House debates

Wednesday, 24 February 2016


Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; Second Reading

4:13 pm

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australian public, business and industry want to see a functional Senate operating in the national interest and an end to dysfunction in the political process. I support the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016, which seeks to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

The bill before the House proposes a number of reforms to the Senate voting system, which are designed to, essentially, provide voters with the ability to direct their preference votes according to their carefully considered intent. The reforms include the introduction of optional preferential voting above the line, concessions to maintain the formality of votes below the line, the abolition of group voting tickets, a restriction preventing the same individuals from acting as office bearers for multiple political parties and the provision to print political party logos on ballot papers.

The issue of Senate voting reform has been topical for a very long time. It has been about 30 years since the last major changes were made. The 2013 federal election saw the election of a number of high-profile microparty candidates from a large field with low levels of voter support—often less than one per cent of the primary vote. Over the years there has been a gradual increase in the number of Senate candidates, with ballot papers increasing in size as more independent and minor parties began to use preference harvesting to gain election. For example, the Senate ballot paper in Victoria at the last federal election had 96 candidates from 39 different groups and measured just over a metre long. The print was so small that the Australian Electoral Commission resorted to providing magnifying overlay sheets to voters with vision impairment.

The Senate is an integral part of our democratic system as a house of review and to protect the interests of the states in our Australian federation, particularly those states which are less populous and have less representation in the House of Representatives. The Senate ought to provide for the proper scrutiny and objective review of legislation in an orderly and businesslike manner. The role of the Senate should not be obstructionist in nature or beholden to special interest groups who would use the balance of power to wield undue influence.

In recent history, crossbenchers, microparties and Independents have made for an obstructionist Senate, at times blocking key elements of the legislative agenda of the government of the day for which it could be argued that the government has a degree of mandate from the people. This has resulted in dysfunctional bargaining and negotiations for sectional interests. Consideration should always be given to advancing the national interest, providing good governance above all else.

We are at a point in our national history where there are some very important issues facing Australia and there is a need for many important reforms, and the government has essential legislation blocked in the Senate. Our nation does not exist in isolation in an increasingly globalised world. To stay competitive with our global trading partners, our system of government must be agile and responsive enough to respond effectively to issues such as fiscal policy, border protection, national security and microeconomic and industrial relations reform. These reforms might not be popular but they are necessary and the government of the day must be able to gain support in the national interest to provide for the security and economic development of innovation. For instance, with the current Senate, we have seen key budget savings measures and industrial relations reforms blocked, providing many triggers for a double dissolution election.

As a serving member of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters since 2013, I have actively participated in the inquiry process into the 2013 federal election. The committee has received public submissions and conducted public hearings at locations in capital cities and regional towns across Australia. The proposed reforms of Senate voting arrangements contained in this bill are essentially contained in the interim and final reports of the inquiry, which were tabled in this parliament on 9 May 2014 and 15 April 2015 respectively and which received unanimous cross-party support from members of the committee. It is fair to say from observations that the current Senate voting system lacks transparency, is overly complex and needs simplification. It is little known that under the current system, individual candidates and political parties can register up to three group voting tickets which determine preference allocation. Although voting tickets are required to be displayed at polling places and on the Australian Electoral Commission website, anecdotal evidence received at public hearings of the JSCEM would strongly indicate that most voters are unlikely to understand where their preferences ultimately flowed. This gives rise to very legitimate concerns about micro parties being elected with a low proportion of primary votes, equating to a fraction of a quota. It could be viewed as a distortion of democracy, as preferences may be allocated to political parties or causes that the voter opposes or has no intention of supporting.

The voting system must reflect the principles of equity, fairness and simplicity and must give effect to the genuine considered intent of the voter. In practice, the typical voter may not fully be aware of where preferences are allocated once the number of candidates exceeds 10. These reforms are designed to allow the voter to determine their own preference flows, support greater transparency and simplify the Senate voting system.

