House debates

Thursday, 17 March 2016


Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; Consideration of Senate Message

3:07 pm

Photo of Malcolm TurnbullMalcolm Turnbull (Wentworth, Liberal Party, Prime Minister) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the amendments be agreed to.

This is a great day for democracy. For too long the Senate voting system has been disturbed by backroom deals, by preference whisperers and by the manipulation of microparties, such that we have seen the will of the people frustrated. There is nothing more important than that the men and women who sit in this chamber and in the Senate reflect, as far as possible, the wish of the Australian people. That has not been the case with the Senate. We have known this for many years. The practice of group voting tickets, of backroom deals, of elaborate creation of microparties has resulted in people being elected to the Senate with a tiny fraction of the primary vote. It has undermined the democratic reputation and credibility of the Senate, which is half of this great parliament.

The changes that are contained in this bill and reflected in these amendments represent what was not so long ago the bipartisan position—the position of every party in this parliament. It was the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. Labor, Liberal, the Greens, all agreed that it should be Australian voters who decide where their preferences go. It should be Australian voters that choose who should be elected to the Senate, not backroom deals. There was no stronger advocate for this than the member for Brand, Gary Gray.

Then, only weeks ago, for base political reasons, the Labor Party did a complete backflip. They abandoned their position. They left the member for Brand, Gary Gray, as a solitary beacon of integrity in a sea of Labor opportunism.

These amendments are for democracy. I want to thank the senators who supported them. I want to thank the senators who stuck to their principles.

Mr Danby interjecting


Tibor Majlath
Posted on 24 Mar 2016 9:03 am

Hope it is for democracy and not for base self-interest. People vote for senators so that the Senate doesn't simply become a 'rubber stamp' for the House of Reps. It is remarkable how much fuss the Coalition made over the Labor/Green alliance in the previous parliament. Now, they have done deals with the Greens to 'reform' the Senate.

The PM argues that it should be the Australian voter who should decide where preferences go. The notion that 'backroom deals' happen to get micro parties elected is nothing remarkable. The Coalition has obviously done a 'backroom deal' with the Greens. It seems it was in the Greens' interest to help the Coalition whose motive is also not hard to guess.

After the legislation to 'fix' the Senate was passed, the PM wondered why the Senate crossbenchers are now even more reluctant to help him pass his legislation. Really?

True democracy is subverted when elected representatives do whatever they want for three years simply because they can, all the while selectively claiming that they have a mandate debased by lobbyists with bags full of money.

Too often you hear that democracy is simply voting once every three years. The idea of a mandate appears to be rooted in this naive claim. During parliamentary terms dissent is frowned upon because the government has a 'mandate'. Promises made to get elected mean nothing. We saw Labor break one promise over the carbon tax. The Coalition raised such a fuss about Labor's lack of integrity etc., but who in turn also broke around 16 promises of their own, made in order to get elected.

Democracy, indeed.

Tibor Majlath
Posted on 24 Mar 2016 9:28 am

Back in 2015, Malclom Turnbull had a very different view as reported in the Herald Sun, where he is reported as saying "MALCOLM Turnbull has talked down changes to the Senate voting system, saying crossbenchers are as "democratically elected" as he is."