Senate debates

Thursday, 10 December 2020


Electoral Matters Committee; Report

3:39 pm

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, I present the report of the committee on all aspects of the conduct of the 2019 federal election and matters related thereto. I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

We are blessed that we live in one of the oldest and most successful democracies in the world.

Our good fortune has not come through chance. Our democracy works because over a century a lot of people, paid and unpaid, have worked to make it so through blood, sweat and tears.

Our democracy works because countless Australians have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the freedoms inherent in democracy.

As society has changed, so should our electoral system be fine-tuned. Now is the time for immediate action by parliament on certain changes and for a longer conversation about other reforms.

To maximise voter choice, compulsory preferential voting should be replaced by optional preferential voting. To increase fairness and to reduce the luck of the ballot draw while minimising the so-called donkey vote, the Robson rotation of candidates on the ballot paper should be introduced in tandem for the House of Representatives.

Elections should not only be fair, open and transparent; they should be seen to be so. An important element is the sanctity of the electoral roll and the importance of each citizen equally exercising one vote. Voter identification should be introduced for all voters, with savings measures similar to provisional votes.

Likewise, all electoral enrolments, whether new or changes, should require proof of identification.

The pre-poll voting period should be reduced from three weeks to a maximum of two weeks. Voters who choose to vote early should be required to explain why they are unable to attend on the day, rather than it being a matter of convenience.

The Electoral Act should be completely rewritten to make it fit for purpose. A new offence of political violence, both physical and verbal, should be introduced.

The rules governing the use of party names should be tightened to restrict the use of existing party names by new political entrants.

Parliament should also commence a conversation about whether the House of Representatives should be increased in size, as the last change was in 1984. Part of the dialogue should consider whether the nexus between the Senate and the House of Representatives should be reformed.

In addition, consideration should be given to changing the term of the House of Representatives from three years to four years. Likewise, a discussion on the utility of by-elections is overdue. By-elections could be abolished, with the party or group elected at the general election choosing the replacement. In a similar vein, an MP who voluntarily resigns from a party under which they were elected at the general election will be deemed to have vacated their seat.

We sleep safely in our beds protected from the claws of the banality of evil because we decide who governs. These reforms are about empowering further the voter. Governments in democracies should always be wary of the voter. Long may it be so.

3:43 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, in this report, has found that GetUp has been not a witness of the truth for a second time now. Paragraph 6.94 of the report tells us the committee notes that this is 'the second occasion that GetUp has misled it'. This shameful and wilful misleading of a parliamentary committee is serious and strikes at the very heart of how we do our business of democracy and parliamentary inquiries in this country. Moreover, it reflects the complete lack of ethics of this now completely discredited organisation, which acts without a moral compass. At paragraph 6.93, the committee find:

… GetUp's submission, dealing with purported specific findings made by the AEC, is misleading and note that, despite repeated opportunity and invitation, GetUp has failed to correct the record.

So the inescapable conclusion is made at paragraph 6.91 of the report:

The JSCEM believes that GetUp's submission to this inquiry is misleading, remains misleading and, that GetUp has failed to correct it, despite being provided ample opportunity.

The findings made against GetUp need to be made as the independent AEC has been egregiously misrepresented by this fringe-dwelling, morally-challenged organisation. The modus operandi of GetUp has always been to mislead or misrepresent. For GetUp the end justifies the means. Having been conceived in deceit, it unabashedly practises deceit—be it its deceptive vote calculator, be it the misrepresentation of coalition policies, be it misrepresenting the Australian Electoral Commission, be it encouraging bird-dogging and pretending to know nothing about it or be it giving false evidence under oath. This ugly organisation has a history of distortion and manipulation. Many honest Australians have been unwittingly sucked into GetUp, which has now been exposed as being conceived in dishonesty and practising it on an industrial scale.

