Thursday, 17 March 2016
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; In Committee
Minister, I thank you for your response, but it is quite clearly disingenuous for you to suggest that this bill has got nothing to do with election timing or the prospect of a double dissolution in terms of election timing. It is completely disingenuous for you to say 'if only the Senate passed a piece of legislation' which, of course, is not before the parliament and has very limited prospects of being before the parliament given that you have chosen not to put it before the parliament this week. Under the current circumstances the next time we meet will be to discuss the budget, you will need to call an election by 11 May to meet the constitutional requirements, and therefore you will need to pass a supply bill within one day to secure that. It is clearly a nonsense for you to suggest that there is going to be time to consider the ABCC, but that is a choice that the government has made. It is disingenuous for you to suggest that if only we could pass a draconian, offensive bill like the ABCC bill—if we were to capitulate on that matter—then of course we would not need a double dissolution. You know that that bill will not be able to be put to the chamber in the time we have, because you have already set in train a course of action whereby the budget will have to be brought down on 10 May. You cannot call this chamber forward earlier than that without the agreement of the chamber. Of course, 10 May is one day prior to the deadline to call a double dissolution election for July. So it is a nonsensical proposition that you have put to us, and of course it is completely disingenuous to suggest that if people simply capitulated on one of your offensive bills all of this would go away.
What concerns me is some of the conversation, which I have been listening carefully to for quite some time now, in regard to the proposal that we have before us. Your first set of amendments—the government has to amend its rush bill yet again!—go to schedule 1, items 1, 19, 23, 24, 26, 27 and 41. Of course, they deal with the issue of voting below the line. We have had a conversation this evening across the chamber in regard to what a formal vote is. I certainly participated in the Senate inquiry—that somewhat fraudulent affair where we had a couple of hours to consider this bill. What we did hear in those couple of hours is that the Australian Electoral Commission told the committee that a vote above the line would be formal regardless of the number of boxes marked above the line. So you can put a '1' in and the vote will be formal regardless of the number of boxes marked above the line. I think you have conceded that this evening, Minister.
Of course, there has been a longstanding issue in relation to that, and I refer here to matters that have been before the High Court—Langer v Commonwealth on the Commonwealth Electoral Act. Of course, this bill we have before us has not picked up many of the issues that were dealt with in that Langer case. Of course, action was taken against Langer for advocating that people vote just '1'. That was the proposition that Albert Langer put. He thought it was an offence against democracy that people be obliged to vote using their preferences. Of course, there was the issue of formality in that case. But the truth of the matter is that current in the Electoral Act at the time was section 329A, which made it a crime to promote voting in a way that was inconsistent with section 240—that is, arguing that people should put only a '1', which under this bill we know would reduce a formal vote. So my concern here, Minister, is that if it is a formal vote and it is recommended to people that they vote in a formal way even if that meant only a '1', which we have acknowledged is a formal vote, would it be a crime under this legislation to recommend, 'Just vote 1'?
I have asked a direct question. I wonder if I can get a direct answer.