Senate debates

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Bills

Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; Second Reading

7:30 pm

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

Government of the people, by the people and for the people. For centuries people across the world have been prepared to lay down their lives for this democratic ideal. They do it because democracy provides citizens with freedom, with prosperity and with opportunities to flourish. They do it because democracy allows people to speak freely and to shape their own destiny. We are blessed in this country that it is the ballot and not the bullet that decides fate. The founders of modern democracy also understood that democracy is imperfect, that it is fragile and that it needs constant work and attention. Mungo MacCallum summed it up really neatly recently in a piece he wrote when he said:

… democracy can be slow, inefficient and infuriating to the point where even the best-intentioned can be tempted to try something else. But as history has shown, any attempt at replacement invariably ends in tears.

So democracy has to be sustained, nurtured and at times improved …

We do not actually get the opportunity to improve our democracy in this place. Normally we are fighting the opposite trend—fighting against the slow erosion of democracy—but today is a one-in-30-year opportunity to improve our democracy, to take power out of the hands of us politicians and to give it back to you, the voter.

A basic principle of any democracy has to be that the wishes of voters are reflected in the outcome of an election. The current rules for Senate voting fail that test. The system is broken when someone's vote for a candidate or party with one set of policies flows to another candidate or party with the opposite set of policies. The system is broken when 0.5 per cent of the vote can elect a senator and 25 per cent of the vote produces exactly the same outcome. The system is broken when one person can register a number of front parties with the sole intent of funnelling preferences to themselves, giving them a greater chance of being elected. Antony Green got to the heart of the matter when he said, 'It rather strikes me that rewarding parties based on their vote is one of the purposes of an electoral system.'

It is for all of those reasons that the Greens have been campaigning on this reform for more than a decade—from my colleague Senator Lee Rhiannon, who has done a sterling job on this issue over recent weeks, to the New South Wales parliament back in 1999 when we advocated for these sorts of changes. We then had Bob Brown introduce legislation back in 2004 and later in 2008. In fact, it was part of our agreement with the Labor Party when we supported them in office.

It is true that we would have liked to have seen this legislation go further and address other vital issues—issues like political campaign finance reform. Our ability as a parliament to address issues like global warming, reform of the health system and growing income inequality is getting harder each day thanks to the influence of wealthy corporate donors. Those donations are a corrupting influence on good governance and something that the Greens have been railing against for decades. Yet every time we have put legislation before this parliament to restrict corporate donations both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party have voted against it.

I have also heard it said that some of these changes will lead to less diversity and fewer ordinary people being elected to the parliament. It is worth noting that there are 226 members of parliament. The vast majority of them are people you have never heard of. Many of them actually are ordinary people—people who did ordinary jobs before they were elected. Some people, unkindly, have said that some of us are very ordinary indeed.

The truth is that the problem here is the lack of diversity in political opinion. What we are seeing is a stifling conformity that means that all too often what we hear is only a stage-managed, overly-rehearsed political perspective that often someone does not believe and comes across to the Australian community as totally inauthentic. One of my colleagues from the Labor Party described some of this behaviour as the behaviour of lobotomised zombies. It happens because authority has been so centralised between each of the major parties that we get this stifling uniformity of views. It is something that does not happen in many similar Western democracies. It is one of the reasons that many people are looking to vote outside of the two major parties. They are looking for smaller parties.

Many smaller parties have made an important contribution to the national debate. People are voting for parties like the Animal Justice Party because they care about animal welfare standards. They are voting for parties like the Pirate Party and the Hemp Party because they believe in drug policy and law reform. They are parties that have made an important contribution to the national debate. To ensure that this continues we have insisted on a system that means that voters will need to allocate at least six preferences above the line or 12 preferences below the line. That means that there is now an active choice from the voter to think beyond the duopoly of Australian politics.

We fought to keep membership thresholds low, which is a feature of this legislation, and we have a bill before the parliament to lower the financial barrier to register for elections to encourage smaller parties to participate. But simply being a small player who brings a different perspective to the parliament is not reason enough to be elected. Just because you are small should not be enough to get you a position in the parliament. If it were, we would see some of the racist anti-Semitic groups that currently stand for office also saying that they deserve a seat at the table. The Greeks had it right when they warned that the system of tyranny is only as good as the worst man who can become a tyrant.

I have heard it said that parties like the Greens have relied on the current system to build our support, but I have to tell you that that fundamentally misunderstands the history of the Australian Greens. We are the political arm of a people-powered grassroots movement. I can tell you about my own story in the state of Victoria. When I joined in the year 2000, we had one member of local government. Through a lot of hard work, through branch meetings, through trivia nights, through a hell of a lot of elbow grease, that support built slowly over time. More people were elected to local government. Finally, there was a breakthrough into the state parliament and then, in 2010, our first Victorian senator was elected with a quota in their own right. That is the legitimate pathway to political success. There are not any shortcuts here.

How is it that after 12 public hearings over a year and a half by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and an outcome that produced a unanimous report, supported by all of the major parties here, we are now seeing the Labor Party oppose those reforms? We know that people like Alan Griffin, who actually co-authored Labor's internal post-election review, and people like Gary Gray, who was the party spokesperson on electoral matters, support these changes. We know that many other Labor MPs support these changes. I will not quote them at length. So the question is: what has changed here?

The factional powerbrokers have flexed their muscle. That is what has happened. The same people who were responsible for toppling a couple of prime ministers and for scuttling a whole range of really important progressive policies have decided that they do not want this Senate taking away their power and influence, because it is through these backroom preference deals that these people really shine. They wield their power and influence as a result of the current system, and they are fighting hard to keep it. The sad reality is that it is these people who now control the Labor Party. You know the type: the sort of person who gets rid of a sitting Prime Minister and cannot wait to go on TV to re-enact their role in it. They are the brains trust who have decided that they can convince people that, because the Greens are supporting a policy that we have advocated for over a decade, somehow we are in bed with the government—because we are supporting our own policy! You have to ask yourself: who thought of that great planning?

The Labor Party, a party that has voted with the coalition a third of the time, is having a go at the Greens for voting with the coalition six per cent of the time. It wants to say that we are too close to the government—

Senator Dastyari interjecting

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order, senators! Senator Dastyari!

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

This is from a party that joined with the government to slash the renewable energy target and include the burning of native forests as renewable energy. This is from a party that is on a unity ticket with the coalition when it comes to opening up new coalmines around the country. This is from a party that voted to continue locking up young kids and to turn boats back, putting people's lives at risk. This is from a party that voted to gag doctors to prevent them from speaking out against the abuses occurring in detention camps.

Senator Dastyari interjecting

This is from a party that joins with the coalition to drop bombs on Syria and then says, 'We don't want to have a national debate about it,' when it has the opportunity to support Greens legislation. This is from a party that voted with the government to rip money out of the pockets of university students—

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

Madam Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: Senator Dastyari is interjecting so loudly and so shrilly that I cannot actually hear the contribution by Senator Di Natale.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. I draw your attention—

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

I think it is actually your job to draw Senator Dastyari to order.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Dastyari, on the point of order?

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

If we are going to start playing these games, I draw the chair's attention to the state of the chamber.

(Quorum formed)

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

As I was saying, Madam Acting Deputy President—

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll make sure there are 19 of you here all night.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

And I remind senators to adhere to standing orders.

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

here we are. It is a party that has joined with the government to slash the renewable energy target, to continue to open up new coalmines, to lock up young kids, to turn boats around, to ensure that they gag doctors from speaking out, to continue to drop bombs on Syria, to ensure that we rip money out of scholarships from university students and to join with the government in their heavy-handed, paternalistic and completely ineffective welfare measures directed at Aboriginal people. It is a party that has joined with the government to support mandatory data retention. The list goes on and on and on. To paraphrase a former Labor Prime Minister: I will not be lectured about voting for the coalition by the ALP, not now and not ever.

We are proud of our record in this parliament. Let us start with one of the issues that you have taken issue with, Senator Dastyari—that is, the issue of pensions. We did not support John Howard's unfair pension changes when he introduced them, and we were proud to be able to take them back and to ensure that we redistribute income from those people who are wealthier to give more to those people at the bottom end of the income scale.

The same goes for tax transparency, Senator Dastyari. Under your plan, we would have absolutely nothing but, thanks to the Greens, we now have: country-by-country reporting, more powers within the Australian Taxation Office, and just this week companies will now have to disclose the amount of tax that they pay. But do you know what my favourite attack is? My favourite attack is—and I read about this one today—that we have been criticised for supporting the establishment of the Medical Research Future Fund. I saw that on one of the Labor billboards. So we have got medical researchers right across the country who now have $20 billion to bring a return to the medical research investment community here in Australia, who have developed a life-saving treatment as a result of that and the ALP think it is such a bad thing that they have included it on their dirt sheet. Do you know what someone forgot to tell the brains trust within the ALP? They actually voted for it. You cannot make this stuff up!

And then we have got Labor's grand plan. The grand plan is that if you support a democratic reform and put the power back in the hands of voters that somehow you are giving control of the Senate to the coalition. Apart from the fact that if you keep fighting us rather than the coalition, it may actually become a self-fulfilling prophecy, let me make this one point: if these changes were introduced in 2010, right now we would have the Greens and Labor with a majority in the Senate and we would still have the carbon price. We would still have those laws that we helped establish. Some of those laws are the most ambitious climate laws anywhere in the world and you are saying that you want to prevent a reform that would have helped us keep the carbon price. You argue that we should hold off on passing the bill—just do not do it now; just do not go to a double dissolution—as though somehow we should have an unfair voting system for one election and then change it to make it fairer after the next election. You either believe in democracy or you do not.

Let me say a few things about the role of the ACTU in their campaign against these reforms. When union members' money is being spent on misleading robo calls and push polling against a party that has got a proud record of standing alongside ordinary working people, it is no wonder that we are being contacted by union members, some of them senior officials, to apologise on behalf of the union leadership. I have to just say this: at a time when the union movement is having an existential crisis, they need to decide whose interests they represent. Do they represent the interests of ordinary working people or do they represent the interests of the Labor Party? Because they are not the same thing.

Politics is a long game. People in this place get really excited about the day-to-day tactical battles, about the arcane Senate procedures, about how we can manoeuvre ourselves to outposition our political opponents. But you know what? It is ultimately the substance that wins out, not some win over some obscure senate motion, not year 9 billboards that you plaster around the internet.

In closing, the Labor Party should actually try and understand my story, because, if they do not, their decline will continue. I come from a working class immigrant Italian family. We are a family of tradies, of teachers, of people who are ordinary workers. I had a grandfather who eulogised Gough Whitlam. He thought Gough was the greatest man alive. And you know what, 30 years ago there is a good chance that someone like me would have been sitting over there but not anymore. Even though my politics were forged from those values, after the gradual shift across to the right, after Labor introduced mandatory detention, after successive Labor governments signed the death warrant to some of our most precious native forests, I decided that you guys do not represent my values or the values now of many hundreds of thousands of Australians.

Thousands more have come on board over the years. When John Howard joined with Kim Beazley to excise Australian land as a result of the Tampa crisis, thousands more came across. When Labor joined with the coalition to support the invasion of Iraq, thousands more came across to the Greens. When Labor walked away from the greatest moral challenge of our time—that is, global warming—thousands more came across to the Greens. And that will continue to happen unless you recognise that it is you that is the problem, not us. When it is all said and done, my advice to the Labor Party is: if you really want to defeat the conservative policy agenda, you need to focus your attention on the conservatives, not on us.

Senator Dastyari interjecting

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Di Natale, I remind you to make your remarks through the chair. To those interjecting, I ask that you restore order to the process.

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

When it is all said and done, what the Australian Labor Party need to recognise is that if they want to defeat conservative policies, they need to focus their attention on both on the conservatives within their own ranks and on the conservatives that lie opposite. Those opposite need to recognise that we have an opportunity here to defeat a conservative government that has been one of the worst administrations in the nation's history. The choice is yours: continue to do the cause of progressive politics a great harm or focus on defeating a conservative policy agenda, an agenda that lies with those opposite.

7:51 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016. This legislation is all about giving Australians the right to select their candidates in the Senate. That is what it is all about. It is a very simple piece of legislation. Not only is it a simple piece of legislation but it is a piece of legislation that has the unanimous support of all political parties and that includes the Australian Labor Party.

What we do not want in Australia, what the Australian public do not want is the sort of thing that happened in Queensland last election, where people wanted to vote for Mr Bob Katter, a former National Party member of parliament who jumped ship became an independent. He used to pretend that he was supportive of his old party, the Liberal-National parties in Queensland, but he registered his party's card in the Senate and, unbeknown to almost 99 per cent of the people who voted for his party in the Senate, he was actually giving his preferences not to the Liberal-National Party, which he pretended he supported, but to the Australian Labor Party before he gave them to the Liberal-National Party. Sure, he did not give the Labor Party Nos 7, 8 9 on his ticket; he gave them Nos 53, 54, 55 and 56. But he gave the LNP Nos 73, 74, 75 and 76.

