Senate debates

Thursday, 17 March 2016


Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; In Committee

1:14 am

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

Senator Rhiannon is right; it really is like groundhog day. This is now the fourth or fifth time that a Labor senator has repeated the same deceit. Senator Conroy and Senator Wong, on several occasions now—

Senator Wong interjecting—

deceit—have verballed the evidence of Mr Green by selectively quoting from his evidence. Here was Senator Wong again suggesting that somehow the experience in New South Wales—the number of voters in New South Wales and the percentage of voters in New South Wales voting 1 above the line—is somehow relevant to what is likely to happen in Senate elections in the future as a result of these reforms. The truth is it is not; it is actually not. Do not take my word for it; I go directly to the bit immediately after the quote that Senator Wong read into the Hansard. Mr Green said in his evidence:

New South Wales ballot papers say: 'Just vote 1 if you want to …

It is no surprise that most people—that is what they do because on the ballot paper that is the instruction: 'Just vote 1 if you want to.' That is a material bit of evidence from Mr Green that Senator Wong deliberately left out of her presentation. Of course in those circumstances a large percentage of voters will just vote 1 because that is the instruction on the New South Wales ballot paper. The voters are following the instruction of the New South Wales ballot paper:

'Just vote 1 if you want to. You may go on and do something else.'

The more accurate, the more appropriate comparison would be with the electoral system here in the ACT. Here in the ACT the guidance provided to voters on the ballot papers is to number 1 to 7 or 1 to 5, depending on the number of votes. And Senator Wong, having misled the Senate, having misled the Australian people, is now turning her back on the Senate; she is not interested in the correction of her inaccurate assertions. She is not interested. The comparison that is actually more appropriate is the experience in ACT, where—

Senator Wong interjecting—

Here is the report. Do not take my word for it. The report on the ACT Legislative Assembly election in 2012 shows that 97 per cent to 98 per cent of people filled in seven or five boxes, depending on what the instruction was on the ballot paper—that is, people followed the instructions on the ballot paper! There is no reason why the same would not happen in the context of the Senate ballot paper. People are as smart in other parts of Australia as they are here in the ACT. People in other parts of Australia can actually follow instructions that are on a ballot paper. Please stop verballing the evidence of Mr Green by selectively quoting, because you are actually using a small part of his evidence, taken out in isolation, to try to mislead the Australian people about the effect of this reform.

Let me make some comments about the evidence of Mr Mackerras. Let me say right up front: the government does not accept the evidence of Mr Mackerras that was provided at the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. And I suspect that if Labor looked closely at what he said, neither would the Labor Party. Mr Mackerras says that in his opinion every single Senate election since 1994, since the Hawke Labor government reforms to Senate voting arrangements in 1994, is unconstitutional. Every single election since 1994, when the Labor Party introduced above-the-line voting for political parties, in his opinion—I do not know what qualifies him to express that opinion, but it is his opinion—has been unconstitutional.

Having said that, he was then asked whether the High Court agreed with him—or words to that effect. He complained; he said, 'Actually, no; the High Court, when they looked at it, they didn't agree with me, but they got it wrong.' So here is Mr Mackerras saying the High Court got it wrong! 'I, Mr Mackerras, am the font of all wisdom.' He is the person that the Labor Party now relies on to essentially come up with a fig leaf to try to justify its completely outrageous attempts to hide the motivation for its decision making.

Senator Conroy interjecting—

Here is the national secretary of the backroom operators union again. Senator Conroy is not interested in the public interest. He is not interested in making sure that the results of the next election and subsequent elections truly reflect the will of the Australian people. The only thing he is interested in is ensuring that he and people like him can continue to do their little deals with political parties around trading and directing preferences of voters after they have voted 1 above the line.

Senator Conroy had a bit of a swipe at me for being a migrant to Australia. Here he was, saying that I do not really understand what was going on because I have not been voting for long in Australia. That was what he was saying. Senator Conroy was suggesting that I somehow did not know that you could actually ask for the booklet with the group voting tickets at every polling station. Of course I knew that. How many voters do you think ask for that booklet, Senator Conroy? And even if they do, with the size of the ballot papers, with all of the gaming that has been going on and with the capacity for individual parties to direct preferences in three different directions, I would hazard a guess that there would not be many people in Australia that could actually figure out what would happen to their preferences depending on which party they support with their primary vote. If you have 100-plus candidates, 100-plus preferences below the line directed on the group voting ticket and three different versions of a group voting ticket preferencing different parties in different orders, how can an individual voter possibly figure it out? 'If I put my 1 above the line in support of that particular party, this is where my vote will end up'—how can you possibly figure that out?

Senator Conroy actually agrees that it is not possible to figure it out. When he was having his powwow with the federal director of the Liberal Party at the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquiry he made the point that maybe only 10 people across Australia understand the science and maths of preferences. That is how Senator Conroy went. He was patting himself on the back! 'Isn't this fantastic; there's only a small club of us who actually really understand how this whole thing works!' Senator Conroy, in that little question that you asked of our federal director you made the case in the most succinct fashion for the reforms that we are putting forward.

Senator Conroy interjecting—


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