Alan Ramsey June 24, 2006 JOHN HOWARD'S office phoned the Canberra press gallery two nights ago. Photographers and TV crews were told to be at The Lodge at 5.30 next morning if they wanted World Cup footage of the Prime Minister in front of his television set. They arrived just in time to catch Howard whooping it up as the Socceroos scored the penalty that evened the half-time score against Croatia half a world away. They were gone, bundled back outside, by 5.45. Thank you, Prime Minister. The leaping toad. Not only the soccer had Howard leaping this week. Two days earlier, in the Senate, a grotesque piece of legislation was passed 33 votes to 31, with 12 senators "paired". It is called the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2006. It is one party state stuff. It has nothing to do with integrity or democracy. It is a bill to make it harder for people to vote, and easier for corporations and the wealthy to donate money to political parties in secret. It is about increasing - by 1400 per cent - taxpayer subsidies on political donations. It is about the Coalition keeping control of the Senate. Only Government MPs supported the bill. Everyone else in the Parliament - Labor, the Democrats, the Greens, Family First and the House's three independents - voted against it. All MPs outside the Coalition who spoke on the legislation, during the six months since the Government introduced it for debate on December 8 last year, criticised it in the most trenchant terms. Labor's Martin Ferguson said of the bill's sweeping proposals easing restrictions on political donations and the identity of political donors: "At the heart of this legislation is the creeping, ugly Americanisation of this country under the Howard Government." Tasmania's Greens leader, Senator Bob Brown, called it an "invitation to corruption". The Democrats' Andrew Murray: "This bill represents yet another appalling outcome of Coalition control of the Senate." NSW independent MHR, Peter Andren: "It does nothing to enhance our democracy, our Parliament or our electoral processes." Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese: "It will make it far harder to vote but much easier to secretly donate." The speech that put it all in context came from Labor's Robert Ray, the former Hawke-Keating cabinet minister and Senate leader. This is Ray's last term. He stepped down as Labor Senate leader when the Keating government lost office 10 years ago. Except for estimates hearings, he has been a largely disengaged backbencher ever since. Yet nobody in the Senate is a more compelling debater. His speech a week ago on the electoral legislation went unreported, even though it tells you everything you need to know about what the Government has done to debauch the rules of our electoral system and how it can be manipulated for advantage. Ray said, in part: "Australia pioneered the secret ballot. We pioneered compulsory enrolment. We were one of the first countries to pay MPs. And we introduced postal and absentee voting. All this before 1913 in our country. Even late into the 20th century various states in the US referred to the secret ballot system as the 'Australian ballot'. What better compliment could this country get ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã‚Â¦ "But once the Menzies government was entrenched [in the 1950s] we had the dark age of electoral matters in Australia. There was no attention given to it and no concern whatsoever. [This] led [in the early and mid-1960s] to the worst malapportionment in the Federal Parliament's history. That somewhat changed under the Whitlam government, when the concept of one vote, one value was entrenched [in 1974, in an historic joint meeting of both houses of Parliament to legislate electoral reform]. But many other reforms were knocked off by a recalcitrant Senate. "Then we came to the Fraser era. Most of you would not recognise his name - it is now 'St Malcolm of High Principle'. What was one of the first acts of Malcolm Fraser [as Liberal prime minister]? It was to introduce the 5000-square kilometre rort which re-entrenched malapportionment. That couldn't be the same person as the one that goes around today as the successor of Mother Teresa, could it? He may have seen the light, but by gee, did he reap the benefits of rorting the electoral boundaries in 1977! "The election of the Hawke government in 1983 saw the most radical overhaul of the Electoral Act in over 70 or 80 years. We instituted the fairest redistribution system in the world. We instituted the 'overs and unders' system, so that on average every seven years [all] electorates would be of equal size. We introduced independent redistribution commissioners. "We introduced ticket voting for the Senate, party designation on ballot papers, and reduced the Senate informal vote from one in 10 to about 2 per cent. We [increased] the size of Parliament. "We brought in disclosure of donations, against the [opposition] of the Liberals who fought it trench by trench. They never wanted disclosure. They still oppose it. They do not want anyone to know who donates to them. That is secret Liberal Party business. We introduced public funding to lower party dependence on donations. The Liberals not only opposed public funding, they said it was 'morally repugnant'. "[Yet] they've taken the money ever since. The old aardvark snouts of the Liberal Party have soaked up every public dollar available. If they'd had any principles at the time, they would have rejected it [when public funding was introduced for the 1984 election] because, according to them, it was 'morally repugnant'. They didn't. We introduced draws for positions on the ballot paper to eliminate [manipulation] of the donkey vote. We introduced mobile booths, especially in nursing homes. Finally, we introduced an independent electoral commission. "What did we see when the Howard Government was elected? "Their first act in the electoral area in 1996 was to take $2 million off the electoral commission and tell them to cancel Aboriginal electoral education. So much for their commitment to democracy. They do not favour having indigenous Australians educated in the voting system. "Just a couple of years ago, we saw the most unseemly piece of legislation ever introduced into this [Parliament] - the one we call the 'dash for cash' bill. The Liberal Party had its name written into the Electoral Act 33 times so it can centralise its public funding. "Here we had a national Parliament required to do the dirty work of the [Liberal] federal secretariat at Robert Menzies House [the party's national headquarters], now entrenched in legislation to the total shame of the Democrats, who were internally divided at the time and went along with it ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã‚Â¦ "Now we have the new regime proposed in this bill. "Let me give you the history of the early close of the electoral rolls. In 1983, Malcolm Fraser tried to ambush the Labor Party when it was in midstream in changing its leadership [from Bill Hayden to Bob Hawke]. It did not work. But it meant the rolls were closed early. It meant 90,000 new [first-time] voters missed out [in the 1983 election]. It meant many other thousands were trapped in the wrong electorate without being able to change. It meant that election day in 1983 was a shambles. "We looked at fixing that straight after the election. [And] the 33-day rule [between the calling of an election and polling day] came in at the insistence of one of the greatest senators ever in this place, and that was [NSW Liberal] Sir John Carrick, who argued strongly the rolls needed to be kept open for seven days [after an election was called] so the 1983 chaos did not [happen] again. The godfather of the NSW branch of the Liberal Party [and political patron of a young John Howard] insisted on [this]. "Now, in my view, he is being dishonoured by this [latest] piece of legislation ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã‚Â¦ What has changed? The only thing that has changed is the [Government's Senate control since the last election] in the 39 to 37 voting [in the 76-member chamber]. Which occurred because the Liberals got Queensland preferences from Pauline Hanson and One Nation. That is the author of this legislation. Those few votes drifting to Queensland Liberal Senate candidates means this legislation now goes throughÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã‚Â¦ "It is no longer easy to enrol or to vote. "Take the money off the corporates [up to $10,000 per donation, from $1500] and do not have [the identity of donors] disclosed. Take the tax deductability [increased from $100 to $1500] and flood your party coffers. Do not allow prisoners to vote. Knock off young people voting [by closing the electoral rolls early] wherever you can, and create mass confusion." Ray concluded: "The ultimate paranoia of this Liberal-National [mob] derives from the fact they can never conceive they get beaten on their merits. Every election defeat has to be ascribed to fraud. How could voters choose the scruffy socialists opposite? Everyone should be encouraged to vote. But there is no respect for enfranchisement ever there. "There will be no respect for the result." John Howard's Australia.