Do not hold me to the numbers, but the position is correct and so anyone that voted for Mr Katter would have thought, 'Well, I'll vote for him and I'll vote for his Senate team because he used to be in the National Party and he will be on that side.' But people did not know that in actual fact he had on his registered ticket given the Labor Party preferences. Of course, I might say it fell to some of us to expose this—most people could not understand it; they did not realise—that by voting 'one' for Katter, in the Senate, they were actually preferencing the Labor Party. We tried to expose that. I might say that one of the reasons why Mr Katter then ultimately received such a poor vote in his own electorate was that people were alerted to the fact that their choice was not being followed. Whilst they were happy to vote for Katter himself, they did not want their second preferences in the Senate to go to the Labor Party. That is what this legislation is all about. It puts it back to the people of Kennedy and of every electorate in Australia—the opportunity of picking who they want in the Senate to be their senator.

Quite frankly, they are nice people—I love Senator Madigan, I love Senator Muir; I think they are very nice people—but very few people in Australia would have consciously cast a vote for those two, or some other senators. We also had the ludicrous situation in Queensland and Tasmania where people voted for Mr Palmer's candidates on a pro-development, pro-mining platform and suddenly they got into the Senate and they found that the candidates they elected on Mr Palmer's ticket, with his broadly-set pro-development platform actually turned out to be exactly the opposite. That is not a matter that is being addressed in this bill, but it is all about the people of Australia being given the right to select who they want as a candidate in the upper house as they do in the lower house.

Under this bill, voters will have the choice. They can go above the line and they can select the parties they want to favour. So if, as I hope most of them will, they put No. 1 in the Liberal-National box that will mean that their vote above the line effectively means 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 for the Liberal-National candidates, and the one they have given the No. 2 box to will mean that anyone who votes for the Liberal-National Party first, whoever they voted for No. 2 then will get 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 of their votes. So it will be up to the voters actually to determine which party, or which group of senators from a party, they want to elect first and which ones they want to elect second—they will have the control.

But this bill, as it is going to be amended, actually takes that further. It says to the voters of Australia, 'Look, if you want to, forget about the political party; you do not even have to vote for their 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 members. Go below the line and if you can fill in 12 numbers you can select whoever you like.' It could be No. 1 from the Liberal-National Party, it could be No. 2 from the Labor Party, it could be No. 3 from the Greens.

Senator McKenzie interjecting

It is up to the voters then to determine who they want to represent them in the Senate. And what an amazing situation that is, Senator McKenzie. Fancy letting the voters actually make an informed decision on who they want! That is how it is in a democracy.

The situation as it was after the last election provoked and engendered absolute outrage. I have been around politics a long, long time and I have never seen the overwhelming public anger that followed the last Senate election. Suddenly, Australians woke up to find that the balance of power in the Senate meant that the popularly elected government—the government that was elected on its policies to do what the Australian people wanted it to do—was going to be held to ransom by a senator from Victoria and a senator from Tasmania and a senator from Queensland who no-one had ever heard of. The Queenslanders, perhaps, had heard of Senator Lazarus when he played State of Origin—for New South Wales—but they would have only known of him in that situation. So there was palpable anger in the community.

There has been a lot of talk in this chamber about getting rid of the current crossbenchers. Quite frankly, if the current crossbenchers are any good they will in the normal course of events have another three years and a bit to get themselves known and to let people know what they stand for. I am quite sure that some of the more reasonable senators, like Senator Day, Senator Leyonhjelm and Senator Dio Wang, will over the next three years provide and demonstrate to the voting public that they are worthy of the vote of Australian voters, who will go along and tick the boxes. They might tick them No. 1, they might tick them No. 4 or they might tick them No. 12, but it will be up to the people of Australia in those various states to determine how they vote. They will not have to rely on backroom deals—which some of my colleagues are very, very familiar with—on where the party's registered tickets go.

The outrage, the palpable anger, of the Australian public following the last election was the cause for an immediate investigation by the Joint—and I emphasise 'joint'—Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. That committee consisted of all parties and senators who were not on that committee—like me—were all made participating members and were able to go along. I in fact did go along. I attended almost every meeting of that electoral matters committee, because I was interested. I had been petitioned by my constituents to do something about this outrage.

That committee went all around Australia. We even went to Mt Isa and took evidence there. People came in and told us what they thought about it and what they thought should happen. As a result of that, the committee unanimously—and can I say 'unanimously' again, again and again—determined that what had happened before was just a rort on the system. In fact, the chairman of that committee, the Hon. Tony Smith, said:

The ‘gaming’ of the voting system by many micro-parties created a lottery, where, provided the parties stuck together in preferencing each other (some of whom have polar opposite policies and philosophies) the likelihood of one succeeding was maximised. Many voters were confused. If they voted above the line, the choice of where their vote would go was effectively unknown, and accordingly in many cases their electoral will distorted…

While such ‘gaming’ of the system is legal, it has nonetheless distorted the will of voters, made Senate voting convoluted and confusing, and corroded the integrity of our electoral system.

I could not have put it better myself. In saying that, the then chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters encapsulated the views of every single member of that committee—and every single member included such Labor luminaries as Senator John Faulkner. I had my issues with Senator Faulkner over our joint long periods in this place, but Senator Faulkner was seen as a reasonable and sensible exponent of what was right and what was wrong in Australian politics. Senator Faulkner was very, very keen on this, as was Mr Gary Gray, a man who, again, I have had my issues with, particularly when he ran the Labor Party as general secretary and almost won an election. I had my issues there but, when it came down to what is right, and to give the Australian voters their choice, Mr Gray, along with Senator Faulkner, Senator Tillem and Mr Alan Griffiths—I remember them being on that committee—respected senior members of the Labor Party who understood parliament, unanimously joined with other members of the committee in making recommendations.

Back in 2014, the committee suggested that the bill abolish individual and group tickets, and the bill before us today does just what the committee recommended in May 2014 and, I might say, what they approved just a couple of weeks ago when again meeting on this bill. Back in 2014, the committee determined in relation to above-the-line voting that the bill introduce optional preferential above the line, providing advice printed on the Senate ballot paper that voters number at least six squares in order of the preference. The committee recommended introducing optional preferential voting above the line in that way. The committee also recommended partial optional preferential voting below the line with a minimum sequential number of preferences completed equal to the number of vacancies—six for a half Senate election and 12 for a double dissolution and two for any territory or state. The bill that came to the parliament proposed a change to the vote savings provisions to allow up to five mistakes by a voter when sequentially numbering, but otherwise left the old system in place. That was the bill that was brought to this parliament earlier this year.

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters had a look at everything. We had evidence from all the luminaries in the psephology profession around Australia—for example, Anthony Green and Professor Edwards. They were all there and all gave very clear and incontrovertible evidence that this change had to happen and it had to happen immediately. They convinced the committee that the committee should recommend an amendment to the government's bill, and the committee—as parliamentary committees work—actually said, 'Even though there is a majority of government members on this committee, we will unanimously suggest that there should be this amendment to the bill.' That was the unanimous position three years ago. It was not unanimous this time, because, in spite of Mr Gary Gray's best efforts in the caucus, the Labor Party heavies vetoed it for reasons I do not understand—which I suspect that they do not really understand either. They made all these strange claims like, 'This will favour the Liberal Party.' They put these positions to some of the experts there—all of whom shot those claims down with the comment: 'Yes, if the Liberal Party get more votes in the election it will favour them but, if the Labor Party get more votes in the election, it will favour them.' It just showed the paucity of the argument by the Labor Party.

There was an issue raised about exhaustion of vote, but unfortunately my time is not going to allow me to go into—

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will give you leave for another half an hour.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Would you?

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Happily.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is great. I thought you people all wanted to speak on this.

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We do, but we do not want to deny you your right to speak.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As I understand, we have a limited time for the debate so if you want to give me a couple of hours to speak I am very happy to do that. It just means we will not have to put up with some of the hypocritical rubbish we will hear from members of the Labor Party, who three years ago had some of their senior and most respected members—the people who understood parliament; people like Senator John Faulkner, Senator Tillem and Gary Gray—who thought it was a move that had to be made.

The committee, as I said, endorsed the bill as presented. There were a number of issues in the bill but the one that is of greatest importance to us all is that the bill as originally proposed recommended that, above the line, voters would have the choice to select party groups in sequence—so 1 for the Liberal-National Party, 2 for the Christian Democrats, 3 for the Woop Woop party and 4 for the Greens. I do not think the Labor Party would even get to 6 in that. Nevertheless, it is up to the voters. It allows the voters to make these choices. The committee adopted that part of the bill brought forward by the government.

However, the committee in considering this—as I said, there was quite a number of very special, very talented, very learned professionals and others who gave evidence to the committee. At the end of that, the committee was convinced that the government had not got it quite right, and the committee said to the government, 'We would prefer you to go back to what this committee unanimously recommended three years ago'—that is, the committee including Senator Faulkner, Mr Gary Gray, Senator Tillem, Mr Alan Griffiths—I think it was—and a couple of other Labor luminaries. What they recommended three years ago and what we the committee meeting a few weeks ago—this is what we think the government should do. We think that, as well as having that optional preferential above the line, the government should also amend the bill to produce a system that voters should be instructed on the ballot paper to mark a minimum of 12 preferences below the line and a related vote-saving provision for below-the-line votes to be introduced to ensure that any ballot with at least six boxes numbered in sequential order would be considered as formal.

The committee, after strong deliberations and after consideration by all those involved—I again repeat that, although I was not a formal member of the committee, I attended because under the system in the Senate we can be participating members. I am not sure that I saw too many of the crossbenchers who are complaining so much now. I do not remember those senators turning up to consider this bill, and there were not very many Labor senators there. Notwithstanding that, those who did attend, who heard all the evidence, who understood the arguments put forward and who understood the reasoning of the committee three years ago when again, I repeat—and I am sorry if I am being tedious on this—unanimously all parties, including the Australian Labor Party, recommended this should happen. The committee again recommended that below the line we should have an optional preferential of 12 preferences with a saving provision that six boxes numbered would be considered formal. I urge the Senate to support what the committee proposed.

8:11 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to start by saying that of course I am willing to concede that we need electoral reform. I have been on the record in this place and in other places talking about the need for reform of our donation system, talking for a need for an increase in transparency in politics and for a need for voting arrangements in the Senate to more properly reflect the will of the Australian people. I think it is possible to say these things and to believe these things but also to argue that these are not the right reforms—the reforms that we have before us in this bill—and that this rushed process is not the right process to deliver that reform.

I want to say particularly that the procedural decisions made by the government and their new coalition partners, the Greens political party, prevented the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters from inquiring properly into this bill. That is why I will be moving an amendment in committee stage to refer this bill to the finance and public administration committee so there can be a full and proper consideration of the operation and the consequences of the greatest changes to Senate voting in a generation.

Through the course of this debate, Greens senators have gone out of their way to impugn the motivations of Labor senators in approaching the legislation the way we have. I have listened carefully to the speeches from Greens senators over the course of this last week. I am not going to repeat their assertions, but I do want to address them.

Our position on this bill was made perfectly clear in our dissenting report on the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters report on this bill. I want to read it into the Hansard because it said that:

1. Labor Senators and Members recognise there are legitimate concerns about the laws governing the election of Senators and the outcomes of the 2013 half Senate election. No system is perfect - the current system for electing Senators is no exception.

2. We believe the appropriate response is for the Parliament to deal with these concerns through a considered, principled and transparent process, involving all parties and, importantly, unaligned Senators and Members, to devise a solution which enjoys support across the political spectrum and prioritises the democratic interests of the Australian people above all other interests, especially the partisan self-interest of some established parties.

People need to be very clear that this is a rushed process and it is rushed because it is driven by partisan concerns.

The coalition and the Greens political party are not pushing this legislation because of some altruistic concern for the state of Australian politics. They are doing it for naked political advantage. It is worth considering what Ross Gittens has said in a recent piece:

If the Coalition has proposed a move to optional preferential voting, allowing people to express their preferences for up to six party groupings, it's a fair bet it believes such a system will advantage it over its Labor rival.

If the left-leaning Greens and the centrist Xenophon party are happy to give the Coalition what it wants, it's a fair bet that's because the deal leaves room for their comfortable survival, while raising the drawbridge against the emergence of new minor party rivals of either leaning.

And no less a commentator than former Prime Minister John Howard has been quoted saying pretty much the same thing. He has said:

The principal beneficiary of these changes is probably the Australian Greens and that is why the Australian Greens are so strongly in favour.

He went on to say:

I hope this does not presage some kind of understanding about preferences in the House of Representatives between the coalition and the Australian Greens.

Well, he was right to be concerned and I think the Australian people ought to be concerned. It does seem, although we do not have the details, that an agreement is in the wings between the Australian Greens and the coalition. Of course, Greens political party colleagues would be welcome to put these rumours to rest this evening in the debate.