There has been much public debate about how easily manipulated Australia's electoral system has become. In evidence before the committee, an individual witness described how he would select populist issues—such as cheaper cigarettes, sports and outdoor pursuits—and set up stands at community fairs and rural shows for the purpose of collecting sufficient names and addresses with which to register political parties. The individual acted as the common office bearer and agent for a number of different political parties and lodged a series of group voting tickets preferencing each other. It is estimated that 47 parties are currently registered in time to be eligible to contest the next federal election. Given that 97 per cent of voters normally cast above-the-line votes, with group voting tickets and preference deals candidates with little primary support can be elected. At the 2013 federal election, preference deals saw candidates elected with as little as 0.5 per cent of the primary vote.

The bill seeks to introduce optional preferential voting above the line. Under the provisions, advice will be printed on the ballot paper instructing voters to vote above the line by numbering at least six of the boxes in the order of the voter's choice. To minimise the potential for informal votes, a savings provision will be in place to ensure that ballot papers are still formal where voters have numbered one or fewer than six boxes above the line. On the other hand, in relation to voting below the line, the bill contains provisions which seek to reduce the number of informal votes by increasing the number of allowable mistakes from three to five, provided that 90 per cent of the ballot paper below the line is completed correctly.

A key measure in this bill is the abolition of group-voting tickets. Voters will be required to deliberately specify where their preferences are to be allocated, with preferences becoming exhausted at the point at which the voter stops numbering squares on the ballot paper. It will be a conscious decision to be made by the voter. The proposed reforms empower people across Australia to clearly express their preferences both above and below the line not only their first preference above the line but also their subsequent preferences, without relying on the political parties' predetermined group-voting ticket.

During the JSCEM inquiry, evidence was received that the same individual acted as office-bearer and registered agent for multiple different political parties at the same time. This adds weight to the argument that the electoral system has been gamed purely to harvest preferences. In response to this, the bill introduces a restriction to prevent individuals from holding official positions in multiple parties. Under the provisions proposed, there will be a need for unique registered officers and deputy registered officers of separate political parties to remove the ambiguity around political parties and their affiliations and alliances with each other. It should be pointed out that the provisions do not prevent a person from being a registered officer of a federal political party and the registered officer of a state branch or division of that same party.

In an effort to reduce voter confusion between political parties with similar names, this bill proposes for political parties to have their logos printed alongside the name of the party on the ballot paper. In evidence received before the JSCEM inquiry, political parties with similar names—for example, the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democratic Party—caused confusion amongst voters. In New South Wales during the 2013 federal election, a Liberal Democrat senator was elected, arguably as the result of drawing a favourable position on the ballot paper ahead of the Liberal Party.

To implement these proposed changes in an orderly way, additional resources will be provided to the Australian Electoral Commission to conduct pre-election voter education campaigns and make the necessary changes to its current operating procedures and systems. For instance, in the past where the majority of electors voted above the line on Senate ballot papers, first preference counts were normally undertaken on election night at local polling booths. As the proposed Senate amendments will lead to multiple voter preferences being numbered above the line, preference counts at individual polling booths will no longer be possible. The bill proposes technical amendments for the scrutiny and count procedures to enable the AEC to improve and centralise the count of the Senate ballot papers.

Given the lead time of approximately three months required to implement these electoral changes, now is an appropriate time to consider this legislation with a view to having the bill passed by 17 March 2016, ahead of the parliamentary recess.

In summary, this bill contains a range of measures designed to prevent the gaming of the Australian electoral system. It is intended to combat the practices of registering political parties for the purpose of harvesting preferences and complex deal-making by the self-described 'preference whisperers'. It achieves this through the abolition of group and individual voting tickets, which resulted in unintended preference flows beyond the genuine intent and comprehension of the voter. These reforms are intended to counter the election of candidates who receive an extremely small proportion of the primary vote, in many cases less than one per cent, but who, under the current system, can gain election through preference accumulation as other candidates are eliminated.

As I outlined in my opening statements, the Senate is a house of review. It is the states' house in the Australian Federation. It is an integral part of our democracy. The Senate needs to function freely without undue influence by minorities holding the balance of power. The Senate should be neither a rubber stamp nor an insurmountable obstacle. The government of the day has a certain mandate to carry out this legislative program without facing unreasonable deadlocks and stalemates.

