Thursday, 17 March 2016
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; In Committee
Section 329 does apply to any information that is published, printed, distributed or caused, permitted or authorised to be printed, published or distributed and that would be likely to mislead or deceive an elector in relation to the casting of a vote. The provision is there in black and white, and everybody can see what it is. Also, given that the question is being asked again, I refer to the evidence in front of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters on Tuesday 29 February, from memory, where the federal director of the Liberal Party, Mr Tony Nutt, clearly indicated that the intention of the Liberal Party is to provide guidance to voters on our how-to-vote cards. It is consistent with what is going to be on the Senate ballot paper: that to vote above the line, you number at least 1 to 6 above the line. That is what the Liberal Party intends to do. I cannot speak for other parties. I do not know whether the Labor Party has some other cunning plan that they are wanting to pursue. Listening to the line of questioning by Senator Collins, I do not know whether it is just another pursuit of a conspiracy theory or whether it is actually something that they are entertaining to conduct in a particular way.
But the provision in the electoral act has been there for some time. Certain other penalty provisions have been removed at some point in the past in the context of the case that Senator Xenophon previously mentioned. I do not think it is in the public interest for us to go back to these arrangements of the past. The government cannot be clearer than what we are now, and that is that we believe the current section 329 is sufficient. And let's remind ourselves again that the instruction to voters on Senate ballot papers is going to be very explicit: to vote above the line, number at least six boxes 1 to 6, in order of your preference; to vote below the line, number at least 12 boxes 1 to 12 below the line.
The reason we have a savings provision for people voting above the line, who vote just 1, or 1 and 2, or 1, 2, 3, is because, as Senator Wong previously indicated, for the past 30 years, courtesy of the reforms of the Hawke government at the time, when they introduced above-the-line voting, people have been allowed to vote 1 only when voting above the line. They were not allowed to vote any other way. Once you vote above the line, which 97 per cent of voters in Australia did at the last election, then, courtesy of the legislation passed by Labor in 1984, people lose control of their preferences. And they lose control of those preferences to political parties, to political backroom operators who go and negotiate the best possible deal with a plethora of other parties.
It should not be for the political party that attracts the No. 1 vote above the line to determine what happens to that vote subsequently. It should be up to the voter to determine what happens to that preference after. And people should be empowered to express not just their first preference but subsequent preferences for parties when voting above the line. That is of course what this reform will enable to take place.