Michael Kroger has laid out the strategy very clearly in The Australian in the recent weekend paper. He says that he plans to keep Labor guessing about the truth of any Greens preference deal until election day, to bleed the opposition of $3 million in campaign resources to defend Labor heartland seats. The article goes on to quote Mr Kroger directly—and, again, those opposite may wish to correct the record if these quotes are incorrect. He says:

Handing them (Labor) seats like Wills and Batman and Maribyrnong and some of the other seats where we would have a lesser chance … requires Labor to start to take resources out of … seats and putting those resources into seats where they have to try to hold and win.

He is considering issuing a separate how-to-vote card at pre-polls to those that are handed out at polling booths on election day just so that nobody will actually know the truth of the arrangements between the Liberal Party and the Greens, because this is a deal that will not bear scrutiny. The article goes on to point out:

This strategy will not greatly increase the Liberal vote, but Liberal sources believe that the party could have won the seats of McEwen and Indi in Victoria had it received a few hundred more Greens preferences at the 2013 election.

I think we need to think very carefully about what it means for the so-called progressive party of politics to be discussed in this way in one of the major broadsheets in this country and not repudiating that story. If the Greens political party does intend to strike a deal with the coalition to return a coalition majority to the other place, to return a coalition majority into this chamber, then that is something that I believe progressive voters will have very serious concerns about.

I listened to Senator Di Natale's pious words about his views about the moral superiority of the Greens when it comes to progressive politics. I say to him a word of advice: the punters are not mugs and when they see a Greens political party acting in the most cynical of ways, putting aside all of their progressive values to work hand in glove with a coalition party, to return coalition members to seats, to deprive the Labor Party of resources, to drive harder and harder towards an outcome where it is not possible to form a progressive government in this country, then Greens voters will have very serious questions to ask about the party that they have put their faith in so far.

My caution to Senator Di Natale is that this is a process that is not in keeping with the values of his activists, it is not an approach that is in keeping with the values of Greens voters and I do not believe it is in the interests of the Australian people. However, these are choices for the Greens political party to make. They will no doubt meditate on their commitment to the progressive cause in the coming days, and all of the rumours suggest that many of them already are.

I will conclude on that series of remarks by simply saying that the Liberal Party make a virtue of pragmatism. Certainly my party is a party that seeks to gain outcomes, have never pretended that we are against compromise, have always said that we are looking for outcomes for the Australian people that will help the poor and dispossessed, will help the environment, will help women and will help those who stand at the margins of society, and we are willing to get our hands dirty in the political process to do that. The Greens political party have eschewed this as their core mantra about their superiority in the political race. I would say to them that the path they are going down is, indeed, very pragmatic. There is no scenario imaginable where the Labor Party would seek to hand a majority here, or in the other place, to the coalition because we understand, with some keenness, what that would mean for the people whom we represent. I am most surprised at the Greens political party turn to the right in this regard.

I want to come back to the question of process because when we are dealing with legislation that has direct partisan political consequences, this time more than ever we need to make sure that a proper process is followed, and that has not happened on this occasion. The public has not been given a chance to make their views known. This is not how serious reform is supposed to be undertaken. It is a very big contrast for a government which loves talking and, in recent weeks, has indicated that it will initiate a review at the drop of a hat. You will recall that we actually spent months talking around and around in a national conversation about tax reform, about a plan for the GST that, as it turns out, was not actually a plan and has been soundly repudiated by the Prime Minister.

The education minister initiated an inquiry into the Safe Schools program because there is a very small number of people who, seemingly, have a problem with vulnerable children being protected from bullying. We have time for all of those things, but we do not have time for a proper conversation that involves the Australia public to talk about this proposal and, instead, we are ramming it through, which I should say set the tone for the approach taken in this place over the last 12 hours, where we have seen motion after motion to gag speakers from the Labor side.

The inquiry that was set up to consider this bill was hamstrung from the outset, and I heard Senator Macdonald make his remarks about who bothered to turn up. I would say: if senators did not engage fully—and I do not believe that is true of Labor senators—it is because they knew the fix was in. This was a ludicrous process. There was not enough time given for members of the public to make submissions to the inquiry on this important piece of legislation.

The agenda for the public hearings in relation to the bill was decided by the government and the Greens political party, and it cut out many qualified and competent witnesses who happened to disagree with the government and their new partners. The inquiry allocated just four hours to inquire into the bill. On any assessment this is insufficient time to consider what is the greatest change to Senate voting in generations. The committee secretariat was not given adequate time to prepare a thoughtful report. In fact, the report was drafted immediately after the committee concluded its hearings, with Labor senators receiving the draft report that same night at 9.50 pm. I should explain this for those who may not be as familiar with the minutiae of the committee process. The deadline for the dissenting reports was 8 o'clock the following morning. So from 9.50 pm through to 8 am the next morning, opposition senators had the opportunity—thanks very much; we appreciated it—to digest the contents of the report and prepare our remarks. How utterly ridiculous. There are just no circumstances where a process of that kind could be defended, and I am surprised that there are those in this chamber who would seek to do so.

We have not heard any compelling case for this urgency. Although the government will not say it in public, we know that the real reason is to clear the way for a double dissolution election. The reason that they want a double dissolution is so that they can force through a retrograde, conservative agenda—to create the opportunity for Senate control or, if that does not work, for a joint sitting of the parliament to sneak through the worst aspects of legislation which have been fought in this place. What surprises me is that the Greens political party would facilitate a process of this kind. Why would this be the case? Why would this be in the interests of a group of people who seek to be the natural home for Australian progressives? It certainly does not sound like a strategy to attract progressives to your organisation.

I made reference earlier to Ross Gittens's observation that this deal leaves room for the comfortable survival of the Greens while raising the drawbridge against the emergence of new minor party rivals of either leaning. We have had a few history lessons from various parties, but the Greens political party had their origin also, of course, in preference deals. Really there is nothing wrong with that. Unsurprisingly, the first Greens seat for Tasmania in the Senate was won off the back of preferences. In 1996 the Liberals won three out of the six seats in Tasmania, Labor won two, and we were ahead of Senator Brown by 3,500 votes. But Brown ended up winning on the Democrats' preferences. The origins of the Greens lie in preference deals. But, at that time, they were trading preferences with a centrist party with at least some common values to their own. That is not the situation today. At the 2013 election The Australian reported:

There is bad blood between Senator Hanson-Young and Senator Xenophon. At the last election, the Greens moved to protect their senator by deliberately diverting preferences to the right-wing Family First candidate, Bob Day, ahead of Senator Xenophon’s more progressive running mate, Stirling Griff.

I think the Greens could explain that decision to their members who care very deeply about same-sex marriage and explain why they were willing to provide those preferences on that basis.

At the same election, the Greens relied on preferences from the Palmer United Party, and Sarah Hanson-Young would probably not be here if it were not for the member for Fairfax. The Sydney Morning Herald at the time reported:

The Greens have looked past the party's anti-mining stance to go into a preference deal with minerals mogul Clive Palmer in an apparent bid to save the political career of Sarah Hanson-Young.

A day after the Greens reacted with fury at the WikiLeaks Party for directing its preferences to far-right parties, including the white nationalist Australia First Party, it has emerged that a deal with the Palmer United Party will boost the re-election chance of Ms Hanson-Young and of new ACT Greens candidate Simon Sheikh.

Of course, now they are cutting out the middle man. From their very high moral ground, that they love to claim despite the reality of their origins, they are now cutting out the middle man and they are seeking to exchange preferences directly with the Liberal Party—directly with the conservatives in Australian politics. They have absolutely sold out, and they have forgone any right to claim the high moral ground.

Why not just admit it? Why not relax a little, take a step back, admit that this is, in fact, emerging as a fiasco for the Australian Greens. Why not accept that maybe some mistakes have been made, maybe a more consultative approach would have been better. Maybe rethinking the relationship that the Australian Greens seek to have with conservatives in this country would be a wiser approach for this party which claims to own progressive values, because what we have seen in the chamber today is that this is not a party that can make any such claim. This is a party that, like all other parties, seeks to get involved in the ebb and flow of party politics, the ebb and flow of the chamber and the ebb and flow of compromise. I do not agree with the compromises that have been made by the Greens political party in recent weeks. I think there are grave errors and I think they imperil the fate of progressive politics in this country. I think this is something that all progressives ought to be deeply concerned about. But I do not blame them for getting involved. I simply say to the Greens: this is a miscalculation. You need to stop sitting on the moral high ground. You need to admit that you are making your best efforts, as we all are, to do the right thing by the Australian people in this chamber. You need to recalibrate your thinking about what is truly best for progressive politics and stop playing this game—this desperate attempt for relevance, this cynical attempt to gain political advantage and return to the values which you say define your party.

8:29 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very proud to rise to support the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016, legislation that puts the power over preferences back where it belongs in a democracy—that is, in the hands of the voters. It takes it out of the hands of the backroom wheelers and dealers now so beloved of the Labor Party and returns it to where it should be in our great democracy of Australia: in the hands of the voters. It is actually impossible to argue against this reform in a democracy whilst still maintaining any integrity whatsoever. That has been proven by the Labor Party over the last few weeks, by Labor senators who have lost any integrity they may have had, during their desperate attempts to smear the Greens on this legislation and to argue against a democratic reform that they themselves supported not a year and a half ago.

We have heard a fair bit of rubbish from the Labor Party over the last few weeks, and I am not going to dignify all of that rubbish with a response. But, in essence, their argument, and that of many unions in Australia, is that, if this reform goes ahead now, the Turnbull Liberals will gain control of the Senate. That is the essence of their argument. I am going to place it firmly on the record now: if that happens—and heaven forbid it will—it will be for one reason and one reason only: because the Labor Party and the union movement, or large parts of it, in this country took their eye off the ball and, in attacking the Greens, who have stood up time after time for working people in this Senate, granted the opening for the Liberals to gain control of this Senate.

Senator Polley interjecting

So do not come whingeing to us, Senator Polley, if the Liberals win control of the Senate. It will be because you took your eye off the ball. It will be because your Senate colleagues took their eye off the ball. It will be because the ACTU took its eye off the ball and the CFMEU took its eye off the ball. In attacking the Greens, who have stood up time after time after time for working people in this country, who have joined with Labor to vote down, time after time, draconian antiworker and anti-union legislation in this place, you took your eye off the real problem, which is Malcolm Turnbull's Liberals and their coalition partners in the Nationals. If they should win control of this Senate after the next election—and heaven forbid they do—it will be your responsibility and yours alone, for taking your eye off the ball.

As I said, we have heard some rubbish from the Labor Party in this debate. I think we need to place some things very clearly on the record. Firstly, Labor signed up to this in writing in 2010, when the House of Representatives was returned with no party having an absolute majority. In their agreement with the Australian Greens, Labor signed up in writing to reforming the Senate voting system. What happened? They squibbed it. They broke their word, as Labor so often do. If Labor had kept their word, which they signed up to on paper, in writing, we would not even be having this debate today, because Senate voting reform would have got through in the previous term of government, and the democracy would have been enhanced in Australia, by the power over preferences being returned to the hands of the voters. But that did not happen, because Labor broke their word, as they do.

There is something else that needs to be said here and placed very firmly on the record. It is about the voting records of the parties in this place. In this term, the Labor Party has voted with the coalition on nearly 40 per cent of the votes. The Greens have voted with the coalition about six per cent of the time. That is, Labor votes with the coalition by a factor of six times more often than do the Greens. So, if you want to talk about the natural alliances in this place, have a look at the voting records and have a look at your policy positions. Any reasonable person would not take long at all to form the view that the natural coalition in this place are the three old-style parties: Labor, Liberal, National. That is what the voting record shows. That is what policy positions and platforms show. We are very proud, in the Greens, that our policy platform is so different from that of either the Liberals or the Labor Party.

Then we have seen—and I will tell you what; this one does grind my gears—Labor this week come into this place and use marriage equality as a political football.

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Shame on them, as my colleague and friend Senator Whish-Wilson says. Honestly, fair dinkum, Labor were asleep at the wheel on this issue for so long, and in fact were a roadblock to marriage equality for many years in this country. If people who may be reading the Hansard or listening do not believe me, I am going to tell them a personal story about marriage equality. Back in 2005 I was the first member of any Australian parliament to table marriage equality legislation. It was a cognate package of three bills in the Tasmanian House of Assembly. After discussion with stakeholders, we realised we did not have the numbers to get this bill through the Tasmanian parliament, so we thought, as a fallback, we would seek to refer it off to a parliamentary inquiry. How many non-Green votes do you think I could get in 2005 to refer marriage equality off to a parliamentary inquiry? Answer: zero, nada, the big bagel.

