Tuesday, 15 March 2016
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; Second Reading
As I understand, we have a limited time for the debate so if you want to give me a couple of hours to speak I am very happy to do that. It just means we will not have to put up with some of the hypocritical rubbish we will hear from members of the Labor Party, who three years ago had some of their senior and most respected members—the people who understood parliament; people like Senator John Faulkner, Senator Tillem and Gary Gray—who thought it was a move that had to be made.
The committee, as I said, endorsed the bill as presented. There were a number of issues in the bill but the one that is of greatest importance to us all is that the bill as originally proposed recommended that, above the line, voters would have the choice to select party groups in sequence—so 1 for the Liberal-National Party, 2 for the Christian Democrats, 3 for the Woop Woop party and 4 for the Greens. I do not think the Labor Party would even get to 6 in that. Nevertheless, it is up to the voters. It allows the voters to make these choices. The committee adopted that part of the bill brought forward by the government.
However, the committee in considering this—as I said, there was quite a number of very special, very talented, very learned professionals and others who gave evidence to the committee. At the end of that, the committee was convinced that the government had not got it quite right, and the committee said to the government, 'We would prefer you to go back to what this committee unanimously recommended three years ago'—that is, the committee including Senator Faulkner, Mr Gary Gray, Senator Tillem, Mr Alan Griffiths—I think it was—and a couple of other Labor luminaries. What they recommended three years ago and what we the committee meeting a few weeks ago—this is what we think the government should do. We think that, as well as having that optional preferential above the line, the government should also amend the bill to produce a system that voters should be instructed on the ballot paper to mark a minimum of 12 preferences below the line and a related vote-saving provision for below-the-line votes to be introduced to ensure that any ballot with at least six boxes numbered in sequential order would be considered as formal.
The committee, after strong deliberations and after consideration by all those involved—I again repeat that, although I was not a formal member of the committee, I attended because under the system in the Senate we can be participating members. I am not sure that I saw too many of the crossbenchers who are complaining so much now. I do not remember those senators turning up to consider this bill, and there were not very many Labor senators there. Notwithstanding that, those who did attend, who heard all the evidence, who understood the arguments put forward and who understood the reasoning of the committee three years ago when again, I repeat—and I am sorry if I am being tedious on this—unanimously all parties, including the Australian Labor Party, recommended this should happen. The committee again recommended that below the line we should have an optional preferential of 12 preferences with a saving provision that six boxes numbered would be considered formal. I urge the Senate to support what the committee proposed.