Tuesday, 15 March 2016
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016, and what a long time coming this has been. I have resisted directly contesting some of the weirder assertions about this bill floating around online—some of them based on the sort of deliberate misinformation that we just heard from Senator Lines, but some of them based on genuine concern about what is happening in here this week. This debate is complex enough so I have not tried to rebut some of these things in 140 characters—apologies if you have approached me directly in the last couple of weeks and not got a proper reply. I am going to try to set out my reasoning here now.
Anybody following this debate will understand how complex questions of electoral reform can get, but there are some simple principles underlying the approach the Greens have taken. The purpose of the electoral system is for the composition of our houses of parliament to reflect, as closely as possible, the voting will of the electorate. It should be uncontroversial. The system for the House of Representatives fails this test miserably. If we can say that the Australian Greens' vote nationally is somewhere between 12 and 14 per cent at the moment, then we should have north of 18 members in the 150-seat House of Representatives—no such luck. Adam Bandt, due to talent and hard work, remains our only member of that assembly, because there is no proportional representation in the House.
That is a campaign for another day, but I raise it because, historically, the Senate's electoral system has done a much better job of turning the popular vote into representation in this chamber because of the proportional nature in which in a normal half-Senate election you elect six senators, not just one. But we all know—because until very recently there was a near-unanimous agreement on this—that the system of group-voting tickets in this Senate is being abused. Call it what you will: 'gained' or 'manipulated', quite expertly, by people who know exactly what they are doing. There is nothing democratic or representative about a tiny handful of individuals spawning off a proliferation of prefab parties with engaging-sounding names and identical memberships, manufacturing group voting tickets designed to funnel people's votes into almost random aggregations in which election to this chamber has turned into a lottery. Election to the Australian Senate should not come down to preference whisperers quietly shunting people's votes from left to right on behalf of the in excess of 95 per cent of voters in some states who vote above the line. In the 2013 election in WA these preference-harvesting operators nearly pulled off their peak achievement: getting an individual from one of these prefab parties elected on just under 0.25 per cent of the vote, while a thoroughly decent Labor member of this parliament looked to have lost her job despite polling in excess of 11 per cent.
The aftermath, I should say, of the 2013 election was the JSCEM report that Senator Rhiannon and her colleagues worked very hard on for six months and which led, ultimately, to the bill that we are debating today. Labor say that they love diversity in the Senate, apparently even if it means throwing one of their own under a bus to somebody whose name might as well have been drawn out of a hat. Labor loves Senate diversity so much that one of their three stated objectives for the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquiry was, and I will quote, 'to clear the political landscape of microparties and eliminate their cartel.' Good work, Labor! I wonder if their preference operators have been spelling that out to the crossbenchers in their fevered attempts to milk their own hypocrisy for vanishing electoral advantage. Good luck with that.
One thing that we have been asked a lot, though, over the last few weeks—and I have a bit of sympathy for this question—is: why are the Greens supporting the Turnbull government on anything, let alone a question as sensitive as Senate voting reform? The answer is reasonably simple. We are supporting it because it is substantially our bill. It is a proposal that we championed since well before the geniuses in the Labor Party accidentally elected Senator Steven Fielding to this place in 2004 on a tiny fraction of the vote.
Here is the thing: henceforth you, the voter, will decide where your preferences go; not the Sussex Street hacks, who have been screaming the loudest this week. You decide. Candidates are going to have to work for your vote instead of trusting the secret deals done in secret meetings. The only time that the ALP care at all about a number of issues is when it is politically expedient to do so. Labor did nothing in government to progress marriage equality and they shut down progress at every opportunity. And now, from the safety of opposition, we are expected to pretend that that never happened.
Well, guess what? I have been here through five prime ministers who did everything that they could in office to block marriage equality: Prime Ministers Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull. And the sad stunt is that you put Senator Leyonhjelm up this morning to try to deflect from your own hopeless inadequacy and it will fool precisely nobody. See you next Thursday for the marriage equality debate that you did everything in your power to avoid when you were in government. My colleagues and myself have sat through all manner of hysterical lectures from the Labor Party this week about voting with Mr Turnbull, because he happened to put his name on a Senate voting reform proposal that we have been championing for 12 years.
So let us talk about voting with the government for a bit. I had to sit with my colleagues and the crossbenchers on that side of the chamber on the night that the Labor Party gifted this country with Prime Minister Abbott's and Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis's, mandatory data retention—passive mass surveillance over 23 million Australians. We had to sit there while you let burning of native forests get into a watered-down renewable energy target. What acts of utter genius. You did that in support of the Abbott government and you did not have to do that at all.
The Labor Party voted to lock up children in detention, and to introduce Border Force and a two-year jail term for anybody who was working with the detained asylum seekers from reporting suspected child abuse. If they want to talk about the impacts on progressive politics of voting with the Abbott-Turnbull government, really, let's have that conversation. It is one that we are more than ready for. For a party that has voted with the government more than 40 per cent of the time, the most savage impacts of the short, miserable tenure of the Abbott government that actually wound up in law are there because of Labor Party complicity. If they want to talk about the comparative records of the Labor Party and the Greens for progressive politics and they seriously want to bring that into the next election, we are ready for that debate to be had. I worked, and Senator Siewert and Senator Milne worked, for eight years to stop the government from dumping radioactive waste at Muckaty.