Not one Labor member would even vote to send marriage equality to a parliamentary inquiry in Tasmania only over a decade ago. And then they come into this place today and pretend that they and only they have credibility on marriage equality and are the long-term custodians of the marriage equality campaign. You shameless hypocrites. You are no such thing. You have been a roadblock to this reform for year after year. Do you know what? As we stand here today you still do not all support marriage equality. Unlike the Greens, every MP and every single vote in every single parliament of Australia; that is our track record. We will not be lectured by you mob on marriage equality. I can tell you that.

On the proposal before the House in terms of the exact model, again we have heard Labor effectively lying and distorting history about what has happened here. Let us be very clear. There was a lengthy Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters process that ran for about a year and a half. It held public hearings right across our wide and beautiful country. You know what happened out of that process? What happened was a report that was endorsed by all members, including Labor members. And do you know what? This legislation we are debating in this place today is to all intents and purposes, exactly reflective of that joint standing committee report. It differs only in extremely minor and inconsequential ways, particularly around above-the-line voting, where the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters recommended that a vote of 1 above the line could be considered a formal vote, and the legislation before us says that 1 to 6 would be the instruction on the ballot paper. Of course that charge, which was negotiated by the Greens is beneficial for minor parties in this place.

We have heard again implications and explicit statements from Labor that this is somehow about doing over minor parties. I have news for the Labor Party, and specifically Senator McAllister who was running this line in the speech that she has just concluded. I have an except from the Hansard in the Senate back here in 2004, when the Greens attempted to legislate for Senate voting reform. How many senators did we have in the Senate at that time? The answer is two. Senator Brown from Tasmania and Senator Nettle, who was visiting Parliament House today from New South Wales—two senators. By any reasonable definition, we were a minor party. Did that stop us doing the right thing or seeking to do the right thing in 2004? No, it did not. Here are a couple of quotes from Senator Bob Brown's speech on Thursday, 9 December. Senator Brown said this:

While above-the-line voting gave voters an easier alternative, it also had a cost. It took the decision on preferences from the voter and gave it to the party which the voter selected.

Absolutely spot-on. It is not acceptable in a democracy. In fact, group voting tickets are a corruption of our democracy, and Senator Brown was spot-on when he pointed out that current voting for the Senate in this country takes the decision on preferences out of the hands of the voter and gives it to the party which the voter selected. The other quote from Senator Brown is this:

This amendment to the Electoral Act enhances democracy. It provides a simple and attractive option for voters to keep control of the destiny of their vote and so the make-up of the Senate.

Well, hear, hear, Senator Brown. I spoke to Bob only recently. He is overjoyed that this reform finally looks like it is going to get up, 12 long years after he first legislated to reform the Senate voting.

The fundamentals of this reform are unarguable in a democracy. You cannot argue against them without blowing your credibility out of the water, and that is exactly what the Labor Party has done. In their desperate attempt to smear the Greens, they have taken their eye off the real problem in this country, which is the Liberal-National coalition, who do not give two hoots about the environment; who have a pathetically weak global warming policy; who want to do over the rights long fought for by working Australians through outstanding and decades long campaigns by their representatives in the union movement; who want to slash by tens of billions of dollars, funding for health and education in this country; who squibbed the tax debate; who run the absolute falsehood that we do not have a revenue problem in this country but that we have an expenditure problem; and much more. It would be a horror show for Australia if they took control of the Senate. Heaven forbid it happens; but, if it does, it will be because the Labor Party and the unions took their eye off the ball and they attacked the wrong people. We have the ACTU spending members' money campaigning against the Greens, who have stood up time after time for workers' rights in this place, cheered on by their cheerleaders in the Labor Party—a Labor Party who until recently supported the very reform they are now dying in a ditch to abandon. I have seen some shocking hypocrisy in my time in politics, but this one just about takes the cake.

So we will stay true in the Greens. We will stay true to our values, we will stay true to the democratic principles in this country, and we will stay true to this long-held position that we have had for well over a decade now and that was first reflected by legislation in this place when that legislation was tabled by Senator Bob Brown in 2004, well over a decade ago now. Labor have shown they cannot be trusted on Senate voting reform. They signed up to it in 2010 and then broke their word.

Yes, the Liberals—the government—are being opportunistic here. We get that. But hey—the planets have aligned, and this could be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enhance democracy in Australia and to ensure that in the Senate, as far as is possible, the will of the voters is what determines the make-up of this place. If we turn our back on this once-in-a-generation opportunity, we could see election after election after election gamed by the so-called preference whisperers. Seriously, if you want diversity in the Senate—and, by the way, I am all for diversity in the Senate, but not at the expense of our democracy. But, if people want to put diversity in the Senate above democratic principles, let's just have the last seat in every state a lottery. Any citizen can throw their hat in the ring, and we will just pull it out of the ring on election night, and that person can get elected to the Senate. I do not think anyone would want to see that, because it runs counter to the fundamental principles of a democracy, but that is effectively what is going on. Our Senate is being fixed by those who have developed a business model that relies on gaming a corrupt voting system.

That is the truth of what happens, and that is what we are going to fix here, despite the fact that the Labor Party have once again squibbed on the difficult issues. And why would we be surprised? They have made an absolute art form out of it for well over a decade now, and they wonder why they are facing an existential threat. Well, I can tell them why they are facing an existential threat: because they are becoming less relevant to more and more Australian voters as the years go by. I tell you what: Chifley's light on the hill, if it has not gone out, is on its last little flicker. You are in zombie lock step with the government on every single erosion of civil and human rights that the Labor Party once stood up to defend back in the good old days.

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator Carol Brown interjecting

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order, thank you. Thanks, Senator McKim. Please continue.

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I was just reminding the chamber that in the good old days the Labor Party was a staunch defender of human and civil rights in this place, and every time this government has come in and moved to erode fundamental human and civil rights that tens of thousands of Australians fought and died for over the course of the last century—including some members of my family, I might add—you fall in a screaming heap, because that is just what you do, because you would prefer to play the politics rather than do the right thing. That is what you are exposed once again as doing: you are playing the politics rather than doing the right thing. If you wanted to do the right thing, you would not all of a sudden have woken up from your marriage equality slumber this week; you would treat that issue—

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments) Share this | | Hansard source

That is just offensive. That's offensive.

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I do not care whether you find it offensive, Senator Brown. It is true. Where were you on it last week? You were nowhere.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

Madam Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. It is under the standing orders that all comments should go through the chair, and I ask you to remind the good senator.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Polley. I was just about to do that. Senator McKim, please address your comments through the chair.

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I would also like to make a point of order. Senator Brown has been constantly interjecting for the last 10 minutes, and you have not ruled those interjections out of order.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is a debating point, Senator Whish-Wilson. Thank you.

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a point of order.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like you, Senator McKim, now to continue your remarks.

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. Of course through you, I can say from my long experience in politics that, when the volume goes up from the Labor Party, you know you are hitting a nerve. You know you are hitting a sore point. This is a good reform. It restores the power over preferences back to the hands of voters, where it should be in a democracy, and I will proudly vote for this reform at every chance I get.

8:50 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to make a contribution in this critical debate on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016, which has been rushed through this place and will change the make-up of future parliaments for years and potentially decades to come. I have sat through the last 20 minutes of absolute rubbish and rewriting of history. When I was in this place with the former Senators Brown and Milne, at no time would they have gagged the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate here in this place and not allowed them to make a contribution. So for Senator McKim to come in and try to justify why they have agreed to the gags today is just shameful. It really is quite shameful.

What we have demonstrated through the course of today is that the Greens now find themselves to have washed their hands of any of the innocence with which they have tried to purport to the community that they are above the grubby, dirty dealings in politics, because quite frankly they have done a disservice to this community, wiping out the say of over three million Australian voters in the coming federal election. We had Senator McKim come in here and lecture us about what will happen if the government is returned after the next election and they have outright control.

Well, sorry, it is not us that has done the dirty deed and done this deal with the government, it is the Greens. They can no longer come into this place or anywhere else and try to justify their position and, as they normally do, take the high moral ground on any issue, because they have now become the partners to a government that, if re-elected at the next election—which I sincerely hope they are not—will have outright control of both chambers. Having been a senator in this place when the Howard government had control of the Senate, I saw the result of that. Those down in the corner, who like to take the high moral ground, will be the ones that will be responsible for further cuts in education and the $100,000 degrees to attend university. It will be those down there.

But what we have seen demonstrated over the last few weeks, since this deal was hatched behind closed doors, is a leader of the Greens who, obviously, is desperate for some sort of recognition and to be relevant. As I said before, you would not have seen this type of dirty deal being done by Christine Milne when she led the Greens. You would not have seen Bob Brown act in the manner in which Senator Di Natale has done. From the conversations I have had out in the community over the last few weeks, the community now are so disappointed. They really do see the Greens for what they are, and that is a party of opportunists. There is no doubt about that at all. But to have to sit here and be lectured to by Senator McKim, to hear his bleating here tonight of what he accuses us of being is so hypocritical.

What we have here is an abuse of the process. We have legislation, as I said, that is being rammed through and which is a direct result of dirty backroom deals between the Liberal Party and the Greens, with absolutely no scrutiny whatsoever. You cannot say that a four-hour committee hearing here in Canberra is giving this legislation proper scrutiny. We know that the government themselves had to bring in amendments to their own legislation because it was rushed through. They had to rush it through the lower house and they are trying to ram it through here in the Senate, because they have this dirty deal with the Greens. I do not know whether there is a time line for when that is going to expire; maybe that is why they are gagging debate, as they have done throughout the course of today, since we have been sitting.

The legislation that is a fix to disadvantage those people who do not vote for the majority parties is so hypocritical in the process. When you come into this place, as the Greens have done, preaching to us about openness, transparency and protecting Australian democracy—they have sold out. They have sold out big time. It is an absolute disgrace. It is a very poor reflection on the Australian parliament when legislation that has been in place for the last three decades is going to be rushed through and changed without proper scrutiny. The public have every right to be disappointed in the government and the Greens for the way they have acted in this case. There was none of the type of scrutiny that is normally undertaken with any piece of legislation. This whole process has been a farce, from the beginning to the end, as I have said.

I have spoken in relation to this numerous times over the last few weeks. It really does reek of hypocrisy. If you listen to what other senators from the Greens have contributed thus far, they talk about the times when the Labor Party sided with the government. There is no greater sin than the one that they have just committed by doing this dirty deal to change the democratic processes of the election of senators in this country. This deal that they have done will ensure that the Senate is purged of small parties and Independents. Whether they like it or not, the Independents have every right to be in this chamber and to sit here, just as I and anyone else have, because they were duly elected. They may not like the fact that they are here, but they were elected under the same system that we all were. To prevent any new parties from ever getting elected in the Senate—that to me just reinforces the feeling that in recent times the Greens are, obviously, no longer as relevant because of the Independents. A little bit of the limelight has been taken away from them. That is what it is all about. It is about their own egos. It is about their own seats and making sure their bums are back on these red seats, all except for Senator Hanson-Young. It seems to be that she is overlooked. That is, obviously, just the internal dirty dealings of their own Greens politics.

But if Mr Turnbull were to control both houses of parliament, it would provide a rubber stamp for industrial relation reforms, more cuts to health, $100,000 degrees and the ability to privatise Medicare. These are big issues. We have seen it. I lived through it when Howard had control of the Senate. It is certainly not a nice place to be. The Senate is supposed to be the house of review, made up of senators who will take that job seriously. It is not a place that is supposed to be about only trying to make yourself relevant, about feeding your own ego, because that is not what we were elected here to do. We were elected to this place to actually review legislation that is in the interests of all Australians.

The Australian Labor Party recognises legitimate concerns about laws governing the election of senators and the outcomes of a half-Senate election in 2013. The current system is not perfect—we have said that—and we have been more than prepared to carefully consider any changes that were brought before us. But when you are dealing with something as important as Senate reform, you need to make sure that you get it right. The legislation has shown more than once that it fails to do that. The bill currently before the Senate tonight is not an appropriate response to these concerns. Labor believes that the appropriate response is for parliament to deal with it through a considered, principled and transparent process, and for all the parties and unaligned senators to develop a solution. The outcome must prioritise the democratic rights of Australian people above all other interests—above all other interests!. First and foremost should be the Australian people.

Purging new parties and Independents from the parliament, excluding people who vote for small parties or Independents, is not in the interests of Australians. An increasing number of experts have now rejected the Liberal-Greens voting deal, called for different approaches or at least warned that, without adequate scrutiny, it risks creating adverse consequences. We need to get the balance right on Senate voting reform but it will not happen by ramming this backroom deal through the parliament. Laws that determine how representatives are elected to the national parliament should not be cooked up behind closed doors and rammed through this parliament, as I have said. This is a dirty backroom deal which will allow Mr Turnbull and his Liberals to get their unfair policies through the Senate—policies like an $80 billion cut to schools and hospitals, cuts to Medicare and, as I said, $100,000 degrees. If the Liberals regain government after the next election and have control of this place then do not come back in here whingeing about the legislation that they will ram through because the Greens will be responsible for that because they have done the deal.