These proposed reforms give voters more control over the preference flows from their votes. The voter will determine where their preferences flow and at what point their preferences will cease to flow to candidates or political parties which they do not wish to support. The government is committed to electoral reform, which provides integrity, is simple and clear, and provides voters with the ability to express their intent. I commend the bill to the House.

Photo of Russell BroadbentRussell Broadbent (McMillan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I call the long-term member for Hughes.

4:28 pm

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Acting Deputy Speaker. I hope five years in this place is not considered too long term. I rise this afternoon to speak on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016. I would like to start by making an observation. Those who framed our Constitution back in the 19th century did an absolutely amazing and wonderful job. They delivered our nation one of the strongest democracies in the world. I do not think that they could have envisaged the wealth that has been created in this country over the last hundred years or the massive increase in prosperity that the average citizen enjoys today compared to back in the 19th century. I would say that when they framed our Constitution, the lifestyle and prosperity the wealthiest Australians enjoyed would be well below the lifestyle and prosperity enjoyed today by the average Australian.

The reason our Constitution, our nation, has been so successful is that our system of government, everything in our Constitution, has been designed to prevent undue concentrations of power, to prevent a small group being able to concentrate power in their hands, to ultimately hand the power to govern this country back to the people. When the framers of our Constitution were thinking about how our government should work—that we should copy the Westminster system and have the equivalent of the House of Commons and call it, as we do here, the House of Representatives, because we here are effectively representatives of the people. Each of us represents in this parliament an electorate of around 100,000 voters, and we have a system to ensure that that stays so that each of us represents a similar population of people.

I am thinking that the questions they would have asked themselves are, what powers should the Senate have and how should our senators be elected? In thinking about what powers the Senate should have, no doubt the framers of our Constitution looked at the English House of Lords, where they were simply appointed but had limited powers to block and frustrate the will of the House of Commons. Likewise in Canada, although they have a Senate, the election of the Senate is by appointment; it is not an elected body. In fact, the first Canadian Prime Minister described the role of the Senate as simply 'a sober second thought' to governmental legislation. In New Zealand they had a Senate as well, and that was appointed, not elected, yet in 1950 the New Zealanders decided to do away with their Senate altogether.

When it came to our Senate, the main purpose was for it to be something similar to the Westminster system in England. But of course one of the concerns the framers of the Constitution had was to protect the interests of the smaller states. So we can say that our Senate, across the hall on the other side of this building, is hardly democratic when Tasmania elects the same number of senators as New South Wales. Tasmania with a population of 500,000 provides 12 senators, yet New South Wales, with a population 14 times that, also provides only 12 senators. For someone in New South Wales, when their vote comes to the Australian Senate it is worth one 14th of the vote of someone from Tasmania. Therefore, it is important that our Senate realises its place as intended by the framers of our Constitution: to be a house of review, not a house of blockage. And I am sure the framers of our Constitution could not have envisaged a way that the current Senate has been gamed, and that is exactly what we have seen happening.

Antony Green, the ABC election analyst, said in his evidence to the joint standing committee inquiry into the 2013 election that the Senate:

… has produced results that were engineered by the preference deals rather than by the votes cast by voters.

What he is saying is that we did not have a democratic result. Paul Kelly, writing in today's Australian, said:

Reform of the corrupt Senate voting system is a necessary step to restore a degree of integrity in the Australian Parliament, offer greater voter transparency, give more weight to first preference votes …

The need for change is clear, and that is exactly what the changes that are being proposed do.

Firstly, they introduce optional preferential votes above the line for voting. If someone wants to allocate their preferences they must be able to do so of their own free choice. The flaw with the current system—that someone can vote for a minor party or any party and vote 1 above the line and have no idea whatsoever where their vote will actually end up, because of the secrecy and lack of transparency in the preference system—is why this change is most important. To ensure that we have more transparency, the system will advise on the ballot paper for the voter to number at least six boxes above the line, in order of their choice. That gives someone ample opportunity to decide where their preferences go.

