Thursday, 17 March 2016
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; In Committee
'Purports' is the word that I would use. When asked whether or not he would form an alliance or go into coalition with the Liberal Party, the words that he responded with were 'never say never'. He would never say never to forming a coalition with one of the most right-wing governments that this country has ever seen. He would never say never to forming a coalition with one of the most extreme, ideologically driven organisations and parties. He would never say never to being in a formal alliance with a party that has people with very conservative views, like Cory Bernardi, George Christensen—we saw him at it again today—and Senator Abetz. 'Never say never' is the position that the purported leader of a progressive party chooses to take. Frankly, there is a line. It is not a 'never say never' proposition. There is a line.
Senator Di Natale, in subsequent interviews, was at pains to distance himself from the comment and say, 'I did say that I'd probably be more inclined to be in a progressive alliance than a right-wing one.' That is not the point. Once you cross that threshold, once you are prepared to do that, once that is no longer the line of what you will not do as a progressive leader, you have lost all credibility on the progressive front of Australian politics. Once that is the line that you are prepared to cross, it just does not stop. It reminds me of a great story—and I am sure others in this chamber have heard it before—about Lord Beaverbrook, the famous Canadian philanthropist, who said to an actress once, 'Would you marry me for a million dollars?' She turned around and said, 'Yes, I would.' Then he said, 'Would you marry me for 10?' She said, 'What do you think I am?' He said: 'Well, I think we've established that. Now we're just haggling about the price.' Senator Di Natale has said he will cross the threshold. Now it is just about the price. Now it is just about the right deal. Now it is just about getting the outcome that is enough for him to be able to sell out on basic centre-left principles. That is the path that Senator Di Natale has chosen to go down.
There are those on my side of politics who will argue, 'Let it happen; it's a good thing,' because frankly we have seen what happens to left-wing parties when they shift to the right. We have seen what happens when people sell out on core principles.
We have seen what happens to parties like the Liberal Democrats in the UK or even the Australian Democrats here. We have seen what happens to parties that start selling out fundamental principles. There are those who would make the pragmatic argument that, if that happens, after a period of time it is kind of the end of the party and that is probably good. I do not share that view. I believe in a progressive Australia. I believe in progressive outcomes. I believe in progressive change. I believe in a united progressive front to be able to achieve that.
When you start having a party that purports to have these left-wing values start selling out—it started with tax transparency, we are now doing it on electoral voting reform and who knows where it goes next—where does it end? It ends in a coalition-style arrangement. Let's be clear: there are some things you rule out in this business. The Labor Party would happily rule out going into a coalition government with the Liberals, because fundamentally there are too many issues that we just do not share and cannot share with them. Once you start going down that road, where does it end?
In a whole host of interviews he has been doing in recent weeks, Senator Di Natale has tried to be very clever when he talks about the preference arrangement between him and the Liberal Party. Mr Kroger is a man of honesty and decency. He is someone whose politics I do not agree with at all, but I have always respected him. He has always been honest, open and forthright. When Mr Kroger turns around and says, 'We prepared for a loose preference arrangement,' let's be clear what he means. There are Liberal members in this chamber who privately have come to senators like me and expressed their concerns, but let's explain what it is. The Liberal Party would preference the Greens in inner-city electorates where they are trying to take out the Labor Party, and in return the Greens would run open tickets and preference nobody in seats where the Labor Party is contesting against the Liberals.
What is the outcome of this if this were to be successful—and I do not think it is going to be very successful. I do not think it is helpful to the progressive cause. The goal is on one hand to be replacing some Labor MPs with Greens in the inner-city electorates. We are prepared to battle the Greens in the inner city, and, if that were all that this were about, that is the progressive side of politics having an internal fight, and so be it. But part of that also is the dividend for the Liberals in doing this: making sure that progressive votes are leaked out of the progressive pile. That is the whole point of this.
Senator Di Natale says, 'We won't be preferencing the Liberals anywhere.' I do not believe he will be preferencing the Liberals yet. You are heading down that road. You are not there yet, and I accept that. For the sake of progressive politics in this country, I hope you never get there. I think that, once you head down there, in the short term it will be disastrous for everybody involved. In the long term, it would be the end of your party, but that is a separate matter. When the Senator says there is no preference deal where they would be preferencing the Liberals, I believe that is probably true, but that is not what this loose arrangement is about. That is where this is heading. This is going down a path which is going to be bad for progressive outcomes and progressive people being elected into these types of chambers. It is going to result in more right-wing, extreme, ideologically driven views.
Let's not kid ourselves here. The conservative side of politics has become incredibly and increasingly ideological. They are entitled to do that. A few days ago we heard the first speech of Senator James Paterson. It was his first speech, and I will say some nice things. I thought Senator Paterson delivered it eloquently. I thought he was articulate. I thought he expressed what he believes and he was genuine with what he believes. I think he should be commended and congratulated for his first speech. I thought it was a remarkable contribution. I also think it represented an extremely right-wing, ideological world view, which he is entitled to and is openly representing. Again, I give Senator Paterson credit. A lot of people on the conservative side of politics have shared these views and have not been prepared to put them forward or do not put them forward eloquently, so I do congratulate him on that.
But that is where they are going. That is the future of the conservative parties. The future of the Liberals, LNP or however they are going to be branded in the next couple of years as this Lib-Nat merger finalises across the country is right-wing, extreme, ideologically driven views. Senator Di Natale and the Greens party are facilitating and incredible power grab.
The leader of the Greens political party was going on earlier about how you say it is both good and bad. Let's be clear what all of this does. If your outcome that you care about is not a majority of progressive voices in this chamber—if your outcome is making sure your small section of the pie is protected—then, yes, this is a pragmatic approach. Yes, this is in self-interest. If you say the interests you want to represent are the broader interests of actually progressive social outcomes then this is bad legislation. These are bad laws. These are laws that do bad things for the people that we represent. That is what is so wrong about the legislation that we are facing here.