The Greens could actually have done the right thing in terms of electoral reforms. They had a government that was so desperate to get these reforms through that they could have negotiated some decent outcomes, but they failed to do that. They failed that basic test of principle and getting good reform. They missed their opportunity. The Greens have done a good deal for themselves. They see this as being advantageous to making sure that they get back on these red seats. The opportunity they have neglected and failed to grapple with will come back and haunt them in the future. I really believe it will.

The Greens come into this place and go on about transparency and democratic processes and principles, but then what did they do? They rolled over. The only thing they did not do—and I would not be surprised if they did this—was roll over and have their tummies scratched by the government. The Greens have hopped into bed with the coalition again to enter into an alliance in order to secure passage of this legislation, which is being rushed through. The dud deal done between the Greens and the coalition stinks of hypocrisy. That is how the Greens are being seen.

Earlier today the Greens sided with the government and closed down debate. They did not allow any debate at all about the running of the Senate in terms of the sitting times and the legislation that is going to be debated. That was a first in this place. They had the opportunity to support marriage equality and have that debated. I do not support marriage equality, but I do support the right of the leader of the Labor Party in the Senate to have her contribution in this Senate heard. It was a disgrace. The Greens lecture us continuously about how they are the first and only people truly supporting marriage equality. Well, what hypocrites. What hypocrites they were today when they did not allow Senator Penny Wong to make her contribution. Shame on them. I can assure you of one thing: former senator Bob Brown had a much cooler head. He was not emotional. He allowed people to make a contribution. He would never have gagged that debate at that time and refused to allow Senator Wong to make her contribution—and neither would have former senator Christine Milne.

We have seen a new alliance with the Greens and the Liberals here today. As I have said, the Greens are good at doing grubby deals with the government. They keep doing them. Since Senator Richard Di Natale took over the leadership of the Australian Greens the Greens have hopped into bed with the government on a number of occasions. When I saw that Senator Nick McKim came from Tasmania I thought: 'Yes, here we go. We have a future leader of the Greens here.' If there were a Tasmanian Green leading in this place, I truly believe that we would not have seen the display we have seen from Senator Di Natale.

I may not have agreed with Bob Brown or Christine Milne on a lot of issues but at least they respected other people's right to make a contribution. If we agree on nothing else in this place, we should at least agree to respect people's right to make a contribution, irrespective of what legislation comes before us. They sold out today. This is a really bad black mark against the Greens. They denied Senator Wong to make a contribution today. I think if you look on social media you will find that that is borne out.

Since Senator Di Natale has taken over the helm we have seen the Greens support cutting age pensions by $2.4 billion. They got into bed with the government on that issue. They supported the government to ensure that big companies' secrets are kept safe by not having to disclose how much tax they pay. They deterred job-creating investment. They supported and ignored the expert advice on medical research funding. They also joined with the government to defeat a motion for the government to buy 12 locally built submarines. Now we have Senator Di Natale's filthy deal with the Abbott-Turnbull government to alter the laws governing the election of senators, which will increase the chances of the coalition gaining majority in the Senate. Under his leadership the Greens have grown even closer to the Liberals on the other side of the chamber. Senator Di Natale is an opportunist and he is sacrificing his party's integrity on the altar of his own vanity.

The Liberal-Greens Senate voting deal is an act of naked self-interest and it is not in the nation's interest. It is designed to purge the Senate of all small parties and Independents. At the last election 25 per cent of voters—that is, 3.3 million Australians—did not vote for Senate candidates representing the coalition, the Greens or Labor. The Senate is actually supposed to represent more than just the three major parties. That was the whole concept of having a states house.

Now the Turnbull-Greens dirty deal will give Mr Turnbull the trigger he has desperately wanted to call a double-dissolution election so that then he has the real opportunity of rubber-stamping all this terrible legislation that we on this side have been fighting to stop. There are his nasty cuts to health. Remember the last election, when they said there would be no cuts to health; there would be no changes to the pension; there would be no cuts to education? Well, what have we seen? We have seen the introduction of $100,000 degrees in this place, and we fought very hard not to have them. We fought very hard and were successful at least in getting the increase to the GST put in the bottom drawer until after the next election. But those people who have joined with the Liberals in this legislation have now opened that can of worms so that, if the government is returned at the next election, if it has control of both chambers, we will see not only further cuts to health and education but an increase to the GST, and it will be placed on everything. We know that the government's agenda is to privatise Medicare.

That is what this deal is about. It is not just about the voting process; it is about the democracy of this country. It is about ensuring that there are some safeguards in this place. If you are in government, whatever the persuasion of the government of the day may be, it is about being able to negotiate with the crossbench. It is about negotiating and putting forward your policy and having the argument on the floor of this chamber. That is what the Senate is about. It is not about cementing the dirty, grubby deals that have been done now behind closed doors with the Greens and this government.

It will not be in the interests of the nation for this legislation to go forward. Whether it is a Labor government or a Liberal government, I do not believe that it is healthy for the government of the day to have control of both chambers. We saw the evidence that was put before us under the Howard Liberal government of what it meant when they had control in this place. If you think it is hard being on the crossbench, if you think it is hard being in opposition, the only thing worse than those is being in opposition when the government of the day has the numbers in this place and you see it just ram through its legislation.

We purport and the Greens purport to be here to look after the nation's interest—as I believe that they do some of the time. If so, you would not be supporting this legislation. This is bad legislation. This is legislation that has been put forward by a desperate government and by the Greens, who failed to negotiate any real electoral reforms when they had the opportunity. The holier-than-thou act that they come into this place with on a daily basis has been seen through. They are transparent. They are opportunists, and so is their leader. (Time expired)

9:10 pm

Photo of Robert SimmsRobert Simms (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016, which is of critical importance to our democracy. In talking on this matter, I want to return to the Greens party's four pillars. We are a political party that is founded on four pillars: peace and nonviolence, ecological sustainability, social justice and grassroots participatory democracy. It is these four pillars around which all of our policies are framed. Of course, it is the pillar of democracy that this important reform touches on. It is one of our core principles as a political party, and it is something that we have been talking about for a very long time. I am very proud of the fact that we are on the cusp of seeing a policy that our party has championed for a decade become law. I want to acknowledge the work of my colleagues to bring that about and in particular Senator Lee Rhiannon, who has been a strong advocate on this reform for many years. This is an exciting opportunity to deliver this change.

People often talk about our democracy as being something that is less than perfect, and I think anybody watching the antics here in the Senate chamber over the last 24 hours would be in no doubt about that. It is less than perfect, but sometimes opportunities do come along to reform it, to improve our democracy, to make it better. This is one of those opportunities, and we have to seize it with both hands. I genuinely believe that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve our Senate voting system, and I am very excited that the Greens are making the most of that opportunity and are about to make our policy law. That is an exciting development.

Before entering this place, I used to work in a university and was doing some casual teaching work in the politics department. During the course of that work, I had the great opportunity to talk to lots of young people about politics. I have to say that, contrary to what is often said about young people in this country, they are engaged politically and interested in political issues. But it was very clear to me that there is a lack of understanding about our voting system and how it works, and there is a lot of confusion about the way that Senate preferences in particular work.

The reality is that most voters do not know where their preferences are going. If they vote for a political party above the line, they have no idea where those preferences are going once they have flowed through that particular political party. That is not good for our democracy. It produces unfair outcomes. It produces crazy, perverse outcomes like the preferences of the Sex Party going to, say, the One Nation political party over the Greens, something that I think most of their voters would find anathema, or things like the votes of Labor Party voters going to Family First ahead of the Greens, as happened in the state of Victoria when the Labor Party parachuted Steve Fielding into this place. That is something that a lot of people would not understand when they cast their vote for the Labor Party or they cast their vote for the Sex Party. They do not necessarily know where their preferences are going.

Under these reforms, for the first time, Australian voters will have the opportunity to determine where their vote goes by voting above or below the line. They can vote 1 to 6 above the line and direct the preferences to their party of choice in the order of their preference, or they can vote for individual senators below the line from 1 to 12, in effect making their own how-to-vote card. I think that is a really good outcome for our democracy and I am excited about that.

I have been pretty appalled by the opposition that we have seen to this reform. It has been craven and blatantly self-interested. We have seen these ridiculous charges that the Greens are somehow in coalition with the Liberal Party. That really is absolutely laughable when one considers the record of the Labor Party here in this place when it comes to voting with the Liberals. Let us consider some of the things we have seen happen in this parliament. We have seen within my own portfolio of higher education the Labor and Liberal parties voting together to dud students by scrapping the start-up scholarships, in effect, and adding them to a student's HECS loan, thereby saddling students with more and more debt. It was the Labor Party that voted for that in the dead of night on the last night of sitting in this place. It was the Greens who came out and stood up against it. We were the only ones to do so—Labor shepherded it through.

We have also seen of course the terrible deal between Labor and the Liberals to rush through citizenship laws, draconian laws that damage the rights of Australian citizens. And we have seen the appalling policy position over many years, where Labor has conspired with the Liberals to lock innocent children behind razor wire on island prisons. Innocent people come to this country seeking our help and support, and asylum seekers come to our country seeking help and support but instead of getting the hand of compassion and assistance, what they get is a cruel policy that is a consensus between the Labor and Liberal parties.

Opposition Senators:

Opposition senators interjecting

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

They can keep interjecting all they like but they know that is the reality of where they sit on this issue. If the Labor Party want to have a debate about the Greens record versus the Labor Party when it comes to progressive politics and fighting for progressive values, bring it on. I think we have the credentials in that debate and I think we will win that debate.

I also have seen some rather bizarre statements made in social media over the last few days. I will share one of the posts on Facebook with you. It was by the Australian Labor Party and it said, 'We will never help the Liberals into power. We will never do anything to help the Liberals into power.' I had a bit of a laugh when I saw that because the first thing that came to mind was, 'We will never help the Liberals into power.' I thought, 'How did we find ourselves here?' How did we find ourselves with an Abbott government? How did we find ourselves in a situation where a man who was incredibly unpopular, the most unpopular opposition leader in the nation's history, found himself in the Lodge? The answer is pretty simple. The Australian Labor Party practically packed his bags and drove him there themselves. They packed is bags, they drove him there and they moved him into the Lodge because their complete ineptitude, infighting and division we saw while Labor was in power over those six years was the biggest free kick the conservative side of politics has ever had in this country. It was the Labor Party that gave Tony Abbott the free ride he needed to get into the Lodge and it was the Labor Party that brought that inept and incompetent man into the prime ministership. It was the Labor Party that brought about that outcome. Had they had their act together in government, you cannot tell me that we would have seen the coalition elected in 2013. Any credible commentator in this country will tell you that. So if you want to talk about helping the Liberals into power, it was the Labor Party that were rally—

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments) Share this | | Hansard source

That is the most ridiculous argument I have ever heard.

Photo of Robert SimmsRobert Simms (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I am being heckled and told these arguments are ridiculous. That actually has some semblance of fact. Certainly the same cannot be said for some of the absurd and ludicrous arguments that have been put here in this chamber over the last few weeks. The point I am making is that the Labor Party have been enabling the Liberals for a long time and no amount of slinging mud at the Australian Greens will change that reality.

Let us return to talking about the benefits of this reform, and I think there are some significant benefits here. I can see that the Labor Party do not like it because it smashes the business model of the faceless men that they rely on to hold their seats here in this place. The factional warlords of the Labor Party might be the losers of this reform but the Australian people will certainly be the winners. The Australian people will win from this reform because, for the first time, they will get to determine where their preferences go above the line and below the line. That is a really important proposition and I am very excited about that being made a reality.

This is something that has been talked about for some time. It has been debated since Bob Brown first put a bill to this place 10 years ago. But it has also been debated significantly during this term of parliament. We have finally reached the point where we can get this over the line. What we have seen, unfortunately, is the Labor Party, who up until recently supported this reform, bucking their previous position and choosing short-term political opportunism over doing the right thing.

We have also seen in the attacks of the Labor Party on this reform quite a contradictory scare campaign. We heard earlier this suggestion that this is about putting Greens bums on seats. I have also heard references in South Australian media that as a result of this reform, perhaps I will lose my seat in the Senate or perhaps Senator Hanson-Young will lose her seat. Apparently it is about bums on seats but it is also going to cost us seats. I want to make it very clear this has never been about self-interest for the Greens. That is not what this is about. I can hear again people in the Labor Party laughing and heckling because of course self-interest is their political modus operandi. But that is not the way that we work in the Greens. We have been championing this issue for some time, it is one of our key principles as a party and we are finally in the position to make our policy law. We need to seize that opportunity with both hands and I am excited that we are going to be doing that. It is not about self-interest; it is about doing the right thing by the Australian people, it is about doing the right thing by our democracy, and I think that is a great outcome. And so I look forward to this reform becoming law. I think it will be an exciting milestone in democratic reform in this country; let's make it happen.