Secondly, to avoid a high rate of informal votes, if someone just writes 1 above the line then their vote will still be considered formal. I think that is something we should also consider for the lower house. In New South Wales, in the state elections we have optional preferential voting, but at federal elections we have compulsory preferential voting. I have scrutineered at elections, and you see people filling in 1 on the ballot paper, thinking they have voted for a particular candidate. Their intention to give their vote to that candidate is crystal clear, yet by having compulsory preferential voting we disenfranchise that person. But we are fixing that for the Senate. It is something that down the track we perhaps need to look at for the House of Representatives.

Thirdly, we will introduce the abolition of group and individual voting tickets, and we will introduce restrictions to prevent individuals from holding relevant official positions in multiple parties. That is to stop the gaming of the system whereby someone can be an official of multiple parties simply to harvest votes, to game our system and ultimately to game our democracy.

There is one provision I do have some concerns with, something we need to look at down the track, and this is the provision that allows for logos to be printed on the ballot paper. That is because of the mass confusion between the Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Party at the last election. I was standing and handing out at the booths, and many people came back to me after voting and said, 'I've made a mistake on my Senate paper. I meant to vote for the Liberal-Nationals, but when I looked at the big long ballot paper I saw Liberal Democrats and I put my vote there.' They wanted to run back into the polling booth and rip their paper back out of the electoral bin but were unable to, so I understand the reasoning for that. When we look at the names of some of these parties we had the Katter' Australian Party. Now I can understand that the Katter party's logo may be simply a large broad-rimmed akubra hat. We had the Social Alliance, and they may have the hammer and sickle as their logo on the ballot paper. Of course we had the marijuana party, and they would have a marijuana leaf or a large bong printed on the ballot paper. The Pirate Party could have the Jolly Roger, and I will leave it up to others' suggestions for how the Australian Sex Party should have their logo. But perhaps this is something we should look at and take some care at to make sure that the ballot paper does not look strange with all these logos over it.

In conclusion, I would like to reflect on the comments in this debate by the member for Brand. To quote from his speech I think is very telling. He said:

It is self-evidently the case that our parliament needs to act on electoral reform. It is self-evidently the case that our parliament needs to act to make sure that our voting system is transparent, effective and understood and that the voting process itself is a process where the voter is empowered to deliver a vote to the person that they wish to elect. The system needs to be fixed.

He continued:

My view is that the current rules do need to be changed; the Labor Party's view is that those rules do need to be changed.

…   …   …

I lost the argument in my party room on Senate reform, so Labor will oppose the substantive reforms that are enshrined in this bill.

Then the Labor member for Brand said:

I think that is sad …

He is right. It is sad that the members of the Labor Party will not support this bill, because this is an important step we need to take to improve our Senate voting system and therefore our democracy. The member for Brand continued:

My party has moved that it will be opposing this bill and therefore I oppose this bill.

I think that is also very sad. An elected member of the House of Representatives is forced by his party to vote in this chamber against his will. On this side of the House if someone decides that they disagree with the legislation they can take the walk across and exercise what they believe in their heart and conscience. Yet members of the Labor Party are denied that opportunity. That is sad, and that is undemocratic. I congratulate member for Brand for his speech and for calling his own party out on this. The assistant minister will sum up very soon, and I hope that members of the opposition will not vote against this bill, because, as the member for Brand said, it would be a very sad day for our democracy if they do so. With that, I commend this bill to the House.

4:41 pm

Photo of Peter HendyPeter Hendy (Eden-Monaro, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The amendments contained in the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016 will ensure our electoral system is open and transparent and allow for the expression of voter intent. The bill responds to key elements of the interim and final reports from the inquiry of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters into the 2013 federal election, which were tabled on 9 May 2014 and 15 April 2015 respectively.

The bill proposes to introduce optional preferential voting above the line, with voters to number at least six squares in sequence, except where there are fewer than six squares above the line. It proposes to abolish individual and group voting tickets to return the control of preferences to voters and removes the capacity for an individual to be the registered officer or deputy registered officer of multiple political parties. And it proposes to allow political party logos to appear on ballot papers for both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Contrary to the claims made by the opposition that this bill will lead to 800,000 additional informal votes, the bill contains savings provisions that should actually increase vote formality. The bill allows for a vote to remain formal, even where voters have numbered fewer than six squares above the line. The objective is to capture voter intent by enabling voters to allocate their own preferences on the Senate ballot paper. The bill also proposes an improvement to the vote savings provisions for voters who choose to vote below the line, by increasing the number of allowable mistakes that can be made by voters when they are sequentially numbering their preferences, from the current three mistakes to five mistakes, where 90 per cent of the number of boxes below the line have been filled in correctly, before a vote becomes informal.

