £10 or £25. as the castmay have been. They had a point of view which they wished to propound. I do not think any of the major parties agreed with anything they said. I cannot even remember what they stood for. they made so little impact, but if they wished to have a dabble in politics and try to win support they ought to have been allowed to do so. 1 understand that the nomination of 73 candidates in the New South Wales Senate election has raised all sorts of questions about the Commonwealth Electoral Act. One is reminded of the old legal saw that hard cases make bad law. I think we ought to be careful that merely because there were 73 candidates in New South Wales and forty-something in Victoria in a madhouse double dissolution atmosphere we do not completely distort the Electoral Act.
– But the madness could spread, senator.
-It could, but I doubt whether it will. The Opposition will vote against sub-clauses (b) and (c). I suggest that the Government have a look at other methods of solving the problem. I am not saying that we would support some other proposal if it were brought back by the Government. I know that it is held among some of my colleagues that the better way of solving the problem is by raising the number of nominators. Some of my colleagues have the view that that ought to be an alternative: If one has 6 nominators one should pay a deposit of $1,000; if one finds 1,000 nominators one should pay a deposit of $6, or something like that but perhaps not quite that. Say a candidate has 6 nominators, he should pay $1,000 deposit, and with 100 nominators he should pay $ 100 deposit or the $200 deposit that is now required. But let us try to have another look at the question and not be totally rigid in our approach but have alternatives to suit the purses of the people to nominate. People who belong to the larger political parties, the major political groups, do not have any problem in raising the deposit or in getting nominators. No person endorsed by the 4 parties represented in this chamber, for instance, would have any problem in getting 100 nominators. That would be one of the simplest things to achieve. But what about a person outside who cannot get 100 nominators and who may well achieve election tq this place?
It is the Senate which worries me as much as anything because in spite of what has been said about party affiliation here tonight, prior to the double dissolution we had 3 senators, 2 from Tasmania and one from Western Australia, who got here by their own efforts. It is all very well to say that they may have been freaks, oncers or oddities who got thrown up in odd electoral circumstances; the simple fact is that they were elected. After the double dissolution Senator
Hall came into this place for the first time to represent his political group. There ought to be an opportunity for people to come into this place. If the deposit is too large it is a barrier to the lesser known groups to come into the Parliament and they ought to have that opportunity.
The Opposition will be voting against subclauses (b) and (c). I suggest, without saying what we would do if the matter came back to us, that the Government might think of other alternatives such as I mentioned, either a large deposit and the same number of nominations or a large group of nominators and a smaller deposit. I cannot tell how the Opposition parties would react to that proposition because it has not been put to them yet. It is the sort of thing that has been talked about. It has been canvassed amongst quite a number of my colleagues as being a reasonable alternative to raising the deposit 5 times in the case of senators and Vh times in the case of members of the House of Representatives. For those reasons we will be voting against sub-clauses (b) and (c).
– The Opposition has now changed its view once again. Until now, as I said earlier in the day in regard to this matter, it has been virtually a matter of opinion. Until a few minutes ago both the Opposition and the Government were agreed that the deposits ought to be increased but there was an honest difference of opinion as to how high the figures should go. Now Senator Withers, on behalf of his Party at least in the Senate, has said that the Opposition will vote against these 2 subclauses so that there will be no increase in the deposits.
I do not think there is any need for me to talk at length on this matter. Senator Withers correctly stated why the Government is doing this. Firstly, the value of money has changed considerably since the time when the small deposit was fixed; and secondly, it has been shown already in one State that people are capable of deliberately trying to wreck the electoral system. If those people in Bankstown, New South Wales, had been able to get 173 or 273 people to nominate- according to my information they wanted to do this; anybody could put his name down and the deposit would be found for themthey would have been able to stop the democratic process from working. I invite the Opposition to consider what it would do if the nominations got up to 300, 400 or 500. We would not be able to operate the electoral system as it is today without the amendments we have suggested in this Bill. We are trying to head these people off at the pass so that the Opposition will not be able to come back and complain saying: Look what you have done; you have to do something about it’.
I do not belabour the point. We are seeking this amendment because there is a changed money situation. This amendment is designed not just for the next 12 months or so. If the amendments are carried we will be taking into account the deposit situation for quite some years. We are taking into account not only the inflation that has taken place but also the inflation in wage rates that we can expect in the future. There is a serious situation in regard to jamming the ballot paper to the extent that the system will not operate. Where will the small political parties be then? They will get the rough end of the stick far worse than will the big parties. We have been hearing a lot tonight about the small parties. Senator Withers suggested another method and that was to make people get more nominators.
I suppose that, if we had suggested that proposition, the Opposition would have said to us: Look, you are starting to increase the bureaucratic processes. You are starting to put people into a situation in which they will be harassed. What about the busy man who seeks to submit his nomination only a few minutes before the deadline?’ I do not know what figures the Opposition would suggest in this case. It may suggest 200 nominators. That number of nominators would not be difficult to get. If one stood in any street in Australia and told the people that one wanted to have a go at the Government or the Opposition, whichever suited the purpose, one would soon get one ‘s 200 nominators. If one then presented the appropriate document at one minute to midday, the electoral officer would not know whether he had a valid nomination.
This matter has been kicked around in our Party quite a lot. Senator Mulvihill tells me that the committee which considers these matters has given attention to these aspects. What we are saying- and we are still of the same intention- is that we want a deterrent against people who will nominate frivolously or will nominate mischievously rather than frivolously. It is a matter of opinion. We have come down on the side that there ought to be not just an increase in the deposit in money terms but some penalty imposed on people who act either frivolously or mischievously in nominating in an election.
The other point which honourable senators opposite should keep in mind is that this is a deposit and not a payment. The only people who will lose that deposit and will be penalised are those who poll a very low number of votes. No respectable political party in Australia will lose its deposit in respect of nominations. If I have offended some party by using those words, I apologise. I did not mean what those words may convey. What I mean is that if a political party has enough drive behind it and is widely enough based it will not lose a deposit. I emphasise the point that this is a deposit and not a payment. As I said, I do not think there is any need to belabour the point. We believe that this provision is quite essential and that what we propose here is the best way to achieve the end. The best way is to have a monetary penalty in preference to the other methods that we have considered.
That sub-clause (b) stand as printed.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary ChairmanSenator D. M. Devitt)
Question so resolved in the negative. Question put:
That sub-clause (c) stand as printed.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman- Senator D. M. Devitt)
Question so resolved in the negative. Sub-clause (c), negatived. Sub-clause (d) agreed to. Clause 24, as amended, agreed to. Progress reported.
The following answer to question was circulated:
Is Sir Lenox Hewitt, O.B.E., Secretary of the Department of Minerals and Energy, a member of the Qantas Airways
Ltd’s Board; if so, does Sir Lenox as a Board member, represent the views of the Minister for Minerals and Energy or does he, in matters relating to the Airline, look at issues from the point of view of Qantas Airways Ltd.
Senator Wriedt: The Minister for Minerals and Energy has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Yes: Sir Lenox serves, as a member of the Board of Directors, in the same role as other members.
Senate adjourned at 10.58 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 16 April 1975, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1975/19750416_senate_29_s63/>.