Wednesday, 24 February 2016
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; Consideration in Detail
I present a supplementary explanatory memorandum and seek leave to move government amendments (1) to (6) together.
I move: government amendments (1) to (6) as circulated together.
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. This will provide an earlier indication of first preference votes for the public. I commend the amendments to the House.
It is absolutely extraordinary that what we have had here is legislation introduced into the parliament on Monday, referred to a committee, a truncated debate and standing orders suspended so that we are now dealing with the finalisation of the bill before the committee has actually met and considered any of these issues, and the farce is exposed by these six amendments.
You know why these are being moved? Because Anthony Green in his blog picked it up on Monday that, under the government's legislation, it is possible that the Senate might never have been counted. There was no time frame for the counting of ballot papers for the Senate under the legislation that the government just voted for as did the Greens and some crossbenchers as well, except for the member Kennedy—to his credit. They just voted for the second reading of a bill that had no provisions for the actual counting of the ballot papers. That is why these amendments are here.
This legislation should not be rushed through because Lee Rhiannon and this bloke and a few other Tories sat in a room and decided what was good for Australia. I tell you what, the member for Kennedy from time to time says some very wise things—not always but from time to time. But he was absolutely spot on here because what the parties are trying to get around is the fact that some people inconveniently do not vote for the Labor Party or for the Liberal Party or for the Greens political party. The solution to that is not a fix. The solution to that is to win support for your arguments in the community. If you try and fix that through a manipulation, which is what this is, in order to say 'you do not have a right to go out out there and form a minor party, you do not have a right to go out there and campaign for a more minor party because we will ensure that your votes are excluded' then, I am afraid, these amendments expose how bad this dirty deal is.
I believe, and am on the record very clearly, in being in a party of government. I believe in being in the Labor Party as the progressive party in Australia that can form government. That is why I have never been interested at all in being part of a minor party or being an independent. That is where I come from. But I respect the fact that others have a right to have a different view. And if you disagree with people on the crossbenches, go and talk to them. I was Leader of the House in a parliament that had 70 votes out of 150 and we did not lose a vote—not one, for 595 pieces of legislation—by treating people with respect here and in the Senate, by treating them like adults. This is not treating people like adults.
This is a fix done behind closed doors and rammed through this parliament, rammed through this House and it will be rammed through the Senate. Guess what? The government have foreshadowed a double-D election. What justification is there for that apart from allowing these people opposite to avoid handing down a budget like they did in 2014, to avoid scrutiny over the privatisation of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, the privatisation of Medicare, the privatisation of education services? That is what this is about. They are the ramifications of this legislation.
I say we should reject this legislation. We should reject it as a parliament. We should reject it, partly, if we are not sure. If you are not sure whether they have got all of this right, then there should be proper scrutiny. These six amendments, coming 48 hours after this legislation was introduced, show why this shabby deal should be rejected by the people of Australia.
In the details of what is being proposed now there are two examples that I clean forgot. They both concern the Senate—the upper house. One of them was the example of Mr Gough Whitlam. He found a sneaky way to manipulate the numbers in the upper house. He failed in his attempt because he made a mistake—a little technical mistake. But Bjelke-Petersen thought, 'That is a really good idea—I think I will do that.' Being smarter than Mr Whitlam, he succeeded in his manipulation. Gough Whitlam made the decision that we would doctor up the Senate for our own benefit and it brought him unstuck. His government fell.
The other one was JD Lang in New South Wales, who stacked the upper house to get whatever legislation he wanted through, and it backfired on him. He was written off and went into the abomination of history.
I think one of the things operating here—and a couple of commentators have mentioned this—is that you have political lightweights running the Liberal Party, people who have only been in politics for 10 minutes. They do not really understand this game at all. The commentator Alan Jones was saying this recently, and I think he is spot on. We have people here who do not know what they are doing. They think that by doing this they will get power. But what they do not understand is that the people out there see this as a rigging of the system so that the Liberals can do anything they want to do.
Have a look at Queensland: the biggest swing in Australian history when the government there thought they could do anything they liked. If you think the people of Australia are going to give you the power to do anything you like, that is another reason why they should not vote for you in a double dissolution. You have just created probably the strongest argument for not voting for you in the next election. They do not trust you and they put a bit of an insurance policy in there by voting for some of the small-party, independent people. They put an insurance policy in for themselves. If you remove the insurance policy—I think the most unhappy day that John Howard ever had was when he got control of the Senate. Some of the ratbag, extremist, super-rich corporate elements in his party forced him to do things that I do not think he would otherwise have done. The worst thing that happened to John Howard was losing control of the Senate.
The honourable member for Grayndler, in his remarks, said that we had to actually reason with the in-betweens; we had to have intellectual firepower in what we were putting forward. It had to be a reasoned decision, not just a rammed-through decision. Everyone in this House knows that in the two parties you just come in here—I never knew what I was voting for; I would ask the bloke beside me what I was voting for, and he would say, 'I've got no idea'. That is the party system. But suddenly you actually had to justify what you were doing to some independent-minded people that were not ALP and were not LNP. You had to justify your decisions. In the Senate—God bless Australia—they put in a number of people that are not just puppets on a string. If you want their vote, you have to convince them that what you are doing is the right thing to do. When you fail to convince them, you are going to rig the system so that you do not have to ask the people in the future. That is what is going on here: rigging the system. Maybe there are some exceptions to the rule, but it seems to me that every time people tried, through some sneaky device, to rig the system in their favour, the Australian people have been awake to them and have punished them very, very painfully.
Question agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.