The government has prepared minor technical amendments to this bill, which have been circulated to members. The purpose of these amendments is to provide for a count of above-the-line, first-preference votes on Senate ballot papers by assistant returning officers and Divisional Returning Officers and the transmission of the number of first preference votes to Australian Electoral Officers. The bill as it currently stands proposes to remove requirements for assistant returning officers to conduct a count of first-preference votes. The amendments will reinstate a requirement that counting of first-preference Senate votes above the line commences after polling closes, and this will provide to the public an early indication of first-preference votes.

Taken together, the measures in this bill to introduce optional preferential voting above the line, abolish the voting ticket system, enhance savings provisions for voters and print political party logos on ballot papers will give voters greater control over their vote, increase transparency and simplify the Senate voting system. I commend the bill to the House.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the bill be read a second time.

4:56 pm

Photo of Peter HendyPeter Hendy (Eden-Monaro, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask leave of the House to move a motion relating to the consideration of the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016.

Leave not granted.

I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would enable consideration of the remaining stages of the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016 to proceed immediately.

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

It is interesting that the mover of the motion, the member for Eden-Monaro, offered no reason why this is being moved. It is not an ordinary occasion when leave is asked to proceed to the third reading. This is this situation. On Monday morning the Treasurer moved that the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016 be referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters to report on Wednesday of next week at 9 am. This bill in this form has never been through that committee. Speaker after speaker on the government side has relied on findings from JSCEM to reach their conclusions. Speaker after speaker has said that the deliberations of this committee matter for the conclusions of this House. The Treasurer did the right thing when he referred the bill to that committee to report on Wednesday next week at 9 am.

What the government is wanting to do now is say that only members of the Senate get to deal with the findings of a joint committee before they reach their final vote. What is the point in having a joint committee if the attitude of the members of the government is that the deliberations of this House do not matter? What is the point of having this House vote on who will be members of a joint committee if the approach of the government is going to be that you simply ignore the findings of the committee? Worse than ignoring those findings, we have a situation where they are saying we should vote before the committee has even reached its conclusions. Standing order 148 is there for a very clear reason. It says:

… except that a bill referred to a standing or select committee under standing order 143(b) shall not be considered in detail until the committee has reported.

The intention of this motion right now is to render the committee system of this parliament irrelevant on an issue of electoral reform, on an issue that goes—

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Would members please take their seats.

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

He is not that tall, so he might not be blocking the camera that badly, but it is a bit over the top. It is an insane proposition, a ridiculous situation, that what we have right now in this parliament is the House of Representatives voting to ignore the deliberations of a joint committee—the same joint committee that every one of their speakers relied on to make their case. This is not the same bill as had previously been considered by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. The government are about to want to move amendments to this bill. So we have a situation where the government have realised the bill as it was introduced was in an inadequate form, they want to move amendments, they have referred it to a joint committee because of the nature of the information that is being dealt with, and in the face of all of that they then say, 'But let's ignore the joint committee and just vote now anyway, because we're going to steamroll it through.' What on earth is the point of the Leader of the House standing up at the end of question time and moving resolutions on who will be appointed to different committees if the committee system of this parliament is to be rendered completely irrelevant?

Standing order 148 is there for a very clear and precise reason. In the ordinary running of this parliament, time after time a minister will stand at that dispatch box and will ask, 'Is leave granted to proceed to the third reading forthwith?' and whoever is at the table here, in the ordinary course of events, will stand up and grant leave. But the government ordinarily does not even ask that when you have a situation where a committee is yet to report.