9:22 pm

Photo of Joe LudwigJoe Ludwig (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Hold onto your hat, we are in for a ride with the Greens thinking it will be a wonderful day when this bill passes.

Clearly, Senator Di Natale must be feeling a bit under pressure if he felt the need to make the ridiculous statement earlier about the Gillard government's agreement with the Greens back in 2010. Yes, that agreement referred to reforming and tightening political donations law—which this legislation does not do. And thanks to Senator Di Natale for reminding me that he sold out on this particular point as well.

It is hard to keep up with the Green's rate of selling out at the moment. I saw it the week before and today. But let me make this clear: the purpose of this bill is purging new parties and Independents from parliament, which is what the Liberal-Green alliance deal will do. The Liberal-Green deal disenfranchise peoples who vote for smaller parties or Independents, discourages them from standing for the Senate or from organising new parties and reduces political participation in our political system. None of this is good for our democracy; all of it appears to be excellent for the Green-Liberal alliance.

We do need to get the balance right on voting reform in the Senate, but that will not happen by ramming this backroom deal through the parliament. The Senate, apart from being a house of review, also acts as a check on the executive of the day and not as a rubber stamp, as the Greens would have us believe. However, the Greens are so determined to purge small parties and Independents that they are willing to risk turning the Senate into a rubber stamp for the Liberal government.

We have seen that before, between 2004 and 2007, where the Liberal government created a sausage machine from the Senate. We saw how that did not work out well for the coalition. I expect—and I do not want to be wishing bad luck for the Greens—in the end it is not going to work out well for the Liberal-Green alliance. We saw how last time where there was control of the Senate they introduced Work Choices and the ABCC. I think there will be no brake on the Green's desire to continue a coalition-Green alliance in many new areas. It will be negative for Australia, negative for working people and negative for people on fixed incomes and pensioners, because, ultimately, the Greens do not have those people as their constituents. Ultimately, the Greens have a new constituency.

But we have already heard in respect of this legislation before us more than eight amendments which will need to be moved by the government itself, because the bill is so flawed due to the government rushing it through the committee and this place. I consider this the most significant reform of the Senate voting process in more than 30 years, so I am a little outraged to think that the government and the Green alliance wants to ram this bill through the Senate in such a short amount of time with such little scrutiny. It is not the refrain that I have heard from the Greens of old when legislation lacked sufficient scrutiny.

We are opposed to this bill because it purges the Senate of small parties and Independents, prevents new parties from even getting elected, exhausts the vote of 3.3 million Australians and risks turning the Senate into a rubber stamp for a Green-coalition government. We want to ensure that the composition of the Senate reflects the preferences of Australian voters, that all votes count and that small parties and Independents are not simply shut out of the system by Mr Malcolm Turnbull and the Greens through their unholy alliance.

The Turnbull-Greens deal will exhaust preferences in the Senate. Millions of Australians, rather than their preferences being counted, will get their preferences eliminated and all small parties and Independents will cease to exist with the introduction of this bill. Under an optional preferential system the majority of three million votes that went to non-Labor, coalition or Greens will have been exhausted. That means nearly a quarter of the formal votes which were cast would not be counted towards the final result. If the Greens think this is such a good deal then they ought to explain to their own constituency that many of them, who in the past have voted for minors and Independents, will find their vote not counted.

We only have to look at how Australians have voted over the last 30 years, voting No. 1 above the line. I would assume that many people will continue to do just that, despite the ballot paper instructions and media campaigns. It took many, many years when we first introduced above-the-line voting for the voting intentions to change. The only parties that could reasonably be expected to transfer preferences at sufficient numbers to elect another candidate are the large parties. In any event, for the ALP, the coalition parties and the Greens to direct preferences consistently under the new system it is only possible through a how-to-vote card, and only the larger parties generally have the infrastructure to be able to support how-to-vote cards and to distribute these to supporters across the state at many ballot boxes. Without them, you have no guarantee of how this system will ultimately work.

The arguments have also been made that the low primary vote of some people on the crossbench is the reason that these amendments to the Electoral Act are required. But coalition senators should be reminded that this also includes candidates for the major parties as well; it is not a valid argument. Senator Birmingham was elected for the state of South Australia by getting a mere 0.1 per cent of the primary vote. He got elected as a Liberal senator on Liberal preference flows, so the argument does not stand up. But apart from the many arguments about this bill, one of the most obvious is the lack of proper process that has been followed and the lack of consultation with the community.

It is a new Greens party that we see here. The old Greens party, the party of Bob Brown and even Christine Milne—although I will not reflect badly on her—would have insisted on proper process. This bill has gone through all the stages in the House of Representatives, through the committee process and now through the Senate, and it has travelled through all those stages in a very short period of time. It is not good governance, and the Senate is not being allowed to do its job properly. That means having time to investigate the details of the bill, to conduct research and to consult with the public. Consulting with the public is an important principle that the Greens often espouse. In this instance, there will be a lack of consultation on this bill by the Greens and any other senator. It also means having time to introduce amendments from a Senate committee report if necessary and if there are inconsistencies or shortcomings in the bill. None of that will happen under the Greens-Liberal coalition.

This bill has been hastily cobbled together. The eight amendments already reflect that. I am making a guess at this, but I predict that, should this bill pass, when it goes to the AEC to be implemented, they will also find mistakes and flaws and that amendments are necessary, and the bill will have to come back to this chamber and be repaired. I suspect that this will not be the last time that we see this bill. Because of the way the Greens-coalition alliance has dealt with it, we will find that there will be a request for an urgent amendment to deal with something as early as May, I suspect, if we are still here.

As noted by other senators, government members on JSCEM have not even allowed the department to appear before the committee to give evidence or be questioned. So what we also have is the Greens-coalition alliance agreeing to the committee process being hamstrung by not allowing the department to appear. This is something that former Senator Bob Brown would never have countenanced. He would always insist that a department be able to appear before a Senate committee or JSCEM. Quite frankly, it shows the contempt the Turnbull-Greens alliance has for the democratic process and role of the Senate.

These amendments to the Electoral Bill will see that the one in four Australians who voted for someone other than the coalition, Labor or the Greens will have their vote exhausted. The bill does not reflect the JSCEM report. We have heard the refrain from the Greens that it does and therefore for some magical reason we should now support. But the bill cherry picks the JSCEM report. It does not reflect all of the report. But, even if we were so bold as to say that it did, it would still require a proper Senate process to ensure that it would work the way it was intended and that amendments were dealt with if necessary because of flaws in drafting or because of unforeseen circumstances—but not by the Greens-coalition alliance.

The bill does not address numerous parts of the previous report, especially the donation reforms which were supported by Liberals. Those reforms which would have seen donation reporting thresholds lowered have been excluded from this bill by the Liberal-Greens alliance. As we saw from the half-day of hearings that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters held, there were a number of concerns raised about the inadequacies of this bill. Professor George Williams, a constitutional expert from the University of New South Wales, said as part of his evidence to the committee that the new provisions create 'a de facto vote one system' and that it will lead to 'confusion where there is a difference between how to vote cards and advocacy, and the instructions on the ballot paper'.

A number of submissions have been made to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, and the committee has reported after having only a half a day of hearings to consider all of those submissions and the import of those submissions. This is not the proper process for a bill of this magnitude, and the Greens in particular should not be supporting this bill being rushed through the Senate without proper scrutiny. But I think this now falls on deaf ears for the Greens. If this legislation gets through, and the Greens agree to gag debate and to rush this through the Senate, the Greens will own the mistakes and flaws in the bill. If the bill needs remedies, the Greens will have to promote those remedies. If the bill has unintended consequences, even for the Greens, they will have to convince their coalition partner, the Liberals, to agree to any amendments—and good luck with that.

The last time the Liberals and the Greens did a deal to ram legislation through the Senate it was to water down multinational tax laws. It is a sad reality that the Greens have changed. They have morphed into a new party from what was once the old Greens. It is a fact that the last time the Greens did a deal to back Liberal policy, it resulted in more than 600 companies being excluded from having information about their tax compliance released. They are the kinds of outcomes that result when we see the Greens in bed with the Liberals.

The Australian public should know that it is the Greens who will be to blame if a future coalition government is able to pass cuts to Medicare, cuts to penalty rates, cuts to pensions, higher cost for students—by getting $100,000 degrees passed—or attacks on workers by bringing in Work Choices by stealth. If the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill is passed and that results in coalition control of the Senate, that will be the fault of the Greens and the Greens will have to wear that.

Labor and many others on the crossbenches have spent the last couple of years fighting against and stopping some of the inherently unfair legislative agenda of the coalition. It has resulted in some chagrin from the coalition but ultimately it has saved Australians from the painful and harsh policies that the Abbott-Turnbull government was trying to inflict upon them. The changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill will see a greater likelihood for the coalition to gain control of the Senate.

The question is: why are the Greens aiding and abetting the coalition through an alliance? Why are the Greens doing anything to help the Liberals succeed in passing their antiworker and unfair legislative agenda? That will be the result. It is because the Greens have over time stopped representing their real constituency. Under Senator Di Natale's leadership this shift to the centre away from their base has only accelerated. The Greens of Bob Brown and even Christine Milne are no more. The lot we see here today are not the Greens of old. The ones that would criticise Labor, would criticise the Liberals and practically criticise any policy they could find that they could not find favour with. But I cannot tell the difference between the Greens and the coalition any longer. The Greens have spent so much time sitting over there blocking and gagging the debate that they have morphed into a coalition party.

Of course, when you mix blue and green together you get aqua. But, quite frankly, it is a murky shade of aqua that we now have from the Greens. That is why the party of Senator Di Natale has become light blue—tainted by the Liberals and tainted by a desire for relevance. But all we have ended up with is a stain, a stain that we all will see through. It is a significant stain; a blot that will be hard to remove. With Liberals in the future who can manage to pass legislation, and manage to pass unfair legislation which hurts vulnerable Australians, I do sincerely hope that the Greens take responsibility for that time. I hope that they recognise that they have assisted the coalition in ensuring that they can get their bills through the Senate.

The changes in this bill are not the what the JSCEM report recommended. The government likes to claim that this bill does at least implement the substance of the JSCEM recommendations, but this is simply incorrect. The bill is a political fix cooked up by the Liberals and the Greens for partisan purposes—that is what it is.

Last week we also saw Senator Di Natale receive the endorsement from Michael Kroger, the Victorian Liberal president—unbelievable! He said:

You've got a doctor … who owns a farm who doesn't come from this mad environmental background. He's helped the government get legislation through the Federal Parliament. So you look at the Greens through a slightly different lens these days because they're not the nutters they used to be.

That is a stinging endorsement from a Liberal Party president. This is in relation to the latest dirty deal between the Greens and the Liberals to swap preferences in federal seats in Victoria.

Quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Kroger was asked what the difference was between a preference deal and a loose arrangement. He explained that under the latter, 'You don't know what you're going to get back.' I think it is a very apt description of the Greens today. You do not know what you are going to get.

The Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016 is so important to the Greens—the new Greens, the aqua Greens—that they have even blocked the debate on their own marriage equality bill to ensure that we can all watch this bill pass. They have become very focused only on this Senate reform bill for the sake of a broader picture.

Senator Leyonhjelm's motion to have the marriage equality bill debated and voted on before the Senate finishes up for the week was rejected by the Greens. Their proffer was: 'You can take Thursday for a private senator's bill.' And you know where that will get you; it will get talked out by your new alliance members. They will talk it out and not let it come to a vote. You know that, yet you still made this empty, hollow offer to protect the reason that you have changed your position in respect of this. You said that Senator Di Natale claimed that the Greens support marriage equality, 'Every Green. Every vote. Every time'—well, except today.

9:42 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Fairness sits at the centre of our democracy. People should be able to go the polling booths with the knowledge that their vote will go where they want it to go, that it aligns with their beliefs and, if their first choice is not successful, that their vote will not be distributed via a dodgy backroom deal. Right now the system that determines who comes to this place is broken due to a combination of group ticket voting where parties, not the voter, get to direct preferences, and preference harvesting where parties of wildly differing ideologies team up in the hope that their number comes up in a lottery. You have alliances between the Stop Coal Seam Gas Party and the No Carbon Tax Climate Skeptic's Party and between Family First and Drug Law Reform Australia Party. Where one random lucky party gets to be the winner and one random lucky party can have a random big impact on the future of our country.

The Greens' vision for our representative democracy is that people's votes are reflected in the results. I want to start tonight by addressing two critical things. The first is the myth that these changes will mean Independents and minor parties will be wiped out. The second is to note that these changes are not going to get rid of preference arrangements. Preference arrangements will continue to be made, but it is going to be up to the voters to decide whether to follow a how-to-vote card that recommends a preference flow. To the people who are musing about the diversity that comes when people are elected with only a handful of votes, and who are saying that is a healthy thing, I reckon it is true that diversity is healthy in our democracy. (Quorum formed). But this diversity should reflect the wonderful diversity that we see in our society not a lottery that has already been rigged. The truth is that Independents and minor parties will be wiped out; they just will not get elected unless people vote for them, and that is how it should be. The beauty of preferential voting is that if your first choice does not get elected, then your second or your third or even your fourth choice can. But when parties direct the preferences that does not happen. It means that the results are not reflecting the wishes of the Australian people. Instead, the results are being determined by secret deals done behind closed doors.

