Senate debates

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Bills

Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; In Committee

7:15 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | Hansard source

You asked a question and I am answering it. That is the way this process is meant to work! Just because you do not like the answer, do not abuse me for trying to answer your questions in good faith.

In relation to the second reading amendment that was moved by Senator Moore: clearly, that amendment was simply the latest in a long line of Labor tactics and attempts to delay proper debate on this important bill. There was a part in that second reading amendment which I am sure Senator Collins knows about, but she did not quote it when she was having a crack at Senator Ludlam—she left that bit out. It was the bit that said the effect of the second reading amendment was to defer consideration of this bill to another day.

Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting—

Ah! So here is Senator Collins having a crack at Senator Ludlam, allegedly for going against their long-established position in favour of transparency. Let me say to you: when I was in opposition in this Senate I championed the disclosure of information and forcing the government of the day to claim the public interest immunity properly. I take a very strong interest in these matters, as I know does Senator Ludlam. We had a number of conversations about that when I was in opposition.

I am very sad if you have not noticed this, but in government I have prided myself to respond in a timely fashion to orders for the production of documents—genuinely and in good faith, with due deference and respect to the important role of the Senate to scrutinise the activities of government and in as comprehensive a fashion as is appropriate, given the limitations of established public interest immunity claims that are able to be made.

Compare this to the previous Labor government. I was trying to get information out of the previous Labor government in relation to their disastrous mining tax deal negotiated in secret and behind closed doors with the chief executives of three big mining companies, and I got nothing. In fact, for weeks and weeks it was completely ignored.

Senator Collins has started to put in orders for the production of documents late one afternoon, expecting a lot of information to be tabled the next morning. I am sorry, but some of the officers were not able to get all of the information together and have it properly scrutinised and put into the right format in time for 9.30 the next morning. But as quickly as we possibly could—indeed, from memory I sought leave before question time on the Thursday of the last sitting week. From memory, that would have been 2 March. I sought leave and I was granted leave to table the response and the various documents, and we provided as much information as we possibly could, but there are some bits of the documents that we were asked for that relate to cabinet deliberations. There are some bits that relate to the commercial interests of the Commonwealth. There are some bits that relate to private information of junior Commonwealth officers or the private contact details of Commonwealth officers. Consistently with long-established precedent and long-established practice, we have indeed redacted those bits.

The Labor Party clearly have nothing to say against the substance of the reform that we are putting forward. They clearly have no criticism of what we are actually doing to empower voters to direct not only their primary vote but their preferences the way they wish instead of having those preferences traded and directed by backroom operators. That is why they are going down all these little rabbit holes chasing one conspiracy theory after the other.

When it comes to the substance of the debate, you have not asked a single question yet that in any way challenges the proposition that we are putting forward, and that is that this bill will ensure that results at future Senate elections will truly reflect the will of the Australian people. These reforms will empower voters across Australia to direct their preferences the way they want to and not the way political parties want to. That is what we are trying to do.

We understand why you are going to do everything you can now and maybe over the next three, four or five days. We are ready for it. That is why you are now just going down every little conspiracy-theory rabbit hole—because you have not got anything to say on the substance of the legislation.

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