It was only referred to the committee to Monday. By Wednesday, they are saying it is time to ignore that reference. We have a situation where the Senate will have the benefit, I presume, of being able to consider the findings of the committee but the House of Representatives is being told right now, by resolution moved by the government, that if you are member of a committee then the work you are doing is considered irrelevant by the executive of this government. If you are one of the backbenchers turning up to hearings, thinking that you have a relevant role in the running of this government, you are being told right now that the captain's call is all that will matter. Those on the backbench: if you thought there was some situation happening now where somehow the people who sit in the front row of your side of this House have any respect for the roles of the people who sit behind them, this resolution says, 'Nope, no respect for your participation in committees and no respect for any of the issues.'

What we have actually had is that the government has wanted to go through the charade. The Treasurer, who I am surprised is confident enough to be in the parliament at all after the week he has had, moved the resolution that it be referred to the committee, because that was the right thing to do, because that was due process. Of all the issues that we deal with, for the one that they decide they will steamroll over the top of to be electoral reform is just breathtaking. It is breathtaking in its arrogance and extraordinary in the outcomes that we are seeing now.

It was the Leader of the House—before he became Leader of the House, when he had my job—who said to the Institute of Public Affairs, 'The Australian people expect parliament to consider all items diligently.' Well, that is not what this House is being asked to do. The House is being asked right now to not consider its own committee report at all and to roll this through in the urgency of a government that has no respect for its own backbench. But I think the backbench in the last few weeks have been working out how little respect there is for them from the people who sit in the front row. I think the backbench members who participate on committees are getting a pretty clear idea that, if they thought the days of captain's calls were over, they are now seeing more of them than they ever did under the predecessor. The captain's calls are alive and well—the arrogance and the commitment to ignore any other view in the room. The view that whoever is sitting in the front row is the smartest person in the room and the rest of the place does not matter is exactly what is happening right now in this parliament.

It is an extraordinary action from the government to decide to ignore the committee that received this bill by resolution—unanimous resolution—of this parliament on Monday. Why on earth did the Treasurer bother referring it to a joint committee if he has already decided that the only chamber that is going to matter is where they have done the deal with the Greens to steamroll this through the Senate? If that is the only house they care about then they say to every person elected to this House, which is meant to be the house of government, that the procedures here are of no consequence at all.

So I urge every member of this House to not be like lemmings, as some of those opposite may be told that they are meant to do by their party whip and by their leader, and to not simply have a situation where you go off to committees but it really does not matter what you do, it really does not matter how much work you put in and it really does not matter what findings you end up with. In this House, we should at the very least, if we unanimously refer an issue to a committee, wait for the committee to report before we vote.

5:05 pm

Photo of Christopher PyneChristopher Pyne (Sturt, Liberal Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I will not delay the House at great length about this matter, but I should point out the absolutely amazing hypocrisy of the Manager of Opposition Business. The central tenet of the Manager of Opposition Business's argument is that apparently the Labor Party wants to closely examine this bill in the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and that it is the greatest offence against democracy of all time, since the English Civil War, that we would in fact have debate and consideration in detail in this House. The only problem—the massive flaw—in the Manager of Opposition Business's argument is that the member for Brand has already exposed in this House today that it would not make any difference what JSCEM reported either in April 2014 or next week; the ALP is already opposing this bill. Gary Gray said it today in the House. Gary Gray said:

I think if this bill reflected 100 per cent the recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters it would be a better bill. But it still would not have won the support of my party.

So the Labor Party has already made its mind up about this bill. For base political reasons, the Labor Party is opposing the democracy that this bill will engender in Australia. It does not make any difference which witnesses turn up, what they say in the JSCEM inquiry, when it reports or what the recommendations are; Labor has closed its mind to the reform. I really would like to thank the member for Brand, because not only has he destroyed the central argument that we just heard about for almost 10 minutes from the Manager of Opposition Business, that apparently they want the scrutiny of the parliament for something they have already decided they are totally opposed to, but he also exposed the other myth that has been propagated by Senator Dastyari in the other House. Senator Dastyari has completely taken over the political antenna of the opposition on this and many other issues. He said that this bill will lead to 800,000 more informal votes, to which the member for Brand said in his speech today that claim is 'nonsense'. The member for Brand said the idea that this would lead to 800,000 more informal votes, which is the political argument being run by Sam Dastyari against this bill, is 'nonsense'.

