Bill: ELECTORAL (LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL VOTING) (VOTER CHOICE) AMENDMENT BILL


The Hon. J.R. RAU: I will be very brief. The circumstances of this matter are that this has been the subject of quite a bit of work over a period of time. I just want to make it clear that the government position has been that we have attempted to accommodate the Legislative Council by firstly, putting up the Sainte-Laguë method and, secondly, when they expressed some concern about that, putting up the voter choice method. They have responded to that compromise by no compromise at all, so we intend to send this back up there.

I would like to emphasise to members of the Legislative Council that it is absolutely critical we now resolve this matter. Members of the government and the house have actually attempted to compromise with the council in order to get this matter through. It is absolutely critical that it does get through because the option of it not proceeding would be, in my opinion, completely unacceptable to everyone.

Without getting any more elaborate than that, the government wishes the matter to go back to the council and the council to understand that we have moved an enormous distance in order to accommodate their concerns. We would like the council to cooperate and respond in a like way and accept these particular matters, which we are now forwarding back to them.

Mr GARDNER: Forgive me, but we do not often have this stage of the debate in bills that I am handling. Am I able to ask a question of the Attorney at this point, or am I only able to make a contribution?

The CHAIR: I think you can ask him a question.

The Hon. J.R. Rau: I am fine with a question.

The CHAIR: He is fine with a question.

Mr GARDNER: Then can I clarify that the Attorney is rejecting all the Legislative Council's amendments? Is that what he is proposing to do at this stage?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: What I am doing is saying that the matters contained in the motion, which is filed in my name, I do not believe is a reversal of everything the council put through; it is only a reversal of some of the things the council put through. For the record. we put up a bill originally with Sainte-Laguë. There were then discussions and the Leader of the Opposition and I spoke and whatnot and we attempted to find an alternate position, and we put that up in the voter choice bill.

The voter choice bill went up there, and that has been now modified in a way that is unacceptable to the government. There are other modifications that were made in the council which we are prepared to accept because we are trying to be cooperative in meeting people halfway.

Mr Marshall: So what are you saying below the line?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I think the position is 12 below the line and up to six above the line.

Mr Marshall: There is no difference below the line?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I do not think there is any difference below the line; we are talking about above the line. We are not refusing everything the council sent back here. We are just saying, 'Look, fair is fair. What about actually a legitimate compromise on this?' So that is what we are sending back. We are not sending the whole lot back; we are sending bits back. We have been very consistent about this from the beginning, and we have been trying to find middle ground. We are sending it back in the hope that they will accommodate that.

The CHAIR: So amendments Nos 1 to 5 are agreed to. Can we move those?

Mr GARDNER: Am I able perhaps to make one contribution in relation to all the amendments, as the Attorney just did, and then we can just deal with them all?

The CHAIR: We are happy to facilitate that.

Sitting extended beyond 17:00 on motion of Hon. J.R. Rau.

Mr GARDNER: On behalf of the opposition, can I indicate where we stand on the matter and then we can perhaps deal with all the Attorney's amendments on the voices en bloc or as we go. I note that in a number of places the Attorney has agreed to the amendments made by the Legislative Council and in a number of places has not.

To put this into some context from our position, the Attorney in his remarks referenced the idea that, to assist the Legislative Council, the Labor Party (the government) put forward this Sainte-Laguë model. Nobody else supports this model, apart from the Attorney. I suspect that it was with whimsy that his party room even allowed him to put it forward, knowing full well that no other party in the parliament would possibly accept it as a part of what was going forward.

The idea that the Sainte-Laguë model was part of some compromise is nonsensical and not to be accepted. The Legislative Council members, to whom this bill obviously particularly relates, have debated this at some length but fundamentally come back to first principles. We want to do a number of things. We want to ensure that the people of South Australia get the parliament they wish for.

That the will of the South Australian people be reflected in the make-up of the people who sit in the parliament is of prime importance. The way that is constructed, whether it is through multimember electorates, single-member electorates, first past the post, preferential and, in particular in an upper house such as is familiar in Australia, where you have proportional representation, is a matter for some difference and debate as to what is the most representative model.

One of the things that is, perhaps, important and should not be lost (it is part of the debate, usually) is ensuring that in the Australian context—where we require everyone to vote because we want the parliament to be reflective of not just the will of the people who do turn up to vote but the will of all the South Australian people in this case, or the Australian people—we do not want people's votes to be wasted, so we have these vote-saving provisions. We try to get as many people's votes to be counted as possible.

