Thursday, 17 March 2016
Election of Senators
The ballot is the thing. That was the battle cry of unions, organised labour, workers and radicals during the formative years of Australia's democracy. As a nation, we were unified and bound together by the idea of a free and democratic vote. 'The ballot is the thing,' said unionists, labour activists and poets. Whether they were shearers at Barcaldine or miners at Kalgoorlie, they believed that our Federation would be not just made but made strong by the ballot and by the free, democratic vote of all Australians.
As we meet in this chamber today, in the other chamber a debate is taking place on reforms to Senate voting practices. I must say the position taken by my party continues to simply make me sad. The reforms that the government is pursuing in the Senate are not brilliant reforms, but they are 95 per cent of the reforms that were recommended by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. There are no perfect reforms in this area. We cannot make it perfect. But we can make it much better than it currently is, because currently and over the past few years, as we have seen at state and federal level, pop-up parties designed to attract small numbers of primary voters have been manipulated through our system of Senate voting. They have been manipulated by those who have sought to get people and parties elected, sometimes for personal gain and sometimes simply because they could. The interests of our population, the interests of workers and the interests of our society have been ignored by these manipulators.
Over the course of the last few weeks, there have been many pieces of misinformation spread about the bill that is currently being debated. Some have said that the bill will deliver the coalition 38 or 39 members—a controlling majority in the Senate. That is not true, unless people vote for it. And if people vote for it—and I do not want them to, but if they do—that is how the ballot falls. None of us can predict the outcome of future elections, but all of us should be concerned about future elections being manipulated by pop-up parties being created and by outcomes being confected by those whose interests are not the national interest, are not the interests of the people and are not the interests of our community.
I strongly support reform of Senate voting practices. I am made sad by my party's position. I will vote for my party's position, but I will do it knowing full well that the reforms that are before the House and before the Senate as we speak are reforms that genuinely improve the operation of our electoral act, genuinely improve Senate voting and are in— (Time expired)