In Boothby and Mayo, female Liberal candidates were stalked and harassed by creeps linked to GetUp. The Boothby stalker worked hand in glove with the GetUp SA Action Network. Despite its declared low-control strategy and its promotion of bird-dogging, GetUp still refuses to accept responsibility for the inevitable results. Meanwhile GetUp phone canvassers pretended to empathise with electors about their children's future while peddling poison and misinformation about coalition candidates. So in another election there was another dishonest campaign by GetUp, all predicated on the lie that it is somehow independent.

Let's read the actual submission made by GetUp to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. On page 3 of its submission it says in black on white:

The AEC ruled in GetUp's favour as recently as February this year, specifically finding:

GetUp campaigns are 100% issues based …

No such finding, specific or otherwise, has been made by the Australian Electoral Commission. Indeed, the Australian Electoral Commissioner, not once but twice, repudiated that false assertion. Yet GetUp continued with its submission and did not seek to change its evidence until the very end. It also claimed:

The AEC ruled in GetUp's favour … specifically finding … GetUp plays an important role on election day…

Mr Oosting, the CEO of GetUp, was challenged in relation to these assertions: 'Where is the evidence? Where is it? How can you quote the Australian Electoral Commission or commissioner in saying this?' He was unable to provide any shred of evidence. There was not a single letter in support of that false assertion. Not to be outdone by two untruths, the third one asserted was:

The AEC ruled in GetUp's favour as recently as February this year, specifically finding … GetUp is nonpartisan.

It is not the role of the Australian Electoral Commission to make such a finding. It has not made such a finding in relation to any organisation for the very simple reason that it cannot. It is not empowered to do so, so it would not do so. The Electoral Commissioner gave unequivocal evidence that that was a falsehood as well. Despite this being brought to GetUp's attention and being in public forums, GetUp pursued and continued with this untruth. Why do they do it?

Because by asserting that the Australian Electoral Commission has made these findings, false as that assertion is, they get money in from the unwitting Australian public, and good, decent Australians make not only a financial commitment but then also a personal commitment to support what they honestly believe to be a good and decent organisation.

This report once and for all explodes the myth about GetUp. It is now fully exposed as peddling dishonesty not only in relation to coalition policy but by egregiously misrepresenting the independent Australian Electoral Commission and its commissioner, Mr Rogers. This is very, very serious. That any organisation would even think of doing it, let alone actually do it and then think they can get away with it, is indicative of the thought processes in which the GetUp movement engages. These are extremely serious matters. These are matters that show that there is an organisation that has corrupted our political system and our democratic system in Australia.

We have seen what GetUp and its supporters did in the electorate of Warringah in relation to the posting of posters about the former member Mr Abbott. The New South Wales police need to tell us, given the CCTV footage, whether they have pursued the perpetrator, because there is very clear imagery that I would suggest to anybody shows that the perpetrator was one Mr Scott Marsh. Indeed, there are very telltale handprints on his tracksuit trousers. He's been photographed with those handprints on his trousers on a number of occasions, which of course tells us two thing: (1) he doesn't change his trousers very often; and (2) the chances are, more importantly, that he is the graffiti artist. I would encourage the New South Wales police to pursue this matter, just as they pursued Mr Marsh when he had a Black Lives Matter graffiti presentation with a burning police car. That is what excited the New South Wales police—as it should have done—just as much as this egregious behaviour in relation to Mr Abbott should have been pursued. I look forward to the New South Wales police doing that which they should be doing.

How can there be any credible CEO of an organisation that has been exposed as misleading a parliamentary committee not once but twice? How can a board continue to exist presiding over such an operation knowing it has misled a parliamentary committee not once but twice and has egregiously misrepresented the Australian Electoral Commission and its commissioner? So today I call for the resignation of the board of GetUp and its CEO for egregiously misrepresenting the Australian Electoral Commission and misleading a parliamentary committee, which is misleading under oath, which in fact is perjury. They should go, and the quicker the better. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Abetz, your time has expired.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.