If you took Senator Dastyari, the former Secretary of the New South Wales Labor Party—the man who paid the legal fees in the cases of the former member for Dobell, you might remember—and you line him up with credibility against the member for Brand, I have a feeling I know where the public would place their money. The member for Brand is one of the most respected figures in this parliament and it is a great shame to this parliament that he is retiring at the coming election. It is a measure of his lack of faith in the modern Australian Labor Party that he sees no point in remaining in this parliament. He has said that no matter what the JSCEM found, no matter what the government inquiry discovered, his party would still oppose this bill and he says that Labor's central political opposition to Commonwealth electoral reform is 'nonsense'. The member for Brand has belled the cat.

Labor's position is based on complete political opportunism. The Labor Party believe that this bill will pass the Senate, with the support of the Greens and Nick Xenophon. They believe that. They know this bill will become law—I hope it will become law. I do not want to jump the gun of the Senate but that appears to be the case. They believe they can oppose the bill, because this would be the Dastyari model—no political principle involved here—and still get the bill! In other words, the result we saw at the last election, where somebody with less than a half per cent of the vote got elected to the Senate, will be fixed. They know that but they think they can base political benefit out of what they claim to be standing up for the microparties.

The grand old Labor Party is well and truly over. What we have today is a Labor Party run by spivs and the CFMEU, and today's debate has exposed that entirely to the Australian public. That is why standing orders should be suspended, which is of course the purpose of this motion, so that we can move into consideration in detail and deal with this bill.

5:10 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

The resolution that is actually before the House is to suspend standing order 148. Standing order 148 says that when you have a committee inquiry, as in a committee inquiry that involves the House of Representatives, which a joint standing committee does, then you should probably get the result of that inquiry before you move to consideration in detail. The whole point of the committee inquiry is that you examine a bill in detail and come up with recommendations to improve the legislation. But what is extraordinary here is that of all legislation of just about anything you can think of where something might have unintended consequences, a change to the way that the Senate will be composed is just that. Yet what have we had for this process? We have had a dirty deal between the coalition and the Greens political party. They are sitting up there and voting in favour of this being rammed through on the second reading—the new marriage of convenience—in order to advantage the Greens political party and the coalition. The Greens, who lecture from on high about proper processes and accountability, are prepared to do a deal. Their spokesperson, Senator Rhiannon is the person who believes in only one term for any MP, except herself. She has been there for decades, and with the increased likelihood of a double-d as a result this legislation, she, as the only sitting Greens senator from New South Wales, will be number one on the ticket in a double-d election and will need one out of 12 rather than one out of six. Talk about a conflict of interest! She is the person responsible for the Greens on this issue.

Let there be no mistake: with the amendments we will move about proper disclosure of donations we will see exactly where the so-called party of principle ends up on this. This is a disgraceful trashing of democratic process in this chamber—the suspension of this standing order, which is there for a very good reason. It is there to ensure that the proper processes of this parliament take place. They are important for policy legislation but to do this for legislation that is about affecting the make-up of future parliaments, not just once, not just a one-off, but for decades into the future, that will impact on the composition of the Senate of Australia is quite frankly extraordinary.

We have proper processes here. We have legislation introduced on a Wednesday or a Thursday, it gets adjourned, you come back the next week and you then have the party meetings and the crossbenchers can get briefings on it if they want them. You then have a debate the week after that and you have proper processes. What we are seeing here is legislation being introduced on a Monday afternoon after going through the coalition party room, and it is legislation that they have to amend. If you want evidence of why it is that you need a proper committee process, it is that they introduced legislation two days ago and they have to fix it up already. It did not last the week and yet there are six amendment so far to their own legislation that has not lasted 48 hours. Well, there are real consequences behind this and it is absolutely extraordinary.