We all know the circumstances of Senator Muir's election, the Motoring Enthusiast Party receiving the first preferences of just half of one per cent of people. To his credit, Senator Muir has approached his time here in a considered manner. But what can you say to the people who voted for the Animal Justice, Stop CSG or Bullet Train for Australia parties when their votes ended up with a party that supports hunting and shooting, logging of our native forests and roads ahead of rail?

If people are really serious about injecting an element of citizen juries into our parliament, well, we would need a referendum to achieve that and somehow I just cannot see it getting up. The last federal election was the eruption of this broken system, but the problem has been building for some time. This lottery means that for every Senator Muir there is a senator like Family First's Stephen Fielding, who was elected with less than two per cent of the vote. I am sure the people who voted for Labor in 2004 were appalled when they found that their vote had elected Stephen Fielding.

To the people who try to argue that the Greens have benefited from group-voting tickets and are now pulling up the drawbridge behind us, I want to share the history of the Greens in Victoria over the last 24 years to illustrate the absurdity of these assertions; it is absolute codswallop. We have not been a flash in the pan. We have done no preference deals that have betrayed our values and we have had a strong focus on party processes so that we are strong, resilient and united.

The Greens candidate who was up against Stephen Fielding in that 2004 election, David Risstrom, polled almost five times Fielding's primary vote, but he did not benefit from preference deals so, ultimately, was not successful. David Risstrom would have been an absolutely terrific senator.

Going back to the start of our party, I was one of the founders of the Greens in Victoria in 1992. Yes, I am actually one of those 'Greens of old' that Senator Ludwig was misrepresenting in his rhetoric just before. The Greens began in 1992 because Labor had failed Australians who care about the environment, social justice, peace and non-violence, and participatory democracy. I personally was passionate and motivated to be throwing myself into the Greens because I was fed up with being sold out by the Labor Party.

We stood one candidate at the 1993 election, Rebecca Wigney in the seat of La Trobe, and got 4½ per cent—not a bad result for a first outing. We had decided not to stand in the Senate that year. We supported Janet Powell's campaign as an Independent, with her having left the Democrats. In 1996, Peter Singer was our Senate candidate. We stood on a strong environment platform, including taking serious action on climate change, a platform that was missing from Labor and the coalition's platforms. We achieved 2.9 per cent of the vote—a bit of an increase but, yes, not enough to get elected. In 1998, young Indigenous woman, Charmaine Clark, was our Senate candidate. But our vote slipped back up to 2½ per cent, so she did not get to be the first female Indigenous senator. We had to wait another 15 years for Senator Peris to be elected to achieve that.

In 2001, it was the Tampa election. People were appalled that Labor had sided with the coalition and supported horrific asylum seeker policies. That picture of refugees baking on the decks of the MV Tampa is seared in my memory as well as the shock and despair when the then the Labor opposition leader, Kim Beazley, supported the hateful prejudice, the anti-refugee position of Prime Minister John Howard. Many other people felt the same way. Our vote soared to six per cent with candidate Scott Kinnear, and people voted for us as a party that would speak out for the rights and wellbeing of refugees. But, yet again, Scott missed out because we did not sell our preferences like the other parties. It has been with great sadness that we have seen the Labor Party in a race to the bottom on refugee policy ever since.

Fast forward to 2007. Richard Di Natale missed out on being elected, despite receiving 10 per cent of the vote. But, in 2010, after almost two decades of growing our support in the community, building our vote, doing the street stalls, the doorknocking, the town hall meetings, Richard was finally elected, with a quota in his own right. It was a long time coming. I am proud that we have grown the party we have here and in state and territory parliaments across Australia, without resorting to gaming the system. Instead, we have had the courage to take action on our strong values—leading the way on global warming, on fair treatment for people seeking asylum, on supporting those in our community who need it most and, for at least the past 12 years, on these very reforms that will strengthen our democracy. Our vote has grown and, as our vote has grown, we have been elected.

This is just a microstudy of the Greens rise, but it is clear that, under the current system, people's votes are not being reflected in the results. The changes we are debating today will put control over preferences back in the hands of the voter. If someone wants to vote 1 Animal Justice, 2 Motoring Enthusiasts, then that is their choice. Voting 1 to 6 above the line, or beyond 6 if the voter wants, will allow this to occur. These changes will mean that if the Animal Justice Party, the no coal seam gas party, the bullet train party, the hemp party, the Sex Party and drug reform party all poll a couple of percent each and hand out how to vote cards that recommend preferences, and if voters agree with their recommendations, and enough people vote for them, then one of these parties has got a really good chance of being elected. But the decision to vote for them lies with the voter. If the preference arrangements somehow slip somebody else—such as the fundamentalist Christians—into the preference mix, then the voters will notice and they will not vote that way. They will have the choice.

If we want a system that is truly diverse, we should start talking about proportional representation in the House of Representatives. That is also Greens policy, but let's get these Senate voting changes through first before we embark on that campaign. For now, these changes will ensure that our parliament is more democratic.

Instead of identifying the problems with the system and working together to fix them, we have been left with a scare campaign from Labor and the crossbench. Although I do not agree with the crossbench position, I can kind of understand why they hold it. Many of them have benefited from this broken system and are fighting to keep their spot here. But the hypocrisy from the Australian Labor Party is appalling. We have now endured weeks of Labor senators, particularly the senators who have benefited most from the current system, busting their guts in the chamber, suggesting that we are going to benefit from the changes—in the same breath as they say that we have been done over and will lose seats because of them. They do not know whether they are Arthur or Martha.

Let me be clear: there is one reason and one reason alone that we are supporting these changes: they will make our democracy stronger. If we gain seats it will be because our vote has grown. If we lose seats it will be because our vote has fallen. The same will go for Labor, for the Liberals, for the Nationals and for Independents. This Senate reform legislation that we are debating today is an opportunity for the Greens, for us, for this parliament and for this Senate to implement our vision, and we have got the courage to follow it through.

We have been pushing for these changes since 2004. The reforms were even written into our minority government agreement with Labor. In the written agreement between our two parties after the 2010 election, Labor agreed that:

The Parties note that Senator Bob Brown will reintroduce as a Private Members Bill the Commonwealth Electoral (Above‐the‐Line Voting) Amendment Bill 2008. The ALP will consider the Bill and work with the Greens to reach reforms satisfactory to the Parties.

Of course, the ALP actually did nothing about this in the period of government between 2010 and 2013. But after 2013 we finally thought that we had these reforms satisfactory to the parties when Labor supported unanimously the recommendations that came from the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in the Interim report on the inquiry into the conduct of the 2013 federal election Senate voting practices in April 2014.The report recommended optional preferential above-the-line voting and partial optional preferential voting below the line with a minimum sequential number of preferences to be completed equal to the number of vacancies. After a year-long process and hearings all around the country—an incredibly long and thorough process—it reached this unanimous conclusion. It was not rushed through. It has not been done without adequate consideration.

Processes like the JSCEM inquiry are an absolute joy to my heart, and I believe that the majority of Australian people would think likewise. My way of doing politics is to seek to collaborate: to try to understand where people are coming from; to seek to understand their ideas, not to just reject them on the basis that they come from the opposing side; to acknowledge good ideas regardless of where they come from; to see through the politics and to focus on the policies, to see whether we can reach agreement.

I am not the only one who thinks like that. I know that the Australian people in general are like that. One of their biggest gripes about politicians, and the reason they do not trust us, is that they reckon we just oppose for opposition's sake

So the change of heart from Labor last month—not based on logic or understanding or any change of information—was a profound shock. The only way they can justify their about-face is to argue that black is white, to mislead, to lie, to try to scare people who are confused about what is going on. But, of course, we all know what really is going on. We know that powerbrokers, backroom operators, in Labor realised that they were going to be losing some of their power, that they were no longer going to be able to direct the votes of millions of voters through backroom deals and that that power instead would be transferred into the hands of voters.

The other scare campaign that we have seen from Labor is that this will deliver a majority for the coalition in both houses. I know this because people have told me they are worried about it. To those people: let me assure you that it is nothing more than a pathetic scare campaign. Even the ABC's election analyst, Antony Green, has said it does not stand up to analysis. This voting reform is not going to restore the ABCC. It is not going to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. We have been the Clean Energy Finance Corporation's greatest champion and would not do anything to put it at risk.

Then we see the games played by Labor today. They have tried to divert attention from their own missed opportunities by using people's love as a political tactic, and this offends me. Yes, our party platforms support marriage equality. But it was the Labor Party that sided with John Howard in 2004 to define marriage as being between a man and a woman and it is Labor that continue not to bind their vote—you would think against Labor values—until some distant time in the future. And then the Labor Party have the guile to lie about it on social media, claiming that we voted against our own bill. Complete baloney! The Labor Party knew full well that that was not the case. But they underestimated the public. I do not often take notice of social media, but it was with some satisfaction that I saw the No. 1 comment on the ALP's Facebook post, from Tim Lilley, say:

Why do you persist in treating Australian people as morons, ALP? The Greens didn't vote against the own bill for marriage equality in the senate (only against debating it). … I'd like to share my disappointment - in the Labor party.

Hear, hear, Tim. I completely agree.

In conclusion, this bill that we are debating tonight, this Senate voting reform, is well overdue. This reform will improve our democracy, it will make it fairer and it will put power back in the hands of the voters, and that is a very good thing.

10:02 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very proud of our democratic system. It is open and transparent and free from corruption—so much so that we take it for granted. In many parts of the world, our democracy and our electoral processes are envied. Australia has assisted newly emerging democracies with their electoral systems. In recent times we have supported Timor-Leste with the establishment of open, fair and transparent systems, including their electoral system. As a country, we have not shied away from calling out countries who do not have open and fair electoral systems. This has included bans in the case of South Africa, in the old apartheid days, and, more recently, Iran. We have, as a Commonwealth country, called other countries to account and called into question their election results and, in the case of Zimbabwe, agreed with other Commonwealth countries to their suspension from the Commonwealth group.

As well as calling countries to account, we have assisted to ensure that democratic processes are established. On a recent parliamentary delegation to Zimbabwe, I was impressed to see that Australia had assisted with their very efficient Hansard service. I am sure our own clerks in this place assisted with the training of Zimbabwe Hansard staff and, despite the country having a very, very long way to go in terms of real democracy and open and fair elections, they at least have an accurate and efficient Hansard system, again thanks to Australia.

I am, for the term of this parliament, part of the Australian delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the IPU. The IPU is the international organisation of parliaments. It was established in 1889. The IPU is the focal point for worldwide parliamentary dialogue and works for peace and cooperation among peoples and for the firm establishment of representative democracy. There are 167 member countries and 10 associate members. At the last meeting, in October 2015, we had a wide-ranging debate on parliamentary processes which add to transparency. Once again, some of our parliamentary processes, particularly Senate estimates and the Parliamentary Budget Office—established by Labor—were the envy of many, many IPU member countries.

Of course this does not mean that we should not review our processes, including how MPs and senators are elected, but any reform must be open and transparent and have widespread support—support from a cross-section of the Australian voting community. The Australian Labor Party recognises legitimate concerns about the laws governing the election of senators and the outcome of the half-Senate election in 2013. The unexpected outcome of the 2013 half-Senate election gave rise to concerns that the proportional representation system used in the Senate was broken and had become a problem. These concerns deserve an appropriate response. Unfortunately the bill currently before the Senate is not an appropriate response to those concerns.

If there is a problem with Senate voting laws, Labor believes that the appropriate response is for parliament to deal with it through a considered, principled and transparent process. Such a process should involve all the parties and unaligned senators to develop a solution which enjoys support across the political system. The outcome must be to prioritise, and be seen to prioritise, the democratic rights of the Australian people above all other interests, especially partisan self-interest. There can be nothing more important to public confidence in the parliament than the integrity of laws which dictate who is elected to the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016 absolutely fails this test. This bill was not the product of any principled and transparent parliamentary process. It is a tawdry outcome of a filthy deal between the conservatives, the LNP government and the Greens. The government claims this bill implements the recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in its interim report on the conduct of the 2013 federal election, but this is simply not true. This bill is not the product of the JSCEM recommendations. It is the product of a filthy deal cooked up behind closed doors by the coalition and the Greens.

It has been interesting to listen to the debate tonight, particularly from the Greens Party, because they have not gone to any details to outline what is so important about this bill. They have used glib comments. They have talked about matters that are more than 10 years old, but have not satisfactorily explained to the Australian voting public what it is that their dirty deal will deliver.

