Thursday, 17 March 2016
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; In Committee
Firstly, in a bipartisanship spirit let me agree with Senator Collins's assertion that I am indeed not Superman! I have never claimed to be Superman. Clearly, I am somebody who is trying to do the best he can to get these reforms through the Senate, but I am definitely not that.
As much as Senator Collins is desperate to find a conspiracy theory here, there is actually no conspiracy theory. Obviously, the government was not only aware of what was taking place at the hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters on 29 February 2016 we were also aware of the submissions that were made to that inquiry. Self-evidently, we were considering the issues after the public response to the reform proposal that we had put forward. And so, yes, we did have further conversations, among other things, with the Australian Greens and others, including the Labor Party. I had further conversations with the Labor Party, because at that point in time, on 29 February, Mr Gray was still the shadow minister for electoral matters. Mr Gray was still a spokesperson for the Labor Party on matters related to Senate electoral reform.
Senator Collins chose to quote very selectively from my response to the order for production of documents. I pride myself in this chamber on always responding in a very timely fashion and to the fullest extent possible to requests for documents. Senator Collins quoted selectively from my letter by referring to a claim in part in relation to the commercial interests of the Commonwealth. Let me read the full claim.
I claim Public Interest Immunity for these exclusions on the grounds that some relate to Cabinet deliberations;—
That is a longstanding position, which was adopted, amongst others, by the government that Senator Collins was part of; it is the same—
to the commercial interests of the Commonwealth which would be harmed in the event of disclosure; and to the private information of Commonwealth officers (including junior officer information).
There was a subsequent order passed. I had written to the President of the Senate in order to respond to that subsequent order, but because of the way the proceedings developed today we did not get to the point where this was to be tabled. So I table this now, but I am happy to confirm for the Senate that in that letter I reaffirm my previous claim of public interest immunity for certain documents recording communications between the AEC and ministers or officials. I reaffirm that my claim of public interest immunity for certain documents was consistent with the established precedents of the Senate around protecting the deliberations of cabinet, protecting commercial interests of the Commonwealth and respecting certain personal information of Commonwealth officers, including private contact details and junior officer identities. I table that now.
Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting—
Can you just sit back and let me deal with the questions that you have asked? Again, I listened to you courteously and in silence. I know that courtesy is not something that you embrace spontaneously, but perhaps let me just answer your question.
In its evidence at the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which you said was so short that it should not have taken you that long to read through the Hansard of that evidence, the AEC actually addressed this precise point. Not only did the AEC advise the committee that they would be sufficiently funded to implement these reforms, to comprehensively educate the public about the changes and to run the next election but the Electoral Commissioner also indicated at the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters public hearing into this bill that because the Australian Electoral Commission uses external providers there is a commercial-in-confidence element to this funding and that it would not be appropriate to go into specific funding amounts at that time.