Electoral Matters Committee

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:21): I would urge the government to very seriously consider and then, having done that, implement—in their exact form or in a form close to that—the recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. I had the opportunity to participate in most of the deliberations of the committee in relation to the federal election so far as it related to the Senate voting. I certainly agree with all of the recommendations, although in relation to recommendation 1 there could be an opportunity for the government to consider whether the partial optional preferential voting below the line has a maximum sequential number of preferences to be completed equal to the number of vacancies—that is, six for a half Senate election, 12 for a double dissolution and two for any territory or state. That, I think, is an issue which needs a fraction more consideration. I am not unhappy with what is proposed, but there was some evidence given to us by, I think, Mr Green that you should go to 15. Perhaps I should not attribute that to anyone, but there certainly was evidence that we need to go a little bit further than just the number of senators to be elected, for all the reasons which were very well justified by those who gave evidence in that vein.

Optional preferential voting above the line is, I think, essential. I put myself in this category: even the simplest of voters could clearly work out, above the line, how they want to give preferences to the parties. In my state at the last election, there was an issue—and this happened on a number of occasions, but I relate this one issue—in relation to Katter's Australian Party. People who thought that it was a good idea to vote for Katter's Australian Party put 1 in the box, never thinking that by doing so they were preferencing the ALP before the LNP. I do not make assertions as to the fact that every Bob Katter voter was a voter who would, for their second preference, prefer the coalition to Labor, but I am pretty certain that is right. I say that from long experience in the north and in the electorate of Kennedy, which Mr Katter holds.

At the last election, when House of Representatives tickets were being prepared for pre-polling in the four crucial seats in Queensland—that is, the seats which could have gone to Labor or the coalition, depending on the preference flow: the seats of, as I recall, Herbert, Flynn, Capricornia and Hinkler—Mr Katter first issued a House of Representatives how-to-vote card that gave second preference to the Labor Party. Even his own supporters were so outraged and incensed that the initial how-to-vote card disappeared and, by the time the election came around, Mr Katter had a two-sided how-to-vote card for those four crucial seats.

Mr Katter appeared at one of our committee hearings, in Mount Isa, and spent all of his time not talking about the electoral system but blaming the Liberal-National Party of Queensland for its dishonest campaign. There were advertisements which he brandished around for the TV cameras. He just happened to forget there were no TV cameras in the room. He said, 'These are lies. This is why we did so badly. It was a dishonest campaign.' The thing that he was brandishing around said: 'A vote for Katter is a vote for Labor'. He knew his supporters would not like that. He protested so much. Initially, that is how he directed them in the four crucial seats in Queensland—not the others, because it did not matter where he directed his preferences for the others; it would not have made any difference to the outcome. But, in the four crucial, marginal seats, he originally gave them to Labor and, after his own party rebelled, he changed it to a double-sided card.

Mr Katter said, 'I didn't give second preference to Labor.' I said to Mr Katter, 'Have you had a look at your group voting ticket?' He said, 'Nobody looks at that.' I said, 'When people voted 1 for you, or your party, in the Senate, they were actually giving'—do not hold me to these numbers, but it is something like this—'your 33rd, 34th, 35th, 36th, 37th and 38th vote to the Australian Labor Party and your 63rd, 64th, 65th, 66th and 67th vote to the LNP.' I do not want to suggest that this is a personal thing, but I am pleased to say that I led the LNP ticket in Queensland to a stunning victory. In fact, it was the best victory for the coalition anywhere in Australia, although, I have to say, the Western Australians originally did better than us, but on the rerun we in Queensland did far better than any other state. Perhaps inappropriately, I was slightly touched by the fact that, of all coalition candidates anywhere in Australia, I had the highest below-the-line vote. That is not a reason why I raised these things with Mr Katter. Clearly, under the group voting system that we currently have, Mr Katter had lodged his form giving, effectively, his second preference to Labor and his third preference to the LNP.

I guarantee that 99.9 per cent of the people who voted for Katter's Australian Party in the Senate at the last election expected—they may not have liked it but they would have expected it—that their next vote would have gone to the LNP before the ALP. That just demonstrates how inappropriate this current system is. There was lots of evidence given before the inquiry—and I think Senator Mason was a beneficiary of this at the previous election—on how the preferences of a party, if I could use this vernacular, of the Extreme Left were being used to effectively give the deliberative vote to parties of the Extreme Right, and vice versa: people who voted for parties of the Extreme Right would have been appalled to know that, if they had looked at their group voting ticket, their effective second preference went to parties of the Extreme Left. That is why this current system is unfair. I do not think there would be too many Australians who would disagree with that recommendation of the committee.

I would urge the government to change the system sooner rather than later. I appreciate there are some sensitivities, but this is a reform which must be well in place before the next federal election. If perchance there is a double dissolution, and the triggers are there, we certainly need to make sure that these new rules are in place well before any double dissolution is contemplated.

The fourth and fifth recommendations, as the previous speaker has mentioned, are appropriate. They deal with the number of people in a party and the registration of parties. The sixth recommendation, requiring a candidate to actually live in the state in which they are seeking election does seem sensible. We heard that there was a candidate in the Western Australian rerun who had never even lived in Western Australia and was offering himself to be elected as the champion of Western Australia. It just defies sensibility to think that he could even recover any public funding for votes he might get when he had not even been into the state.

All in all, as Senator Faulkner said, this was a unanimous report of the committee. I congratulate Tony Smith, the chairman, and all of the committee members on the diligence with which they addressed this issue and the quality of the report. It is now essential—I will repeat myself for a third time, because I think it is so very important—for the government to act on this report at the earliest possible time. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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