Senate debates

Thursday, 17 March 2016


Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; In Committee

10:15 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

It is slightly unusual that much of the debate today is not actually focusing on the content of the legislation and the amendments that we are debating. I think we should return to that. Of course, I cannot let some of the comments made in the previous contribution go unchallenged. It is important to remember that, through this discussion of preferences, some assertions have been made. Again, I would like to make it absolutely crystal clear that there is no arrangement with the Liberal Party.

Secondly, the Labor Party has been the beneficiary of Liberal preferences at a number of elections. Mr Albanese's recent contribution was really just a pitch to the conservative base of the Liberal Party: 'Please give us your preferences because we're more like you than the Australian Greens.' It is really important to remember that that is where this is being driven. This whole issue emerged because Mr Albanese made some assertions about a non-existent arrangement. He made a desperate pitch to Senator Bernardi, Senator Abetz, Mr Christensen and others: 'Be careful if your party preferences the Greens ahead of us. 'Traditionally they did that for many years because they thought that was in their interests. At the last federal election, the Liberal Party decided to change tack. Labor wants to make sure the Liberal Party continues doing that. So Mr Albanese came out with his pitch to the conservative elements of the Liberal Party: 'This is something that some people in the Liberal Party are considering because it is within their interests. But please remember that our policies, my policies, are much more aligned to yours than the Greens policies are. So make sure you continue to preference me so that I can hold my seat.' That is what this debate is really about. Let's be absolutely crystal clear about that.

There is a bit of it debate about a coalition. It is inconceivable that we would enter into any sort of coalition arrangement with the Liberal Party. You need only look at the recent history to know that it was with the support of the Greens that the Rudd-Gillard government was able to govern. Again, if we are being frank about this, the most logical coalition in the parliament is a Labor-Liberal coalition. Some of us Greens do come from the conservative side of politics. There are some who are more in the tradition of Malcolm Fraser. But I, like most of us, grew up in a Labor household immersed in Labor politics, a house in which Gough Whitlam was eulogised. Some of us realised the gradual shift in policy direction from the Labor Party, right from the time they introduced mandatory detention; right from the time that they continued to sign the death knell of some of our most precious native forests, with successive state governments continuing that—in fact it continues to this day; right through the invasion of Afghanistan, which was endorsed by the Labor Party; right through to measures such as walking away from the most important moral challenge of our time, which of course is global warming; right through to successive foreign incursions such as the one we have seen in Syria; data retention; and, of course, that huge, gaping wound that exists in Australian politics at the moment which is the treatment of people seeking refuge and asylum in this country.

The point of that is that there are many of us who decided that we could no longer tolerate those things and that without that commitment to the environment that says that economy is a subsidiary of the environment, and without a readjustment in terms of the way our relationship with the environment works, we will not have a planet to sustain all of us.

That is why the Australian Greens have gone from strength to strength. This is a fundamental point: all the bluster in the world does not take away from the fact that the Labor Party at the moment are experiencing an existential crisis. What do they do about the emergence of the Australian Greens, knowing that we are not going anywhere? In fact, quite the opposite: we are a party that is going from strength to strength. You just need to look at the support base of our party to know that among young people we are now one of the three major parties. Our vote at various times is higher than the Labor Party's, depending on the most recent opinion poll you look at. We are matching it with all sides of politics. That is where we sit at the moment. When you look at the challenges that we face as a nation and indeed as a planet—the issue of climate change and global warming—we are the party that is best placed to deal with that challenge.

Again, on the issue of people seeking refuge and asylum, there are so many people in this country who desperately want a bit more decency and compassion. When you factor in the conflicts that are going on around the world—the issue of Syria at the moment which is causing an unprecedented displacement of people, something that has not been seen since World War II at least—when you look at all of those challenges—and of course the issue of refugees and asylum seekers in the context of catastrophic global warming will only escalate exponentially—they are the issues where people are increasingly acknowledging that the Australian Greens best represent their values.

I know that people are very frustrated by this debate—people at home who might be listening in and thinking, 'Why on earth is there so much vitriol going on between the Labor Party and the Greens, when in fact it was the Greens that supported the Labor Party in office?' Underneath all of that is this notion about where the Labor Party stands on this issue and how they deal with the emergence and continued growth of the Australian Greens.

That is what is at the heart of this. We are seeing this tussle inside the Labor Party. There are so many good people inside the Labor Party that many of us have worked with. Let me name check someone like Melissa Parke, for example, who we have worked with so closely on the issue of drug policy and law reform, on refugees and asylum seekers and on so many issues. There are many, many good people inside the Labor Party who want to reach some sort of accommodation, who want that for the sake of progressive politics. But there is also a group inside the Labor Party, many of them represented here today, who are lashing out in anger. They are grasping at any possibility they can to try and throw a bit of mud and hope that it sticks. The nonsense that engaging in a photo shoot somehow represents some betrayal of progressive values—how absurd! How absurd this debate has now become.

I am sure this will continue until that internal struggle within the Labor Party is resolved one way or another. I hope that, for the sake of all of us who want to see a more decent society and a little more courage, vision and leadership, that it is resolved quickly. If it is not, all the concerns that the Labor Party are now expressing about the coalition winning government and winning control of the Senate will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So once again I say to the Labor Party, stand up, show some courage, recognise that, ultimately, if we are to defeat a conservative agenda it is going require a focus a focus on conservative policies—the conservative policies of this government. Until they are able to acknowledge and recognise that fact, they are handing the coalition everything they want. I hope we can return to the substance of this debate, which is ultimately about ensuring we see more democracy in the Australian parliament—about taking power away from us, the politicians, and giving it back to you, the voters.


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