New South Wales Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) No. 61 (Proof) 

Pages 6562-6565 ASSEMBLY 2nd June 1977 

Constitution and Parliamentary Electorates Bill


Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Campbelltown to order. 

Sir ERIC WILLIS [Leader of the Opposition (Liberal Party)]: The word sincerity stirred the honourable member for Campbelltown. It is a word that he does not know. When Arthur Calwell brought in that system at the federal level in 1949 it was accepted by all political parties and it has never been questioned since that time. Why? Because it is clear to: all, whether they be members of big parties or little parties or whether they be independents. No matter where one is or what one is, it is recognized as a completely fair system. Why was it not accepted by this Government? It was too fair. It would mean that the two parties would start on an equal footing in this race about which the Premier spoke. It would mean, also, that those people who would wish to give their preference to the Liberal Party or the Country Party might be able to do so. The Premier wants to handicap those parties by preventing voters' preferences coming our way and so enable the Labor Party to get the headlong start that he seeks. 

Obviously there is only one answer to the question why the Government did not adopt the Senate system. The system now being adopted is fair, to use the Premier's word, Labor's way. An organization that I have never beard of before called the Proportional Representation Society of Australia, New South Wales branch, sent a circular letter to all honourable members. Its president is Mr J. F. H. Wright. The letter contains some interesting comment about the proposals in the bill. I do not intend to read the whole letter as honourable members have a copy of it. 

Mr Wran [Premier (Australian Labor Party)]: He is a member of the Pennant Hills branch of the Liberal Party. You got him to write the letter. 

Sir ERIC WILLIS: I can assure you that I did not get him to write the letter. I have never heard of him before. Mr Wright said that the proposal in the bill before the House that a party list system of election should be used for future elections is quite inconsistent with the Premier's statement that it is a bill for the democratic election of members of the Legislative Council. Further on in the letter he said that the proposal for list voting was in direct conflict with the basic requirements of democracy and with the policy of the Labor Party. 

Then the letter states: 

All the criticisms of any substance directed against proportional representation relate to list methods. . . . For the Legislative Council to be democratically elected, it is necessary that the quota-preferential method of proportional representation be used, with full optional preferential vote. 

That is the Senate system. This organization, which apparently studies voting methods, considers that the only fair system of which the Premier speaks is the Senate system. I challenge the Premier to say why he has rejected the Senate system and seeks to throw away the vote of all these people who want to vote for minor parties or independents. The list system is an insult to intelligent people. Many people in the community wish to vote for individual candidates. They may wish to vote for particular candidates not for the rest of their party. 

I should imagine that in some Senate elections a rightwinger would want to vote Labor but not for, say, Senator Gietzelt. Similarly, a voter might have a personal grudge againstI nearly said the name; he is now on the High Courtbecause he does not like his moral standards. These are individual choices. Under the proposed system the voter is not allowed to exercise that choice. He has to vote for group A, B, C, D, or E. The one vote indicates that a person supports everybody in the group and in the order indicated in that group. One cannot put them into a different order or vote for two or three in one group and two or three in another. In other words, one has to do what one is told. The Premier is saying to the electors, "Do you think we are going to allow you to use the brains that God gave you? No, we will tell you how you will vote. We will dragoon you into voting under the list system." That system is designed for people who do not want to think or do not know how to think the ones willing to follow like sheep behind some party machine that tells them what do. 

The proposed system was devised for simpletons or robots who are either unwilling or unable to think for themselves. Although it may reduce the informal vote, it will be at the expense of reducing the electors generally to the level of sheep and treating them accordingly. Once again, it is an absolute travesty of the word democracy to suggest that people cannot think for themselves or vote preferentially, and that they must vote only according to a list. The Labor Party will want to hand out a bit of paper to show them how to vote in accordance with the list. As I have said the list system means that electors cannot vote for individuals but must vote for parties. It does not matter whether the electors never see their candidates. Probably they will not know them; probably they will not see them. Indeed they will be most remote from the people. Certainly the candidates will have no say in their selection. 

The probabilities are that if the system is adopted the members of the Legislative Council will be as remoteif not more remotefrom the people of New South Wales as they are under the present system which has been so roundly condemned by the Government. Under the proposed system the future members of the Legislative Council will be hanging around Sussex Street, Anchor House or Loftus Streetthe headquarters of the various political parties. They will owe their allegiance to their party machine. They will not have to care one hoot about the people, who are there only to vote when they are told according to the way they are told. They are not of any importance under this system. Again, this is a mockery of the word democracy. 

I am sorry that the Premier has left the Chamber. Earlier today he took exception to the word gerrymander being used by an honourable member. He proceeded to say that the whole State would be one electorate and he asked how could one gerrymander the boundaries of the whole State. Although he purports to be an educated man, he is not as educated as he makes out, because this is the Oxford dictionary definition of gerrymander: "Manipulate (constituency, etc.) unfairly so as to secure disproportionate influence at election for some party or class." 

That is exactly what this bill is. The only difference isand I shall concede that the Premier is rightthat this is not a geographical but a mathematical gerrymander, which is being foisted upon the people of this State under the beautiful name of democracy. It is significant that, in presenting the scheme, the Premier did not tell the House who devised it or why he had recommended it. He did not detail what other schemes were looked at and discarded. He did not say anything at all about anything. He talked a whole lot of platitudinous nonsense, and he made a number of references to some of the other States. However, he did not say whether he looked at the upper House election systems of those States and why he rejected them. He said that the whole State would be the boundary of the electorate and there were going to be provinces. Then in another moment he said it is going to be like the Senate, the whole State. I have news for him. The Senate consists of representatives from six different States, sitting together in the Senate to safeguard the interests of those States. If that electoral principle were followed, the State should be divided into provinces or regions, with members to represent them. I am not advocating that necessarily. I am simply suggesting that if the whole State were regarded as the electorate for the upper House, applying the same principle, the electorate for the Senate would be the whole of Australia. Everybody knows that, if the whole State were the electorate, it is likely that the preponderance of MLCs will come from areas in close propinquity to the headquarters of the major parties. 

The Premier did not tell us why he did not select the Senate preferential proportional representation system. We can only assume that the deductions I made a little while ago are correct. When he was talking about a new start I asked myself why did he not make a clean start. He answered in part. I do not really think he answered it; I prefer the explanation I gave about the Labor Party bosses. 

The Premier did not explain, if you wipe the slate clean have forty-five members to be elected at one election, the quota would then become 2.2 per cent. This would have most dreadful results, for the Democratic Labor Party, the Australia Party, the Workers Party and, horror of horrors, for Premier Wran. The Family Action Movement might get representation in the Parliament of New South Wales, and would be able to tell him of the moral standards be does not like to be reminded about. The Premier said that he chose the figure 45 because normally a figure selected is as near as possible to half the number in the lower House. I thought I knew my arithmetic well enough, but apparently forty-five is half of ninety-nine under the new arithmetic. I should have thought that fifty was the figure nearest to half of ninety-nine, but the Premier had no explanation why fifty was not chosen. The only explanation I can think of is that forty-eight or fifty-two would require four Parliaments. They would not want that. If it were fifty, two Parliaments would be required. That would be too short for the power brokers of the Labor Party in the Legislative Council. 

The Premier went to some pains to extol the virtues of the principles of the South Australian system. He did not say the he copied their legislation but in a press release that he handed out last week he attached a sample voting card, which was identical with the sample voting card in the schedule in the South Australian Act. It contained exactly the same in the first name, second name, and the third name in every list.