Opposition should push for Australian federal electoral reform: Whitlam

Monday, May 29, 2006

Former Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam has attacked the Labor party's stance on electoral reform during a speech at the opening of Labor member Kevin Rudd's new office in Brisbane.

Mr Whitlam said that the Australian opposition's recent record of defending the rights of citizens and improving the functioning of governance was "abysmal".

He also said that the Labor party seemed to have ignored the fact that the incumbent government has an advantage in determining election dates. "They don't seem to care that the national elections are held on the date which the incumbent prime minister calculates will give the biggest advantage to his party," he said.

"In this way, he restricts the capacity of the alternative government to choose candidates, prepare policies and plan campaigns."

As well, Mr Whitlam voiced his belief that Labor should push for fixed four-year terms, much the same as those which operate in some Australian states.

Mr Whitlam said the joint standing committee on electoral affairs' report last year, which found that election terms should be fixed for three-years at the least could be used to push for reform. Mr Whitlam added that it has long been Labor party policy for Australia to fix four-year terms for both houses of parliament.

Mr Whitlam said the issue of electoral reform was urgent. "Referendum proposals must be submitted to the electors... not less than two nor more than six months after they have been passed by an absolute majority in each house of the Parliament. The issue is urgent."

Mr Whitlam also warned that if Labor won the next election that it would be frustrated by a coalition majority in the senate. Senators are elected for six-year terms with half of them due for re-election every three-years.