Thursday, 17 March 2016
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; In Committee
Serendipity, indeed. She was the President of the ALP and she signed off—or had her team sign off; perhaps it was then Mr Dastyari—on a submission to this inquiry saying: 'This is what you have to do. You have to have optional preferential above the line and optional preferential below the line. That is what we want. That is what we the Australian Labor Party want.'
Naturally enough, when it came before the committee the committee unanimously agreed. Certainly the three or four Labor members on the original committee thought, 'We think it is a good idea. Not only do we think it is a good idea but the organisational ALP in their submission also think it is a good idea.' They asked the committee to do it, so the committee did it unanimously. All the Labor people and everyone else supported it, yet here we are a couple of years later and it seems that the Labor Party no longer support it. We cannot understand why. Nobody has given us a serious explanation. My good friend Senator Collins waffled for eight minutes. She could not finish her 15 minutes and left.
This is an important piece of legislation. It is a piece of legislation that should be passed. What is more it is a piece of legislation that the Australian public want us to pass. In the aftermath of the last federal election there was palpable anger around Australia, not just from political parties but across the board. The people of Australia could not understand how their vote could be hijacked by the mathematical gaming of the preference system. A lot of the minor parties cross-preferenced and you had the very odd situation of parties of the extreme Left ending up supporting parties of the extreme Right, and vice versa. Nobody could understand how Australia could get into that situation.
This bill before us today is very simple. It makes it easy to understand. It says to the voter: 'You pick who you want in the Senate. Do not allow the backroom boys to do it.' I have mentioned this before and I will mention it again because people listening to this may not understand. Mr Bob Katter is the member for Kennedy. He used to be a member of the National Party, but he left the National Party in a huff at one stage and became an Independent. He said to his supporters: 'I am preferencing the Liberal-National Party. I still have my basic philosophies. It is just that I do not like the party. If you vote for me, your second preference will go back to the Liberal-National Party anyhow.' Many people in his electorate prefer our side of politics to the Labor side.
Mr Katter in the Senate had registered a card, as all the parties did. Very few people saw them. I had a look at them. I would be one of the few in Australia who did. When I looked at Mr Katter's card, I saw he actually preferenced the Australian Labor Party before the Liberal-National Party. He was denying around the state that he was supporting Labor, 'No, my preferences are going to the Liberals and Nationals.' If you looked at the registered card he had—and most of the people who voted for his team in the Senate would not have looked at that—you would have seen effectively that, with respect, you, Mr Temporary Chairman Ketter, got the preferences of the Katter party before the Liberal-National Party.
Those of us who follow politics know that that is a seat where a lot of people support Mr Katter because he is an old friend and they think he is a nice guy. He is pretty ineffective but a nice guy. They voted for him but expected that his preferences would go back to where they really belong, and that is the LNP. But, sorry, Mr Katter's card did not say that. This is the sort of thing that this legislation will stamp out. If the people want to vote for Mr Katter and give a second preference to Labor, that is fine but they can do it themselves. They do not vote 1 for Katter thinking that his preferences will go to the Liberal-National Party. They will in the future be able to exercise their vote. The people in Kennedy will now be able to vote 1 for Mr Katter's Senate team and vote 2 for the Liberal-National Party, or wherever they want to go. It will be their choice. How can anyone object to this? How can you argue against it? I know Senator Faulkner could not argue against it. In fact, he was one of the main protagonists of the proposal. I know Mr Gary Gray cannot argue against it because, again, he was one of the architects of this piece of legislation. I hope that Senator Moore or Senator Collins—if she comes back—may be able to explain to us the change of heart. Why was it two years ago you thought this was a great idea, Senator Faulkner thought it was a great idea, Mr Gary Gray thought it was great idea, all senior respected members of the Labor Party thought it was a good idea, the people of Australia thought it was a good idea but suddenly for a reason which has not been explained—and I will wait anxiously to hear the explanation—the ALP have done a complete backflip.
I can only think that Senator Conroy, Senator Carr and the big backroom dealers have suddenly worked out there is a way they can rort—and I use that in a political sense—the system and give themselves a political advantage. They are keener to do that and leave in place this broken system than allow this legislation to go through and give the people of Australia the right to make their determination of who they want to elect to the Senate. I cannot think for the life of me how anyone can seriously argue against that. I will be listening very intently to future Labor speakers for an explanation of why it was that some of their most senior, some of their most respected members of this parliament were totally in favour of this bill two years ago but now suddenly Labor is not.
As I said before, this has been fully debated for 23 hours now in this chamber. If you have not been able to make your point in 23 hours, Senator Collins, I do not know what another 23 hours is going to allow you to do. We have had this debate. We have had two full committee hearings. We have investigated it up hill and down dale. Everybody knows what it is about. Everybody knows it is what is needed for real democracy in Australia and for Australians to be given the right to select who they want in the Senate.