The informal vote is unfortunately part of the landscape in Australian and South Australia politics, but we want to reduce the informal vote wherever possible. The Liberal Party therefore strongly maintains the view that the informal vote is best reduced partly by having a consistency in application of the law between state and federal jurisdictions. The way that the Senate is elected changed at the last election. As somebody who occasionally scrutinises votes being counted—I have to say that I once scrutinised a Senate vote count. I was 18 at the time and did not know better.

However, the people who do scrutinise Senate vote counts tell me that there were some challenges, and certainly when handing out how-of-vote cards at polling booths at the last federal election there were some challenges for people going in to vote, as they were trying to make sense of how-to-vote cards. Some people were trying to make sense of how-to-vote cards that they might not have been familiar with. Amongst other things, what I take from that is that change brings some challenges for people to become familiar with it, but so was the change in the 1980s when we had above the line voting. People get used to things.

What I am appealing to the government to consider is the value of consistency between the state and the federal upper house voting rules. Having a position where we have one set of rules in the state and one set of rules in the federal—the federal having just changed and then the state changing to something else entirely—I think will present challenges for people as they enter the polling booth.

Having the model presented by the Legislative Council which would, as I understand it, be as close to the way that the Senate is represented as possible, I think is in and of itself a good. This is a political judgement, but nevertheless I think it is relevant here. I cannot see the Senate changing their voting system again, having just gone through the upheaval of changing it. Anything we do that is inconsistent with what the Senate has done is therefore going to present challenges, which brings us back to our bill.

Of course, if the Senate voting system were unmeritorious, then I would understand that as an argument, but the Senate's voting system is not unmeritorious. The Senate's voting system is one that perhaps delivers results that the Labor Party from time to time might not like, but the point is that the will of the South Australian people must be, wherever possible, represented in its parliamentary make-up. I know that the South Australian Labor Party does not necessarily approve of that concept for the South Australian House of Assembly; when a redistribution commission tried to put that forward, they took them to court.

The will of the people should be represented in its parliaments wherever possible and as best as possible. Capturing that group of people who potentially might have struggled with changing from the last Legislative Council election to the Senate election with new rules, to the Legislative Council election coming with a further set of new rules, I do not think serves the purposes of the people of South Australia to that end.

I do, however, share with the Attorney-General, and most of the speakers in the Legislative Council whose speeches I have read, the desire that the idea of preference whispering be stopped because that, too, and profoundly in some instances, provides examples where the will of the people is not represented in the parliamentary members that they necessarily elect.

If somebody is given a how-to-vote card, for example, with a Students Against HECS proposition for a Legislative Council voting ticket, where the votes then flow to a party that supports HECS, as happened in the 1997 election, then potentially the people voting for that Students Against HECS ticket might have been disappointed. The Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council being a candidate for the Students Against HECS party at the time, preferencing the Labor Party, which of course was the party that invented and supported the HECS system, is a pretty good example.

There are perhaps less partisan examples that the Attorney-General and I might readily agree on. There are examples of parties with radically right-wing names invented for the Legislative Council election that then preference the Greens or other radically left-wing parties over middle-of-the-road parties such as the Liberal Party or even, dare I say, the Labor Party; and vice versa, parties with radical left-wing names have preferenced radical right-wing parties, that do not express the will of the voter.

I am pleased that we have been able to talk with the government about some shared goals. However, I do think that the government is taking the wrong steps in sending the majority of this bill back and not accepting the Legislative Council's amendments at this stage. I hope that there will be a resolution in the future where the government will move further and we will see consistency between the Legislative Council and the Senate so that people are not confused about differences between the voting systems, and indeed that we will see the will of all the people of South Australia reflected in the people they elect to the parliament through that system.

I therefore indicate that we will support the amendments that the government is accepting, and we will oppose, presumably without division, the amendments that the government is seeking to send back.

The CHAIR: Would you like to answer that?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Just very briefly. It may be that the member for Morialta and I are the only people who are especially interested in this, but just in case anyone else is—

The CHAIR: I am here. I listen to everything you say.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Thank you very much. The galleries do not appear to be chock-a-block presently.

The CHAIR: Maybe they do not know it is your turn to speak. Someone go out the front and tell everybody.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Madam Chair, if I can just respond to what the member for Morialta has said, first of all can I say there is a great deal of common ground between some of his remarks and the government position, and I welcome that, but there are three basic points. The first one is everybody thinks the Senate system is terrific. Not true.

