Thursday, 17 March 2016
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; In Committee
Senator Collins, with all the questions that she had, seems to have disappeared from the chamber, so I will take the call, if I can. Unlike some of my colleagues, I quite like Senator Collins and we get along well together in the legal and constitutional affairs committee. I have to say to my good friend Senator Collins: you will need to get some substance in the debate, if you are going to carry this on for a couple of hours. Quite frankly, I have never heard so much padding in any speech for a long, long time.
Can I just explain to those members of the Labor Party and people who might be listening, because this is a very serious debate: it is about our democracy and allowing Australians to vote for who they want to vote for in the Senate. I cannot understand why the Labor Party cannot see that. It is a pretty simple bill—there are a few other provisions but, effectively, it says: above the line, you can vote 1 to 6; and the 1 you vote above the line, the 2, 3, 4 is for a political grouping. If people want to vote 1 in the Liberal-National party box in Queensland, what that effectively means is that they are voting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 for the Liberal-National party team. If they voted 2 for the Christian Democrats team, it means that their votes 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 would go to the Christian Democrats. It is pretty simple—much better than the current system where you just put a 1 in the political grouping of your choice but then you just adopt the grouping that your No. 1 choice has registered with the AEC—a pretty complicated system.
People who voted 1 for the Sex Party did not actually realise that their effective preferences were going to the Christian Democrats and vice versa. That is because, quite frankly, 98 per cent of Australians did not understand that, when you voted 1 above the line, you actually adopted the registered card of your chosen political choosee and had no idea where it went.
Under this system, the people of Australia will actually decide who they want as No. 2, and maybe people from the Christian Democrats do want the Sex Party as their No. 2 choice—I would doubt it, but maybe they do. Now they have the option of voting 1 for the Christian Democrats; 2 for the Sex Party; and 3 for the marijuana league or whatever. It is their choice. If that is the way they want to go, that is it.
It is a pretty simple bill. The addition that arose out of the committee hearing a couple of weeks ago—the committee looked at this and recommended to the government that they should go one step further, which was back to what was proposed by the all-party committee unanimously just two years ago: as well as going above the line on a 1 to 6, you could go below the line 1 to 12 optional preferential. That means if, in Queensland, people want to vote 1 for me but they like Senator Moore—they do not want to give their second votes to another one of my political party; they want to vote for Senator Moore because they think she has not done a bad job—they can vote below the line. All they have got to do is fill in 12 squares. They can put me 1, Senator Moore 2 and whoever they like 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Their vote will be valid and then they choose who they want, not the LNP in that case or the Australian Labor Party in Senator Moore's case. The people choose, so what is so bad about that? How outrageous is that?
It is such a good idea that respected Labor Senator John Faulkner sat on the original committee and was part of the unanimous recommendation that this new approach be adopte Not only was Senator John Faulkner there but so was Senator Tillem and Mr Gary Gray, who we know understands these things. Gary Gray was the National Secretary of the Labor Party at an election a few years ago so he understands implicitly the voting system. Yet Mr Gary Gray, a Labor member of parliament, was one of those who joined with Senator Faulkner and unanimously supported the approach to bring in this new regime in the bill before us now.
You do not need to be very clever to work that out. It is a pretty simple bill. How it works is pretty simple—one to six above the line or one to 12 below the line, if you like. The people of Australia make their own choice. If you get a quota, you are elected to the parliament, because that is what the people of Australia actually want. I understand because of some very good detective work from some of my colleagues that the submission the ALP put to the first inquiry—that is, the organisational ALP—asked for just what we are doing now. That is what they asked for. I am told that the President of the ALP at the time was none other than Senator McAllister, who—curiously—replaced Senator John Faulkner when he retired. So Senator McAllister was the President of the ALP.