The government for its part likes to say that this legislation at least implements the substance, or 85 per cent, of the JSCEM recommendations, but that too is also not true. This bill is a rip-off of the JSCEM recommendations, cooked up to serve the partisan interests of the Liberals, the Turnbull government and the Greens. It should come as no surprise that the leader of the Greens, said this a day or two ago about student politics. He is the one that has done this dirty deal with the government. Senator Di Natale has the same view about student politics as many of the government members do, in fact, probably all of the government members. Senator Di Natale said, 'I wasn’t interested in student politics'. He went on to say, 'People in student politics seem more focused on the game of politics'. This comment, said by the leader of the Greens Party, Senator Di Natale, could have been made by any Liberal-National party coalition member opposite. But this comment was made by Senator Di Natale, and it sums up the inadequacies of the Greens leader.

It is student politicians and student unions, who have been at the forefront of the fight against the Turnbull government's $100,000 degrees. Student unions have always been in the fight, whether it was the Vietnam War, the fight against the damming of the Franklin River or climate change—the list goes on. I am proud to say that many Labor members past and present were leaders of student unions.

Did the Greens leader, Senator Di Natale, sit back and let others do the fighting for his rights and entitlements while he was a student, whilst taking those hard-won student reforms for himself? To all of those students involved in student politics, take note: this is what the Greens really think; this is their view of you and this is the new direction under the leadership of Senator Di Natale.

But let us go back to the dirty deal. In a complex electoral system such as the proportional representation system that we use to elect senators, even minor changes can have a dramatic impact with serious unintended consequences. We have already seen that with the initial poor drafting of the bill. The filthy deal cooked up between the Liberals and the Greens is not designed to serve the democratic interests of the Australian people or ensure their will is reflected in the composition of the parliament.

The purpose of this legislation is to maximise the number of senators elected by the major parties, such as the Liberal Party, and established minor parties, such as the Greens political party and the new 'Nick Xenophon Team'. It is designed to exhaust preferences early so Independents and so-called microparties are deprived of votes. Its object is to prevent new players from entering the Senate, thereby entrenching the electoral dominance of existing players. The principal beneficiary of this new voting system will be the Liberal Party.

The Liberal Party's motivation for supporting this legislation is to achieve lasting electoral dominance in the Senate, to get the mandate that they think they have as part of the ruling class, to rule over and bring in draconian laws that hurt ordinary working Australians. They want to achieve a dominance as a conservative party and, over time, hope to maintain a lasting Senate majority in their own right.

Senator Xenophon sees this as his best chance to increase his own representation in this place, in particular through the corralling of his personally popular votes in South Australia.

Of course, Labor believes that Greens senators will pay a high price for this proposal. A double-dissolution election based on this legislation will spell the end of their political careers, particularly Senator Hanson-Young's and Senator Simms's. Over time, Senator Xenophon will take both the seats from the South Australian Greens currently on hold in this chamber. They will be looking for new jobs. Australians will be staring at a Senate controlled by the coalition.

What we have seen tonight in this place is that the Greens' gloves are well and truly off. We hear from some of the Greens—and in fact we have heard from their leader—how they purport to represent workers and trade unions in particular. Yet tonight in this place, we heard Senator McKim having a real go at the ACTU. He had a go on a number of occasions and told them they had taken their eyes off the ball. I am not quite sure what he meant by that. He also included the CFMEU in that broad sweep, and he used the plural when he was talking about unions, so obviously it is much broader than the ACTU and the CFMEU. He went on further to accuse the ACTU and the CFMEU of wasting members' money. And why is that? Because for once the gloss is off the Greens and they are feeling the heat from ordinary working Australians—hardworking union members—who are well and truly mystified that a party that purports to represent and look after the interests of trade unions is doing exactly the opposite, because there is a real danger in this place that we will go to a double-D and see the ABCC legislation, which the Greens have pretended to be opposed to, get up in this place and severely treat a section of the trade union movement—a section Senator McKim tonight thought it was absolutely okay to have a go at not once but twice, the CFMEU. That legislation will treat them and their members as different. They will be treated differently. The laws in that bill are harsher than what we use for terrorism in this country, and that is what the Greens have signed up to. Senator McKim absolutely let it slip tonight that that is his real view of unions.

First of all we have the leader, Senator Di Natale, joking around and saying that student politics is nothing but a game. I presume that when Senator Di Natale was at university he used all of those student services—student services hard won by student unions. Yet he accuses them of playing games. I do not know where he was when the Labor Party was out there fighting against $100,000 degrees, when we visited campuses, as we do, right across this country, went to O-days and absolutely supported student unions through and through. I do not know where he was when those same student unions were copping absolute flak from the Abbott-Turnbull government because they were standing up to the $100,000 degrees. And this is the group that Senator Di Natale accuses of playing games. What a disgrace. Student unions have been in the forefront of the fights against the Abbott-Turnbull government, and not just on issues of concern to students while they are at universities; they have been out there on issues such as climate change. But all of that seems to have passed Senator Di Natale by as he accuses student unions of just playing a game of politics. They play a real role and they have been at the forefront of those fights.

Obviously Senator Di Natale does not respect that, and what we have heard tonight from Senator McKim is that he does not respect trade unions. He stood in this place and twice had a go at the umbrella group, the ACTU. How disgraceful is that? He had a go at them and accused them of wasting money. And why is that? Because the Greens are feeling the heat from trade union members and from organised labour in this country. They are feeling the heat because they have sold out. No doubt the Greens will start feeling the heat from student unions, who the Greens leader accused of just playing games—of not being real about politics. It shows again how out of touch the Greens are when they make those comments.

As I said, their gloves are well and truly off. We are now seeing the true Greens, who absolutely do not support trade unions and certainly do not seem to support student unions. You do not have the leader of your party accuse student unions of political games, with the rest of you having to fall into line behind that, unless you are a true political party. Your leader has spoken, so that is what you all now think.

Of course, we saw that Senator Di Natale went even further when he outlined the ultimate goal for moving the Greens to the right, which was to form government with conservatives. He certainly did not rule that out. I am very pleased to say that about him and his Green colleagues—not just him but the whole party, these people who can talk the talk but certainly cannot walk the walk when it comes to trade unions or student politics. Now the senator is on the record as saying he would never say never about one day forming a coalition with the Liberal Party.

So the gloss is off. Our eyes are well and truly opened. This is now what they stand for. They stand accused of maligning trade unions that they used to support under previous leaders and accusing students of playing politics. We know they have jumped into bed with the government, but now they are ready to assume some kind of formal relationship with a conservative government, because they are so desperate to find a place for themselves. Any place will do, and certainly their leader, Senator Di Natale, must be feeling the heat from Senator McKim and Senator Whish-Wilson, who are biting at the heels of the leader because they all want to be leaders, to say that he would never rule out forming a coalition with the Liberal Party. Adjunct associate professor of politics at Monash University Shaun Carney said in an opinion piece:

Richard di Natale … has to be kidding. Your politics are defined as much by what you refuse to support as by the things that you propose. Politicians are supposed to say "never". That’s why people support them. This is particularly so for the Greens, whose supporters are especially purist—

and we have heard that in here tonight—

on such things as open borders, the undesirability of all military action, giving security agencies more powers and coal.

Of course, once they form their much closer relationship with the LNP, those policies will have to go by the wayside. They will just disappear.

It is appropriate to say 'never' and to actually talk the talk and walk the walk; to be who you say you are. It is not appropriate to pretend—to stand in this place and have a go at trade unions and student politicians, and for your leader to make comments that one day he wants to be in a coalition with the Liberal government. What do the Greens stand for? The dirty deal says it all. Senator Di Natale's leadership is in stark contrast to that of former Senator Bob Brown and, indeed, Christine Milne. This is a dirty deal. The Australian voting public will see it for what it is. It is a dirty deal and it should not pass. (Time expired)

10:22 pm

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016, and what a long time coming this has been. I have resisted directly contesting some of the weirder assertions about this bill floating around online—some of them based on the sort of deliberate misinformation that we just heard from Senator Lines, but some of them based on genuine concern about what is happening in here this week. This debate is complex enough so I have not tried to rebut some of these things in 140 characters—apologies if you have approached me directly in the last couple of weeks and not got a proper reply. I am going to try to set out my reasoning here now.

Anybody following this debate will understand how complex questions of electoral reform can get, but there are some simple principles underlying the approach the Greens have taken. The purpose of the electoral system is for the composition of our houses of parliament to reflect, as closely as possible, the voting will of the electorate. It should be uncontroversial. The system for the House of Representatives fails this test miserably. If we can say that the Australian Greens' vote nationally is somewhere between 12 and 14 per cent at the moment, then we should have north of 18 members in the 150-seat House of Representatives—no such luck. Adam Bandt, due to talent and hard work, remains our only member of that assembly, because there is no proportional representation in the House.

That is a campaign for another day, but I raise it because, historically, the Senate's electoral system has done a much better job of turning the popular vote into representation in this chamber because of the proportional nature in which in a normal half-Senate election you elect six senators, not just one. But we all know—because until very recently there was a near-unanimous agreement on this—that the system of group-voting tickets in this Senate is being abused. Call it what you will: 'gained' or 'manipulated', quite expertly, by people who know exactly what they are doing. There is nothing democratic or representative about a tiny handful of individuals spawning off a proliferation of prefab parties with engaging-sounding names and identical memberships, manufacturing group voting tickets designed to funnel people's votes into almost random aggregations in which election to this chamber has turned into a lottery. Election to the Australian Senate should not come down to preference whisperers quietly shunting people's votes from left to right on behalf of the in excess of 95 per cent of voters in some states who vote above the line. In the 2013 election in WA these preference-harvesting operators nearly pulled off their peak achievement: getting an individual from one of these prefab parties elected on just under 0.25 per cent of the vote, while a thoroughly decent Labor member of this parliament looked to have lost her job despite polling in excess of 11 per cent.

The aftermath, I should say, of the 2013 election was the JSCEM report that Senator Rhiannon and her colleagues worked very hard on for six months and which led, ultimately, to the bill that we are debating today. Labor say that they love diversity in the Senate, apparently even if it means throwing one of their own under a bus to somebody whose name might as well have been drawn out of a hat. Labor loves Senate diversity so much that one of their three stated objectives for the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquiry was, and I will quote, 'to clear the political landscape of microparties and eliminate their cartel.' Good work, Labor! I wonder if their preference operators have been spelling that out to the crossbenchers in their fevered attempts to milk their own hypocrisy for vanishing electoral advantage. Good luck with that.

One thing that we have been asked a lot, though, over the last few weeks—and I have a bit of sympathy for this question—is: why are the Greens supporting the Turnbull government on anything, let alone a question as sensitive as Senate voting reform? The answer is reasonably simple. We are supporting it because it is substantially our bill. It is a proposal that we championed since well before the geniuses in the Labor Party accidentally elected Senator Steven Fielding to this place in 2004 on a tiny fraction of the vote.

Here is the thing: henceforth you, the voter, will decide where your preferences go; not the Sussex Street hacks, who have been screaming the loudest this week. You decide. Candidates are going to have to work for your vote instead of trusting the secret deals done in secret meetings. The only time that the ALP care at all about a number of issues is when it is politically expedient to do so. Labor did nothing in government to progress marriage equality and they shut down progress at every opportunity. And now, from the safety of opposition, we are expected to pretend that that never happened.

Well, guess what? I have been here through five prime ministers who did everything that they could in office to block marriage equality: Prime Ministers Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull. And the sad stunt is that you put Senator Leyonhjelm up this morning to try to deflect from your own hopeless inadequacy and it will fool precisely nobody. See you next Thursday for the marriage equality debate that you did everything in your power to avoid when you were in government. My colleagues and myself have sat through all manner of hysterical lectures from the Labor Party this week about voting with Mr Turnbull, because he happened to put his name on a Senate voting reform proposal that we have been championing for 12 years.

So let us talk about voting with the government for a bit. I had to sit with my colleagues and the crossbenchers on that side of the chamber on the night that the Labor Party gifted this country with Prime Minister Abbott's and Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis's, mandatory data retention—passive mass surveillance over 23 million Australians. We had to sit there while you let burning of native forests get into a watered-down renewable energy target. What acts of utter genius. You did that in support of the Abbott government and you did not have to do that at all.

The Labor Party voted to lock up children in detention, and to introduce Border Force and a two-year jail term for anybody who was working with the detained asylum seekers from reporting suspected child abuse. If they want to talk about the impacts on progressive politics of voting with the Abbott-Turnbull government, really, let's have that conversation. It is one that we are more than ready for. For a party that has voted with the government more than 40 per cent of the time, the most savage impacts of the short, miserable tenure of the Abbott government that actually wound up in law are there because of Labor Party complicity. If they want to talk about the comparative records of the Labor Party and the Greens for progressive politics and they seriously want to bring that into the next election, we are ready for that debate to be had. I worked, and Senator Siewert and Senator Milne worked, for eight years to stop the government from dumping radioactive waste at Muckaty.

Debate interrupted.