In fact, I for one have to say my experience has been, having been being told on the how-to-vote card that I was having to vote for six groups in the Senate that, quite frankly, after I got to two or three, I could not work out whether I was in favour of the Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary Party or some other extreme group. The difference between the parties is basically this: we are saying that you should be able to go one or more above the line. The Liberal Party is saying you should have to do six above the line. That is basically the difference.

To address the fair comment that the member for Morialta raised, namely 'Wouldn't it be terrible if we rendered a whole bunch of people's votes informal by reason of the difference between the two voting systems?' the answer is: the savings provisions here mean that somebody who voted in the federal way in our state system would not be an informal voter, and somebody who voted our way in the federal system would not be an informal voter. So that problem is fixed: there is going to be no informality created as a result of the government amendments being accepted.

Mr Gardner: What about the next Senate election?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Likewise in the Senate, because what the Senate says is, notwithstanding the fact that they want you to vote for six, if you vote for less, to the extent that you have expressed a clear preference, it is counted.

Mr Gardner: I am confused. I am so confused.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: You are not really confused at all. The member is not really confused.

The CHAIR: Are you saying he is misleading the house?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: No, he is not misleading, he is being a little querulous, I think is the word. Anyway, let's go back to this. That is the end of my response.

Amendments Nos 1 to 5:

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I move:

That the Legislative Council's amendments Nos 1 to 5 be agreed to.

Motion carried.

Amendment No. 6:

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I move:

That the Legislative Council's amendment No. 6 be disagreed to and insert the following amendment in lieu thereof:

Page 5, line 12 [clause 11, inserted paragraph (b)]—After 'preference' insert:

and, if the voter so desires, by placing the number '2' and consecutive numbers in the group voting squares that relate to other groups of candidates in the order of the voter's preference for them (but not so as to be required to indicate a preference for all groups of candidates)

Motion carried.

Amendment No. 7:

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I move:

That the Legislative Council's amendment No. 7 be agreed to.

Motion carried.

Amendment No. 8:

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I move:

That the Legislative Council's amendment No. 8 be disagreed to and insert the following amendment in lieu thereof:

Page 5, lines 16 to 28 [clause 12, inserted subsections (2) and (3)]—Delete inserted subsections (2) and (3) and substitute:

(2) If 1 or more numbers, that are not disregarded under section 94(4b), are placed in group voting squares on a ballot paper in relation to groups of candidates (each group being a preferenced group), the ballot paper is taken to have been marked as if—

(a) each candidate in a preferenced group was given a different number starting from 1; and

(b) candidates in a preferenced group were numbered consecutively starting with the candidate whose name on the ballot paper is at the top of the group to the candidate whose name is at the bottom; and

(c) the order in which candidates in different preferenced groups are numbered is worked out by reference to the order in which the groups were numbered on the ballot paper, starting with the group marked 1; and

(d) when all the candidates in a preferenced group have been numbered, the candidate whose name is at the top of the next preferenced group is given the next consecutive number.

Motion carried.

Amendments Nos 9 to 13:

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I move:

That the Legislative Council's amendments Nos 9 to 13 be agreed to.

Motion carried.

Amendment No. 14:

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I move:

That the Legislative Council's amendment No. 14 be disagreed to and insert the following amendment in lieu thereof:

Page 6, lines 25 to 29 [clause 13(1), inserted paragraph (b)(ii)]—Delete all words in line 25 and subsubparagraphs (A) and (B) and substitute:

indicate, in the manner required by this Act, the order of the voter's preference for candidates in the election; or

Motion carried.

Amendment No. 15:

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I move:

That the Legislative Council's amendment No. 15 be agreed to.

Motion carried.

Amendments Nos 16 and 17:

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I move:

That the Legislative Council's amendment No. 16 and 17 be disagreed to and insert the following amendment in lieu thereof:

Page 6, line 34 [clause 13(4)]—After 'delete subsection (4a)' insert:

and substitute:

(4a) A ballot paper for a Legislative Council election where there are more than 6 candidates is not informal under subsection (1)(b)(ii) if the voter has placed consecutive numbers (starting from the number '1') in the squares printed opposite the names of at least 6 candidates in total.

(4b) For the purposes of this Act, the following numbers placed in a square printed opposite the name of a candidate, or placed in a group voting square, on a ballot paper for a Legislative Council election are to be disregarded:

(a) numbers that are repeated and any higher numbers;

(b) if a number is missed—any numbers that are higher than the missing number.

Motion carried.

Amendments Nos 18 to 22:

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I move:

That the Legislative Council's amendments Nos 18 to 22 be agreed to.

Motion carried.