This legislation does not relate to the JSCEM report that was done and open. This legislation relates to meetings that took place behind closed doors between the Greens and the coalition to advantage the Greens and the coalition at the expense of Independents and others in terms of who might want to put themselves forward. That is why this process, which is outrageous, should be rejected. That is why it is extraordinary that this is going to be rammed through the House of Representatives and through the Senate with the support of the Greens. This is the worst decision since the Greens helped to knock over a price on carbon in 2009. (Time expired)

5:15 pm

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Trying to fandangle the political system to your own advantage has had a very bad history in Australia—an extremely bad history in Australia. In my home state of Queensland the ALP got all the western seats which they held and divided them in half so that there were 3,000 people electing a member from Charters Towers and 20,000 electing the Country Party leader from the Gold Coast. That was called a gerrymander. We in the Country Party said thank you, because we ended up taking all those country seats and winning government. So the ALP wrote their own death warrant. Mr Goss changed the voting in Queensland so that it is first past the post, and he thought that that would set the National Party at the Liberals' throats and the ALP would be in government forever. What it did was bring the National Party and the Liberal Party into bed together and the ALP were thrown out on their head at the next election.

So when you start trying to play these sneaky little political games, like the Greens are playing with the Liberals at the moment, they have a very bad habit of backfiring. You want to be really careful. I have already been attending meetings where already there is some great stuff going on which is going to be very regretful for the people sitting over here. There is a little thing called preferences and, judging by the way you blokes are falling in the polls at the moment, you better be really nice to the people in the middle—and you are doing just the opposite. You are rather stupidly antagonising all those people who are going to be holding those preferences upon which your seats will depend in the next election.

There are people in Australia who think, and therein lies the problem for the people who try to fandangle the system. There are people in Australia who think, and everyone knows what this is about. Everyone knows that this is about trying to eliminate the voice of the little people. That is all this is about—'There will only be us and the big boys playing and no-one else is playing the game.' The Greens have got a bit carried away with themselves and have started to think they are the big boys. I think they are in for a pretty rude shock, because people are pretty worried about their jobs. They are not coming up to me and saying, 'We are dying of carbon.' They are saying, 'Am I going to have a job tomorrow?' So I would not be counting too much on the Greens' performance.

I deeply regret that this game is being played. Once again, the people of Australia will be hit with another wave of disillusion. For everyone in this House, 20 per cent of people will not vote for the majors anymore. They just will not do it. They will vote for anyone. You can say, 'These are ridiculous little parties,' but they will vote for ridiculous little parties rather than vote for you. The chickens are coming home to roost, as I have said a million times in this place.

There is a really good movie out. I recommend everyone go and see The Big Short. In America, everyone said there was no problem and one bloke made $96 billion out of the fact that he realised that there was one hell of a big problem out there. He sold short and made $96 billion. Go and see that movie, because if you think there is nothing wrong in this country then you must be the only people in this country who think there is nothing wrong. We have nothing left except iron ore and coal. I come from a coalmining area, and I can tell you that things are pretty grim. That is all we have left now. We have those two things going.

You have decided that you are going to fandangle the system for your own benefit, and I have seen it again and again in Australian history that, when people have tried to be tricky and smart and to overcome the democratic system with their sneaky little tricks, it has backfired on them really badly—and I predict it is going to be the same thing here.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I call the honourable minister.

5:19 pm

Photo of Peter HendyPeter Hendy (Eden-Monaro, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Deputy Speaker. What we are doing here is talking about a suspension of standing orders so that we can have—

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

He can't speak. He has already spoken.

Photo of Peter HendyPeter Hendy (Eden-Monaro, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I did not speak; I moved the motion.

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

He cannot speak.

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

He was the mover of the motion.

Photo of Christopher PyneChristopher Pyne (Sturt, Liberal Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I think we are out of time anyway.

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

You made your speech when you moved the motion and then you chose to sit down.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I give the call to the member for Isaacs.

Photo of Christopher PyneChristopher Pyne (Sturt, Liberal Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

The time has expired.

5:20 pm

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

No, time has not expired. Thank you, Deputy Speaker, for the call. It is a shameful thing that this is an attempt here by the government to suspend standing orders—eloquently put by the member for Grayndler—and no better example could be had than these amendments. This bill did not survive 48 hours. Within 48 hours a really major amendment has been put forward.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The time for debate on this motion has expired.

The question is that the motion be agreed to.