Senate debates

Tuesday, 15 March 2016


Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; Second Reading

9:10 pm

Photo of Robert SimmsRobert Simms (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016, which is of critical importance to our democracy. In talking on this matter, I want to return to the Greens party's four pillars. We are a political party that is founded on four pillars: peace and nonviolence, ecological sustainability, social justice and grassroots participatory democracy. It is these four pillars around which all of our policies are framed. Of course, it is the pillar of democracy that this important reform touches on. It is one of our core principles as a political party, and it is something that we have been talking about for a very long time. I am very proud of the fact that we are on the cusp of seeing a policy that our party has championed for a decade become law. I want to acknowledge the work of my colleagues to bring that about and in particular Senator Lee Rhiannon, who has been a strong advocate on this reform for many years. This is an exciting opportunity to deliver this change.

People often talk about our democracy as being something that is less than perfect, and I think anybody watching the antics here in the Senate chamber over the last 24 hours would be in no doubt about that. It is less than perfect, but sometimes opportunities do come along to reform it, to improve our democracy, to make it better. This is one of those opportunities, and we have to seize it with both hands. I genuinely believe that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve our Senate voting system, and I am very excited that the Greens are making the most of that opportunity and are about to make our policy law. That is an exciting development.

Before entering this place, I used to work in a university and was doing some casual teaching work in the politics department. During the course of that work, I had the great opportunity to talk to lots of young people about politics. I have to say that, contrary to what is often said about young people in this country, they are engaged politically and interested in political issues. But it was very clear to me that there is a lack of understanding about our voting system and how it works, and there is a lot of confusion about the way that Senate preferences in particular work.

The reality is that most voters do not know where their preferences are going. If they vote for a political party above the line, they have no idea where those preferences are going once they have flowed through that particular political party. That is not good for our democracy. It produces unfair outcomes. It produces crazy, perverse outcomes like the preferences of the Sex Party going to, say, the One Nation political party over the Greens, something that I think most of their voters would find anathema, or things like the votes of Labor Party voters going to Family First ahead of the Greens, as happened in the state of Victoria when the Labor Party parachuted Steve Fielding into this place. That is something that a lot of people would not understand when they cast their vote for the Labor Party or they cast their vote for the Sex Party. They do not necessarily know where their preferences are going.

Under these reforms, for the first time, Australian voters will have the opportunity to determine where their vote goes by voting above or below the line. They can vote 1 to 6 above the line and direct the preferences to their party of choice in the order of their preference, or they can vote for individual senators below the line from 1 to 12, in effect making their own how-to-vote card. I think that is a really good outcome for our democracy and I am excited about that.

I have been pretty appalled by the opposition that we have seen to this reform. It has been craven and blatantly self-interested. We have seen these ridiculous charges that the Greens are somehow in coalition with the Liberal Party. That really is absolutely laughable when one considers the record of the Labor Party here in this place when it comes to voting with the Liberals. Let us consider some of the things we have seen happen in this parliament. We have seen within my own portfolio of higher education the Labor and Liberal parties voting together to dud students by scrapping the start-up scholarships, in effect, and adding them to a student's HECS loan, thereby saddling students with more and more debt. It was the Labor Party that voted for that in the dead of night on the last night of sitting in this place. It was the Greens who came out and stood up against it. We were the only ones to do so—Labor shepherded it through.

We have also seen of course the terrible deal between Labor and the Liberals to rush through citizenship laws, draconian laws that damage the rights of Australian citizens. And we have seen the appalling policy position over many years, where Labor has conspired with the Liberals to lock innocent children behind razor wire on island prisons. Innocent people come to this country seeking our help and support, and asylum seekers come to our country seeking help and support but instead of getting the hand of compassion and assistance, what they get is a cruel policy that is a consensus between the Labor and Liberal parties.


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